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Refuting the gross distortion and misrepresentation of the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad and Islam, made by the critics of Islam

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March 12th, 2015

Issue 3: Quran degrades women as ‘tilth’ for sexual exploitation

Issue 3: Quran degrades women as ‘tilth’ for sexual exploitation

– for which verse 2:223 is oft quoted. Little do they know that it is all about women’s rights. See below.

In Quran, the first bar on any possible exploitation of women is that it allows intimal relationships only within the bounds of marriage – And do not go near to fornication: surely it is an obscenity. And evil is the way (17:32)[1], And those who cannot find a match [–marriage] must keep chaste, until Allah makes them free from want out of His grace (24:33)[2]. Once a household is established through marriage, then the significant burden of responsibility for providing care, both material and emotional, rests on the husband – Men are the maintainers of women (4:34)[3]. Intimate relationships are only a subset of the superset of responsibility to be borne by the husband. This responsibility in itself prevents any inkling of selfish exploitation of wives by their husbands.

Before we take on the subject matter of this chapter it becomes pertinent to be aware of the stress laid on kind treatment towards wife in Islam as outlined by Maulana Muhammad Ali in his book ‘Religion of Islam’:

The Qur'an lays the greatest possible stress on kindly and good treatment towards the wife. "Keep them in good fellowship" and "treat them kindly" is the oft-recurring advice of the Qur'an (2:229, 231; 4:19, etc.). So much so that kindness is recommended even when a man dislikes his wife, for "it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it" (4:19). The Prophet laid equally great stress upon good treatment of a wife. "The most excellent of you," he is reported to have said," is he who is best in his treatment: of his wife" (Mishkat al-Masabih, 13:II-ii). "Accept my advice in the matter of doing good to women," is another tradition (Bukhari, 67:81). In his famous address at the Farewell Pilgrimage, he again laid particular stress on the good treatment of women: "O my people! you have certain rights over your wives and so have your wives over you …They are the trust of Allah in your hands. So you must treat them with all kindness" (Muslim, 16:17). [3a]

Islamic ideal of marriage which serves the purpose not only of the increase of the human race but also that of the spiritual advancement of both the man and the woman by referring to the quietness of mind which they find in each other,[4] which is outlined in verse below:

30:21. And of His signs are this, that He created mates for you from yourselves that you might find quiet of mind in them, and He put between you love and compassion. Surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect.[5]

Quran recognizes the natural outcomes of marriage which are conjugal relations, mutual comfort and wish of the parents to have a healthy progeny:

7:189. It is He Who has created you from one living entity, and from the same stock (that He created a human being) He brought into being his mate that he might find comfort in her. When he covers her (in conjugal relationship) she conceives a light burden and carries it about, then when she grows heavy (with the child), they both pray to Allâh, their Lord, (saying) `If You give us a good one (- a child with a sound mind in a sound body), we shall surely be of the grateful (to You).'[6]

Beauty of Quran is that it addresses different aspects of life in varying hues[7] and from many angles[8], and in a repeating[9] and interlinked logic[10], free of inconsistencies[10a], with excellent and useful proofs[10b] to expound its message and drive home the point. Similarly, in Quran the ordinary conjugal relationships become extraordinary. They are not merely physical, but have deeper implications in them. The children from the wedlock are not mere offspring needing nurturance but serve a higher purpose for moral refinement for everyone in the household. Rearing of children gives the opportunity for inherent godly qualities in parents to bloom e.g. the Divine attributes of Sustenance, Mercifulness, Beneficence, Forgiveness, Recompense, Hearing, Seeing, Judgment etc.:

64:15. Verily, your possessions and your children are a means to reveal your hidden attributes. As for Allâh there awaits an immense reward with Him.[11]

The dynamics of intimate relationships between husband and wife are governed by a series of verses in Quran, one of which under question and ignorantly maligned is as follows:

2:223. Your wives are a tilth [Arabic: Harthun] for you, so go to your tilth when you like, and send (good deeds) beforehand [i.e. before intimacy] for yourselves;[12] and have regard for your duty to Allah [that includes rights of a wife] and know that you will meet Him. And give good news to the believers [for a happy outcome of their marriage].[13] [Emphasis added]

The keyword in the verse is tilth that at times is misread for exploitation of women. In Arabic, the said term means a field that is prepared, ploughed and sowed for a crop:

Haratha – To till and sow, cultivate, cut a thing, acquire (goods); plough, study a thing thoroughly. Harth: Land prepared for sowing; Tillage; Produce of field; Crop; Garden; Gain; Wife. Tahruthûna (imp. 2nd p. m. plu.): You sow. Harthun (n.): Tilth. (L; T; R; LL) The root with its above two forms has been used in the Holy Qur’ân about 14 times.[14]

Metaphor of farming – Your wives are a tilth for you, is an appropriate allegory for husbands in Quran that Allah also uses for Himself for His attribute of being a Creator e.g.

