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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 3 (Verses 15 to 22)


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Section/Ruku Ruku 3 [Verses 15 to 22]: Treatment of women:
Chapter Chapter 4: (Al-Nisa’: The Women)
(Revealed at Madinah: 24 sections; 176 verses)

1. Translation:

15 And as for those of your women who are guilty of an indecency, call to witness against them four (witnesses) from among you; so if they bear witness, confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens a way for them.
a

16 And as for the two of you who are guilty of it, give them both a slight punishment; then if they repent and amend, turn aside from them.a Surely Allah is ever Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.

17 Repentance with Allah is only for those who do evil in ignorance, then turn (to Allah) soon, so these it is to whom Allah turns (mercifully). And Allah is ever Knowing, Wise.

18 And repentance is not for those who go on doing evil deeds, until when death comes to one of them, he says: Now I repent; nor (for) those who die while they are disbelievers. For such We have prepared a painful chastisement.a

19 O you who believe, it is not lawful for you to take women as heritage against (their) will.a Nor should you straiten them by taking part of what you have given them,b unless they are guilty of manifest indecency.c And treat them kindly. Then if you hate them, it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it.

20 And if you wish to have (one) wife in the place of another and you have given one of them a heap of gold, take nothing from it. Would you take it by slandering (her) and (doing her) manifest wrong?a

21 And how can you take it when one of you has already gone in to the other and they have taken from you a strong covenant?a

22 And marry not women whom your fathers married, except what has already passed. This surely is indecent and hateful; and it is an evil way.a

2. Commentary:

15a. Al-fahishah signifies anything exceeding the bounds of rectitude (gross , immodest, lewd, obscene) (Mgh, LL). See further 19c, where it is shown that fahishah includes hatred and desertion, refractoriness, etc. Though the word is used sometimes as meaning fornication, the context shows that here it is used to signify immoral conduct short of fornication, for the punishment of fornication is given in 24:2. The words of the verse that follows, referring to a similar immoral act with the indefinite nature of punishment, support this conclusion, for punishment in the case of an act short of fornication would vary with the nature of the crime. Thus women guilty of immoral conduct are curtailed of their liberty. If they mend their ways, or being unmarried they get married, a way is opened for them by Allah, and they regain their liberty; if they do not, the curtailment should be extended till they die. There is no proof for Palmer’s assertion that “women taken in adultery or fornication were, at the beginning of Islam, literally immured”. [Back to verse 15]

16a. The crime spoken of in this verse is the same as that in the previous verse. The committers are two, and though the masculine gender is used, it does not imply that they are both necessarily males. Slight punishment is explained by Qatadah as meaning reproving with the tongue (AH). Islam requires the utmost modesty in sexual relations.

The reference to repentance in connection with the mention of fahishah is further proof that fahishah does not here mean fornication, but some immorality short of that, for fornication is punishable criminally, and penitence on the part of those guilty of it cannot avert the punishment. [Back to verse 16]

18a. Verses 17 and 18 show that repentance, according to the Holy Qur’an, implies an actual change in the course of one’s life, not the mere utterance of words. In fact, the law stated here shows how repentance does away with sins. When the very course of a man’s life is changed in respect of a particular sin, the tendency to that sin is uprooted. But those who continue their evil courses until death overtakes them cannot obtain the benefit of repentance, because there is no time left for them to improve themselves. [Back to verse 18]

19a. Among the pre-Islamic Arabs, when a man died his elder son or other relations had a right to possess his widow or widows, marrying them themselves if they pleased, without settling a dowry on them, or marrying them to others, or prohibiting them from marriage altogether (B. 65: iv, 6). [Back to verse 19]

19b. This passage remedies another evil. Those husbands who were dissatisfied with their wives were wont to give them trouble in order that they should be forced to claim a divorce and remit the dowry (Rz). This is disallowed. If the judge finds that the fault lies actually with the husband, he will not allow the dowry to be remitted in his favour. [Back to verse 19]

19c. The exception is in reference to taking part of the dowry, the meaning being that part of the dowry can only be taken back if the woman is guilty of immoral conduct. The manifest indecency spoken of here is hatred and desertion of the husband, refractoriness, and doing harm to the husband and his family (Rz). In such cases, when the fault is with the woman, she may be required to return her dowry wholly or in part. [Back to verse 19]

20a. “It is narrated that when a (married) man among them wanted to marry another wife in place of the first, he used to accuse the latter of adultery or other gross immorality, thus compelling her to obtain a divorce by paying a large sum of money” (Rz). Having one wife in place of another signifies the divorcing of the first and marrying another. This verse further shows that there is no limit to the dowry which may be settled on a wife; even a heap of gold may be given to her as dowry if the husband has got the means. When ‘Umar desired to ban big dowries, it was with the recitation of this verse that a woman in the audience silenced him, and he had to take back his orders saying that “the women of Madinah had more understanding than ‘Umar”. [Back to verse 20]

21a. Marriage is here called a mithaq or a covenant or agreement between the husband and the wife. As there can be no agreement unless both parties give their consent to it, marriage in Islam can only be contracted with the free consent of the two parties. [Back to verse 21]

22a. As already pointed out, when a man died his widows were the property of the eldest son, and he could marry any of them that he liked. This immoral practice was abolished by this verse. [Back to verse 22]

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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 3 (Verses 15 to 22)


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