In the name of god, the most gracious, The dispenser of grace: (1)

1 - According to most of the authorities, this invocation (which occurs at the beginning of every surah with the exception of surah 9) constitutes an integral part of "The Opening" and is, therefore, numbered as verse I. In all other instances, the invocation "in the name of God" precedes the surah as such, and is not counted among its verses. - Both the divine epithets rahman and rahrm are derived from the noun rahmah, which signifies "mercy", "compassion", "loving tenderness" and, more comprehensively, "grace". From the very earliest times, Islamic scholars have endeavoured to define the exact shades of meaning which differentiate the two terms. The best and simplest of these explanations is undoubtedly the one advanced by Ibn al-Qayyim (as quoted in Mandr I, 48): the term rahman circumscribes the quality of abounding grace inherent in, and inseparable from, the concept of God's Being, whereas rahrm expresses the manifestation of that grace in, and its effect upon, His creation-in other words, an aspect of His activity.

BEG INNING with an allusion to the wrongs done to woman in pre-Islamic times, followed by a divine reductio ad absurdum - and thus, a prohibition - of the pagan method of divorce known as zihar (see note on first verse below, as well as a fuller explanation in note on 33: 4), the surah proceeds to questions of faith and its absence as well as their repercussions on mans social life, to the problem of hypocrisy, and ends with a discussion of the attitude which believers should adopt towards non-believers. The date of revelation may be placed at the beginning of the year 5 H or, possibly, towards the end of 4 H. The customary title of this surah is based on the mention of her who pleads in its first verse.
1. GOD has indeed heard the words of her who pleads with thee concerning her husband, and complains Unto God. (1) And God does hear what you both have to say:* verily, God is all-hearing, all-seeing. (2)

1 - According to the classical commentators, this is a reference to the case of Khawlah (or Khuwaylah) bint Thalabah, whose husband Aws ibn as-Samit divorced her by pronouncing the arbitrary pre-Islamic oath known as zihar (explained in note on 33: 4). When she pleaded before the Prophet against this divorce - which deprived her of all her marital rights and, at the same time, made it impossible for her to remarry - the iniquitous custom of zihar was abolished by the revelation of verses 2 - 4 of this surah. In view of the sequence, as well as of several Traditions to this effect, there is no doubt that the above verse alludes, in the first instance, to the divine condemnation of zihar. However the deliberately unspecified reference to her who pleads concerning her husband seems to point to all cases where a wife has reason to complain against her husband: that is to say, not merely to an appeal against an unjustified or cruel divorce, but also to a wifes demand for release from an unbearable marriage. Such dissolution of the marriage-tie at the wifes instance - termed khul - is fully sanctioned by the shariah on the basis of 2: 229 and a number of extremely well-authenticated Traditions. (For a fuller discussion of this problem, see note on the second paragraph of 2: 229.)

2 - Lit., does hear the mutual contentions of both of you (tahawurakuma), i.e., of husband and wife alike, embracing with His infinite wisdom and justice the innermost motivations of both. Alternatively - if the above verse is understood as referring specifically to the case of Khawlah - the second person indicated by the suffix kuma (both of you) may relate to the Prophet, who, before the revelation of this surah, thought that a divorce through zihar was valid and, therefore, repeatedly told Khawlah, Thou art now indeed unlawful to him (Tabari). This opinion was subsequently - almost immediately - reversed by the divine prohibition of zihar expressed in verses 2ff.

2. As for those of you who [henceforth] separate themselves from their wives by saying, Thou art as unlawful to me as my mother, (3) [let them bear in mind that] they can never be [as] their mothers: none are their mothers save those who gave them birth: and so, behold, they but utter a saying that runs counter to reason, (4) and is [therefore] false. But, behold, God is indeed an absolver of sins, much-forgiving:

3 - For this explanatory rendering of the verb yuzahirun, see note on 33: 4. My interpolation of the word henceforth is necessary in view of the fact that the custom of zihar - in its sense of a definitive act of divorce - had been abolished by verses 2 - 4 of the present surah.

4 - For this particular rendering of the term munkar, see the second note on 16: 90.

