Surah 24. An-Nur

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Period of Revelation

The consensus of opinion among the commentators of the Qur'an is that this Surah was sent down after the campaign against Bani Al-Mustaliq which took place after the Battle of the Trench in 6 A.H., at the occasion of slander against the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, Sayyidah Aeysha (Allah be please with her), who accompanied him in this campaign.

Major Issues, Divine Laws, and Guidance
  1. Laws relating to
    1. the punishment for rape, fornication and adultery.
    2. the punishment for bearing false witness relating to any of these crime.
    3. Layan (bearing witness against one's own wife when there is no other witness in a case of adultery). Slander against the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah's declaration of her innocence, and admonition to those who were involved in that scandal.
  2. Regulations relating to entering houses other than your own.
  3. Regulations relating to mixed gatherings of males and females.
  4. Allah's commandment to singles about getting married.
  5. Allah's commandment to help slaves in getting their freedom.
  6. The fact that Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
  7. The fact that Allah has created every living creature from water.
  8. True believers are those who, when called towards Allah and His Rasool, say: "We hear and we obey."
  9. Regulations relating to:
  10. a) entering the room of a married couple.
  11. b) eating at houses other than one's own.
  12. Allah's commandment for attending meetings which are called for discussions and decisions about taking collective actions.
Social Reforms enacted in this Surah and their background:

After the victory at Badr, the Islamic movement began to gain strength and at the Battle of the Trench, it had become clear that the united forces of the unbelievers, numbering over ten thousand, could not crush the Islamic movement. Both the parties understood well, that the war of aggression which the unbelievers had been waging against Muslims for several years, had come to an end. On that occasion the Prophet himself said to the believers: "After this year, the Qureysh will not be able to attack you; you will take the offensive against them."

After the defeat in the Battle of the Trench the unbelievers realized that the Muslims could not be defeated on the battlefield and that the rise of Islam was not due to the numerical strength of the Muslims nor to their superior arms and material resources, since the Muslims were fighting against fearful odds on all these fronts. Their success was due to their moral superiority. The pure and noble qualities of the 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, they were defeating the mushrikin and the Jews both, therefore, they chose the moral front to carry on the conflict.

They got the first opportunity when in Dhul-Qa'dah 5 A.H. the Prophet married Zainab (abph), the divorced wife of his adopted son, Zaid bin Harithah (abph). The Prophet married Zainab in accordance with the commandment of Allah to put an end to a custom of ignorance, which had given the same status to the adopted son as that of a son from one's own loins. The hypocrites, the Jews, and the mushrikin considered it a golden opportunity to exploit the situation to vilify the Prophet and to ruin his high reputation with a malicious slander through concocting a story in the following words: "One day Muhammad (pbuh) happened to see the wife of his adopted son and fell in love with her; he maneuvered her divorce and married her." Though this was an absurd fiction, it was spread with such skill and cunning that it succeeded in its purpose to the extent that some Muslim commentators also have cited some parts of it in their writings, and the orientalists have wilfully exploited it to vilify the Prophet. The fact is that Zainab (abph) was never a stranger to the Prophet. She was his first cousin, being the daughter of his real paternal aunt, Umaimah, daughter of Abdul Muttalib, his real grand father. He had known her from her childhood to her youth. Just one year before this incident, he himself had persuaded her to marry Zaid (abph), who was a slave and to whom the Prophet had freed and then adopted as his son, this was to demonstrate that in Islam, even a freed slave has rights equal to that of Qureysh. But Zainab (abph) could not reconcile her psychological reservation about marriage with a liberated slave. Therefore, she and her husband could not continue together for long, which inevitably led to their divorce.

