Interpretation of Sura Cow - Verse 187
187. " It is made lawful for you to go in unto your wives on the night of the fasts; they are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. Allah knew that you used to act unfaithfully among yourselves, so He has turned to you (mercifully) and pardoned you. So now you may associate with them and seek what Allah prescribed for you. Eat and drink until the white thread (of dawn) becomes manifest unto you from the black thread (of night) at the dawn-break, then complete the fast till nightfall and do not approach them (your wives) while you are at your devotion in the mosques. These are limits (set by) Allah, therefore do not approach (violate) them. Thus Allah makes clear His Signs for mankind, so that they may guard themselves (against evil) ."
Occasion of Revelation
It is so understood from the Islamic literature that at the advent of the revelation of the command of fasting, Muslims were allowed to eat a meal before sleeping at night. So, if anyone occasionally fell asleep at night and then awoke, eating and drinking was unlawful (haram) for the one.
Once, one of the companions of the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) by the name of Mat'am-ibn Jubayr, who was a weak man, fasted in that situation. In the evening, he entered home for breaking the fast. When his wife went to prepare food for him, he fell asleep because of fatigue and weariness. After some while he woke up and, then, he said he was not allowed to eat and he could not break the fast, and, therefore, with the same state of hunger, he slept. Next morning, in the state of fasting, he attended a place around Medina to dig ditches in order to prepare themselves for the battle of ahzab. While he was in the effort and struggle of digging, he fainted as a result of hunger and weakness. Then, when the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) came to him he was touched upon seeing his situation.
Also, a group of young Muslims, who could not control themselves, associated with their wives during the nights of Ramadan. It was in that circumstance that the revelation was sent down and let Muslims eat and drink during the length of night and associate (sexual intercourse) with their own wives as well.
As it was mentioned in the occasion of revelation, at the advent of Islam, association with wives was forbidden during night and day in Ramadan. Eating and drinking after sleeping was also not permissible. That was, perhaps, a trial as well as a preparation for Muslims so that they would accept the ordinances of fasting.
The verse under discussion, which consists of four Islamic ordinances about fasting and the act of devotion in the mosques, initiates the matter thus:
" It is made lawful for you to go in unto your wives on the night of the fast;..." Then, it pays to the philosophy of this subject and says: "...they are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. ..." The primary thought or the meaning accommodated in the description of clothing used here relating to the mutual relation of husband and wife and the mutual comfort and protection they afford to each other, is superb and unique in its expression. There cannot be a better description of the position of a man and wife and their relation to each other, which is unsurpassed in beauty. Clothing, on one hand, protects man against heat and cold, and also against the danger of foreign bodies scraping or penetrating the skin. On the other hand, clothing not only covers the disgraces of the body, but also is an ornament for a person. The metaphor mentioned in this verse is a hint to all of these meanings.
Two spouses protect each other from deviations. They hide the faults and blemishes of each other. They provide the means of rest and tranquillity for each other. Each of them is counted as the ornament of the other. This meaning makes the utmost spiritual connection and coherence of man and woman clear as well as their nearness to each other. It also points to the equality of man and woman in this respect, since whatever thing is said about men equally, and with no change, is mentioned about women.
Then, the Qur'an refers to the reason of the change of this divine law and says:
"Allah knew that you used to act unfaithfully among yourselves, so He has turned to you (mercifully) and pardoned you. ..." Yes, in order that you commit no more sin, Allah mercifully made that duty easy for you and decreased the length of its restriction. "...So now you may associate with them and seek what Allah prescribed for you. ..."
This matter is certainly not in the sense of obligation but it is a permission after that state of prohibition. So, the idea can be taken as an evidence of permissibility.
The phrase: "...and seek what Allah prescribed for you ..." points to this fact that utilizing this permission and reduction, which is on the path of the laws of creation and preservation of the regularity of ' seed permanence ', is no problem at all. Then, it refers to the second ordinance and says:
"...Eat and drink until the white thread (of dawn) becomes manifest unto you from the black thread (of night) at the dawn-break, ..." Therefore, Muslims could eat and drink all the night long until the dawn when they would stop.
