Sūrah Tahrīm (Part 2/2)

Sūrah Tahrīm (Part 2/2)


Qur'ānic Exegesis

(Translated from Tadabbur-i-Qur'ān by Shehzad Saleem)

إِن تَتُوبَا إِلَى اللَّهِ فَقَدْ صَغَتْ قُلُوبُكُمَا وَإِن تَظَاهَرَا عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ مَوْلَاهُ وَجِبْرِيلُ وَصَالِحُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمَلَائِكَةُ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ ظَهِيرٌ (4)[1]

Here the question arises that it was one of the wives who had committed this mistake; so why have both been addressed in this verse, and what was the mistake the other wife had committed on which she has been asked to repent for she was apparently innocent?

The answer to this question is that when the Prophet (sws) expressed his distaste on one of his wives for disclosing a secret, the other wife would have thought that this distaste was owing to the fact that the secret had been disclosed to her; she must have thought that after all the secret was revealed to her only and to no stranger; so why should the other wife be rebuked; this can only mean that she – to whom the secret had been divulged – has been considered an outsider. Although this notion of hers was based on an absolute misunderstanding, however when there exists a competition for trust and love, it is not improbable for such a misunderstanding to arise.

Nevertheless, both the wives regarded this matter to be against their self-esteem, and this feeling made them shy away a little from the Prophet (sws). In normal circumstances, this attitude was nothing extra-ordinary; such things happen every now and then between a husband and wife; however, the matter was between the Prophet (sws) and his wives; so the Almighty sternly checked those involved so that it becomes evident to the wives that in matters of religion expression of unjustified vanity has no place. If they were at fault, they were liable more than others to reform themselves. It was only this attitude which was befitting their rank and status, and also a requisite of their faith and repentance. However, if they became stubborn and united against the Prophet (sws) in this attitude, they should remember that a Messenger of God does not depend on them for his inner-satisfaction and resolve; it is, in fact, they who are dependent on him.

Here it needs to be kept in consideration that the attitude shown by these two wives was not driven by anger and hatred; it was driven by trust and love or in other words their confidence and conviction in him; however, the Qur'ān checked it with stern words. I have already indicated the reason for this in the introduction of this sūrah: the real teaching of this sūrah is that even where emotions are attached on the basis of fondness and love, it is essential to remain within the bounds stipulated by God and to fully abide by His injunctions. As a consequence of this, the wives of the Prophet (sws) should not merely regard him as their husband; they should also regard him to be a Messenger of God in all circumstances, and in all situations specially remember this status of his because this status overshadows all others.

Our exegetes have gravely faltered in interpreting the section of verse: إِن تَتُوبَا إِلَى اللَّهِ فَقَدْ صَغَتْ قُلُوبُكُمَا. In their opinion, the word صَغَتْ means "to deviate" and to them the translation of the verse is: "If you repent, then this is only befitting for you because your hearts have deviated."

There are many errors in this interpretation – some of which are pointed out below:

Firstly, this interpretation is totally against the linguistic principles of Arabic. The word صغوdoes not mean "deviation" in Arabic; on the contrary, it means "to incline and to bend towards something." My mentor, Imām Hamīd al-Dīn Farāhī has researched into the meaning of this word in his tafsīr on Sūrah Tahrīm. I am reproducing its relevant portion below:

In all languages of the world in general, and in Arabic in particular, there are certain words which besides having an aggregate meaning are also reserved for specific meanings. People who are not aware of this feature of a language are totally deprived of its understanding.[2]

After stating this principle, while citing an example of it, he writes:

For example, the word ميل, which means "to bend and to swerve" conforms to an aggregate meaning which is represented by many words in Arabic: For example: زيغ ، جور .إرواء ، إنحرا. However, all these words mean ميل عن ألشيء (to bend away from something or to leave something). Under this aggregate meaning are also words such as في ، توبة ، إلتفات ، صغو which mean ميل إلى ألشيء (to be inclined to or to bend towards something).