The second slander was made on the honor of Sayyidah Aeysha (abph), a wife of the Prophet, in connection with an incident which occurred while he was returning from the Campaign against the Bani Al-Mustaliq. This attack was even more severe than the first one and was the main reason for the revelation of this Surah. The mischief that was engineered by Abdullah bin Ubayy through this slander was to attack the honor of the Prophet and Sayyiduna Abu Bakr Siddiq (abph), who was the father of Sayyidah Aeysha (abph), to undermine the high moral superiority which was the greatest asset of the Islamic Movement and to ignite civil war between the Muhajirin and the Ansar, and between Aus and Khazraj, the two clans of the Ansar.

Laws & Guidance

This Surah was revealed to strengthen the moral fiber of the Muslim society, which had been shaken by the slander against Sayyidah Aeysha. The following laws and guidance are given to reform the Muslim community:

  1. Rape, adultery and fornication which had already been declared to be social crimes in Surah Al-Ahzab (vv. 15,16) are now made criminal offences and the one proven guilty is to be punished.
  2. Muslims are enjoined to boycott adulterous men and women and are forbidden to have any marriage relations with them.
  3. One who accuses another of adultery but fails to produce four witnesses, is to be punished with eighty lashes.
  4. The law of Layan is enacted to provide the method for a husband to bear witness against his own wife in a case of adultery when there are no other witnesses, and also provides the wife a method to refute his testimony.
  5. The Muslims are enjoined to learn this lesson from the incident of the slander about Sayyidah Aeysha, and advise the Muslims as follows: "You should be very cautious about the charges of adultery against people of good reputation, and instead of spreading such a rumor, you should refute and suppress them immediately." In this connection, a general principle is enunciated that the proper spouse for a pure man is a pure woman, for he cannot get along with a wicked woman for long, and the same is the case with a pure woman. The Muslims are admonished as follows: "When you know that the Prophet is the purest of all human beings, how could you believe that he could live with a wicked woman and exalt her as the most beloved of his wives? For it is obvious that an adulterous woman could not have been able to deceive a pure man like the Prophet. You should have considered the fact that the accuser is a mean person while the accused is a pure woman. This should have been enough to convince you that the accusation is not worth your attention.
  6. Those who spread evil rumors and propagate wickedness in the Muslim community deserve punishment and not encouragement.
  7. Relations in the Muslim community should be based on good faith and not on suspicion: everyone is innocent unless he/she is proved guilty.
  8. People are forbidden to enter houses other than their own without seeking permission.
  9. Both men and women are instructed to lower their gaze when they come in contact with each other.
  10. Women are enjoined to cover their heads and breasts, not to display their beauty before other men except their servants or such relatives with whom their marriage is prohibited, hide their charms and not to put on jingling ornaments when they go out of their homes.
  11. Marriage is encouraged and enjoined even for slaves, because unmarried people are more prone to indecency.
  12. The institution of slavery is discouraged. Slave owners and other people are enjoined to give financial help to slaves to earn their freedom under the law of Mukatabat (contract).
  13. Prostitution by slave girls is forbidden, for prostitution in Arabia was confined to this class alone.
  14. Respect for privacy in home life is enjoined even for servants and children, including one's own. They are enjoined not to enter the private rooms of any man or woman without permission; especially in the morning, at noon and at night.
  15. Elderly women are given the concession that they can set aside their head covers when they are inside their homes but should refrain from display of adornments.
  16. The Muslims are encouraged to develop close relationships by taking their meals together. Nearest relatives and intimate friends are allowed to take their meals in each other's home without any formal invitation.
  17. Clear differences between believers and hypocrites are stated to enable every Muslim to discriminate between the two. At the same time the community is bound together by adopting disciplinary measures in order to make it stronger and firmer and to discourage enemies from creating mischief in it.

The most conspicuous thing about this Surah is that it is free from the bitterness which inevitably follows such shameful and absurd attacks as the lies circulated about the wife of the Prophet. Instead of showing any wrath at this provocation, it prescribes laws and regulations. It contains reformative commandments and wise instructions that were needed at that time for the education and training of the newly formed Muslim community.

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