3. hence, as for those who would separate themselves from their wives by saying, Thou art as unlawful to me as my mother, and thereafter would go back on what they have said, [their atonement] shall be the freeing of a human being from bondage* before the couple may touch one another again: (5) this you are [hereby] exhorted to do - for God is fully aware of all that you do.(6)

5 - *I.e., the freeing or purchasing the freedom of a slave or captive. In modern times, when slavery is more or less non-existent, the concept of tahrir raqabah may, I believe, be legitimately extended to the redeeming of a human being from the bondage of debt or of great poverty.

6 - Cf. 2: 225 - God will not take you to task for oaths which you may have uttered without thought, but will take you to task [only] for what your hearts have conceived [in earnest].

4. However, he who does not have the wherewithal shall fast [instead] for two consecutive months* before the couple may touch one another again; (7) and he who is unable to do it shall feed sixty needy ones: (8) this, so that you might prove your faith in God and His Apostle. (9) Now these are the bounds set by God; and grievous suffering [in the life to come] awaits all who deny the truth.

7 - *I.e., in the manner prescribed for fasting during the month of Ramadan (see 2: 183-187). As regards the phrase he who does not find the wherewithal (lam yajid), it may indicate either a lack of financial means or the impossibility of finding anyone else who could be redeemed from factual or figurative bondage. According to many Islamic scholars of our times (e.g., Rashid Rida, commenting on 4: 92), this relates, in the first instance, to circumstances in which slavery will have been abolished in accordance with the aim of Islam (Manar V, 337).

8 - Or, alternatively, one needy person for sixty days. The inability to fast for two consecutive months may be due either to ill-health or to really compelling external circumstances (for instance, the necessity of performing labours which require great physical and/or mental vigour and alertness).

9 - Sc., by showing that you have renounced the practices of the Time of Ignorance (Razi). In other words, the pronouncement of zihar is not to be considered a divorce, as was the case in pre-Islamic times, but solely as a reprehensible act which must be atoned for by a sacrifice.

5. Verily, those who contend against God and His Apostle shall be brought low even as those [evildoers] who lived before them were brought low after We had bestowed [on them] clear messages from on high. (10) And [so,] for those who deny the truth there will be shameful suffering in store

10 - Sc., which they chose to disregard. Thus, proceeding from the particular to the general, the present passage connects with the reference, at the end of verse 4, to all who deny the truth, i.e., of divine revelation.

6. on the Day when God will raise them all from the dead and will make them truly understand all that they did [in life]: God will have taken [all of] it into account, even though they [themselves] may have forgotten it - for God is witness unto everything.
7. ART THOU NOT aware that God knows all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth? Never can there be a secret confabulation between three persons without His being the fourth of them, nor between five without His being the sixth of them; and neither between less than that, or more, without His being with them wherever they may he. But in the end, on Resurrection Day, He will make them truly understand what they did: for, verily, God has full knowledge of everything.
8. Art thou not aware of such as have been forbidden [to intrigue through] secret confabulations, (11) and yet [always] revert to that which they have been forbidden, and conspire with one another with a view to sinful doings, and aggressive conduct, and disobedience to the Apostle? (12) Now whenever such [people] approach thee, [O Muhammad,] (13) they salute thee with a greeting which God has never countenanced; (14) and they say to themselves, Why does not God chastise us for what we are saying? (15) Hell shall be their allotted portion: they shall [indeed] enter it - and how vile a journeys end!

11 - The prohibition referred to here arises from the Quranic statement, No good comes, as a rule, out of secret confabulations - save those which are devoted to enjoining charity, or equitable dealings, or setting things to rights between people (see 4: 114 and the corresponding note). Although there is no doubt that, as the classical commentators point out, the secret confabulations spoken of in this passage relate to intrigues aimed against the Prophet and his followers by some of their unbelieving contemporaries, there is no doubt, either, that the passage has a general import, and is, therefore, valid for all times.

12 - I.e., in the wider sense, disobedience to the Apostles ethical teachings.

13 - The reference to approaching the Prophet has here a twofold meaning, relating literally to his unbelieving contemporaries, and figuratively to an intellectual approach to his person and his teachings by hostile critics of all later times. The same observation is valid with regard to the next clause as well.

14 - Lit., with which God has never saluted thee. Historically, this is an allusion to the hostile attitude of the Jews of Medina towards the Prophet. It is recorded that instead of pronouncing the traditional greeting Peace be upon thee when encountering him, some of them used to mumble the word salam (peace) in such a way as to make it indistinguishable from sam (death); and they employed the same scurrilous play of words with regard to the Prophets Companions as well. (The relevant ahadith are quoted in full, with indication of the sources, by Tabari and Ibn Kathir in their commentaries on the above verse.) But see also the preceding note.

