Period of Revelation
The consensus of opinion is that it was sent down after the Campaign against Bani
al-Mustaliq and this is confirmed by vv. 11-20 that deal with the incident of the "Slander"
which occurred during that Campaign. But there is a difference of opinion as to whether
this Campaign took place in 5 A. H. before the Battle of the Trench or in 6 A. H. after it.
It is important to decide this issue in order to determine whether this Sura was sent
down earlier or Sura Al- Ahzab(XXXIII)
which is the only other Sura containing the Commandments about the observance of
purdah by women. Sura Al-Ahzabwas admittedly sent down on the occasion of the
Battle of the Trench. Now if this Battle occurred earlier
it would mean that the initial instructions in connection with the Commandments of
purdah were sent down in Sura Al-Ahzab?and they were complemented later by the
Commandments revealed in this Sura. On the other hand
if the Campaign against Bani al-Mustaliq occurred earlier
the chronological order of the Commandments would be reversed
and it would become difficult to understand the legal wisdom and implications of the
Commandments of purdah. According to Ibn Sa'd
the Campaign against Bani al Mustaliq took 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 from
Hadarat Ayesha about the events connected with the "Slander" in which she refers to a
dispute between Hadrat Sa'd bin 'Ubadah and Sa'd bin Mu'az. Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az
according to authentic traditions
died during the Campaign against Bani Quraizah
which took place immediately after the Battle of the Trench. It is
evident that he could not be present in 6 A. H. to take part in a dispute about the
"Slander". On the other hand
Muhammad bin Ishaq says that the Battle of the Trench took place in Shawwal 5 A. H.
and the Campaign against Bani al-Mustaliq in Sha'ban 6 A. H. This opinion is supported
by many authentic traditionss from Hadrat Ayesha and others. According to these
(1) the Commandments about purdah had been sent down in Sura Al-Ahzabbefore the
incident of the "Slander"
(2) the Holy Prophet had married Hadrat Zainab in Zil-Qa'dah 5 A. H. after the Battle of
sister of Hadrat Zainab
had taken a leading part in spreading the "Slander"
just because Hadrat Ayesha was a rival of her sister. All this evidence supports the view
of Muhammad bin Ishaq. Now let us consider the two opinions a little more closely. The
only argument in favour of the first opinion is the mention of the presence of Hadrat
Sa'd bin Mu'az in a dispute connected with the incident of the "Slander". But this
argument is weakened by some other traditions from Hadrat Ayesha
in which she mentions Hadara Usaid bin Hudair instead of Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az in this
dispute. It may
be assumed that there has been some confusion regarding the two names in reporting
the traditions. Moreover
if we accept the first opinion
just because of the mention of the name of Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az in some traditions
we encounter other difficulties that cannot be resolved in any way. For
in that case
we shall have to admit that the revelation of the Commandments of purdah and the
Holy Prophet's marriage with Hadrat Zainab had taken place even earlier than the
Battle of the Trench. But we learn from the Qur'an and many authentic traditions that
both these events happened after that Battle and the Campaign against Bani Quraizah.
That is why Ibn Hazm
Ibn Qayyim and some other eminent scholars have held the opinion of Muhammad bin
Ishaq as correct
and we also hold it to be so. Thus
we conclude that Sura AlAhzabwas sent down earlier than Sura An-Nur
which was revealed in the latter half of 6 A. H. several months after Sura AlAhzab.
