In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayaat 226-227
“For those who swear not to have sexual relations with their wives is a waiting time of four months, but if they return (to normal relations) – then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. And if they decide on divorce – then indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” [al-Baqarah 2: 226-227]
“For those who swear not to have sexual relations with their wives…” indicates that the Ila’ involves the wife and not a slave-women, as the majority of the scholars have agreed.
The Ila’ and its Rulings
Ila’ is a type of vow where a man swears not to sleep with his wife for a certain period, whether less or more than four months. If the vow of Ila’ was for less than four months, the man has to wait for the vow’s period to end and then is allowed to have sexual intercourse with his wife. She has to be patient and she cannot ask her husband, in this case, to end his vow before the end of its term. It is reported in the Two Saheehs that ‘A’ishah radhiAllahu ‘anha said that Allah’s Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam swore he would stay away from with his wives for a month. He then came down after twenty-nine days saying:
الشَّهْرُ تِسْعٌ وَعِشْرُون
“The (lunar) month is twenty-nine days.”
If the period of Ila’ is for more than four months, the wife is allowed in this case to ask her husband, upon the end of the four months, to end the Ila’ and have sexual relations with her. Otherwise, he should divorce her, by being forced to do so by the authorities if necessary, so that the wife is not harmed.
“…but if they return (to normal relations) – then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful,” meaning at the end of the Ila’ if the husband and wife decide to resume living as a couple then Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala will forgive any shortcomings that might have occurred in the rights of the wife because of the vow of Ila’.
“And if they decide on divorce – then indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing,” this indicates that divorce does not occur by merely passing the four month mark (during the Ila’). Malik reported from Nafi’ that ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar radhiAllahu ‘anhu said, “If the man swears to Ila’ from his wife, then divorce does not occur automatically even after the four months have passed. When he stops at the four months mark, he should either divorce or return.” Al-Bukhari also reported this hadeeth.
Ibn Jarir reported that Suhayl ibn Abu Salih said that his father said, “I asked twelve Companions about the man who does Ila’ with his wife. They all stated that he does not have to do anything until the four months have passed and then has to either retain or divorce her.” Ad-Daraqutni also reported this from Suhayl.
Further Explanation from Maarif-ul-Qur’an
If someone takes an oath that he will not have sexual intercourse with his wife, the case has four situations:
(A) No time-limit was fixed
(B) A time-limit of four months was fixed
(C) A time-limit of more than four months was fixed
(D) The limit was identified as less than four months
Situations A, B and C are termed in Shariah as Ila’. The command covering these situations is: If the oath-taker breaks his oath within four months and resumes sexual intercourse with his wife, he will have to come up with kaffarah for his oath while his nikkah [marriage] remains intact. And should it be that the time-limit of four months did expire and the oath-taker did not break his oath, an irrevocable divorce on his wife will become effective, that is, taking her back without remarriage does not remain correct any more. However, if they, by mutual consent, enter into marriage this will be correct.
The command in the fourth situation is: If the oath is broken, kaffarah will be required and if the oath is completed, the marriage, even then, will remain valid. (Bayan al-Qur’an)
It should be remembered that if a couple are separated by a mutual understanding and do not have sexual relations for up to four months this does not automatically break the marriage contract. Some examples of this situation are: spouses living in different countries or one spouse diagnosed with a medical condition that prevents them from sexual intercourse.
A false notion is prevalent in some communities where they say if spouses are separated from one another for a long time then they have to re-do their nikkah. Remember, in order to get a divorce you have to approach the court. Separation does not nullify the marriage.
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