This Surah takes its name, An Nur, from verse 35.
Period of Revelation
The consensus of opinion is that it was sent down after the
Campaign against Bani al-Mustaliq and this is confirmed by
vv. 11-20 that deal with the incident of the "Slander", which
occurred during that Campaign. But there is a difference of
opinion as to whether this Campaign took place in 5 A. H. before
the Battle of the Trench or in 6 A. H. after it. It is important
to decide this issue in order to determine whether this Surah
was sent down earlier or Surah Al- Ahzab(XXXIII), which is
the only other Surah containing the Commandments about the
observance of purdah by women.
Surah Al-Ahzab was admittedly sent down on the occasion of
the Battle of the Trench. Now if this Battle occurred earlier,
it would mean that the initial instructions in connection with
the Commandments of purdah were sent down in Surah Al-Ahzab?
and they were complemented later by the Commandments revealed
in this Surah. On the other hand, if the Campaign against Bani
al-Mustaliq occurred earlier, the chronological order of the
Commandments would be reversed, and it would become difficult
to understand the legal wisdom and implications of the Commandments
According to Ibn Sa'd, the Campaign against Bani al Mustaliq
took place in Shaban 5 A. H. and the Battle of the Trench in
Zil- Qa'dah the same year. This opinion is based on some traditions
from Hadarat Ayesha about the events connected with the "Slander" in
which she refers to a dispute between Hadrat Sa'd bin 'Ubadah
and Sa'd bin Mu'az. Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az, according to authentic
traditions, died during the Campaign against Bani Quraizah,
which took place immediately after the Battle of the Trench.
It is, therefore, evident that he could not be present in 6
A. H. to take part in a dispute about the "Slander".
On the other hand, Muhammad bin Ishaq says that the Battle
of the Trench took place in Shawwal 5 A. H. and the Campaign
against Bani al-Mustaliq in Sha'ban 6 A. H. This opinion is
supported by many authentic traditions from Hadrat Ayesha and
others. According to these traditions, (1) the Commandments
about purdah had been sent down in Surah Al-Ahzab before the
incident of the "Slander", (2) the Holy Prophet had married
Hadrat Zainab in Zil-Qa'dah 5 A. H. after the Battle of the
Trench, (3) Hamnah, sister of Hadrat Zainab, had taken a leading
part in spreading the "Slander", just because Hadrat Ayesha
was a rival of her sister. All this evidence supports the view
of Muhammad bin Ishaq.
Now let us consider the two opinions a little more closely.
The only argument in favor of the first opinion is the mention
of the presence of Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az in a dispute connected
with the incident of the "Slander". But this argument is weakened
by some other traditions from Hadrat Ayesha, in which she mentions
Hadrat Usaid bin Hudair instead of Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az in
this dispute. It may, therefore, be assumed that there has
been some confusion regarding the two names in reporting the
Moreover, if we accept the first opinion, just because of the
mention of the name of Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az in some traditions,
we encounter other difficulties that cannot be resolved in
any way. For, in that case, we shall have to admit that the
revelation of the Commandments of purdah and the Holy Prophet's
marriage with Hadrat Zainab had taken place even earlier than
the Battle of the Trench. But we learn from the Qur'an and
many authentic traditions that both these events happened after
that Battle and the Campaign against Bani Quraizah. That is
why Ibn Hazm, Ibn Qayyim and some other eminent scholars have
held the opinion of Muhammad bin Ishaq as correct, and we also
hold it to be so. Thus, we conclude that Surah Al Ahzab was
sent down earlier than Surah An-Nur, which was revealed in
the latter half of 6 A. H. several months after Surah Al Ahzab.
Now let us review the circumstances existing at the time of
the revelation of this surah. It should be kept in mind that
the incident of the "Slander", which was the occasion of its
revelation, was closely connected with the conflict between
Islam and the disbelievers.
After the victory at Badr, the Islamic movement began to gain
strength day by day; so much so that by the time of the Battle
of the Trench, it had become so strong that the united forces
of the enemy numbering about ten thousand failed to crush it
and had to raise the siege of Al Madinah after one month. It
meant this, and both the parties understood it well, that the
war of aggression which the Disbelievers had been waging for
several years, had come to an end. The Holy Prophet himself
declared: "After this year, the Quraish will not be able to
attack you; now you will take the offensive."