A scholar of Arabic who is aware of this essence of the word knows that the expression صَغَتْ قُلُوبُكُمَا meansأنابت قلوبكما و مالت إلى الله و رسوله (the hearts of both of you are inclined towards God and His Messenger) because the word صغوmeans "to bend to and to incline towards something" and not "to bend away and to swerve away from something"

This essence of the word is also found in all its derived words (mushtaqqāt). For example, the expression صاغية الرجل means "to follow someone's ways". Similarly, the expression صغوه معكmeans "He is inclined towards you". Another example is the expression: أصغيت إلى فلان. It means "You turned your ears to him." The words of a narrative are: ينفخ في الصور فلا يسمع أحد إلا أصغى إلييه (when the trumpet is blown, everyone will turn his attention towards it), An idiom reads:الصي أعلم بمصغى خده (a child well recognizes his embrace of love). The harrah (cat) narrative has the words: كان يصغي لها الأناء(they would bend the utensil towards it so that it could easily drink from it). The jawf (inner part) of a utensil is called صغو because everything gets accumulated in it.

ibn Bārī has presented the following couplet of some poet to adduce the meaning ofإصغاء سمع (to direct one's attention to someone)

ترى السفيه به عن كل مكرمة

زيغ وفيه للتسفيه اصغاء

(The foolish turns away from noble and honourable things and turns his attention towards silly things.)

A poet while praising a she-camel says:

تصغى اذا شدّها بالكور جانـحة

حتى اذا ما استوى فى غرزها تـثب

(When he tightens the saddle on it, she turns her neck to become attentive, and when he puts his feet in the stirrup, she leaps forward.)

A'shā while mentioning the eye of his bitch says:

ترى عينها صغواء فى جنب مؤقها

تراقب كفى والقطيع الـمعد ما

(Her eye is bent towards its edge while she looks at my hand and brutal lash.)

Namr Ibn Tawlab has used the idiom إصغاء أناءin a specific connotation; however, even then the real essence of the word is found in it:

وان ابن اخت القومر مصغى اناؤه

اذا لم يزاحم خاله باب جلد

(And the rights of the nations' nephew are violated, if he does not counter the onslaught of his uncles through a brave father.)[3]

After citing these idioms and couplets from the Lisān al-'arab, Imām Farāhī writes with deep emotional feelings:

For the seekers of the truth, these testimonies should be enough; they would be enough to satisfy them, and will not be influenced by the poisonous content injected by the fabricators in historical narratives; when such elements were not able to alter the words of the Book of God, they went after distorting its meanings and translated the word صغو as زيغ (deviation) even though there is a world of difference between the two. The recital زاغت reported in certain narratives is not even worth paying attention to.[4]

Secondly, if the implied meaning was what the exegetes have interpreted: "if you repent because your hearts have deviated," this style adopted by the Qur'ān is totally inappropriate. After citing numerous examples of the occurrence of قَدْ after the conditional ِإنْ(as is the case in this verse) from the Qur'ān and classical Arabic poetry, Imām Farāhī has explained it thus:

If you reflect on these examples, you will realize that in this style the sentence which comes after قَدْstates the ease and comfort of what is stated after إنْ. If the suppressions in the discourse are unfolded, it would read thus: "if such and such thing happens, then there is no problem or there is no wonder or this is something very ordinary because such and such thing has happened." In the light of this detail, the verse would mean: "if, in order to please the Prophet (sws), you repent before God, then this is precisely what is expected from you, because your hearts are already inclined to Him."[5]

Thirdly, the pious wives have been labelled with the sin of having warped and twisted hearts even though the nature of the incident, which I have described earlier in the light of the words of the Qur'ān clearly shows that there was not a semblance of any malafide intent involved and whatever happened, happened because of sincerity and mutual trust and affection: the Prophet (sws) confided a matter to one of the wives, who disclosed it to another of his wives out of sheer affection for her; when the Almighty informed the Prophet (sws) of this matter, he checked the wife who was guilty of this disclosure; however, she did not give due importance to this chiding of the Prophet (sws) and reckoned that if she had disclosed a matter relating to her husband to another of his trusted and beloved wives, then this was not a mistake that called for such accountability. Moreover, when because of this attitude, the Prophet (sws) became reserved with her, she too, owing to her love for him, was put off from him because of her trust in him and the wife to whom she had disclosed the secret also supported her. As referred to above, the two felt slightly humiliated that they had been rebuked for something that had been disclosed to them; it is but natural for such sentiments of self-esteem to arise in the wives of noble families.

