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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 28 (Verses 222 to 228)


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Section/Ruku 28 [Verses 222 to 228]: Divorce:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

222 And they ask thee about menstruation.
a Say: It is harmful;b so keep aloof from women during menstrual discharge and go not near them until they are clean. But when they have cleansed themselves, go in to them as Allah has commanded you. Surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him), and He loves those who purify themselves.

223 Your wives are a tilth for you, so go in to your tilth when you like,a and send (good) beforehand for yourselves. And keep your duty to Allah, and know that you will meet Him. And give good news to the believers.

224 And make not Allah by your oaths a hindrance to your doing good and keeping your duty and making peace between men.a And Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

225 Allah will not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths, but He will call you to account for what your hearts have earned. And Allah is Forgiving, Forbearing.a

226 Those who swear that they will not go in to their wivesa should wait four months; then if they go back, Allah is surely Forgiving, Merciful.b

227 And if they resolve on a divorce,a Allah is surely Hearing, Knowing.

228 And the divorced women should keep themselves in waiting for three courses.a And it is not lawful for them to conceal that which Allah has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have a better right to take them back in the meanwhile if they wish for reconciliation.b And women have rights similar to those against them in a just manner,c and men are a degree above them.d And Allah is Mighty, Wise.

 2. Commentary:

222a. Just as war made many children orphans, it made many women widows, but questions relating to widowhood and divorce being somewhat analogous, the two questions are treated together in this section and the two that follow. In fact war conditions also necessitated divorce in certain cases, for which see 60:10. The subject of monthly courses of women comes in as a preliminary to the question of divorce, for which see 65:1. As the answer shows, the question relates to relations with women during the monthly courses. [Back to verse 222]

222b. Adh-an signifies a slight evil, slighter than what is termed darar (LL), or anything that causes a slight harm (LL). It is not, however, the menstrual discharge that is called harmful here but having sexual relations while the woman is in that condition. The Jewish law contains a similar prohibition in Lev.18:19 and 20:18, though Jewish practice rendered it necessary that the separation between husband and wife should be complete. In Islam, it is limited to the cessation of sexual intercourse. [Back to verse 222]

223a. Anna means either mata, i.e., when, or kaifa, i.e., how (AH). As the previous verse prohibits certain relations when the woman has her courses on, this one states that keeping that prohibition in view, a man may go in to his wife when he likes and as he likes.

The Qur’an contains directions for the physical as well as the moral and spiritual welfare of man, and it deals with the most delicate questions in language unapproached in its purity in any other law dealing with similar questions. Many of the phrases dealing with the delicate relations of the sexes were introduced by the Holy Qur’an itself, and its literature is therefore one which brings no shudder to the fair reader, unlike many of the descriptions contained in the Bible. The comparison of the woman to the tilth is simply to show that it is she who brings up the children and through whom is made the character of the man, and to show that the real object of conjugal relations is not simply the satisfaction of carnal desires. [Back to verse 223]

224a. This verse introduces another preliminary to the subject of divorce. Ila’ was a way of temporarily putting off the wife, for which see 226a, and this was effected by an oath in Allah’s name not to go in to one’s wife, the result of which was that the husband considered himself free from all marital obligations. The first step to bring about a reform in the relations of husband and wife was that this practice was abolished. It is in reference to this that the taking of oaths against the doing of good to others is prohibited. The fulfilment of marital obligations is thus referred to as the doing of good and observance of duty and making peace between men. But the subject is generalised and the taking of all oaths to forbid oneself the doing of good or fulfilment of obligations is prohibited. [Back to verse 224]

225a. By vain oaths are meant unintentional or thoughtless oaths in ordinary conversation, and by what the hearts have earned is meant an oath intentionally taken. [Back to verse 225]

226a. Ila’ signifies an oath that one shall not go in to one’s wife. In the days of ignorance the Arabs used to take such oaths frequently, and as the period of suspension was not limited, the wife was compelled sometimes to pass her whole life in bondage, having neither the position of a wife nor that of a divorced woman free to marry elsewhere. The Qur’an declares that if the husband does not reassert conjugal relations within four months, the wife shall be divorced. Cases in which husbands desert wives, having neither conjugal relations with them nor divorcing them, are similar to the case of ila’, and must be dealt with practically as amounting to ila’, so that after four months the wife should be set free if she wants a divorce. [Back to verse 226]

226b. By going back is meant the re-establishing of conjugal relations. [Back to verse 226]

227a. Talaq is an infinitive noun from talaqat, said of a woman, meaning she was left free to go her way or become separated from her husband, and signifies the dissolving of the marriage tie (LL). The subject of divorce, which is introduced here, is dealt with in this and the following two sections, and further on in the 4th, 33rd and 65th chapters.

