CHAPTER XI / To Honour Promises and Covenants

To Honour Promises and Covenants

Let's Read more

This general reminder concludes the relaxing passage.

Now the surah moves to the second set of laws which comprise more details of the practical manifestation of the second quality of righteousness mentioned in general terms in verse 177.

This quality is to be true to one’s commitments and to honour one’s promises and pledges.

The surah chooses the contract most deserving of being honoured;

that is, marriage and all that it entails of establishing a family, and the rights of the family members.

The family is the first environment where a person receives his or her training to deal well with others and to purge oneself of selfishness.

Besides, when matters are set right in the small social set up of the family, they are likely to be set right in the larger set up of a local, and then a national, community.

How will the surah make its progress to this second set of details?

Will it turn suddenly to discuss the details of complicated domestic issues?

Here the surah has an edifying purpose and it does not serve that purpose to lay down a host of instructions without preparing us for what is to come.

In fact, the surah makes its route to outlining them easily, using a platform of questions and answers.

The first of these questions relate to the earlier legislation governing spending and jihad, (2: 215-218),

while the last are closely linked to legislation still to come, such as the regulations concerning orphans and and how to manage their affairs, conditions for accepting a proposal of marriage, and restrictions on marital relationship. (2: 220-222.)

Here, we need to reflect seriously on this fine and detailed pattern and ask how its various pieces have all been slotted into place.

How could this have happened without the events providing its subject matter all materialising, or if some of them failed to take place?

Alternatively, what if they had all taken place but without raising the relevant questions in people’s minds?

We see here destiny serving the setting order of the Qur’an. It first ensures that events take place in a particular way to provide the subject matter to be discussed,

then raises questions in people’s minds and from these they formulate their requests for instruction.

All that is left for us to do is to declare our belief that the One who controls time and its events is indeed the One who reveals the Qur’an.

“His is all creation and all command. Hallowed be God, the Lord of all the worlds.”

(7: 54.)

This easy progress leads to the discussion of the central points in the second set of legislation, leaving no gap and resorting to no sudden departure.

Verses 223-237 provide a complete code of conduct for family life.

This comes in two parts: the first deals with family matters when the family is together, (2: 223-232),

while the second provides the rules to deal with the break up of family life,(2: 233-237).

Consider, if you will, this set of rules given in the surah, and study the events leading to its revelation.

You will find that each issue referred to in these verses provides a verdict on a particular event that has no relation or bearing on the other events.

Now look carefully at the style employed here to outline these rules and regulations and try hard to find in it any trace of disjointed speech,

or determine whether there is any point where two different parts are joined or welded together.

All your attempts in this regard will be in vain.

You will only find here a single whole, made up of a single fabric, although numerous elements are used in its manufacture.

Let us consider the line of discussion. It begins first with laying the foundation, emphasising the right to sexual relations within marriage, (2: 223).

It follows this with an order to refrain from making any oaths to restrict such sacred rights,

whether the oath entails the withholding of kindness from anyone who is entitled to it, or to severing a bond which God wants to be maintained, (2: 224-225).

It then goes on to lay down rules covering a certain part of this principle relating to marital life.

That is, the rules in the case of a man who swears not to touch his wife, (2: 226-227).

This leads directly to the rules governing divorce and what rights and duties apply after divorce, (the verses beginning with 2: 238).

If you look now with admiration at this logical flow treating complex issues that were widely separate to start with,

raised by uncoordinated events, I will point out to you a particle which illustrates the perfect design that brings together all these divergent elements making of them a complete and coherent whole.

This is the conjunction that facilitates the progress from the rules on the case of swearing not to touch one’s wife to the rules of divorce.

“Those who take an oath that they will not approach their wives shall have four months of grace. Then, if they go back on their oaths, God is much-forgiving, merciful. And if they are resolved on divorce, [let them remember that] God hears all and knows all. Divorced women shall wait….”

(2: 226-8.)

Consider how the rule on swearing not to approach one’s wife has been phrased in such a way that prepares us for tempestuous situations that could lead to divorce.

Thus, when divorce is discussed in detail immediately afterwards, the discussion flows naturally and falls perfectly into place.

In fact, the tail of the first rule serves as an opening leading to the next point.

When the rules on divorce begin they are felt to be a natural progression. Indeed, the whole discussion sounds as the treatment of a single topic with no gap between its parts.

Had the Qur’an been the work of Muhammad, who could have informed him in advance that he would be one day asked to provide detailed rules on divorce?

Who could have told him that he would then be able to give a detailed answer which was also joined to the rules on vowing not to touch one’s wife.

How could he have known that the proper flow of speech would necessitate that these latter rules, which he was outlining earlier,

should be so arranged that they refer in the final instance to the possibility of divorce in order to fit with the answers he had yet to give to questions which would be asked of him later?

How could he have known in advance that this would be the only way to join the rules together when they were to be outlined and explained?

Such knowledge of future events belongs to no human being.

It is the preserve of the One who knows everything that is present or hidden, the One who has shaped every creature and guided them all on their respective courses.

The surah moves on along its new course, giving details of the legislation on divorce and all that it entails:

a waiting period, re-marriage of divorcees, khulᶜ or the termination of marriage at the wife’s request,

breast-feeding by divorced mothers or by wet nurses, marriage proposals, dowries, the right of a divorced woman to compensation, etc. This second set takes us up to verse 237.

The third set is presented in verses 238-274, and begins with the instruction, “Attend regularly to your prayers, particularly the middle prayer.”

But how is this switch from the second to the third set of rules achieved?

We find here a complete contrast with the earlier switch from the first to the second set of rules. There the transition is made so easy, providing ample time for relaxation.

Here the opposite is true.

The transition is made so suddenly that one may think it an abrupt departure made in the interests of brevity.

But that is only a superficial view.

A more comprehensive view of the progress of discussion, however, one following the line determined in verse 177 outlining the qualities of righteousness, shows a totally different picture.

The surah has now covered two thirds of the qualities outlined, beginning with the discussion of patience in misfortune,

adversity and in times of peril, then moving to honouring promises and commitments.

It is now time to speak about the last third which includes such elements as prayer, zakat, and making financial sacrifices for God’s cause.

This discussion comes here at its fitting place in accordance with the outline made in the earlier verse.

Page IX

An Abrupt or a Prepared Switch?

Someone may yet say that the transition remains abrupt, unprepared. The fact is that it is not so.