41. The verses from here to 35 were revealed in the period contiguous to the battle of the Trench and the raid on Bani Quraizah, whose background we have touched upon in the Introduction to this Surah. According to a tradition related in Muslim on the authority of Jabir bin Abdullah, “One day when Abu Bakr and Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) visited the Prophet (peace be upon him), they saw that his wives were sitting around him and he was quiet. Addressing Umar, he said: They are sitting around me as you see: they are asking for money for household expenditure.” At this both the companions rebuked their daughters and said, “Why do you embarrass the Prophet (peace be upon him) and demand from him that which he does not have.” This event shows how economically hard pressed the Prophet (peace be upon him) was at that time, and how distressed and embarrassed he was feeling at his wives’ demand for domestic expenditure during the period when a bitter conflict was going on between Islam and paganism.
42. At the time when this verse was revealed, the Prophct (peace be with him) had four wives with him: Saudah, Aishah, Hafsah and Umm Salamah. He had not yet married Zainab. (may Allah be pleased with them all). (Ibn Arabia Ahkam ai-Quran. Egyptian Edition, 1958, vol. III, pp. 512-13). When this verse was revealed, he first spoke to Aishah, and said: “I ask you a thing; do not be hasty in answering; consult your parents, then decide.” Then he told her of Allah’s command and recited this verse. She replied: “Should I consult my parents about this?” I seek Allah and His Messenger and the Hereafter. After this he went to each of his wives and asked the same thing and each one gave the same reply as had been given by Aishah. (Musnad Ahmad, Muslim, Nasai).
This is termed takhyir, i.e. to give the wife the option to decide for herself whether she would stay in wedlock or would separate from the husband. This was obligatory for the Prophet (peace be with him) because he had been commanded by Allah to offer such an option to his wives. If a lady from among the wives had opted to separate, she would not have separated automatically but would have been separated by the Prophet (peace be with him), as is clear from the words in the previous verse: “I will make a provision for you and send you off (by divorce), a graceful sending.” But the Prophet (peace be with him) would certainly have separated her because as a Prophet it would not behoove him not to honor the word. After divorce apparently the lady would have stood excluded from the category of the wives, and she would not be forbidden to any other Muslim; for she would have chosen divorce from the Prophet (peace be with him) only for the sake of the world and its adornments of which she had been given the choice, and obviously the option could not be exercised in case she was forbidden to re-marry. On the other hand, the intention of the verse also seems that the Prophet (peace be with him) was not left with any authority to divorce the wives who chose Allah and His Messenger and the Hereafter in preference to the world. For, takhyir had only two sides: if a wife opted for the world, she would be divorced; if she opted for Allah and His Messenger and the Hereafter, she would not be divorced. Obviously, if a lady chose one alternative, the other would become forbidden in her case by itself.
In Islamic law takhyir, in fact, amounts to delegation of the right to obtain divorce. The husband himself gives the wife the choice to stay in wedlock with him or be separated. Here are briefly the injunctions which the jurists have derived from the Quran and Sunnah in this regard:
(1) Once a husband has given this choice to a wife, he can neither withdraw it nor stop her from exercising it. However, it is not necessary that the woman must exercise it. She may choose to remain in wedlock with the husband, or may prefer to separate, or may opt nothing and let the right of divorce be annulled.
(2) There are two conditions of this choice being transferred to the woman: (a) The husband should have given her the right of divorce in clear words, or if there was no clear mention of the divorce, he should have had the intention of giving this right; e.g. if he says, “You have the choice” or “your business is in your own hand,” such indirect words will not transfer the right of divorce to the woman without the intention of the husband. If the woman claims it and the husband states on oath that he had no intention of giving the right of divorce, his statement will be admitted, unless the woman produces evidence to the effect that those words were said during a dispute, or in connection with divorce, because in that context delegation of the right would mean that the husband had the intention of giving the right of divorce. (b) The woman knows that she has been given the right of divorce. If she was absent, she should receive information of this, and if she is present, she should hear the words. Unless she hears the words, or receives the news, the right will not be transferred to her.
