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A BREAKTHROUGH project which helps understand the Qur'an AS REVEALED -not just 'as explained.'


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Day 39; HQ 4:1-10, pages 77+78

Welcome Friends:  Ahlan wa sahlan!
You probably noticed Sternberg’s ‘Love Triangle’ added to the side-bar. 
It is crucial that we understand any verses related to marriage upon the background of:
The FUNCTION and PURPOSE of the Marriage Union, and its MUTUALITY in serving both spouses (click ‘Love Triangle’).

HISTORICAL fact: If you haven’t read Women In Islam Versus Women In The Judaeo-Christian Tradition’ please do so (click ‘Did you know that..’).

After reading what is recommended above, Readers will have a framework into which all verses regarding marriage and divorce can be better understood. 
Relevance is of utmost importance, but please bear in mind that this is a work in progress at all times*.

سورة النســــــــــــــــــاء

1.  “O Cognizant Humans! (Naas)” 
(Both Yusuf Ali & Muhammad Asad translate it O Mankind!)

According to Muhammad Assad: “The opening verses stress the essential unity of the human race and the mutual obligations, arising from this kinship, of men and women towards one another.”   In his explanation of ‘Nafs’ (note 1) he says that there have been many meanings attributable to this term, such as “soul, spirit, mind, animate being, living entity, human being, person, self –in the sense of a personal identity, humankind, life-essence, vital principle, and so forth..” and that he prefers the term ‘living entity.  He sees the error of “unwarrantably tying it to the Biblical account of the creation of Adam and Eve.”
Yusuf Ali’s interpretation agrees, both on keeping away from the Biblical account of ‘Adam and Eve’s story, and also on the meaning of ‘Nafs.’  He says however, that his understanding of the words (minha) ‘of it’ follows Imam Razi’s, in that this does not mean ‘a source of’ something else, but rather a species, a nature, a similarity.

The chapter starts off with a call to all Cognizant Humans to be aware of God, our Creator and Sustainer Who created us from one ‘Nafs’ or Human Self and created from it, its mate.  Literally: created from her, her mate (m).  Although the Arabic word ‘nafs’ is feminine and its mate ‘zawj’ is masculine, neither is taken to illustrate gender.

2.  Then, we are told again to be aware of God in Whose name we seek justice, AND (to be aware of) the ‘wombs’ or ‘الأرحام’ for He is ever watchful over us. 

·    Notice that these verses are addressed to Cognizant Humans "يا أيها الناس" in general, and are NOT specific to the ‘Faithful’ "الذين آمنوا"  (The Qur’an will be addressing the Faithful specifically later, in verse 19).

·    Notice the importance of the ‘womb bond,’  (صلة الرحم).  As we continue our Readings, this will help us better understand the many verses of the Qur’an which discuss women; the essence and foundation of the womb-bond IS the mother-child relationship*.

·   Six terms in this Chapter are of major importance, and we should remember them as they reoccur in the Qur’an:

1. Naas:Cognizant Humans, plural of ‘insaan’ (defined Jan 2).
2.  Nafs:Self (human).
3. Zawj: mate; a ‘twosome’ who are comparable, not identical; one of a couple*.
4. Rijaal: men in general/ dismounted persons/ active men/ active women*.
5. Nisaa: women/ what follow, or appear at a later time (defined Jan 30).
6. Yataama:  fatherless children below age of puberty (m. & f.)*.
7. Ankihu: depending on context, it could mean to become ‘wed’, without consummation of sexual relations (33:49), to ‘marry’ with sexual relations, or to ‘marry-off’ as in society marrying-off its celibate youth (in the last case there will be a ‘hamza’ on the ‘alef’ as in HQ24:32- see Zamakhshari’s explanation below).

Immediately after telling us of God’s Watchfulness, the second verse begins to discuss orphans, telling us that people (not just the Faithful, but everyone!) should be very aware of how they treat them, and deal with the wealth they may have inherited.  The Qur’an often draws our attention to the voiceless orphans.

Anyone who has any moral fiber would agree that orphans’ wellbeing should be THE IMMEDIATE priority in a society of luckier parents, whose children happen to be safe and sound.  Especially, when we think of the importance of each day of childhood, and the value of early formative years in shaping the character of a generation. 
When we have a multitude of fathers killed in a war, our compassion towards orphans should be translated into swift action; caring for the fatherless becomes a pressing issue.
Although the historical background to the next verse is the period after the Battle of Uhud, the verses stand for all time and caring for orphans is a priority that supersedes any other.   

3.  Read Verse three with pertinent notes:  According to Yusuf Ali, Note 509:
 "The unrestricted number of wives of the "Times of Ignorance" was now strictly limited to a maximum of four, provided you could treat them with perfect equality, in material things as well as in affection and immaterial things. As this condition is most difficult to fulfil, I understand the recommendation to be towards monogamy."

