By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed
11 August 2015
(Published Exclusively On New Age
Islam with Permission of the Authors and Publishers)
26. Intoxicants & Gambling
26.1. Qur’anic Exhortations against
Intoxicants and Gambling
The Qur'an introduces its restrictions on
intoxicants and gambling in phases, beginning with a general exhortation
“They ask you (O Muhammad,) concerning
intoxicants and gambling. Say: ‘There is grave sin as well as some benefits for
people in both of them; but their sin is greater than their benefit;’ and they
ask you (O Muhammad,) concerning what to spend (in God’s way). Say: ‘the
surplus.’ Thus does God clarify the messages to you that you may reflect”
At a later stage, the believers are asked
not to approach prayer in a state of intoxication or when mental faculty is
impaired, such as due to influence of drugs, giddiness or any reason (4:43).1
who believe, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated (Sukara) until
you know what you say…” (4:43).
In the final phase (5:90/91), the Qur’an
speaks about the social vices of drinking and gambling and asks the believers
to keep away from them:
“You who believe, intoxicants and gambling,
idols and raffles are defilements from the work of Satan, so abstain from them
that you may succeed (5:90). Satan desires to create enmity and hatred among
you with intoxicants and gambling, and to keep you from the remembrance of God,
and from prayer. So, will you not desist” (5:91)?
No matter the semantics, it goes without
saying that the above verses advocate abstinence from all forms of intoxicants
and gambling, while a vast number of Prophetic traditions place the Qur’anic
admonition regarding intoxicant and gambling in the binding (Hurmah)
26.2. Supreme Significance of Deeds And Heedfulness
The verse 5:93 belonging to the last
revealed Sura of the Qur'an lays special emphasis on good deeds and heedfulness
(Taqwa), by pronouncing each of these precepts thrice (underlined below):
“Those who believe and do good deeds shall not
be blamed for what they may eat (or drink) (fima ta‘imu,) so long as they heed
(Attaqu), and believe, and do good deeds; so long as they heed (attaqu), and
believe; so long as they heed (attaqu), and do good (Remember,) God loves the
compassionate ” (5:93).
The phrase fima ta‘imu (rendered in bold)
carries a seeming liberty on what ‘one may eat and drink,’ or, literally what
one ‘may have eaten and drank,’ so long as he does good deeds and remains
heedful, that is, practices taqwa. Most interpreters have, however, added a
qualifying bracket: ‘(in the past)' after the reference to ‘eating’, implying
that God will not blame Muslims for what they ate or drank before conversion to
Islam, provided they remained committed to good deeds and heedfulness (taqwa) after
embracing faith. Such an interpretation has some difficulty.
The Qur’an affirms that all past (sins) are
forgiven when the disbelievers embrace Islam.2 Thus, there can be no question
of the Qur’an making the forgiveness of past sins contingent to the doing of
good deeds after embracing faith, as the additional qualifying bracket implies.
Therefore, as advocated by Muhammad Asad,3 and reflected in our rendering, the
‘eating’ action referred to in the verse applies to any time a person may eat
or drink any thing.
This verse would appear to remind those
believers who may be painstakingly complying with Qur’anic dietary precepts
(Ch. 25), that they will be judged primarily on the basis of their deeds and
heedfulness (Taqwa), rather than by what they ate or drank. This argument is
consistent with the Qur’an’s broader message on Halal and Haram (6:151-153/Ch.
19.1), and can hardly be perceived as a bid at intellectualization, as some may
The foregoing proposition may, however, be
turned around by arguing that anyone who wilfully partakes of the forbidden
(Haram) category of food defaults on heedfulness (Taqwa), and therefore, he
must comply with the Qur’anic dietary instructions to avoid incurring blame in
God’s sight. God knows best.
The verb ta‘ima primarily applies to eating
and drinking. Muhammad Asad, however, notes that in a broader sense, it may
also be interpreted to imply the partaking of all good things in life,4 Thus,
the verse seemingly removes any taboo on undue austerity in dietary or living
habits, so long as a believer remains committed to taqwa and good deeds. The
Qur’an further clarifies its message in yet another verse from the same period:
“You who believe, do not forbid the good
things God has made lawful for you, but do not exceed limits. Indeed God does
not love those who exceed limits” (5:87).
Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 4, Note 54.
Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap.5, Note 108.
27. Thoughtless Oaths
In the Prophet’s era, oaths played a
significant role in personal and family lives. Thus a man could temporarily
abandon his wife by taking an oath (Ayman),1 which he could break at will.2 As
a prelude to introducing its laws on divorce (beginning with 2:226/Ch. 34.1),
the Qur’an exhorts the believers to refrain from upsetting peace and harmony in
the family or society by taking thoughtless oaths (2:224/225).
“Do not make God an excuse for your oaths
(ayman) that would prevent your being virtuous (Tabarru), or heedful (Tattaqu),
or reconciliatory among people. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Aware”
(2:224). God will not take you to account for any frivolity in your oaths, but
He will take you to account for the intention* in your hearts. (Indeed) He is
Most Forgiving and Gracious” (2:225). *[Lit., ‘earnings’]
However, the breaking of an oath taken in
earnest is a sin (16:91) that needs to be atoned (5:89).
“God will not take you to account for
thoughtlessness in your oaths - but He will take you to account for the oaths
which you swear, in earnest, the expiation for which is the feeding of ten
needy persons with the average of what you would feed your own families, or
clothing them, or freeing a slave; but if anyone cannot afford (this), then it
is fasting for three days. This is the expiation of your oaths that you have
sworn, but (it is better that) you keep your oaths. Thus does God clarify His
messages to you, that you may be grateful (to Him)” (5:89).
“Fulfil the promise to God, once you have
pledged, and do not break any oaths after having confirmed them, as you have
made God your surety. Indeed God knows what you do” (16:91).
Finally, it needs explaining that in the
Qur’anic context oath (Ayman) is a personal pledge aimed at denying oneself of
any good thing that the Law of Islam does not prohibit,3 or giving up a lawful
habit or pursuit.
The Qur’anic word Ayman, rendered as ‘oath’ must not be confused with
the notions of ‘testimony’, and ‘commitment’ for which the Qur’an uses the
roots ShHD and AHD respectively.
This custom was however abolished with the introduction of divorce laws,
beginning with the verse 2:226, which succeeds 2:225 above on thoughtless
Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap.5, Notes
28. On Personal Clothing And Modesty
28.1. Significance Of Clothing For Humanity
In one of the Meccan verses, the Qur’an
speaks about the relative significance of clothing:
“Children of Adam! We have sent you
clothing to cover your nakedness, and for (your) beauty (risha),* but the cloak
of heedfulness (taqwa) is the best. This is among the signs of God, that they
may be mindful”(7:26). *[Lit., ‘plumage’ – metaphorically derived from the
The Qur’an expands on this in the Medinite
period in a long and cryptic passage (24:30/31) asking both believing men and
women to avert their glances (from what they should not see) in addition to
covering their private parts (Furujah). The passage also commands womenfolk to
‘draw their shawls (khimar) over their bosoms’ permitting a casual display of
‘what is (normally) apparent’ and forbids them from exposing their ‘charms’
(zinat)’ except in the presence of the immediate members of their household,
and restrains them from walking in a provocative manner. The fuller
interpretation of these injunctions, which will be contingent to the exact
meaning of the word Zinat, is evolved in the commentary following the rendering
of the passage.
“Tell believing men to restrain their
glances and guard their private parts (furujah)*. This is (conducive) to their
purity. Indeed God is Informed of whatever they contrive (in their minds)
(24:30). And tell believing women to restrain their glances and guard their
private parts (Furujah)*, and not to expose their charms (zinat) except what is
(normally) apparent of it, and to draw their shawls (khimar) over their bosoms,
and not to expose their charms (zinat) except (in the presence of) their
husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their
husbands’ sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’
sons, or their women, or those under their lawful trust, or the male attendants
not having any (sexual) desire, or children not yet conscious of women’s
sexuality; nor let them strike their feet so as to make known what they hide of
their charms (zinat). And turn to God together, you believers, that you may
succeed” (24:31). *[See usage in the verse 23:5/Ch. 19.1.]