(3) As to the time limit within which the wife has to exercise her right if the husband gives it her absolutely without specifying any limit, there is a difference of opinion among the jurists. Some jurists have expressed the opinion that the woman can exercise the right at the same sitting at which the husband gave it her; if she leaves the place without making a response, or turns her attention to something else which indicates that she does not want to make a response, she forfeits the right invested in her and her choice no longer remains. This is the opinion of Umar, Uthman, Ibn Masud, Jabir bin Abdullah, Atta, Jabir bin Zaid, Mujahid, Shabi, Nakhai, Imam Malik, Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Shafei, Imam Auzai, Sufyan Thauri and Abu Thaur. The other opinion is that her exercise of the choice is not confined to that sitting but she can exercise it even afterwards. This opinion is held by Hasan Basri, Qatadah and Zuhri (may Allah be pleased with them all).
(4) If the husband specifies a time limit and says, for instance, “You have the option for a month or a year, or your business is in your own hand for so long,” the wife would enjoy the option only for that long. However, if he says, “You can exercise this option as and when you like,” her option would be unlimited.
(5) If the woman intends to obtain separation, she should express her intention clearly and definitely. Vague words which do not express the intention clearly will have no effect.
(6) Legally, the husband can give the option to the wife in three forms: (a) He may say, “Your business is in your own hand;” or (b) he may say: “You have the option;” or (c) “You are divorced if you so please.” The legal consequences of each are separate as explained below:
(a) If the husband has said: “Your business is in your own hand," and the woman responds clearly to the effect that she would opt for separation, it would amount to an irreversible divorce according to the Hanafites. That is, after this the husband will forfeit his right to have her back as his wife. However, they can remarry if they so like after the expiry of the waiting period. And if the husband said, “Your affair is in your own hand to the extent of one divorce,” this will be regarded as the first reversible divorce. That is, the husband can take her back as his wife within the waiting-period. But if the husband had the intention of all the three divorces at the time of delegating to the woman the right of divorce, or mentioned this specifically, the woman’s exercise of the option in such a case would amount to divorce no matter whether she pronounces divorce thrice on herself or says only once that she has chosen separation or divorced herself.
(b) If the husband gives the woman the option to separate with the words: “You have the option,” and the woman opts for separation in clear words, it will amount to one reversible divorce according to the Hanafites even if the husband had the intention of giving option for three divorces. However, if the husband has clearly given option for three divorces, the three divorces will take place only on the woman’s exercise of the option for divorce. According to Imam Shafei, if at the time of giving the option, the husband had the intention of divorce, and the woman opts for separation, it will amount to one reversible divorce. According to Imam Malik, it will amount to three divorces in case the wife had been enjoyed; in case she had not been enjoyed, the husband’s claim to have intended only one divorce will be admitted.
(c) In case the words “You are divorced if you so please” have been used and the woman has opted for divorce, it will be a reversible divorce and not an irreversible one.
(7) If after the husband has given the option for separation, the woman chooses to remain in wedlock, no divorce will take place at all. This is the opinion of Umar, Abdullah bin Masud, Aishah, Abu ad-Darda, Ibn Abbas and Ibn Umar, and the same has been adopted by majority of the jurists. When Masruq asked Aishah about this, she replied: “The Prophet (peace be with him) had given his wives the option and they chose to continue to live as his wives. Then, was it deemed to be a divorce?” The opinion of Ali and Zaid bin Thabit that has been reported in this regard is that one reversible divorce will take place. But according to another tradition these two great companions also held the opinion that no divorce will take place at all. (May Allah be pleased with them all).
43. This does not mean that there was, God forbid, any chance of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) wives committing an indecency, but this was meant to make them realize that they were the mothers of the Muslims; therefore, their responsibilities were accordingly very high, and so their moral conduct should be the purest. This is just like Allah’s addressing the Prophet (peace be upon him) to the effect: “If you committed shirk, all your deeds would be rendered vain.” (Surah Az-Zumar: Ayat 65). This also does not mean that there was, God forbid, any chance of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) committing shirk, but this is meant to make the Prophet (peace be upon him) realize, and through him the common Muslims, that shirk, is a most heinous crime which must be guarded against most judiciously.