Here one should also keep in consideration the psychological reality that when a person is angry because of his or her love for another person, then this anger is only superficial and concealed in it is an intense desire to be united again. Same was the case here. Both wives outwardly distanced themselves from the Prophet (sws), but in their hearts greatly desired that if the Prophet (sws) expressed even a slight inclination towards them, they would give up feigning anger. However, the Prophet (sws) could not show any flexibility in his stance because, as explained earlier, he was to teach his household that even with his near ones he must give priority to the directives of God and His Messenger. It was the wives who were left with no choice but to give up their unjustified self-esteem in this matter. However, the fetters of love and trust are very gripping. In spite of wanting something to happen that ended this embargo, they remained hesitant in taking the initiative. The Qur'ān has pointed to this internal conflict within them by the words إِن تَتُوبَا إِلَى اللَّهِ فَقَدْ صَغَتْ قُلُوبُكُمَا in a very effective way. Alas! Our exegetes were unable to understand this, and erroneously regarded this inclination of the hearts to be deviation of the hearts.

Consider now, the next part of the verse: وَإِن تَظَاهَرَا عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ مَوْلَاهُ وَجِبْرِيلُ وَصَالِحُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمَلَائِكَةُ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ ظَهِيرٌ. The word تَظَاهَرَا means "to become the helpers and supporters of one another. The preposition عَلَيafter it has incorporated in it the meaning of uniting against the Prophet (sws). I have already explained earlier the nature of this "united front" and its cause: it was not an expression of clash; it was only an expression of trust and fond affection. They thought that in this matter they had a right to express their self-regard. At that time, they did not realize the fact that in matters of religion no one is beyond accountability, not even the Messenger of God.

Here it needs to be kept in mind that as per the more famed narratives, the two wives referred to here are 'A%'ishah (rta) and Hafsah (rta) about which we get an impression from some narratives recorded in tafsīr works that the two were jealous of one another in the way two rival wives normally are. However, their characters depicted in these verses clearly present an indubitable testimony that they so deeply loved one another that they would even share secrets about their husband, and at times, in sympathy for one another, would shy away from their husband.

Though the verse addresses only these two wives, yet the admonition present in it relates to all the pious wives. They are told that if they shy away from the Prophet (sws), it is not that he would suffer from the loss of their company; the affection the Prophet (sws) has for them is secondary; His real association is with God Who is his Lord and Master. After Him, Gabriel, who brings revelations, is his friend and associate and after him the righteous among the believers occupy this position – believers who are the real worthy recipients of his attention and instruction. To add to this noble group are the angels of God who accompany and support him in every hardship.

The implication of this section of the verse is that the wives of the Prophet (sws), while dealing with him, must realize the great difference there was between an ordinary husband and that of a husband who was a Messenger of God. They should honour the time he was able to afford them from his hectic involvements, and should not think that as the Prophet (sws) was in need of their love and companionship would always pamper them; he would pamper them only to the extent possible in the limits set by God; if these limits were even slightly exceeded, it was his obligation to hold them accountable for this, and it would not be befitting for him to show any slackness in this duty.

عَسَى رَبُّهُ إِن طَلَّقَكُنَّ أَن يُبْدِلَهُ أَزْوَاجًا خَيْرًا مِّنكُنَّ مُسْلِمَاتٍ مُّؤْمِنَاتٍ قَانِتَاتٍ تَائِبَاتٍ عَابِدَاتٍ سَائِحَاتٍ ثَيِّبَاتٍ وَأَبْكَارًا (5)[6]

Expressed in this verse is the same topic as the previous verse, albeit in a more stern manner viz a viz the requirement of accountability. The pious wives are addressed and told that they should not think that if they shy away from the Prophet (sws), then he would be deprived of the support of close ones. Just as today the Almighty has selected them for his companionship, he can select better wives than them for this purpose if the Prophet (sws) divorces them, and these wives will have all the qualities they are required to have. The qualities enumerated here have all been discussed at other places in the Qur'ān specially in verse twenty five of Sūrah Ahzāb. Readers are advised to look up the tafsīr of that verse. Its repetition here will only unnecessarily add more pages.

The real purpose of mentioning the word ثَيِّبَاتٌ (formerly-wedded) after إِبْكَارا (virgins) is that to God the real value of a person lies in his or her high moral character. Being formerly-wedded or being a virgin is a secondary thing. If a lady has a high moral character, then married ladies hold more importance than virgins, as is evident by their prior mention in the verse.

