About whom and why were the first five verses of the chapter of at-Tahrim sent down?

The Details of the Question

- It is claimed that they were sent down about Hz. Aisha and Hz. Hafsa. Is it true?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

When the narrations about the incidents mentioned in the sources of tafsir and hadith books about the reasons why those verses were sent down are considered separately, they shed light on the issue but it seems more appropriate to make an interpretation based on the expression of the verses as Tabari states.

Accordingly, the meaning deduced from the 1st verse is as follows: The Prophet prohibited himself from something that was essentially lawful; he was informed by Allah that it was not appropriate for him to force himself into such deprivation for the sake of his wives or because of them; he was reminded in verse 2 that even if such a decision was made by taking an oath, it was religiously possible to give up the oaths that were not suitable to fulfil by paying kaffarah (atonement money). (1)

The subject of the prohibition could be not approaching his female slave, not eating or drinking something, or another thing. Although it is not certain whether the Prophet took an oath when he decided this prohibition for himself or not, there are some narrations that he took an oath. The word 'i’la' mentioned in them has been understood by some scholars as an oath not to approach his wives for a certain period of time in the sense it is mentioned in the chapter of al-Baqara 2/226, and by others as an oath in absolute sense. It is not certain whether the Messenger of Allah paid kafarah or not for his oath after those verses were sent down. The narration that he paid has been evaluated in different ways (such as the atonement for the oath, which is a religious obligation, sadaqah as a precaution, or an expression of gratitude). Although there are differences in the narrations about the wives mentioned in verse 3, Hafsa is regarded as the wife to whom the secret was given a secret and Aisha as the wife to whom this secret was revealed; it is generally accepted that the two women addressed in the verse are Hz. Aisha and Hz. Hafsa (2)

The conclusion Elmalı reached after analyzing the narrations regarding the issue is as follows in summary: The Prophet told one of his wives as a secret but she could not keep it as a secret and told it to another wife of the Prophet of whom she was a very close friend; the Prophet was informed about it and reproached her; thereupon, the two wives supported each other and asked some material things from him and formed a solidarity that involved the other wives. Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah abandoned his usual family life, took an oath of i’la (keeping away from women) and retired into his room huffily for a month instead of going to the rooms of his wives in order to show the worthlessness of worldly life in his eye and to give a lesson to his wives.

It was not noticed at first because it was a sunnah of the Messenger of Allah to retire into seclusion for a while from time to time. However, after a while, all of the wives of the Messenger of Allah got sad and started to weep in their rooms because of fearing to have offended him. Thus, a rumor that "The Prophet divorced all his wives" was spread and the Companions were in a panic. On the other hand, the hypocrites were very pleased with this rumor as the news that the Ghassanis, who were among the Christian Arabs living under the Byzantine rule in Syria, were preparing for war against the Muslims. The Prophet returned to his wives at the end of the 29th day of his retreat; Hz. Umar announced joyfully that the Prophet had not divorced his wives. The main reason for the revelation of this chapter is this oath of “i’la”; the other incidents that are narrated must be the reasons that led to it. (3)

There is no doubt that a solution to a problem experienced at that time was introduced with these verses, in which the concrete narrative style referring to certain incidents was chosen based on the necessity of showing examples from the life of the Prophet; and the revelation of the verses was effective in raising the sample generation. However, it seems that the permanent message to be given here has two main points:

a) The nature of prophethood: That the message of Jesus, who was the last one of the prophets before the Messenger of Allah, was not perceived correctly and that deity was attributed to him, that a class of clerics who isolated themselves from society among his followers and in some other religions formed and their using authority in the name of God were phenomena that were criticized by the Quran. The Prophet warned his ummah so that they would not to fall into a similar situation. At that time, when there was not much time left for the completion of the lofty duty of the Messenger of Allah, it was of special importance that it was emphasized in brief that the Messenger of Allah was a human being and that he could not impose a religious decree outside the control of divine revelation.

The address "O Prophet" in the first verse states clearly the ability of the Prophet to receive revelation and his duty of conveying the Quran to people and explaining it. The statement "Why holdest thou to be forbidden that which Allah has made lawful to thee?" attracts attention to the issue how the deeds of the Prophet that include religious content due to this characteristic will be perceived by the people around him on the one hand and to the fact that he is a human being on the other hand. In other words, the verb (4) in the verse does not refer to the religious term "rendering haram"; it does not mean that the Prophet attempted to change what Allah rendered halal and that the revelation corrected it either. The context and the incidents that are mentioned as the reason for the revelation of the verses show that there is a temporary prohibition imposed by the Messenger of Allah for himself as a human being and that the verse was sent down as a measure against misunderstanding. That the statement "Thou seekest to please thy consorts" is included in a special way makes the meaning clearer. The fact that the decree about dissolving oaths when necessary is attributed to Allah in verse 2 expresses that the Prophet cannot make a decision spontaneously and that the actual will of making decrees belongs to Allah.

