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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 4 (Al-Nisa’ - The Women) > Section 1 (Verses 1 to 10)



Chapter Introduction and
Section/Ruku 1 [Verses 1 to 10]: Duties of guardians to orphan wards:
Chapter 4: (Al-Nisa’: The Women)
(Revealed at Madinah: 24 sections; 176 verses)

1. Introduction:

This chapter is named The Women because it deals chiefly with the rights of women.

The connection of the last chapter with this one lies in the fact that that chapter deals with the battle of Uhud, while this one deals with the circumstances to which the battle had given rise. For the decimation of the Muslim force had left a large number of orphans and widows to be looked after, and it is with duties towards these two classes that the chapter opens. The two chief features of the battle of Uhud were, the death of a large number of Muslims and the desertion of hypocrites; while, following it, were circumstances which brought about a final rupture with the Jews, and it is with these three subjects that the chapter deals.

The opening section lays down injunctions relating to the duties of guardians towards their orphan wards. The second section brings woman to a status of equality with man, and lays down a new law of inheritance, for among the Arabs a woman had no right to inherit the property of a deceased relative. The third section deals with the treatment of women in general and denounces the practice of claiming women as a part of inheritance. The fourth section discusses what women may not be taken in marriage, and the fifth gives them the right of disposing of their earnings as they please; while the sixth first points out the remedy when there is a disagreement between the husband and the wife and then inculcates the principle of charity in general, introducing the subject of hypocrisy towards its close.

After having laid stress, in the seventh and the eighth sections, upon external as well as internal purity, showing how the Jews had neglected the latter of these and how, for no other reason than envy of the Muslims, they had sided with the polytheists, and after having enjoined upon the Muslims to be strictly firm in justice, we are led on in the ninth section to the dealings of the hypocrites who had refused to accept the Prophet’s judgment in going out to meet the enemy. We are then told in the tenth section that the question of war was a question of life and death for the Muslims. The eleventh section deals with the attitude of the hypocrites, and the twelfth shows how waverers are to be dealt with. The thirteenth states when and to what extent the murderer of a Muslim is excusable, because it was very often by treachery or hypocrisy that the Muslims were killed. The fourteenth shows that those Muslims who were compelled to remain with the enemy against their own wishes were excusable. The fifteenth warns the Muslims against being surprised in battle when saying their prayers. The sixteenth and the seventeenth refer to the secret counsels of the hypocrites. The eighteenth condemns idolatry, because it is the idolatrous hypocrites that are spoken of throughout the previous sections, and the subject is thus brought to a close.

Previous to the introduction of the third chief subject of this chapter there is a reversion in the nineteenth section to equitable dealings with orphans and women, and the subject is generalized in the twentieth; while in the same section the hypocrites from among the Jews are dealt with. The next predicts their end, at the same time showing that belief in previous prophets could do them no good if they rejected the Holy Prophet. The twenty-second speaks of their transgressions and of their false allegations regarding the death of Jesus on the cross. The twenty-third section tells them that the whole of the previous prophecy pointed to the appearance of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, while the last one, after referring briefly to the Christian error in deifying Jesus, closes with a reversion to the subject of inheritance.

As this chapter treats of many of the questions arising out of the battle of Uhud, there seems to be little doubt that it was revealed immediately after that battle. And thus, as in arrangement so in the order of revelation, it follows the last chapter. The main portion of it thus belongs to the fourth year of the Hijrah, while there is no reason to deny that some portions may have been revealed towards the close of the third or the beginning of the fifth year. Noeldeke’s suggestion, however, that vv.115–125 and 130–132 belong to Makkan revelation, based as it is on the mere fact that the Jews are there “referred to in a friendly spirit”, is quite wrong, because, as shown in 3:115a and elsewhere, the Holy Prophet was fair to the Jews even when they were most inimical to him, and the verses referred to therefore belong to the fourth or the fifth year of the Hijrah.

2. Translation:

[PART / Paaraa 4]

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

1 O people, keep your duty to your Lord, Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind),a and spread from these two many men and women.b And keep your duty to Allah, by Whom you demand one of another (your rights), and (to) the ties of relationship.c Surely Allah is ever a Watcher over you.

2 And give to the orphans their property, and substitute not worthless (things) for (their) good (ones), and devour not their property (adding) to your own property. This is surely a great sin.a

3 And if you fear that you cannot do justice to orphans, marry such women as seem good to you, two, or three, or four;a but if you fear that you will not do justice, then (marry) only one or that which your right hands possess. This is more proper that you may not do injustice.b

4 And give women their dowries as a free gift. But if they of themselves be pleased to give you a portion thereof, consume it with enjoyment and pleasure.a

5 And make not over your property, which Allah has made a (means of) support for you,a to the weak of understanding, and maintain them out of it,b and clothe them and give them a good education.c

6 And test the orphans until they reach the age of marriage.a Then if you find in them maturity of intellect, make over to them their property, and consume it not extravagantly and hastily against their growing up.b And whoever is rich, let him abstain, and whoever is poor let him consume reasonably.c And when you make over to them their property, call witnesses in their presence. And Allah is enough as a Reckoner.

