1. As we have mentioned in the introduction to the Surah, these verses were sent down at a time when Zaid had already divorced Zainab. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was himself feeling, and Allah had also inspired him with this, that it was the right time for striking at the root of the tradition and customs of ignorance regarding the adopted relations, and that he should take the initiative and marry the divorced wife of his adopted son (Zaid) so that the custom was completely eradicated. But the reason why he was hesitant in this regard was the fear that this would provide a strong excuse to the disbelievers and the hypocrites; who were already burning with jealousy at his successive victories, to start a propaganda campaign against him. This fear was not due to any apprehension for personal defamation, but for the reason that it would harm Islam; it would cause mistrust of Islam among the people who were inclined towards it; it would make the neutral people to join the enemy; and it would cause the weak minded people among the Muslims to be involved in doubts and suspicions. Therefore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) thought it was unwise to take a step for the eradication of a custom of ignorance, which would harm the greater interests and objectives of Islam.
2. In the very first sentence, in the beginning of the discourse, Allah removed all the apprehensions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), as if to say: “We know better what is useful and beneficial for our religion and what is not. We know what would be wise and what unwise in this regard. Therefore, you should not behave in a manner which would suit the disbelievers and the hypocrites, but you should behave in a manner which is according to Our Will. You should fear Us and not the disbelievers and the hypocrites.”
3. This sentence is addressed to the Prophet (peace be upon him) as well as to the Muslims and the opponents of Islam. It means: “If the Prophet (peace be upon him) earns defamation by acting according to the command of Allah, and bears patiently the attacks of the enemy on his honor, his devoted and sincere services will not remain hidden from Allah. The state of the Muslims who remain steadfast in their loyalty to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and of those who are involved in doubts and suspicions will be known to Allah. And Allah will also not remain unaware of the attempts of the disbelievers and the hypocrites who try to defame the Prophet (peace be upon him).”
4. The addressee of this sentence is again the Prophet (peace be upon him). He is being instructed to the effect: “Carry out the duty that is being entrusted to you with full confidence in Allah, and do not care at all even if the whole world turns hostile against you.” When a man comes to know with certainty that a certain command has been given by Allah, he should have the satisfaction that his whole well being and his good lies in its compliance. Then, it is not for him to see and understand its wisdom, but he should carry it out with full confidence in Allah. Allah is enough for him that the servant should entrust all his affairs to Him. He is enough for his guidance as well as help, and He alone is also responsible that the one working under His guidance should never meet with evil consequences.
5. That is, one and the same person cannot be a believer and a hypocrite, truthful and false, wicked and righteous, at one and the same time. He does not have two hearts in this chest that one should have sincerity in it and the other fearlessness of God. Therefore, a man can have only one kind of character at a time: either he will be a believer or a hypocrite, a disbeliever or a Muslim. Now if you call a believer a hypocrite, or a hypocrite a believer, it will not change the reality. The true character of the person will inevitably remain the same.
6. Zihar is a term in Arabic. In old days when an Arab; in the heat of a domestic quarrel, would say to his wife: “Your back for me is as the back of my mother,” it was thought that the woman was no longer lawful for him because he had compared her to his mother. About this Allah says: “A woman does not become a man’s mother just because he has called her his mother or compared her to his mother. His mother is the woman who bore him. Only his calling his wife his mother cannot change the reality.” See (Surah Al- Mujadilah: Ayats 2-4).
7. This is what is intended to be said. The two preceding sentences are meant to support and emphasize this same point.
8. The first reform introduced in connection with the implementation of this command was that Zaid, the adopted son of the Prophet (peace be upon him), began to be called Zaid bin Harithah, after his real father, instead of Zaid bin Muhammad. Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi and Nasai have related this tradition from Abdullah bin Umar that in the beginning the people called him Zaid bin Muhammad. After the revelation of this verse they began calling him Zaid bin Harithah. Moreover, after this revelation it was forbidden that a person should assign his parentage to any other man than his own real father. Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Daud have related on the authority of Saad bin Abi Waqqas that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Paradise is forbidden for the one who called himself son of another person than his own father.” Other traditions bearing on the subject have been related in Ahadith, which have regarded this as a heinous sin.
9. That is, even in such a case it will not be right to ascribe the parentage of a person to someone else.
10. It means: there is no harm if a person is called a son out of love. Likewise, there is no sin if someone calls another one a mother, or a daughter, or sister or brother, etc. out of affection and regard, but if such a thing is said with the intention that the one being called so will be accorded the same status and position and rights and privileges as actually belong to these relations, it would certainly be objectionable and one will be held answerable for it.”