80:26-31. …We cleave the earth, a proper cleaving, So that We cause grain to grow therein, As well as grapes, vegetables, The olive, the date-palm, Orchards with dense trees, Fruits and herbage; [14a]

Similarly, the use of the word tilth in the manner of a fertile land under care of a farmer, for a married woman, naturally implies more restrictions than allowance for the husband, the tiller. ‘Farming’ expects a disciplined role from husband in his abstaining from an overbearing intimacy that wife cannot bear; protection of her pregnancy and giving rest/gap between pregnancies as it is done to the land between crop cycles to rejuvenate it.[15] This metaphorical reference to tilth for its said meanings naturally puts a bar on the misuse of women under the excuse of Mata’a in temporary marriages, where a woman like a prostitute could be passed from man to man or wife for a courtship with other males as in Niyoga, because no self-respecting farmer will permit seed from anyone else to pollute his land. The relationship between farmer and his land is that of ownership, protection and care while obligatory prevention of abuse of the latter. This relationship is based upon the attributes of the land which is like that of a mother that not only produces but provides nurturance, without asking much in return, except its care and respect. The critics of the verse perceive this verse as a one-sided intimate right of a husband towards his wife, but they fail to read a few verses later about her equal rights in all matters of marriage – And women have rights similar to those against them in a just manner (2:228)[16].

The phrase – send (good deeds) beforehand for yourselves in the stated verse in terms of intimate relations with wife implies that such physical relations are to be nurtured under a spiritual bond between the couple. It is out of the same tilth which when tilled with spiritual seeds grows a spiritual shade and its accompanying coolness, both here and in the hereafter:

25:74-77. And they who say, Our Lord, grant us in our wives and our offspring the joy [Arabic – Qurratun : Coolness; Refreshment; Source of joy and comfort[17]] of our eyes, and make us leaders for those who guard against evil. These are rewarded with high places because they are patient, and are met there with greetings and salutation, abiding there — a goodly abode and resting place![18]

Tilth in Quran is metaphorically used in both spiritual and materialistic sense. Tilth if infused with spiritual blessings of respect, honesty, loyalty, love and affection can be a source for uplift of humanity as is clear from verse 2:223. On the other hand, tilth without spirituality is nothing but materialism as noted in the verses below:

3:14. It has been made fair seeming to the people the love of the desired things comprising women, sons, stored up heaps of gold and silver, well-bred horses, cattle and tilth [Arabic: Harth]. That is the provision of the present life. Whereas with Allah is the fairest goal (of life).[19] [Emphasis added]

3:116-117. Verily, as to those who disbelieve, neither their possessions nor their children shall avail them aught against (the punishment of) Allâh. And it is they who are the fellows of the Fire, therein shall they live long. That which they spend for the present life bears likeness with the wind wherein is freezing cold which smites the tilth [Arabic: Haratha] of the people who have done injustice to themselves, so it destroys it. Allâh does no injustice to them but they wrong themselves.[20] [Emphasis added]

Fire is a blessing and life sustaining. But, if misused, it can bring death and devastation. Similarly, a married life can be a blessing because it can provide joy and comfort in life. But, if this relationship is devoid of respect, honesty, loyalty, love and affection it can become a source of exploitation and misery that Quran admonishes against.

Compare the said use of the word tilth in verse 2:223 with that of the Bible for its explicitness and a focus on sensuality:

Proverbs 5:17-19.Let them be only your own, And not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; And always be enraptured with her love.[21] [Note: we cannot grace these pages with more filth from the Bible for which reader is referred to the link in footnote[22]]

It would be a fallacy to read the said verse 2:223 in isolation from the other verses in its vicinity which bring out the context of the message that is none but preservation of women rights, rather than the exploitation in a non-contextual read.