15 - Sc., if Muhammad is truly a prophet.

9. [Hence,] O you who have attained to faith, when you do hold secret confabulations, do not conspire with one another with a view to sinful doings, and aggressive conduct, and disobedience to the Apostle, (16) but [rather] hold counsel in the cause of virtue and God-consciousness: and [always] remain conscious of God, unto whom you all shall be gathered.

16 - See the second note on verse 8 above.

10. [All other kinds of] secret confabulations are but of Satans doing, so that he might cause grief to those who have attained to faith; yet he cannot harm them in the least, unless it be by Gods leave:* in God, then, let the believers place their trust! (17)

17 - *I.e., in and by itself, the force of evil epitomized in the concept of Satan has no power whatever: cf. 14: 22 - I had no power at all over you: I but called you - and you responded unto me. Hence, blame not me, but blame yourselves. (See also Razis views quoted in my note on the above-mentioned verse.) As regards the problem of Gods letting or allowing a person to go astray (implied in the phrase unless it be by Gods leave), see note on 14: 4.

11. O YOU who have attained to faith! When you are told, Make room for one another in your collective life, do make room: (18) [and in return,] God will make room for you [in His grace]. (19) And whenever you are told, Rise up [for a good deed], do rise up; (20) [and] God will exalt by [many] degrees those of you who have attained to faith and, [above all,] such as have been vouchsafed [true] knowledge: for God is fully aware of all that you do. (21)

18 - Lit., in the assemblies (al-majalis). Although it is frequently assumed that this refers to the assemblies held by the Prophet, when his followers would throng around him in their eagerness the better to hear what he had to say, or - more generally - to congregations in mosques, etc., in later times, I am (with Razi) of the opinion that the plural noun majalis is used here in a tropical or metaphorical sense, denoting the totality of mens social life. Taken in this sense, the making room for one another implies the mutual providing of opportunities for a decent life to all - and especially to the needy or handicapped - members of the community. See also next note.

19 - Commenting on this passage, Razi says: This verse indicates that if one widens the means (ahwab) of happiness and well-being of Gods creatures (ibad), God will widen for him all that is good in this life and in the hereafter. Hence, no reasonable person (al-aqil) could ever restrict (the purport of) this verse to merely making room for one another in an [actual] assembly.

20 - The interpretation implied in the words for a good deed interpolated by me above is analogous to that offered by most of the classical commentators, and most explicitly by Tabari; in the words of Qatadah (ibid.), Whenever you are called upon to do a good deed, respond to this call.

21 - Cf. the saying of the Prophet: The superiority of a learned man (alim) over a [mere]worshipper (abid) is like the superiority of the moon on the night when it is full over all other stars (Ibn Hanbal, Abu Daud, Tirmidhi, Nasai, Ibn Majah and Darimi).

12. O YOU who have attained to faith! Whenever you [intend to] consult the Apostle, offer up something in charity on the occasion of your consultation: this will be for your own good, and more conducive to your [inner] purity. (22) Yet if you are unable to do so,* [know that,] verily, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. (23)

22 - This call to an exercise of charity on every occasion (bayna yaday) of ones consultation with Gods Apostle has been widely misunderstood as applying only to factual consultations with him, i.e., in his lifetime, supposedly with a view to lessening the encroachments on his time by some of his too-eager followers. This misunderstanding, together with the qualified dispensation from the above-mentioned injunction expressed in the next verse, has given rise to the unwarranted contention by some of the commentators that this injunction has been abrogated. But apart from the fact that the theory of abrogation as such is entirely untenable (see 2: 106 and the corresponding note), the above verse reveals its true meaning as soon as we realize that the term the Apostle (ar-rasul) is used in the Quran not merely to designate the unique person of the Prophet Muhammad but also the sum-total of the teachings conveyed by him to the world. This is evident from the many Quranic exhortations, Pay heed unto God and the Apostle, and, more specifically (in 4: 59), if you are at variance over any matter, refer it unto God (i.e., the Quran) and the Apostle (i.e., his Sunnah), which latter is but meant to elucidate the former. Taken in this sense, the above reference to a consultation with the Apostle obviously applies not only to his person and his contemporaries, but rather to his teachings in general and to believers of all times and environments. In other words, every believer is exhorted to offer up something in charity - whether it be material alms to a needy person, or the imparting of knowledge to such as may be in need of enlightenment, or even a mere word of kindness to a weak human being - whenever he intends to immerse himself in a study of the Apostles teachings or, as the Quran phrases it, to consult him who has conveyed the divine writ to us.

