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Surah Al-Tahrim (1)
Qur'anic Exegesis
Imam Hamiduddin Farahi
(Tr. by:Tariq Haashmi)

1. The Coherence and Order of Verses

This sūrah forms part of the block of the ten sūrahs revealed to reform and purify the believing Muslims according to the Divine promise. Further, it is the last of the sūrahs which contains the sharī‘ah injunctions. We have detailed this discussion in the beginning of Sūrah al-Ḥadīd (57). Besides, this sūrah is the complement of the previous sūrah in that it explains the same themes. Therefore, a review of the commentary of the previous sūrah is recommended.

In the block of the ten sūrahs termed sūrahs of purification, starting from Sūrah al-Ḥadīd to Sūrah al-Taḥrīm, every human being has been strictly commanded to reform the religious and moral status of himself as well as of his family. The Almighty has concluded this sūrah with a clear warning that in the divine religion no living being will bear the burden of another and that no soul will be able to absolve others of their responsibilities. This concluding discussion corresponds to what has been reckoned in the seventh verse which says:


يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَا تَعْتَذِرُوا الْيَوْمَ إِنَّمَا تُجْزَوْنَ مَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ (٦٦: ٧)

O you Disbelievers! Make no excuses this day! You are being but requited for all that you did! (Q 66:7)


The implication is that no excuses presented by these people will be helpful. For the judgment will be based on the deeds and actions of men in the light of the perfect knowledge and absolute justice of the Almighty. This fact has frequently been mentioned in the Book of God.  Consider the following verses:


أَلَّا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَى (٣٨:٥٣)

No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another. (53:38)


هَلْ تُجْزَوْنَ إِلَّا مَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ (٩٠:٢٧)

Do you receive a reward other than that which you have earned by your deeds? (27:90)


This issue will be discussed in detail in the seventh chapter. The stress however is that it is incumbent upon the believers to strictly review their conduct.

The discussion in the sūrah is inaugurated by an address to the holy Prophet (sws). We see that he has been held accountable for something which is usually taken as a trivial issue. Sometimes people prohibit a pure and allowable thing to themselves, believing that they are doing a commendable act through which they can please their Lord. But the sūrah has clearly identified and defined the essence of the guidance of the straight path and the natural religion.  This is identified as the perfect “light” which was foretold in the statements of Jesus Christ according to John. Here in this sūrah this religion has also been referred to as the “light” and also in other similar contexts in the Book.  Details on this topic can be found in my commentary on Sūrah al-Nūr and Sūrah al-Ḥadīd. The censure sounded to the Prophet (sws) is joined to a specific issue that came to pass between the Prophet (sws) and his family. This serves to teach us that if it were allowable for us to adopt a take-it-easy attitude in religious affairs, the Prophet (sws) would be the first man to be allowed this (verse 1-5).

After this short preface, the believers have been addressed in their totality.  They are told to follow the Prophet (sws) and remain careful about their personal conduct as well as to that of their families (verse 6-7). Later on, they are consoled and told that they are required to do this only in order that they are purified from sins so that they are able to join the Prophet (sws). This in turn guides them to emulate the Prophet’s conduct. Allah has given them the glad tiding that He will bless the Prophet (sws) on the Day of Judgment by bestowing honour to the members of his purified family and his righteous Companions. The Arabs took any insult to their clients as an insult to themselves. Honor of one’s clients and relatives earned was considered the honour of a man himself. A very famous verse attributed to Ṭarafah makes this point abundantly clear:


واعلم علما ليس بالظن

إذا ذل مولى المرء فهو ذليل

I know very well, without any doubt, that when a man’s mawlā (near relations and cousins) client is disgraced, he grows lowly.1


In these verses, the Almighty Allah intends to bestow honor upon His Messenger (sws) by stressing that he should work for the purification of his Companions. This corresponds to the responsibilities of the promised Prophet (sws) in the following verse:


وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ (٢:٦٢)

To purify them and to instruct them in the Book and Wisdom. (62:2)


Since this applied to the family of the Prophet (sws) especially, they have been given stern commands. If he were to show lenience to them, they would have departed from him, failing to accompany him in this world and the one to come. It is indeed the great blessing of God that He gave the Prophet (sws) the glad tiding that he and his entourage would be spared disgrace. By this glad tiding, God made it clear to them that stern supervision and strict disciplining was not intended to make life hard for them. On the contrary, it was only to ensure their purification so that they could receive God’s blessing. At another place, God says to the Companions:


مَا يُرِيدُ اللّهُ لِيَجْعلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَـكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهَّرَكُمْ وَلِيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ (٦:٥)

Allah does not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to purify you, and to complete His favour to you, that you may be grateful. (5:6)


Similarly, it has been said concerning the family of the Prophet (sws):


إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا (٣٣:٣٣)

And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, O members of the family, and to make you pure and spotless. (33:33)


This serves to console their hearts. Similarly, in this sūrah too, the Prophet (sws) has been given the following glad tiding:


يَوْمَ لَا يُخْزِي اللَّهُ النَّبِيَّ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ نُورُهُمْ يَسْعَى بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِمْ (٨:٦٦)

The Day that Allah will not humiliate the Prophet and those who believe with him. Their light will run forward before them and by their right hands. (66:8)


This followed a mention of strict disciplining and accountability and corresponding promise of success in the Afterlife (verse 6).