Then the statement is upon the third ordinance, thus: "...then complete the fast till nightfall..." This statement is another emphasis on the prohibition of eating and drinking and sexual intercourse during the day time for those who observe the fast. It is an indicative point to the beginning and the end of a fast which begins from the dawn and ends at night. Finally, it points to the fourth ordinance when it says:
"...and do not approach them (your wives) while you are at your devotion in the mosques. ..." The statement of this ordinance is like an exception for the former ordinance, because in this situation, the length of which is at least three days, they fast but during this limited time they can have sexual intercourse neither in days nor at nights. At the end of the verse, alluding to all the foregoing ordinances, it says:
"These are limits (set by) Allah, therefore do not approach (violate) them. ..." Approaching the bounds is sometimes tempting and causes that man violates them and commits sins. Yes, "...Thus Allah makes clear His Signs for mankind, so that they may guard themselves (against evil) ."
As is was mentioned in the commentary of the above verses, the Holy Qur'an, after stating some ordinances about fasting and being at devotion, renders these ordinances, as the 'limits set by Allah': the bounds between lawful (halal) and unlawful (haram) matters, and the limits between prohibited and permissible things. It is noteworthy that the Qur'an does not say 'do not pass the limits', but it says: " do not approach them", because approaching the limits is tempting and sometimes, under the influence of lusts or because of being involved in mistakes, a person may violate them.
It is for this very reason that some Islamic laws forbid man from stepping into the situations that may cause him to slip and commit sins, such as taking part in a society of sinners, even though he himself does not share in it; or being with a non-relative, of the opposite sex in a lonely private place wherein no one can enter.
The term originally means ' to seclude oneself in a place, or to remain a long time beside something'. In religion it means keeping to the mosques for the purpose of worship. The duration of this retreat is three days during which the person fasts and abandons some pleasures. This worship has a profound effect in purification of the soul and attending to the Providence. The manner and conditions of this worship are mentioned in the books of Islamic jurisprudence. This worship, of course, is essentially counted among the recommended deeds, but in some particular circumstances, exceptionally, it becomes obligatory. At any rate, the verse under discussion refers to only one of its conditions because of its connection to the proposition of fasting, i.e. the lack of association with wives whether at night or in the daytime.
The term /fajr/ basically means 'break open', hence the light of the dawn, which breaks the gloom of night with its bright advent, in the Qur'anic term is called /fajr/.
In the verse under discussion, in addition to the above term, the dawn has been rendered thus: "...until the white thread (of dawn) becomes manifest unto you from the black thread (of night) ..." It is interesting that a tradition says that 'Udayy-ibn-Hatam, one of the believers, once came to the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) and said that he had put two white and black threads in front of him watching them, but it (the dawn) did not become manifest for him. Then, the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) laughed so that his holy teeth appeared. Then, he (p.b.u.h.) said: " O' son of Hatam! verily, it is the whiteness of day (dawn) and the darkness of night. Then, begin from this time." 77
At the end of the night, at first a very weak white colour rises in the sky without extending laterally and appears to be black, presenting itself like an obstacle on the horizon, and is compared to the tail of a fox whose narrow end is onto the horizon and its conical shaped end is in the mid-sky. This is the 'False Dawn'. But after a while a clear white light appears, rising, filling the horizon with its whiteness, like a white thread stretched beside a black thread, and, thereafter, spreads throughout the sky with a special brightness by which the night ends and the day begins. This is the ' True Dawn ' when the morning prayer can, then, be performed.
Piety, the Beginning and the End
It is interesting that in the first verse concerning the ordinance of fasting it was stated that the ultimate aim of it is piety. This very meaning is also exactly repeated at the end of the last verse of this group of verses saying: " So that they may guard themselves (against evil) ." This shows that all of these rites are a means of training the spirit of piety and self-restraint in man in order to produce a faculty of guarding against evil and to feel responsibility before the duties of mankind.
77. Majma'-ul-Bayan, vol. 2, p. 281
Adapted from the book: "The Light of The Quran - Interpretation of Sura Al-Baqarah (The Cow)" by: "Sayyid Kamal Faghih Imani and A Group of Muslim Scholars"
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