In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayah 228 (Part 2)
“But the men have a degree over them (in responsibility and authority).” This ayah indicates that men are in a more advantageous position than women physically as well as in their mannerism, status, obedience, spending, taking care of the affairs and in general. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says in Surah an-Nisa ayah 34,
“Men are in charge of women by (right of) what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend (for maintenance) from their wealth…”
He ends the ayah saying He is Mighty in His punishment of those who disobey and defy His commands. And He is Wise in what He commands, destines and legislates.
Man’s higher position over woman is for discipline only
Explaining this portion of the ayah, Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani writes: A universal system in the world, the human nature and the best interests of women themselves required that men be not only given a particular sort of controlling and care-taking right over women, but that it be rather made incumbent on them. This is what has been stated in the ayah.
But, this does not, necessarily entail that all men are superior to all women because being superior in the sight of Allah entirely depends on belief and good conduct. In Divine dispension, the increase or decrease in degrees operates in synchronization with the degrees of belief and conduct. Therefore, in matters relating to the Hereafter, it is not necessary that men alone should continue to have that step or degree above women. This too is possible and, as elaborated in Qur’anic ayaat and ahadeeth narrations, this is what would come to pass that some women, through their obedience to and worship of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, will become superior to many men with their degree of precedence rising higher than many a men.
It can be said that a certain measure of precedence and authority in regulating the affairs of worldly life is for the good of women and that wisdom so dictates. Other than that, there is no difference in the reward and retribution for deeds, good or bad, and in the degree of merit attained in the Hereafter.
After these preliminary remarks let’s ponder over the words of the ayah under discussion. It was said: “And due to the wives is similar to what is expected of them…” that is, their rights are incumbent upon men similarly as the rights of men are incumbent upon them.
Here the rights of women were mentioned before the rights of men, one reason for which is that man, given his physical power and God-given precedence, manages to wrest his rights from women anyway. The concern should be for the rights of women since they cannot habitually wrest their rights by force.
There is yet another hint here which suggests that men should take the first step to give the rights of women. However, the similarity and equivalency declared by the use of the word mithlu [like, similar] does not mean that the kind of job men do should also be done by women, or vice versa. The distribution of work and respective duties for men and women are naturally different. It means that it is obligatory that rights belonging to both be observed equally and mutually and that the punishment for any negligence or shortcoming be also equal.
It is worth observing how the Qur’an has, in a sentence so small, miniaturized a whole roster of rights and duties since all rights women have over men and all rights men have over women are included under the sense of this ayah. Simply by adding one more word bilma’aroof [justly, uprightly, kindly, courteously, according to the practice approved by the Shari’ah], the possible occurrence of mutual controversies was eliminated. It was established that rights should be given using the ma’aroof method because the meaning of ma’aroof includes that which is neither prohibited nor impermissible under the dictates of the Shari’ah nor does it have any element of hardship or excess under common habit or custom or ‘urf. The purport is that observing the routine of legal provisions is not enough, instead, it will be examined that, according to ‘urf or customarily approved practice, the other party does not in any case suffer from pain or loss. That which is judged to be a source of pain and loss, in view of ‘urf, will be forbidden and remain impermissible, for instance, coldness, indifference or such behavior or conduct which causes pain. These can hardly be covered under an article of law but the word bilma’aroof does encompass them.
The Degree Men have over Women
The well-known meaning and sense of this ayah is that despite the rights of the parties being equal, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has bestowed upon men a certain degree of precedence and authority over women. The wisdom in this has been hinted by the words: “And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.”
Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu commented: Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has given men a degree of precedence as compared to women, therefore they should act with much more forbearance. Even if women fall short of giving them their rights, the degree of their precedence is such that they should bear by it, be patient and do nothing to desist from giving them their rights. (Qurtubi)
If one understands the explanation of this beautiful ayah, many of our self-created conflicts and arguments would end. Truly, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is All-Wise. None of His commands or decisions are based on injustice. He knows what is best for us. On the surface, this ayah seems harsh toward women but the way Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has protected women’s rights is endearing. May He bless us with Hikmah, and teach us the meaning of His ayaat as He intended them to be, aameen.
DOWNLOAD PDF: Tafseer Al-Baqarah Ayah 228
رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيم
“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the Hearing, the Knowing.” [Al-Baqarah 2: 127]