(Translated from Tadabbur-i-Qur'ān by Shehzad Saleem)
Central Theme and relationship with the Previous Sūrah
I have already indicated in the tafsīr of Sūrah Talāq, the previous sūrah, that both these sūrahs respectively teach us that in situations of both hate and love a person must obey the bounds set by God. Thus, the previous sūrah teaches us how these bounds must be respected in situations of hate. This sūrah, on the other hand, teaches us how these bounds should not be violated in situations of love.
Like hate, if a person is overcome by love, he becomes one-track minded. He becomes very insensitive and compromising to the bounds set by God in the matters of his loved ones. Even if he sees his wife and children openly deviating from the dictates of the sharī'ah, he either does not realize this deviation or ignores it deeming that they will slowly mend their ways. So much so, many people instead of checking and asking their relatives to refrain from their obvious excesses try to find excuses to hide these transgressions. This shortcoming is not merely found in the masses, it is also found in people who want to reform others by policing them allegedly on behalf of God. The reason for this attitude is that such people are not aware of the fact that it is not a requisite of their love towards a person that a compromising attitude be adopted in this regard and he be entrusted to the wrath of God; on the contrary, the true requisite of a person's love for someone is that in whatever manner possible he shield his loved one from the wrath of God even if he has to tolerate agonizing things for this purpose. He who forgoes the sharī'ah-flouting attitude of his loved ones is not in fact showing love to them; on the contrary, he is responsible for callously consigning them to the wrath of God without being aware of its consequences.
Analysis of the Discourse
Verses (1-5):The Prophet (sws) has been checked by the Almighty in a particular matter. Though the driving force in this matter is showing mercy to the weak and consoling his wives, yet since he is to become an example for the whole ummah any virtuous deed which crosses the limits set by Allah is not permissible. The Prophet (sws) might be doing something to console and please his wives and he might be showing sympathy to their perfectly human weaknesses, yet owing to his position as a Prophet he must remain within the bounds set by Allah even in the smallest of affairs.
Similarly, the pious wives have been checked in a matter in which something said by the Prophet (sws) to a particular wife is disclosed by her to another wife, though in an atmosphere of mutual trust. However, since they too are to become an example for all women of the ummah, they are more responsible than others to be cautious about crossing the limits set by Allah even though the motive may be based on mutual trust and thinking well for one another. A warning is sounded that the higher the position and status of a person, the higher the extent of his or her accountability.
Verses (6-8):After checking the Prophet (sws) and his wives, general Muslims are urged to continually check and restrain their near ones in order to save themselves from the punishment of the Hereafter. Everyone should remember that the angels who guard Hell are strict and stern. They shall show no lenience to any one. On the Day of Judgement, no excuse of a person will be acceptable, for he shall be facing only what he deserves and no one shall be punished for more than what he has done. Only those people will triumph on that Day whose pure repentance makes them eligible for the Almighty's blessings. It will be a Day of success for the Prophet (sws) and his Companions. The Almighty shall perfect their light which shall lead them to Paradise. Everyone else shall be doomed forever.
Verses (9-12):The Prophet (sws) has been emphatically directed to sternly tell the disbelievers and the hypocrites to change their attitude lest they end up in the raging fire of Hell which, of course, is the worst abode. At the end, examples of the wives of the Prophet Noah (sws) and the Prophet Lot (sws) are cited to the disbelievers and those of the wife of the Pharaoh and Mary (rta) to the believers; the purpose is to prove that only a person's faith and deeds will be of any benefit to him in the Hereafter. If these are not present, even being the wife of such great prophets as Noah (sws) and Lot (sws) will be of no benefit to these women in the Hereafter. Similarly, if these are present, a woman can deserve the highest reward in the Hereafter even though she may be the wife of a person as rebellious as the Pharaoh.