Afterwards, this responsibility of the Prophet (sws) to watch over his ummah has been extended. The Prophet (sws) has been commanded to fight the unbelievers and the hypocrites. He has been commanded to be hard on them before they meet the punishment destined for them by the hands of the powerful and strict army of God, His angels. (verse 9)

This is followed by a mention of four examples descriptive of the real issue: perseverance in discharging one’s responsibility towards his concerned people. By this he prepares himself for fulfilling his duties to the religion and cuts off the root of the wrong perception and baseless hopes. This way He removed the possible excuses of the ignorant and conceited disbelievers among the Arabs and the Jews who boasted of their noble descent and who believed that their forefathers would win salvation for them on the Last Day. Details will be given under the seventh section.


2. Accountability and Retribution is the Sunnah of Allah

Strict accountability is not promised to the ummah of the holy Prophet (sws) alone. It is a general Divine Sunnah related to all the Divine Messengers. However, the last episode of the divine institution of prophethood has revealed and manifested this exercise in its ultimate form. The Qur’ān has clearly explained that this process of accountability and retribution is the Sunnah of God based on His perfect justice and wisdom. The Book tells us that He reprimanded Adam, Noah, David, Jesus Christ and Muḥammad. Each was held accountable by Allah. Similarly, we learn from the Qur’ān that Abraham, Job, Jonah, Moses, and Muḥammad (sws) complained to God and argued with Him. It is not possible for a human to hold Allah accountable for something. What I intend to make plain to you the true perspective and the occasion of the Divine anger. It is Allah’s blessing on His servants that He holds them accountable in order to discipline them. This is the real essence and the main purpose of Allah’s censures. The Qur’ān says:


فَأَخَذْنَاهُمْ بِالْبَْاسَاء وَالضَّرَّاء لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَضَرَّعُونَ (٤٢:٦)

So We afflicted them [the nations] with suffering and adversity so that they might learn humility. (6:42)


It has been expressed in detail in the commentary on Sūrah al-‘Abas (80) and al-A‘rāf (7) that when a believer complains to God and argues with Him, he expresses his reliance on Him and his expectations from Him.


3. Central Theme of the Sūrah: Accountability and Preparation for Retribution

The above discussion clearly shows that the main theme of this sūrah is that a man is responsible for those under his authority. In addition, a man needs to turn to God in repentance and to fulfill his religious duties. The ailments of waywardness have been provided remedies so that whoever intends to and is able to purify himself can do so, as has been said elsewhere in the Book:


لِّيَهْلِكَ مَنْ هَلَكَ عَن بَيِّنَةٍ وَيَحْيَى مَنْ حَيَّ عَن بَيِّنَةٍ (٤٢:٨)

So that those who die might die after a clear sign had been given, and those who live might live after a clear sign had been given. (8:42)


Every human being is responsible for himself and his family. God has, therefore, warned people of the unpleasant consequences of showing lenience in these religious obligations. He frightened them of the grasp of the heavenly angels “who are stern and severe, who flinch not from executing the commands they receive from Allah, but do precisely what they are commanded.” (Q 66.06) Therefore, the humans have to opt for sincere repentance accompanied by faithful disclosure of the contents of the hearts before God, while paying no attention to any criticism, censure, or abuse from the people. In this way they can avoid the humiliation of the Day of Judgment, receive Allah’s forgiveness, and win the perfect light.

God advised the believers to stand firm on the right path and prepare themselves for the accountability and continue advising their family and the related people to do the same. Similarly the holy Prophet (sws) too is commanded to strive hard against the hypocrites and the disbelievers and to deal sternly with them so that they are convinced of the religious truths and are made ready to repent for their sins in this world or otherwise face the doom of Hell on the Day of Judgment. On that day, neither blood relation with the divine prophets shall work nor will their faith that is stained with hypocrisy. This reality has also been explained in Sūrah Ḥadīd, which is the first of this group of sūrahs dealing with the issue of purification of the body of the believers. Thus the Almighty has commanded the Prophet (sws) to deal harshly with people concerning the religious matters. This corresponds to what the Prophet Yaḥyā b. Zakariyyā foretold of the qualities of the Last Prophet (sws):


Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:12)


Similarly, we find in the vision of the Prophet Yaḥyā that “the Prophet (sws) will shepherd them with an iron spur.” The detail of this issue will be offered in the commentary on Sūrah al-Fīl (Q 105).