11. That is, Allah has forgiven the errors already committed in this regard; no one will be called to account for them. Another meaning is: Allah does not call a people to account for actions done unintentionally. He will not punish a person for doing something which he did not do intentionally, although apparently it resembled a forbidden act.
12. That is, the relationship of the Prophet (peace be upon him) with the Muslims and of the Muslims with the Prophet (peace be upon him) is of a superior nature, over and above all human relationships. No other relationship is in any way comparable with the relationship that exists between the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the believers. The Prophet (peace be upon him) is more compassionate and affectionate and a greater well-wisher of the Muslims than their own parents, even their own selves. Their parents and their wives and children can harm them, can treat them in a selfish manner and mislead them, can make them commit errors and mistakes, can push them into Hell, but the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) case is different: he will do for them only that which results in and leads to their eternal well-being and enduring happiness. They can commit follies resulting in their own ruin and disaster, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) will wish for them only that which is beneficial and useful for them. And when it is so, the Prophet (peace be upon him) also has a right on the Muslims that they should regard him dearer than their own parents, their own children, even their own selves. They should love him more than anything and anybody else in the world; should prefer his judgment and opinion to their own and should submit to every command that he gives.
The same thing has been said by the Prophet (peace be upon him) in a Hadith, which Bukhari and Muslim and others have related with a little difference in wording: “No one of you can be a believer until I become dearer to him than his own father and his own children and all mankind.”
13. On the basis of the special relationship mentioned above, another characteristic of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is that his wives are forbidden to the Muslims just like their own real mothers although their adopted mothers are in no sense their real mothers. This thing is peculiar only to the person of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and of no other man in the world.
In this connection, one should also know that the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are mothers of the believers only in the sense that the Muslims are under obligation to have reverence and respect for them, and no Muslim could marry them. As for other matters they are not like the mothers. For example, apart from their real relatives, all other Muslims were non-mahram for them from whom they had to observe hijab; their daughters were not like real sisters for the Muslims, so that no Muslim could marry them; their brothers and sisters were not like the maternal uncles and aunts for the Muslims; they could not be inherited by a Muslim, unless a close relative, as a mother is inherited by her son.
Another noteworthy point in this connection is that according to the Quran, this status accrues to all the wives (may Allah be pleased with them all) of the Prophet (peace be upon him), among whom Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) is also included. But, when a section (of the Muslims) made Ali and Fatimah and their children (may Allah be pleased with them all) the center of their faith and made the whole system of religion revolve around them, and made Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her), along with many other companions, the target of curse and abuse, this verse became a hindrance for them, for according to it every person who claims to be a believer has to acknowledge her as his mother. Consequently, to overcome this difficulty a strange claim was made to the effect: The Prophet (peace be upon him) had given Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) the authority that after his death he could allow any of his wives he liked to retain her position of the wife and divorce any other on his behalf. Abu Mansur Ahmad bin Abu Talib Tabrasi has written this in Kitab al-Ihtijaj and Suleman bin Abdullah al-Bahrani has related that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) “O Abul Hasan: this honor will last till the time that we remain steadfast on obedience to Allah. Therefore, you may divorce any of my wives, who after me disobeys Allah by revolting against you, and deprive her of the honor that belongs to the mothers of the faithful.”
This is a false-tradition even according to the principles of reporting Hadith. But if one studies (Ayats 28-29 and 51-52 of this very Surah Al-Ahzab), one finds that this tradition goes against the Quran as well. For after the revelation of the “verse of the option” (Ayat 29), the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) right of divorce against those of his wives who chose to remain with him through every difficulty had been curtailed. For further explanation, see( E.Ns 42 and 93 )below.
Moreover, if an unbiased person only uses his common sense and considers this tradition carefully, he will find that it is utterly absurd and highly derogatory in respect to the Prophet (peace be upon him). The rank and position of the Messenger of Allah is very high and exalted. It cannot even be expected of an ordinary man that he would think of divorcing his wife after his death, and on leaving the world, would authorize his son-in-law to divorce her on his behalf if there arose a dispute between him and her in the future. This shows what regard these sectarians have for the honor and reverence of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and even for the divine law.