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ لِمَ تُحَرِّمُ مَا أَحَلَّ اللَّهُ لَكَ تَبْتَغِي مَرْضَاتَ أَزْوَاجِكَ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ (1)قَدْ فَرَضَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ تَحِلَّةَ أَيْمَانِكُمْ وَاللَّهُ مَوْلَاكُمْ وَهُوَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ (2)وَإِذْ أَسَرَّ النَّبِيُّ إِلَى بَعْضِ أَزْوَاجِهِ حَدِيثًا فَلَمَّا نَبَّأَتْ بِهِ وَأَظْهَرَهُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ عَرَّفَ بَعْضَهُ وَأَعْرَضَ عَن بَعْضٍ فَلَمَّا نَبَّأَهَا بِهِ قَالَتْ مَنْ أَنبَأَكَ هَذَا قَالَ نَبَّأَنِيَ الْعَلِيمُ الْخَبِيرُ (3)إِن تَتُوبَا إِلَى اللَّهِ فَقَدْ صَغَتْ قُلُوبُكُمَا وَإِن تَظَاهَرَا عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ مَوْلَاهُ وَجِبْرِيلُ وَصَالِحُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمَلَائِكَةُ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ ظَهِيرٌ (4)عَسَى رَبُّهُ إِن طَلَّقَكُنَّ أَن يُبْدِلَهُ أَزْوَاجًا خَيْرًا مِّنكُنَّ مُسْلِمَاتٍ مُّؤْمِنَاتٍ قَانِتَاتٍ تَائِبَاتٍ عَابِدَاتٍ سَائِحَاتٍ ثَيِّبَاتٍ وَأَبْكَارًا (5)يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ عَلَيْهَا مَلَائِكَةٌ غِلَاظٌ شِدَادٌ لَا يَعْصُونَ اللَّهَ مَا أَمَرَهُمْ وَيَفْعَلُونَ مَا يُؤْمَرُونَ (6)يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَا تَعْتَذِرُوا الْيَوْمَ إِنَّمَا تُجْزَوْنَ مَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ (7)يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا تُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ تَوْبَةً نَّصُوحًا عَسَى رَبُّكُمْ أَن يُكَفِّرَ عَنكُمْ سَيِّئَاتِكُمْ وَيُدْخِلَكُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ يَوْمَ لَا يُخْزِي اللَّهُ النَّبِيَّ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ نُورُهُمْ يَسْعَى بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِمْ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا أَتْمِمْ لَنَا نُورَنَا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا إِنَّكَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ (8)يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ جَاهِدِ الْكُفَّارَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ وَاغْلُظْ عَلَيْهِمْ وَمَأْوَاهُمْ جَهَنَّمُ وَبِئْسَ الْمَصِيرُ (9)ضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا لِّلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا اِمْرَأَةَ نُوحٍ وَاِمْرَأَةَ لُوطٍ كَانَتَا تَحْتَ عَبْدَيْنِ مِنْ عِبَادِنَا صَالِحَيْنِ فَخَانَتَاهُمَا فَلَمْ يُغْنِيَا عَنْهُمَا مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا وَقِيلَ ادْخُلَا النَّارَ مَعَ الدَّاخِلِينَ (10)وَضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا لِّلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اِمْرَأَةَ فِرْعَوْنَ إِذْ قَالَتْ رَبِّ ابْنِ لِي عِندَكَ بَيْتًا فِي الْجَنَّةِ وَنَجِّنِي مِن فِرْعَوْنَ وَعَمَلِهِ وَنَجِّنِي مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ (11)وَمَرْيَمَ ابْنَتَ عِمْرَانَ الَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ الْقَانِتِينَ (12)
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Ever-Merciful.
O Prophet! Why do you prohibit that which God has made lawful for you to please your wives? And God is Forgiving and Merciful. And God has made it mandatory upon you to break oaths sworn in violation of the sharī'ah. And God is your Master and He is Omniscient and Wise. (1-2)
And when the Prophet confided a secret to one of his wives; so when she disclosed it and God informed the Prophet of this, he expressed some part of it and suppressed another. So when the Prophet informed his wife of this, she said: "Who informed you of this?" The Prophet replied: "I was informed by the Omniscient and the All-Knowing God." If you two turn to God in repentance, it is only befitting for you; your hearts are already inclined to God, and if you unite against him, God is his protector, and Gabriel, and all righteous Muslims and moreover the angels are his helpers. It may well be that he divorce you; then His Lord will give him in your place better wives than yourselves who are submissive, full of faith, obedient, penitent, devout in worship, abstinent, both formerly-wedded and virgins. (3-5)
Believers! Protect yourselves and your kindred from the Fire –fuelled with men and stones – on which harsh and stern angels shall be deputed. They never disobey God's command and promptly do what they are directed to do. Disbelievers! Make no excuses today; you are only being returned what you had been doing. (6-7)
Believers! Turn to God in sincere repentance. Hopefully, your Lord will wipe away from you your sins and admit you to gardens watered by running streams. On the day when He will not disgrace the Prophet and those who professed faith with him. Their light will shine in front of them and on their right. They will pray: "Lord, perfect our light for us and forgive us; indeed, You have power over all things." (8)
Prophet! Wage war against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and deal sternly with them. And Hell is their abode and what an evil abode it is. (9)
God cites the example of Noah's wife and Lot's wife to the disbelievers. Both were married to two of Our righteous servants; so they betrayed them. So their husbands could in no way protect them from God and both women were ordered: "Go you also and enter the Fire with those who enter it." (10)
And God cites the example of the Pharaoh's wife for the believers when she prayed: "Lord, build me a house with You in Paradise and deliver me from Pharaoh and his deeds and deliver me from a wicked nation." And cites the example of Mary, 'Imrān's daughter, who preserved her chastity and into who We breathed Our spirit and she attested the words of her Lord and His Books, and she was among the obedient. (11-12)
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ لِمَ تُحَرِّمُ مَا أَحَلَّ اللَّهُ لَكَ تَبْتَغِي مَرْضَاتَ أَزْوَاجِكَ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ (1)
It has been indicated in the introduction of the sūrah that it is not allowed for a person to be slack or compromising in fulfilling the rights of God when he is dealing with relations for which he has natural emotions of love and sympathy; in fact, it is a requisite of this love that a person be more cautious about the accountability of these relations so that there is a possibility that they may be reformed before being judged by God. And if they are not reformed, then at least a person will have fulfilled his responsibility before God of making the effort to reform them.
