This Surah takes its name, An Nur, from verse 35.
Period of Revelation
The consensus of opinion is that it was sent down after the Campaignagainst Bani al-Mustaliq and this is confirmed by vv. 11-20 that dealwith the incident of the "Slander", which occurred during thatCampaign. But there is a difference of opinion as to whether thisCampaign took place in 5 A. H. before the Battle of the Trench or in 6A. H. after it. It is important to decide this issue in order todetermine whether this Surah was sent down earlier or Surah Al-Ahzab(XXXIII), which is the only other Surah containing theCommandments about the observance of purdah by women. Surah Al-Ahzab wasadmittedly sent down on the occasion of the Battle of the Trench. Nowif this Battle occurred earlier, it would mean that the initialinstructions in connection with the Commandments of purdah were sentdown in Surah Al-Ahzab? and they were complemented later by theCommandments revealed in this Surah. On the other hand, if the Campaignagainst Bani al-Mustaliq occurred earlier, the chronological order ofthe Commandments would be reversed, and it would become difficult tounderstand the legal wisdom and implications of the Commandments ofpurdah.
According to Ibn Sa'd, the Campaign against Bani al Mustaliqtook place in Shaban 5 A. H. and the Battle of the Trench in Zil-Qa'dah the same year. This opinion is based on some traditions fromHadarat Ayesha about the events connected with the "Slander" in whichshe refers to a dispute between Hadrat Sa'd bin 'Ubadah and Sa'd binMu'az. Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az, according to authentic traditions, diedduring the Campaign against Bani Quraizah, which took placeimmediately after the Battle of the Trench. It is, therefore, evidentthat he could not be present in 6 A. H. to take part in a disputeabout the "Slander".
On the other hand, Muhammad bin Ishaq says thatthe Battle of the Trench took place in Shawwal 5 A. H. and theCampaign against Bani al-Mustaliq in Sha'ban 6 A. H. This opinion issupported by many authentic traditions from Hadrat Ayesha and others.According to these traditions, (1) the Commandments about purdah hadbeen sent down in Surah Al-Ahzab before the incident of the "Slander",(2) the Holy Prophet had married Hadrat Zainab in Zil-Qa'dah 5 A. H.after the Battle of the Trench, (3) Hamnah, sister of Hadrat Zainab,had taken a leading part in spreading the "Slander", just becauseHadrat Ayesha was a rival of her sister. All this evidence supportsthe view of Muhammad bin Ishaq.
Now let us consider the two opinions alittle more closely. The only argument in favor of the first opinionis the mention of the presence of Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az in a disputeconnected with the incident of the "Slander". But this argument isweakened by some other traditions from Hadrat Ayesha, in which shementions Hadrat Usaid bin Hudair instead of Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az inthis dispute. It may, therefore, be assumed that there has been someconfusion regarding the two names in reporting the traditions.Moreover, if we accept the first opinion, just because of the mentionof the name of Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az in some traditions, we encounterother difficulties that cannot be resolved in any way. For, in thatcase, we shall have to admit that the revelation of the Commandmentsof purdah and the Holy Prophet's marriage with Hadrat Zainab had takenplace even earlier than the Battle of the Trench. But we learn fromthe Qur'an and many authentic traditions that both these eventshappened after that Battle and the Campaign against Bani Quraizah.That is why Ibn Hazm, Ibn Qayyim and some other eminent scholars haveheld the opinion of Muhammad bin Ishaq as correct, and we also hold itto be so. Thus, we conclude that Surah Al Ahzab was sent down earlierthan Surah An-Nur, which was revealed in the latter half of 6 A. H.several months after Surah Al Ahzab.
Now let us review the circumstances existing at the time of therevelation of this surah. It should be kept in mind that the incidentof the "Slander", which was the occasion of its revelation, wasclosely connected with the conflict between Islam and the disbelievers.
After the victory at Badr, the Islamic movement began to gain strengthday by day; so much so that by the time of the Battle of the Trench,it had become so strong that the united forces of the enemy numberingabout ten thousand failed to crush it and had to raise the siege of AlMadinah after one month. It meant this, and both the partiesunderstood it well, that the war of aggression which the Disbelievershad been waging for several years, had come to an end. The HolyProphet himself declared: "After this year, the Quraish will not beable to attack you; now you will take the offensive."