The word سَائِحَاتٌ has generally been translated as "fasting women"; in my opinion, this is an inaccurate translation. This actually refers to سياحت (siyāhat), a religious term which has a broad meaning. I have already mentioned in detail my research about this word in verse 112 of Sūrah Tawbah. Its essence is ascetism and forsaking worldly pleasures. Thus it refers to rituals which depict this, and include the fast, the i'tikāf and the hajj etc. It is in fact a ritual of worship of the category of monasticism (rahbaniyyah). Just as monasticism is acceptable in Islam to a particular extent, similarly siyāhat is also acceptable to a certain extent. The fast, no doubt, is an important ingredient of it; however, confining the translation of the word to it would thus be incorrect. I have translated this world as abstinent, which is relatively more comprehensive and includes all rituals which have this spirit. This of course includes the fast.

While reading this verse, it should be kept in mind that in it the wives of the Prophet (sws) have been called to account – wives whose piety and purity was indubitable, and wives who were superior to all women of the world. Such noble souls have been threatened divorce merely because they were slightly careless in a matter instructed by the Prophet (sws), and that too not because of any antagonism or arrogance but because of love and trust. One can only imagine from this the status accountability occupies in Islam. In other words, it is this accountability which is the basis of establishing ties and severing them: love which is devoid of accountability is not love; it is a bait thrown by Satan. The real beauty of the love of believers is that it is subservient to the limits set by God. In such matters, they are never careless about one another; in fact, the more they love a person, the more are they vigilant in their accountability because this is the requisite of true love. When they see that no place remains in the hearts for their words of counsel and affection, they feel no hesitation in breaking ties with them, because once the spiritual relationship is broken, material relationship occupies no significance in their eyes.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ عَلَيْهَا مَلَائِكَةٌ غِلَاظٌ شِدَادٌ لَا يَعْصُونَ اللَّهَ مَا أَمَرَهُمْ وَيَفْعَلُونَ مَا يُؤْمَرُونَ (6)[7]

After the Prophet (sws) and his wives were called to account in the previous verses, the common believers are also cautioned and reminded. The message sounded to them is loud and clear: they have seen that even the Prophet (sws) and his wives are not beyond accountability, what to speak of others. It is the duty of every person to do whatever he can to protect himself and his family from fire. Whenever he sees any deviation on their part regarding the directives of God, he should try to check it as soon as possible; he should not worry whether this would weigh down heavily on them or not, and whether as a result of it, he might have to bear their displeasure and aversion. Bearing this displeasure is much less bothersome than letting them creep to the path that leads to Hell. If he is not vigilant in this regard, then he himself will also be held accountable for them, as per the narrative: أَلاَ كُلُّكُمْ رَاعٍ وَكُلُّكُمْ مَسْؤُوْلٌ عَنْ رَعِيَّتِهِ (مسلم ، رقم : 4724) (beware that each of you is a shepherd, and each person will be held accountable for his herd, (Muslim, No: 4724)).

The words وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ reflect the nature of the fire: its fuel is people and stones. With this fuel, it will blaze in its true form. The people referred to here are obviously those who did not purify themselves in this world, and remained contaminated with the filth of their sins. They never obeyed the sharī'ah revealed by the Almighty so that they could become purified souls.

The stones mentioned here, as has been explained in the twenty third verse of Sūrah Baqarah earlier, are ones who were given the status of deities and were worshipped in this world as such, and hence were a symbol of idolatry. It is to burn such objects that this fire of Hell has been prepared. When it will receive this fuel, it will be as if it received its most cherished food. It will gulp each and everything while declaring:هَلْ مِنْ مَزِيْدٌ (50: 30) (is there more? (50:30) and will do as is expressed thus:لَا تُبْقِي وَلَا تَذَرُ (74: 28 ) (it will neither show mercy nor spare anyone, (74:28)).

The words عَلَيْهَا مَلَائِكَةٌ غِلَاظٌ شِدَادٌ لَا يَعْصُونَ اللَّهَ مَا أَمَرَهُمْ وَيَفْعَلُونَ مَا يُؤْمَرُونَ are a veiled reference to people who regard checking their family members on the greatest of mistakes to be contrary to the love and affection they have for them. The implication of these words is that if today love is stopping people from holding their family accountable for faults, then they should remember that the angels deputed on Hell have no love and regard for such people; these angels are very harsh and stern; it is better that before they are encountered, people through accountability should try, if they can, to save their own selves as well as their family from the clasp of this punishment.