Divorce is one of the institutions of Islam regarding which much misconception prevails, so much so that even the Islamic law as administered in the courts, is not free from these misconceptions. The chief features of the Islamic law of divorce, as dealt with in the Holy Qur’an, are discussed in vv. 228–233 and 236; the procedure is laid down in 4:35, while further questions are dealt with in 33:49 and 65:1–7. The Islamic law has many points of advantage as compared with both the Jewish and Christian laws as formulated in Deut. and Matt. The chief feature of improvement is that the wife can claim a divorce according to the Islamic law, neither Moses nor Christ conferring that right on the woman, though it is to be regretted that this very feature is the one that is not recognised now even in some Muslim countries. Another feature of the Islamic law of divorce is that it is elastic and does not strictly limit the causes of divorce. In fact, if the civilized nations of Europe and America, who own the same religion, are at the same stage of advancement and have an affinity of feelings on most social and moral questions, cannot agree as to the causes of divorce, how could a universal religion like Islam, which was meant for all ages and all countries, for people in the lowest grade of civilisation as well as those at the top, limit those causes, which must vary with the varying conditions of humanity and society?

It may also be added here that, though divorce is allowed by Islam if sufficient reason exists, yet the right is to be exercised under exceptional circumstances. The Qur’an itself approves of the Prophet insisting on Zaid not divorcing his wife notwithstanding a dissension of a sufficiently long standing (33:37). And the Prophet’s memorable words, of all things which have been permitted divorce is the most hated by Allah (AD. 13:3), will always act as a strong check on any loose interpretation of the words of the Holy Qur’an. [Back to verse 227]

228a. The period of waiting, or ‘iddat, forms the first condition in the Islamic law of divorce. But for cases in which marriage is not consummated, no period of waiting is necessary; see 33:49. [Back to verse 228]

228b. These words give a clear right to the parties to effect a reconciliation and re-establish conjugal relations within the period of waiting. No special procedure is necessary for this but both the divorce and the reconciliation must take place in the presence of witnesses (IM. 10:5). If, however, the ‘iddat is over and no reconciliation has been effected, the relation of husband and wife can be re-established by re-marriage, which right is given to the parties by v. 232.

The period of waiting is really a period of temporary separation during which conjugal relations may be re-established as clearly stated in the words that follow. This period of temporary separation serves as a check upon divorce. If there is any love in the union, its pangs would assert themselves during the period of temporary separation, bringing about a reconciliation, and the differences would sink into insignificance. This is the best safeguard against a misuse of divorce, for in this way only such unions would be ended by divorce as really deserve to be ended, being devoid of the faintest spark of love. A conjugal union without love is a body without a soul, and the sooner it is ended the better. [Back to verse 228]

228c. The rights of women against their husbands are here stated to be similar to those which the husbands have against their wives. The statement must, no doubt, have caused a stir in a society which never recognised any rights for the woman. The change in this respect was really a revolutionising one, for the Arabs hitherto regarded women as mere chattels. Women were now given a position equal in all respects to that of men, for they were declared to have rights similar to those which were exercised against them. This declaration brought about a revolution not only in Arabia but in the whole world, for the equality of the rights of women with those of men was never previously recognised by any nation or any reformer. The woman could no longer be discarded at the will of her “lord”, but she could either claim equality as a wife or demand a divorce. [Back to verse 228]

228d. The statement that “men are a degree above them” does not nullify the rights asserted in the previous passage. The words are added simply to show that superior authority to run the house must be given to either the husband or the wife, and it is given to the husband for reasons stated in 4:34; see 4:34a. [Back to verse 228]

 

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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 28 (Verses 222 to 228)


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