That the severity in observing religious injunctions and spiritual disciplines is one of the religious obligations that can be learnt from the life history of Jesus Christ (sws), Moses (sws), Abū Bakr (rta) and ‘Umar (rta) as detailed in my book, Fī Malakūt Allah. The reader may also refer to my commentary on the verse: Their desire is that you should be pliant: so would they be pliant. (Q 68:09)

Accountability is the most primary religious tenet.  God is extremely merciful. He, however, does not depend on and is not in need of any of His creatures. He runs His whole system on justice. Every reasonable person appreciates the fact that harsh accountability is a sign of mercy rather than spitefulness and hardheartedness. Do you not see that God Almighty negated the attribute of hardheartedness in the person of the Prophet (sws)? God says:


فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لاَنفَضُّوْا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ (١٥٩:٣)

It is part of the Mercy of Allah that you do deal gently with them; were you severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you. (3:159).


Further details in this regard will be given under the explanation of the verse: Strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites. (Q 66:09).


4. The Religion based on Human Nature requires Following the Mean Point


Between Sinfulness and Asceticism

The second necessary element in the process of accountability is that one needs to exert his full efforts to remain steadfast in following the middle path. Many nations of the world persistently ignored following the middle road.  The Qur’ān has pointed out at many occasions. God says:


يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوْا لاَ تُحَرِّمُوْا طَيِّبَاتِ مَا أَحَلَّ اللّهُ لَكُمْ وَلاَ تَعْتَدُوْا إِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ وَكُلُوْا مِمَّا رَزَقَكُمُ اللّهُ حَلاَلاً طَيِّبًا وَاتَّقُوْا اللّهَ الَّذِيَ أَنتُم بِهِ مُؤْمِنُونَ (٥: ٨٧-٨٨)

O you who believe! make not unlawful the pure things which Allah has made lawful for you, and commit no excess: for Allah loves not those given to excess. Eat of the things which Allah has provided for you, lawful and pure; and fear Allah, in whom you believe. (5:87-8)


This verse states that prohibiting the allowed is an act of transgression.

The holy Prophet (sws) too has explained that the religion based on nature and the straight path is nothing but the mean path. The presentation of the theme in the sūrah follows a style that shows that this issue demands serious and constant care by the believer. The sūrah starts with an issue which negates asceticism, so that we learn that rendering an allowable thing as disallowed is as criminal as is making an illicit thing lawful; both are acts of transgression and crookedness. The only difference is that legitimization of the illicit is a transgression caused by human covetousness and trespassing, while forbidding the licit things is asceticism which develops from ignorance and foolishness.

Religion is something that is stationed farthest from ignorance. Ignorance opens into polytheism. Appropriate and commendable forms of asceticism are a product of knowledge rather than ignorance. God says:


إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاء (٢٨:٣٥)

Those truly fear Allah, among His Servants, are those who have knowledge. (35:28)


This commendable form of asceticism is the fear of God. This fear is based on knowledge. It is something required in the religion. We have already discussed this issue in detail in our commentary on the opening verses of Sūrah al-Baqarah (Q 2).

The Qur’ān has described the habitants of Hell in these words:


لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لاَّ يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ أَعْيُنٌ لاَّ يُبْصِرُونَ بِهَا وَلَهُمْ آذَانٌ لاَّ يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا أُوْلَـئِكَ كَالأَنْعَامِ بَلْ هُمْ أَضَلُّ أُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الْغَافِلُونَ (١٧٩:٧)

They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, - nay more misguided: for they are heedless of warning. (7:179)


This verse occurs in a context where the polytheists are under discussion. We learn that carelessness and ignorance lead to polytheism. On the contrary, the holy Qur’ān and the Prophet (sws) approve of and praise rationality, knowledge, and wisdom, which are the characteristics of the believers.  Knowledge and wisdom lead one to the right path and guard him from trespassing and falling into asceticism. Both are the paths of the transgressors.

In the Qur’ān, there are other verses which warn us of the evil of asceticism. God says:


قُلْ مَنْ حَرَّمَ زِينَةَ اللّهِ الَّتِيَ أَخْرَجَ لِعِبَادِهِ وَالْطَّيِّبَاتِ مِنَ الرِّزْقِ (٣٢:٧)

Say: Who has forbidden the beautiful gifts of Allah, which He has produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure, for sustenance? (7:32)


At another place, the Almighty says:


وَرَهْبَانِيَّةً ابْتَدَعُوهَا مَا كَتَبْنَاهَا عَلَيْهِمْ إِلَّا ابْتِغَاء رِضْوَانِ اللَّهِ (٢٧:٥٧)

But regarding monasticism, which they themselves invented, We did not prescribe for them: only the seeking the good pleasure of Allah. (57:27)


5. Difference between Transgression and Asceticism

You have learnt that perfection in religious conduct is obtained by following the mean path between two extremes: transgression and asceticism. You have also seen that asceticism is similar to transgression in that it is also sin. It is necessary to appreciate the difference between the two.

