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.

REVEALED in the second half of the Medina period - probably in 7 H. - this surah has been occasionally designated as "The Surah of the Prophet" (Zamakhshari) inasmuch as the first half of it deals with certain aspects of his personal and family life.
1. O PROPHET! Why dost thou, out of a desire to please [one or another of] thy wives, impose [on thyself] a prohibition of something that God has made lawful to thee? (1) But God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace:

1 - There are several essentially conflicting - and, therefore, in their aggregate, not very trustworthy - reports as to the exact reason or reasons why, at some time during the second half of the Medina period, the Prophet declared on oath that for one month he would have no intercourse with any of his wives. Still, while the exact reason cannot be established with certainty, it is sufficiently clear from the above-mentioned ahadith that this emotional, temporary renunciation of marital life was caused by a display of mutual jealousy among some of the Prophet's wives. In any case, the purport of the above Qur'anic allusion to this incident is not biographical but, rather, intended to bring out a moral lesson applicable to all human situations: namely, the inadmissibility of regarding as forbidden (haram) anything that God has made lawful (halal), even if such an attitude happens to be motivated by the desire to please another person or other persons. Apart from this, it serves to illustrate the fact - repeatedly stressed in the Qur'an - that the Prophet was but a human being, and therefore subject to human emotions and even liable to commit an occasional mistake (which in his case, however, was invariably pointed out to him, and thus rectified, through divine revelation).

2. God has already enjoined upon you [O believers] the breaking and expiation of [such of] your oaths [as may run counter to what is right and just]: (2) for, God is your Lord Supreme, and He alone is all-knowing, truly wise.

2 - See 2:224 and the corresponding note 212, which shows that in certain circumstances an oath should be broken and then atoned for: hence the above phrase, "God has enjoined upon you the breaking and expiation" (with the term tahillah comprising both these concepts).

3. And lo! (3) [It so happened that] the Prophet told something in confidence to one of his wives; and when she thereupon divulged it, and God made this known to him, he acquainted [others] with some of it and passed over some of it. (4) And as soon as he let her know it, she asked, "Who has told thee this?" (5) - [to which] he replied, "The All-Knowing, the All-Aware has told me."

3 - See surah 2, note 21.

4 - Lit., "he turned aside from [or "avoided"] some of it". There is no reliable Tradition as to the subject of that confidential information. Some of the early commentators, however, connect it with the Prophet's veiled prediction that Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab would succeed him as leaders of the Muslim community; the recipient of the information is said to have been Hafsah, the daughter of Umar, and the one to whom she disclosed it, A'ishah, the daughter of Abu Bakr (Baghawi, on the, authority of Ibn Abbas and Al-Kalbi; also Zamakhshari). If this interpretation is correct, it would explain why the Prophet "acquainted [others] with some of it and passed over some of it": for, once his confidential prediction had been divulged, he saw no point in withholding it any longer from the community; nevertheless, he alluded to it in deliberately vague terms- possibly in order not to give to the succession of Abu Bakr and Umar the appearance of all "apostolic sanction" but to leave it, rather to a free decision of the community in pursuance of the Qur'anic principle amruhum shura baynahum (see 42:38).

5 - I.e., that she had broken the Prophet's confidence.

4. [Say, O Prophet: (6) ] "Would that you two turn unto God in repentance, for the hearts of both of you have swerved [from what is right]! (7) And if you uphold each other against him [who is God's message-bearer, know that] God Himself is his Protector, and [that,] therefore, (8) Gabriel, and all the righteous among the believers and all the [other] angels will come to his aid."

6 - Although in the sequence the Prophet is referred to in the third person, it is obvious that it is he who is commanded through revelation to speak thus to his wives Hafsah and A'ishah (see note 4); hence my above interpolation.

7 - Referring to Hafsah, who betrayed the Prophet's confidence, and to A'ishah, who by listening contributed to this betrayal (see note 4 above).

8 - Lit., "after that", i.e., in consequence of the fact that God Himself protects him.

5. [O wives of the Prophet!] Were he to divorce [any of] you, God might well give him in your stead spouses better than you - women who surrender themselves unto God, who truly believe, devoutly obey His will, turn [unto Him] in repentance [whenever they have sinned] worship [Him alone] and go on and on [seeking His goodly acceptance] (9) - be they women previously married or virggins. (10)

9 - For this rendering of the expression sa'ihat, see note 147 on 9:112, where the same expression occurs in the masculine gender relating to both men and women.