The implication of the part لَا يَعْصُونَ اللَّهَ مَا أَمَرَهُمْ وَيَفْعَلُونَ مَا يُؤْمَرُونَ is that if today people are being asked to do accountability, and this directive is weighing heavily on them, then let it be so for it will not weigh down heavily on the keepers of Hell. They will never disobey God in any of His directives, and will fully comply to what He asks them to do.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَا تَعْتَذِرُوا الْيَوْمَ إِنَّمَا تُجْزَوْنَ مَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ (7)[8]

If people will try to make any excuses on the Day of Judgment, they will be told that they are only reaping what they had sown. They will now taste the consequences of what they did in the previous world; it is not that the crimes of others have been inserted in their record of deeds; the result of their own deeds is being shown to them; so creating a clatter in this situation will be of no use to them; if they could have done something to save themselves from this punishment, it was in the previous world; they have no choice now.

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)[9]

After the appeal sounded in the previous verse, in this verse all believers are called upon to repent for their sins and to turn to God in sincerity and shun their indifference to the truth.

Sincere repentance is that which is done with full humility of the heart and with true resolve and after which a person has no desire to turn towards sin, and after permanently divorcing sin, he earnestly presents himself before God.

I have already explained somewhere in this tafsīr that when the word تَابَis addressed by God to His creation, then it connotes a promise and glad tidings from Him on the condition that a person proves himself worthy of these.

The word يَوْمَ in يَوْمَ لَا يُخْزِي اللَّهُ النَّبِيَّ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ can be regarded as the locus (zarf) of the verb or some other verb can be regarded to be suppressed before it. On that Day, the Almighty will not humiliate the Prophet (sws) and his companions who were believers because they had already adopted those people as their own companions in the previous world whom they passed through the sieve of accountability and who had purified themselves from the filth of polytheism and disbelief, and were very sincere. These people will not be the ones who themselves led hypocritical lives, and because of their weak and compromising attitude led their family and other relations to hypocrisy. Such people will be humiliated on the Day of Judgement because on that day they will be engulfed by the darkness of their hypocrisy, while, on the other hand, the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta) would be advancing to their destination and their path would be lit up with the radiance of their faith and sincerity.

The last part of the verse: نُورُهُمْ يَسْعَى بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِمْ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا أَتْمِمْ لَنَا نُورَنَا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا إِنَّكَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ refers to the success and triumph of the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta). On that Day, everyone will be wandering in darkness; however, the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta) will be guided by a light which will be in front of them and on their right side, and they would be praying to God to perfect their light, and to forgive them because He has power over all things.

The light mentioned here is also referred to in Sūrah Hadīd earlier. There also people who will be humiliated are alluded to:

يَوْمَ تَرَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَسْعَى نُورُهُم بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِم بُشْرَاكُمُ الْيَوْمَ جَنَّاتٌ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا ذَلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ يَوْمَ يَقُولُ الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالْمُنَافِقَاتُ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا انظُرُونَا نَقْتَبِسْ مِن نُّورِكُمْ قِيلَ ارْجِعُوا وَرَاءكُمْ فَالْتَمِسُوا نُورًا فَضُرِبَ بَيْنَهُم بِسُورٍ لَّهُ بَابٌ بَاطِنُهُ فِيهِ الرَّحْمَةُ وَظَاهِرُهُ مِن قِبَلِهِ الْعَذَابُ يُنَادُونَهُمْ أَلَمْ نَكُن مَّعَكُمْ قَالُوا بَلَى وَلَكِنَّكُمْ فَتَنتُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ وَتَرَبَّصْتُمْ وَارْتَبْتُمْ وَغَرَّتْكُمُ الْأَمَانِيُّ حَتَّى جَاء أَمْرُ اللَّهِ وَغَرَّكُم بِاللَّهِ الْغَرُورُ (57: 12-14)

