Consisting of 22 verses, this sūrah was revealed in Madīnah, most probably after the Battle of the Trench, in the fifth year after Hijrah. It derives its name from the first verse, where a woman’s plea to the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, to solve a problem between her and her husband is recounted. It decisively abolishes the pre-Islamic custom of a form of divorce that took effect when a man said to his wife, “ You are henceforth like my mother’s back to me.” It also denounces the hypocrites for their holding secret counsels against the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and forbids the believers from taking as guardians those whom God has condemned to eternal punishment. Finally, it orders that support be given to God’s Religion.
- God has indeed heard (and accepted) the words of the woman who pleads with you concerning her husband and refers her complaint to God. God hears the dialogue between you.1 Surely God is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.2
- There is reference here to a pre-Islamic custom among the pagan Arabs. A husband would say to his wife, “You are henceforth as my mother’s back to me,” thus forbidding himself from conjugal relations with her. This meant an irrevocable divorce, but a woman thus divorced was not allowed to remarry. In Sūrat al-Ahzāb (verse 4), which was revealed before this sūrah, the Qur’ān took the first step towards abolishing this custom (it was called zihār), by declaring that a woman whose husband had pronounced her to be as his mother’s backwas in no way his mother in reality. Aws ibn Sāmit, from the Aws tribe, among the Muslims of Madīnah, was angry with his wife for some reason, and declared that she was as unlawful to him as his mother’s back. Afterwards, he regretted having done so, but according to custom, he was not able to return to his wife. So his wife, Hawlah bint Tha’labah, appealed to God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, and told him about the case. She added that her children had grown up and she lived alone with her husband. So if her husband left her, she would have been left alone without anyone to pro- tect her, and she added that her husband would agree to re-accept her as his wife. During her conversation with the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, God revealed this and the following verses concerning the same subject, thereby decisively and permanently abolishing the pagan custom.
- The verse concludes: “God is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” God hears everything, even the conversation between a woman and the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, about a particular, personal, and private matter between her and her husband. A woman is gener- ally more compassionate than a man, and is a source of care and tenderness that inspires self-sacrifice. As a requirement of His being All-compassionate, Almighty God heard her
complaint and considered it a matter of great importance through His Name, the Truth. In that He expresses a universal principle in relation to a particular event, we may realize that the One Who hears, sees and weighs a particular, minor incident must hear, see and weigh all things. One Who claims Lordship over the universe must be aware of the troubles of any creature who has been wronged and hear its cries, for one who cannot do so cannot be Lord. Thus, God being All-Hearing and All-Seeing, establishes these two mighty truths (The Words, “The 25th Word,” 446).
- Those among you who declare their wives to be unlawful for them by using of them the expression “Be as my mother’s back to me,” (should know that) their wives are not their mothers. Their mothers are none other than the women who gave them birth. Such men certainly utter a word abhorred (by the Shari‘ah) and a falsehood. Yet God is surely All-Pardoning (He overlooks the faults of His servants), All-Forgiving.
- Those who declare their wives unlawful for them (by using of them that abhorred expression) and thereafter wish to go back on the words they have ut- tered must free a slave before they (the spouses) touch each other. This is what you are urged to do. And God is fully aware of what you do (so do not seek to evade this act of penance and expiation for your wrong).
- Whoever does not find (means to do that), let him fast two (lunar) months consecutively before they (the spouses) touch each other. And he that is not able to do so, (his penance shall be) to feed sixty destitute ones (two meals). This is in order that you perfect your faith in God and His Messenger (so that you believe in the truth of whatever God has enjoined and His Messenger conveyed to you, and live accordingly). These are the bounds of God. And for the unbelievers there is a painful punishment.
- Those who oppose God and His Messenger (in the observance of God’s bounds) will certainly be abased (in the world), even as those (who did like- wise) before them were abased. We have certainly sent down clear Revelations (to guide you to happiness in both worlds). And for the unbelievers, there is a humiliating punishment.3
3. The verse is clear enough in warning that the communities that oppose God and His Messenger(s) in their ordering of life, those who do not observe the rules they have laid down, will inevitably suffer abasement (manifested as total or partial destruction through “natural” calamities, internal or external wars, famine, drought, pestilence, etc.); and what awaits those who obstinately reject them in the Hereafter is a much more humiliating and shameful punishment (in Hell).
- On the day when God will raise them all from the dead, and make them truly understand all that they did (in the world, and call them to account): God has
had it written down, though they have forgotten it. God is witness over every- thing.
- Have you not considered that God knows whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth? There is not a secret counsel between three persons but He is the fourth of them, nor between five but He is the sixth of them, nor less than that nor more but He is with them wherever they may be. Thereafter He will make them truly understand all that they do (and call them to account) on the Day of Resurrection. Surely God has full knowledge of everything.
- Have you not considered those who were forbidden to hold secret counsels, and yet reverted to what they had been forbidden, and held secret counsels to commit sins (such as drinking alcohol, gambling, and evading the Prayer), and for (urging one another to) offensiveness and disobedience to the Messenger (in his commands and prohibitions). (It is these very people who) when they come to you, salute you with a salutation that God has never taught you, and with which He has never saluted you,4 and say to one another (in derision): “Why does God not punish us for what we say (if Muhammad is truly His Prophet)?” Hell will suffice them; they will enter it to roast. How evil a destination to ar- rive at!