Muhammad Asad says (note 4, paragraph 2):

"As regards the permission to marry more than one wife (up to the maximum of four), it is so restricted by the condition, "if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then [marry only] one", as to make such plural marriages possible only in quite exceptional cases and under exceptional circumstances. Still, one might ask why the same latitude has not been given to women as well; but the answer is simple. Notwithstanding the spiritual factor of love which influences the relations between man and woman, the determinant biological reason for the sexual urge is, in both sexes, procreation: and whereas a woman can, at one time, conceive a child from one man only and has to carry it for nine months before she can conceive another, a man can beget a child every time he cohabits with a woman. Thus, while nature would have been merely wasteful if it had produced a polygamous instinct in. woman, man's polygamous inclination is biologically, justified. It is, of course, obvious that the biological factor is only one ‑ and by no means always the most important ‑ of the aspects of marital love; none the less, it is a basic factor and, therefore, decisive in the institution of marriage as such. With the wisdom that always takes human nature fully into account, Islamic Law undertakes no more than the safeguarding of the socio‑biological function of marriage (which includes also care of the progeny), allowing a man to have more than one wife and not allowing a woman to have more than one husband at one time; while the spiritual problem of marriage, being imponderable and therefore outside the scope of law, is left to the discretion of the partners. In any event ‑since marriage in Islam is a purely civil contract* ‑ recourse to divorce is always open to either of the two partners.”

4.  We are reading what is perhaps the most ‘taken out of context,’ PREFERENTIALLY explained AND applied verse in the entire Qur’an.  Just ask any Muslim about polygamy - it won’t matter whether they are educated or illiterate or whether they agree with the concept of polygamy or not- each will invariably quote God’s words in mid-sentence, beginning with the word: "فانكحوا" translated as ‘marry.’
What happened to the CONDITIONAL CLAUSE at the beginning of the ONLY verse in the Qur’an to sanction polygyny*?  The very first word of the verse is IF, and the condition is fearing justice to orphans.
Not many people realize that: “IF you fear your inability to be just to the orphans…” 

Here is the Qur’anic verse in context:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءَلُونَ بِهِ وَالْأَرْحَامَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا﴿١﴾ وَآتُوا الْيَتَامَىٰ أَمْوَالَهُمْ وَلَا تَتَبَدَّلُوا الْخَبِيثَ بِالطَّيِّبِ وَلَا تَأْكُلُوا أَمْوَالَهُمْ إِلَىٰ أَمْوَالِكُمْ إِنَّهُ كَانَ حُوبًا كَبِيرًا﴿٢﴾ وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تُقْسِطُوا فِي الْيَتَامَىٰ فَانكِحُوا مَا طَابَ لَكُم مِّنَ النِّسَاءِ مَثْنَىٰ وَثُلَاثَ وَرُبَاعَ فَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا فَوَاحِدَةً أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُكُمْ ذَٰلِكَ أَدْنَىٰ أَلَّا تَعُولُوا﴿٣﴾

In literal translation:

If you ( fear your inability to be just to the orphans, then wed what seem good to you of the women, as second, third, and fourth; but if you ( fear being inequitable, then one (f.), or what is already in your ( tenure, that is nearer to ensuring you ( will not burden yourselves with dependents.*” (4:3)

What some consider an open sanction to polygyny, when taken in context, actually reads as part of Qur’anic instruction on orphan-care:

It seems a general call to Cognizant Humans, that when there is genuine fear for the orphans wellbeing, the married men among them (who already have one wife each), could bring into their households another woman, and a third, and a fourth.  Since the call is to everyone, wives are also called upon here to open their homes to these women. 
But who are these women? 
Some commentators have said that these women could be orphans themselves, and that in fear for an ‘orphan’ woman’s wellbeing, a married man could take her as another wife.  Other commentators disagree, seeing that a ‘woman’ is a grown-up, while the definition of ‘orphan’ is a pre-pubescent fatherless child.  They say also that, since orphans are the issue here, these women can only be their widowed mothers. 

