Battle Of Tabuk: Quran 9:81-88
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
These verses relate to when the Muslims went out to the expedition Tabuk expedition (Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn ‘Abbas, Tafsir Ibn Kathir and Ibn Juzayy). Wherein the Muslims had to face a large army of the Byzantine (Roman) empire who had assembled in order to attack the Muslim community: ‘Answering Jihad: “Fight Against Those Who Do Not Believe” – Quran 9:29‘
Theses verses were directly revealed about the hypocrites who stayed behind from the expedition, made excuses, discouraged others from going and attempted to harm the Muslims.
9:81 Those who remained behind rejoiced in their staying [at home] after [the departure of] the Messenger of Allah and disliked to strive with their wealth and their lives in the cause of Allah and said, ‘Do not go forth in the heat.” Say, “The fire of Hell is more intensive in heat” – if they would but understand.
9:83 If Allah should return you to a faction of them [after the expedition] and then they ask your permission to go out [to battle], say, “You will not go out with me, ever, and you will never fight with me an enemy. Indeed, you were satisfied with sitting [at home] the first time, so sit [now] with those who stay behind.”
9:86 And when a surah was revealed [enjoining them] to believe in Allah and to fight with His Messenger, those of wealth among them asked your permission [to stay back] and said, “Leave us to be with them who sit [at home].”
9:88 But the Messenger and those who believed with him fought with their wealth and their lives. Those will have [all that is] good, and it is those who are the successful.
9:81 – God speaks about those hypocrite Muslims who were happy to remain behind and not go on to the expedition to Tabuk – to fight the hostile Byzantine Empire. These individuals used to tell other Muslims not go on this expedition as it will be very ‘hot’, but God reminds them that the fire of hell is a lot more intensive (Tafsir al-Jalalayn and Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas)
9:83 – When the Muslims came back from Tabuk, those hypocrites who stayed behind – didn’t join Tabuk expedition, and who discouraged other Muslims from going out on this mission, if they asked the Prophet (p) that they wanted to go on other expedition(s), the Prophet is told by God to tell them that they are never allowed to accompany the believers any-more (Tafsir al-Jalalayn and Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas).
9:86 – This verse further speak about the hypocrites attitudes. When verses of the Quran was revealed that they should believe in God and strive with his Messenger in fighting the enemies i.e., protect the community, their reply was, ‘leave us to be with them who sit [at home]”.
9:88 – God reminds the Muslims and hypocrites, 1400 years ago, that the only one who is successful, is the one who believes in God, protected the community from outside enemies and laid their lives for such causes (Ibn Juzayy, and Tafsir Ibn Kathir). This verse alludes to the Muslims who went out on the expedition to Tabuk. Furthermore, After God exposed the hypocrites’ sins in previous verses, here God praises the faithful Muslims and describes their rewards in the hereafter (Tafsir ibn Kathir).
Dr. Muhammad Asad:
“112 Lit., “rejoiced in their sitting [at home]” – a reference to those who, under one pretext or another, excused themselves from participating in the expedition to Tabuk (see notes 59 and 66 above). As is evident from the sequence – and clearly stated in many authentic Traditions – one of the excuses advanced was the extreme heat of the season.
113 Lit., “and let them weep a lot”.
114 Lit., “if God brings thee back [from the campaign] to group of them” – i.e., to those a hypocrites who remained at home under false pretences.
115 I.e., with the old men, the women, the children and the sick, who are not able or not expected to go to war (Manar X, 662).
116 I.e., unless he has repented before his death. It is reported that when the life-long opponent of the Prophet and leader of the hypocrites of Medina. ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy was dying, he sent his son to the Prophet with the request that the latter give him his (the Prophet’s) shirt,
so that he might be buried in it, and that the Prophet should pray over him after his death. The Prophet took this request as a sign of Ibn Ubayy’s repentance, and gave him his shirt and later led the funeral prayers over his body.
When ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab vehemently protested against this clemency towards the man whom all the believers had regarded as “God’s enemy”, the Prophet answered, “God has granted me a choice in this matter [a reference to verse 80 of this surah. “whether thou dost pray that they be forgiven or dost not pray…”, etc.], and so I shall pray [for him] more than seventy times.
” Several variants of this Tradition are to be found in Bukhari, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, Ibn Hanbal, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas; Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar; Muslim, on the authority of Jabir ibn ‘Abd Allah; and in various other hadith compilations.
Since ‘Abd Allah ibn Ubayy died some time after the Prophet’s return from Tabuk, while verse 84 – like most of this surah – was revealed during the campaign, it is clear that the prohibition expressed in this verse relates only (as the sequence shows) to those who “were bent on denying God and His Apostle, and [who] died in this their iniquity” – that is, to unrepentant sinners. 117 Lit., “while they were iniquitous”.
118 Cf. 3 : 178 and 8:28, as well as the corresponding notes. This (almost literal) repetition of verse 55 above is meant to stress the psychological importance of this problem (Zamakhshari) – namely, the insignificance of worldly happiness as compared with spiritual righteousness or the absence of it.
119 Lit., “when a surah was bestowed from on high”: the word surah being here synonymous with “revealed message” (see note 25 on 47:20).
120 I.e., with those who were either not expected to go to war-like women and children – or were handicapped by old age or illness.
121 Cf. 2:7 and the corresponding note, as well as 7:100-101.” 
Maulana Muhammad Ali
“83a. It should be noted that this is the only punishment given to the hypocrites, viz., that they were not allowed to take part in future expeditions against the enemies of the Muslims. It is also related that from one of them, Tha‘labah, whose story is referred to by the commentators under v. 75, the Holy Prophet and the three Caliphs who followed him refused to accept the poor-rate. V. 103 leads us to the same conclusion; see 103a.
These were the only disadvantages, if it is right to call them so, which the hypocrites suffered. They were not looked upon as members of the Muslim community, but, as citizens, they enjoyed all the rights of other citizens…” 
 The Message of The Quran translated and explained by Muhammad Asad, page 397 – 399
 The Holy Quran Arabic Text with English Translation, Commentary and comprehensive Introduction [Year 2002 Edition] by Maulana Muhammad Ali, page 418 – 419