When thedisbelievers realized that they could not defeat Islam on thebattlefield, they chose the moral front to carry on the conflict. Itcannot be said with certainty whether this Change of tactics was theoutcome of deliberate consultations, or it was the inevitable resultof the humiliating retreat in the Battle of the Trench, for which allthe available forces of the enemy had been concentrated:They knew itwell that the rise of Islam was nor due to the numerical strength ofthe Muslims nor to their superior arms and ammunition nor to theirgreater material resources; nay, the Muslims were fighting againstfearful odds on all these fronts. They owed their success to theirmoral superiority. Their enemies realized that the pure and noblequalities of the Holy Prophet and his followers were capturing thehearts of the people, and were also binding them together into ahighly disciplined community. As a result of this, they were defeatingthe mushriks and the Jews both on the peace and on the war front,because the latter lacked discipline and character.
Under the abovementioned circumstances, the wicked designs of the disbelievers ledthem to start a campaign of vilification against the Holy Prophet andthe Muslims in order to destroy the bulwark of morale that was helpingthem to defeat their enemies. Therefore the strategy was to attain theassistance of the hypocrites to spread slanders against the HolyProphet and his followers so that the mushriks and the Jews couldexploit these to sow the seeds of discord among the Muslims andundermine their discipline.
The first opportunity for the use of thenew strategy was afforded in Zil-Qa'dah 5 A. H. when the Holy Prophetmarried Hadrat Zainab (daughter of Jahsh), who was the divorced wifeof his adopted son, Zaid bin Harithah. The Holy Prophet had arrangedthis marriage in order to put an end to the custom of ignorance, whichgave the same status to the adopted son that was the right only of theson from one's own loins. The hypocrites, however, considered it agolden opportunity to vilify the Holy Prophet from inside thecommunity, and the Jews and the mushriks exploited it from outside toruin his high reputation by this malicious slander. For this purposefantastic stories were concocted and spread to this effect: "One dayMuhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) happened to see the wife of hisadopted son and fell in love with her; he maneuvered her divorce andmarried her." Though this was an absurd fiction it was spread withsuch skill, cunning and artfulness that it succeeded in its purpose;so much so that some Muslim tradtionalist and commentators also havecited some parts of it in their writings, and the orientalists haveexploited these fully to vilify the Holy Prophet. As a matter of fact,Hadrat Zainab was never a stranger to the Holy Prophet that he shouldsee her by chance and fall in love with her at first sight. For shewas his first cousin, being the daughter of his real paternal aunt,Umaimah, daughter of Abdul Muttalib. He had known her from herchildhood to her youth. A year before this incident, he himself hadpersuaded her against her will to marry Hadarat Zaid in order todemonstrate practically that the Quraish and the liberated slaves wereequal as human being. As she never reconciled herself to her marriagewith a liberated slave, they could not pull on together for long,which inevitably led to her divorce. The above mentioned facts werewell known to all, yet the slanderers succeeded in their falsepropaganda with the result that even today there are people whoexploit these things to defame Islam.
The second slander was made onthe honor of Hadrat Ayesha, a wife of the Holy Prophet, in connectionwith an incident which occurred while he was returning from theCampaign against Bani al-Mustaliq. As this attack was even severerthan the first one and was the main background of this Surah, we shalldeal with it in greater detail.
Let us say a few words about Abdullahbin Ubayy, who played the part of a villain in this attack. Hebelonged to the clan of Khazraj and was one of the most importantchiefs of Al-Madinah. The people had even intended to make him theirking a little before the Holy Prophet's migration there, but thescheme had to be dropped because of the changed circumstances. Thoughhe had embraced Islam, he remained at heart a hypocrite and hishypocrisy was so manifest that he was called the "Chief of the Hypocrites". He never lost any opportunity to slander Islam in order totake his revenge.
Now the main theme. When in Sha'ban 6 A. H. the HolyProphet learned that the people of Bani al-Mustaliq were makingpreparations for a war against the Muslims and were trying to musterother clans also for this purpose, he fore- stalled and took the enemyby surprise. After capturing the people of the clan and theirbelongings, the Holy Prophet made a halt near Muraisi, a spring intheir territory. One day a dispute concerning taking water from thespring started between a servant of Hadrat Umar and an ally of the clanof Khazraj, and developed into a quarrel between theMuhajirs(immigrants) and the Ansar(Muslims of Madinah), but was soonsettled. This, however, did not suit the strategy of Abdullah binUbayy, who also had joined the expedition with a large number ofhypocrites. So he began to incite the Ansar, saying, "You yourselvesbrought these people of the quraish from Makkah and made them partnersin your wealth and property. And now they have become your rivals andwant domination over you. If even now you withdraw your support fromthem, they shall be forced to leave your city." Then he swore anddeclared, "As soon as we reach back Al-Madinah, the respectable peoplewill turn out the degraded people from the city."
