58 - Al Mujadila (The pleading woman)

6 Tafsir(s) related to verse 58.1


God has certainly heard the words of her who disputes with you, [her who] consults you, O Prophet, concerning her husband, who has repudiated her by zihār — he had said to her, ‘You are to me [as untouchable] as the back of my mother’. She asked the Prophet (s) about this and he told her that she was [thenceforth] forbidden to him, as was customary among them [at the time of Jāhiliyya], namely, that repudiation by zihār results in permanent separation. She was Khawla bt. Tha‘laba and he was Aws b. al-Sāmit — and complains to God, of her being alone and of her impoverishment while having young children, whom if she were to leave with him, they would go astray, but whom, if they remained with her, would go hungry. And God hears your conversation, your consulting. Assuredly God is Hearer, Seer, [He is] Knower.

Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi

(Allah hath heard the saying of her that disputeth with thee (Muhammad) concerning her husband…) [58:1]. Abu Sa‘d Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Ghazi informed us> Abu ‘Amr Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Hiri> Ahmad ibn ‘Ali al-Muthanna> Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shaybah> Muhammad ibn Abi ‘Ubaydah> his father> al-A‘mash> Tamim ibn Salamah> ‘Urwah who reported that ‘A’ishah said: “Glory be to Him Whose hearing encompass all things; I could hear the speech of Khawlah bint Tha‘labah, even though not in full, while she was complaining about her husband to the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace. She said: ‘He has worn out my youth and I let him physically enjoy me but when I grew older and could no longer bear children, he put me away, saying that I am as his mother. O Allah, I complain to you’. She did not move from her position until Gabriel came down with these verses (Allah hath heard the saying of her that disputeth with thee (Muhammad) concerning her husband, and complaineth unto Allah…)”. This was narrated by al-Hakim Abu ‘Abd Allah in his Sahih> Muhammad al-Muzani> Mutayr> Abu Kurayb> Muhammad ibn Abi ‘Ubaydah. Abu Bakr ibn al-Harith informed us> Abu’l-Shaykh al-Hafiz al-Asfahani> ‘Abdan ibn Ahmad> Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn Sa‘id> Yahya ibn ‘Isa al-Ramli> al-A‘mash> Tamim ibn Salamah> ‘Urwah> ‘A’ishah who said: “Praise be to Allah Who can hear all sounds! The woman disputant came and spoke with the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, while I was at one side of the room and I did not understand what she was saying. Allah, exalted is He, then revealed (Allah hath heard the saying of her that disputeth with thee (Muhammad) concerning her husband…)”.

Ibn Al Kathir

Reason for revealing this Surah

Imam Ahmad recorded that `A'ishah said, "All praise be to Allah, Who hears all voices. "The woman who disputed'' came to the Prophet and argued with him while I was in another part of the room, unable to hear what she said. Allah the Exalted and Most Honored revealed this Ayah,

قَدْ سَمِعَ اللَّهُ قَوْلَ الَّتِى تُجَادِلُكَ فِى زَوْجِهَا

(Indeed Allah has heard the statement of her that disputes with you concerning her husband.)'' till the end of this Ayah. Al-Bukhari collected this Hadith without a chain of narration in the Book of Tawhid in his Sahih. An-Nasa'i, Ibn Majah, Ibn Abi Hatim and Ibn Jarir also collected this Hadith. In the narration that Ibn Abi Hatim collected, `A'ishah said, "Blessed is He, Whose hearing has encompassed all things. I heard what Khawlah bint Tha`labah said while some of it I could not hear. She was complaining to Allah's Messenger about her husband. She said, `O Allah's Messenger! He spent my wealth, exhausted my youth and my womb bore abundantly for him. When I be- came old, unable to bear children, he pronounced the Ziharon me! O Allah! I complain to you.' Soon after, Jibril brought down this Ayah,

قَدْ سَمِعَ اللَّهُ قَوْلَ الَّتِى تُجَادِلُكَ فِى زَوْجِهَا

(Indeed Allah has heard the statement of her that disputes with you concerning her husband,)'' She added, "Her husband was Aws bin As-Samit.''

Kashf Al-Asrar

God has heard the words of her who disputes with thee concerning her husband and complains to God.