28.2. Orthodox View on Dressing Norms for
The orthodox scholars interpret the word
Zinat in the verse as ornaments, women wear to enhance their appeal. They argue
that since women wear ornaments around their neck and on their ears and arms
and hands, and so forth, all these parts of the body must be covered, and
accordingly they advocate head-to-toe veiling.1 They draw on a tradition that
the Prophet had told his young sister-in-law Asma that an adolescent girl’s
body should not be visible except her face and palm.2 But (i) the compiler (Abu
Daud) himself classified it as a weak tradition, (ii) the tradition was not
reported by earlier Imams, al-Bukhari and Muslim and (iii) it imposed a
clothing requirement that was excessive for the scarcities of the time, as
indicated by a number of traditions,3
and by the prevalent custom of men and women wearing single pieces of
unstitched cloaks around their bodies.4 Thus the authenticity of the tradition
remains too questionable to support the classical interpretation of the
passage. Hence the traditional meaning of the term Zinat as external ornament,
which provides the basis for the classical interpretation, is also untenable.
28.3. Textual Analysis of the Qur’anic
The interpretation of the critical words
and phrases of the verse is tabled below.
1. Zinat: The Qur’an often uses the word
Zinat and its other forms to denote the gifts of God, alluring to humans, such
as the worldly life,5 feeling of love for the opposite sex,6 and all sorts of
beautiful things.7Based on this analogy, the word Zinat in the above verse must
be something beautiful and alluring that God has gifted to a woman, and this
can only be her ‘physical’ charms, – not the ornaments that she may or may not
wear. This corollary is reinforced by the permission of casual exposure in the
presence of (i) male family members of the household and (ii) male attendants
not having any (sexual) desire, or children not yet conscious of women’s
sexuality.’ If Zinat were to mean ornaments, these instructions will be
It will be virtually immaterial for a male member of a household,
whether the female inmates (sister, wife, mother, aunty etc) reveal or hide
their ornaments. The instruction will only make sense if Zinat connoted with
the physical charm of the body that is liable to be exposed in day-to-day
If Zinat were to mean ornaments, the instruction should have been to
hide them from the male attendants as well as children, as they both might be
attracted by its glamour. The instruction will only make sense If zinat
connoted with the physical charm for which none of them would have any appeal.
2. ‘what is apparent of it’: Muhammad Asad
quotes al-Qiffal to interpret the phrase as ‘that which a human being may show
in accordance with prevailing custom,’ obviously within the Qur’anic spirit of
‘to draw their shawls (khimar)
over their bosoms’: Many scholars, including Muhammad Asad affirm that in
pre-Islamic Arabia, many women did not cover their breasts as a dressing norm –
a practice dictated both by scarcity of clothes and pagan relaxed attitude
towards sexuality. So, the instruction is simply to pull the shawl around the
upper part of the body.
4. ‘nor let them strike their feet’: In the
scarcity society of the time when a woman wrapped herself with merely a single
piece of clothing and wore but little ornaments, this instruction forbade her
from walking about in a seductive and revealing manner. In its universal
context, it is a general guideline for women against adopting a provocative
gait - despite proper covering of body.
28.4. Qur’anic Universal Guidelines on Modesty
The clear pronouncements of the verses 7:26
and 24:30 and the textual analysis of 24:31 as tabled above demonstrate that
for any public appearance, the Qur’an asks, men and women to restrain their
glances and cover their private parts (Furujah). The Qur’an also takes account
of a woman’s innate power to provoke the male sexual impulse by wearing
revealing outfit. She is therefore asked to dress modestly, commensurate to the
prevailing custom, and to bear herself in a non-provocative manner. Wearing of
any external head to toe veil, covering of head, and gender-based segregation
are not specified.
Women are also allowed some ‘concessions’
to facilitate their joint accommodation with close relatives, such as their
fathers, father-in-laws, brothers, nephews, children and senile male
28.5. The Qur’an Makes Concession For Elderly
“(As for) the elderly women who sit around
and do not look forward to marriage, there is no blame on them in taking off
their garments (provided they do so) without showing off their charms (Zinat),
but modesty is better for them. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Aware”
In historical context, common people in
most parts of the world barely had any extra clothing apart from what they
wore, and used community washing and bathing facility in a modest way. The
verse relents towards the elderly women who may be instinctively less conscious
of their sexuality, that they may go about their daily chores without being
blamed for showing off their physical charms (zinat).