Transgressing limits is a sin graver than asceticism. It is an attitude perfectly opposite to servitude and obedience. It reflects arrogance and devilishness which are abominable by their very nature. Asceticism, however, is a different form of transgression. It can at times work as a trainer of one’s self. Just as a doctor cures a disease by putting the patient through diet, a pious person is permitted to cure his spiritual ailments through renunciation of the world in particular circumstances. In this case, asceticism produces positive results and can be condoned. The problem, however, occurs when a person takes asceticism as a desirable thing which is liked by God. It is ignorance and is dangerous for one’s faith. This ideal negates and aspires to change the human nature created by God. It causes many spiritual diseases. In such a condition, asceticism needs to be strictly forbidden.

You may infer from an observation of the way of life of the pious servants of God and the Prophets (sws) that they liked asceticism and considered it the best manifestation of pure fitrah. But this is not the truth. Their behavior resembling a kind of asceticism owes itself to the fact that they intend to cure a specific spiritual ailment in them or to set an example for the reformation of an ailed community. The Prophet of an ailed nation might have intended to cure them of certain spiritual diseases and make them come nearer to the pure natural state. This is partly seen in the life of Jesus (sws) and John (sws). They came with a mission to establish the pure natural course and to pave the way for the last and final prophecy. We know that the holy Qur’ān has negated the view that Jesus (sws) set and prescribed asceticism. This has already been explained at the end of the previous discussion.

Therefore, if there seems to be any glimpse of asceticism in the life of a Prophet (sws), we should not take it to be from of nor derived from asceticism. Whatever actions of the Prophet (sws) resemble a form of asceticism should not be interpreted to mean that he adopted this path. He did such acts with the clear view that the pure things are allowable. He did not mean to declare the pure things illicit for him, such as in the instance discussed in this sūrah. Rather he was sure of the allowance of the thing he stopped to use. However, some aspects of the thing he stopped to use were unclear to him and he feared them harmful. Then God clarified this reality to him about which he was not clear and ordered him to break his vow. The issue will be discussed in detail later.


6. The Pieces of Revelation came in the Most Suitable Occasions.

I have clarified in my book, shā’n al-nuzūl (Occasion of Revelation)2 that the Qur’ān spoke of an issue at the most appropriate time. This served to make the pious hearts accept its directions readily and benefit from it. Rain is most needed during a draught. Food is most cherished when one is hungry. Similarly, entertainment is needed when one has had a hectic and tiring work. This process follows the Divine sunnah governing all the natural phenomenon. God bestows blessings to creatures according to their requirements and abilities. We see that ease follows difficulty. In the same fashion, this sūrah containing guidance regarding accountability was revealed only when God created an atmosphere which suited its revelation.

I have also pointed out in my book on occasion of revelation that the historical narratives about the causes of revelation differ greatly. This is because the later scholars have erroneously considered the understandings of the earlier authorities as historical facts concerning the circumstances in which the directives were revealed. This bulk of paradoxical narratives was, later on, enriched by additions of the heretics. Thus the corpus spawned and multiplied. I cannot go into the details regarding this aspect at the moment. For I have already clarified the issue in the aforementioned book.

I only need here to help you understand that some sayings about the occasion of revelation of this sūrah enshroud the real meaning of the discourse and mix darkness into its pure light. This calls for a discussion on the issue to make the truth of the matter clear.


7. The Occasion of Revelation of the Sūrah in the Perspective of the Principle of Guidance

Just as people wandered into polytheism because of ignorance, they similarly thought out of ignorance, of course, that merely a relationship to the Prophets (sws) and the pious servants of God was appreciated by God. This is the worst form of ignorance. Many nations were ruined by this misconception. The Jews serve as a major example. They were proud of their forefathers including Abraham (sws) and Jacob (sws). They also boasted of being a nation which God blessed by sending among them the Prophets and of enjoying the help He extended towards them. This attitude not only reflects stupidity, but is also considered foolishness and thanklessness. Strong determination requires that a man tries to become a worthy successor. Gratefulness requires that a man does not brag of the bounties Allah has blessed him with without considering whether or not he really deserved them. Boasting of one’s kinship is a devilish element.  It has destroyed Satan. It also poses a threat of ruin to his followers.

The mercy of God therefore required that the Jews be put through different humiliating trials so that the Divine rule of Justice is exposed to them so that they are offered an opportunity to reflect and purify themselves of the evil thought. Accordingly, they were enslaved and killed. Many hardships and destructions were unleashed upon them. Their Prophets frequently and abundantly warned them regarding their stupidities and gracelessness, but yet to no avail.

