48:11 Those of the bedouin who stayed behind will say unto thee, “[The need to take care of] our chattels and our families kept us busy, do then, [O Prophet] ask God to forgive us!” [Thus] they will utter with their tongues something that is not in their hearts. Say “Who, then, has it in his power to avert from you aught that God may have willed” whether it be His will to harm you or to confer a benefit on you? Nay, but God is fully aware of what you do!
Lit., “has anything in his power [that could be obtained] in your behalf from God”: a construction which, in order to become meaningful in translation, necessitates a paraphrase.
48:12 Nay, you thought that the Apostle and the believers would never return to their kith and kin, and this seemed goodly to your hearts. And you entertained [such] evil thoughts because you have always been people devoid of all good!”
Implying that the real sympathies of those bedouins were with the pagan Quraysh rather than with the Muslims.
48:13 Now as for those who will not believe in God and His Apostle – Verily, We have readied a blazing flame for all [such] deniers of the truth!
Implying that He may forgive even the most hardened sinners if they truly repent and mend their ways: an allusion to what the Prophet was to say according to verse 16.
48:14 But God’s is the dominion over the heavens and the earth, He forgives whomever He wills, and imposes suffering on whomever He wills – and [withal] He is Indeed Much-Forgiving, a Dispenser of Grace.
Lit., “set forth to take booty”: i.e., any expedition other than against the Quraysh of Mecca, with whom the Prophet had just concluded a truce. This is generally taken as an allusion to the forthcoming war against the Jews of Khaybar (in the year 7 H.), but the meaning may well be more general.
48:15 As soon as you [O believers] are about to set forth on a war that promises booty, those who stayed behind [aforetime] will surely say, “Allow us to go with you” – [thus showing that] they would like to alter the Word of God. Say: “By no means shall you go with us, God has declared aforetime [to whom all spoils shall belong].” Thereupon they will [surely] answer, “Nay, but you begrudge us [our share of booty]!” Nay, they can grasp but so little of the truth!
Evidently, a reference to 8:1 – “All spoils of war belong to God and the Apostle” – which, as pointed out in note 1 on that verse, implies that no individual warrior can have any claim to the booty obtained in war. Moreover, fighting for the sake of booty contravenes the very principle of a “war in God’s cause”, which may be waged only in defense of faith or liberty (cf. surah 2, note 167), “until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone” (see 2:193 and the corresponding note 170). It is to these principles, too, that the Prophet’s anticipated answer, mentioned in the sequence, refers.
48:16 Say unto those bedouins who stayed behind, “In time you will be called upon [to fight] against people of great prowess in war: you will have to fight against them [until you die] or they surrender, And then, if you heed [that call], God will bestow on you a goodly reward, but if you turn away as you turned away this time, He will chastise you with grievous chastisement.”
i.e., in the first verse of Al-Anfal, which was revealed in the year 2 H. (see preceding note).
48:17 No blame attaches to the blind, nor does blame attach to the lame, nor does blame attach to the sick [for staying away from a war in God’s cause], but whoever heeds [the call of] God and His Apostle [in deed or in heart], him will He admit into gardens through which running waters flow, whereas him who turns away will He chastise with grievous chastisement.
This is evidently a prophecy relating to the future wars against Byzantium and Persia.
48:18 Indeed, well-pleased was God with the believers when they pledged their allegiance unto thee [O Muhammad] under that tree, for He knew what was in their hearts, and so He bestowed inner peace upon them from on high and rewarded them with [the glad tiding of] a victory soon to come.
Lit., “before”, i.e., at the time of the expedition which resulted in the Truce Of Hudaybiyyah.
48:19 And [of] many war-gains which they would achieve, for God is Indeed Almighty, Wise.
These three categories circumscribe metonymically all kinds of infirmities or disabilities which may prevent a person from actively participating in a war in God’s cause.
48:20 [O you who believe] God has promised you many war-gains which you shall yet achieve, and He has vouchsafed you these [worldly gains]’ well in advance and has stayed from you the hands of [hostile] people, so that this [your inner strength] may become a symbol to the believers [who will come after you], and that He may guide you all on a straightway.
This latter applies, by obvious implication, to such as are unable to participate in the fighting physically, but are in their hearts with those who fight.