28.6. Dressing Guideline For The Prophet's
Household And Other Muslim Women
In a clearly stated verse, the Prophet is
asked to tell the womenfolk in his household and other believing women to pull
their cloaks around themselves for others to recognize them without causing
them any annoyance (33:59).
“O Prophet, tell your wives and your
daughters and the womenfolk of believers that they should draw their cloaks
over themselves: this may be more appropriate as they may be recognized (in
public), but not annoyed (yu’dhayna)*. (Remember,) God is Most Forgiving and
Merciful” (33:59). *[See the rendering of 33:53/Ch. 3.15 for use of common
As Muhammad Asad comments, the specific
time bound reference to the Prophet’s wives and daughters, and the deliberate
vagueness of the instruction, by not specifying what part of the body to be
covered, make it clear that the verse carries a general moral guideline as is
reinforced by the concluding God’s attributes of Mercy and forgiveness.9
The orthodox cite this verse to reinforce
their argument on head-to-toe veiling for Muslim women. But this restrictive
dressing code is conceivably, a reflection of the pre-Islamic heritage of
28.7. Influence Of Pre-Islamic Heritage On
Women’s Dress Code
Until the advent of Islam, women were
oppressed and subjected to various forms of restrictions in practically all the
major civilizations.10 Therefore all the Christians (including the Romans and
Greeks), Zoroastrians, pagans and Hindus who embraced Islam brought notions
against women from their previous religions. This inevitably influenced their
interpretation of Qur’anic exhortations on modesty. With time, this gave rise
to imposition of varying restrictions upon women, including their full veiling
and segregation when outside the house – a custom borrowed understandably from
“the Greek Christians of Byzentium, who had long veiled and segregated their
women in this manner.”11
Muhammad Shafi, Mu‘arif al-Qur’an, New Delhi 1993, Vol. VI, p. 396.
Sanan Abu Daud, Urdu translation by Wahiduz Zaman, Vol.3, Ch. 26/Acc.
704, p. 264.
Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984,
Vol.1, Acc. 305, 309, 348-358, 360, 361, 366.
Ibid., Vol.1, Acc. 358.
5. “Worldly life allures (zuiyina) those who
deny (God’s Guidance)…” (2:212/Ch. 41.1).
“Alluring (zuiyina) to people is the love for pleasures from women …”
“Who has forbidden the beautiful (gifts) (zinat) of God, which He has
brought forth for His servants …” (7:32/Ch. 25.4).
Muhammad Asad, Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap. 24, Note 37.
Ibid., Chapter 33, note 75.
An illustration of how the pre-Islamic world treated women: The Zoroastrians
(Persians) kept their women in confinement, guarded by eunuchs. The Greek
followed their example and kept their women in gynaeceum, often under lock and
key. The Hindus burnt their widows alive on funeral pyres of their husband’s
bodies - a practice continued until recent centuries. The Chinese bound their
women’s feet in iron shoes as a cultural norm, obviously, to restrict their
movement. The Christian Church placed women under total domination of men. (The
Bible, Genesis 3.16). Roman male citizens could kill their women by law, if
they found them committing adultery.
Karen Armstrong, Islam, A short history, New York 2002, p. 16.
29. Bidding the Good and Forbidding the Evil
29.1. To Enjoin the Good And Forbid The Evil
The Qur’an enjoins what it calls Ma’ruf –
which it connotes with doing good to others and behaving in the most decent and
reasonable manner in the community. It forbids (Naha)1 the Munkar: all acts,
gesture, and behaviour that run counter to reason and contradict all norms of
good behaviour (3:104, 3:110).2 For
simplicity, we will be rendering these terms as the good (Ma’ruf) and the evil
“Let there be a community among you who
will invite (others) to be good, enjoin the good (Ma’ruf), and forbid the evil
(Munkar), and it is they who shall succeed” (3:104).