We refer to one such warning sounded to them through the Prophet Yaḥyā (sws). He said to them:


Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves: We have Abraham as our father. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  And even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. (Matthew 3:7-11)


At many occasions, the Qur’ān stresses that man is responsible for himself and stresses upon the trust of freedom of choice granted to him. He should not expect that his relations to any of the creatures can be of help. In Sūrah Luqmān it has been said:


يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمْ وَاخْشَوْا يَوْمًا لَّا يَجْزِي وَالِدٌ عَن وَلَدِهِ وَلَا مَوْلُودٌ هُوَ جَازٍ عَن وَالِدِهِ شَيْئًا إِنَّ وَعْدَ اللَّهِ حَقٌّ فَلَا تَغُرَّنَّكُمُ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا (٣٣:٣١)

O Mankind! Fear your Lord, and fear a day when no father can avail aught for his son, nor a son avail aught for his father. Verily, the promise of Allah is true: let not then this present life deceive you. (31:33)


The same theme runs through the stories of the son of Noah (sws), the wife of Lot (sws), the Son of Ādhar and the wife of Pharaoh, all of which are related in the Qur’ān. All these stories imply that on the Day of Judgment, no relations or ties will be of any use.

In the verses under discussion, this very reality has been clearly explained and fairly highlighted. This sūrah makes it clear to the hypocrites and the disbelievers that they do not have anything to depend on except for their personal conduct and belief. It should be noted that the hypocrites and the disbelievers among the Prophet’s addressees were either from amongst the Arabs or the Jews. Both of these groups traced their origin to Abraham.

Similarly, the sūrah also addresses the believers and stresses the need of strict supervision of their families regarding religious conduct. They should not be lenient. At the same time, the believers have been warned about showing excess in the process of accountability and regarding unnaturally prohibiting things which Allah has made allowable.

These are three distinct teachings sprouting from the same root. The verses containing them were not revealed until an atmosphere was created which was conducive for the reception of the principle as well as its applications. Something happened that was apparently an ordinary incident. Allah Almighty, however, used it as a source of effective guidance to His servants.  A very sublime teaching and a great wisdom could be communicated to the hearts of the believers. There is a saying among the Arabs that expresses this fact. They say: small affairs give rise to great ones.

The divine scriptures use this technique. A clear example is that of the incident of the blind person related in Sūrah ‘Abas (Q. 80) where the Prophet (sws) was taught a lesson of extraordinary importance. Likewise, Moses (sws) and Aaron (sws) forgot to invoke Allah’s name while commanding water out of a rock for the Israelites (Numbers 20:11-12). God rebuked them on this (Numbers 20: 23-24). Solomon (sws) too was censured for a minor failure. God holds the chosen individuals accountable for small errors and mistakes while He ignores sins of the first order from the common men. People of understanding have in these directives great wisdom and point of ponder. A detailed discussion on this issue can found in my commentary on the following verses: If Allah were to punish men according to what they deserve (Q 35:45), as well as verses in sūrah 80.

Here I intend to state that parts of the divine revelation come in the appropriate conducive atmosphere. This fulfills the purpose of the revelation. This way the message is not lost upon the receivers. They are naturally inclined to lend full attention to it. When an incident occurs which calls for a divine revelation, the Almighty does not only address that particular issue, but He also sends down revelations covering the basics of the problem and other necessary relevant details. However, the coherence is not damaged. Apparently, unrelated and segmented issues are woven by a single thread of the root of all these issues. This calls for a deep and careful deliberation upon the text of the Book.


8. The Occasion of Revelation of Verse 1 and 2

Women are naturally weak and sensitive. This reflected in their dislike of certain foods. One of the wives of the Prophet (sws) felt such a dislike for any of the pure and allowable things. It could have been honey as some reports tell us. For we know that some kinds of honey are bad smelling and taste sour. The holy Prophet (sws), however, liked honey very much.  But when he came to know that one of his wives did not like it, he stopped eating it, for he was an extremely accommodating man. He did so because he was naturally a generous person. He was very kind towards the weak, especially to women and the orphans, and liked the pure and nice things. He disliked the smelly and dirty things, which is a basis of the distinction between the prohibited and allowed. Therefore, he stopped eating honey yielding to the desires of any such of his wives besides the aforementioned reasons. When the Companions of the Prophet (sws) came to know this, they too decided to stop eating honey following the Prophetic example. The Almighty, therefore, commanded all the people to break their vow which obliged them to stop eating honey. He clarified that it would not entail violating the vow. This is implied by the divine saying: “Allah is your Protector”. (Q 66:02) No other entity has the right to oblige you to do anything. All vows and responsibilities are due to Him alone. He is commanding you to break this vow. He does not command you to do something harmful and evil, for He is the Wise, the Knowing.

This divine guidance teaches us a number of things.

First, it is desirable to keep one’s wife happy. It is a very commendable conduct. However, one must not cross the limit in pursuing the wishes of one’s wives. One must not violate a religious commandment. In Sūrah Luqmān, God Almighty has taught us the same. He guided human beings to be polite and obedient towards parents. But at the same time, He forbade them to obey parents when obeying them amounted to defiance of divine injunctions. Similarly, here too, God has forbidden us only that which amounts to disobeying God.

Second, if a person vows something that violates a Divine command, it becomes obligatory for him to break such an oath. No commitment can be considered a real commitment until it is agreed upon by both the parties involved. One cannot vow something presumably in the favor of God while in reality it is not. In these cases he is not bound to fulfill his vow for the other party, God Almighty, has expressly forbidden it. The sayings of the holy Prophet (sws) also confirm this view.