The weaker someone is, the gentler is the Lord. The lord of lords, the master of all masters, the gentle, generous, and lovingly kind, takes care of the work of the weak in a way that leaves all the strong in wonder. A hundred thousand proximate angels, glorifying and hallowing, were diving in the oceans of bows and prostrations and raising the voices of glorification and hallowing at the Exalted Threshold, but no one talked about them. But that poor, weak woman-the disputer who wept before the Threshold in burning and bewilderment and who complained of her despair-look how the Splendorous Qur'an wrote the inscription of exaltation on the cape of her secret whispering: “God has heard the words of her who disputes with thee concerning her husband and complains to God. We have heard her complaint, We have listened to her lamenting and supplicating, and We have made apparent the opening up of the suffering and tightness in which she has remained because of her husband's repudiation of her. We are the Lord who is the good companion of everyone helpless and without a companion, We untie the knots of everyone in bonds, We dispel the sorrows of everyone sorrowful. We hear the voice of the poor, We listen to the whispering of the miserable, We respond to the need of the helpless.”

It has come in a report that one day this woman who disputed came to ʿUmar KhaṬṬāb during the days of his caliphate for a business she had with him. She spoke harshly with him. Those who were with him shouted at her, saying, “Do you not know that you must not speak harsh words to the Commander of the Faithful?”

ʿUmar said to them, “Be silent! Have respect for this poor woman! She is the woman whose words the Real heard from beyond the seven levels of heaven, and upon whom He placed this caress and generosity: “God has heard the words of her who disputes with thee concerning her husband and complains to God.”

O Muslims! Respect the poor and seek proximity to God by taking care of them and giving comfort to them. Although today they are helpless and poor, tomorrow they will be the kings of the Garden of Refuge and the great ones of the Highest Paradise.

Do not look at the fact that today their state is defective, their clothing tattered, their faces yellow, and their hearts full of pain. Look rather at the fact that tomorrow they will be the great ones of the Abode of Peace and the chiefs of the Abode of the Station. Their state will be as the poet said:

“The poor have a scent of union,

you'd say they have a stream from love's wine.

In the session of remembrance, they have cries of joythey're shouting out that they have the likes of Him.”

Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an

Here, hearing does not merely imply hearing a complaint but also redressing the grievances

The translators generally have translated these sentences in the past tense, which tends to give the meaning that the woman had left after relating her complaint and the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) some time later might have received this Revelation. That is why Allah has said: We indeed heard what the woman said, who was pleading with you and complaining to Us, and We were at that time hearing the conversation of both of you." But in most of the traditions that have been reported in the Hadith about this incident, it has been stated that right at the rime when the woman was relating the zihar pronounced by her husband and complaining to the Holy Prophet to the effect that if she was separated from her husband, she and her children would be ruined, the state of receiving Revelation appeared on the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) and these verse's were sent down. On this basis we have preferred rendering these sentences in the present tense.

The lady concerning whom these verses were sent down was Khaulah bint-Tha`labah of the Khazraj tribe, and her husband, Aus bin Samit Ansari, was brother of Hadrat `Ubadah bin Samit, the chief of the Aus tribe. The story of the zihar upon her is related in detail below. What is worth mentioning here is that the incident of the lady's complaint being heard by Allah Almighty and the coming down of the Divine command immediately to redress her grievance was an event that earned her a place of honor and esteem among the Companions. Ibn Abi Hatim and Baihaqi have related that once Hadrat `Umar was on his way out with some companions. On the way he came across a woman, who stopped him; he immediately stopped and listened to what she had to say patiently with his head bent down, and did not move till she had finished. One of the companions said: 'O Commander of the Faithful, you held back the Quraish chiefs for so long for the sake of this old woman!" Hadrat `Umar said: "Do you know who she is?She is Khaulah bint-Tha'labah, the lady whose complaint was heard at the seventh heaven. By God! even if she had kept me standing till the night, I would have kept standing; I would only have excused myself at the Prayer times." Ibn `Abdul Barr has related in Al-Isti ab this tradition from Qatadah: "When Hadrat `Umar came across this lady, on the way, he greeted her. After answering his greeting, she said, "Hey, O `Umar, there was a time when I saw you at the `Ukaz, festival. Then you were called `Umair. You tended goats with the shepherd's staff in your hand. Then, not very long after this, you began to be called `Umar. Then a time came when the people began addressing you as Commander of the Faithful. So, fear Allah with regard to your subjects, and remember that the one who fears Allah's punishment, for him the stranger also is like a close kinsman, and the one who fears death, may well lose that very thing which he wants to save.' At this, jarud 'Abdi, who was accompanying Hadrat `Umar, said: O woman, you have talked insolently to the Commander of the Faithful. " Thereupon Hadrat `Umar said: Let her say whatever she has to say. Do you know who she is?-She was heard at the seventh heaven. So, she deserves to be heard longer and with greater attention by 'Umar." Imam Bukhari also has related briefly a story resembling this in his History.

