Interpretation of Sura Cow - Verse 229
229. " Divorce (is permissible) only twice, then either maintain (them) in honor or let (them) go in kindness. And it is not lawful for you to take anything of what you have given them, unless both fear that they can not keep (themselves) within Allah's bounds; and if you fear that they cannot keep (themselves) within Allah's bounds, it is no sin on either of them about what she gives up to get herself freed (from the wedlock) . Those are Allah's limits; so do not transgress them. And, whoever transgresses Allah's limits ? then these are they that are the (willful) wrongdoers."
Occasion of Ravelation
Once there came a woman to one of the Prophet's wives and complained about her husband that he repeatedly divorced her and then revoked again to create damages for her thereby. And, it was customary among pagan Arabs that a man could divorce his wife thousands of times and revoke it, while there was no limit in this regard. When this grievance was reported to the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) , the above verse was revealed and limited the divorce to three times.
It was pointed out in the commentary of the former verse that the regulations of ' waiting period ' and 'revocation ' are for the improvement of the conditions of family status and preventing from separation and dispersion. But, some of the new converted believers acted according to the old paganism and abused this regulation. To hurt their wives, they divorced them and revoked it again and again. So, this verse was sent down and prevented that ugly and unmanly action. It says:
" Divorce (is permissible) only twice, ..." This kind of divorce (revocable divorce) , of course, should be accomplished in different meetings, not in one session alone.
Then, the Qur'an adds that in each of these two meetings the husband should either keep his wife honourably with him and make peace with her, or kindly let her go and separate with her for ever.
"...then either maintain (them) in honor or let (them) go in kindness. ..." Therefore, the third divorce has not any revocation, because when they had two occasions of dispute and divorce and then peace and revocation were fulfilled, they must put an end to it.
The purpose of the phrase: ' let (them) go in kindness ' is that the husband ought to pay that woman her rights fully and does not let himself say unsuitable words behind her back after he separates from her. He must not make the attitude of other people bad against her and lets her retain the possibility of marriage. Hence, separation should also be accompanied with kindness and benevolence. That is why the verse continues saying:
"...It is not lawful for you to take anything of what you have given them, ..." It is not lawful for the husband to take or withhold anything out of what he has given or promised to give i.e. ' Mahr ' or dower to the wife. The dower amount is usually large and much of it usually remains unpaid by the husband, the payment of the dower amount, particularly when the divorce is pronounced, is another check upon the husband resorting to an indiscriminate and unnecessary divorce of his wife.
So, at the time of separation and divorce, the husband is not allowed to take back from the woman forcefully what he has given her as a marriage-portion.
In the next part of the verse, it points to the divorce of khul', and says that it is only in one phase that taking the dower is possible. It is in the case that the woman does not want to continue the conjugal life and they both fear that they are not able to observe the limits of Allah in that kind of life.
"...unless both fear that they can not keep (themselves) within Allah's bounds; ..." Under this law the wife may seek to get freed of the wedlock by returning the dower to husband, if she has already received it, or to forgo it, if it be still due to her and take the divorce of khul' from Hakim-i-Shar', viz. the Islamic judge. Then it says:
"...and if you fear that they cannot keep (themselves) within Allah's bounds, it is no sin on either of them about what she gives up to get herself freed (from the wedlock) ."
In this phase, the origin of separation is, in fact, the wife. So, she must pay the indemnity of this action and let the man, who is willing to live with her, marry another lady with the same marriage-portion.
At the end of the verse, it points to the whole of the ordinances that are stated in this verse, and says: "...Those are Allah's limits; so do not transgress them. And, whoever transgresses Allah's limits - then these are they that are the (willful) wrongdoers."
1- Plurality of divorce is based on plurality of marriage, i.e. there should be a marriage before a divorce. When a man, in one session, tells his wife: ' I divorced you thrice ', there has occurred, indeed one divorce, because he has not ceased more than one marriage. For this reason, in the jurisprudence of Ahlul-Bayt (a.s.) it is cited that a number of divorces should be fulfilled in a number of stages; and before every divorce there should also be a wedlock. This plurality, besides the apparent indication of the verse, is for a closer common good, too. It is not convenient that the relation of a family be disturbed in one gathering and by one decision for ever.
2- Earning the life by the husband and obedience of the wife unto her husband are the limits of Allah.
3- The breaker of the law is unjust.
"...And, Whoever transgresses Allah's limits - then these are they that are the (willful) wrongdoers."
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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