Third, it denies asceticism in clear words as we have discussed under the first and the fourth headings.

Fourth, we learn that God intends to bless this ummah. He has completed the religion He willed for them. He does not leave out even apparently ordinary issues. He has taught us that we must not ignore the fact that there are issues which seem very trivial to us, but in reality have great consequences.

Fifth, we learn that the teachings of the sharī‘ah are based on Divine wisdom and knowledge.

Sixth, it is only God who has the power to declare the lawful and the unlawful. It is a serious wrong to take up this responsibility ourselves. He has clarified this matter in the following verse:


وَلاَ تَقُولُوْا لِمَا تَصِفُ أَلْسِنَتُكُمُ الْكَذِبَ هَـذَا حَلاَلٌ وَهَـذَا حَرَامٌ لِّتَفْتَرُوْا عَلَى اللّهِ الْكَذِبَ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَفْتَرُونَ عَلَى اللّهِ الْكَذِبَ لاَ يُفْلِحُونَ (١١٦:١٦)

But say not – regarding any false thing that your tongues may put forth –that this is lawful, and this is forbidden, so as to ascribe false things to Allah; those who ascribe false things to Allah will never prosper. (16:116)


We know that the Prophet (sws) did not prohibit to himself the thing he vowed to avoid. However, his actions and that of his Companions are examples for the oncoming generation. This is why the Prophet (sws) had stopped offering his night prayer in the mosque in congregation. This issue has been discussed in detail in the commentary on the verse:


اتَّخَذُوْا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللّهِ (٣١:٩)

They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords other than Allah. (9:31)


This issue has also been discussed through partly in Sūrah al-An‘ām (Q. 6). The referred to discussions aim to prove that innovation is basically a form of polytheism and disbelief.

These are the basic teachings that can be inferred from pondering over this part of the sūrah. As for the endeavors to precisely determine what the Prophet (sws) stopped eating, they are merely a waste of time. I do not see any use of digging into something that God decided not to mention.

This is the occasion of revelation of the first two verses. The next verses relate to a different story and now I will discuss what occasioned them.


9. The Occasion of Revelation of Verses 3-5

The verses 3 to 5 relate to a similar story. This follows the common style of mentioning similar things together. We see that, in the Qur’ān, the stories starting from the word idh (recall when this and this sharpened) are generally similar to the preceding one. This holds true in this instance too. The naturally good disposition of the holy Prophet (sws) has been implied in the first incident. It describes how he cared for his wives. This is followed by another incident which reveals another aspect of his worthy attitude. It has been explicated that he used to share secrets with his wives.

1. There is no doubt that this is the most prominent feature of an ideal relationship between a man and his wife. If a husband conceals something from his wife, he virtually disgraces her. It means that he considers this relationship merely as a source of sexual satisfaction.

2. Following this fact, the Almighty referred to a women’s duty to keep the secrets of their husbands. This has been more clearly put in a parallel discussion in the Qur’ān. The Almighty reminded women of their responsibility regarding the secrets shared with them by their husbands. The holy Qur’ān says in this regard:


فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللّهُ (٣٤:٤)

Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard [the secrets of their husbands] for Allah too guards [the secrets]. (4:34)


A close study of the verse shows that keeping secrets is very important, as it is the quality of God to also keep secrets. God is termed as the One guarding the secrets (sattār).

3. The verse under discussion here also shows that we should not be harsh while advising somebody, especially our wives. The Prophet (sws) has set an example for us. He merely mentioned the matter to his wife. He did not relate the whole story. This he did in order to avoid embarrassing her by detailing the incident.

4. The verses clarify that love between co-wives is a great quality, although for the most part it remains unsuccessful. This rare quality was found in the wives of the holy Prophet (sws), especially ‘Ā’ishah (rta) and Ḥafṣah (rta), who were exceptionally wise and pure. It was because of this mutual love between the two that one of them shared the secret confided in her by the Prophet (sws) to her co-wife. The Almighty has chided her on revealing the secret even though in doing so she was perusing other ideals, i.e. mutual love, trust and affection.

Nobody can deny that this attitude based on love and care for others has advantages over many other virtuous deeds. A similar example is the pleading of Noah (sws) for the deliverance of his son. Another example is offered by Abraham (sws) who said that he would pray for his father. All these steps by the religious personalities were based on love and care for others, which are obviously good virtues. Yet another analogous behavior is asceticism that is a result of determination to do good and avoid evil. Allah has stopped us from prohibiting a good thing to ourselves owing to harshness in our attitudes. On this very same ground, He has stopped us from doing every seemingly naturally good act and taking them as an allowance solely based on our good and accommodating attitude. If we show a good and loving attitude, it does not mean that we may allow others what is unlawful and inadvisable. Islam is a central point between excessive harshness and excessive kindness. It looks at everything from a mean point of view.

