This Surah has been considered the most controversial Suwar in the Holy Quran due to the fact that some (Sunni) interpretations of the verses put the H. Prophet (SAW) in a very negative light, meaning a number of anti-Muslim activists have used these interpretations against Islam. Therefore, there is a need for a closer examination of the verses.
According to Sunni Hadith commenting on the 1st-5th ayaat of this surah say that it is the chapter of prohibition in the household of the H. Prophet (wives). The H. Prophet was meant to spend time with one of his wives Aayisha, but spent it with Maaria instead without telling Aayisha. Hafsa (Daughter of Omar) another wife of the Prophet, found out abut this and the Prophet told her that if she did not tell Aayisha, after his death Omar will be Caliph. He then proceeded to forbid himself from attending to Maaria.
There are several questions that arise from such a loose interpretation all of which clearly indicate that this interpretation (or others like it) were forged. Firstly, how can the Prophet be so unjust to his wife/s? How can one attribute such qualities as bribery and corruption to the H. Prophet? Was the caliphate in the ‘pocket’ of the Prophet that he could use it as a bribe?
The more accurate version of the event correlates perfectly with the verses of the Quran. The verses talk about the household of the Prophet but particularly warning the wives of the Prophet. Once the H. Prophet went to one of his wives house (Zaynab) where he took honey. A conspiracy by Ayisha and Hafsa was created to tell the Prophet that a bad smell was coming out of his mouth. Due to the perfection of the Prophet, this was undesirable and Hafsa was selected to tell the Prophet about this false accusation. The Holy Prophet told Hafsa that he will no longer have honey at Zaynab’s house and instructed her specifically not to tell anyone. Hafsa violated this secret and told Aayisha that their plan had worked and the news got to Zaynab who became upset. This was when this surah was revealed:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ لِمَ تُحَرِّمُ مَا أَحَلَّ اللَّهُ لَكَ ۖ تَبْتَغِي مَرْضَاتَ أَزْوَاجِكَ ۚ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
Verse 1: O Prophet! why do you forbid (yourself) that which Allah has made lawful for you; you seek to please your wives; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
Allah (SWT) is referring to the honey, which is halaal, that the H. Prophet stopped himself from taking. Allah (SWT) uses the words ‘Lima Tuharrimu’ which is used in a compassionate tone as if to say why did you trouble yourself unnecessarily.
قَدْ فَرَضَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ تَحِلَّةَ أَيْمَانِكُمْ ۚ وَاللَّهُ مَوْلَاكُمْ ۖ وَهُوَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ
Verse 2 Allah has indeed made lawful for you the dissolution of your oaths (in such cases), and Allah is your Lord. He is all-knowing, all-wise.
Allah uses the words “Faraza Lakum” which is translated more accurately into permissible or halaal not compulsory. Such worldly commitments can be undone in various ways including giving kaffara such as feeding 10 people, fasting for 3 days etc. (Ref Ma-idah: 89)
وَإِذْ أَسَرَّ النَّبِيُّ إِلَىٰ بَعْضِ أَزْوَاجِهِ حَدِيثًا فَلَمَّا نَبَّأَتْ بِهِ وَأَظْهَرَهُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ عَرَّفَ بَعْضَهُ وَأَعْرَضَ عَنْ بَعْضٍ ۖ فَلَمَّا نَبَّأَهَا بِهِ قَالَتْ مَنْ أَنْبَأَكَ هَٰذَا ۖ قَالَ نَبَّأَنِيَ الْعَلِيمُ الْخَبِيرُ
Verse 3: When the Prophet confided a matter to one of his wives, when she divulged it (to others) and Allah (SWT) apprised him thereof, he made known a part of it (to her) and avoided a part. When he told her about it, she said: “Who told you this?” He said: “The all-knowing, the all-wise told me.”
The H. Prophet in his compassion and mercy let Hafsa know only ‘part’ of what he knew about the conspiracy and he did that implicitly not humiliating her too much. This trait of the H. Prophet when taking revenge does not go to the end (does not over do it) is referred to as ‘Al-Kareem’.
In conclusion the message from these verses is clear that secrets must be kept safe in order to avoid mischief especially between husbands and wives. Revealing secrets of people is considered an evil act while keeping hold of a secret is like a gift of this world and of the hereafter.
إِنْ تَتُوبَا إِلَى اللَّهِ فَقَدْ صَغَتْ قُلُوبُكُمَا ۖ وَإِنْ تَظَاهَرَا عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ مَوْلَاهُ وَجِبْرِيلُ وَصَالِحُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ۖ وَالْمَلَائِكَةُ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ ظَهِيرٌ
Verse 4- “If both of you two (women [Ayisha and Hafsa]) turn to Allah in repentance (it would be better), surely your hearts are (so) inclined; but if you two back up each other against him, then verily (it is) Allah who is his protector, and Jibraeel, and the (most) virtuous among the believers; and (besides them) the angels will back (him) up”.