When the HolyProphet came to know of this, he ordered the people to set offimmediately and march back to Al-Madinah. The forced march continuedup to noon the next day without a halt on the way so that the peoplebecame exhausted and had no time for idle talk.
Though this wisejudgment and quick action by the Holy Prophet averted the undesirableconsequences of the mischief, Abdullah bin Ubayy got anotheropportunity for doing a far more serious and greater mischief, i. e.by engineering a "Slander" against Hadrat Ayesha, for that was amischief which might well have involved the young Muslim Community ina civil war, if the Holy Prophet and his sincere and devoted followershad not shown wisdom, forbearance and marvelous discipline in dealingwith it. In order to understand the events that led to the incident ofthe "Slander", we cite the story in Hadrat 'Ayesha's own words. Shesays :
"Whenever the Holy Prophet went out on a journey, he decided bylots as to which of his wives should accompany him. Accordingly, itwas decided that I should accompany him during the expedition to Banial Mustaliq. On the return journey, the Holy Prophet halted for thenight at a place which was the last stage on the way back to Al-Madinah. It was still night, when they began to make preparations forthe march. So I went outside the camp to ease myself. When I returnedand came near my halting place, I noticed that my necklace had fallendown somewhere. I went back in search for it but in the meantime thecaravan moved off and I was left behind all alone. The four carriersof the litter had placed it on my camel without noticing that it wasempty. This happened because of my light weight due to lack of food inthose days. I wrapped myself in my sheet and lay down in the hope thatwhen it would be found that I had been left behind, a search partywould come back to pick me up. In the meantime I fell asleep. In themorning, when Safwan bin Mu'attal Sulami passed that way, he saw meand recognized me for he had seen me several times before theCommandment about purdah had been sent down. No sooner did he see methan he stopped his camel and cried out spontaneously : "How sad! Thewife of the Holy Prophet has been left here!" At this I woke up all ofa sudden and covered my face with my sheet. Without uttering anotherword, he made his camel kneel by me and stood aside, while I climbedon to the camel back. He led the camel by the nose-string and weovertook the caravan at about noon, when it had just halted and nobodyhad yet noticed that I had been left behind. I learnt afterwards thatthis incident had been used to slander me and Abdullah bin Ubayy wasforemost among the slanderers.(According to other traditions, whenHadrat Ayesha reached the camp on the camel, led by Safwan, and it wasknown that she had been left behind, Abdullah bin Ubayy cried out, 'ByGod, she could not have remained chaste. Look, there comes the wife ofyour Prophet openly on the camel led by the person with whom shepassed the night.')
"When I reached Al-Madinah, I fell ill and stayedin bed for more than a month. Though I was quite unaware of it, thenews of the "Slander" was spreading like a scandal in the city, andhad also reached the Holy Prophet. Anyhow, I noticed that he did notseem as concerned about my illness he used to be. He would come butwithout addressing me directly, would inquire from others how I wasand leave the house. Therefore it troubled my mind that something hadgone wrong somewhere. So I took leave of him and went to my mother'shouse for better nursing.
"While I was there, one night I went out ofthe city to ease myself in the company of Mistah's mother, who was afirst cousin of my mother. As she was walking along she stumbled oversomething and cried out spontaneously, 'May Mistah perish!' To this Iretorted, 'What a good mother you are that you curse your own son -- theson who took part in the Battle of Badr.' She replied, 'My deardaughter, are you not aware of his scandal mongering?' Then she toldme everything about the campalgn of the "Slander".(Besides thehypocrites, some true Muslims also had been involved in this campaign,and among them who took leading part in it, were Mistah, Hassan binThabit, the famous poet of Islam, and Hamnah, daughter of Jahsh andsister of Hadrat Zainab). Hearing this horrible story, my bloodcurdled, and I immediately returned home, and passed the rest of thenight in crying over it.