Now let us review the circumstances existing at the time of the revelation of this sura. It
should be kept in mind that the incident of the "Slander"
which was the occasion of its revelation
was closely connected with the conflict between Islam and the disbelievers. After the
victory at Badr
the Islamic movement began to gain strength day 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 numbering about ten
thousand failed to crush it and had to raise the siege of Al Madinah after one month. It
and both the parties understood it well
that the war of aggression which the Disbelievers had been waging for several years
had come to an end. The Holy Prophet himself declared: "After this year
the Quraishwill not be able to attack you; now you will take the offensive." When the
disbelievers realized that they could not defeat Islam on the battlefield
they chose the moral front to carry on the conflict. It cannot be said with certainty
whether this Change of tactics was the outcome of deliberate consultations
or it was the inevitable result of the humiliating retreat in the Battle of the Trench
for which all the available forces of the enemy had been concentrated:They knew it well
that the rise of Islam was nor due to the numerical strength of the Muslims nor to their
superior arms and ammunition nor to their greater material resources; nay
the Muslims were fighting against fearful odds on all these fronts. They owed their
success to their moral superiority. Their enemies realized that the pure and noble
qualities of the Holy Prophet and his followers were capturing the hearts of the people
and were also binding them together into a highly disciplined community. As a result of
they were defeating the mushriksand the Jews both on the peace and on the war front
because the latter lacked discipline and character. Under the above mentioned
the wicked designs of the disbelievers led them to start a campaign of vilification
against the Holy Prophet and the Muslims in order to destroy the bulwark of morale that
was helping them to defeat their enemies. Therefore the strategy was to attain the
assistance of the hypocrites to spread slanders against the Holy Prophet and his
followers so that the mushriksand the Jews could exploit these to sow the seeds of
discord among the Muslims and undermine their discipline. The first opportunity for the
use of the new strategy was afforded in Zil-Qa'dah 5 A. H. when the Holy Prophet
married Hadrat Zainab (daughter of Jahsh)
who was the divorced wife of his adopted son
Zaid bin Harithah. The Holy Prophet had arranged this marriage in order to put an end
to the custom of ignorance
which gave the same status to the adopted son that was the right only of the son from
one's own loins. The hypocrites
considered it a golden opportunity to vilify the Holy Prophet from inside the community
and the Jews and the mushriksexploited it from outside to ruin his high reputation by
this malicious slander. For this purpose fantastic stories were concocted and spread to
this effect: "One day Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) happened to see the wife
of his adopted son and fell in love with her; he manouvered her divorce and married
her." Though this was an absurd fiction it was spread with such skill
cunning and artfulness that it succeeded in its purpose; so much so that some Muslim
traditionalist and commentators also have cited some parts of it in their writings
and the orientalists have exploited these fully to vilify the Holy Prophet. As a matter of
Hadrat Zainab was never a stranger to the Holy Prophet that he should see her by
chance and fall in love with her at first sight. For she was his first cousin
being the daughter of his real paternal aunt
daughter of Abdul Muttalib. He had known her from her childhood to her youth. A year
before this incident
he himself had persuaded her against her will to marry Hadarat Zaid in order to
demonstrate practically that the Quraishand the liberated slaves were equal as human
being. As she never reconciled herself to her marriage with a liberated slave, they could
not pull on together for long, which inevitably led to her divorce. The above mentioned
facts were well known to all, yet the slanderers succeeded in their false propaganda
with the result that even today there are people who exploit these things to defame
The second slander was made on the honour of Hadrat Ayesha, a wife of the Holy
Prophet, in connection with an incident which occurred while he was returning from the
Campaign against Bani al-Mustaliq. As this attack was even severer than the first one
and was the main background of this Sura, we shall deal with it in greater detail.
Let us say a few words about Abdullah bin Ubayy, who played the part of a villain in this
attack. He belonged to the clan of Khazraj and was one of the most important chiefs of
Al-Madinah. The people had even intended to make him their king a little before the
Holy Prophet's migration there, but the scheme had to be dropped because of the
changed circumstances. Though he had embraced Islam, he remained at heart a
hypocrite and his hypocrisy was so manifest that he was called the "Chief of the Hypo-
crites". He never lost any opportunity to slander Islam in order to take his revenge.
Now the main theme. When in Sha'ban 6 A. H. the Holy Prophet learned that the
people of Bani al-Mustaliq were making preparations for a war against the Muslims and
were trying to muster other clans also for this purpose, he fore- stalled and took the
enemy by surprise. After capturing the people of the clan and their belongings, the Holy
Prophet made a halt near Muraisi, a spring in their territory. One day a dispute
concerning taking water from the spring started between a servant of Hadrat Umarand
an ally of the clan of Khazraj, and developed into a quarrel between the
Muhajirs(immigrants) and the Ansar(Muslims of Mad!nah), but was soon settled. This,
however, did not suit the strategy of Abdullah bin Ubayy, who also had joined the
expedition with a large number of hypocrites. So he began to incite the Ansar, saying,
"You yourselves brought these people of the quraishfrom Makkah and made them
partners in your wealth and property. And now they have become your rivals and want
domination over you. If even now you withdraw your support from them, they shall be
forced to leave your city." Then he swore and declared, "As soon as we reach back
Al-Madinah, the respectable people will turn out the degraded people from the city.'