5. The discourse then turns to ‘Ā’ishah (rta) and Ḥafṣah (rta), in that they returned to Allah and repented. I will discuss this in detail under my commentary on the words ṣaghat qulūbukumā. Reconciliation between two groups after a war, and reunion after a misunderstanding, brings one a wonderful feeling. This sense can be found in the most beautiful form in pure and real repentance. For details, consider the verse 132 and 135 of Sūrah ‘Āl-‘Imrān (Q 3) where Allah praises the repentant. These verses clearly establish the gracefulness of repentance.

Love and care between a husband and wife is very important and obligatory. This has been slightly hinted at in the verse:


وَإِن تَظَاهَرَا عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ مَوْلَاهُ وَجِبْرِيلُ (٤:٦٦)

But if you back up each other against him, truly Allah is his Protector, and Gabriel… (66: 4).


This inference is further corroborated by many Aḥādīth. It is well known that the Prophet (sws) helped his Companions in all kinds of tasks. Similarly, he was always keen to help his wives in his domestic chores. This treatment of the holy Prophet (sws) created an atmosphere of love and respect that could be called the best display of mutual trust and love.

When he showed anger after the secrets he had confided in one of his wives was revealed by her, and when the mutual love and frankness between the Prophet (sws) and two of his wives was weakened, both the wives felt great hurt. The feeling of self-respect and dignity was agitated. This feeling, at times, is found in most respectable and honorable individuals. Still, however, in some cases it may find unnecessary and inappropriate display. The two wives of the Prophet (sws) showed a lack of care towards the Prophet (sws), as is sometimes observed between couples. These two wives, however, thought it to be a private affair that had nothing to do with the religion.

Here it will be necessary to mention that self-respect was a part of the natural traits of the Arabs. This quality was mainly responsible for their resistance to surrender before any authority. It was not only a great passion, but also the main stream of their nature and the source of great good.

Keeping this aspect in view, Allah Almighty reminded the wives of the Prophet (sws) that his love, respect, and care that he showed them was not but a display of his generosity towards them. This is his kindness for them. Is not his relation with Allah enough for the Prophet (sws) so that he should look for the comfort and consolation in other relations? In the presence of al-rūḥ al-qudus (the Holy Spirit), the believers, the pious, and the angels suffice for him. If the wives get angry with him, it will be destructive for their own hearts. His comfort will not be disturbed at all.

6. The Almighty has also clearly stated that disobeying the Prophet (sws) basically means disobedience to God. Therefore, they both must repent for what they did.

7. Then in the fifth verse, the respect and God-consciousness in their nature is mentioned. It has been clarified that Allah Himself has chosen the relations for the Prophet [sws] and has blessed them with a good nature. In this regard Allah says:


وَالطَّيِّبَاتُ لِلطَّيِّبِينَ وَالطَّيِّبُونَ لِلطَّيِّبَاتِ (٢٦:٢٤)

Women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity. (24:26)


This establishes them as pure for they are the consorts of the pure Prophet (sws). At another place He says:


إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا (٣٣:٣٣)

And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, you members of the family, and to make you pure and spotless. (33:33)


Therefore, the family of the Prophet (sws) should not be proud of their position. The light they enjoy is due to the company of the holy Prophet (sws). If the Prophet (sws) leaves them and chooses some other wives, the newly chosen consorts will prove better than these two.  Therefore, it is necessary for the wives of the Prophet (sws) to take their position only in respect to him as a source of the advantage. They must remain obedient to him. They have in their good naturalness a capacity to show this ideal attitude. It has been affirmed that they have already shown their tendency to repent. Their hearts have already melted. For the self-respect they showed was basically a product of modesty and chasteness as is reflected in relations between a husband and wife. The apparent show of anger and carelessness was in reality a reflection of love and care. We have discussed this issue in detail in twelfth section.

Although this story primarily concerns only two wives, the Almighty used second person plural in the last verse to indicate that the injunction mentioned here is a general one, and also so that the strictness in the rebuke is mitigated.

In this story, we find many lessons that can cause a correction in our family life. It shows that good treatment of the wives is a good thing. But we should not be careless about their religious and moral conduct. We should always try to observe and correct their mistakes. Family is the primary unit of society. The strife in family life and the spoiling of relations between husband and wife can extend to strife and spoil in the state authority and in society. This fact explains the importance of the basic injunctions introduced by Islam aiming at correction of family life. Now we will discuss the occasion of the revelation from this angle.


10. Occasion of Revelation of Verses 1-5: A Principle Guidance  

Every Muslim knows that Islamic sharī‘ah was revealed in the background of the strict laws of Judaism and lenient accommodations of the prevalent form of Christianity. This guides us to understand why the mean approach characterizes most of the sharī‘ah rulings and Islamic injunctions. At this point I will discuss this matter, partly confining the discussion to the issues directly relevant to this story.

The Jewish laws and rulings related to woman were strict. It lessened their place in the community. Contrarily, as discussed above, the Christian laws were at the extreme point on the scale of leniency towards woman. Despite the apparent difference between the two approaches, they produced the same result, for they shared extremism. God has ordained that the path of betterment is the mean path.