This makes a lot of sense, especially since the Arabic word ‘to wed نكاح’ indicates the union, but does not necessarily indicate sexual relations (see ‘ankihu’ above), which means that these new arrivals- women with their orphaned children- could enter this established family atmosphere immediately and become part of its household, gradually ‘growing into’ the relationship with the entire family, including the husband.  But this is just a literal reading of a subject tackled extensively by Muslim scholars, jurists and thinkers, as well as Orientalists, feminists, protagonists, and others.
The discussion will never end, but Polygyny should be recognized for what it truly is:
Other peoples and faiths have a history of established Polygyny.  When these verses were revealed polygyny in Arabia (as many other parts of the world) was unlimited, and a man could have as many wives as he could afford.  Although the pressing problem which brought on this verse was that of the orphans of the Battle of Uhud, this verse also served to put a limit to polygyny, and indeed many men had to immediately divorce any “plus 4” wives they had.  During the Prophet’s lifetime, peace upon him, there were other problems which polygyny helped solve.
It would be unreasonable to dismiss Qur’anic instruction which offers any society, having no appropriate establishment set up for its orphans or widows, a way of tackling a pressing problem.  Especially during wars, polygyny could be a blessing.  Polygyny should therefore be recognized for what it truly is:


Marriage was ordained by God to provide 'Sakeena' Peace as the couple 'garment' each other towards attaining 'Taqwa' or Awareness TOGETHER (read "The Marriage Union: Sanctity & Fulfillment" click on Sternberg's Love Triangle).  Indeed, when we study the institution of Marriage from the Qur'anic viewpoint and understand the reason for its sanctity, we become even more protective of it. 
Some societies have abolished Polygyny altogether, while others have drawn restrictions around it.  In some societies Polygyny still exists.  It is up to each society to enact what is best for all its citizens. 
For general information, I searched the web for laws which an Islamic country might have enacted in this regard, and found the link posted below.  The author is an advocate of the Bangladesh Supreme Court (see end of footnotes).

5.  Verse 4 relates to the ‘dower’ (Y.Ali) or ‘marriage portion’ (M.Asad) given willingly in the spirit of a gift, which if the bride remits may be accepted by the groom.

6.  Verses 5-10 are also about orphans.
First, there is a discussion with regard to the assets that the guardians of orphans are entrusted with.  These assets should be used to maintain these orphans, but not given to those of weak-judgment as they could lose it.  When they are of marrying age and seem to be mature, their assets should be given to them.  Guardians should not spend unwisely of the orphans’ inheritance while waiting for them to mature, but rather, if they are rich they should not touch any of it, while if they are poor they can take an amount which would be acceptable in their community.  Also, when orphans receive their assets there should be witnesses, and God will suffice as Reckoner.  Then, society is generally called upon (following initial address ‘O Cognizant Humans’) to make sure that both men and women get their rightful inheritance, and that when distributing assets one should not forget to give the kin, the orphans, and the poor, adding a kindly word to them.  Then comes an illustration in verse 9, to the effect of, while doing all we should think of these helpless orphans as our children had this been OUR funeral.  And finally a grave warning in verse 10, as to what awaits those who devour an orphan’s assets.

7.  We shall end this Reading (not with verse 10 which we’ll do next time God-willing, but) with an interesting note from our Yusuf Ali.  Who would have thought that a lawyer could write so beautifully!  According to Yusuf Ali, sex is ‘among the most wonderful mysteries of our nature’ (note 506):
“The unregenerate male is apt in the pride of his physical strength, to forget the all-important part which the female plays in his very existence, and all the social relationships that arise in our collective human lives. The mother that bore us must ever have our reverence. The wife, through whom we enter parentage, must have our reverence. Sex, which governs so much of our physical life, and has so much influence on our emotional and higher nature, deserves-not our fear, or our contempt, or our amused indulgence, but our reverence in the highest sense of the term.”

Enough said!

Our next Reading is from HQ4:11-19.

Peace unto all!

*Please bear in mind that this is a work in quick progress which means there will be mistakes, and everything on this webpage is open to revision by author -often following readers’ advice.  The final word is the Arabic Qur’an alone.  That is another reason why your comments are very important.  We live and learn, and nothing WE can say is final. 

*The ‘womb-bond’ may be scientifically proven to connect all of Humanity to one another:  Some scientists have postulated that our Genetic origin as an entire species goes back to one mother, which they say is proven by our Mitochondrial DNA! Just GOOGLE the last words and read about it.

*(زوج) يدلُّ على مقارنَة شيءٍ لشيء. من ذلك .الزّوج زوج المرأة. والمرأةُ زوج بعلِها، وهو الفصيح. ويقال لفلانٍ زوجانِ من الحمام، يعني ذكراً وأنثى.