Among the Arabs it often so happened that during a family quarrel, the husband in the heat of the moment would say to his wife: Ant-i alayya ka-zahr-i ammi which literally means: "You are for me as the back of my mother." But its real meaning is: "To have sexual relations with you would be like having sexual relations with my mother. " Such words are still uttered by the foolish people, who, as the result of a family quarrel, declare the wife to be like their mother, or sister, or daughter, and make her unlawful for themselves like the prohibited women. This is called zihar. Zahr in Arabic is metaphorically used for riding and mounting. Thus, the conveyance is called zahr, because man rides on its back. As this word was employed in order to make the wife unlawful the formula was termed 'zihar". In the pre-Islamic days this was looked upon as tantamount to the pronouncement of divorce, even of greater effect than that, for they took it to mean that the husband was not only severing his marital relations with his wife but was also declaring her to be unlawful for himself like his mother. On this very basis, the Arabs thought reunion could be possible after a divorce but it was impossible after zihar.

This is Allah's first decision concerning zihar It means that if a person shamelessly compares the wife to his mother, his this utterance does not make his wife his mother, nor is she endowed with the sanctity that the mother enjoys. The mother's being mother is an actual fact, for she has given birth to the man. On this very ground, she is eternally sacred and prohibited. Now, how will the woman who has not given him birth become his mother simply by a word of mouth, and how will sanctity and prohibition be established for her by reason, morality and law which, by virtue of this actual fact, is only reserved for the mother who gave birth? Thus, Allah by this condemnation abolished the custom of the pre-Islamic ignorance according to which the marriage contract between the husband pronouncing zihar and the wife stood dissolved and she became absolutely forbidden for him like the mother

That is, "'To liken the wife to the mother is, in the first place, an absurd and shameful thing which no noble person should ever think of, not to speak of uttering it with the tongue. Secondly, it is also a falsehood, for if the one who says such a thing is giving the news that his wife has now become his mother for him, he is uttering falsehood, and if he is declaring that he has henceforth bestowed on his wife the sanctity of the mother, even then his claim is false, for God has not given him the authority that he may treat a woman as his wife as long as he likes and then start treating her as his mother as and when he likes. The lawgiver is Allah Almighty, not he, and Allah has included in the order of motherhood the grandmothers, both paternal and maternal, mother-in-law, foster mother and the wives of the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) along with the woman who gave birth. Nobody has the right to include of his own whim another woman in this order, not to speak of the woman who has been his wife. This gives the second legal injunction. To pronounce zihar is a grave sin and forbidden act, the violation of which deserves to be punished.

That is, Such an utterance actually deserves to be punished much more severely, but it is Allah's kindness that He has, firstly, abolished the custom of ignorance and saved your family life from utter ruin, and secondly, has prescribed the lightest punishment for the culprits. And His supreme kindness is that the punishment too, is not any form of physical torture or imprisonment, but a few acts of worship and virtue, which arc meant to reform you and help spread good in your society. In this connection, one should also understand that the acts of worship that have been prescribed by Islam as expiations for certain crimes and sins are neither mere punishments that they may be without the spirit of worship, nor mere acts of worship that they m. y entail no pain and suffering of the punishment. Hut both the aspects have been combined in them so that the culprit may experience pain as well as expiate his sin by means of performing a virtue and act of worship.

From here begins the statement of the legal injunctions concerning zihar. To understand this, it is necessary that one should keep in mind the incidents of zihar that took place in the time of the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace), for the code of law pertaining to zihar is derived from the verses and the judgments that the Holy Prophet gave after the revelation of these verses in the cases of zihar brought before him.