44. That is, “You should not be under the delusion that your being the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) wives will protect you from Allah’s punishment, or that it will be difficult for Allah to call you to account on account of your high rank and position in the world.”
45. The reason for giving a double punishment for a sin and a double reward for a good work is that those whom Allah honors with a high rank in society generally become the leaders of men and the majority of the people follow them for good or for evil. Thus, their evil does not remain their own evil but becomes the cause of a people’s degeneration, and their goodness does not remain their own goodness but becomes the cause of the true success of many other people also. Therefore, when they commit evil they are punished for their own as well as for others degeneration, and when they do good they are not only rewarded for their own good works but also for this that they also guided others to do good.
This verse also gives the principle that the greater the degree of prohibition and trust in respect of somebody and something the greater and more serious will be the crime of violating that prohibition and trust and the greater will be the punishment for it. For example, drinking in the mosque is a much more serious crime than drinking privately in the house, and therefore, it will entail a severer punishment. Likewise, committing adultery with the prohibited relations is a far more serious crime than committing it with another woman, and therefore, will call for a severer punishment.
46. The verses from here to the end of the paragraph are those with which the commandments of hijab were introduced in Islam. In these verses, though, only the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him) have been addressed, the intention is to enforce reforms in all the Muslim houses. The object of addressing the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) wives in particular is that when a pure way of life will start from his house, it will be followed by the women of all other Muslim houses as well, because this house was looked upon by the Muslims as a model to follow. Some people, when they see that these verses have been addressed only to the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him), assert that these commandments were only meant for them. But when one reads what follows in these verses, he feels that there is nothing which might have been meant particularly for the wives and not for the other Muslim women. Could Allah have intended only this that the wives alone should be free from un-cleanliness and they alone should obey Allah and His Prophet (peace be upon him) and they alone should offer the Salat and pay the Zakat? If this could not be the intention, then how could the command for them to stay in their houses and avoid displaying the fineries and abstain from talking to the other men in an alluring voice be meant particularly for them to the exclusion of all other Muslim women? Is there any rational proof on the basis of which some commands in one and the same context and series be regarded as general and some others as particular and special?
As for the sentence, “You are not like any other women,” it also does not mean that the other women should come out in full makeup and should talk to the other men coquettishly and flirt with them, but “as for you, you should not adopt such a conduct.” The style, to the contrary, is such as if a gentleman would tell his child, “You are not like the common children of the street: you should not use abusive language.” From this no sensible person would ever conclude that the speaker regarded only his own child using abusive language as bad; as for others he would not mind if they used abusive language.
47. That is, “There is no harm if the other man is spoken to in case of a genuine need, but on such an occasion the woman’s tone and manner of speech should be such as does not let the other man think that he could cherish any false hope from her. There should be no undue softness in her tone, no allurement in her conversation, no consciously affected mellowness in her voice, which should excite the male hearer’s emotions and encourage him to make advances.”
About such a manner of speech Allah clearly says that this does not behoove a woman who has any fear of God in her heart and desire to avoid evil. In other words, this is the way and manner of the wicked and unchaste woman’s speech and not of the believing pious woman’s speech: If this verse is read together with verse 31 of Surah An-Nur, in which Allah says: “They should not stamp the ground in walking lest their hidden decoration is revealed,” the intention of the Lord clearly seems to be that the women should not attract other men by their voice or the jingle of their ornaments unnecessarily, and if at all they have to speak to the other men, they should speak to them in an unaffected tone and manner. That is why it is forbidden for the woman to pronounce the call to the Prayer. Moreover, if a woman is attending a congregational Prayer and the Imam commits a mistake, she is not permitted to say Subhan-Allah like the males but should only tap her hands to call the imam's attention to the error.
