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Surah al-Baqarah (233-242)
Qur'anic Exegesis
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)

وَالْوَالِدَاتُ يُرْضِعْنَ أَوْلَادَهُنَّ حَوْلَيْنِ كَامِلَيْنِ لِمَنْ أَرَادَ أَنْ يُتِمَّ الرَّضَاعَةَ وَعَلَى الْمَوْلُودِ لَهُ رِزْقُهُنَّ وَكِسْوَتُهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ لَا تُكَلَّفُ نَفْسٌ إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا لَا تُضَارَّ وَالِدَةٌ بِوَلَدِهَا وَلَا مَوْلُودٌ لَهُ بِوَلَدِهِ وَعَلَى الْوَارِثِ مِثْلُ ذَلِكَ فَإِنْ أَرَادَا فِصَالًا عَنْ تَرَاضٍ مِنْهُمَا وَتَشَاوُرٍ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْهِمَا وَإِنْ أَرَدْتُمْ أَنْ تَسْتَرْضِعُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذَا سَلَّمْتُمْ مَا آتَيْتُمْ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ (٢٣٣)

وَالَّذِينَ يُتَوَفَّوْنَ مِنْكُمْ وَيَذَرُونَ أَزْوَاجًا يَتَرَبَّصْنَ بِأَنفُسِهِنَّ أَرْبَعَةَ أَشْهُرٍ وَعَشْرًا فَإِذَا بَلَغْنَ أَجَلَهُنَّ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا فَعَلْنَ فِي أَنفُسِهِنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ  وَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِيمَا عَرَّضْتُمْ بِهِ مِنْ خِطْبَةِ النِّسَاءِ أَوْ أَكْنَنتُمْ فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ عَلِمَ اللَّهُ أَنَّكُمْ سَتَذْكُرُونَهُنَّ وَلَكِنْ لَا تُوَاعِدُوهُنَّ سِرًّا إِلَّا أَنْ تَقُولُوا قَوْلًا مَعْرُوفًا وَلَا تَعْزِمُوا عُقْدَةَ النِّكَاحِ حَتَّى يَبْلُغَ الْكِتَابُ أَجَلَهُ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ يَعْلَمُ مَا فِي أَنفُسِكُمْ فَاحْذَرُوهُ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ حَلِيمٌ (٢٣٤-٢٣٥)

لَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ إِنْ طَلَّقْتُمْ النِّسَاءَ مَا لَمْ تَمَسُّوهُنَّ أَوْ تَفْرِضُوا لَهُنَّ فَرِيضَةً وَمَتِّعُوهُنَّ عَلَى الْمُوسِعِ قَدَرُهُ وَعَلَى الْمُقْتِرِ قَدَرُهُ مَتَاعًا بِالْمَعْرُوفِ حَقًّا عَلَى الْمُحْسِنِينَ  وَإِنْ طَلَّقْتُمُوهُنَّ مِنْ قَبْلِ أَنْ تَمَسُّوهُنَّ وَقَدْ فَرَضْتُمْ لَهُنَّ فَرِيضَةً فَنِصْفُ مَا فَرَضْتُمْ إِلَّا أَنْ يَعْفُونَ أَوْ يَعْفُوَ الَّذِي بِيَدِهِ عُقْدَةُ النِّكَاحِ وَأَنْ تَعْفُوا أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَى وَلَا تَنسَوْا الْفَضْلَ بَيْنَكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ (٢٣٦-٢٣٧)

حَافِظُوا عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ وَالصَّلَاةِ الْوُسْطَى وَقُومُوا لِلَّهِ قَانِتِينَ  فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ فَرِجَالًا أَوْ رُكْبَانًا فَإِذَا أَمِنتُمْ فَاذْكُرُوا اللَّهَ كَمَا عَلَّمَكُمْ مَا لَمْ تَكُونُوا تَعْلَمُونَ (٢٣٨-٢٢٩)

وَالَّذِينَ يُتَوَفَّوْنَ مِنْكُمْ وَيَذَرُونَ أَزْوَاجًا وَصِيَّةً لِأَزْوَاجِهِمْ مَتَاعًا إِلَى الْحَوْلِ غَيْرَ إِخْرَاجٍ فَإِنْ خَرَجْنَ فَلَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي مَا فَعَلْنَ فِي أَنفُسِهِنَّ مِنْ مَعْرُوفٍ وَاللَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ (٢٤٠)