"During my absence the Holy Prophet tookcounsel with Ali and Usamah bin Zaid about this matter. Usamah saidgood words about me to this effect:'O Messenger of Allah, we havefound nothing but good in your wife. All that is being spread abouther is a lie and calumny.' As regards Ali, he said, 'O Messenger ofAllah, there is no dearth of women; you may, if you like, marry another wife. If, how- ever, you would like to investigate into thematter, you may send for her maid servant and enquire into it throughher.' Accordingly, the maid servant was sent for and questioned. Shereplied, 'I declare on an oath by Allah, Who has sent you with theTruth, that I have never seen any evil thing in her, except that shefalls asleep when I tell her to look after the kneaded dough in myabsence and a goat comes and eats it.'
"On that same day the HolyProphet addressed the people from the pulpit, saying:'O Muslims, whofrom among you will defend my honor against the attacker of theperson who has transgressed all bounds in doing harm to me byslandering my wife. By God, I have made a thorough enquiry and foundnothing wrong with her nor with the man, whose name has been linkedwith the "Slander". At this Usaid bin Hudair (or Sa'd bin Mauz)according to other traditions) stood up and said, 'O Messenger ofAllah, if that person belongs to our clan, we will kill him byourselves, but if he belongs to the Khazraj clan, we will kill him ifyou order us to do so.' Hearing this Sa'd bin 'Ubadah,2 chief of theKhazraj clan, stood up and said, 'You lie you can never kill him. Youare saying this just because the person belongs to our clan of Khazraj.Had he belonged to your clan, you would never have said so.' HadratUsaid retorted, 'You are a hypocrite: that is why you are defendinga hypocrite.' At this, there was a general turmoil in the mosque,which would have developed into a riot, even though the Holy Prophetwas present there the whole time. But he cooled down their anger andcame down from the pulpit."
The remaining details of the incident willbe cited along with our commentary on the Text, which honorablyabsolved Hadrat Aishah from the blame. But here we would only want topoint out the enormity of the mischief that was engineered by Abdullahbin Ubayy: (1) It implied an attack on the honour of the Holy Prophetand Hadrat Abu Bakr Siddiq.(2) He meant to undermine the high moralsuperiority which was the greatest asset of the Islamic Movement (3)He intended to ignite civil war between the Muhajirs and the Ansar, andbetween Aus and Khazraj, the two clans of the Ansar.
Theme and TopicsThis Surah and vv. 28-73 of Surah Al-Ahzab(of which this is the sequel)were sent down to strengthen the moral front, which at that time wasthe main target of the attack, vv. 28-73 of Al-Ahzab were sent downconcerning the Holy Prophet's marriage with Hadrat Zainab, and on theoccasion of the second attack (the "Slander" about Hadrat Aishah),Surah An-Nur was sent down to repair the cracks that had appeared in theunity of the Muslim Community. If we keep this in view during thestudy of the two Surahs, we shall understand the wisdom that underliesthe Commandments about purdah. Allah sent the following instructionsto strengthen and safeguard the moral front, and to counteract thestorm of propaganda that was raised on the occasion of the marriage ofHazrat Zainab:
- The wives of the Holy Prophet were enjoined toremain within their private quarters, to avoid display of adornmentsand to be cautious in their talk with other persons (vv. 32, 33).
- The other Muslims were forbidden to enter the private rooms of theHoly Prophet and instructed to ask whatever they wanted from behindthe curtain.(v. 53).
- A line of demarcation was drawn between themahram and the non-mahram relatives. Only the former were allowed toenter the private rooms of those wives of the Holy Prophet with whomthey were so closely related as to prohibit marriage with them.(v. 55).
- The Muslims were told that the wives of the Prophet wereprohibited for them just like their own real mothers; therefore everyMuslim should regard them with the purest of intentions.(vv. 53, 54).
- The Muslims were warned that they would invite the curse andscourge of Allah if they offended the Holy Prophet. Likewise it was aheinous sin to attack the honor of or slander any Muslim man orwoman.(vv. 57, 58).
- All the Muslim women were enjoined to covertheir faces with their sheets if and when they had to go out of theirhouses.(v. 59).
On the occasion of the second attack, this Surah wassent down to keep pure and strengthen the moral fiber of the Muslimsociety, which had been shaken by the enormity of the slander. We givebelow a summary of the Commandments and instructions in theirchronological order so that one may understand how the Qur'an makesuse of the psychological occasion to reform the Community by theadoption of legal, moral and social measures.
- Fornication whichhad already been declared to be a social crime (IV: 15,16) was nowmade a criminal offense and was to be punished with a hundred lashes.