On the Day when you shall see believing men and believing women, with their light shining before them and on their right. They would be given the glad tidings: "Rejoice this day for you shall enter gardens watered by running streams in which you shall abide for ever." This is the supreme success. On the day when hypocrites, both men and women, will say to the believers: "Please give us that chance to benefit from your light." But they will be told: "Go back, and seek some other light there!" Then a wall with a gate shall be set before them. Inside it shall be mercy, and outside it will be torment. These hypocrites will cry out to them: "Were we not with you?" "Yes," they will reply, "but you tempted yourselves, you waited, you doubted, and were deceived by desires until the decision of God arrived and Satan deceived you about God." (57:12-14)

The words رَبَّنَا أَتْمِمْ لَنَا نُورَنَا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا إِنَّكَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ refer to the fact that light shall be shown to these people before they enter Paradise in order to guide them to it. At that time, there will be darkness around them except on their front and on their right. For this reason, these people while showing deep gratitude on this favour of the Almighty will pray to Him to complete their light, and to forgive them. Obviously, when they will be given the light to guide them on while they would be treading the path leading to Paradise, this will also induce in them the expectation that the Almighty will bless them with His forgiveness, and that will be the time when this light will completely manifest itself. Thus, they will pray that this expectation of theirs is fulfilled.

The words إِنَّكَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ uttered by these people will be an expression of the fact that though they did believe that God had power over all things, they had now seen this with their very eyes that this is indeed so.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ جَاهِدِ الْكُفَّارَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ وَاغْلُظْ عَلَيْهِمْ وَمَأْوَاهُمْ جَهَنَّمُ وَبِئْسَ الْمَصِيرُ (9)[10]

After the accountability of the believers and the near ones, the Prophet (sws) here is stressed upon to be vigilant in this divinely-bestowed responsibility of accountability. The jihād mentioned in the verse relates both to the sword and the tongue; however, both have their own sphere. The sword was to be used against people to whom the truth had been communicated in such a conclusive manner that they were left with no excuse to deny it, and had come out as its open enemies. Details of this jihād can be seen in the previous sūrahs. On the other hand, people who seemingly claimed to profess faith but evaded its requisites were to face verbal accountability. At this juncture, the tone of this accountability was not to be soft; it was directed to be carried out in a stern manner.

The reason because of which the Prophet (sws) had been asked to be stern is that whenever he would check the hypocrites on their mistakes, he would be very soft because of his graciousness so that they did not feel humiliated. These people should have valued this gracious attitude of the Prophet (sws); however, since they did not deserve this graciousness, instead of benefitting from it they became audacious enough to think that they were succeeding in deceiving the Prophet (sws). For this reason, the Almighty directed him to change his tone, and asked him to be stern and unyielding in calling them to account for their misdeeds so that these people take heed and if they wanted, they could reform themselves or at least be left with no excuse. I have already explained this subject in the third verse of Sūrah Tawbah. Those interested can look it up.

The words وَمَأْوَاهُمْ جَهَنَّمُ وَبِئْسَ الْمَصِيرُ direct the Prophet (sws) to fully caution and remind these people that if they did not change their attitude, they should remember that Hell would be their abode which no doubt is the worst of all abodes.

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)[11]

Here at the end, examples are cited to show that what will benefit a person before God are his own deeds. Those who will not bring the treasure of good deeds with them to God will not be able to benefit from being related to the noblest of people.

The examples of the wives of Noah (sws) and Lot (sws) have been presented here as a general counsel for the addressees of this verse and thus the words: ضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا لِّلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا (God cites the example of Noah's wife and Lot's wife to the disbelievers). These examples are related in a very general manner to the incidents concerning the pious wives of the Prophet (sws) mentioned at the beginning of the sūrah. It is not correct to construe that these examples have some special relation to those incidents. The greatest thing which contributed to the indifference of people, especially religious people, regarding accountability in the Hereafter was their wrong notion that since they were the descendents of the favoured ones of God, the fire of Hell would not touch them. The Jews and Christians were devastated because they were inflicted with this wrong notion, and now the Muslims were following their footsteps.

The word خَانَتَ (betrayal) is used for both women. It is very obvious that these ladies were not faithful to their husbands as far as being their confidants was concerned; however, it does not necessarily mean that they were besmeared with profligacy and licentiousness. The Almighty protects His prophets from such filth. It is mentioned in narratives that the wife of Lot (sws) would inform the ruffians of his nation whenever he would receive guests. These misdeeds have been called acts of betrayal by the Qur'ān.