Now just consider this: When Islam disallows the woman to talk to other men in a soft and sweet tone and even forbids her to produce her voice before the other men without a genuine need, will it approve her to appear on the stage and sing, dance, flirt and behave coquettishly? Will it permit her to sing love songs over the radio and excite the people’s emotions by presenting sweet melodies full of obscene themes? Will it permit that she should play the roles of the wives and sweethearts of others in dramas? Or that the women should be made the air hostesses and be especially trained to charm and allure the passengers? Or that they should visit clubs and attend social functions and gatherings in full makeup and mix freely with men and have fun and a good time with them? From which Quran has this culture been derived? For, the Quran that was sent down by God there is to be found no hint as to the admissibility of this sort of culture.
48. The word qarna in the original is derived from qarar according to some lexicographers and from waqar according to others. In the first sense, it will mean: “settle down, stick firmly” and in the second sense: “live peacefully, sit with dignity.” In both the cases the verse means to impress that the woman’s real sphere of activity is her home; she should carry out her functions within that sphere peacefully, and she should come out of the house only in case of a genuine need. This meaning is clear from the words of the verse itself and the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) Ahadith also impress it even more forcefully. Hafiz Abu Bakr Bazzar has related on the authority of Anas that the women made a submission to the Prophet (peace be upon him), saying: “All kinds of virtues have been secured by the men: they fight and accomplish great deeds in the way of Allah. What should we do that we may also get a reward equal to that of the warriors?” The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “The one who sits in her house from among you; will attain the reward of the warriors.” What he meant was: The warrior can fight confidently and with full peace of the mind in the way of Allah only when he is sure that all is well at home. His wife is there to look after the house and the children, and there is no cause for him to worry that she will betray him in his absence. The woman who will provide him this satisfaction and peace of the mind will be an equal partner with him in his fighting though she will be sitting back at home. According to another tradition that Bazzar and Tirmidhi have related on the authority of Abdullah bin Masud, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The woman must remain veiled and concealed. When she comes out of her house, Satan stares at her. And she is closer to Allah’s mercy when she is inside her house.” See (E.N. 49 of Surah An-Nur).
In the presence of such a clear and express command of the Quran, it is not at all permissible that the Muslim women should seek membership of the councils and parliaments; that they should run after social activities outside the house; that they should work side by side with men in the government offices, should get education along with boys in the colleges, serve as nurses in the male wards of hospitals, should be employed as hostesses in the airplanes and rail cars, and should be sent abroad for education and training. The greatest argument that is given in support of the permissibility of the women’s outdoor activities is that Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) had taken part in the battle of the Jamul. But the people who present this argument perhaps do not know what was Aishah’s own opinion in this regard. Abdullah bin Ahmad bin Hanbal has related in his Zawa id az-Zuhd and Ibn Mundhir, Ibn Abi Shaibah and Ibn Saad in their own books the tradition from Masruq, saying that when Aishah during her recitation of the Quran would reach this verse (wa qarna fi buyut-i kunna), she would start crying involuntarily; so much so that her head-wrapper would become wet, for this reminded her of the error that she had committed in the battle of the Jamul.
49. In this verse two important words have been used, which must be understood for the proper understanding of its intention. They are tabarruj and jahiliyyat al-ula.
The word tabarruj in Arabic means to become manifest and appear openly before others. The Arabs use the word baraj for every conspicuous and elevated object. A burj (tower) is so called because of its prominence and elevation. A sailingboat is called barijah, because its sails become visible from a distance. The word tabarruj when used in respect of a woman will have three meanings: (1) that she should show the charms of her face and body before the people. (2) That she should display the adornments of her dress and ornaments before others. (3) That she should make herself conspicuous by her gait and figure and coquetry. The same explanation of this word has been given by the leading lexicographers and commentators. Mujahid, Qatadah and Ibn Abi Nujaih say: Tabarruj means to walk in a vain, alluring and coquettish manner. Muqatil says: It means a woman’s displaying of her necklaces, ear-rings and bosom. Al-Mubarrad says: That a woman should reveal her adornments which she should conceal. Abu Ubaidah comments: This that a woman should make herself conspicuous by display of her body and dress to attract the attention of men.
