Chapter Scripts

Surah Al-Nur: 24:31-40

24:31 And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms [in public] beyond what may [decently] be apparent thereof hence, let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms. And let them not display [more of] their charms to any but 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 sister’s sons, or their womenfolk, or those whom they rightfully possess, or such male attendants as are beyond all sexual desire, or children that are as yet unaware of women’s nakedness; and let them not swing their legs [in walking] so as to draw attention to their hidden charms. And [always], O you believers – all of you – turn unto God in repentance, so that you might attain to a happy state!

Explanation

Lit., “innocent of all that they [i.e., the slanderers] may say”.

24:32 And [you ought to] marry the single from among you as well as such of your male and female slaves as are fit [for marriage]. If they [whom you intend to marry] are poor, [let this not deter you] God will grant them sufficiency out of His bounty – for God is infinite [in His mercy], All-Knowing.

Explanation

See note 5 on 8:4. The reference, in this context, to God’s “forgiveness of sins” (maghfirah) is obviously meant to stress the innate weakness of man’s nature, which makes him prone to sinning, however good and pure he may be (cf. 4:28).

24:33 And as for those who are unable to marry, let them live in continence until God grants them sufficiency out of His bounty. And if any of those whom you rightfully possess desire [to obtain] a deed of freedom, write it out for them if you are aware of any good in them: and give them [their share] of the wealth of God which He has given you. And do not, in order to gain some of the fleeting pleasures of this worldly life, coerce your [slave] maidens into whoredom if they happen to be desirous of marriage; and if anyone should coerce them, then, verily, after they have been compelled [to submit in their helplessness), God will be Much-Forgiving, a Dispenser of Grace!

Explanation

This categorical prohibition connects with the preceding passages inasmuch as it serves as an additional protection of individuals against possible slander. In its wider purport, it postulates the inviolability of each person’s home and private life. (For the socio-political implications of this principle, see State and Government in Islam, pp.84 if).

24:34 And, Indeed, from on high have We bestowed upon you messages clearly showing the truth, and [many] a lesson from [the stories of] those who have passed away before you, and [many] an admonition to the God-conscious.

Explanation

i.e., by the rightful owner or caretaker.

24:35 God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His light is, as it were, that of a niche containing a lamp; the lamp is [enclosed] in glass, the glass [shining] like a radiant star: [a lamp] lit from a blessed tree – an olive tree that is neither of the East nor of the west – the oil whereof [is so bright that it] would well-nigh give light [of itself] even though a fire had not touched it: light upon light! God guides unto His light him that wills [to be guided]; and [to this end] God propounds parables unto men since God [alone] has full knowledge of all things.

Explanation

Lit., “uninhabited houses wherein there are things of use (mata’) for you”. In the consensus of all the authorities, including the Companions of the Prophet, this relates to buildings or premises of a more or less public nature, like inns, shops, administrative offices, public baths, etc., as well as to ancient ruins.

24:36 In those Houses [of worship] which God has allowed being raised so that His name be remembered in them, there [are such as] extol His limitless glory at morn and evening.

Explanation

Lit., “to restrain [something] of their gaze and to guard their private parts”. The latter expression may be understood both in the literal sense of “covering one’s private parts” – i.e., modesty in dress – as well as in the metonymical sense of “restraining one’s sexual urges”, i.e., restricting them to what is lawful, namely, marital intercourse (cf. 23:5-6). The rendering adopted by me in this instance allows for both interpretations. The “lowering of one’s gaze”, too, relates both to physical and emotional modesty (Razi).

24:37 People whom neither [worldly] commerce nor striving after gain can divert from the remembrance of God, and from constancy in prayer, and from charity, [people] who are filled with fear [at the thought] of the Day on which all hearts and eyes will be convulsed. 

Explanation

My interpolation of the word “decently” reflects the interpretation of the phrase illa ma zahara minha by several of the earliest Islamic scholars, and particularly by Al-Qiffal (quoted by Razi), as “that which a human being may openly show in accordance with prevailing custom (al-‘adah al-jariyah)”. Although the traditional exponents of Islamic Law have for centuries been inclined to restrict the definition of “what may [decently] be apparent” to a woman’s face, hands and feet – and sometimes even less than that – we may safely assume that the meaning of illa ma zahara minha is much wider and that the deliberate vagueness of this phrase is meant to allow for all the time-bound changes that are necessary for man’s moral and social growth. The pivotal clause in the above injunction is the demand, addressed in identical terms to men as well as to women, to “lower their gaze and be mindful of their chastity”: and this determines the extent of what, at any given time, may legitimately – i.e., in consonance with the Qur’anic principles of social morality – be considered “decent” or “indecent” in a person’s outward appearance.

24:38 [And who only hope] that God may reward them in accordance with the best that they ever did, and give them, out of His bounty, more [than they deserve], for, God grants sustenance unto whom He wills, beyond all reckoning.

Explanation

The noun khimar (of which khumur is the plural) denotes the head-covering customarily used by Arabian women before and after the advent of Islam. According to most of the classical commentators, it was worn in pre-Islamic times more or less as an ornament and was let down loosely over the wearer’s back; and since, in accordance with the fashion prevalent at the time, the upper part of a woman’s tunic had a wide opening in the front, her breasts were left bare. Hence, the injunction to cover the bosom by means of a khimar (a term so familiar to the contemporaries of the Prophet) does not necessarily relate to the use of a khimar as such but is, rather, meant to make it clear that a woman’s breasts are not included in the concept of “what may decently be apparent” of her body and should not, therefore, be displayed.

24:39 But as for those who are bent on denying the truth, their [good] deeds are like a mirage in the desert, which the thirsty supposes to be water – until, when he approaches it, he finds that it was nothing: instead, he finds [that] God [has always been present] with him, and [that] He will pay him his account in full – for God is swift in reckoning!

Explanation

i.e., very old men. The preceding phrase “those whom they rightfully possess” (lit., “whom their right hands possess”) denotes slaves; but see also note 78.

24:40 Or [else, their deeds are] like the depths of darkness upon an abysmal sea, made yet more dark by wave billowing over the wave, with [black] clouds above it all: depths of darkness, layer upon layer, [so that when one holds up his hand, he can hardly see it: for he to whom God gives no light, no light whatever has he!

Explanation

Lit., “so that those of their charms which they keep hidden may become known”. The phrase yadribna bi-arjulihinna is idiomatically similar to the phrase daraba bi-yadayhi fi mishyatihi, “he swung his arms in walking” (quoted in this context in Taj al-‘Aras), and alludes to a deliberately provocative gait.

President

The divine scriptures are God’s beacons to the world. Surely God offered His trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it.
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