“You are the best community brought forth
for humanity; you enjoin the good, and forbid the evil, and believe in God. If
the People of the Book would only believe - it would be best for them: some of
them have true faith (Mu’minun) while most of them are perverse” (3:110).
In the context of the revelation, the verse
3:110 describes Muslims as ‘the best community’. However, taken in isolation,
the pronouncement can be highly misleading. To deserve this accolade, Muslims
must comply with the all-embracing directives of the Qur’an, and emulate the
noble principles and exemplary moral conduct and behavior of the Prophet
(33:21/Ch. 15). Apparently, this verse also calls upon the People of the Book
(the Jews and Christians) to embrace Islam, but it also declares that some of
the People of the Book have indeed true faith in God (mu’minun). Therefore
citing this verse partially to indicate the exclusivity of Muslims (the
followers of the Prophet Muhammad) will be misleading.
29.2. Admonitions Against All Forms Of Vices
As mentioned in the Preface (Note 24), the
Qur'an uses different root-words while referring to different categories of
vices. The following review attempts to render these words in a consistent
manner, giving the transliteration of each Arabic word in the first instance of
its appearance to maintain the integrity of translation.3
The Qur'an forbids (Harramah) sins (Thaiyat),
abominable acts (fawahishah)4 (16:90, 24:21, 42:37)5 – whether open or secret
(6:120, 7:33), and terrorism (baghya) (7:33, 7:56).6
“Abstain from sin – whether open or secret:
those who earn sin will get due recompense for what they have earned” (6:120).
“Say, ‘My Lord has forbidden abominable
deeds - whether open or secret, sin, and unlawful terrorism, and that you
should associate (others) with God for which He has not sent down any
authority, or say things concerning God that you do not know’” (7:33).
“Do not cause corruption (Fasad) on earth
after it has been reformed, but pray to Him with fear and longing. Indeed God’s
Mercy lies close to the compassionate” (7:56).
“God commands justice and goodness and
giving to fellowmen (Qurba),7 and He forbids the abominable, the evil, and
terrorism, and instructs you that you may be mindful” (16:90).
“You who believe, do not follow Satan’s
footsteps; for he who follows Satan’s footsteps (will find that) he (Satan)
enjoins the abominable and the evil. (Remember,) without God's Grace and Mercy
towards you – not one of you will ever be pure; but God purifies anyone He
wills. (Remember,) God is All-Knowing and Aware” (24:21).
“Whatever you are given is a provision for
this life, but what is with God is finer and lasting, (and it is) for those who
believe and put their trust in their Lord (42:36), and who avoid grave sins and
abominations and forgive (even) when they are angered” (42:37).
The Qur’an is lenient with the repentant and stern to the arrogant
The Qur'an recognizes man's innate
propensity to commit evil or wrong his own soul (5:100), even while praying for
good (17:11). It promises forgiveness to those who are ashamed of a vice having
committed it (4:110).8 However, it is stern against those, who commit sin, and
then blame the innocent (4:111/112). It asks believers not to confuse their
faith with wrongdoing (6:82), but underlines a concession for minor mistakes
“If anyone commits a sin or wrongs his own
soul and then seeks God's forgiveness, he will find God Most Forgiving and
Merciful (4:110). So anyone who earns a sin, earns it upon himself (and must
know that) God is All-Knowing and Wise (111). But anyone who earns a mistake (Khati’a)
or a sin, and then throws the blame upon the innocent, burdens himself with a
slander as well as an open sin” (4:112).
“Say, ‘Bad (things) (Khabisah) and good
(things) (Tayyiban) are not equal, though the plentiful of bad (things) pleases
you. So, heed God – O you prudent, that you may succeed’” (5:100)
“Those who believe and do not confuse their
faith with wrongdoing - it is they who (are in) security, and they are
(rightly) guided” (6:82).
“Man (sometimes) prays for (things that
are) bad (sharr) while praying for (his) good - as man is prone to be hasty”
“Those who avoid grave sins and abomination
except for minor lapses* (will) indeed (find) God Boundless in forgiveness. He
knows you (well) as He caused you to grow from the earth and when you were
hidden in your mothers’ wombs; so do not redeem yourselves. (Remember,) God
knows best who heeds” (53:32). *[Lit., ‘a touch thereof’.]