14. The verse means this: “As for the Prophet (peace be upon him) the nature of the Muslims’ relationship with him is unique. But as far as the common Muslims are concerned, their mutual relationship will be based on the principle that the rights of the relatives on one another are given priority over the rights of others. No charity is right if a person overlooks the needs and requirements of his own parents and children and brothers and sisters, and gives away charities to others. The Zakat money also will be used first of all to help one’s own poor relatives and then the other needy people. The inheritance will necessarily be divided among those who are nearest in relation to the deceased. As for others, the dying person may give them a part of his wealth as a gift or by trust and will. But in no case is he allowed to deprive his rightful heirs and give away everything to others. After this divine command the system of “Brotherhood” that had been established between the Muhajirin and the Ansar after the Hijrah also became abolished, for according to it the Muhajirin and the Ansar became heirs to one another only on the basis of their relationship of being the brethren in faith. Allah enjoined the law that inheritance will be divided only on the basis of blood relationship; however, a person could help his brother-in-faith by making him a gift or through a will if he so liked.
15. Allah in this verse has reminded the Prophet (peace be upon him) that, like all other Prophets, He has taken from him too a solemn covenant which he should abide by strictly. A study of the preceding verse shows that the covenant implies: “The Prophet will first himself obey and follow every command received from Allah, and then make others also to obey and follow it: he will convey Allah's commands intact to others and will show no laxity in the struggle to enforce them practically.” This covenant has been mentioned at several other places in the Quran, e.g.
(1) He has appointed for you the same way of life which he appointed for Noah and which (O Muhammad) We have now revealed to you, and which We had already enjoined on Abraham and Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them), stressing : Establish this Way and be not divided in it. (Surah Ash-Shura: Ayat 13).
(2) And remember that Allah had made the covenant with the people who had been given the scripture, and enjoined: You shall spread the teachings of the Book among the people and shall not conceal them.” (Surah Aal-Imran: Ayat 187).
(3) Remember that We made a solemn covenant with the children of Israel to the effect: Worship (and submit to) none save Allah. (Surah Al-Baqarah: Ayat 83).
(4) Has not the covenant of the Book been taken from them: Hold fast the Book that We have given to you, and keep in mind what it contains: it is expected that you will refrain from wrong ways. (Surah Al-Aaaraf: Ayats 169- 171).
(5) Keep in mind the blessing Allah has bestowed on you and do not forget the solemn covenant which He made with you, when you said, We have heard and submitted.” (Surah A1-Maidah: Ayat 7)
The reason why Allah is reminding of this covenant in this context is that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was feeling hesitant to break the custom of ignorance in respect of the adopted relations due to the apprehension that the enemies of Islam would put him to a disadvantage. He was feeling shy time and again at the thought: The question is of marrying a woman. I may take this initiative with the purest intention only for the sake of a social reform, but the enemies will certainly say that I have done so for the purpose of satisfying my desires, and I am in fact trying to deceive others under the guise of a reformer. That is why Allah assures him, saying: “You arc a Prophet appointed by Us. Like all other Prophets, you are also bound in the covenant that you will carry out whatever command We give and instruct others to follow it. Therefore, you should not bother at all about taunts and derision by others, do not be afraid and feel shy of others, and carry out without hesitation the service that We want to take from you.”
A section of the people think that this covenant is the covenant that was taken from all the Prophets and their communities, who came before the Prophet (peace be upon him), to the effect that they would believe in the Prophet who came afterwards and cooperate with him. On the basis of this interpretation they claim that the door to Prophethood is still open after the Prophet (peace be upon him). And this covenant has also been taken from the Prophet (peace be upon him), that his followers will believe in the prophet who will come after him. But the context in which the verse occurs is explicit that this interpretation is absolutely wrong, There is no occasion whatever in the context to indicate that other prophets will also come after the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his followers should believe in them. If the verse is read in this sense, it becomes irrelevant and incoherent. Moreover, there is no indication in the words of the verse to show which covenant is implied here. Therefore, to find out the nature of the covenant, we shall have to turn to other verses of the Quran in which mention has been made of the covenants taken from the Prophets. Now, if only one sort of the covenants had been mentioned in the entire Quran, i.e., the covenant that the people shall believe in the prophets coming afterwards, it would be correct to think that here also the covenant implied the same covenant. But anyone who has studied the Quran with an open mind knows that it has mentioned many covenants, which were taken from the Prophets and their followers. Therefore, only that covenant from among the different covenant would be implied here, which fitted in with the context here, and not the one which was altogether irrelevant. Such wrong interpretations reveal the mentality of the people who wish to draw no guidance from the Quran but want to reinterpret it instead.
16. That is, Allah has not just taken the covenant but will also question as to how far it has been kept. Then only those who will have kept Allah's covenant faithfully, will be declared to be the truthful.