23 - *Lit., if you do not find, sc., anyone on whom to bestow charity at that particular moment, or have - for whatever reason - no opportunity to exercise it.

13. Do you, perchance, fear lest [you may be sinning if] you cannot offer up anything in charity on the occasion of your consultation [with the Apostle]? But if you fail to do it [for lack o opportunity], and God turns unto you in His mercy, remain but constant in prayer and render [no more than] the purifying dues,* and [thus] pay heed unto God and His Apostle: for God is fully aware of all that you do. (24)

24 - *I.e., the obligatory tax (zakah) which is meant to purify a believers possessions and income from the taint of selfishness: implying that ones inability to do more by way of charity does not constitute a sin.

14. ART THOU NOT aware of those who would be friends with people whom God has condemned? (25) They are neither of you [O believers] nor of those [who utterly reject the truth]: and so they swear to a falsehood the while they know [it to be false].

25 - For the meaning of Gods condemnation, see note on the last verse of Al-Fatihah. In this particular context, the ones who would be friends with people whom God has condemned are the half-hearted who - while dimly perceiving the truth of Gods existence and self-revelation - are nevertheless unwilling to surrender themselves to this truth for fear of estranging themselves from their God-denying environment and, thus, of losing what they regard as the material advantages of a spiritually uncommitted life: and it is this moral falsehood to which the last sentence of this verse refers. (See also the last verse of surah 60.)

15. God has readied for them suffering severe [in the life to come]. Behold, evil indeed is what they are wont to do:
16. they have made their oaths a cover [for their falseness], and thus they turn others away from the path of God: (26) hence, shameful suffering awaits them.

26 - I.e., by sowing doubts in other peoples hearts.

17. Neither their worldly possessions nor their offspring will be of the least avail to them against God: it is they who are destined for the fire, therein to abide!
18. On the Day when God will raise them all from the dead, they will swear before Him as they [now] swear before you, thinking that they are on firm ground [in their assumptions]. (27) Oh, verily, it is they, they who are the [greatest] liars! (28)

27 - Namely, that their preference of worldly benefits to a spiritual commitment is reasonable and, therefore, morally justified. It is to this flagrant self-deception that the next sentence refers.

28 - The definite article al prefixed to the participial noun kadhihun indicates that the people thus characterized have reached the utmost degree of self-deception; hence my interpolation of the adjective greatest in consonance with Zamakhsharis interpretation of the above phrase.

19. Satan has gained mastery over them, and has caused them to remain oblivious of the remembrance of God. Such as these are Satans partisans: oh, verily, it is they, the partisans of Satan, who will truly be the losers!
20. Verily, those who contend against God and His Apostle - it is they who [on Judgment Day] shall find themselves among the most abject.
21. [For] God has thus ordained: I shall most certainly prevail, I and My apostles! Verily, God is powerful, almighty!
22. Thou canst not find people who [truly] believe in God and the Last Day and [at the same time] love anyone who contends against God and His Apostle - even though they be their fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or [others of] their kindred. (29) [As for the true believers,] it is they in whose hearts He has inscribed faith, and whom He has strengthened with inspiration from Himself,* and whom [in time] He will admit into gardens through which running waters flow, therein to abide. (30) Well-pleased is God with them, and well-pleased are they with Him. They are Gods partisans: oh, verily, it is they, the partisans of God, who shall attain to a happy state!

29 - The operative phrase of this passage is contained in the words, anyone who contends against (man hadda) God and His Apostle: i.e., anyone who is engaged in active hostility against Gods message and the person or the teachings of His Apostle. As regards relations with non-believers who are not actively hostile to Islam, the Quran explicitly permits and implicitly ordains in many places (e.g., in 60: 8 - 9) kindness and friendliness towards theem.

30 - *For my rendering of ruh as inspiration or, occasionally, as divine inspiration, see note on 16: 2. As pointed out by Zamakhshari, the pronominal suffix in minhu may relate to God - as in my rendering - or to the believers faith, in which latter case the phrase could be rendered as strengthened with inspiration [flowing] there-from.