In Qur’anic vocabulary, the word naha connotes a non-compulsive
forbiddance, that is ‘restraining’ against doing something. Examples:
79:40 - refers to those who ‘restrain’ (naha) their own souls.
11:62 – The Prophet Salih’s elders asked him if he was trying to
‘restrain’ them (atanhana) from their idols.
29:45 - Prayer (salat) ‘restrains’ (tanha) one from abomination
9:112, 22:41, 31:17.
Since the notions of the different Arabic words relating to ‘goodness’
and ‘badness’ (Note 24/Preface) remain subjective, it is impossible to claim
accuracy in the choice of the English counterparts in the above focused review.
See Note 4/Ch. 19 for fuller notion of this word (singular form,
fahishah) as used in the Qur’an.
6:151 (Text in Ch. 19.1), 29:45.
See 4:36/Ch. 17.3 for the broader connotation of the word qurba as
30. The Abolition of Slavery
30.1. Phased Abolition of Slavery
The Qur’an aimed at removing slavery in a
phased manner. The phasing out was an historical necessity as the social and
historical realities of the time were not conducive to an abrupt eradication of
slavery with all its ramifications. Moreover, the Qur’an also had to address
other prevalent vices in tandem. It therefore introduced its injunctions
against slavery concomitantly with its social and moral reforms. Thus, it gives
clear directives to freeing the slaves (riqab, pl. raqabah) in the following
90:13-16 (Ch. 17.1). The Qur’an combines its exhortation on “the freeing
of a slave” (90:13), with “feeding during famine (14) an orphaned relative
(15), or the needy (lying) in the dust” (90:16).
4:92 (Ch. 39) commands the freeing of a believing slave and paying
compensation for any accidental killing of a believer.
5:89 (Ch. 27) lists the freeing of a slave as an option to expiate a
false oath taken in the earnest.
2:177 (Ch. 19.3) includes the freeing of slaves among the virtues of the
9:60 (Ch. 18.8) includes slaves regardless of faith in the category of
people entitled to receive charity.
58:3 requires the freeing of a slave as expiation for breaking an oath
called zihar, which absolved a man of all conjugal responsibilities to his
wife, but did not give her the freedom of divorce:
“Those who divorce their wives by zihar*
and then wish to go back on their words, must free a slave before they touch
each other…”(58:3). *[The word literally means ‘back.’ Many men abandoned their
wives simply by declaring, “You are to me like my mother’s back” (58:2)]
Since slavery and prostitution went hand in
hand, the Qur’an aimed at eradicating slavery by rehabilitating the male and
female slaves through the institution of marriage. Thus the Qur’an exhorts men
to marry from among the bondmaids under their lawful trust (4:25), marry off
the unmarried ones among their male and female slaves (24:32) and free their
slaves against reasonable contract, allowing them to pay later for their
“And any of you who cannot afford to marry
(yankiha) chaste believing woman (should marry) from believing bondmaids under
your lawful trust,1 and God knows best your faith. Some of you have (ties) with
others of them. So marry them with the permission of their people and give them
their dowers reasonably as (meriting) chaste women, and do not prostitute them
nor take them as mistresses. If they commit adultery after they are married,
their punishment is half that of (free) chaste women. This (permission to marry
bondmaids) goes for those of you who fear (committing sin by) their (sexual)
impulses. However, patience is best for you. (Remember,) God is Most Forgiving
and Merciful” (4:25).
“Marry off the unmarried ones among you and
those among your slaves (‘abd) and bondmaids that are ready for marriage.2 If
they are needy, God will enrich them of His bounty. (Remember,) God is Boundless
(in mercy) and All-Knowing (24:32). Yet those who have no (financial) means to
marry should wait until God enriches them of His bounty. And as for those under
your lawful trust who seek a contract (for freedom), draw it up for them if you
know any good in them, and give them out of the riches God has given you. And
do not coerce your bondmaids into prostitution seeking the gains of this world,
when they want to be chaste - seeking the pleasure of worldly life. But should
anyone coerce them (sexually), God will be Merciful (to them) after they have
been so coerced” (24:33).