In this ayah Allah (SWT) lists the protectors of the Holy Prophet (SAW). According to Imam Baqir (A.S.) the prophet has introduced Imam Ali (A.S.) twice, the first was in Ghadeer while the second was when this ayah was revealed referring to Imam Ali (A.S.) as “Swalihul Mumineen” – the virtuous amongst the believers. Since all the prophets were Swaleh, and Imam Ali (AS) was to the Prophet as Haroun (AS) was to Musa (AS) therefore Ali (AS) was the most virtuous among the believers who are not Prophets.
عَسَىٰ رَبُّهُ إِنْ طَلَّقَكُنَّ أَنْ يُبْدِلَهُ أَزْوَاجًا خَيْرًا مِنْكُنَّ مُسْلِمَاتٍ مُؤْمِنَاتٍ قَانِتَاتٍ تَائِبَاتٍ عَابِدَاتٍ سَائِحَاتٍ ثَيِّبَاتٍ وَأَبْكَارًا
Verse 5- “Haply, his Lord, if he divorces you, will give him in exchange wives better than you, submissive, faithful, obedient, repentant, observant of prayer and fasting, (both) widows and virgins.”
Allah (SWT) here gives to all human kind 6 attributes one should look for in a spouse, Firstly, be a Muslim if she is not a Muslim then she must convert (from a jurisprudence perspective) whist b
eing submissive to Islam in the real sense.
Secondly be a mu’min (beliver), be faithful to her lord. Thirdly, be obedient, not stubborn or adamant but easy to convince when truth is presented. Fourthly, be repentant when she sins but also finds it easy to apologise when disputes arise between her and her husband. Fifthly, be a worshiper who is observant not one who spends every spare moment wasting time and lastly be fasting in this case, avoids committing sin.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ عَلَيْهَا مَلَائِكَةٌ غِلَاظٌ شِدَادٌ لَا يَعْصُونَ اللَّهَ مَا أَمَرَهُمْ وَيَفْعَلُونَ مَا يُؤْمَرُونَ
Verse 6- “O you who believe, save yourselves and your families from the fire whose fuel shall be men and stones, over which shall be (appointed) stern and strong angels who do not disobey Allah in whatever He commands them, and do what they are commanded.”
In this ayah when Allah (SWT) refers to the fuel as being men and stones, though this could have a deeper meaning. There are a few people in this world who are the initiators of corruption people such as music stars and actors while the laymen are victims. In actual sense, these few instigators are the fuel to the fire and the more one listens to them, the more fuel one adds. The stones (idols) of this world are similarly, the tools of corruption, which include media, money, movie industry etc. Allah (SWT) goes on to say that the angels of death are severe and tough but are not overly harsh and do whatever Allah (SWT) commands and therefore no amount of bribery or persuasion would be able to turn them.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَا تَعْتَذِرُوا الْيَوْمَ ۖ إِنَّمَا تُجْزَوْنَ مَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
Verse 7- “The angels will say): “O you who disbelieve, make no excuses today. You will be requited only for what you used to do.”
The understanding of reward and punishment until 400 years ago was that Allah (SWT) punished and rewarded people just like how today we get paid hourly/monthly according to what they have done. But then there was a revolution in this understanding and today it is believed that such ayaat are figurative and not literal. The reason being that it was believed before that the actions and words of a person are non-essential (the essential part of a thing is what defines it e.g. the sweetness of sugar without which it would not be sugar but the non-essential would be for example its colour). Now it is thought that the actions and words of humans are part of existence (not Aradh) therefore nothing disappears, every word and action of every person lives on but in a form we cannot see just as the 2nd law of thermodynamics which states that no energy is lost, it just changes form.
Therefore according to this explanation, we are actually living hell or heaven. For example the ayah in the Holy Quran that says, ‘Al Khamru Jamru Naar”- intoxicants are like having fire, is literal because we are either in hell or heaven already. In another example, the Prophet had said that any majlis in which the word of Allah (SWT) is mentioned is a movement toward paradise. On the day of Judgement there will be an embodiment of deed and intention, this partner will stay with you all the time and if the actions were good, one shall enjoy but if they were bad one will suffer.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا تُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ تَوْبَةً نَصُوحًا عَسَىٰ رَبُّكُمْ أَنْ يُكَفِّرَ عَنْكُمْ سَيِّئَاتِكُمْ وَيُدْخِلَكُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ يَوْمَ لَا يُخْزِي اللَّهُ النَّبِيَّ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَهُ ۖ نُورُهُمْ يَسْعَىٰ بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَبِأَيْمَانِهِمْ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا أَتْمِمْ لَنَا نُورَنَا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ۖ إِنَّكَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
Verse 8 – “O you who believe! turn to Allah a sincere turning; maybe your Lord will remove[Conceal] from you your evil and cause you to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow, on the day on which Allah will not abase the Prophet and those who believe with him; their light shall run on before them and on their right hands; they shall say: Our Lord! Make perfect for us our light, and grant us protection, surely Thou hast power over all things.”
