Welcome Friends: Ahlan wa sahlan!
Grab some caffeine before you join us!
Today’s Reading is tough, and had to be rethought and rewritten, again and again.
1. Verse 127 returns to the subject of orphans and their mothers with which this chapter started:
“And they seek instruction of you (O Muhammad) regarding the women, say God instructs you (m.pl.) in their regard and in what has been recounted to you (m.pl.) in the Compilation concerning the orphans of the women to whom you (m.pl.) do not give what was set up on their behalf, yet you (m.pl.) seek to marry them, and (He directs you concerning) the helpless children and (also concerning) your stance in equity to the orphans, and whatever good deeds you (m.pl.) do, indeed God is Knowing of it.”
I prefer Yusuf Ali’s interpretation to Muhammad Asad’s because Asad reads this verse about ‘yataamal nisaa’ (يتامى النساء) as if it is about actually marrying ‘the orphan-women,’ while Ali reads it to be regarding the status of the ‘orphans OF the women.’ These mothers were previously mentioned in the beginning of this Chapter as candidates for marriage, thereby taking care of their fatherless children.
Why it is wrong to understand this verse as relating to marrying ‘orphan-women’:
Firstly, orphans, by definition, are pre-pubescent (HQ4:6), fatherless children (HQ18:82). To consider them ‘orphans’ even when they have grown into men and women is incorrect (although there are those who read this verse to meet that end, after already having read HQ4:3 as an unconditional license to ‘polygyny!’).
Secondly, when we join two nouns together in Arabic, as in saying in (4:119): to slit ‘aathanel an’aam (آذان الأنعام) we are not talking about slitting the ‘ear-cattle,’ but rather, slitting the ears OF cattle, and in (HQ24:31) in the term (عورات النساء) we are not talking about the ‘women-privates,’ but the ‘privates of women.’ So Ali’s explanation of this verse is much better; this verse is discussing the status of the orphans of the women mentioned earlier. See his note 636: “Again and again is it impressed on the community of Islam to be just in their dealings with women, orphans, children, and all whose weakness requires special consideration….”
2. Verse 128 requires full attention, and its comments might have to be read several times before they are understood. This verse is about a woman fearing one of two extremes, either the ‘nushooz’ obtrusiveness, domineering of her "Ba’l," whom we understand to be husband, or his complete estrangement. Why does the Qur’an call him Ba’l, and not ‘Zawj?’ It has to be indicative of their relationship that the Qur’an calls him by a different name! Before we try to understand the entire verse, we have to differentiate between these two words that are often treated as one: ‘Zawj’ and ‘Ba’l.’ Whereas the word ‘zawj’ and its derivatives appear frequently in the Qur’an, the word Ba’al and its derivatives appear in only 5 verses- four of which relate to women’s ‘husbands’ and once as the name of a ‘lord-god’ of rain and fertility (HQ37:125). We already know that ‘zawj' means ‘mate,’ or one of a pair-as lexicons tell us ‘a pair with no third’ لا ثالث لهما. As for ba’l, the Lexicon* tells us that, in persons, it is a ‘companion’ or ‘saahib’ (صاحب), a chief or master, while in topography, it is high land that receives rain only once every year (and is therefore unlikely to produce).
The difference between the two seems to be related to the ‘zawj’ being a literal ‘mate,’ one of a couple where there is no other woman for him, whereas the “ba’l” is a companion-in-marriage (who may have other wives -OR- as some have postulated- whose sexual relationship with his wife is inactive due to old age or to being in the midst of a divorce).
The Qur’an make a distinction between them; these two words are not interchangeable. Each word in the Arabic language has its own meaning and illustrates a specific intent:
In the singular, the term ‘Ba’l’ appears in today’s Reading and in HQ11:72, where it relates to Abraham’s wife, peace upon him:
Said she: "Oh, woe is me! Shall I bear a child, now that I am an old woman and this ‘Ba’l’ of mine is an old man? Verily, that would be a strange thing indeed!"
In plural however, we find the term appearing twice ‘Bu’ool’ بعول (HQ2:228; 24:31), relating first to divorced women whose ‘Bu’ool’ would be justified in seeking their return before the divorce is final, and secondly to those to whom women can show their ‘zeenah’ or ‘embellishments/adornments.’
Back to today’s Reading, verse 128:
Taken in context, the ‘woman’ in this verse would be one of the ‘women’ mentioned in the previous verse 127, that is, a mother of the orphans whose ‘Ba’l’ would therefore be the ‘master of the house/companion’ who took her and her children into his established household.
Did you just notice something?
No wonder the Qur’an calls him her ‘Ba’l’ and not her ‘zawj!’ (And no wonder in the verse of inheritance, that although we find mention of distribution of wealth between one or more children, it mentions ONLY ONE ‘Zawj’-wife. That is because ‘Zawj’ in Arabic dictionaries always is a ‘twosome!’)