30.2. Qur’anic Positive Phrase for Slaves And
While the Qur’an uses the words fatat,3
riqab,4 ‘abd,5 to denote a slave,
bondmaid in the historical sense, it also employs a dignified phrase, ma
malakat ayman to denote slaves, bondmaids, and for that matter, anyone who is
under one’s lawful trust. Most scholars render this phrase literally as: ‘what
the right hand possesses’, and connote it restrictively with slaves, bondmaids,
captives, and prisoners of war in the masculine as well as feminine gender.
Such an interpretation is misleading. The closest literal translation of this
expression would be: ‘those possessed by (or under trust to) the right hand.’
However, the Qur'an uses the word ‘right hand’ figuratively to denote a
positive lawful status, such as the companions of the ‘right hand’,6 and God's
‘right hand’.7 Therefore, the phrase could be best rendered as “those under
one’s lawful trust.” Thus through its ingenious vocabulary, the Qur’an gives a
new ennobling status to the slaves and bondmaids who were historically
relegated to the lowest rung of the social hierarchy – hated, despised,
brutalized and segmented from the freeborn by impervious boundaries.
The Qur’anic phrase Malakat Ayman (sing.
milk al-yamin) is no camouflage or mere euphemism. In the Prophet's days,
captives from armed conflicts were distributed among the Medinite Muslims for
their safe custody. Those captives, whether male or female, were virtually
‘slaves’ but were regarded as Malakat Ayman; and accordingly their custodians
treated them with sympathy and consideration. William Muir, one of the most
hostile of the Prophet's biographers offers this quotation from a prisoner:
“the men of Medina made us ride, while they themselves walked, they gave us
wheaten bread to eat when there was a little of it, contenting themselves with
In a different plane, unlike the legal
codes that preceded it, and succeeded it for over a millennium, the Qur’an does
not enact any separate civil law or code for the slaves or the Ma Malakat Ayman
class. The Qur’an does, however, refer to slavery in the context of the past or
even prevalent traditions, but its civil, commercial, inheritance and family
laws are for all believers, without any reference to their being freeborn or
In sum, Qur’anic repeated rejoinders on
freeing slaves, it’s clear dictates to looking after them, to setting them free
and to marrying them off, its specific ennobling vocabulary for slaves,
bondmaids and captives, and its avoidance of any distinction between slaves and
freeborn in all its social and civil laws, amply demonstrate that the Qur’an
aimed at rooting out the institution of slavery. Accordingly Caliph Umar
abolished slavery among the native inhabitants of Arabia. He also gave a clear
instruction to his generals, on the strength of the Qur’an, not to turn the
civilian population of conquered nations into slaves.9 However, he met with
stiff resistance from many of his generals, and his policy was discontinued
with the establishment of the first Islamic dynasty (AH 40), less than two
decades after his death (AH 24). Thus slavery re-established itself in the
Islamic world, barely thirty years after the Prophet’s death, and was
vigorously followed by slave traders and those with vested interests, for many
centuries to come.
The Qur’anic ideal of a slave free society
was realized more than twelve hundred years after the death of the Prophet –
but not in the Islamic world. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United
States (1861-1865) legislated the abolition of slavery by the Emancipation
Proclamation (Jan.1 1863). Ironically, the classical Islamic Shari‘a that had
its birth more than a hundred years after the Prophet’s demise, entertained
slavery; and slaves, bondmaids, and concubines formed an integral part of the
social hierarchy of Islamic civilization in many Muslim lands.
The opening and the clarifying underlined stipulations suggest that when
a man of limited means apprehends that a Muslim woman may not entertain his
marriage proposal, he should approach a bondmaid, offering her the same sort of
dowry that he would have offered a free Muslim woman. The verse has been often
misinterpreted to imply the following propositions, supportive of the
institution of slavery. To quote Muhammad Shafi:
“As far as possible one should marry free women; one should not marry a
“It will be Makruh (undesirable) for anyone having the means to marry a
freewomen, to marry a Muslim or believing bondmaid.” - Quoted from Abu Hanifa.
“It is Haram (forbidden) to marry a bondmaid, and thus completely
forbidden to marry a bondmaid from the kitabia (the People of the Book)”.
