Reflections from Sūrah al-Tahrīm
Sūrah al-Tahrīm, ‘The Prohibition’, is a Medinan Sūrah comprised of 12 verses, with an underlying theme of tarbiya al-awlād: family relationships and how to nurture them. Sūrah al-Talāq and Sūrah al-Tahrīm, which appear side by side in the Qur’ān, both start with the words “yā ayuha al-nabi” (O Prophet), directly addressing the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and discuss how family can become a trial for us for two opposite reasons. Whilst Sūrah al-Tahrīm describes how excessive love for one’s family can lead to harām actions, Sūrah al-Talāq describes how excessive dislike for your family can also lead to harām actions, and thus, the displeasure of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā).
The Sūrah is broken down into 3 main parts:
- Allāh’s (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) counsel to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) regarding his family
- Allāh’s (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) advice to us regarding our families
- Historical examples of:
- Bad women married to great men
- A great woman married to a terrible man
- An amazing woman who had no husband, yet she had an amazing child.
Throughout this article series, we will be focusing mainly on the Tafsīr of two great scholars of Qur’ān, Ibn ‘Atiyyah Al-Andalusi and Al-Zamakhshari, allowing us to look at the lessons learnt pertaining to secrets of a happy marriage, and the Islamic upbringing of children.
Scholars of Tafsīr have cited multiple incidents as potential reasons for revelation for this Sūrah.
In a narration in Sahīh Muslim, ‘Ā’isha (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) narrated the incident that was the cause of revelation of this Sūrah according to the more accurate and preferred view of tafsīr scholars.
Zaynab b. Ja’sh (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha), the wife of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), used to serve him with a honey drink when he would visit and spend time with her. The other wives were jealous of this, especially ‘Ā’ishah and Ḥafsah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhuma), so they plotted to stop him from drinking it and spending time there. As ‘Ā’ishah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanha) narrated,
“Ḥafsah and I agreed that whoever the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) visited first, we would say, ‘I notice a strong odour of maghāfīr (mimosa gum) on you’”. Under the impression that the odour was offending his wives, he (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) took an oath upon himself that he will not drink it again, and thereafter the verse was revealed: “O Prophet, why do you prohibit [yourself from] what Allāh has made lawful for you, seeking the approval of your wives? And Allāh is Forgiving and Merciful.”
Despite the different narrations mentioned by tafsir scholars, it is certain that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), in order to please his wives, took an oath to make something permissible harām upon himself.
With this context in mind, we can begin studying the verses.
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ لِمَ تُحَرِّمُ مَا أَحَلَّ اللَّهُ لَكَ ۖ تَبْتَغِي مَرْضَاتَ أَزْوَاجِكَ ۚ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
“O Prophet, why do you prohibit [yourself from] what Allāh has made lawful for you, seeking the approval of your wives? And Allāh is Forgiving and Merciful”
Lesson 1: Advising our loved ones
The first lesson that we learn from Allāh’s (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) counsel to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is the etiquette of advising our families. In Allāh’s divine wisdom, He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) created us imperfect, and, inevitably, times will arise where we need to advise our families with regard to their shortcomings. Thus, it is important to know the correct manner of doing so.
In His advice to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) begins with affection, addressing him with the term “yā ayuha al-nabi” (O Prophet), as a way of honouring him and highlighting that he is not like other people; his status is far greater than that of anyone else. Then, he rebukes the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) by asking him, “Why do you prohibit [yourself from] what Allāh has made lawful for you?”. Finally, He ends with affection once more, reminding the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) that his Lord is the Most-Forgiving, Most-Merciful, and has, therefore, forgiven him already and will not hold him accountable.
Some call this the ‘Sandwich Technique’.
We are all aware of how difficult it can be to receive criticism, so to ensure that it truly is constructive and taken on board, we can follow this divine method of ‘sandwiching’ the feedback between praise or positive words, to remind the individual that they are valued, and that you only want what is best for them.
Also read: How to give advice without causing offence
Lesson 2: Do not let love for your family compete with your love for Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā)
The question remains: why was Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) displeased with what happened? Where did the fault lie? Was it in the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) making something harām when Allāh had made it halāl? Or was it in seeking the approval of his wives?
Firstly, there is no fault upon anybody who makes an oath to refrain from something, and indeed, this was a practice of the companions (radiy Allāhu ‘anhum). So the issue did not lie in the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) forbidding himself from something which is halāl. Nevertheless, it is important to note that benefit can be found in anything that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has made halāl for us, and therefore, it is an opportunity to demonstrate gratitude to Him.
Thus, if this was not the reason for Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) to be displeased, then what lesson can we take from it?
Consider our forefather, Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām), and his relationship with his son, Ismā’īl (ʿalayhi al-Salām). What love can compare, other than that of al-Wadūd, to the love a parent has for their child? What then for Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām), who was unable to conceive for many years before Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) blessed him with a son? The same son who stood alongside his father as they built the House of Allāh; supplicating:
رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّآ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ ٱلسَّمِيعُ ٱلْعَلِيمُ
“Our Lord! Accept (this service) from us. Indeed! You are the All-Hearer, the All-Knower.” 
When Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) was commanded by Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) to take a knife to the neck of his beloved son, He was not just testing his obedience; He was, in fact, tempering the love and attachment in the heart of Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) with the love of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā).
And just as Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) tested Ibrahīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām), He tests the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), reminding him that his love towards his wives should never overwhelm, nor compete with, the love that he has towards his Creator.
This lesson is of obvious importance to those of us living today, at a time when we are faced with so many distractions and desires—even in the palms of our hands. We ought to always be cautious in ensuring that our hearts are protected from any excessive love and attention that competes with our love for our Creator.
In the next part, we will study the next three verses of this beautiful Sūrah, bi’ithnillāh.
 Sahīh Muslim, Book 18, Hadīth 27, 1474
 Al Qur’ān, Sūrah al-Baqarah (2: 127)
Based on a course by Imam Asim Khan.
The Tafsir Dars is a collective of four attendees of a weekend retreat organised by Al Manar Mosque, Cardiff—J Ahmed, F Ali, U Asim and A Fadlalla. They grouped together to produce an article series to share the beneficial lessons learnt with the readers of Islam21c.