So, although this man is a ‘zawj’ to the first woman he married for marriage’s sake, he would be a ‘ba’l’ to this woman whom he married for the orphans’ sake. (I will leave the issue of inheritance to be discussed by specialists, although I assume that, his not being her ‘zawj’ indicates that her share would be stipulated in his will, or ‘wassiyya.’)
So, we are therefore discussing such a woman fearing either of two extremes, the ‘nushooz’ obtrusiveness, out-of-the-norm, domineeringness of her "Ba’l," or his estrangement. The verse says that they should seek reconciliation and mediate an amicable settlement.
Verse 129 validates our interpretation, in that it is about the women in verse 4:3; 4:127 as well as the woman in 4:128. Please note that verse 129 addresses (m.pl) the general public and its mediators (not husbands necessarily; there is no mention of spouse here, only justice between ‘women.’) It concerns the mediators mentioned in verse 128, AND verse 130 makes this ABSOLUTLEY CLEAR! The worst thing we can do when interpreting something, is take a sentence out of context. Kept in context, the intent of these verses becomes clear.
I must say that Muhammad Asad’s interpretation of these verses disappointed me. His interpretation here seems biased towards what he understood. I prefer Yusuf Ali’s because while Asad explains ‘al nisaa,’ or ‘the women’ in verse 129 as ‘your wives’, Yusuf Ali gets it right. It is safer to stick to literal translations.
Nevertheless, it is always better to read several interpretations and not rely on anyone’s views- not even here, in this Reading. This is a work in progress, and nothing is definitive. The more we know the more we understand, and your opinions are appreciated.
3. Verses 131-132 state, once again, that to God belong all things in the heavens and on earth. Yusuf Ali tells us about this refrain in his note 640.
4. Verse 133 tells us that, had God so willed, He could cause us to disappear and bring forth others in our stead (I prefer M. Asad’s interpretation here). Verse 134 reminds us that there are plentiful rewards that lie beyond those of this immediate world.
5. Verse 135 is a call to those who have attained Faith, in that we should be ‘Qawwaam’ قوامين steadfast in upholding equity, even when against our own Selves, or parents, or kin… and not to follow our desires ‘hawa’ هوى which would cause us to swerve from justice. The verse ends with a warning.
Verse 136 also calls upon the Faithful to first have faith in God and His Messenger! Some might wonder how this could be, seeing that the Faithful already have faith in God and His Messenger? Yusuf Ali explains in note 646 that it should be faith with INTENT, not simply in the everyday sense of believing or doing so by force of habit or as a birthright.
The verse continues, with a call to have faith in the Compilation (currently being) revealed to His Messenger and the Compilation (known to be) revealed before that, and that any who denies God, and His angels, and Compilation*, and Messengers has indeed gone far astray.
6. Verse 137-139 discusses Hypocrites, who believe then deny then believe and deny again. They take the Deniers as allies, seeking prevalence* (عزة) with them- while all Prevalence is God’s!
7. Verse 140 tells us NEVER to partake, even by simply listening or being present, in any Denial of God’s signs or any mockery thereof. This is obviously neither a debate nor a serious discussion by people who hunger for information (or else we’d be “arguing with them in the most kindly manner,” as in HQ16:125). This is cheap mockery. What we should do in such case, is simply leave and not return to sit with them until the subject is changed. If we do not leave, we would indeed be considered in their number, for the Deniers and the Hypocrites will be joined together in punishment/consequence for their actions.
This verse is quite clear in that we are never to put ourselves in a compromising position, even if it seems harmless -it’s only idle talk- right? Wrong: It’s a moral outrage that deserves a clear stance on our part. Eloquence in this case is Boycott. We get up and leave, our action speaking louder than words.
More than enough said!
Our next Reading is from HQ4:141-153.
(بعل) الأصل الأول: الصاحب، يقال للزَّوج بَعْل، ومن ذلك البِعالُ، وهو مُلاعَبَة الرّجلِ أهْلَه.
والأصل الثاني: الحَيْرة والدَّهَش، يقال بَعِلَ الرجُلَ إذا دَهِشَ.
والأصل الثالث البَعْل من الأرض، المرتَفِعة التي لا يُصِيبُها المطر في السنّةِ إلا مرّة واحدةً.
وفي لسان العرب: ، أَو يكون من البَعْل المَالك والرئيس
(عز) يدلُّ على شدّةٍ وقوّةٍ وما ضاهاهما، من غلبةٍ وَقهر. ويقال عزّ الرّجُل بعد ضعفٍ وأعزَزْتُه أنا: جعلتُه عزيزاً. واعتزَّ بِي وتعزَّزَ.