Volume 4: Surah Baqarah, Verses 224-227
 

And make not Allah a target of your swearing (by Him) against your doing good and guarding (against evil) and making peace between men, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing (224). Allah will not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths, but He will call you to account for what your hearts have earned, and Allah is Forgiving, Forbearing (225). For those who swear (to abstain) from their wives is (ordained) a waiting for four months; then if they go back, then Allah is surely Forgiving, Merciful (226). And if they resolved on divorce, then Allah is surely Hearing, Knowing (2:227).

COMMENTARY

QUR'AN: And make not Allah . . . and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

"al-'Urdah" is derived from al-'ard which means to display a thing to show its fitness for the purpose for which it is made. For example, to display goods for sale, to show a house for rent, to offer food for consumption. Some of the uses of al-'urdah are : a target for shooting practice is called al-'urdah of the arrows; a horse readied for a journey is called al-'urdah for travel; a girl of marriageable age is called al-'urdah of marriage. All these are relevant to its original meaning. But the use of this word for a hindrance on the road (and other similar uses) have come into vogue later as metaphors.

"al-Ayman" is plural of "al-yamin" and means "oaths". Its original meaning is the right hand. As they strike by, raise, or give, the right hand when taking an oath, showing allegiance or concluding a deal, the word was metaphorically used for the oath, borrowing the organ of an action for the action itself, because of their mutual relationship. This same relationship also allows the use of the name of the action for its organ, as as-sabbabah (the one who abuses) is used for the forefinger which is often used to point with when abusing.

The meaning of the verse, then, shall be as follows (And Allah knows better!):­

And do not use (the name of) Allah (like) a target upon which to attach your oaths which you have sworn to the effect that you will not do a good deed or will not guard yourselves against evil or will not make peace between people; because Allah does not like it that His name be made a means of desisting from what He Himself has ordered. (This meaning is supported by the traditions which will be quoted later.)

Based on this meaning, the verse can be analyzed grammatically in three ways:- a) An tabarru (literal meaning: that you do good) is in fact an' la tabarru (that you do not do good). In the translation we have followed this meaning and the negative has been expressed by the word "against" (your swearing against your doing), Such an omission of the negative is common after "an" which turns the verb into an infini­tive. See for example verse 175 of ch. 4: Allah makes it clear for you (lest) you err. (4:177)

b) Or there is no omission; and the words "your doing good . . ." is governed by the negative "make not". The meaning, in this case, will be that Allah forbids you to take such oaths.

c) Or the al-'urdah (target) may imply excess, as a target is used for shooting practice. The verse, in this case, will be a prohibition of excessive swearing by the name of Allah. It will mean, "Do not swear every now and then by the name of Allah, because it will lead you to abstain from doing good, etc." A habitually swearing man does not care what he swears about. As he becomes used to it, it loses its importance, and it may encourage him to make a false oath. This much about his own attitude. So far as society is concerned, he will lose his respect, people will look down upon him - after all, swearing implies that the man himself is not sure that people will accept his words as true. If, in this way, he degrades his own words, why should other believe what he says. Ultimately, he will become a subject of the verse: and do not obey (i.e. accept the words of) any mean swearer. (68:10)

The words of Allah, "and Allah is Hearing, Knowing" are a sort of threatening, whatever meaning one accepts of the preceding sentence. But the first meaning (upon which our translation is based) is the most obvious.

QURAN: Allah will not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths, but He will call you to account for what your hearts have earned . . .:

A "al-laghw" (vain) action is that which has no effect. The effect of a thing varies according to variations in its attachments, etc. An oath may have an effect in so far as it is a word, or in so far as, it emphasizes speech; or thirdly in so far as it is a vow; or fourthly if it is broken, or if one perjures, and so on. In this verse the vain oath is contrasted with that (oath) which hearts have earned. It shows that the vain oath here means that which has no effect on the intention of the speaker, that is, such oaths which one utters (like 'No, By God', 'Yes, By God') without taking those words seriously.

"al-Kasb" (means to earn profits by a work or profession etc. Originally, it was used for the obtaining of those things which fulfill material needs. Then it was metaphorically used for any good or evil a man may get as a result of any of his actions, like earning praise and good, reputation through good character and social services, and earning good knowledge, superiority, and nobility by striving for them; or earning condem­nation, abuse, and slander; or sin and error by one's evil actions. This is the meaning of al-kasb and al-iktisab Some people say that al-iktisab is used when one earns a benefit for one's own self; and al-kasb refers to earning a benefit whether it is done for one's own self or for others, as when a servant earns for his master, or a guardian for his ward.

In any case the active participle al-kasib and al-muktasib (both of which mean "one who earns") are used only for a human being.