The word jahiliyyat has been used at three other places in the Quran besides this, in (Surah Aal-Imran: Ayat 154), where about those who shirk fighting in the way of Allah, it has been said: “They began to cherish about Allah thoughts of Ignorance Uahiljyyat, which were void of the truth. And in (Surah Al-Maidah: Ayat 50), where about those who want to be judged by their own law instead of the law of Allah, it has been said: “Do they desire to be judged by the laws of ignorance (Jahiliyyat)?” and in (Surah Al-Fath: Ayat 26), where the prejudice of the people of Makkah due to which they did not permit the Muslims to perform Umrah, has been called as "the haughty spirit of paganism (jahiliyyat). According to a Hadith once Abu ad-Darda in the heat of a quarrel abused another person in respect of his mother. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) heard of it, he remarked: You still have jahiliyyat in you. According to another Hadith the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Three things show jahiliyyat: to taunt the lineage of another person, to take omens from the movement of the stars, and to mourn over the dead. All these customs show that jahiliyyat in the Islamic terminology is every such conduct which goes against Islamic culture and civilization and Islamic morality and etiquette and Islamic way of thinking and behavior. Thus, jahiliyyat al-ula would mean all those evils in which the Arabs of the pre-Islamic days and the people of the entire world were involved.
This explanation makes it abundantly clear that what Allah forbids women is to move out of their houses showing off their physical charms and beauty. He instructs them to stay in their houses because their real sphere of activity is their home and not the world outside. However, if they have to move out of the house for an outdoor duty, they should not move out as the women used to do in the pre-Islamic days of ignorance. For it does not behoove the women of a Muslim society to walk out fully embellished to make their face and figure conspicuous by adornments and tightfitting or transparent dresses, and to walk coquettishly. These are the ways of ignorance which Islam does not approve. Now everybody can see for himself whether the culture which is being made popular in our country is the culture of Islam, according to the Quran, or the culture of ignorance.
50. The context in which this verse occurs makes it manifest that the word ahl al-bait (people of the house) here implies the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him), because the address begins with: “O wives of the Prophet,” and they are the addressees in the whole discourse preceding it as well as following it. Moreover, the word ahl al-bait in Arabic is used precisely in the sense in which the word “household” is used in English, which includes both a man’s wife and children. No one would exclude the wife from the “household.” The Quran itself has used this word at two other places besides this, and at both the wife is included in its sense, rather as the most important member of the family. In Surah Hud, when the angels give the Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) the good news of the birth of a son, his wife exclaims: “Shall I bear a child now when I have grown too old, and this husband of mine has also become old?” The angels say: “What! Are you surprised at Allah's decree, O people of Abraham’s household? Allah’s mercy and blessings are upon you.” In Surah Al-Qasas, when the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) reaches the Pharaoh's house as a suckling, and the Pharaoh’s wife is in search of a suitable nurse for the child, the Prophet Moses’ (peace be upon him) sister says, “Shall I tell you of a household whose people will bring him up for you and look after him well?” Thus, the Arabic idiom and the usage of the Quran and the context of this verse, all point clearly to the fact that the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) wives as well as his children are included in his ahl albait; rather the more correct thing is that the verse is actually addressed to the wives and the children become included in the household only because of the sense of the word. That is why according to lbn Abbas and Urwah bin Zubair and Ikrimah, the word ahl al-bait in this verse implies the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
But if somebody says that the word ahl al-bait has been used only for the wives and none else can be included in it, it will also be wrong. Not only this that the word “household” includes all the members of a man’s family, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) has himself explained that this includes even himself. According to Ibn Abi Hatim, once when Aishah was asked about Ali, she said, “Do you ask me about the person who was among the most loved ones of the Prophet and whose wife was the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) daughter and most beloved to him?” Then she related the event when the Prophet (peace be upon him) had called Ali and Fatimah and Hasan and Husain (may Allah be pleased with them all) and covered them all with a sheet of cloth and prayed: “O Allah, these are my household, remove uncleanness from them and make them pure.” Aishah says, “I said: I also am included among your household (i.e. I may also be covered under the sheet and prayed for).” Thereupon the Prophet replied: “You stay out: you, of course, are already included.” A great many Ahadith bearing on this subject have been related by traditionalists like Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Ibn Jarir, Hakim, Baihaqi, etc. on the authority of Abu Said Khudri, Aishah, Anas, Umm Salamah, Wathilah bin Aqsa and some other companions, which show that the Prophet (peace be upon him) declared Ali and Fatimah and their two sons as his ahl al-bait. Therefore, the view of those who exclude them from the ahl al-bait is not correct.