In such matters, the Arabic tradition was totally different from these two. There was a battle for the rights between a man and woman. Each tried to win more and more rights. As modesty was a part of their blood, they never liked to suppress the weak people. That is why their women had a chance to battle against their men. It resulted in a complete disorder in which sometimes men won and sometimes women. The people acquainted with the history of Arabs cannot deny this fact. Imr al-Qays comments on women in these words:


وَإنّكَ لمْ يَفْخَرْ عَليكَ كَفَاخِرٍ ... ضَعيفٍ وَلمْ يَغْلِبْكَ مثْلُ مُغَلَّبِ

He has never claimed superiority over you like a weak person. Nor has he overpowered you like a defeated person.3


In this verse Imr’ al-Qays used the word Mughallab (defeated permanently) for women. It is expressive of an ongoing dispute between men and women.

This was the situation of the Makkan Quraysh. They were the best representation of Arab society and culture. In the tribe of Quraysh women had a reasonable status. But as mentioned above, sometimes the situation changed. But when these people came to Madīnah, this situation was totally changed. A number of Christians and the Jews lived there. Many of those Christians embraced Islam and their women started meeting Muslim women. These casual meetings affected the Muslim women considerably. What Ibn ‘Abbās (rta) reports from ‘Umar b. Khaṭṭāb (rta) clearly puts forth this change. He is reported to have said:


We, the Quraysh, were dominant over our women but when we came to Madīnah, we saw that their women were dominant over men. When our women met them, they built a confidence against men.4


This situation demanded that Allah clarify the rights and obligations of women. Sūrah al-Nisā’ (Q 4) was revealed during those times. The sūrah gives a detailed account of the rules concerned with marriage and inheritance. The sūrah issues a final decision in describing the rights of women. Some rules concerned with women have also been revealed in Sūrah al-Baqarah. That sūrah too gives women a number of rights so that, in case of a dispute, their rights and obligations are distinguished and no chance of injustice remains. This is the wisdom of the detailed rules and injunctions of the Islamic sharī‘ah.

The Christians have met great destruction because of the complexity and briefness of the sharī‘ah given to them. A brief command is sufficient only when a nation is generally doing well. When their nature is distorted and their moral standard has deteriorated, it does not work. They need detailed injunctions. The sharī‘ah must also accord to the changing atmosphere.

Furthermore, rights and obligations for women have also been described in Sūrah al-Nūr, which has been placed in the middle of the Qur’ān, and due to the importance of the rights of women, Sūrah al-Nisā’ (4) and al-Aḥzāb (33) have been placed at either side of the Qur’ān. Then in Sūrah al-Taḥrīm, which was occasioned by a specific incident, Allah has made us aware of our responsibilities towards our families. As discussed above, it teaches us about the accountability as well as kindness and tenderness we need to show them. All these details have made everything apparent in every aspect of women’s rights and nothing remains hidden or complex. On the contrary everything in the Christian sharī‘ah is inconspicuous. Even they cannot decide if the husbands are dominant over the wives or the latter are dominant over the former. We have discussed this matter in detail in the commentary on the verse: “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women.” (Q 04:34).

Another important point is that this Sūrah along with the previous Sūrah (al-Ṭalāq) is the last sūrah containing the sharī‘ah rules, and Sūrah al-Baqarah is the first one. Both these explicate the rules concerned with women. Sūrah al-Nūr has been, as mentioned above, placed in the middle and Sūrah al-Nisā’ and al-Aḥzāb have been placed at either end in the present arrangement of the text. It reflects the carefulness observed in the management adopted for the divulgence of the rights of women. It also depicts the special quality and excellence of the perfect religion i.e. Islam.

A basic reality described in Sūrah al-Nisā’, as well as in this sūrah, and at other places in the Qur’ān is that all these rules are based on the reality that man and woman are an issue of the same entity (nafs). Therefore, if we set everything right among us, we will become like one body. In this aspect the dominance of men over women will not be based on cruelty, but be seen as a helping content to each other as one part of a body helps the others. This point has been discussed in detail in the commentary on the verse: “Who created you from a single person (nafs-i wāḥidah), and created, of like nature, His mate. (Q 04:01)


(to be continued)

(Translated. by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)







1. Abū Tammām, Ḥabīb b. Aws al-Ṭā’ī, Dīwān Al-Ḥammāsah, 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1998), 288.

2. The author could not complete the book on the subject. However, he has presented his understanding of the mater in his introduction to the present tafsīr. See: Hamīd al-Dīn Farāhī, Exordium to the Coherence in the Qur’ān (trans. Tariq Mahmood Hashmi), (Lahore: Al-Mawrid, 2008), 30.

3. Imru’ ul-Qays, Dīwān, 2nd ed., (Beirut: Dār al-Ma‘rifah: 2004), 75.

4. Fakhr al-Dīn Rāzi, Tafsīr al-Kabīr, 1st ed., vol. 10, (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 2000), 73.


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