Muhammad Shafi, Mu‘arif al-Qur’an, New
Delhi 1993, Vol.II, p. 371
The Qur’an normally connotes the word al-sualih (pl. al-sualihin) with a
pious person, who is, so to say, spiritually sound. However, the term can also
apply in the material sense, such as physical and moral fitness for marriage,
as rendered in undereline. - Muhammad
Asad, The Message of the Qur’an, Gibraltar 1980, Chap.24, Note 43.
2:177, 4:92, 5:89, 9:60, 58:3, 90:13.
2:178, 2:221, 24:32.
Rafiq Zakaria, Muhammad and the Qur’an, London 1992, p. 408.
Shibli Noumani, al-Faruq, Delhi 1898, Karachi reprint 1991, p. 258.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of
Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth
study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has
co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar
al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was
endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by
Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.
Reposting an earlier
(5:3) Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh
of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah;
that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a
headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been (partly) eaten
by a wild animal; unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which
is sacrificed on stone (altars); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by
raffling with arrows: that is impiety. This day have those who reject faith
given up all hope of your religion: yet fear them not but fear Me. This day
have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have
chosen for you Islam as your religion. But if any is forced by hunger, with no
inclination to transgression, Allah is indeed Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
The Arabic word used for
dietary prohibitions is حُرِّمَتْ the same word that is used that prohibits
marriage to blood relatives etc. The only exception that the Quran makes for
eating what is prohibited is `if forced by hunger and without willful
disobedience nor transgressing due limits’.
The Quran frowns on the
people of the Book who devour what is forbidden.
(5:42) (They are fond of) listening to falsehood, of devouring anything forbidden.
(5:62) Many of them dost thou see, racing each other in sin and
rancour, and their eating of things
forbidden. Evil indeed are the things that they do.
(5:63) Why do not the rabbis and the doctors of Law forbid them
from their (habit of) uttering sinful words and eating things forbidden? Evil indeed are their works.
Also the final verdict
on the People of the Book who were the direct addressees of the Prophet:
(9:29) Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been
forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of
Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya
with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
The following is
addressed to the Muslims
(6:117) Thy Lord knoweth best who strayeth from His way: He
knoweth best who they are that receive His guidance. (118) So eat of (meats) on
which Allah´s name hath been pronounced, if ye have faith in His signs. (119)
Why should ye not eat of (meats) on which Allah´s name hath been pronounced,
when He hath explained to you in detail what is forbidden to you - except under
compulsion of necessity? But many do mislead (men) by their appetites unchecked
by knowledge. Thy Lord knoweth best those who transgress. (120) Eschew all sin,
open or secret: those who earn sin will get due recompense for their
"earnings." (121) Eat not of (meats) on which Allah´s name hath not
been pronounced: That would be impiety. But the evil ones ever inspire their
friends to contend with you if ye were to obey them, ye would indeed be
Finally let us consider
(5:93) On those who believe and do deeds of righteousness there is
no blame for what they ate (in the past), when they guard themselves from evil,
and believe, and do deeds of righteousness,- (or) again, guard themselves from
evil and believe,- (or) again, guard themselves from evil and do good. For
Allah loveth those who do good.
regarding diet are not self-evident and therefore what someone ate in the past
on account of ignorance is easily forgiven. However, there is no license for a
person to continue to disregard the restrictions and expect forgiveness. The
expression “when they guard themselves from evil” also includes guarding
themselves from devouring what is forbidden. . Many of the verses of the Quran
are elliptic. For example ‘in the past’ has been added in parenthesis and is
inferred from the context as well as from other very clear verses that frown on
those who do not observe the dietary restrictions.
As far as automatic
forgiveness of all past sins on becoming Muslim is concerned, there is no such
assurance in the Quran unless “they guard themselves from evil, and believe and
do deeds of righteousness” in their remaining life and repent or make amends if
possible for the self-evident sins like killing, cheating, devouring the
property of others wrongfully etc. Past behavior in accordance with the norms
of the society to which they belonged earlier which is prohibited in Islam is
alone automatically forgiven on the condition that their future life is free
I am afraid that Asad’s
interpretation is incorrect and may have the effect of weakening all that is
cited as ‘haram’.