 *(رجل) مُعظم بابِه يدلُّ على العُضو الذي هو رِجْلُ كلِّ ذي رِجْل. ويكون بعد ذاك كلماتٌ تشِذُّ عنه. فمعظم الباب الرِّجل: رِجْلُ الإِنسانِ وغيره. والرَّجْل: الرَّجّالة. وإنما سُمُّوا رَجْلاً لأنهم يمشون على أرجُلِهم، والرُّجَّال والرُّجَالَى: الرِّجَال. والرَّجْلانُ: الراجِل، والجماعة رَجْلى. (معجم المقاييس)
وامرأة رجلى ونسوة رجال، والرجل ضد المرأة والجمع رجال ورجالات... ويقال للمرأة رَجُلة. ( مختار الصحاح)

*(اليُتْمُ): في الناس: قدُ الصبيّ أَباه قبل البلوغ، وفي الدوابُ: فَقْدُ الأُمّ، وأصلُ اليُتْم، بالضم والفتح، الانفرادُ،(لسان العرب)

*الكشاف للزمخشري:
والمراد: أنكحوا من تأيم منكم من الأحرار والحرائر، ومن كان فيه صلاح من غلمانكم وجواريكم. وقرىء: «من عبيدكم» وهذا الأمر للندب لما علم من أنّ النكاح أمر مندوب إليه، وقد يكون للوجوب في حق الأولياء عند طلب المرأة ذلك.

*It is a civil contract to which anything on either side can be stipulated, i.e., it is a woman’s right to contract a monogamous marriage if she so desires.  It was done by Muslim women since more than 1,500 yrs.  In today’s western terms it is called a ‘prenuptial agreement,’ but it has always been a couple’s right to write-up their own contract, the terms of which either side can agree to or refuse.  See ‘Fatwa’ below:

* Polygny is one male and two or more females, while in Polygamy a female can also have more than one spouse!

*الفرق بين القسط والعدل: إننا نقسط إلى غيرنا نعامله بالقسط، بينما نعدل بين جهتين ( 5:8):

عدل: أصلان صحيحان، لكنَّهما متقابلان كالمتضادَّين: أحدُهما يدلُّ على استواء، والآخر يدلُّ على اعوجاج.
فالأول العَدْل من النَّاس: المرضيّ المستوِي الطّريقة. يقال: هذا عَدْلٌ، وهما عَدْلٌ.
والعَدْل: الحكم بالاستواء. ويقال للشَّيء يساوي الشيء: هو عِدْلُه. وعَدلْتُ بفلانٍ فلاناً، وهو يُعادِله. والعَدْل: نقيض الجَوْر، تقول: عَدَل في رعيته. ويومٌ معتدل، إذا تساوَى حالا حرِّه وبَرْدِه، وكذلك في الشيء المأكول. ويقال: عدَلْتُه حتى اعتدل، أي أقمته *حتى استقامَ واستوَى.

القِسْط: النَّصيب، وتَقَسَّطْنا الشَّيءَ بيننا. والقِسْطَاس: المِيزان. قال الله سبحانه: {وَزِنُوا بالقِسْطاسِ المُستَقِيم} [الإسراء 35، الشعراء 182].

تعولوا: قال أَكثر أَهل التفسير: معنى قوله ذلك أَدنى أَن لا تَعُولوا أَي ذلك أَقرب أَن لا تَجُوروا وتَمِيلوا، وقيل ذلك أَدْنى أَن لا يَكْثُر عِيَالكم؛ قال الأَزهري: وإِلى هذا القول ذهب الشافعي،. الكسائي: عالَ الرجلُ يَعُول إِذا افْتقر، قال: ومن العرب الفصحاء مَنْ يقول عالَ يَعُولُ إِذا كَثُرعِيالُه.

The author is an advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court, working for Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust . The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation he serves. Credit for the article below: The Daily, April 28, 2007, Issue No:17.


Bangladesh, like many others countries with large Muslim population, does have law, as personal law, to regulate polygamous marriage of its Muslim communities. The relevant portions of that law, i.e., section 6 of the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1961, reads as follows
1.      No man, during the subsistence of an existing marriage, shall, except with the previous permission in writing of the arbitration council, contract another marriage …

2.      … (such) application form … shall be submitted to the chairman (of the arbitration council)… and shall state the reasons for the proposed marriage and whether the consent of the existing wife or wives has been obtained thereto.

3.      On receipt of the application … the Chairman (of the arbitration council) shall ask the applicant and his existing wife or wives, each, to nominate a representative, and the arbitration council so constituted may, if satisfied that the proposed marriage is necessary and just, grant, subject to such conditions, if any, as may be deemed fit, the permission applied for.
This law has given the Arbitration Council a wide discretionary power to deal with the issue. Also, it has not defined what can possibly be ‘necessary and just grounds’ in this regard. These are why, according to legal experts, this law is prone to be abused. They think it necessary to define the expression ‘necessary and just ground’ with illustrations. Herewith I would like to add that that should be done in light of the rules of conduct provided in the holy Quran. No doubt, that will ensure maximum good to the Muslim individuals as well as the society. END QUOTE

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