The verse 2:222 is in continuation of a topic from earlier verses 2:216-218 that highlight the state of war and from which emerge orphans (and widows) that are addressed in verse 220 (not quoted here). In current instance, with regards to women, the verse preceding 2:223 states:

2:222. And they ask you about menstruation. Say: It is harmful; so keep aloof [i.e. sexually only] from women during menstrual discharge and do not approach them (for intercourse) until they are clean. But when they have cleansed themselves, go to them as Allah has commanded you. Surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him), and He loves those who purify themselves.[23]

It is obvious that this verse is squarely addressed to the husbands and is a temporary injunction for a limited time only during each menstrual cycle of the wife. Of course, the non-accommodation of the temporary ‘unwell’ state of the wife by her husband during her menstruation is harmful for the wife and the marriage during which she might be in pangs of pain, undergoing roller coaster of emotions due to hormonal changes, not desiring intimacy and occupied with the burden of even a cultural guilt or shame because of the menstrual discharge. Essentially, she has to be given an emotional space of her own during a biological cycle that is beyond her control. In terms of embryology, her bodily functions are being prepared for next ovulation after the menstrual discharge is completed. It is at that time the verse 2:223 in question comes into play, i.e. her body is then ready for conception through intercourse and she acts as the garden from which the future generations can spring forth and the prime objective of marital relationship is achieved whence it becomes good news to the believers(2:223), i.e. the parents who follow the stated injunctions (2:222-223). There is no point, in a metaphorical sense, to till a land and sow it out of season.

Menstruation is a biological stage in a monthly hormonal cycle for a woman of childbearing age, which could be delayed or absent in adults due to certain factors. The humanistic accommodation that Quran mandates from husbands for this condition not only assures protection to the woman during marriage as mentioned in verse 2:222 above; it also protects her rights during divorce process as well:

65:1. Prophet! (tell the believers that) when you decide to divorce (your) women divorce them at a time when their `Iddat (- period of three monthly courses, for which they must wait before they can remarry) can be calculated; (the divorce should be given when she has cleansed herself after the menstrual discharge) and after divorce calculate the period (of `Iddat exactly). And keep your duty to Allâh, your Lord. You shall not turn them out (during this period of `Iddat) from their homes except they commit flagrant sin, nor shall they themselves go out (of them). These are the limits imposed by Allâh and he that violates the limits imposed by Allâh, indeed does injustice to himself. You never know (Allâh's will), for it may be that after this (divorce) Allâh will bring about a new situation (of reconciliation between you).

65:4. If you are in doubt (how to calculate the period) of such of your women as have despaired of monthly courses, then (know that) period for which they must wait is three months and (the same holds good) for such women as have not menstruated (for some other reasons [e.g. oligomenorrhea[23a], ammenhorea[23b], menopause[23c] etc.]). And (as to) pregnant women, their term (will end) when they are delivered of their burden (after giving birth to a child). And (bear in mind) for the one who keeps his duty to Allâh, He will provide facility in his affair for him.

65:6. Lodge (the divorced) women (during the prescribed period in some part of the house) where you are lodging, according to (the best of) your means. Do not harass them so as to make (their stay) hard for them. If they be pregnant, bear their expanses until they are delivered of the child…[24]

When the above quoted verses 2:222, 65:1, 4 and 6 are read in unison, it becomes crystal clear that during menstruation period of wife the husband is under obligation to treat her tenderly. Thus, it naturally begets to ask the critics of verse 2:223 as to how they justify their interpretation of the said verse for exploitation of women in a Book that contrary to their hateful views gives so much respect to a woman even in her apparently ‘unclean’ condition. Only a ruffian and a coward will mistreat and exploit her when she is ‘clean,’ not a follower of Quran.

These injunctions to respect a woman during her menstruation in Quran are diametrically opposite to Bible. While the issues surrounding menstruation in Quran are addressed to married women only, in Bible, all married and unmarried women are lumped together.  In Bible, every menstruating women is not only ostracized for her ‘uncleanliness’ but her uncleanliness is determined to be ‘infectious’ to everyone else as well, hence she is to be socially abandoned. During her menstruation she is considered to be in an ‘untouchable’ state of sin for no fault of hers. To make the matters worse, she even has to atone for her ‘sin’ as well when she becomes ‘clean’ seven days after the menstruation ends: 

Leviticus 15:19-24. ‘If a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything that she lies on during her impurity shall be unclean; also everything that she sits on shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And whoever touches anything that she sat on shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. If anything is on her bed or on anything on which she sits, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening. And if any man lies with her at all, so that her impurity is on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean.