When the Holy Prophet came to know of this, he ordered the people to set off
immediately and march back to Al-Madinah. The forced march continued up to noon
the next day without a halt on the way so that the people became exhausted and had
no time for idle talk.
Though this wise judgment and quick action by the Holy Prophet averted the
undesirable consequences of the mischief, Abdullah bin Ubayy got another opportunity
for doing a far more serious and greater mischief, i. e. by engineer]ng a "Slander"
against Hadrat Ayesha, for that was a mischief which might well have involved the
young Muslim Community in a civil war, if the Holy Prophet and his sincere and devoted
followers had not shown wisdom, forbearance and marvellous discipline in dealing with
it. In order to understand the events that led to the incident of the "Slander", we cite the
story in Hadrat 'Ayesha's own words. She says "Whenever the Holy Prophet went out
on a journey, he decided by lots as to which of his wives should accompany him.
Accordingly, it was decided that I should accompany him during the expedition to Bani
al Mustaliq. On the return journey, the Holy Prophet halted for the night 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 for the march. So I went outside the camp to ease myself. When I
returned and came near my halting place, I noticed that my necklace had fallen down
somewhere. I went back in search for it but in the meantime the caravan moved off and
I was left behind all alone. The four carriers of the litter had placed it on my camel
without noticing that it was empty. This happened because of my light weight due to
lack of food in those days. I wrapped myself in my sheet and lay down in the hope that
when it would be found that I had been left behind, a search party would come back to
pick me up. In the meantime I fell asleep. In the morning, when Safwan bin Mu'attal
Sulami passed that way, he saw me and recognised me for he had seen me several
times before the Commandment about purdah had been sent down. No sooner did he
see me than he stopped his camel and cried out spontaneously : "How sad! The wife of
the Holy Prophet has been left here!" At this I woke up all of a sudden and covered my
face with my sheet. Without uttering another word, he made his camel kneel by me and
stood aside, while I climbed on to the camel back. He led the camel by the nose-string
and we overtook the caravan at about noon, when it had just halted and nobody had
yet noticed that I had been left behind. I learnt afterwards that this incident had been
used to slander me and Abdullah bin Ubayy was foremost among the
slanderers.(According to other traditions, when Hadrat Ayesha reached the camp on
the camel, led by Safwan, and it was known that she had been left behind, Abdullahbin
Ubayy cried out, 'By God, she could not have remained chaste. Look, there comes the
wife of your Prophet openly on the camel led by the person with whom she passed the
"When I reached Al-Madinah, I fell ill and stayed in bed for more than a month. Though
I was quite unaware of it, the news of the "Slander" was spreading like a scandal in the
city, and had also reached the Holy Prophet. Anyhow, I noticed that he did not seem as
concerned about my illness he used to be. He would come but without addressing me
directly, would inquire from others how I was and leave the house. Therefore it troubled
my mind that something had gone wrong somewhere. So I took leave of him and went
to my mother's house for better nursing.
"While I was there, one night I went out of the city to ease myself in the company of
Mistah's mother, who was a first cousin of my mother. As she was walking along she
stumbled over something and cried out spontaneously, 'May Mistah perish!' To this I
retorted, 'What a good mother you are that you curse your own son, the son who took
part in the Battle of Badr.' She replied, 'My dear daughter, are you not aware of his
scandal mongering?' Then she told me everything about the campalgn of the
"Slander".(Besides the hypocrites, some true Muslims also had been involved in this
campaign, and among them who took leading part in it, were Mistah, Hassan bin
Thabit, the famous poet of Islam, and Hamnah, daughter of Jahsh and sister of Hadrat
Zainab). Hearing this horrible story, my blood curdled, and I immediately returned
home, and passed the rest of the night in crying over it.
"During my abcence the Holy Prophet took counsel with Ali and Usamah bin Zaid about
this matter. Usamah said good words about me to this effect:'O Messenger of Allah, we
have found nothing but good in your wife. All that is being spread about her is a lie and
calumny.' As regards Ali, he said, 'O Messenger of Allah, there is no dearth of women;
you may, if you like, marry an other wife. If, how- ever, you would like to investigate into
the matter, you may send for her maid servant and enquire into it through her.'
