Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 222-229 Talks about Family Planning, Oaths and Women’s Special Time

No, no, no – Don’t Touch!

In Judaism it’s also proscribed from nearing the womenfolk during their special time of the month. What’s interesting is that only the latter half of verse 222 implies that the “staying away” is of a sexual nature, saying that men may go near their women as “God has enjoined” when they are done with their womanly ways. The first half of the verse almost makes it seem like you should stay away from women altogether during this time. Is that what it’s saying? If the Quran says that men should stay away from women altogether during their monthly time then I must conclude beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is a man – and that he was, at some point, married.

Planned Parenthood – Quran Style!

I’m having a tough time beginning my thoughts on verse 223, which effectively is God telling people to undergo family planning but that the man makes the family planning decisions. The intended listener of the verse is interesting also, “Women are like fields for you,” which means, for you men – as in, this book is directed at men (or at least these verses). Now, it was my understanding that women were meant to hear the Quran, too; if so, how should this verse be taken? More importantly, what’s the family planning policy?

The reason I find this so interesting is because of the value of family planning to stable societies. However, the key to family planning being efficacious is when women have the control over that family planning and are the ones that decide when to have children and how many to have. Apparently women, in many cases (and largely for biological/evolutionary reasons) make different decisions than men (the whole, they have to nurture for the whole childhood thing while men can go seeding many fields at once – or four wives, as the case may be – thing) when it comes to family planning. So, unstable societies are those in which women have fewer rights (often a result of theocracies that support such a policy) and little control over their own reproductive processes. That results in a lot more children and a lot more adolescent males of ‘warring ages’ who ultimately get restless in societies that also happen to generally be poorer – and that all turns bad. The book I’d recommend on this is one I’ve reviewed on this blog: Sex and War. The end of the verse does note women’s rights but it’s unclear how it pertains to this issue and it is noted that men have an edge over women. How to take that in this work-a-day world?

Swearing up and down

In verse 225, it says that God won’t hold us accountable for what is senseless in our oaths, but only what is so in our hearts. Does that include oaths in which we include God’s name or is this saying that oaths – no matter their form – are invaluable because God cares more for what is in our hearts rather than what leaves our lips? I ask because in the books of Deuteronomy and Exodus (in the Ten Commandments) the Bible forbids using God’s name in oaths that will not be kept. It’s bad business. Does that mean that the Quran doesn’t share the same concern or am I misreading?

A Note on Quran Read-A-Long

Please feel free to answer and address any and all questions and comments below or add anything that I’ve left out. I would like to let everyone know that I have learned a ton from Quran Read-A-Long, which isn’t to say from my own readings of the Quran as much as the wonderful contributors who give their time and minds, week after week, to make this a worthwhile experience and a fruitful endeavor. Without them the verses of the Quran, to an amateur reader such as myself, might appear repetative and their richness and diversity of thought and wisdom would hardly be so apparent. Thank you to those of you who contribute, and to those of you who are still just reading along, feel free to join in whenever you have something to say.

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The Cow 222-229

222. They ask you about menstruation. Tell them: This is a period of stress. So keep away from women in this state will they are relieved of it. When they are free of it, you may go to them as God has enjoined. For God loves those who seek pardon, and those who are clean.” 223. Women are like fields for you; so seed them as you intend, but plan the future in advance. And fear God, and remember, you have to face Him in the end. So convey glad tidings to those who believe. 224. Do not implicate God in your oaths to avoid doing good and being pious and keeping peace among men, for God hears all and knows everything. 225. God will not call you to account for that which is senseless in your oaths, but only for what is in your hearts; for God is forgiving and forbearing. 226. Those who swear to keep away from their wives (with intent of divorcing them) have four months of grace; then if they reconcile (during this period), surely God is forgiving and kind. 227. And if they are bent on divorce, God hears all and knows everything. 228. Women who are divorced have to wait for three monthly periods, and if they believe in God and the Last Day they must not hide unlawfully what God has formed within their wombs. Their husbands would do well to take them back in that case, if they wish to be reconciled. Women also have recognized rights as men have, though men have an edge over them. But God is almighty and all-wise.

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15 Responses

  1. The first half of the verse almost makes it seem like you should stay away from women altogether during this time. Is that what it’s saying?

    The verse is saying don’t have sexual intercourse during a woman’s menses. Why? My own theory, which I first brought up a few weeks ago, is that the Qur’an stresses having good health. In 5:4, the second item on the list of forbidden foods is blood (this is repeated in 6:145 and 16:115). I believe the prohibition against consuming blood and having intercourse during a woman’s menses is to try to reduce the possibility of being infected with blood-borne diseases .