b) The importance of family responsibility and the decree of polygamy: Based on the reality of the society, which was the first addressee of the Quran, the number of women to be married was limited as four, to be allowed in exceptional cases, but men are ordered to be content with one woman if there is a risk of treating them unequally and then the reason for marrying one woman is explained as follows:  "That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice." " (5) In the verses of our topic, an example from the family life of the Messenger of Allah is given as a clear proof of the human reality expressed in the statement "You cannot behave fairly among women no matter how much you fall on them" (6), and the specific difficulties of family life are pointed out. It is shown that even the Prophet, who was deemed appropriate to be married to multiple women after a certain period of his life due to some wisdoms and social reasons, was unable to eliminate this fact as a human being and hence the message that the purpose of the decree of marrying more than one woman should be carefully considered is given. As a matter of fact, since the deeds and characteristics of the Messenger of Allah such as eating, drinking and family life are related to his human aspect, he was not asked to transcend this reality in human nature by extraordinary means; it was only deemed appropriate for him to remind his wives their position and to ask them to make a choice by addressing their minds and hearts in the following verse:

"O Prophet! Say to thy Consorts: ‘If it be that ye desire the life of this World, and its glitter,- then come! I will provide for your enjoyment and set you free in a handsome manner. But if ye seek Allah and His Messenger, and the Home of the Hereafter, verily Allah has prepared for the well-doers amongst you a great reward.’"(7)

The existence of an abstract warning phrase addressing all believers in verse 6 after the completion of this example regarding the private life of the Prophet shows that one of the main messages of the example in question is to indicate the weight of family responsibility. If it is considered that the events that are reported as the reason for the revelation of the verses in question have a common point showing that the Prophet made such a decision of prohibition about himself because of a disagreement among his wives due to jealousy or their request for a more prosperous life from him, it is interesting that the reasons are related to two basic problems: the first reason being polygamy, and the second reason being the desire to raise the standard of living and to improve the level of welfare, which is valid for almost all family relationships at all times.

There are many verses showing that obeying the requirements of the Prophet's attribute of prophethood, that is, adopting the decrees he conveyed, is considered as obedience to Allah but there are also many warnings in the Quran and hadiths reminding that he is a human being should not be understood as his being an ordinary person and that his exemplary personality should not be ignored. The fact that this chapter comes immediately after the chapter of at-Talaq, which bases termination of marriage on certain rules, in the arrangement of the chapters in the Quran, has a special meaning regarding the exemplary position of the Messenger of Allah regarding the issue:

As it is explained in the first verse of the chapter of at-Talaq, the surah starts with "O Prophet", but the verbs are used in the plural form; thus, the believers are also addressed when the Messenger of Allah is addressed, and the decrees that should be followed in case of a termination of marriage are mentioned. In verse 5, his wives are addressed as follows: "It may be, if he divorced you (all), that Allah will give him in exchange consorts better than you." The marriage life of the Prophet is mentioned directly but a phrase that includes a supposition is used: "if he divorced you". As it is also supported by historical information, the verse shows that the Prophet, who married several women due to some reasons related to his duty and became a model in the eyes of believers in terms of being a good husband, never resorted to divorce despite all difficulties.

The part of the first verse translated as "to please thy consorts" can also be translated as "by seeking their consent" and be attributed to the question "Why holdest thou to be forbidden?"; it can also be considered as a separate sentence. (8)

Since the verb "farada" in the verse means both "rendered it fard, made it obligatory" and "explained", it is possible to understand the statement translated as "Allah has already ordained for you, (O men), the dissolution of your oaths (in some cases)", it is possible to understand it as "He ordered you to break your oaths and pay kaffarah" or "He explained how to break your oaths". (9) The word "tahilla" in the verse also means "to except from oath" in addition to its meaning "to dissolve". (10) On the other hand, fiqh scholars discussed whether or not a person's forbidding something that is essentially halal would be considered an oath requiring kaffarah and reached different conclusions. (12)

As it is stated in the verse, the Prophet did not tell all of the information he had been given by Allah and did not want to embarrass his wife though she revealed his secret. Telling some of it became a duty to be fulfilled due to the divine warning to be given on this issue. When the style of expression in this verse is taken into consideration, it is noticed that the behavior of the Messenger of Allah is far from being artificial in family life, as well as in other fields, and that he displays an attitude that underlines his characteristic of being a good husband. That even a woman who had the honor of being a wife of the Prophet forgot for a moment that he received revelation from Allah and asked, "Who told thee this?" shows it clearly.

