- The Verse and Translation of Its Meaning
- Background of the Verse
- Setting of the Muslim Family as a Social Institution
Alḥamdulillāh. Infinite thanks and praise are due to the Almighty Allāh. I send peace and blessings upon the most pure-hearted man; Ḥabībī Muḥammad, his household, his companions and all those who follow his guided path till the Day of Judgement.
There are many verses in the Qur’ān, which have to be put in context, lest it will be misunderstood, and Islam will be accused as a result. One of such verses is verse number 34 of the chapter of women (Sūrah al-Nisā’). This article comes as part 1 of 3 in a series, which discusses the verse and extracts lessons from it. The objective is to grasp key correlated issues, which emerge in the Muslim family from time to time. The aim is to develop a better understanding for the verse, and live a happy life in a happy Muslim family.
This part (article) presents the verse and its meaning in English. It then discusses its background and the setting of the Muslim family as a social institution.
Below is a recitation for the verse, humbly done by the writer.
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّـهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ، فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّـهُ، وَاللَّاتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ، فَإِنْ أَطَعْنَكُمْ فَلَا تَبْغُوا عَلَيْهِنَّ سَبِيلًا إِنَّ اللَّـهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّا كَبِيرًا
“Men are protectors of women, for Allāh has made some of them excel others and because they spend their wealth on them. So virtuous women are obedient and guard in the husband’s absence what Allāh would have them guard. As for those from whom you fear their infidelity, advise them, then refuse to share their beds, and [finally] hit them. Then if they obey you, take no further action against them. For Allāh is High, Great.”
The chapter starts with a call to mankind, reminding them of the essential objective of their existence in life and how all of them were created from one man (Ādam). It generally addresses the rights of the mostly disadvantaged groups in human societies, such as orphans, women, children, slaves and the generally oppressed.
It then narrows down to address social issues, which result from hypocrisy, oppression and injustice. It further talks about family relations and how it should be regulated, as well as one’s relationship with his parents. Verse 34 in this chapter is one of the few verses, which discuss issues related to the family and requires attention to understand it.
Likewise all chapters of the Qur’ān, this chapter does indeed emphasize monotheism; that we are created for nothing other than to be submissive to Him.
The chapter of this verse is called the chapter of women (Sūrah al-Nisā’), an indication to the significance of a woman in the life of every human, including our father, Ādam ‘alaihi al-salām, who came into existence without a mother (and father). Despite that, he needed a woman by his side, before his mission as representative of Allāh on this earth became achievable.
In his book Asbāb al-Nuzūl, ‘Ali al-Wāḥidī mentions three versions of the reason why this verse was revealed. All three narrations narrow down to one implication.
A woman (verbally) abused her husband. In reaction, he slapped her. She logged a complaint to the Prophet sallā Allāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam. The Prophet, ṣallā Allāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam considered that as a punishable offence (an abuse), and called for a retribution (qaṣās). Thus, he demanded that she slapped her husband back. But before she left the Prophet’s place, Jibrīl, ‘alaihi al-salām descended with the verse in hand. The Prophet ṣallā Allāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam then said:
أَرَدْنَا أَمْراً وَأَرَادَ اللَّهُ أَمْراً، وَالَّذِي أَرَادَ اللَّهُ خَيْرٌ
“We wanted something, and Allāh wanted something [else], and what Allāh wanted is the best.”
With that, we understand the verse was revealed to introduce a concrete regulation for the Muslim family, regardless. Thus, every Muslim family should take heed to the teaching of this verse.
A family starts with a couple from opposite genders; a man and a woman. They initially show interest in each other and subsequently come to an agreement to start a family through a lawful marriage. They hope, in doing so; to live a true love, so to worship Allāh in a better way, reproduce a generation of children who will be their contribution for the continuity of human kind. In doing all this, they seek to attain Allāh’s Ultimate Pleasure.
In Islam, although a woman can propose to a man, men mostly initiate the proposal to the opposite gender for marriage. Both parties are encouraged to hunt for the one, with whom he or she can establish an effective Muslim family.
The Muslim family is a social institution which is expected to be that, which presents to the society, a child who lives as an ambassador of Islam, through his characters, attitude and interactions. An ambassador of Islam doesn’t necessarily have to be a religious scholar by profession, but he has to be a good Muslim by default.
The Qur’ān is the life manual in the Muslim family. It’s therefore recited, studied, understood, and lived in practice. Remembrance of Allāh (dhikr) fills the house most of the time. Children of this institution adopt prayers (ṣalāh) automatically. This is so because they see their parents punctual in it, and a child emulates whatever he sees his parents doing. Therefore, ṣalāh becomes their natural source of peace and tranquillity. This way, the child is equipped with a spiritual immunization against disturbances from deviation, falsehood, immoralities and other bad influences he may encounter outside the house.
A child raised in this setting of an institution is the responsibility of both parents, and not the maid’s or the in-laws’. This enables parents to teach and educate the child to differentiate right from wrong, appreciate life as it is, and realize that he has an ultimate goal in his existence. It also grants him the emotional resistance and sense of belonging, which boost his morale and enhance his performance as a productive Muslim.