وَلِلْمُطَلَّقَاتِ مَتَاعٌ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ حَقًّا عَلَى الْمُتَّقِينَ (٢٤١)

كَذَلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ (٢٤٢)

And [after divorce also] mothers shall suckle their offspring for two whole years, for those who desire to complete the term. And the child’s father [in such a case] shall have to bear the cost of their food and clothing according to the norms. No one should be burdened beyond his means. Neither shall a mother be treated unfairly because of her child, nor a father for his child – and his heir shall be accountable in the same way – But if they both decide on weaning by mutual consent and after due consultation, there is no blame on them. And if you decide to engage someone else to suckle your offspring, there is no blame on you, provided you pay [the mother] in accordance with the norms [of the society] what you promised. But fear Allah and know that Allah sees well what you do.1 (233)

And those of you who die and leave widows behind, they should keep themselves in waiting for four months and ten days2; then when they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on you3 about what they do with themselves in accordance with the norms [of the society]. And Allah is well acquainted with what you do. And there is also no blame on you also if you tacitly send a marriage proposal to these women or hold it in your hearts. Allah knows that you would definitely talk to them. [Do so] but do not make a secret contract. Of course you can say something in accordance with the norms [of the society]. And do not decide to marry till the law reaches its term. And know that Allah knows what is in your hearts, so be fearful of Him; and keep in mind that Allah is Most Forgiving and Most Forbearing4. (234-235)

There is no blame on you in the matter of dower5 if you divorce women before touching them or having fixed their dower; but [this should definitely be the case that you] bestow on them some resources of life according to the norms of the society — the wealthy according to his means, and the poor according to his means. This is an obligation on those who are righteous.6 And if you divorce them before touching them, but after the fixation of a dower for them, then half of this fixed dower should be given to them, unless they forgo it or he forgoes it in whose hands is the marriage knot7; and if you men forgo your right, it is nearer to piety. And do not forget your superiority among yourselves. For Allah sees well all that you do8. (236-7)

 [This is the shari’ah of Allah and if you want to remain steadfast on it] be watchful over your prayers9, especially the one which comes in the middle10 [of the morning and evening prayers when it is not easy for you to take out time from your involvements], and stand before Allah devoutly [leaving aside everything]. Then if you fear any danger, pray on foot or while riding, as may be most convenient, but when there is security, remember11 Allah in the very manner12 He has taught you, which you knew not.13 (238-39)

And [there is another thing that requires explanation regarding the directives given to you about widows and divorced women:] Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year’s provision and [bequeath] that [in this period] they shall not be turned out of their residences14; but if they themselves leave the residence, then there is no blame on you for what they do with themselves according to the norms of the society. [This is the Law of God] and [know that] Allah is Exalted in Power15 and Wise16. (240)

 [And similarly, this explanation is also necessary that] divorced women should in all cases be given some resources according to the norms of the society when they are sent off. This is an obligation on those who are fearful of God17. (241)

Thus does Allah make clear His verses to you in order that you may understand18. (242)

 

1. The previous verses mention the directives regarding divorce. These verses now take up the issue of suckling the offspring. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi, while summarizing the directives of suckling that these verses mention, writes:

i) It is the responsibility of a divorced lady to suckle her offspring for two full years in case the husband wants her to complete the total suckling period.

ii) During this period, it is the responsibility of the father to provide his divorced wife with food and clothing, keeping in view the norms of the society. In other words, the status of the husband, the needs of the divorced wife and her own status shall be kept in consideration while providing for her.

iii) Neither of the parties shall be burdened beyond their capacity. Neither shall the mother be harmed in any way by taking advantage of the fact that she is the mother of the child nor the father be unduly pressurized in any way on the pretext that he is the father of the child.   

iv) If the father of the child is dead, his heirs will be responsible for all the above mentioned rights and obligations.

v) If through mutual consent and consultation, the estranged husband and wife decide to terminate the suckling period before two years, they can do so.

vi) If the child’s father or, in his absence, the heirs of the child want to have the child suckled from some other lady instead of the mother, they are authorized to do so provided what has been agreed with the mother regarding her maintenance is fully honored. (Islahi, Amin Ahsan, Tadabbur-i-Qur’an, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), 545)

2. In contrast with the waiting period (‘iddah) of a divorced lady, the waiting period of a widow has been extended by forty days. The reason is that while a husband has been asked to divorce his wife in the period of purity in which he has had no sexual intercourse with her, no such precaution can obviously be taken in the case of a widow. It is to exercise further care that these days have been added by the Qur’an.