10 - I.e., like the actual wives of the Prophet, one of whom ("A'ishah) was a virgin when she married him, one (Zaynab bint Jahsh) had been divorced, while the others were widows. This allusion, together with the fact that the Prophet did not divorce any of his wives, as well as the purely hypothetical formulation of this passage, shows that it is meant to be an indirect admonition to the Prophet's wives, who, despite their occasional shortcomings - unavoidable in human beings - did possess the virtues referred to above. On a wider plane, it seems to be an admonition to all believers, men and women alike: and this explains the subsequent change in the discourse.

6. O YOU who have attained to faith! Ward off from yourselves and those who are close to you (11) that fire [of the hereafter] whose fuel is human beings and stones: (12) [lording] over it are angelic powers awesome [and] severe, (13) who do not disobey God in whatever He has commanded them, but [always] do what they are bidden to do. (14)

11 - Lit., "your families" or "your people"; however, the term ahl denotes also people who share one's race, religion, occupation, etc., as well as "dependants" in the most comprehensive sense of this word (Jawhari, Raghib; also Mughni).

12 - See surah 2, note 16.

13 - See 74:27 ff. and the corresponding notes, particularly notes 15 and 16, in which I have tried to explain the allegorical meaning of that passage.

14 - I.e., these angelic powers are subject to the God-willed law of cause and effect which dominates the realm of the spirit no less than the world of matter.

7. [Hence,] O you who are bent on denying the truth, make no [empty] excuses today: (15) [in the life to come] you shall be but recompensed for what you were doing [in this world].

15 - I.e., "do not try to rationalize your deliberate denial of the truth" - the element of conscious intent being immplied in the past-tense phrase alladhina kafaru (see note 6 on 2:6).

8. O you who have attained to faith! Turn unto God in sincere repentance: (16) it may well be .that your Sustainer will efface from you your bad deeds, and will admit you into gardens through which running waters flow, on a Day on which God will not shame the Prophet and those who share his faith: (17) their light will spread rapidly before them, and on their right; (18) [and] they will pray: "O our Sustainer! Cause this our light to shine for us forever, (19) and forgive us our sins: for, verily, Thou hast the power to will anything!"

16 - Sc., "since no human being, however imbued with faith, can ever remain entirely free from faults and temptations".

17 - The implication is that He will not only "not shame" the Prophet and his followers but will, on the contrary, exalt them: an idiomatic turn of phrase similar to sayings like "I shall let you know something that will not be to your detriment" - i.e., "something that will benefit you".

18 - Cf. 57:12 and the corresponding note 12.

19 - Lit., "Complete for us our light", i.e., by making it permanent.

9. O PROPHET! Strive hard against the deniers of the truth and the hypocrites, and be adamant with them. (20) And [if they do not repent,] their goal shall be hell - and how vile a journeys end!

20 - See note 101 on 9:73, which is identical with the above verse.

10. For those who are bent on denying the truth God has propounded a parable in [the stories of] Noah's wife and Lot's wife: they were wedded to two of Our righteous servants, and each one betrayed her husband; (21) and neither of the two [husbands] will be of any avail to these two women when they are told [on Judgment Day], "Enter the fire with all those [other sinners] who enter it!" (22)

21 - Lit., "and both betrayed them", i.e., their respective husbands. The story of Lot's wife and her spiritual betrayal of her husband is mentioned in the Qur'an in several places; see, in particular, note 66 on 7:83 and note 113 on 11:81. As regards Noah's wife, the above is the only explicit reference to her having betrayed her husband; it would seem, however, that the qualification of "those on whom [God's] sentence has already been passed" in 11:40 applies to her no less than to her son (whose story appears in 11:42-47).

22 - The "parable" (mathal) of these two women implies, firstly, that even the most intimate relationship with a truly righteous person - even though he be a prophet - cannot save an unrepentant sinner from the consequences of his sin; and, secondly, that a true believer must cut himself off from any association with "those who are bent on denying the truth" even if they happen to be those nearest and dearest to him (cf. 11:46).

11. And for those who have attained to faith God has propounded a parable in [the story of] Pharaoh's wife (23) as she prayed "O my Sustainer! Build Thou for me a mansion in the paradise [that is] with Thee, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings, and save me, from all evildoing folk!

23 - Cf. 28:8-9.

12. And [We have propounded yet another parable of God-consciousness in the story of] Mary, the daughter of Imran, (24) who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed of Our spirit into that [which was in her womb], (25) and who accepted the truth of her Sustainers words - and [thus,] of His revelations (26) - and was one of the truly devout.

24 - I.e., a descendant of the House of 'lmran (cf. the last third of note 22 on 3:33).

25 - I.e., into the as yet unborn child (Razi, thus explaining the pronoun in fihi). For an explanation of the much-misunderstood allegorical phrase, "We breathed of Our spirit into it", see note 87 on 21:91.

26 - For the meaning of God's "words" (kalimat), see note 28 on 3:39.