In order to delineate the above premise, the Almighty has first of all checked His Messenger for prohibiting upon himself a lawful thing merely to please and console his wives.
A little deliberation shows that no one can be more dear to God than His Messenger and his wives; however, in spite of this the Almighty has cautioned him for a very trivial error; moreover, the motive behind this excess committed was also very noble. The purpose of this chiding by the Almighty was that it becomes evident to everyone that even the Prophet (sws) and his wives cannot be allowed to cross the bounds set by God what to speak of other Muslims.
As far as the actual thing is concerned which the Prophet (sws) had forbidden upon himself to please his wives, various opinions have been reported by narrators. The most famous of these opinions is that the Prophet (sws) had consumed honey while residing with one of his wives; some of his other wives expressed their distaste for the smell of honey. It is known that there are types of honey which do not have a pleasing aroma; and even if such types of honey do not exist, people who are very sensitive to aromas do not like all kinds of aromas. Women in particular are very sensitive in this matter. At times, they do not like wholesome and tasty food. People have diverse temperaments. Some of the wives of the Prophet (sws) also did not like honey which had the scent of maghāfirin it. Consequently, they expressed their revulsion for it before the Prophet (sws). Since the Prophet (sws) had a very subtle and refined disposition, and would be very caring towards the feelings and emotions of the weaker sex, he promised himself to never consume honey.
In normal circumstances, this was nothing extra-ordinary, and was a very pleasing step emanating from very pious motives; however, every step taken by a Prophet of God has great importance in religion; since every deed of his is to become an example for the ummah, it is not permissible for him to do or say something owing to his personal inclination and for the dearest of his associations that even slightly exceeds the bounds set by God. If this is allowed, there is a strong chance that it would become a wrong example for the whole ummah. It is known that the Jews had prohibited the meat of the camel upon themselves merely because Jacob (sws) would not eat it for some reason. Similarly, if it would have come to the knowledge of the Muslims that the Prophet (sws) had pledged never to eat honey, seldom would a pious Muslim also not have done the same thing. For this reason, the Almighty checked the Prophet (sws), and asked him to immediately mend the situation.
The words تَبْتَغِي مَرْضَاتَ أَزْوَاجِكَ point to the motive of the step he took. It was essential to divulge this motive because as explained in the introduction, the objective of this sūrah is to teach Muslims not to show any slackness in the accountability of their dear ones. Like hatred, love also makes a person indifferent to the limits set by God. To inform a person of this danger, the Almighty has checked His Messenger and his wives – who are the closest to Him. In this way, Muslims will realize that there is no lenience in matters of religion for even the closest and the nearest.
Consider next the last part of the verse: وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ. Since the motive of the Prophet (sws) was very noble and he had made this decision out of sheer love and consideration for his wives purely for his own self and never wanted to prohibit something for the ummah, the Almighty after correcting him on this attitude simultaneously declared that He had forgiven him for this step.
Here it needs to be kept in consideration that there is an air of hastiness found in the declaration of forgiveness. It is as if even before delineating a directive of the sharī'ah an announcement of acquittal has been made. The obvious reason for this is that the Prophet (sws) did not take this step for the reason he had been rebuked; it was taken only for his own self, as indicated before, merely to sympathize with and gratify the weaker sex; the Almighty did check him so that this step of his should not create any problems for the believers; however, He simultaneously announced His forgiveness so that this rebuke should not weigh down heavily on the Prophet (sws).