Anyhow, now we come back to the verse. The sentence, "but He will call you to account for what your hearts have earned", is a metaphor in a metaphor. The preceding sentence says: Allah will not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths. The contrasting sentence should have been, ". . . for what is firmly considered of your oath". Instead it mentions the effect, that is, the sin, which will come into being if one breaks that vow. It is done to show that Allah looks only at the heart, as He says:.. . and whether you manifest what is in your souls or hide it Allah will call you to account for it (2:284); There does not reach Allah their flesh nor their blood, but to Him reaches your piety . . . (22:37)

The words, "and Allah is Forgiving, Forbearing", hint at the undesirability of vain swearing and oath-taking, because such a thing should not be done by a believer. Allah says: Successful indeed are the believers, who are humble in their prayers, and who keep aloof from what is vain . . . (23:1-3)

QUR'AN: For those who swear (to abstain) from their wives. . . surely Hearing, Knowing:

'al-Ila' " (= to swear), in Islamic jurisprudence, means the swearing by husband that he will not go to his wife, provided it is done in anger with an intention to harm the wife. This is the meaning intended in this verse. The preposition "from" after the verb "swear" gives the meaning of distance; thus the verse implies the meaning of swearing to abstain and to remain aloof from the wife. The waiting of four months implies the same, because it is the period at the end of which cohabitation is, according to the shari'ah, obligatory on the husband.

"If they resolved on divorce". The verse means the intention followed by its implementation. It is also implied by the words, "Allah is surely Hearing, Knowing", because "Hearing" can be applied to the spoken words of the divorce, not its intention only.

The words at the end of verse 2:225, "Allah is Forgiving, Forbearing", show that if one goes back to his wife then one shall not be punished in the hereafter. So far as this life is concerned, he is obliged to pay its penalty, al-kaffarah because this penalty is not forgiven. Allah says: Allah does not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths, but He calls you to account for the making of deliberate oaths; so its expiation is the feeding of ten poor men out of the average (food) you feed your families with, or their clothing, or the freeing of a neck; but whosoever cannot find (means) then fasting for three days; this the expiation of your oaths when you swear. And guard your oaths. (5:89)

The meaning of the verses is that if one swears to abstain from his wife, then the Muslim Qadi (judge) shall give him a time of four months to go back to her. If by the end of that period, he gives the penalty for the oath, and establishes sexual relations with her, then he shall get no punishment in the hereafter. If on the other hand, he decides to divorce her, that is another way out. And Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

TRADITIONS

There is a tradition in at-Tafsir of al-'Ayyashi, from as-Sadiq (a.s.) about the words of Allah: And make not Allah a target of your swearing, that he (the Imam) said: "It is the word of man: 'No, by God', 'Yes, by God'."

Another tradition in the same book, from al- Baqir and as­Sadiq (a.s.), about this verse, says: "That is, a man swears that he would not talk with his brother, and other such oaths, or that he would not talk with his mother."

Another tradition in al-Kafi from as-Sadiq (a.s.) about it says: "When you are called to make peace between two persons, do not say on oath that you will not carry out."

The author says: The first tradition gives one explanation of the verse, the second and third give another. There is another tradition of nearly the same meaning in at-Tafsir of al-'Ayyashi from al-Baqir and as-Sadiq (a.s.) that they said: "He is the man who makes peace between two persons, and carries the burden of the sin that is between them. . ." Apparently the tradition means that such a man should not swear that he will not try to do it: he should make peace between them, even if he has to carry the sin, and Allah will forgive him, and he will be an example of him who follows this verse.

There is in al-Kafi from Mas'adah from as-Sadiq (a.s.) that he said about the verse: Allah will not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths. . . "Vain is the saying of a man, 'No, by God', and 'Yes, by God', without having any firm intention about anything."

The author says: The same meaning is narrated in al-Kafi from him by another chain; and in al-Majma'u 'l-bayan from him and al-Baqir (a.s.).

There is a narration in al-Kafi from both Imams that they said: "If a man swears that he will not go near his wife, then she has not got any say or any right for four months; and he has no sin in not going to her in that period. If the four months pass away and he does not touch her, then, so long as she is silent and does not complain, he is absolved and free (from any responsibility). Then if she brings her case (before the Qadi), the husband will be told: either go back to her and touch her or divorce her. 'Resolve of divorce' means that he should leave her; then when she sees her monthly blood and (afterwards) becomes clean, he will divorce her. And he has, moreover, the right of ar-raj'ah (= returning to her; revoking the divorce) before the expiry of three monthly periods. So this is the al-'ila', which Allah revealed in His Book, and which the Apostle of Allah ordained."

There is in the same book a tradition from as -Sadiq (a. s.) in which he says, inter alia : "And al-'ila' is that he says, 'By Allah, I shall not cohabit with thee so and so' or says, 'By Allah, I shall put thee to sorrow', and then puts her to sorrow."

The author says: There are some differences between Sunnis and Shi'ahs about some particulars of al-'ila'; but the discussion of it concerns Islamic jurisprudence.