Similarly the view of those people also is not correct, who, on the basis of the above cited Ahadith, regard the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as excluded from his ahl al-bait. In the first place, anything which has been clearly stated in the Quran cannot be contradicted on the basis of a Hadith. Secondly, these Ahadith also do not have the meaning that is put on them. As related in some traditions that the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not cover Aishah and Umm Salamah under the sheet of cloth which he put on the four members of his family, does not mean that he had excluded those ladies from his “household.” But it means that the wives were already included in ahl al-bait, because the Quran, in fact, had addressed them as ahl albait. The Prophet (peace be upon him), however, thought that the apparent words of the Quran might cause somebody the misunderstanding about these members that they were excluded from the ahl al-bait. Therefore, he felt the need for clarification in their case and not in the case of his wives.
A section of the people have not only misconstrued this verse to the extent that they have made the word ahl al-bait exclusively applicable to Ali and Fatimah and their children to the exclusion of the wives, but have gone even further and concluded wrongly from its words “Allah only intends to remove uncleanliness from you and purify you completely”, that Ali and Fatimah and their children are infallible like the Prophets of Allah. They say that “uncleanliness” implies error and sin, and, as Allah says, these ahl al-bait have been purified of this, whereas the words of the verse do not say that uncleanliness has been removed from them and they have been purified. But the words are to the effect: “Allah intends to remove uncleanliness from you and purify you completely.” The context also does not tell that the object here is to mention the virtues and excellences of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) household. On the contrary, they have been advised here what they should do and what they should not, because Allah intends to purify them. In other words, they have been told that if they adopted such and such an attitude and way of life, they will be blessed with cleanliness, otherwise not. However, if the words “Allah intends to remove uncleanliness from you” are taken to mean that Allah has made them infallible, then is no reason why all the Muslims who perform their ablutions before offering the Prayer are not held as infallible, because about them also Allah says: “But Allah wills to purify you and complete His blessings upon you.” (Surah Al-Maidah: Ayat 6).
51. The word wadhkurna in the original has two meanings: Remember and mention. According to the first meaning the verse would mean: “O wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him), you should never forget that yours is the house from where the world is being instructed in divine revelations and wisdom, therefore, your responsibility is very great. Let it not happen that the people might see specimens of ignorance in this very house.” According to the second meaning, it would mean: “O wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him), you should mention and relate before the people whatever you hear and see, for by virtue of your close and constant social association and attachment with the Prophet (peace be upon him) you will know and experience many such things which the other people. will not be able to know by any other means than you.”
Two things have been mentioned in this verse: (1) The Revelations of Allah; and (2) the wise sayings. The revelations of Allah are the verses of Allah’s Book, but hikmat (wisdom) is a comprehensive word which includes all those wise things which the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught the people. This word may also imply the teachings of the Book of Allah, but there is no reason why it should be made exclusively applicable to them. It inevitably includes the wisdom that the Prophet (peace be upon him) taught by his pure character and by his sayings besides reciting the verses of the Quran. Some people, only on the basis that the word ma yutla (that which is recited) has been used in the verse, make the assertion that the “Revelations of Allah” and "Wisdom" imply only the Quran, for the word “recitation” as a term is specifically used for the recitation of the Quran. But this reasoning is absolutely wrong. The use of the word “recitation” specifically as a term for the recitation of the Quran or the Book of Allah is the work of the people of the later ages. The Quran has not used this word as a term. In (Surah Al-Baqarah: Ayat 102), this same word has been used for the incantation of the magical formulas which the satans falsely attributed to the Prophet Solomon and taught the people. (“They followed that which the satans recited attributing it to the kingdom of Solomon.”) This shows that the Quran uses this word in its lexical meaning, and does not specify it for reciting the verses of the Book of Allah.
52. “Well Acquainted”: “Knower of even the most secret and hidden things.”