Since the reason to observe the waiting period for a divorced lady and a widow is the same, all the exceptions that have been stated in the directive of divorce for a divorced lady shall also hold in case of the waiting period of a widow. Consequently, there shall be no waiting period for a widow with whom the deceased husband has had no intercourse. Similarly, the waiting period of a pregnant widow shall extend till childbirth. It is narrated in Bukhari (No. 5320) that when a pregnant widow Sabi‘ah (rta) presented her case before the Prophet (sws), her case was decided on these very grounds by him.

3. After the expiry of the waiting period, she is free to do whatever she deems appropriate for herself. However, she should follow the norms of the society in this matter. In other words, she should not indulge in any activity which damages the repute, honor and integrity of the family nor the conventions of the society. If all this is kept in consideration, then no blame can be caste on her or her guardians. Writes Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi:

What is implied is that people should not blame and censure one another without any reason by equating all un-islamic customs with Islam. On the one hand, a situation should not develop where the guardians of the widow or the heirs of the deceased husband are censured on the grounds that they got tired of her much before she could mourn the loss of her husband. On the other hand, circumstances should not deteriorate so much that the widow herself is censured on the grounds that she became interested in re-marrying soon after her husband’s death. In all cases, only the bounds of the Almighty should be observed and one should remember that the Almighty is aware of all the deeds of his creatures. (Islahi, Amin Ahsan, Tadabbur-i-Qur’an, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), 546)

4. If a person wants to marry a widow, then it is according to the norms that he make up his mind during her waiting period or inform her of his intentions in a very tacit manner. However, it is no way permitted that he, without considering the sentiments of the affected family, send a marriage proposal to the widow or make some hidden agreement with her. On such occasions, whatever is said must never exceed the bounds of sympathy and expressing of condolences. Consequently, the verses forewarn a person that since it is definite that he would express his intention in such a situation, it should not be in the form of a marriage proposal or some hidden or open agreement. This intention should be expressed in a manner that is befitting to the situation and in accordance with the norms of the society. Of course, once the waiting period expires, a person can decide to marry such a lady. At that time, he cannot be blamed in any way. 

It stems from this directive that the behavior of the widow should also befit the situation she finds herself in. On these very grounds, the Prophet (sws) directed such women to spend their waiting period in the house of their deceased husband in a state of mourning and to refrain from embellishing themselves. He is reported to have said:

A widow should not wear colored clothes, neither golden nor red nor ochre. She should not adorn jewelry nor put on henna or stain her eyes with antimony. (Abu Da’ud, No: 1960)

5. These words after ‘لَا جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكُمْ’ are suppressed here in accordance with the style adopted by the Qur’an in this verse. They have been unfolded in the translation.

6. The implication is that one should part ways in a decent manner with a wife with whom neither sexual relations have been established nor the dower had been fixed before the divorce: she should be given whatever the husband can afford according to the norms of the society and according to his own financial position.

7. The implied meaning is that if the dower had been fixed but a lady was divorced before having sexual relations with the husband, then the husband is liable to pay half the amount of dower fixed except if the wife willingly forgoes the total amount or the husband pays the full amount. The words used to convey this meaning are ‘إِلَّا أَنْ يَعْفُونَ أَوْ يَعْفُوَ’ which occur on the basis of mujanasah. It is evident from the Qur’anic words ‘الَّذِي بِيَدِهِ عُقْدَةُ النِّكَاحِ’ that it is the husband who has been given the right to divorce. The reason is very obvious: The husband has always been entrusted with the responsibility of financially supporting the wife as well as protecting her – responsibilities he has been inherently created to fulfill. For these very reasons, he has been regarded as the guardian of the wife by the Qur’an, as specified in an earlier verse (228) of this very surah ‘وَلِِلرِّجَالِ عَلَيْهِنَّ دَرَجَةٌ’ (and although men [as husbands] have a status above women). Consequently, it is the requisite of both his responsibilities and his status as a husband that he be given this right.

It is obvious from this explanation that a wife does not have the right to divorce her husband; if she wants to separate from him, she will demand divorce from him. In normal circumstances, every decent husband seeing that there is no way to continue would accept her demand; however, if this not be the case, she can seek help from a court of law.