According to Hadrat `Abdullah bin `Abbas, the first case of zihar in Islam was the one relating to Aus bin Samit Ansari, on whose wife Khaulah's complaint Allah sent down these verse:. Although the details of this case that the traditionists have cited from several reporters contain minor differences, yet the elements of legal import and significance are almost agreed upon. A resume of these traditions is as follows:

Hadrat Aus bin Samit had grown a little peevish in old age and according to Some traditions, had also developed an ailment resembling insanity. The reporters have described it by the word lamam which is not exactly madness in Arabic but a state resembling it. In this state he had also pronounced zihar on his wife several times before, but in Islam this was the first occasion that he pronounced it as the result of a quarrel with her. Thereupon, his wife appeared before the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) and relating the whole story to him, said: "O Messenger of Allah: Is there any way out of this situation that could save me and my children from ruin?" The Holy Prophet's reply has been reported in different words by different reporters. In some traditions the words are to the effect: "No command has been given to me so far in this regard," and in some others the words are: "In my opinion you have become unlawful to him," and in still others: "You arc unlawful to him." At this, she began to cry and complain and told the Holy Prophet over and over again that her husband had not pronounced the words of divorce; therefore, he should suggest a way by which she and her children and her old husband's life could be saved from ruin. But the Holy Prophet gave her the same reply every time. In the meantime he underwent the state of receiving revelation and these verses were revealed. After this, he said to her (and according to other traditions, he called her husband and told him) to free a slave. When they expressed their inability to do so, he said that the husband would have to observe two months' fast consecutively. She said: "Aus is such a man that unless he eats and drinks three times a day, his sight starts failing him. " The Holy Prophet said, "Then, you will have to feed 60 poor people. " They submitted that they did not have the means for that unless they were helped out by him. Thereupon the Holy Prophet gave them food articles that could suffice 60 men for two meals. Different quantities of it have been mentioned in different traditions. According to some traditions Hadrat Khaulah herself gave to her husband food articles equal in quantity to those given by the Holy Prophet so that he may perform the expiation. (Ibn Jarir, Musnad Ahmad Abu Da'ud, Ibn Abi Hatim).

The second incident of zihar relates to Salamah bin Sakhr Bayadi. He had a somewhat abnormal appetite for sex. When the fasting month of Ramadan came, he, fearing that he might lose self-control in daytime in the state of fasting, pronounced zihar on his wife till the end of Ramadan. Hut he could not adhere to his pledge and went in to his wife one night. Penitent he appeared before the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) and told him what he had done. He told him to release a slave. He said he had no one else beside his wife, whom he could release. The Holy Prophet then told him to observe two months' consecutive fast. He replied that it was during obligatory fasting itself that he had been unable to control himself and had become involved in trouble. The Holy Prophet then said that he should feed 60 poor people, He replied that they were poor themselves and had gone to bed at night without food. Thereupon the Holy Prophet got him a sufficient quantity of food articles from the collector of the zihar of Bani Zurayq so that he may feed 60 persons and may also save some thing for his children. (Musnad Ahmad, Abu Da'ud. Tirmadhi

The third incident that has been related without any reference to the name is that a man pronounced zihar on his wife and then had sexual intercourse with her even before making the expiation Then, when he came to the Holy Prophet to ask for the legal verdict, he commanded him to abstain from her till he had made the expiation. (Abu Da'ud, Tirmidhi, Nasa i Ibn Majah).

The fourth incident is that the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) himself heard a man calling his wife as sister. Thereupon he said to him angrily: "Is she your sister?" But he did not regard it as zihar,. (Abu Da'ud).

These four are the reliable incidents that have been related in the Hadith through authentic channels, and through them only can one adequately understand the Qur'anic injunctions that have been laid down in the following verses.