Accordingly, the maid servant was sent for and questioned. She replied, 'I declare on
an oath by Allah, Who has sent you with the Truth, that I have never seen any evil thing
in her, except that she falls asleep when I tell her to look after the kneaded dough in my
absence and a goat comes and eats it.'
"On that same day the Holy Prophet addressed the people from the pulpit, saying:'O
Muslims, who from among you will defend my honour against the attacker of the person
who has transgressed all bounds in doing harm to me by slandering my wife. By God, I
have made a thorough enquiry and found nothing wrong with her nor with the man,
whose name has been linked with the "Slander". At this Usaid bin Hudair (or Sa'd bin
Mauz) according to other traditions) stood up and said, 'O Messenger of Allah, if that
pcrson belongs to our clan, we will kill him by ourselves, but if he belongs to the Khazraj
clan, we will kill him if you order us to do so.' Hearing this Sa'd bin 'Ubadah,2 chief of
the Khazraj clan, stood up and said, 'You lie you can never kill him. You are saying this
just because the person belongs to our clan of Khazraj. Had he belonged to your clan,
you would never have said so.' Hadrat Usaid retorted, 'You are a hypo- crite: that is why
you are defending a hypocrite.' At this, there was a general turmoil in the mosque,
which would have developed into a riot, even though the Holy Prophet was present
there the whole time. But he cooled down their anger and came down from the pulpit."
The remaining details of the incident will be cited along with our commentary on the
Text, which honourably absolved Hadrat Aishah from the blame. But here we would
only want to point out the enormity of the mischief that was engineered by Abdullah bin
Ubayy: (1) It implied an attack on the honour of the Holy Prophet and Hadrat Abu Bakr
Siddiq.(2) He meant to undermine the high moral superiority which was the greatest
asset of the Islamic Movement (3) He intended to ignite civil war between the
Muhajirsand the Ansar, and between Aus and Khazraj, the two clans of the Ansar.
Theme and Topics This Sura and vv. 28-73 of Sura Al-Ahzab(of which this is the
sequel) were sent down to strengthen the moral front, which at that time was the main
target of the attack, vv. 28-73 of Al-Ahzabwere sent down concerning the Holy
Prophet's marriage with Hadrat Zainab, and on the occasion of the second attack (the
"Slander" about Hadrat Aishah), Sura An-Nurwas sent down to repair the cracks that
had appeared in the unity of the Muslim Commurvty. If we keep this in view during the
study of the two Suras, we shall understand the wisdom that underlies the
Commandments about purdah. Allah sent the following instructions to strengthen and
safeguard the moral front, and to counteract the storm of propaganda that was raised
on the occasion of the marriage of Hazrat Zainab:
(1) The wives of the Holy Prophet were enjoined to remain within their private quarters,
to avoid display of adornments and to be cautious in their talk with other persons (vv.
(2) The other Muslims were forbidden to enter the private rooms of the Holy Prophet
and instructed to ask whatever they wanted from behind the curtain.(v. 53).
(3) A line of demarcation was drawn between the mahram and the non-mahram
relatives. Only the former were allowed to enter the private rooms of those wives of the
Holy Prophet with whom they were so closely related as to prohibit marriage with
(4) The Muslims were told that the wives of the Prophet were prohibited for them just
like their own real mothers; therefore every Muslim should regard them with the purest
of intentions.(vv. 53, 54).
(5) The Muslims were warned that they would invite the curse and scourge of Allah if
they offended the Holy Prophet. Likewise it was a heinous sin to attack the honour of or
slander any Muslim man or woman.(vv. 57, -8).
(6) All the Muslim women were enjoined to cover their faces with their sheets if and
when they had to go out of their houses.(v. 59).
On the occasion of the second attack, this Sura was sent down to keep pure and
strengthen the moral fibre of the Muslim society, which had been shaken by the
enormity of the slander. We give below a summary of the Commandments and
instructions in their chronological order so that one may understand how the Qur'an
makes use of the psychological occasion to reform the Community by the adoption of
legal, moral and social measures.