When the disbelievers realized that they could not defeat Islam
on the battlefield, they chose the moral front to carry on
the conflict. It cannot be said with certainty whether this
Change of tactics was the outcome of deliberate consultations,
or it was the inevitable result of the humiliating retreat
in the Battle of the Trench, for which all the available forces
of the enemy had been concentrated:They knew it well that the
rise of Islam was nor due to the numerical strength of the
Muslims nor to their superior arms and ammunition nor to their
greater material resources; nay, the Muslims were fighting
against fearful odds on all these fronts.
They owed their success to their moral superiority. Their enemies
realized that the pure and noble qualities of the Holy Prophet
and his followers were capturing the hearts of the people,
and were also binding them together into a highly disciplined
community. As a result of this, they were defeating the mushriks
and the Jews both on the peace and on the war front, because
the latter lacked discipline and character.
Under the above mentioned circumstances, the wicked designs
of the disbelievers led them to start a campaign of vilification
against the Holy Prophet and the Muslims in order to destroy
the bulwark of morale that was helping them to defeat their
enemies. Therefore the strategy was to attain the assistance
of the hypocrites to spread slanders against the Holy Prophet
and his followers so that the mushriks and the Jews could exploit
these to sow the seeds of discord among the Muslims and undermine
The first opportunity for the use of the new strategy was afforded
in Zil-Qa'dah 5 A. H. when the Holy Prophet married Hadrat
Zainab (daughter of Jahsh), who was the divorced wife of his
adopted son, Zaid bin Harithah. The Holy Prophet had arranged
this marriage in order to put an end to the custom of ignorance,
which gave the same status to the adopted son that was the
right only of the son from one's own loins.
The hypocrites, however, considered it a golden opportunity
to vilify the Holy Prophet from inside the community, and the
Jews and the mushriks exploited it from outside to ruin his
high reputation by this malicious slander. For this purpose
fantastic stories were concocted and spread to this effect: "One
day Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) happened to see the
wife of his adopted son and fell in love with her; he maneuvered
her divorce and married her."
Though this was an absurd fiction it was spread with such skill,
cunning and artfulness that it succeeded in its purpose; so
much so that some Muslim tradtionalist and commentators also
have cited some parts of it in their writings, and the orientalists
have exploited these fully to vilify the Holy Prophet. As a
matter of fact, Hadrat Zainab was never a stranger to the Holy
Prophet that he should see her by chance and fall in love with
her at first sight.
For she was his first cousin, being the daughter of his real
paternal aunt, Umaimah, daughter of Abdul Muttalib. He had
known her from her childhood to her youth. A year before this
incident, he himself had persuaded her against her will to
marry Hadarat Zaid in order to demonstrate practically that
the Quraish and the liberated slaves were equal as human being.
As she never reconciled herself to her marriage with a liberated
slave, they could not pull on together for long, which inevitably
led to her divorce. The above mentioned facts were well known
to all, yet the slanderers succeeded in their false propaganda
with the result that even today there are people who exploit
these things to defame Islam.
The second slander was made on the honor of Hadrat Ayesha,
a wife of the Holy Prophet, in connection with an incident
which occurred while he was returning from the Campaign against
Bani al-Mustaliq. As this attack was even severer than the
first one and was the main background of this Surah, we shall
deal with it in greater detail.
Let us say a few words about Abdullah bin Ubayy, who played
the part of a villain in this attack. He belonged to the clan
of Khazraj and was one of the most important chiefs of Al-Madinah.
The people had even intended to make him their king a little
before the Holy Prophet's migration there, but the scheme had
to be dropped because of the changed circumstances. Though
he had embraced Islam, he remained at heart a hypocrite and
his hypocrisy was so manifest that he was called the "Chief
of the Hypocrites". He never lost any opportunity to slander
Islam in order to take his revenge.
Now the main theme. When in Sha'ban 6 A. H. the Holy Prophet
learned that the people of Bani al-Mustaliq were making preparations
for a war against the Muslims and were trying to muster other
clans also for this purpose, he fore- stalled and took the
enemy by surprise. After capturing the people of the clan and
their belongings, the Holy Prophet made a halt near Muraisi,
a spring in their territory. One day a dispute concerning taking
water from the spring started between a servant of Hadrat Umar
and an ally of the clan of Khazraj, and developed into a quarrel
between the Muhajirs(immigrants) and the Ansar(Muslims of Madinah),
but was soon settled.