7 For men is a share of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and for women a share of what the parents and the near relatives leave, whether it be little or much — an appointed share.a

8 And when relativesa and the orphans and the needy are present at the division, give them out of it and speak to them kind words.

9 And let those fear who, should they leave behind them weakly offspring, would fear on their account; so let them observe their duty to Allah and let them speak right words.

10 Those who swallow the property of the orphans unjustly, they swallow only fire into their bellies. And they will burn in blazing fire.

3. Commentary:

1a. “The word nafs is used in the language of the Arabs in two ways, one of which is your saying kharajat nafsu-hu where by nafs is implied the soul, and according to the other use the significance of nafs is the whole of a thing, and its essence” (T). It is in this latter sense that the creation of mates is spoken of in the Holy Qur’an, and hence the correct rendering of nafs on such occasions is kind, which implies the essence. This is made clear in 16:72: “And Allah has made wives for you from among yourselves ” (Ar. min anfusi-kum), i.e. of the same kind and essence as you are. Some commentators have taken this to be the significance here, i.e. He created its mate of the same kind (AH, Rz). Hasan also explains the words as meaning of the same kind (AH on 7:189).

How the first man was created is not stated either in the Qur’an or in the Hadith, nor is the Bible statement accepted that Eve was created from a rib of Adam. The Muslims do not accept that man was created six thousand years ago. The Imamiyyah accept the tradition that Allah created thirty Adams before our father Adam, and one Shi‘ah Imam has gone so far as to say that hundreds of thousands of Adams were created before our Adam (RM). Nor do the Muslims accept that our world is the only world in this universe; one Imam is reported as saying that in God’s universe there are twelve thousand systems each bigger than our solar system (RM).

The words occurring here — Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same — only declare the unity of the human race and the equality of the male and the female. Elsewhere we are told that for all of you wives are created from yourselves: “And Allah has made wives for you from among yourselves” (16:72). [Back to verse 1]

1b. “Many men and women” spring from married pairs. The verse does not necessarily refer to any parent pair of the whole of mankind. The underlying significance seems to be to remind men of the strength of the ties of relationship, an idea finding clear expression in what follows. [Back to verse 1]

1c. The original word is arham, plural of rihm, which means womb or the place of origin of the young ; hence relationship, by some restricted to relationship by the female side only, or ties of relationship (T, LL). [Back to verse 1]

2a. The care of the orphan was one of the earliest injunctions that Islam gave, and the Prophet had always shown a deep anxiety for the welfare of the poor and the orphans. See 2:220a, 220b, and also 90:15, 16, where the care of the orphan and “the poor man lying in the dust” is described as an uphill task, but one which must be accomplished. The subject is here introduced in detail on account of the number of orphans having been greatly increased by the war. [Back to verse 2]

3a. This passage permits polygamy under certain circumstances; it does not enjoin it, nor even permnit it unconditionally. It may be noted here that the explanation of this passage as generally understood is based on a report contained in the Muslim, according to which ‘A’ishah understood this verse as meaning that if the guardians of orphan girls feared that by marrying them they would not be able to do justice to them, they should marry other women. This explanation, even if the report be taken to be authentic, requires the insertion into the passage of a number of words which the original does not contain, and as the meaning is much more clear, and more in consonance with the context, without the addition of these words, the interpretation given below is preferable. It is admitted that this chapter was revealed to guide the Muslims under the conditions which followed the battle of Uhud, and the last chapter deals with that battle. Now in that battle 70 men out of 700 Muslims had been slain, and this decimation had largely decreased the number of males, who, being the breadwinners, were the natural guardians and supporters of the females. The number was likely to suffer a still greater diminution in the battles which had yet to be fought. Thus many orphans would be left in the charge of widows, who would find it difficult to procure the necessary means of support. Hence in the first verse of this chapter the Muslims are enjoined to respect the ties of relationship. As they all came from a single ancestor, a breadth is introduced into the idea of relationship, inasmuch as they are told that they are all in fact related to each other. In the second verse the care of orphans is particularly enjoined. In the third verse we are told that if they could not do justice to the orphans, they might marry the widows, whose children would thus become their own children; and as the number of women was now much greater than the number of men, they were permitted to marry even two or three or four women. It would thus be clear that the permission to have more wives than one was given under the peculiar circumstances of the Muslim society then existing, and the Prophet’s action in marrying widows, as well as the example of many of his companions, corroborates this statement. Marriage with orphan girls is also sanctioned in this passage, for there were the same difficulties in the case of orphan girls as in the case of widows, and the words are general. See also 127a.