(1) Fornication which had already been declared to be a social crime (IV: 15,16) was
now made a criminal offence and was to be punished with a hundred lashes.
(2) It was enjoined to boycott the adulterous men and women and the Muslims were
forbidden to have any marriage relations with them.
(3) The one, who accused the other of adultery but failed to produce four witnesses,
was to be punished with eighty lashes.
(4) The Law of Lian was prescribed to decide the charge of adultery against his own fife
by a husband.
(5) The Muslims were enjoined to learn a lesson from the incident of the "Slander"
about Hadrat Aishah, as if to say, "You should be very cautious in regard to charges of
adultery against the people of good reputation, and should not spread these; nay, you
should refute and suppress them immediately." In this connection, a general principle
was enunciated that the proper spouse for a pure man is 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 you knew that the Holy Prophet was a pure man, nay, the purest of all
human beings, how could you believe that he had experienced happiness with a wicked
woman and exalted her as the most beloved of his wives?For it was obvious that an
adulterous woman could not have been able to deceive, with her affected behaviour, a
pure man like the Holy Prophet. You ought also to have considered the fact that the
accuser was a mean person while the accused was a pure woman. This should have
been enough to convince you that the accusation was not worth your consideration;
nay, it was not even conceivable.
(6) Those who spread news and evil rumours and propagate wickedncss in the Muslim
Community, deserve punishment and not encouragement.
(7) A general principle was laid down that relations in the Muslim Community should be
based on good faith and not on suspicion: everyone should be treated as innocent
unless he is proved to be guilty and vice versa.
(8) The people were forbidden to enter the houses of others unceremoniously and were
instructed to take permission for this.
(9) Both men and women were instructed to lower their gaze and forbidden to cast
glances or make eyes at each other.
(10) Women were enjoined to cover their heads and breasts even inside their houses.
(11) Women were forbidden to appear with make-up before other men except their
servants or such relatives with whom their marriage is prohibited.
(12) They were enjoined to hide their make-ups when they went out of their houses,
and even forbidden to put on jingling ornaments, while they moved out of their houses.
(13) Marriage was encouraged and enjoined even for slaves and slave girls, for
unmarried people help spread indecency.
(14) The institution of slavery was discouraged and the owners and other people were
enjoined to give financial help to the slaves to earn their freedom under the law of
(15) Prostitution by slave girls was forbidden in the first instance, for prostitution in
Arabia was confined to this class alone. This in fact implied the legal prohibition of
(16) Sanctity of privacy in home life was enjoined even for servants and under age
children including one's own. They were enjoined not to enter the private rooms of any
man or woman without permission; especially in the morning, at noon and at night.
(17) Old women were given the concession that they could set aside their head covers
within their houses but should refrain from display of adornments. Even they were told
that it was better for them to keep themselves covered with head wrappers.
(18) The blind, lame, crippled and sick persons were allowed to take any article of food
from the houses of other people without permission, for it was not to be treated like theft
and cheating, which are cognizable offences.
(19) On the other hand, the Muslims were encouraged to develop mutual relationships
by taking their meals together, and the nearest relatives and intimate friends were
allowed to take their meals in each other's house without any formal invitation. This was
to produce mutual affection and sincere relationships between them to counteract any
future mischief. Side by side with these instructions, clear signs of the Believers and the
hypocrites were stated to enable every Muslim to discriminate between the two. At the
same time the Community was bound together by adopting disciplinary measures in
order to make it stronger and firmer than it was at the time so as to discourage the
enemies from creating mischief in it.
Above all, the most conspicuous thing about this discourse is that it is free from the
bitterness which inevitably follows such shameful and absurd attacks. Instead of
showing any wrath at this provocation, the discourse prescribes some laws and
regulations and enjoins reformative commandments and issues wise instructions that
were required at the time for the education and training of the Community. Incidentally,
this teaches us how to deal with such provocative 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 is observing
all human conditions and affairs from the highest level, and guiding mankind without
any personal prejudices, feelings and leanings. Had this been the word of the Hoiy
Prophet; there would have been at least some tinge of natural bitterness in spite of his
great generos1ty and forbearance, for it is but human that a noble man naturally
become enraged when his own honour is attacked in this mean manner.
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