This, however, did not suit the strategy of Abdullah bin Ubayy,
who also had joined the expedition with a large number of hypocrites.
So he began to incite the Ansar, saying, "You yourselves brought
these people of the quraish from Makkah and made them partners
in your wealth and property. And now they have become your
rivals and want domination over you. If even now you withdraw
your support from them, they shall be forced to leave your
city." Then he swore and declared, "As soon as we reach back
Al-Madinah, the respectable people will turn out the degraded
people from the city."
When the Holy Prophet came to know of this, he ordered the
people to set off immediately and march back to Al-Madinah.
The forced march continued up to noon the next day without
a halt on the way so that the people became exhausted and had
no time for idle talk.
Though this wise judgment and quick action by the Holy Prophet
averted the undesirable consequences of the mischief, Abdullah
bin Ubayy got another opportunity for doing a far more serious
and greater mischief, i. e. by engineering a "Slander" against
Hadrat Ayesha, for that was a mischief which might well have
involved the young Muslim Community in a civil war, if the
Holy Prophet and his sincere and devoted followers had not
shown wisdom, forbearance and marvelous discipline in dealing
with it. In order to understand the events that led to the
incident of the "Slander", we cite the story in Hadrat 'Ayesha's
own words. She says :
"Whenever the Holy Prophet went out on a journey, he decided
by lots as to which of his wives should accompany him. Accordingly,
it was decided that I should accompany him during the expedition
to Bani al Mustaliq. On the return journey, the Holy Prophet
halted for the night at a place which was the last stage on
the way back to Al- Madinah. It was still night, when they
began to make preparations for the march.
So I went outside the camp to ease myself. When I returned
and came near my halting place, I noticed that my necklace
had fallen down somewhere. I went back in search for it but
in the meantime the caravan moved off and I was left behind
all alone. The four carriers of the litter had placed it on
my camel without noticing that it was empty. This happened
because of my light weight due to lack of food in those days.
I wrapped myself in my sheet and lay down in the hope that
when it would be found that I had been left behind, a search
party would come back to pick me up. In the meantime I fell
asleep. In the morning, when Safwan bin Mu'attal Sulami passed
that way, he saw me and recognized me for he had seen me several
times before the Commandment about purdah had been sent down.
No sooner did he see me than he stopped his camel and cried
out spontaneously : "How sad! The wife of the Holy Prophet
has been left here!"
At this I woke up all of a sudden and covered my face with
my sheet. Without uttering another word, he made his camel
kneel by me and stood aside, while I climbed on to the camel
back. He led the camel by the nose-string and we overtook the
caravan at about noon, when it had just halted and nobody had
yet noticed that I had been left behind. I learnt afterwards
that this incident had been used to slander me and Abdullah
bin Ubayy was foremost among the slanderers.(According to other
traditions, when Hadrat Ayesha reached the camp on the camel,
led by Safwan, and it was known that she had been left behind,
Abdullah bin Ubayy cried out, 'By God, she could not have remained
chaste. Look, there comes the wife of your Prophet openly on
the camel led by the person with whom she passed the night.')
"When I reached Al-Madinah, I fell ill and stayed in bed for
more than a month. Though I was quite unaware of it, the news
of the "Slander" was spreading like a scandal in the city,
and had also reached the Holy Prophet. Anyhow, I noticed that
he did not seem as concerned about my illness he used to be.
He would come but without addressing me directly, would inquire
from others how I was and leave the house. Therefore it troubled
my mind that something had gone wrong somewhere. So I took
leave of him and went to my mother's house for better nursing.
"While I was there, one night I went out of the city to ease
myself in the company of Mistah's mother, who was a first cousin
of my mother. As she was walking along she stumbled over something
and cried out spontaneously, 'May Mistah perish!' To this I
retorted, 'What a good mother you are that you curse your own
son -- the son who took part in the Battle of Badr.' She replied,
'My dear daughter, are you not aware of his scandal mongering?'
Then she told me everything about the campalgn of the "Slander".(Besides
the hypocrites, some true Muslims also had been involved in
this campaign, and among them who took leading part in it,
were Mistah, Hassan bin Thabit, the famous poet of Islam, and
Hamnah, daughter of Jahsh and sister of Hadrat Zainab). Hearing
this horrible story, my blood curdled, and I immediately returned
home, and passed the rest of the night in crying over it.