On the occasion of the incident referred to in this verse, it is indirectly stated that it is necessary to be careful about keeping secrets and that those who are in a position of keeping secrets are under a heavy responsibility. In Islamic ethics, keeping a secret is called "being tight-lipped". Two main ways of keeping secrets are mentioned in the books ethics:

a) A person’s keeping his personal secrets hidden and not telling them to others.

b) A person who has been given a secret by being trusted keeping this secret as his own secret unless the owner of the secret gives permission to reveal it. Islamic ethicists regard secret as something entrusted and they regard making it known (revealing it to others) as a treason.

Attracting attention to the fact that so much blood was shed and many hopes were wasted because of revealed secrets, Mawardi states that keeping secrets is one of the most important reasons of success and flexibility in human life. He cites Hz. Ali's following aphorism: "Your secret is your prisoner; if you reveal your secret, you will be its prisoner." (12)

Explanations that are made about what the secret mentioned in this verse generally depend on the incidents that are mentioned as the reason for the revelation of the verse (The Messenger of Allah deciding not to approach Mariya again or not drinking honey sherbet again near his wife whom his others wife are jealous of.) According to a narration, the Messenger of Allah gave the knowledge to his wife Hafsa that Abu Bakr and Umar would become caliphs after him as a secret but she could not be patient and told it to Aisha; this is indicated in the verse. Elmalılı argues that this possibility is stronger as follows in summary:

"The main issue is not the greatness of the secret told; it is about the fact that a secret is great since it is a secret even if it is small. However, if the context of the verses, especially the severe criticism in verse 4, are considered, it is more appropriate for the secret that is revealed to be related to the caliphate, not the issues mentioned above. That this narration reported in tafsir books is not included in Kutub as-Sitta does not necessarily mean that it is not sound. If the narrations including the information that Abu Bkar and Umar would be caliphs about the hadith of secret had not been reliable and had not been reported from Hz. Ali through various chains, the notable scholars of Shiite would have not even taken them into consideration." (13)

However, as Elmalılı stated – before -, the verse is about a statement that should remain as a secret between husband and wife, and neither the name of the wife nor the content of this statement is intended to be explained; therefore, Allah Almighty did not mention her name and the statement in the verse, warning us that even those who know such secrets in the family should not reveal them.

Although there are some interpretations that what is meant by the phrase translated as "righteous one among those who believe" in verse 4 is interpreted that some of the notables of the Companions, many tafsir scholars state that it would not be appropriate to restrict the meaning. (14) That belief in angels is emphasized strongly in verses 4 and 6 can be associated with the fact that the issue of keeping secrets has an important place in the chapter: A person who believes that there are beings that have been assigned to record all his words and actions and that he cannot see will definitely avoid revealing the secret – even if in a way that owner of the secret will not know – and being a traitor and will act more carefully in this regard. However, in order to attract attention to the fact that angels are beings appointed by Allah, His friendship and guardianship are mentioned first, and it is reminded in verse 6 that they never oppose divine commands. (15)


(1) see al-Maida 5/89
(2) see Tabari, XXVIII, 155-159; Elmalılı, VII, 5084-5116; Darwaza, X, 143-149
(3) VII, 5084-5085,5094,5113, 5115
(4) For instance, al-A'raf 7/32; at-Tawba 9/37
(5) an-Nisa 4/3
(6) an-Nisa 4/129
(7) see also al-Ahzab 33/28-29
(8) Shawkani, V.288
(9) Razi, XXX, 43
(10) Zamakhshari, IV, 113-114
(11) see Shawkani, V, 288; Ibn Ashur, XXVIII, 348-349
(12) For information, see Mustafa Çağrıcı, "Sır", İFAV Ans., IV, 118-119
(13) see Elmalılı, VII, 5110-5114
(14) see Ibn Atiyya, V, 332
(15) For information about angels, see al-Baqara 2/30; For information about Jibril, see al-Baqara 2/87,97-98; for the word "saihat" mentioned in verse 5 and translated as "who travel (for Faith)", see at-Tawba 9/112. Ibn Ashur analyzes the elements of the expressions in the verses and deals with the meanings that can be deduced in terms of family education, etiquette and advice separately. see XXVIII, 346 ff, especially 350-351

(Prof. Dr. Hayrettin Karaman, Prof. Dr. Mustafa Çağrıcı, Prof. Dr. İbrahim Kafi Dönmez, Prof. Dr. Sabrettin Gümüş, Kur’an Yolu: V/328-334. Diyanet Tefsiri)

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