Leviticus 15:25-27. [repeats the theme of Leviticus 15:19-24 above]

Leviticus 15:28-30. ‘But if she is cleansed of her discharge, then she shall count for herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean. And on the eighth day she shall take for herself two turtledoves or two young pigeons, and bring them to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the priest shall offer the one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her before the Lord for the discharge of her uncleanness.[25] [Emphasis added]

Note: The above is only a sampler from Old Testament. Those interested to read more on the subject may refer to the link in the footnote[26].

In the verses adjoining 2:222-223, Quran not only outlines the dignity and rights of a woman in her marriage and her right to divorce, it also tries to preserve the marriage if there is possibility of a thoughtless divorce:

2:224-228. And do not make Allah by your oaths a hindrance to your doing good and keeping your duty and making peace between people [inclusive of estranged couple].

–This verse refers to the pre-Islamic Arab custom of ila’, a way of temporarily putting off the wife which was effected by an oath in Allah’s name not to have sexual relations with her. The result of this was that the husband considered himself free from all marital obligations. The first step to bring about a reform in the relations of husband and wife was that this practice was abolished. It is in reference to this that the taking of oaths against the doing of good to others is prohibited. The fulfilment of marital obligations is thus referred to as the doing of good and observance of duty and making peace between people. But the subject is generalized and the taking of all oaths to forbid oneself the doing of good or fulfilment of obligations is prohibited. See also 66:2 footnote.[27]

And Allah is Hearing, Knowing. Allah will not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths, but He will call you to account for what your hearts have earned.

– By vain oaths are meant unintentional or thoughtless oaths in ordinary conversation, and by what the hearts have earned is meant an oath intentionally taken.[28]

And Allah is Forgiving, Forbearing. Those who swear that they will not have sexual relations with their wives should wait four months,

Ila’ signifies an oath by a man that he shall not approach his wife. In pre-Islamic times the Arabs used to take such oaths frequently, and as the period of suspension was not limited, the wife was compelled sometimes to pass her whole life having neither the position of a wife nor that of a divorced woman free to marry elsewhere. The Quran declares that if the husband does not reassert conjugal relations within four months, the wife shall be divorced. Cases in which husbands desert wives, having neither conjugal relations with them nor divorcing them, must be dealt with practically as amounting to Ila’, so that after four months the wife should be free if she wants a divorce. [29]

then if they go back, Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. And if they resolve on a divorce,

–The Islamic law of divorce is elastic and does not strictly limit the causes of divorce. Divorce is allowed if sufficient reason exists, but the right is to be exercised under exceptional circumstances. A wife can claim a divorce according to the Islamic law, which was not a right conferred on her by Jewish and Christian laws on divorce as formulated in Deuteronomy and Matthew.[30]

Allah is surely Hearing, Knowing. Divorced women should keep themselves in waiting for three courses.

–The period of waiting, or ‘iddat, forms the first condition in the Islamic law of divorce. But for cases in which marriage is not consummated, no period of waiting is necessary; see 33:49.[31]

And it is not lawful for them to conceal what Allah has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have a better right to take them back in the meanwhile if they wish for reconciliation.

–These words give a clear right to the parties to effect a reconciliation and re-establish conjugal relations within the period of waiting. No special procedure is necessary for this but both the divorce and the reconciliation must take place in the presence of witnesses. If, however, the ‘iddat is over and no reconciliation has been effected, the relation of husband and wife can be reestablished by remarriage, which right is given to the parties by v. 232.[32]

And women have rights similar to those against them in a just manner,

–The rights of women against their husbands are here stated to be similar to those which the husbands have against their wives. The change in this respect was really a revolutionizing one, for the Arabs hitherto regarded women as mere property. Women were now declared to have rights similar to those which were exercised against them. The equality of the rights of women with those of men was never previously recognized by any nation or any reformer.[33]

and men are a degree above them.

–The statement that “men are a degree above them” does not nullify the rights asserted in the previous passage. The words are added simply to show that the husband is the head of the household.[34]

And Allah is Mighty, Wise.[35]

In summary, it is figment of an ignorant imagination that Quran allows sexual exploitation of women. The whole case in Quran is exactly the opposite and it assures their equal dignity and rights.