18. While commenting on this verse, Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

Although the husband has divorced the wife before conjugal contact was made and thus there exists one motive for his wife to forgo her right, yet the Qur’an here has urged the husband with regard to his honor and forbearance and his status as a husband not to desire his wife’s forfeiture of her dower share. Instead he should show magnanimity by paying her the full amount. The Qur’an has appealed to him on three grounds to make this sacrifice: First, the Almighty has given him the right to untie the marital knot just as he has the right to tie it. Second, it is more befitting for the ‘stronger’ sex to show sacrifice and selflessness – the manifestations of true piety. Thirdly, the one degree of superiority a husband has been blessed with, by being made the head of the family unit being naturally suited for this task, requires that he take into account this aspect while dealing with the weaker sex. Its natural requirement is that he should be on the giving end rather than being on the receiving end. (Islahi, Amin Ahsan, Tadabbur-i-Qur’an, 1st ed.,  vol. 1 (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986),  548)

9. The implied meaning is that even in hardships and difficult circumstances, the prayer must be guarded. This includes giving due consideration and importance to its pre-requisites as well as its components and etiquette about which a person normally becomes indifferent in such circumstances.

10. The prayer alluded to here is the ‘asr prayer. This piece of advice has been given keeping in view the circumstances that prevailed at the time of revelation of the Qur’an. In case of any change in circumstances due to a change in society and culture, this directive would of course relate to the prayer that would be the most susceptible to this state of affairs.

11. The essence of the prayer is remembrance of the Almighty. The Qur’an has pointed out this aspect in a very befitting manner.

12. This refers to the way in which the prayer is offered as taught by the Prophets of Allah. The followers of the religion of Abraham (sws) were well aware of its method before the advent of Muhammad (sws). The pious among them would offer the prayer in this manner. The Prophet Muhammad (sws) revived and reformed it and then passed it on to the Muslim ummah as a Sunnah. Here in this verse, the Arabs to whom no divine book had been sent are cautioned that such guidance provided by the Almighty to them through His Prophet (sws) is a great favor. It is only befitting for them to give due consideration to it and not show indifference to it like the Israelites.

13. The third section of the surah ends here. This section is basically composed of the directives of the shari’ah. It ends with an emphasis on the directive of the prayer. The reason is to highlight the significance of the prayer and to stress the fact that no other directive in Islam occupies as much significance as the prayer. Like a sentinel it guards both a person’s religious concepts and his deeds. A person who is indifferent to the prayer is as if he is indifferent to religion as a whole.

14. Both these verses are appended to the last verses of the section as an end note so that it becomes evident from their very placement that they were revealed after the original directives as their explanation. The words ‘Thus does Allah explain His verses to you’ allude to this.

15. The original words used are ‘وَصِيَّةً لِأَزْوَاجِهِمْ مَتَاعًا إِلَى الْحَوْلِ غَيْرَ إِخْرَاجٍ’. In the opinion of this writer, the correct grammatical analysis of this sentence is as follows: the word ‘وَصِيَّةً’ is the object (maf’ul) of a suppressed verb; the word ‘مَتَاعًا’ is the object of ‘وَصِيَّةً’ and the word
غَيْرَ إِخْرَاجٍ’ is an accusative of state from ‘لِأَزْوَاجِهِمْ’. Most commentators consider the directive stated in this verse to be abrogated from the verses of inheritance that Surah Nisa mentions. This, I am afraid, is not the case. The verse has not been abrogated by any other Qur’anic verse. Quite obviously, it is an extension of another Qur’anic directive: the directive given to the husband to provide for and give shelter to his wife in his life time. The verse says that even after his death she should be provided with these services for a year. If it is for the husband that she accepts the restriction of the ‘iddah period, then she should necessarily be given more time to decide for her future. This is the wisdom behind this directive and bears no relation to the directive of distribution of inheritance.

16. Consequently, no person should dare disobey His law.

17. It is evident from these words that this is an obligation upon the husband. If a person does not fulfill it, he might not be liable to any legal action because this is something which pertains to a person’s inner piety and virtue, but he would definitely be held liable in the Hereafter before his Lord, and in the Hereafter the weight and import of pious and virtuous deeds would suffer.

18. This verse is in fact a further explanation of what is explained before. While commenting on this Qur’anic style, Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi writes:

The style of first concisely stating some directive and then explaining it further after an initial explanation actually trains and instructs our intellect to deliberate on various issues of religion and to reach the underlying wisdom and benefit behind them. By explaining His directives in a gradual manner, the Almighty has guided us on how to use our intellect and how to determine corollaries from given principles in the circumstances and affairs that we encounter. It is to this fact that the words ‘لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ’ (that you may understand) point. ( Islahi, Amin Ahsan, Tadabbur-i-Qur’an, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1986), 557)

   
 
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