Sharia Law has been portrayed by the media that it is all about blood, punishments, and violent behavior. However, Surah Al-Nisaa gives the real bright image of what Islamic law is all about. It gives guidance on the ideal structure and social ethics for the Muslim community, in addition to addressing some social challenges that happened in Madinah after the battle of Uhud (which was the main event that Surah Aal Imran discussed).
The Surah is addressing two main themes:
- Family affairs: gives guidance on the rights of women, orphans, in addition to responsibilities of women and women towards each other, and laws of inheritance.
- Community affairs: which is the larger family that all Muslims belong to; in this section the Surah discusses the disobedient members of the community in Madinah, mainly the hypocrites (internal trouble makers) and the Jews (external trouble makers).
Please note that the Jews in the life of Prophet Muhammad PBUH were not targeted because of their religion, or because they were a “religious minority” as some people claim in our time. In modern terms, Jews were citizens of the “madinah” community which was multicultural, and they all agreed to a treaty that governs their affairs with the Muslim community. However, they did not fulfil their obligations, and this is why tension started and escalated, which led to clashes later on in the Madinah stage of the prophet’s life (peace be upon him)
Family Comes First
One might ask how they two sections of the Surah are related, and why was the Surah named after women? The answer is pretty simple: justice and mercy starts from home first, with your family, with your wife and children, and then extends to the world around you.
Note the progression in the themes of first few Surahs 2-3-4:
Married people should be familiar with the 1st Ayah in this Surah, which is commonly recited during the marriage ceremony (nikah or Kitab). This Ayah is an appeal for all mankind (not only believer) to remind them of their unity, all coming from a single male and female.
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُواْ رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُم مِّن نَّفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالاً كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاء ..
People, be mindful of your Lord, who created you from a single soul, and from it” created its mate, and from the pair of them spread countless men and women far and wide;.. [4:1]
The Ayah is concluded with the name of allah (Al-Raqib) which means: the one who is watching over you, and very close to you (as if He is holding on your necks with a leech, derived from Raqaba = neck)
You cannot read Surat Al-Nisaa (even if you’re skimming through it really quick) without noticing how much rights Islam gave to women; this is not a cliché, this is a documented fact in our Quran, and surah Al-Nisaa is a big proof, starting with a confirmation of their financial rights (dowry ):
وَآتُواْ النِّسَاء صَدُقَاتِهِنَّ نِحْلَةً
Give women their bridal gift upon marriage… [4:4]
Even at times of conflicts, and when divorce is inevitable, one should not play on the law to take parts of the dowry:
ولاَ تَعْضُلُوهُنَّ لِتَذْهَبُواْ بِبَعْضِ مَا آتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ إِلاَّ أَن يَأْتِينَ بِفَاحِشَةٍ مُّبَيِّنَةٍ
… Do not treat your wives harshly, hoping to take back some of the bride-gift you gave them, unless they are guilty of a clear act of shamelessness … [4:19]
Why would people steal or cheat in earning money? They may earn haram income to keep some extra money aside for their children. Allah in this Surah reminds us that the only way to protect your children’s financial security is by having Taqwa of Allah:
وَلْيَخْشَ الَّذِينَ لَوْ تَرَكُواْ مِنْ خَلْفِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّةً ضِعَافًا خَافُواْ عَلَيْهِمْ فَلْيَتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَلْيَقُولُواْ قَوْلاً سَدِيدًا
Let those who would fear for the future of their own helpless children, if they were to die, show the same concern [for orphans]; let them be mindful of God and speak out for justice. [4:9]
Allah uses different approaches to remind the men about their duties to their wives: sometimes Allah tells them to trust the wisdom of Allah, and what they may dislike can carry the ultimate good:
وَعَاشِرُوهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ فَإِن كَرِهْتُمُوهُنَّ فَعَسَى أَن تَكْرَهُواْ شَيْئًا وَيَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا
Live with them in accordance with what is fair and kind: if you dislike them, it may well be that you dislike something in which God has put much good. [4:19]
In other occasions, Allah strongly rebukes men who may take their wife’s dowry, and reminds them about the pledge that they gave to the wife’s parent at the time of the nikah (marriage):
وَكَيْفَ تَأْخُذُونَهُ وَقَدْ أَفْضَى بَعْضُكُمْ إِلَى بَعْضٍ وَأَخَذْنَ مِنكُم مِّيثَاقًا غَلِيظًا
How could you take it when this is unjust and a blatant sin? How could you take it when you have lain with each other and they have taken a solemn pledge from you? [4:21]
R&R for Men and Women
Ayah 34 summarizes the mutual rights and responsibilities from both sides:
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاء بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنفَقُواْ مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِم فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِّلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّهُ …
Husbands should take good care of their wives, with the bounties God has given to some more than others and with what they spend out of their own money. Righteous wives are devout and guard what God would have them guard in their husbands’ absence…. [5:34]
Men are protectors and maintainers of women, and are expected to assume their responsibility in leading the family with fairness and mercy. Similarly, women are expected to devoutly obedient (To Allah first and foremost) and then to protect the reputation and property of their husband.
This Ayah has been used as an excuse for many for domestic abuse, please check this link for more details on the interpretation, since this is beyond the scope of this summary.
Your righteousness and your faith should show in your manners, ESPECIALLY in the way you treat your spouse, children, parents, and siblings