Literally: "that they return to that which they said," but in view of the Arabic language and idiom great differences have occurred in determining the meaning of these words:

Their one meaning can be: "If they repeat the words of zihar after they have uttered them once. " The Zahiriyyah and Bukair bin al-Ashajj and Yahya bin Ziyad al-Farm' hold this very view, and a saying from `Ata' bin Abi Rabah also has been reported in support of the same. According to-them, the pronouncement of zihar once is forgiven; however, if a person repeats it, he becomes liable to make the expiation. Hut this commentary is expressly wrong for two reasons: first, that Allah has condemned zihar as an absurd thing and a falsehood and then prescribed a penalty for it. Now, it is not conceivable that if a man utters falsehood or absurdities once he should be excused and if he utters it the second time he should make himself liable to punishment. The second reason of its being wrong is that the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) never asked the man pronouncing zihrir whether he had pronounced it once or twice.

Its second meaning is "If the people who were used to uttering zihar in the pre Islamic days of ignorance, repeat it in Islam, they will incur this punishment." This would mean that zihar should by itself be liable to punishment, and who ever utters the words of zihar for his wife, should become liable to make the expiation whether he may divorce the wife after it, or his wife may die; or he may have no intention of resuming conjugal relations with his wife. This view is hold by Ta-us Mujahid, Sha'bi, Zuhri, Sufyan Thauri and Qatadah from among the jurists They say that if the woman dies after the zihar, the husband cannot inherit her unless he made: the expiation.

The third meaning is: "If after uttering the words of zihar the man may wish to go back on his words and makr amends for what he said " In other words, 'ada lima gala means that the man revoked what he had said.

The fourth meaning is: "If the man may wish to make lawful what he had made unlawful for himself by pronouncing the zihar " In ocher words, it would mean that the person who had made a thing unlawful for himself has now returned to make it lawful views.

Most of the jurists have preferred and adopted one of these last two

In other words: "This you are being enjoined for your own correction and admonition so that the members of Muslim society may give up this evil custom of ignorance and none of you may commit this folly. If you have to quarrel with your wife, you may quarrel with her like good people; if you intend to divorce her, then you should divorce her gracefully. It is absurd that you should compare her to your mother and sister whenever you have a quarrel with her. "

That is, "Allah will certainly know, even if nobody else does, if a person pronounces zihar, and then quietly resumes normal conjugal relations with his wife without first atoning for the offense. Such people cannot in any way escape Allah's punishment. "

(2) As for the person pronouncing zihar, it is agreed that the zihar of that husband is only reliable, who is of sound mind and mature age and pronounces the words of zihar in his right senses; the zihar of the child or of the insane person is not reliable. Moreover, the zihar of the person who might not be in his right senses at the time of pronouncing its words is also not reliable, e.g. if he mutters words during sleep, or is senseless, due to any reason. However, the jurists have differed on the following points:

Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal's view as cited by Ibn Qadamah is almost the same as of the two Imams as noted above. He says that after the zihar expiation has necessarily to be made to make the sexual intercourse law ful. The man who wants to make it lawful after having pronounced zihar, in fact, wants to return from the prohibition. Therefore, ho has been enjoined to make the expiation before making it lawful for himself, precisely like the man who wants to make the other woman lawful for himself and has to marry her before she could be lawful for him.

(a) AII are agreed that the months imply the lunar months. If fasting is begun with the sighting of the new moon,.one will have to complete two months' un-interrupted fasting. If fasting is begun on another date in the month, according to the Hanafis and the Hanbalis, one will have to fast for 60 days consecutively; and according to the Shafe'is, one will observe a total of 30 fasts in the first and the third months and observe the whole of the middle lunar month, whether it is of 29 days or 30 days.

Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs

And from his narration on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas that he said concerning the interpretation of Allah's saying (Allah hath heard): '(Allah hath heard) He says: Allah heard before He informed you, O Muhammad, (the saying of her that disputeth) that speaks to and argues (with thee (Muhammad) concerning her husband, and complaineth unto Allah) and entreats Allah, Exalted is He, to explain her matter. (And Allah heareth your colloquy) and Allah hears your conversation and exchange of words. (Lo! Allah is Hearer) of your conversation, (Knower) of her matter. The story is that Khawlah Bint Tha'labah Ibn Malik Ibn al-Dakhshim al-Ansariyyah was married to Aws Ibn al-Samit al-Ansari and the latter, who was touched by the jinn, wanted to have sexual intercourse with her while in her period. When she refused, he became angry and said: “if you leave the house before I have sexual intercourse with you, you are unlawful to me just as my mother is”.