Allah (SWT) here is specifically talking to the believers and giving them hope, that if they repent to God they can get into heaven. To repent in the eyes of Allah (SWT) is an on-going virtue which one can never have enough of. The best form of worship according to this verse is “Nasuha” which comes from the root word ‘nas’h ’ which means 100% pure. Up to 23 different meanings have been suggested for this word but the best meaning is one explained by the Holy Prophet (SWT) himself who says that when you repent, you have such an intention that you will never do that sin again, and regret that you ever did it.
There are 5 stages of repentance which have been clearly outlined by the Holy Prophet(SWT). The stages of repentance are the following: that you stop doing the sin, regret it, do not do it in the future, compensate for the sin by giving sadaqah or kaffara and finally ask for forgiveness from Allah (SWT) by reciting the sigha of repentance “Astaghfirullaha Wa’tubu Ilaih”. If one has committed a big sin and is aware of it then he should be congratulated for his awareness, because that is the first step. That same awareness acts as a stepping stone to the next level of repentance, feeling remorse and regret. That is one step closer to Allah (SWT) as the feeling of guilt and remorse from committing that sin that prevents one from repeating that same sin.
After the repentance, Allah (SWT) says that you may now rest in peace that your sins will be concealed (kaffira). The question then arises if the sins will be merely concealed or will they be deleted? Imam Khomeini (R.A.) commenting on this same verse said that the sins will be covered but not totally deleted. Allah (SWT) continues to say that they will enter paradise and will not face humiliation (abused) on the Day of Judgement. This is purely because they humiliated themselves by begging for forgiveness in front of Allah (SWT) in this world. Surely, that act of repentance will be a light in front of them which will guide them across the ‘siraat’. The hypocrites on that day will ask Allah (SWT) where their light is, and Allah (SWT) will tell them (rhetorically) to turn back and gain light in the Duniya. Little do the hypocrites realise, that the Day of Judgement is too late to turn back and have another chance, a chance at something they mock in this world.
Finally the believers will turn to Allah (SWT) and say they did all they could and ask Allah (SWT) to perfect their repentance, surely it is only Allah (SWT) who has this power, and that is when the sins will be totally and completely deleted. That is the form of repentance we should strive and pray for.
وَضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا امْرَأَتَ فِرْعَوْنَ إِذْ قَالَتْ رَبِّ ابْنِ لِي عِنْدَكَ بَيْتًا فِي الْجَنَّةِ وَنَجِّنِي مِنْ فِرْعَوْنَ وَعَمَلِهِ وَنَجِّنِي مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ
Ayah 11: “And Allah sets forth an example to those who believe the wife of Firawn when she said: My Lord! Build for me a house with Thee in the garden and deliver me from Firawn and his doing, and deliver me from the unjust people:”
In this ayah Allah (SWT) gives all humankind, both men and women an example in the wife of Pharaoh clearly demonstrating that women too can be role models. Firawn was the most arrogant and oppressive of rulers so much so that he considered himself as God, and in this very household Allah (SWT) gives the example of his wife Aasiya. She nurtured and protected Prophet Musa (AS) and believed in him and the message he brought. After some time, she openly declared her belief’s and Firawn ordered her to be tortured nailing her to the ground earning him the title “And with Firawn, owner of the stakes,-” (89:10) and peeling off her skin. Yet even after this torture, she did not sell out her religion. The question comes to mind as to how long are we going to keep your religion before selling out? When ‘practicing religion will be like holding a piece of burning charcoal”? People change when there is even a slight hint of a problem or suffering, they change their way of dressing, their names their religion, their morals and much more. No women, on the day of judgement can use the excuse of not wearing hijab because their husband/father refused them to for all ah will bring Aasiya to them as an perfect example. All she asked for even after all that suffering was to be given a place in paradise, a prayer Allah (SWT) granted, making her with 3 others, Kadijah, the wife of the H. Prophet, Marium, the mother of Isa, and Fatima-tuz-zahra as the leaders of the women in paradise.
وَمَرْيَمَ ابْنَتَ عِمْرَانَ الَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهِ مِنْ رُوحِنَا وَصَدَّقَتْ بِكَلِمَاتِ رَبِّهَا وَكُتُبِهِ وَكَانَتْ مِنَ الْقَانِتِينَ
Ayah 12: “And of Marium, daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, and We breathed into her Our spirit, and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and His scriptures, and she was one of the obedient (servants)”
In this case, Allah (SWT) is referring to Marium, the mother of ‘Isa (Referred in this verse as “Our Spirit”-not literally). She guarded her chastity and reached the status of “Idhafa Tashrifiyyah“, acknowledging the truth in the words of God unlike many people who are stubborn in their ways and even when an authentic hadith or message is told to them they refuse to believe. Allah (SWT) refers to her as an obedient servant making her the first Ma’sooma. These examples clearly reflect the fact that in Islam, blood relation, sex or any such criteria do not make for selection into paradise; Imaan and Taqwa are the ONLY criteria for selection into Heaven.