 

[1] Bani Israel – The Israelites: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[2] Al-Nur – The Light: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[3] Al-Nisa – Women: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[3a] Religion of Islam by Maulana Muhammad Ali, Chapter: Marriage, Section: ‘Stress laid on kind treatment towards wife”, p. 481. Link: http://www.aaiil.org/text/books/mali/religionislam/religionislammuhammadali.shtml
[4] Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz: Footnote – 30:21 c (21)
[5] Al-Rum – The Romans: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[6] Al-Araf – The Elevated Places: Nooruddin
[7] 16:69.varying hues which is a cure for the people. Al-Nahl – The Bee: Nooruddin
[8] 6:65. …Behold! how We explain Our Messages in different ways so that they may give thought. Al-Anam – The Cattle: Nooruddin
[9] 39:23. Allâh has revealed the best Message (the fairest discourse), this wonderfully coherent Book (the verses of which are mutually supplementing and) repeated, (narrating both sides of the case in various ways to drive home the divine injunctions to human minds). Al-Zumar – The Multitudes: Nooruddin
[10] 41:2-3. The compilation and orderly arrangement (of this Qur'ân) proceeds from the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful (God). (It is) a Book, the verses of which are detailed and clear in exposition. It is beautifully inter linked, (and it is in a language that) makes the meanings eloquently clear. It is very useful for a people who have knowledge. Fussilat – Detailed and Clear in Exposition: Nooruddin

[10a] 4:82. Why do they not ponder over the Qur'ân? Had it been from anyone other than Allâh, they would surely have found a good deal of inconsistency therein. Al-Nisa – The Women: Nooruddin
[10b] 39:27. And We have set forth for the people all sorts of excellent and useful proofs in this Qur'ân that they may take heed. Al-Zumar – The Multitudes: Nooruddin

[11] Al-Taghâbun – Manifestation of Loss: Nooruddin
[12]
Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz: Footnote 2:223 c (223) – This verse shows that the real object of marital relations is not simply the satisfaction of sexual desires. (Editor’s Note: The comparison of women to the land that is tilled is to show that it is through them that the crop of the next generation of human beings grows and develops, both physically and in character. Men are also told here to do some act of moral goodness before approaching their wives sexually, and to have regard for duty to God which stands for having regard for one’s duties towards others as required by God. Thus the husband is required to be mindful also of moral duty and responsibility in the matter of sexual relations with his wife, so that it should not be merely an occasion for him to gratify his lust selfishly with no regard for moral goodness or the rights of his wife.)
[13] Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[14] Dictionary of The Holy Quran, (c) 2010, Abdul Mannan Omar, p. 117
[14a] Abasa – He Frowned: Nooruddin

[15] Explanation of the word tilth by Nooruddin in his lectures published as “Haqaiqul Furqan”. Link: http://www.alislam.org/quran/tafseer/?page=361&region=H1&CR=

[16] Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[17] Dictionary of The Holy Quran, (c) 2010, Abdul Mannan Omar, p. 450
[18] Al-Furqan – The Criteron: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[19] Al `Imran – The House of Amran: Nooruddin
[20]
ibid 
[21] New King James Version. Link: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+5%3A17-19&version=NKJV

[22] Sex and the bible: The verses you didn't learn in Sunday school – Link: http://www.examiner.com/article/sex-and-the-bible-the-verses-you-didn-t-learn-sunday-school

[23] Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz
[23a] Wikipedia – Oligomenorrhea: Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oligomenorrhea

[23b] Wikipedia – Amenorrhoea: Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amenorrhoea

[23c] Wikipedia – Menopause: Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menopause
[24] Al-Talaq – The Divorce: Nooruddin
[25] New King James Version. Link: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+15%3A19-30&version=NKJV

[26] Women were considered Ritually Unclean. Link: http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/unclean.asp

[27] Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz: Footnote 2:224 – a (224)
[28] ibid  2:225 – b (225)
[29] 
ibid  2:226 – c (226)
[30] 
ibid  2:227 – d (227)
[31] 
ibid  2:228 – a (228-1)
[32] 
ibid  2:228 – b (228-2)
[33] 
ibid  2:228 – c (228-3)
[34] 
ibid  2:228 – d (228-4)
[35] Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Muhammad Ali – Zahid Aziz

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