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)[12]

This example is meant to teach Muslims the fact that even in the worst of circumstances it is essential that they protect their faith. If in these circumstances a Muslim is living luxuriously, it is a requisite of his faith that if he feels that this atmosphere is detrimental to his faith and is a place of torment for him, he should protect his faith by bearing every hardship. Although the wife of the Pharaoh was the queen and lived in a palace she still prayed to God to grant her a house in Paradise, and to rid her of the Pharaoh and his evil from his wicked people. It is obvious from this that she felt that she was living in place of torment because the whole environment was replete with sin and oppression. A believer, whether man or woman, should never breathe in satisfaction in such an environment even though he or she in these circumstances is living in a palace.

It is evident from the words وَنَجِّنِي مِن فِرْعَوْنَ وَعَمَلِهِ وَنَجِّنِي مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ that she was fully aware of the fact that if a person is living prosperously in an evil atmosphere and is not directly involved in the sins and accesses committed in it, even then he cannot protect himself from its foul effects. In order to be shielded from such effects, it is essential that he show abhorrence and detestation to them, and whenever possible he should run away from it.

وَمَرْيَمَ ابْنَتَ عِمْرَانَ الَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ الْقَانِتِينَ (12)[13]

Here, at the end, the example of Mary (sws) is cited: although she was born in an evil environment, through sheer attention, devotion, hard-work and worship she attained a unique status in the eyes of God.

At the time she was she was born, the Israelites were slaves to the Romans. The extent of moral decadence they had plunged into at that time can be seen from the extent to which John (sws) and later Jesus (sws) censured them. Moreover, the character displayed by the Israelites can also be gauged from the attitude they adopted with these two prophets and other righteous people. It was as a result of this attitude that the Almighty cursed them forever. It is in these decadent circumstances that Mary (sws) was born; she never received any support worthy of mention from her past, however, even in her childhood she greatly moved the prophet Zachariyya (sws), her maternal aunt's husband, when he would visit her in the Bayt al-Maqdis where she would be stationed for worship. He would be full of praise when he would feel her spiritual achievements. It was these achievements which impressed him so much that he prayed to God to bless him with such a son. Later, his prayer was accepted by God when he became father to the prophet John (sws).

Mary (sws) is an eternally living example that if a person is sincerely devoted to God, then even in the worst of circumstances, she can even make herself enviable for the angels. Thus the Almighty found her worthy of being entrusted with a great treasure, and in order to protect her honour from calumny and false allegations, He blessed her with such majesty which did not manifest itself for any other person of this world.

The words الَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِن رُّوحِنَا refer to her real achievement because of which she proved herself worthy of being entrusted with a great thing from God. The word فرج is not used in Arabic in a limited meaning. It means "places of fear". It includes in it all those ways from which sin can infiltrate in a person. In the Qur'ān, this word is used for both men and women. The expression أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا means that she completely guarded all parts of her body through which some sin could creep into it; the Almighty rewarded her for this by blowing His spirit into her, and in the form of Jesus (sws), a great sign of God emerged from her womb.

After a mention of this special characteristic of Mary (sws), the words وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ الْقَانِتِينَ point to the blessings her faith reaped: she complied without any hesitation whatsoever with every directive the Almighty gave her; similarly, she also adhered to the teaching of divine scriptures. She would remember God at each instant because of which she was able to adhere to the directives of God with full attention even during the hardest of trials.

A point specially worth noting here is that examples of women have been cited not only in matters of virtue but also in those of vice. The purpose is to negate the notion that the fountainhead of all vices is a woman. The truth of the matter is that as per her creation she too has good and bad abilities. If she does not use her freedom of will in the right manner, she can become the worst of companions to the best of people, and if she tastes the sweetness of faith and obedience, she is like a houri of Paradise in the most evil of environments.

By the grace of God, I come to the end of this sūrah's tafsīr. فَالْحَمْدُ لِلهِ عَلَى فضله و إِحْسَانِهِ (Gratitude be to God for His blessings and favour).

Rahmānābād,

6th June, 1978 AD

28th Jumadī al-Thānī, 1398 AH




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