"During my absence the Holy Prophet took counsel with Ali and
Usamah bin Zaid about this matter. Usamah said good words about
me to this effect:'O Messenger of Allah, we have found nothing
but good in your wife. All that is being spread about her is
a lie and calumny.' As regards Ali, he said, 'O Messenger of
Allah, there is no dearth of women; you may, if you like, marry
an other wife. If, how- ever, you would like to investigate
into the matter, you may send for her maid servant and enquire
into it through her.' Accordingly, the maid servant was sent
for and questioned. She replied, 'I declare on an oath by Allah,
Who has sent you with the Truth, that I have never seen any
evil thing in her, except that she falls asleep when I tell
her to look after the kneaded dough in my absence and a goat
comes and eats it.'
"On that same day the Holy Prophet addressed the people from
the pulpit, saying:'O Muslims, who from among you will defend
my honor against the attacker of the person who has transgressed
all bounds in doing harm to me by slandering my wife. By God,
I have made a thorough enquiry and found nothing wrong with
her nor with the man, whose name has been linked with the "Slander".
At this Usaid bin Hudair (or Sa'd bin Mauz) according to other
traditions) stood up and said, 'O Messenger of Allah, if that
person belongs to our clan, we will kill him by ourselves,
but if he belongs to the Khazraj clan, we will kill him if
you order us to do so.' Hearing this Sa'd bin 'Ubadah,2 chief
of the Khazraj clan, stood up and said, 'You lie you can never
You are saying this just because the person belongs to our
clan of Khazraj. Had he belonged to your clan, you would never
have said so.' Hadrat Usaid retorted, 'You are a hypocrite:
that is why you are defending a hypocrite.' At this, there
was a general turmoil in the mosque, which would have developed
into a riot, even though the Holy Prophet was present there
the whole time. But he cooled down their anger and came down
from the pulpit."
The remaining details of the incident will be cited along with
our commentary on the Text, which honorably absolved Hadrat
Aishah from the blame. But here we would only want to point
out the enormity of the mischief that was engineered by Abdullah
bin Ubayy: (1) It implied an attack on the honour of the Holy
Prophet and Hadrat Abu Bakr Siddiq.(2) He meant to undermine
the high moral superiority which was the greatest asset of
the Islamic Movement (3) He intended to ignite civil war between
the Muhajirs and the Ansar, and between Aus and Khazraj, the
two clans of the Ansar.
Theme and Topics
This Surah and vv. 28-73 of Surah Al-Ahzab(of which this is
the sequel) were sent down to strengthen the moral front, which
at that time was the main target of the attack, vv. 28-73 of
Al-Ahzab were sent down concerning the Holy Prophet's marriage
with Hadrat Zainab, and on the occasion of the second attack
(the "Slander" about Hadrat Aishah), Surah An-Nur was sent
down to repair the cracks that had appeared in the unity of
the Muslim Community. If we keep this in view during the study
of the two Surahs, we shall understand the wisdom that underlies
the Commandments about purdah. Allah sent the following instructions
to strengthen and safeguard the moral front, and to counteract
the storm of propaganda that was raised on the occasion of
the marriage of Hazrat Zainab:
The wives of the Holy Prophet were enjoined to remain
within their private quarters, to avoid display of adornments
and to be cautious in their talk with other persons (vv.
The other Muslims were forbidden to enter the private
rooms of the Holy Prophet and instructed to ask whatever
they wanted from behind the curtain.(v. 53).
A line of demarcation was drawn between the mahram and
the non-mahram relatives. Only the former were allowed
to enter the private rooms of those wives of the Holy Prophet
with whom they were so closely related as to prohibit marriage
with them.(v. 55).
The Muslims were told that the wives of the Prophet were
prohibited for them just like their own real mothers; therefore
every Muslim should regard them with the purest of intentions.(vv.
The Muslims were warned that they would invite the curse
and scourge of Allah if they offended the Holy Prophet.
Likewise it was a heinous sin to attack the honor of or
slander any Muslim man or woman.(vv. 57, 58).
- All the Muslim women were enjoined to cover their faces
with their sheets if and when they had to go out of their
On the occasion of the second attack, this Surah was sent down
to keep pure and strengthen the moral fiber of the Muslim society,
which had been shaken by the enormity of the slander. We give
below a summary of the Commandments and instructions in their
chronological order so that one may understand how the Qur'an
makes use of the psychological occasion to reform the Community
by the adoption of legal, moral and social measures.