In a setting like this, and in order for the goals to be achieved amicably, the man is expected to work outside the house, and earn for the family. The woman remains the strongest pillar that supports him, and prevents him from falling. Thus, she works at home to ensure happiness for both parties, and to ensure the children are guided from early age. She’s not a housewife, for houses do not marry. She has been a daughter and a sister. Now she is, in addition to that, a wife and a mother.
To achieve this, Islam has set clear criteria for both parties (man and woman) to look for, in their other halves before marriage. Since man is going to be the overall caretaker and protector of such an institution, he’s given the guidelines to selecting a righteous partner (woman).
The verse has defined a righteous woman with two qualities. They are obedience and safeguard of secrets. This is attained with Allāh-consciousness and good characters. It says:
فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّـهُ
“So virtuous women are obedient and guard in the husband’s absence what Allāh would have them guard.”
A woman’s obedience for her husband branches from her submissiveness and obedience to the Almighty. Her safeguard for privacy is a reflection of her God-consciousness and good morals.
To second that, The Prophet, ṣallā Allāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam, described a good wife, in the ḥadīth reported by Imām Ibn Mājah:
أَلا أُخْبِرُكُمْ بِخَيْرِ مَا يَكْنِزُ المَرْءُ؟ المَرْأَةُ الصَّالِحَةُ، الَّتِي إِذَا نَظَرَ إِلَيْهَا سَرَّتْهُ، وَإِذَا غَابَ عَنْهَا حَفِظَتْهُ، وَإِذَا أَمَرَهَا أَطَاعَتْهُ
“Would you like me to tell you of the best one can possess? A righteous (pious) wife, whom pleases her husband whenever he looks at her, protects him (his dignity) in his absence, and obeys him whenever he orders her.”
Also, the Prophet ṣallā Allāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam said in a ḥadīth reported by Imām Muslim from the narration of ‘Abdillāh ibn ‘Amr, raḍiya Allāhu ‘anhumā:
الدُّنْيَا مَتَاعٌ، وَخَيْرُ مَتَاعِ الدُّنْيَا الْمَرْأَةُ الصَّالِحَةُ
“The world is but an enjoyment; and the best of its enjoyment is (to have) a pious wife.”
Since one hand doesn’t clap a lone, the woman is also encouraged to ensure she accepts only the one with correct religion (not forgetting good characters). She can look for other qualities in the man, but correct religion (piety) should be one of them. The Prophet ṣallā Allāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam says in a ḥadīth reported by Imam al-Tirmidhi:
إِذَا جَاءَكُمْ مَنْ تَرْضَوْنَ دِينَهُ وَخُلُقَهُ فَزَوِّجُوهُ، إِلا تَفْعَلُوهُ تَكُنْ فِتْنَةٌ فِي الأَرْضِ وَفَسَادٌ كَبِيرٌ
“When someone with whose religion and character you are satisfied (asking to marry your daughter), comply with his request. If you do not do so, there will be temptation on earth and extensive corruption.”
A good wife obeys her husband’s righteous teachings to please Allāh, not necessarily to please the husband. For example, she knows that she has to dress modestly, and a modest dress covers her body comfortably. It does not shape her body and is not transparent. She complies with this because Allāh has commanded for it to be done. A woman, who seeks Allāh’s ultimate pleasure, will certainly please her husband. But a woman, who seeks her husband’s pleasure doesn’t necessarily please Allāh.
Generally, things are known by their contraries. Any character that stands in contrary to a good character, if found in anyone (male or female), is a bad character. In contrary to the good qualities above, the verse also gives a glimpse on the characteristics of a bad wife, and summarizes all that in ‘infidelity’.
وَاللَّاتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنَّ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ
“As for those from whom you fear their infidelity, advise them, then refuse to share their beds, and [finally] hit them.”
Men are usually unhappy with a selfish woman, too talkative, arrogant, and too outgoing exposing herself (and beauty), too complaining; a woman who likes to compare her current husband with her former husband, or with her relatives.
Men dislike the type of women who likes to spend unnecessarily, and would like to buy anything she desires (even if it’s with her own money). They also hate a woman who would always remind her husband of her kindness upon him. They do not prefer a woman who likes to eat alone, and creates problems and gets angry at the dining table. Men look for an exit (to run), away from the woman who looks down on her husband, and as a result, she refuses to accept his guidance, even when he’s right.
A Muslim family with a righteous woman is a peaceful place to be. A bad wife taken in, to establish a family is likely to give a “tough time” to her husband. The husband has the moral responsibility to help her righteously. How is he supposed to do that?
The Muslim family is a home where happiness is made. But true happiness is made from sacrifice and selflessness. It therefore requires a prior preparation and constant prayers for success.
In part 2 of this series, we will discuss man’s responsibility as the guardian of the Muslim family. We will also discuss what it means for a man to beat his wife, and what to do, when the man abuses the power of his authority.
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Allāh knows best.
Allāhu Hafiz 🙂