In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace.
58:1 God has indeed heard the words of her who pleads with thee concerning her husband and complains unto God. And God does hear what you both have to say, Verily, God is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.
According to the classical commentators, this is a reference to the case of Khawlah (or Khuwaylah) bint Tha’labah, whose husband Aws ibn as-Samit divorced her by pronouncing the arbitrary pre-Islamic oath known as zihar (explained in note 3 on 33:4). When she pleaded before the Prophet against this divorce – which deprived her of all her marital rights and, at the same time, made it impossible for her to remarry – the iniquitous custom of zihar was abolished by the revelation of verses 24 of this surah. – In view of the sequence, as well as of several Traditions to this effect, there is no doubt that the above verse alludes, in the first instance, to the divine condemnation of zihar. However, the deliberately unspecified reference to “her who pleads concerning her husband” seems to point to all cases where a wife has reason to complain against her husband: that is to say, not merely to an appeal against an unjustified or cruel divorce, but also to a wife’s demand for release from an unbearable marriage. Such dissolution of the marriage-tie at the wife’s instance – termed khul’ – is fully sanctioned by the shari’ah on the basis of 2:229 and a number of extremely well-authenticated Traditions. (For a fuller discussion of this problem, see note 218 on the second paragraph of 2:229).
58:2 As for those of you who [henceforth] separate themselves from their wives by saying, “Thou art as unlawful to me as my mother”, [let them bear in mind that] they can never be [as) their mothers: none are their mothers save those who gave them birth, and so, behold, they but utter a saying that runs counter to reason, and is (therefore) false. But, behold, God is indeed an absolver of sins, much-forgiving.
Lit,, “does hear the mutual contentions of both of you (tahawurakuma)”, i.e., of husband and wife alike, embracing with His infinite wisdom and justice the innermost motivations of both. Alternatively – if the above verse is understood as referring specifically to the case of Khawlah – the second person indicated by the suffix kuma (“both of you”) may relate to the Prophet, who, before the revelation of this surah, thought that a divorce through zihar was valid and, therefore, repeatedly told Kbawlah, “Thou art now indeed unlawful to him” (Tabari). This opinion was subsequently – almost immediately – reversed by the divine prohibition of zihar expressed in verses 2 ff.
58:3 Hence, as for those who would separate themselves from their wives by saying, “Thou art as unlawful to me as my mother”, and thereafter would go back on what they have said, [their atonement] shall be the freeing of a human being from bondage before the couple may touch one another again, this you are [hereby] exhorted to do – for God is fully aware of all that you do.
For this explanatory rendering of the verb yuzahirun, see surah 33, note 3. My interpolation of the word “henceforth” is necessary in view of the fact that the custom of zihar – in its sense of a definitive act of divorce – had been abolished by verses 24 of the present surah.
58:4 However, he who does not have the wherewithal shall fast [instead] for two consecutive months before the couple may touch one another again, and he who is unable to do it shall feed sixty needy ones, this, so that you might prove your faith in God and His Apostle. Now, these are the bounds set by God and grievous suffering (in the life to come) awaits all who deny the truth.
For this particular rendering of the term munkar, see surah 16, note 109.
58:5 Verily, those who contend against God and His Apostle shall be brought low even as those [evildoers] who lived before them were brought low after We had bestowed [on them] clear messages from on high. And [so] for those who deny the truth there will be shameful suffering in store.
i.e., the freeing or purchasing the freedom of a slave or captive. In modern times, when slavery is more or less non-existent, the concept of tahnr raqabah may, I believe, be legitimately extended to the redeeming of a human being from the bondage of debt or of great poverty.
58:6 On the Day when God will raise them all from the dead and will make them truly understand all that they did [in life], God will have taken [all of] it into account, even though they [themselves] may have forgotten it – for God is witness unto everything.
Cf. 2:225 – “God will not take you to task for oaths which you may have uttered without thought, but will take you to task [only] for what your hearts have conceived [in earnest]”.
58:7 Art thou not aware that God knows all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth? Never can there be a secret confabulation between three persons without His being the fourth of them, nor between five without His being the sixth of them; and neither between less than that, or more, without His being with them wherever they may be. But in the end, on Resurrection Day, He will make them truly understand what they did, for, Verily, God has full knowledge of everything.
i.e., in the manner prescribed for fasting during the month of Ramadan (see 2:183-187). As regards the phrase “he who does not find the wherewithal (lam yajid)”, it may indicate either a lack of financial means or the impossibility of finding anyone else who could be redeemed from factual or figurative bondage (see note 5 above). According to many Islamic scholars of our times (e.g., Rashid Ridi’, commenting on 4:92), this relates, in the first instance, to circumstances in which “slavery will have been abolished in accordance with the aim of Islam” (Manar V, 337).
58:8 Art thou not aware of such as have been forbidden [to intrigue through] secret confabulations, and yet [always] revert to that which they have been forbidden, and conspire with one another with a view to sinful doings, and aggressive conduct, and disobedience to the Apostle? Now whenever such [people] approach thee, [O Muhammad] they salute thee with a greeting which God has never countenanced; and they say to themselves, “Why does not God chastise us for what we are saying?” Hell shall be their allotted portion: they shall [indeed] enter it – and how vile a journey’s end!
Or, alternatively, one needy person for sixty days. The inability to fast for two consecutive months may be due either to ill-health or to really compelling external circumstances (for instance, the necessity of performing labors that require great physical and/or mental vigor and alertness).
58:9 [Hence] O you who have attained to faith, when you do hold secret confabulations, do not conspire with one another with a view to sinful doings, and aggressive conduct, and disobedience to the Apostle, but [rather] hold counsel in the cause of virtue and God-consciousness, and [always] remain conscious of God, unto whom you all shall be gathered.
Sc., “by showing that you have renounced the practices of the Time of Ignorance” (Razi). In other words, the pronouncement of zihar is not to be considered a divorce, as was the case in pre-Islamic times, but solely as a reprehensible act that must be atoned for by a sacrifice.
58:10 [All other kinds of] secret confabulations are but of Satan’s doing so that he might cause grief to those who have attained to faith, yet he cannot harm them in the least, unless it be by God’s leave, in God, then, let the believers place their trust!
Sc., “which they chose to disregard”. Thus, proceeding from the particular to the general, the present passage connects with the reference, at the end of verse 4, to “all who deny the truth”, i.e., of divine revelation.