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Period of Revelation

There is no tradition to indicate when this incident of pleading and arguing took place, but there is a hint in the subject matter of the Surah on the basis of which it can be said with certainty that it happened some time after the Battle of the Trench (Shawwal, 5 A. H.). In Surah Al-Ahzab, Allah, while negating that an adopted son could be one's real son, said: "And Allah has not made those of your wives whom you divorce by Zihar your mothers." But in that Surah there was nothing to the effect that to divorce a wife by Zihar was a sin or a crime, nor anything about the legal injunction concerning it. Contrary to it, in this Surah the whole law relating to Zihar has been laid down, which shows that these detailed injunctions were sent down some time after the brief reference to it in Surah Al-Ahzab.

Major Issues, Divine Laws and Guidance
  1. The pagan practice of divorce through Zihar (calling one's wife as one's mother) is prohibited.
  2. The penalty for practicing 'Zihar.'
  3. Allah is Omnipresent, if three persons converse in secret, he is the fourth of them.
  4. Secret counsels are forbidden except when they are for virtue and piety.
  5. Conspiring in secret is the work of Shaitan.
  6. Etiquettes of holding a meeting.
  7. Order to spend in charity before consulting the Rasool in private.
  8. Those who befriend those who are under the wrath of Allah will be severely punished.
  9. True believers do not befriend those who oppose Allah and His Rasool.

In this Surah, instructions have been given to the Muslims about the different problems that confronted them at that time. From the beginning of the Surah to verse 6, legal injunctions about Zihar are given. The Muslims are strictly warned that they should not persist in the practices of ignorance after they have accepted Islam.

In vv. 7-10 the hypocrites are taken to task for their secret consultations by which they conspired against the Prophet (pbuh) and, because of their hidden malice and grudge, they used to greet him, like the Jews, in a manner as to wish him ill instead of well. In this connection the Muslims are consoled: "These secret consultations of the hypocrites can do no harm to you; therefore, you should go on doing your duty with full trust in Allah". Besides, they are also taught: "The true believers, when they talk secretly together, do not talk of sin and transgression and disobedience to the Messenger. If they have to talk secretly together they should talk of goodness and piety."

In vv. 11-13 the Muslims are taught manners of social behavior and given instructions to eradicate social evils which were prevalent among the people then as they are today. In the case of people sitting in an assembly, when more people arrive, they do not even show the courtesy to squeeze together to make room for others. The result being that the newcomers have to keep standing, sit in the doorway, to leave or seeing that there is still not enough room start jumping over the peoples' heads to find room for themselves. This often used to be experienced in the Prophet's assemblies. Therefore, Allah gave the instruction: "Do not behave selfishly and narrow-mindedly in your assemblies. Accommodate the newcomers also with an open heart."

From verse 14 to the end of the Surah, members of the Muslim society - which was a mixture of the sincere Muslims, the hypocrites and the waverers - have been told plainly as to what is the criterion of sincerity in Islam:

Some so called Muslims are those who befriend the enemies of Islam: they do not hesitate for the sake of their interests to be treacherous to the religion which they profess to believe in; they spread all sorts of doubts and suspicions against Islam and prevent the people from adopting the Way of Allah. But since they are part of the Muslim community their false profession of Faith serves them as a cover and shield.

Other kind of Muslim are those who, in the matter of Allah's Religion, do not care even for their own father, brother, children and family, to say nothing of others. They do not cherish any feeling of love for the person who is an enemy of Allah, His Rasool and His Religion.

In these verses, Allah explicitly states that the people of the first kind, in fact, belong to Satan's party however hard they may try to convince others of their Islam by swearing oaths. The honor of belonging to Allah's party is possessed only by the Muslims of the second kind. They alone are the true Muslims, they alone will attain to true success and with them alone is Allah well pleased.