Reflections from Sūrah al-Tahrīm
In these next two verses, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) continues to reprimand the wives of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) before giving a stark warning to all of the believers.
عَسَىٰ رَبُّهُ إِنْ طَلَّقَكُنَّ أَنْ يُبْدِلَهُ أَزْوَاجًا خَيْرًا مِنْكُنَّ مُسْلِمَاتٍ مُؤْمِنَاتٍ قَانِتَاتٍ تَائِبَاتٍ عَابِدَاتٍ سَائِحَاتٍ ثَيِّبَاتٍ وَأَبْكَارًا
“Perhaps his Lord, if he divorced you all, would give him in your place better wives than yourselves, submitting, believing, devoutly obedient, repentant, worshipping and inclined to fasting; be they previously married or virgins.”
Lesson 11: Qualities of a perfect spouse
Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) uses the context of this Sūrah as an opportunity to advise all wives of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), warning them that if they are not obedient and loyal towards him, they will be replaced with wives that are better, the attributes of which are then described:
1) ‘Muslimātin, Mu’minātin’
They will be better Muslimahs and better in their Īmān (Mu’mināt).
A Muslim is somebody who submits himself to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), whereas a Mu’min is somebody who has complete faith in Him. Thus, being a better Muslim will manifest in our actions – in our mindfulness towards the obligations of a Muslim – such as Ṣalāh, Zakāh, and in other voluntary actions, such as our keenness to fast and spend in charity. A better Mu’min is someone who is stronger in their īmān in Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), the angels, His revealed books and His messengers, the Day of Reckoning, and everything He decrees.
They will be better in ‘Qunūt’.
‘Qunūt’ means subservience and obedience to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā): thus, a Qānitah is a woman who is better at following the commands of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and abstaining from His prohibitions.
They will be better in their Tawbah (repentance), meaning they are quick to do it and do so with sincerity.
They will be better in their worship and will worship Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) a lot.
Quite literally, ‘Sā’ihāt’ describes women who fast more frequently. However, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) already stated that they will be better in worship, so why does he highlight fasting in particular? This manifests as a sign of a better wife (or husband) because when we fast, our desires diminish. Hence, those who fast more will have greater control over their worldly desires and material temptations.
When Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) describes the qualities of the perfect spouse, he primarily refers to worship-based attributes and does not mention other Islamic personality traits, such as patience and good manners, because these are manifestations of the devotional attributes which He has listed for us.
Finally, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) gives two categories of women who can possess these qualities: Thayyibāt (previously married) and Abkārā (virgins). In other words: anyone. Perhaps, it is one of the most important lessons we need to hear. There is sometimes a social stigma attached to marrying divorced or widowed women in many cultures. Yet, other than ʿĀ’ishah, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), who was the best of men to walk on this Earth, married only widowed or divorced women. So, who are we to reject women today based purely on the fact that they were previously married? Even in this Āyah, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) mentions the previously married before mentioning the virgins.
To conclude, although this Āyah was a warning to the Mothers of the Believers, it is actually a means of honouring them, by revealing that they truly were the best of their time. Had they not been, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) would have replaced them with better wives, and of course, this never happened.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ عَلَيْهَا مَلَائِكَةٌ غِلَاظٌ شِدَادٌ لَا يَعْصُونَ اللَّهَ مَا أَمَرَهُمْ وَيَفْعَلُونَ مَا يُؤْمَرُونَ
“O, believers! Save yourselves and your families from a fire, whose fuel is men and stones; upon it are fierce and mighty angels who never disobey Allāh’s command and who promptly do what they are commanded to do.”
Lesson 12: Save yourself from the fire
Allāh is ordering us to save ourselves from the fire with the words “save yourselves” by making a barrier of protection between yourself and the fire, as Ibn ʿAtiyyah mentions in his commentary. Zamakhshari explains this further, by saying that we should protect ourselves by showing obedience to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and staying away from His disobedience.
Lesson 13: Save your families from the fire
Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) commands us further:
“And your families…”
As Ibn ʿAtiyyah advised, “Save your family through advice, counsel and encouragement of showing obedience towards Allāh”. This instruction is primarily aimed at the husband as the leader of the household, and then to the wife since the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
“Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The ruler of the people is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. A man is the shepherd of his household and is responsible for his flock. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and children and is responsible for her flock.”
On the day of judgement, man will be questioned with regards to his family, and whether he had encouraged them to fulfil their obligations to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). Despite all the duties of a parent, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) mentions no other responsibility towards their children except saving them from the fire. A practical tip is to ensure that we, firstly, meet our own obligations, allowing us to lead by example. Thereafter, we can hold our families to account to the same standard we set for ourselves.
A summary of action points we can thus derive are the following:
- Our number one priority for our children should be to raise them as righteous Muslims.
- Children will mirror the behaviour of their parents, so we should strive to lead by a good
- The command to save our families from the fire necessitates that we spend adequate time with them, to show love, affection, and deliver the necessary Tarbiyah (nurturing/upbringing) for them to become righteous.
This message is amplified further as Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) goes on to describe the fire, which instils a sense of fear.
- “A fire, whose fuel is men and stones”.
According to Ibn ʿAbbās, this is the most intense fire in Jahannam, which causes distress knowing that it is fuelled by the flesh and bones of human beings and stones. If this description wasn’t enough, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) then goes on to describe the torturers:
- “Upon it are angels” that have been appointed to torture its inhabitants; the word upon signifies a sense of no escape.
- “Fierce”; the way Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has created them is in a form that lacks compassion and mercy.
As humans, we may see someone in pain and out of our inward compassion, offer some form of help or assistance. This inward feeling is absent in these angels: as Ibn ʿAtiyyah described, “Ghilāẓ refers to their hearts being insensitive and harsh”, so as they inflict pain, they are left feeling unnerved.
- “Mighty” refers to them being brutal and severe in the way that they punish and torture people.
Ibn ʿAtiyyah mentioned that shiddah refers to their brute-strength, and that they were created by the anger of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā).
- “[They] never disobey Allāh’s command, and who promptly do what they are commanded to do.”
One would question: if they never disobey Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), wouldn’t that by default imply that they would carry out what they are ordered? As Zamakhshari explains, the first part means that they wholeheartedly accept the orders and fully intend to carry them out, whilst the second means that they go ahead and fulfil their intention. There is a subtle meaning here that amplifies the nature of these angels:
- Although the angel may not refuse an order, it may not have the competency to carry out the action. Therefore, we know for sure that the angels have the competency to punish and torture.
- An angel may have the competency to carry out the action, but compassion may hold them back from executing the command. Thus, the fact that they “do what they are commanded to do” shows that they lack compassion in the absolute sense.
In conclusion, the description of the fire, that follows the command to save our children from it, shows that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) emphasises parents to have a serious responsibility with regards to their children, and that the raising of our children needs to be built on a firm resolve to save them from the fire.
May Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) protect us all and guide us to indeed protect ourselves and our children. Āmīn.
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 Sahīh al-Bukhārī, Hadīth 893
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.