Interpretation of Sura Cow - Verse 233
233. " And the (divorced) mothers shall suckle their children for two whole years for him (father) who desires to complete the period of suckling. It is (incumbent) upon the father to provide (sustenance) and their clothing (nursing mothers) in a fair manner. No soul shall have imposed upon it a duty but to the extent of its capacity; neither shall a mother be made to suffer harm on account of her child, nor a father on account of his child, and the same devolves upon the heir. But if they desire to wean by mutual consent and consultation, then it is no sin on them. And if you desire to seek a wet nurse for your children, it is no sin on you as long as you pay what you promised for in a fair manner; and be in awe of Allah, and know that Allah sees what you do."
In Arabic philology the term /walidah/ is used for ' mother ' while the term /umm/ has a wider meaning and, besides applying the term for 'mother ', its concept sometimes refers to the ' root ' or ' source ' of everything. In this verse, the Qur'an points to several instructions about the problem of suckling and the different rights that mother, child, and father have in this regard. These instructions, on the whole, are seven various ordinances.
Seven Instructions Upon Suckling
1- The right of nursing the child for two whole years is specialized to mother, because it is she who can suckle and look after her child during this time. In view of the fact that the nutrition of the baby, bodily and spiritually, has a close and firm relation with mother's milk and affections, although the guardianship of little children has been given to father, the right of protection and maintenance of a child is given to mother. On the other hand, maternal affections should be observed, too, because the mother cannot bear to see that her bosom is empty from her child and remain silent in such sensitive moments. Therefore, specializing the right of suckling and maintenance of a child to mother is a kind of mutual right which is helpful for both the circumstances of the mother and the conditions of her child.
" And the (divorced) mothers shall suckle their children for two whole years ..."
2- It is not necessary that the duration of suckling to be positively two years. This two-year-suckling period is for the one who wants to accomplish it perfectly.
"...for him (father) who desires to complete the period of suckling. ..." But, regarding to the position of the child's body and observing its health, the mother has also the right to diminish this course when she thinks it is favourable.
A tradition from Ahlul-Bayt (a.s.) says that the whole course of suckling is two years while its incomplete course is twenty one months.
This idea may be abstructed from gathering the concepts of this verse and verse 15 from Sura Al-Ahqaf, No. 46, where it says: "...and the bearing of him and the weaning of him was thirty months; ...". And, we know that the course of pregnancy is usually nine months. Therefore, the remaining time, which is twenty one months, is the ordinary time of suckling.
And, also in view of the fact that, in Sura Al-Ahqaf, the matter has not been cited in a compulsory form, hence, considering the health of the child, mothers may rightfully diminish the suckling months to less than 21 months, too.
3- Mother's expenses for food and clothing during the suckling course, even when she is divorced, is upon the baby's father in order that mother be able to nurse the child conveniently and with a peace of mind.
"...It is (incumbent) upon the father to provide (sustenance) and their clothing (nursing mothers) in a fair manner. ..." Here, the Qur'anic phrase /almaulud-i-lahu/ (ie. the one for whom the child is born) which is used instead of applying the term ' father ', attracts the attention. It seems the revelation intends to move the affections of the father all the more towards the path of doing his aforementioned duty. That is, if the expenses of the mother and child during the suckling course has been trusted with father to pay, it is for the reason that the baby is his own beloved child and is the fruit of his heart, not a foreigner.
The occurrence of ' in a fair manner ', here, shows that mother's clothing and food should be given in a scale about the usage and also appropriate to her position. Neither stinginess nor immoderation is right in this regard.
Then, to remove any ambiguity, it explains more about this subject that the duty of a father is due to his capacity, as Allah has assigned no duty beyond the ability of any individual.
"...No soul shall have imposed upon it a duty but to the extent of its capacity; ..." 4- Neither father nor mother should disregard the fate of their child because of their own oppositions. This may cause a harm for the mind and spirit of the child which cannot be compensated later. "...neither shall a mother be made to suffer harm on account of her child, nor a father on account of his child, ..." Men ought to be attentive to the mothers' right of suckling and protection. They should not tread it by taking the child from them. By the way, mothers should not abuse the right which is given to them, either, by restraining suckling through some various vain pretexts, or deprive the man from visting his child.
5- After the death of the father, his heir should undertake this duty and provide the necessities of the mother during the time she nurses the child.
"...and the same devolves upon the heir. ..." 6- The allowance of weaning is given to parents though the previous verses have defined some limits for suckling the child. Parents, with the agreement of each other, can wean whenever they think it is suitable for the physical state of the child.
"...But if they desire to wean by mutual consent and consultation, then it is no sin on them. ..." That is, if parents counsel and agree to decide to wean, there will be no problem for them. In the meanwhile, the mother is not obliged to nurse the baby. So, whenever she wishes she can stop it, while it is better for her to forsake some of her own desires for the sake of development of her child and not let herself lose the cooperation and the due consultation of her husband alongside this way, so that the mutual consent, pointed in the verse, actually happens.
7- It is impossible to prevent the mother from nursing her child, unless mother herself refrains from suckling, or there really comes forth a barrier for her. Hence, it says: "...And if you desire to seek a wet nurse for your children, it is no sin on you as long as you pay what you promised for in a fair manner; ..." The last part of the above sentence means that engaging another woman to suckle the child instead of mother, after consultation and obtaining mutual consent, does not matter. It is, of course, upon condition that this manner does not cause the mother's right due to the length of her former suckling to be trodden. This right should be paid to her in a fair manner.
Since disputes and oppositions between man and woman sometimes awaken the spirit of revengefulness in them, and their fate or that of their helpless child may be exposed to danger, and each of them may think of evil planning for the other, at the end of these ordinances, the Qur'an says:
"...and be in awe of Allah, and know that Allah sees what you do."
A thin and delicate explanation is also cited upon this verse which we narrate exactly here: The root, ' darara ' meaning harm; in its original form to do harm (transitive) and in its secondary form ' Tadarrar ' meaning to suffer or to receive harm (intransitive) . Here the secondary form ' Mudarra ' has been used which usually means mutual give and take, meaning neither to harm nor to get harmed. As such this passage means that on account of the child or the disagreement between the parents none of the three (viz. the father, mother or the child) should be harmful to the other, or should be harmed by the other. This interpretation covers the various commentaries given by the different commentators.
The implication of the passage regarding the mutual rights of the wife and the husband during the period of suckling of their issues, and the right and the duty of the heir of the husband and the condition for the permissibility of employment of a wet-nurse for the suckling of the issue, there are very subtle points for which you may please refer to 'Fiqh ', jurisprudent books.
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"
Share this article