Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayah 2
In the previous ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala talked about the creation of man and reminded us that we are all from one soul. Therefore, as children of the same man, we should treat one another with respect and mercy. No one is superior to another because of their skin color, language or race.
In the ayah under study, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala talks further about honoring the ties of kinship by protecting the rights of the orphans. Since the guardians of an orphan child are usually his/her close relatives, therefore, this too has a bearing on the fulfillment of the rights of kinship.
Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani explains the word al-yatama [الْيَتَامَىٰ], is the plural of the word al-yateem which means “lone or unique.” A pearl that resides in its shell all alone is called Ad-Durr al-Yateem meaning “the orphan pearl.” In the terminology of the Islamic law, a yateem is a child whose father has died. However, in the animal kingdom, al-yateem is an offspring whose mother has died.
A child is considered an orphan until he reaches puberty, after that he is no more considered a yateem. Many people grow up to be old men and still call themselves yateem.
If orphaned children have property, either gifted to them or received by them through someone’s inheritance, then, the responsibility of protecting this property, as well as the orphan himself, falls on the shoulders of the person who is the guardian of the orphan. It does not matter whether the guardian was appointed by the father of the orphan himself before his death or by the government.
It is part of the guardian’s duty that he covers all costs incurred on the necessary maintenance of the orphan from what he owns. However, he should not give the possession of the property that the orphan owns to him until he has reached the age of maturity. This precaution is exercised because the orphan being a minor may not act responsibly and lose all his wealth.
The words, “And give to the orphans their properties…” give a hint that the guardian is responsible for the welfare of the orphan, therefore, he should protect in the best way possible till the orphan child reaches the age of maturity when it will be returned to the rightful owner.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala commands that the property of the orphans be surrendered to them in full when they reach the age of adolescence and He forbids using or confiscating any part of it. He prohibits the substitution of bad things for the good ones by saying,
وَلَا تَتَبَدَّلُوا الْخَبِيثَ بِالطَّيِّبِ ۖ
“…and do not substitute the defective [of your own] for the good [of theirs]…”
Some people would let the number of things owned by the orphan stay unaltered but would take something good from there and substitute it with something bad they themselves had. For example, swapping a lean goat for a healthy one, a fake Dirham for a real one and other things like that.
Since this too is a breach of trust in respect of the property of the orphan, the Qur’an forbids it. Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani said this forbiddance not only covers the substitution one’s inferior possessions for the orphan’s finer things, but it also covers any attempt by the guardian to enter into any deal with some other person which results in a loss for the orphaned child.
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,
وَلَا تَأْكُلُوا أَمْوَالَهُمْ إِلَىٰ أَمْوَالِكُمْ ۚ
“And do not consume their properties into your own…”
It means do not mix them together so that you eat up both. The practice was that the guardian would mix the orphan’s property with his own property and would consume from it. Since the two properties are now mixed, there is no identification of who is eating from whose wealth. Even a sincere person would think that there was no sin in doing this.
It was for this reason that the prohibition of consuming what belonged to the orphan by mixing it with one’s own wealth was commanded. A warning has been given to either keep the property of the orphan separated and spend from it separately so that there remains no danger of any excess or should the property be mixed then the accounts maintained should be so clear that one can be sure of not having spent anything belonging to the orphan on his own person or in his interest.
The style of expression here gives a hint that those who misappropriate the property of orphans are generally the people who have properties of their own as well. So, it is by implication that such people have been reproached for stooping down to eat up the property of the orphans unlawfully while they have their own lawful belongings at hand – a shameful act indeed.
The ayah ends with the admonition,
إِنَّهُ كَانَ حُوبًا كَبِيرًا
“Indeed, that is ever a great sin.”
The word, hub [حُوب], as explained by Ibn ‘Abbas radhiAllahu ‘anhu, comes from the Ethiopian language and it means “major sin.” It means unlawful appropriation or use of the orphan’s property, be it because of lack of supervision or substitution of something inferior for something of fine quality or because of consuming the orphan’s assets as mixed up with one’s own is a great sin.
The ayah teaches us the importance of studying our Deen and learning the rights and responsibilities mentioned in the Qur’an. If we knew what commands Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has given in the Qur’an and what He expects from us, our ties with other people would have been much better.
We learn that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala protects the rights of the weak in our society such as young children who have lost their father so that no one can cheat them.
Consuming another’s wealth unlawfully is a major sin, therefore, we need to be honest in our business transactions and matters of daily life.
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