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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 29 (Verses 229 to 231)



Section/Ruku 29 [Verses 229 to 231]: Divorce:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

229 Divorce may be (pronounced) twice;
a then keep (them) in good fellowship or let (them) go with kindness.b And it is not lawful for you to take any part of what you have given them,c unless both fear that they cannot keep within the limits of Allah. Then if you fear that they cannot keep within the limits of Allah, there is no blame on them for what she gives up to become free thereby.d These are the limits of Allah, so exceed them not; and whoever exceeds the limits of Allah, these are the wrongdoers.

230 So if he divorces her (the third time),a she shall not be lawful to him afterwards until she marries another husband. If he divorces her, there is no blame on them both if they return to each other (by marriage), if they think that they can keep within the limits of Allah.b And these are the limits of Allah which He makes clear for a people who know.

231 And when you divorce women and they reach their prescribed time, then retain them in kindness or set them free with kindness and retain them not for injurya so that you exceed the limits. And whoever does this, he indeed wrongs his own soul. And take not Allah’s messages for a mockery,b and remember Allah’s favour to you, and that which He has revealed to you of the Book and the Wisdom, admonishing you thereby. And keep your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is the Knower of all things.

 2. Commentary:

229a. The divorce spoken of here is the revocable divorce of v. 228, after which a reconciliation may be effected in the waiting period. In the days of ignorance a man used to divorce his wife and take her back within the prescribed time, even though he might do this a thousand times. Islam reformed this practice by allowing a revocable divorce on two occasions only, so that the period of waiting in each of these two cases might serve as a period of temporary separation during which conjugal relations could be re-established. As shown in 228b, even re-marriage of the same parties is allowed after the lapse of the waiting period. [Back to verse 229]

229b. The husband must make his choice after the second divorce either to retain the wife permanently or to bring about a final separation. The object of a true marriage union is indicated in the simple words keep them in good fellowship. Where the union is characterized by quarrels and dissensions instead of good fellowship, and two experiences of a temporary separation show that there is no real love in the union, and good fellowship is therefore entirely absent; the only remedy that remains is to let the woman go with kindness. It is both in the interests of the husband and the wife and in the interests of society itself that such a union should be brought to a termination, so that the parties may seek a fresh union. But even in taking this final step the woman must be treated kindly. [Back to verse 229]

229c. The full payment of the dowry to the woman is another condition relating to the Islamic law of divorce, and it serves as a very strong check upon the husband in resorting to unnecessary divorce. [Back to verse 229]

229d. These words give the wife a right to claim a divorce. It is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Islam that it gives the wife the right to claim a divorce, if she is willing to forgo the whole or part of her dowry. The case of Jamilah, wife of Thabit Ibn Qais, is one that is reported in numerous reports of the highest authority. Here it was the wife who was dissatisfied with the marriage. There was not even a quarrel, as she plainly stated in her complaint to the Prophet: “I do not find any fault with him on account of his morals (i.e., his treatment) or his religion”. She only hated him. And the Prophet had her divorced on condition that she returned to her husband the orchard which he had made over to her as her dowry (B. 68:12). It is even said that the husband’s love for the wife was as intense as her hatred for him (Rz). If, then, a woman could claim a divorce for no reason other than the unsuitableness of the match, she had certainly the right to claim one if there was ill-treatment on the part of the husband or any other satisfactory reason, and among the early Muslims it was an established right. Even now it is a right which is maintained in many Muslim countries. Technically such a divorce is called Khul‘.

It will be noted that though this verse forms the basis of the law relating to Khul‘, the words indicate an unwillingness on the part of both spouses to continue the marriage relation — unless both fear that they cannot keep within the limits of Allah. This is explained as meaning their inability to perform towards each other their marital obligations and to maintain good fellowship (B. 68:13). The reason for this, apparently, is that the passage follows one requiring a permanence of relationship that can no more be broken when the husband has adopted this choice after a second divorce, so that the relation can only be broken if the wife finds it unbearable. Another reason seems to be that the woman is usually the last to be willing to break up the marriage relationship.

The words if you fear evidently refer to the properly constituted authorities and this shows that the authorities can interfere in the matter. Cases are actually on record in which a wrong done by an unjust divorce was mended by the authorities. [Back to verse 229]

230a. The words refer to the “putting off with kindness” of the previous verse, and hence by divorce here is meant the irrevocable divorce pronounced a third time, i.e., after there has been a divorce and a restitution of conjugal rights twice. [Back to verse 230]

230b. When the wife has been divorced twice, after each of which reconciliation has been effected and has failed, the third divorce becomes irrevocable, and the husband cannot remarry the divorced wife until she has been married elsewhere and divorced. The verse abolishes the immortal custom of halalah, or temporary marriage gone through with no other object than that of legalizing the divorced wife for the first husband, a custom prevalent in the days of Ignorance, but abolished by the Prophet, according to a report which speaks of his having cursed those who indulge in the evil practice (Tr. 9:25). There must be a genuine marriage and a genuine divorce.

This restriction makes the third divorce a very rare occurrence, and thus acts as another check against frequent divorce. Muir’s remarks as to the hardship which this rule involves not only for “the innocent wife” but also for the “innocent children”, for “however desirous the husband may be of undoing the wrong, the decision cannot be recalled”, are totally unjustified. The irrevocable divorce cannot be pronounced until a temporary separation has taken place twice and both experiences have shown that the marriage relationship cannot be continued. It is not simply by repeating the pronouncement of divorce thrice that the third pronouncement becomes irrevocable. A divorce should actually have taken place twice, followed each time by reconciliation, then and only then the third divorce becomes irrevocable. It would, in fact, be very rare. The case of Rukanah affords an illustration. He divorced his wife in the time of the Prophet thrice but this was counted as a single divorce, and he took back his wife by the Prophet’s order. Then he divorced her in the time of ‘Umar and reconciliation was again effected, and finally he divorced her in the time of ‘Uthman (AD. 13:3). [Back to verse 230]

231a. Hence, if the husband is proved to give injury to the wife, he cannot retain her, and she can claim a divorce. Injury to the wife may be of a general nature or one given with the object of compelling her to remit the whole or part of her dowry to obtain a divorce. This practice was resorted to by the pre-Islamic Arabs, and the words are meant to abolish the evil (Rz). It is for the judge to see that the husband is not taking undue advantage of his position. On the other hand, the husband is enjoined to show liberality to the divorced wife, and the judge would no doubt see that the injunctions of the Holy Book were observed. It is made clear in 4:35 that decision in matters of divorce rests with the judges appointed, not with the husband or the wife. [Back to verse 231]

231b. The injunctions relating to the kind treatment of women must not be taken lightly, we are told here. Retaining women to cause them injury has already been declared to be a transgression and emphasis is now laid on the proper observance of these injunctions by stating that these are most serious matters relating to the welfare of society as a whole. [Back to verse 231]



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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 29 (Verses 229 to 231)

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