Here readers should refresh in their minds what has often been stated in this tafsīr: the lapses by prophets of God are never because they are led by their base desires; they result because these prophets exceed the limits in doing something which in itself is noble. Pleasing one's wife is not an evil thing; it is, in fact, a requisite of decency, honour and benevolence and a requirement of human nature as well as of the sharī'ah revealed by the Almighty. The Qur'ān has directed man to fulfill this requirement on the condition that it remains within the bounds of the sharī'ah. If it exceeds these bounds, it becomes a source of trial for the Muslims from which one must protect one self as well as others. However, when the motive of a mistake is pious, it should be checked hand in hand with forgiveness.
قَدْ فَرَضَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ تَحِلَّةَ أَيْمَانِكُمْ وَاللَّهُ مَوْلَاكُمْ وَهُوَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ (2)
Stated in this verse is the directive relating to a person's oath sworn to forbid something lawful to him. The previous verse was addressed to the Prophet (sws) only. This verse is addressed to all the Muslims. The reason for this is that the real purpose of checking the Prophet (sws) on this mistake was that the ummah should not be misled in any way by this step taken by him. Consequently, in this verse, all Muslims are addressed and directed to break their oaths sworn in forbidding upon themselves what has been allowed by the sharī'ah.
Stated in the words وَاللَّهُ مَوْلَاكُمْ is the reason why God has prohibited this: Since God is the Master of people, only He has the right to tell them what is prohibited and what is not. No one else has this right on his part nor is it allowed to him to accept such a prerogative for others. If a person does such a thing, he will be interfering in the rights of God.
What is said above is further stressed by the words وَهُوَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ. Since in reality, only God is the knower of all things and is wise, hence whatever He has directed His servants to is based on knowledge and wisdom. No one should be so insane as to think that he is more knowledgeable and wiser than God.
Here a question arises: The Almighty has directed the Prophet (sws) and the believers to break such oaths; however, He has not mentioned any atonement for it; so, in this case, is no atonement to be made? The answer to this question is that the atonement of breaking an oath has already been mentioned in Sūrah Mā'idah (verse 89), and thus there was no need to repeat it here. Nevertheless, it is obvious from the words تَحِلَّةَ أَيْمَانِكُمْ that if a person has sworn an oath to prohibit something on himself, then he must atone for breaking such an oath; but if he has done so without swearing an oath, atonement is not necessary.
وَإِذْ أَسَرَّ النَّبِيُّ إِلَى بَعْضِ أَزْوَاجِهِ حَدِيثًا فَلَمَّا نَبَّأَتْ بِهِ وَأَظْهَرَهُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ عَرَّفَ بَعْضَهُ وَأَعْرَضَ عَن بَعْضٍ فَلَمَّا نَبَّأَهَا بِهِ قَالَتْ مَنْ أَنبَأَكَ هَذَا قَالَ نَبَّأَنِيَ الْعَلِيمُ الْخَبِيرُ (3)
In the previous verse, the Prophet (sws) was checked on an act of his; in this verse, one of his wives has been checked on a mistake. When the Prophet (sws) confided with her some secret, she divulged it to another of his wives; when later the Prophet (sws) checked her on this, instead of showing regret, she regarded this to be against her self-esteem, and the wife to whom this secret had been revealed also did not like this. Finally, the Almighty admonished both these wives to show that in matters of religion even the wives of the Prophet (sws) are not beyond accountability.
Exegetes have generally linked the incident mentioned in this verse with that of the previous one, and in this manner given it a very despicable form. However, as per linguistic principles of Arabic, it is not necessary at all that the two incidents be regarded as the same; it is in fact more probable that the two be distinct: the Almighty checked one of the wives of the Prophet (sws) for a misdemeanour. Here, a linguistic principle should be kept in mind: by the words وَإِذْan independent incident is generally referred to.
Here the Qur'ān has not mentioned what secret was confided and with which of the wives was it confided. This secret has been kept a secret. For this reason, I do not deem it proper to go after this secret. Wives of the Prophet (sws) are like our mothers. It is not at all appropriate for the children to go after secrets which are between their fathers and mothers. This is so in particular when knowing this secret has no role in understanding this verse. Here, the admonishment relates to divulging a secret, and if we start investigating this secret, it would only mean that we are doing something from which we have been stopped. However, what is very evident from this verse is that the Prophet (sws) would confide with his wives which shows that he had full trust in their ability to keep secrets and in their intellect and wisdom as well. The beauty of husband-wife relationship rests on this trust. If this trust does not exist, then the two would be leading a life devoid of higher human values.