4. Generally, the disbelieving Jews and hypocrites in Madīnah, instead of saying the words of greeting as ordered by God (24: 61), used to and pronounce the word salām (“peace”) in a manner to make it indistinguishable from sām (death). They also vented their spite by using ambiguous expressions in their conversations. They either used words with double meanings, one innocent and the other offensive, or changed the pronunciation of the ex- pressions used by the companions (see 2: 104, note 94). The verse refers to their enmity and that of the hypocrites, which were displayed in such ways.
- O you who believe! If you hold secret counsels, do not hold secret counsels to commit sins, or for (urging one another to) offensiveness, or disobedience to the Messenger; but rather, hold counsels for godliness, and righteousness, and pi- ety.5 Keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety, to Whom you will be gathered.
5. Believers always pursue godliness and piety, and therefore God’s approval and good plea- sure. So, if believers come together privately or publicly, they do so only to discuss and solve matters in godliness and piety, and their conversations are conducted around these values. Further, as pointed out in 4: 114, No good is there in most of their secret counsels except for him who exhorts to a deed of charity, or kind equitable dealings and honest affairs, or setting things right between people. Whoever does that seeking God’s good pleasure, We will grant to him a tremendous reward.
- Secret counsels (held for other reasons) are only (a provocation) from Satan,
in order that he may cause grief to the believers; yet he cannot harm them in anything unless by God’s leave; and in God let the believers put their trust.
- O you who believe! When you are told, “Make room in the assemblies (for one another, and for newcomers),” do make room. God will make room for you (in His grace and Paradise). And when you are told, “Rise up (and leave the assembly),” then do rise up. God will raise (in degree) those of you who truly believe (and act accordingly), and in degrees, those who have been granted the knowledge (especially of religious matters).6 Surely God is fully aware of all that you do.
6. Merit is not to be sought only in sitting in the assembly of a scholar or spiritual guide. Merit lies in faith and knowledge. So, one should seek the assemblies of scholars and/or guides only with the intention of visiting them for God’s sake, and with their permission, and only in order to increase in faith and knowledge. When (true) knowledge, which leads one to greater piety and a better religious life, and from which others benefit, is added to faith, God will exalt its owner in many ranks.
- O you who believe! When you intend to consult the Messenger in private, offer something in alms (to the needy) before your consultation. That is better for you and purer. Yet if you do not find (means to do so), then God is surely All-Forgiving, All-compassionate.
- Is it that you are afraid of offering something in alms before your consulta- tion (with him)? (If so) and you have not done it, and God has turned to you in forgiveness, then establish the Prayer in conformity with its conditions, and pay the Prescribed Purifying Alms, and obey God and His Messenger. God is fully aware of all that you do.7
7. It is clear that this verse was revealed to train and educate the believers in their relations with the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. Some people frequently appealed to him in private concerning their affairs, some with the hope of nearness to him, and still some others in order to appear to be near to him. Since the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, refused nobody, this caused him a lot of trouble; and since most of those who appealed to him were from among the wealthy, it caused grief for the poor. In order to train and educate the believers and make them more sincere in their relationship with him, and to purify their hearts, the Qur’ān ordered them to spend something in charity before their appeal to him. When this order had the desired effect, God annulled it. However, it still retains its spirit, meaning, and importance in educating people in their relationship with the leaders of Muslims.
- Have you not considered those who take for confidants and guardians a people whom God has condemned to punishment? They are neither of you (O believers) nor of the others (whom they take for confidants and guardians). They swear to a lie (that they are of you), while they know (it to be a lie).
- God has prepared for them a severe punishment. evil indeed is that which they do habitually.
- They take their oaths as a covering (to screen their misdeeds and themselves from accusation), and bar (people) from God’s way. Therefore there is for them a humiliating punishment.
- Neither their wealth nor their children will avail them anything against God. They are companions of the Fire: they will abide therein.
- The Day when God will raise them all from the dead, they will swear to Him as (now) they swear to you. They fancy that they will have some standing (through their oaths). Be aware: they are but liars.
- Satan has subdued them and so caused them to forget remembrance of God. Those are the party of Satan. Be aware: the party of Satan, they are the losers (the self-ruined).
- Those who oppose God and His Messenger – surely those will be among the most abased.
- God has decreed: “I will most certainly prevail, I and My Messengers.” Sure- ly God is All-Strong, All-Glorious with irresistible might.
- You never find a people who truly believe in God and the Last Day loving toward those who oppose God and His Messenger, even if they be their (own) parents, or their children, or their brothers (and sisters), or their clan.8 Those (are they) in whose hearts God has inscribed faith and has strengthened them with a spirit from Him (which is the source of their spiritual vigor and intel- lectual enlightenment). And He will admit them into Gardens through which rivers flow, therein to abide. God is well-pleased with them, and they are well- pleased with Him. Those are the party of God. Be aware: the party of God are those who are the prosperous.
8. As pointed out by Hamdi Yazır in interpreting this verse, this Qur’ānic statement should be understood in the light of, or considered together with, 60: 8–9. God never forbids the believers to be good and beneficial to others, even if they are unbelievers or hypocrites. He always orders goodness and justice. So what is forbidden in this verse concerning love is that a believer cannot love an unbeliever or the followers of other false religions because of their unbelief or false belief. The believers cannot prefer blood relations over the relation- ship created by faith. This means that the Qur’ān categorically rejects racism. It also forbids loving and taking for friends those who fight against the Muslims because of their Religion and who try to violate the most fundamental rights of human beings, notably the right to believe in God and obey His commands.