Fornication which had already been declared to be a social
crime (IV: 15,16) was now made a criminal offense and was
to be punished with a hundred lashes.
It was enjoined to boycott the adulterous men and women
and the Muslims were forbidden to have any marriage relations
- The one, who accused the other of adultery but failed
to produce four witnesses, was to be punished with eighty
- The Law of Li'an was prescribed to decide the charge
of adultery against his own fife by a husband.
The Muslims were enjoined to learn
a lesson from the incident of the "Slander" about Hadrat Aishah, as if
to say, "You should be very cautious in regard to charges
of adultery against the people of good reputation, and
should not spread these; nay, you should refute and suppress
In this connection, a general principle was enunciated
that the proper spouse for a pure man is a pure woman,
for he cannot pull on with a wicked woman for long, and
the same is the case with a pure woman, as if to say,
"When you knew that the Holy Prophet was a pure man, nay,
the purest of all human beings, how could you believe
that he had experienced happiness with a wicked woman and exalted
her as the most beloved of his wives? For it was obvious
that an adulterous woman could not have been able to
deceive, with her affected behavior, a pure man like the Holy Prophet.
You ought also to have considered the fact that the accuser
was a mean person while the accused was a pure woman.
This should have been enough to convince you that the accusation
was not worth your consideration; nay, it was not even
Those who spread news and evil rumours and propagate
wickedness in the Muslim Community, deserve punishment
and not encouragement.
A general principle was laid down that relations in the
Muslim Community should be based on good faith and not
on suspicion: everyone should be treated as innocent unless
he is proved to be guilty and vice versa.
- The people were forbidden to enter the houses of others
unceremoniously and were instructed to take permission
- Both men and women were instructed to lower their gaze
and forbidden to cast glances or make eyes at each other.
- Women were enjoined to cover their heads and breasts
even inside their houses.
Women were forbidden to appear with make-up before other
men except their servants or such relatives with whom their
marriage is prohibited.
They were enjoined to hide their make-ups when they went
out of their houses, and even forbidden to put on jingling
ornaments, while they moved out of their houses.
- Marriage was encouraged and enjoined even for slaves
and slave girls, for unmarried people help spread indecency.
The institution of slavery was discouraged and the owners
and other people were enjoined to give financial help to
the slaves to earn their freedom under the law of Mukatabat.
Prostitution by slave girls was forbidden in the first
instance, for prostitution in Arabia was confined to this
class alone. This in fact implied the legal prohibition
Sanctity of privacy in home life was enjoined even for
servants and under age children including one's own. They
were enjoined not to enter the private rooms of any man
or woman without permission; especially in the morning,
at noon and at night.
Old women were given the concession that they could set
aside their head covers within their houses but should
refrain from display of adornments. Even they were told
that it was better for them to keep themselves covered
with head wrappers.
The blind, lame, crippled and sick persons were allowed
to take any article of food from the houses of other people
without permission, for it was not to be treated like theft
and cheating, which are cognizable offenses.
On the other hand, the Muslims were encouraged to develop
mutual relationships by taking their meals together, and
the nearest relatives and intimate friends were allowed
to take their meals in each other's house without any formal
invitation. This was to produce mutual affection and sincere
relationships between them to counteract any future mischief.
Side by side with these instructions, clear signs of the
Believers and the hypocrites were stated to enable every
Muslim to discriminate between the two. At the same time
the Community was bound together by adopting disciplinary
measures in order to make it stronger and firmer than it
was at the time so as to discourage the enemies from creating
mischief in it.
Above all, the most conspicuous thing about this discourse
is that it is free from the bitterness which inevitably follows
such shameful and absurd attacks. Instead of showing any wrath
at this provocation, the discourse prescribes some laws and
regulations and enjoins reformative commandments and issues
wise instructions that were required at the time for the education
and training of the Community. Incidentally, this teaches us
how to deal with such provocative mischiefs coolly, wisely
At the same time, it is a clear proof that this is not the
word of Prophet Muhammad (Allah's peace and blessings be upon
him) but of a Being Who is observing all human conditions and
affairs from the highest level, and guiding mankind without
any personal prejudices, feelings and leanings. Had this been
the word of the Holy Prophet; there would have been at least
some tinge of natural bitterness in spite of his great generosity
and forbearance, for it is but human that a noble man naturally
become enraged when his own honor is attacked in this mean