It may be added here that polygamy in Islam is both in theory and in practice an exception, not a rule, and as an exception it is a remedy for many of the evils especially prevalent in Western society. It is not only the preponderance of females over males that necessitates polygamy in certain cases, but there is a variety of other circumstances, not only for the moral but also for the physical welfare of society. Prostitution, the great evil of civilisation, which is a real canker, with its concomitant increase of bastardy, is practically unknown to countries where polygamy is allowed as a remedial measure. [Back to verse 3]

3b. By that which your right hands possess are meant the females who were taken prisoners in war. The Qur’an sanctions marriage with them in this verse. As for the conditions of that marriage, see 25a, where it is clearly laid down that marriage with a prisoner of war is allowed only when one cannot afford to marry free believing women. [Back to verse 3]

4a. The word used here is saduqat, pl. of saduqah (from sidq, meaning truth), which means dowry or a nuptial gift. Sadaqah meaning charity is a different word from the same root. Other words used for dowry are mahr and sudaq. It is necessary that a “dowry” should be given to every woman taken in marriage, whether she is a free woman, an orphan girl, or a prisoner of war. So every woman begins her married life as the owner of some property, and thus marriage is the means of raising her status, in many respects elevating her to a plane of equality with her husband. The practice has, however, become more or less general to recognise dowry as a debt which the husband owes to the wife and which she can claim when she likes. [Back to verse 4]

5a. By your property is meant the property of the orphans which is under your control as guardians. The verse lays down the principle of the Court of Wards. It requires guardianship in the case of all who are weak of understanding, whether minors or not. Qiyam means a sustenance or that which maintains or supports. While on the one hand the Qur’an lays stress on the transitoriness of this life, on the other it teaches that wealth is not a thing to be despised or wasted, because it is the means of support. [Back to verse 5]

5b. “Make it a means of sustaining them so that you trade with it and make it profitable, and so that you may be able to defray their expenses from the profit and not from the capital” (AH). Rz gives a similar explanation. There is also a saying of the Prophet in this connection: “Whoever is the guardian of an orphan who has property should trade with it and should not leave it undeveloped so that the zakat should consume it” (Msh. 6). [Back to verse 5]

5c. The words are generally rendered as meaning speak to them good words, but see 2:83e, where it is shown that the word qaul is used to express all kinds of deeds. After speaking of the maintenance and clothing of the orphans in a befitting manner, the Holy Qur’an now calls attention to another great need of theirs which is education. From the first revelation, Islam laid stress on knowledge, read and write (96:1–5) being its very first message, and the Prophet spoke of the acquisition of knowledge as being as great a need of humanity as the acquisition of wealth: “There shall be no envy but in two: the person whom Allah has given wealth and the power to spend it in the service of truth and the person whom Allah has granted knowledge and he judges by it and teaches it” (B. 3:75). He laid stress even on the education of slave-girls. “The man shall have a double reward,” he said, “who has a slave-girl and he trains her in the best manner and he gives her the best education, then he sets her free and marries her” (B. 3:31). It is thus of the education of the orphans that the Holy Qur’an speaks here, and the next verse which enjoins the guardians to “test” their wards makes it clear. [Back to verse 5]

6a. These words show further, that the guardian is not only responsible for the education of the wards as pointed out at the end of the last verse, but he is also required to examine them and see what progress they have made. According to Abu Hanifah, majority is attained at eighteen years, but if maturity of intellect is not attained at eighteen, the limit may be extended. These words, moreover, show that marriage should be performed at the age when a person has attained majority, for the age of marriage is spoken of as being the age of attaining majority. [Back to verse 6]

6b. The meaning is: Do not hasten to spend the property of minors with a view to wasting it before they attain their majority. [Back to verse 6]

6c. These words allow payment of reasonable wages to the manager of a ward’s estate out of the ward’s property if the manager is not a rich man. The amount charged must be reasonable, taking into consideration the value of the property and the work of management. [Back to verse 6]

7a. Among the Arabs women and children had no share in inheritance, for they used to say: “None shall inherit but he who smites with the spear” (Rz). The reason is to be found in the fact that the normal condition in Arabia before Islam was a continual state of war, and only those who could go out to fight were taken into account. This great reform, by which the status of women was raised from the lowest condition to that of equality with men, clearly indicated that the establishing of peace was one of the aims of Islam.

The principle laid down in this verse is the basis of the Muslim law of inheritance. Children and near relatives, or failing these, distant relatives, whether males or females, are the lawful heirs, and the whole of the property does not go to the eldest son. Whatever objection there may be to this principle on the ground of division of property into parcels, there is not the least doubt that the rule is in accordance with the broad principles of democracy and the brotherhood of man which Islam seeks to establish. [Back to verse 7]

8a. By these are meant those distant relatives who for any reason are not entitled to inherit. [Back to verse 8]


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Chapter 3: Al-'Imran (The Family of Amran)

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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 4 (Al-Nisa’ - The Women) > Section 1 (Verses 1 to 10)

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