In the section: فَلَمَّا نَبَّأَهَا بِهِ قَالَتْ مَنْ أَنبَأَكَ هَذَا قَالَ نَبَّأَنِيَ الْعَلِيمُ الْخَبِيرُ a part of the discourse has been suppressed as per contextual indications: the wife with whom the Prophet (sws) had confided revealed the secret to another of his wives. Just as the wife who made this mistake is not specified, similarly it is not indicated as to which of the wives she had revealed the secret; however, this much is evident that the matter remained among the wives; it was not revealed to any other person. The exegetes have generally named 'A%'ishah (rta) and Hafsah (rta) in this regard. If this view is accepted, then it becomes evident that the relations between the two of them were so cordial that they did not hide secrets from one another. This view also refutes the reports in which some uncautious narrators have attributed jealousy and rivalry between them.
The Almighty informed the Prophet (sws) of his secret being disclosed; after that, the latter chided the wife who had committed this mistake. This was essential because secrecy has a great importance in husband-wife issues. It is essential for wives to protect the secrets of their husbands. The Qur'ān has specially mentioned that pious wives are those who guard secrets:
فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِلْغَيْبِ (4: 44) (so, pious women are obedient [to their husbands] and keep their secrets, (4:34)). A wife is the natural trustee of her husband's secrets. If she is unfaithful in this regard, then this will only mean that the very person who had been entrusted with the protection of his house has broken into it. This characteristic of faithfully guarding the secrets of the husband is essential for every wife; however, higher the rank the more the responsibility. This responsibility on the wives of the Prophet (sws) was much more than others; for this reason, the Prophet (sws), at the behest of God, checked them so that it becomes evident to everyone that no one is beyond accountability in matters which pertain to the bounds set by God.
The words عَرَّفَ بَعْضَهُ وَأَعْرَضَ عَن بَعْضٍ refer to a very subtle reality: The Prophet (sws) did call one of his wives to account because it was a requisite of religion; however, he did not humiliate her in this process of accountability; he revealed a few facts, and ignored some others. This mannerism was adopted by him so that his wife is admonished at her behaviour and at the same time she does not end up dejected and disheartened. In the first place, the Prophet (sws) possessed a lot of affection and sympathy for others; he would not use harsh words to scold the hypocrites and his opponents. In the second place, this matter related to the wives of the Prophet (sws) about whom it could not have been imagined that any error that emanated from them was based on any planned ill-intention. Consequently, this mistake also, as indicated before, was not of this category; it only resulted because one of the wives thought that another of the wives was also a confidant and beloved of the Prophet (sws), and so there was no harm in sharing a secret with her and that this sharing would in fact increase mutual trust and love. This notion was based on a noble intention, and had no element of ill-intention in it. However, an important aspect was ignored in the matter: disclosing secrets is against the character which the Almighty wants to see in the wives of His Prophet (sws) as well as in the Prophet (sws) himself. It was essential that the wives possess this lofty character because they were to be idealized by all believing women of the ummah. Moreover, the matter related to the Prophet (sws) who was not merely a husband; he was also a messenger of God. Because of this importance that this issue had, those involved were checked on their behaviour but the manner in which this accountability took place was not to disgrace them; it rather took place in an indirect manner through various pointers. This method of checking yields the desired results in mistakes which are not made because of ill-intention.
Here, I would rather not touch upon the actual secret referred to in this verse the way our exegetes have tried to unveil it. This is firstly because it is based on narratives which are in obvious contradiction to one another; secondly, this undertaking is also against the very teaching of the verse under discussion: when the Prophet (sws) himself did not like to divulge it completely, and the Almighty expressed His likeness for the manner adopted by the Prophet (sws), how then can it be the right course of action for others to try to go after the secret especially when it pertained to the Messenger of God and his wives.
The words فَلَمَّا نَبَّأَهَا بِهِ قَالَتْ مَنْ أَنبَأَكَ هَذَا قَالَ نَبَّأَنِيَ الْعَلِيمُ الْخَبِيرُ express wonder and amazement of the wife who had divulged the secret; she did not deny the happening; however, instead of realizing her mistake, she was more interested in knowing how the Prophet (sws) was informed about it; she must have thought that the wife in whom she had confided must have told him; she had grounds to believe so because she had not disclosed this secret to any one else except her. It is even possible that she might have been angry at this situation, as is indicated by the words: مَنْ أَنبَأَكَ. If this was the case, then there was need to be surprised about it. If a person thinks that his or her trust has been breached, he obviously feels sad. However, the Prophet (sws) clarified her misconception immediately that he was informed by the Almighty who knows all and is Omniscient. This explanation by the Prophet (sws) must have cleared the doubts of his wife, which was essential. For this reason, the Prophet (sws) did not delay the explanation.