- It was enjoined to boycott the adulterous men and women and theMuslims were forbidden to have any marriage relations with them.
- The one, who accused the other of adultery but failed to produce fourwitnesses, was to be punished with eighty lashes.
- The Law of Li'anwas prescribed to decide the charge of adultery against his own fifeby a husband.
- The Muslims were enjoined to learn a lesson from theincident of the "Slander" about Hadrat Aishah, as if to say, "Youshould be very cautious in regard to charges of adultery against thepeople of good reputation, and should not spread these; nay, youshould refute and suppress them immediately." In this connection, ageneral principle was enunciated that the proper spouse for a pure manis a pure woman, for he cannot pull on with a wicked woman for long,and the same is the case with a pure woman, as if to say, "When youknew that the Holy Prophet was a pure man, nay, the purest of allhuman beings, how could you believe that he had experienced happinesswith a wicked woman and exalted her as the most beloved of hiswives? For it was obvious that an adulterous woman could not have beenable to deceive, with her affected behavior, a pure man like the HolyProphet. You ought also to have considered the fact that the accuserwas a mean person while the accused was a pure woman. This should havebeen enough to convince you that the accusation was not worth yourconsideration; nay, it was not even conceivable.
- Those who spreadnews and evil rumours and propagate wickedness in the Muslim Community,deserve punishment and not encouragement.
- A general principle waslaid down that relations in the Muslim Community should be based ongood faith and not on suspicion: everyone should be treated asinnocent unless he is proved to be guilty and vice versa.
- Thepeople were forbidden to enter the houses of others unceremoniouslyand were instructed to take permission for this.
- Both men andwomen were instructed to lower their gaze and forbidden to castglances or make eyes at each other.
- Women were enjoined to covertheir heads and breasts even inside their houses.
- Women wereforbidden to appear with make-up before other men except theirservants or such relatives with whom their marriage is prohibited.
- They were enjoined to hide their make-ups when they went out oftheir houses, and even forbidden to put on jingling ornaments, whilethey moved out of their houses.
- Marriage was encouraged andenjoined even for slaves and slave girls, for unmarried people helpspread indecency.
- The institution of slavery was discouraged andthe owners and other people were enjoined to give financial help tothe slaves to earn their freedom under the law of Mukatabat.
- Prostitution by slave girls was forbidden in the first instance, forprostitution in Arabia was confined to this class alone. This in factimplied the legal prohibition of prostitution.
- Sanctity ofprivacy in home life was enjoined even for servants and under agechildren including one's own. They were enjoined not to enter theprivate rooms of any man or woman without permission; especially inthe morning, at noon and at night.
- Old women were given theconcession that they could set aside their head covers within theirhouses but should refrain from display of adornments. Even they weretold that it was better for them to keep themselves covered with headwrappers.
- The blind, lame, crippled and sick persons were allowedto take any article of food from the houses of other people withoutpermission, for it was not to be treated like theft and cheating,which are cognizable offenses.
- On the other hand, the Muslimswere encouraged to develop mutual relationships by taking their mealstogether, and the nearest relatives and intimate friends were allowedto take their meals in each other's house without any formalinvitation. This was to produce mutual affection and sincererelationships between them to counteract any future mischief. Side byside with these instructions, clear signs of the Believers and thehypocrites were stated to enable every Muslim to discriminate betweenthe two. At the same time the Community was bound together by adoptingdisciplinary measures in order to make it stronger and firmer than itwas at the time so as to discourage the enemies from creating mischiefin it.
Above all, the most conspicuous thing about this discourse isthat it is free from the bitterness which inevitably follows suchshameful and absurd attacks. Instead of showing any wrath at thisprovocation, the discourse prescribes some laws and regulations andenjoins reformative commandments and issues wise instructions thatwere required at the time for the education and training of theCommunity. Incidentally, this teaches us how to deal with suchprovocative mischiefs coolly, wisely and generously. At the same time,it is a clear proof that this is not the word of Prophet Muhammad(Allah's peace and blessings be upon him) but of a Being Who isobserving all human conditions and affairs from the highest level, andguiding mankind without any personal prejudices, feelings and leanings.Had this been the word of the Holy Prophet; there would have been atleast some tinge of natural bitterness in spite of his greatgenerosity and forbearance, for it is but human that a noble mannaturally become enraged when his own honor is attacked in this meanmanner.