    …and do not approach them until they are clean. (Yusuf Ali translation)

    IE: Until they have completely finished their menses (which would include spotting).

    But when they have purified themselves, ye may approach them in any manner, time, or place ordained for you by God. (ibid)

    What you might not realize (partly due to the nature of your translation) is that once the woman has finished her menses, then she must do ghusl, the major, full-body ablution, before she and he can have sex once more. This is the “purified themselves.” (Is this not the same as in Judaism?)

    If the Quran says that men should stay away from women altogether during their monthly time then I must conclude beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is a man – and that he was, at some point, married.

    Astaghfirullah! For your own benefit, don’t blaspheme, even in jest!

    More later, insha’allah.

  2. I appreciate the interpretation of having good health, but I am not aware of a single quality scientific study that shows that it is unhealthy to have sex with a woman when she is on her period or that blood-born illnesses can be contracted that way. I do agree that there may be something to the blood thing being related to cleanliness here but interestingly, the reason for the no eating of blood in the Bible is not about cleanliness at all but about the fact that the blood is where the life of a creature is and so the blood belongs to God (hence blood’s central place in sacrifice).

    Along the lines of the cleanliness issue I can understand why men would want such a rule because it would seem particularly unclean to them to have intercourse during a woman’s menses. However, looking at something nearly opposite of that would be about sexual pleasure. I don’t know what the Quran’s official policies are about sex for pleasure (though the verses on Ramadan suggested that sex could be for pleasure which would debunk my theory here) but since a woman can’t (for all intents and purposes) get pregnant while menstruating, then perhaps intercourse at this time is banned so that people do not take advantage of menstruation as a time when they can have sex purely for pleasure with no chance of procreation – unlike other times when they might try to control the results but still could risk pregnancy. Just a thought and not sure how well the theory holds up.

    Regarding post-menstruation purification, it is the same in Judaism. The woman must go the mikvah, the ritual bath, submerge herself purely and become purified of her uncleanliness once more – the same process is required for purification after coming into contact with a dead body, a leper, ejaculate, other bodily fluids or any number of other unclean things.

  3. …but I am not aware of a single quality scientific study that shows that it is unhealthy to have sex with a woman when she is on her period or that blood-born illnesses can be contracted that way.

    Actually, I’ve read a number of times since the 80s of people contracting AIDS through cuts and lacerations; for example, this:

    A common way to get HIV is through oral or anal sex without a condom where the receiving partner has a bleeding gum or cut in their mouth, and the other partner has lacerations on their genitalia possibly as a result of rough sex.

    If the woman was HIV+ and he had cuts on or very close to his genitals…

  4. That I will totally concede, but I think it’s worth noting two things. Number 1, if you have sex with an HIV+ person – menstruating or not – you are at an incredibly high risk for contracting the disease yourself through a variety of other sexual fluids. The menstruation makes it go from 99.999998% chance to 99.9999999% perhaps. So, menstruating or not, having sex with HIV+ people is a bad plan if you want to “stay clean.”

    Second thing: HIV and AIDS are very recent and were not concerns for the last 1300+ years. I don’t think you’re suggesting that the Quran was just waiting for this injunction to matter, but rather that HIV is just an example of a blood born illness that could pass more easily under such circumstances. Again, though, I feel like there’s a, ‘sure, menstruation may expedite your chances of catching something’ facet going on here but really, don’t have sex at any point with people passing along more than you bargained for (not that we always know, of course).

  5. I don’t know what the Quran’s official policies are about sex for pleasure (though the verses on Ramadan suggested that sex could be for pleasure which would debunk my theory here)…

    Oh, BTW, sex for pleasure is very much endorsed in Islam. 😉 It just has to be halal sex. A few excerpts from Sex in Islam: Its Role and Purpose:

    On the authority of Abu Dharr : Some of the companions of the messenger of Allah said: ” O Messenger of Allah, the affluent have made off with the rewards, they pray as we pray they fast as we fast, and they give away in charity the superfluity of their wealth.” He said: “Has not Allah made things for you to give away in charity? Every tasbihah is a charity, every takbirah is a charity, every tahmidah is a charity, and every tahlilah is a charity, to enjoin a good action is a charity, to forbid an evil action is a charity, and in the sexual act of each of you there is a charity.” They said: “O Messenger of Allah, when one of us fulfils his sexual desire will he have some reward for that?” He said: “Do you not think that were he to act upon it unlawfully he would be sinning? Likewise, if he has acted upon it lawfully he will have a reward.” [Muslim]

    [IIRC, in another version of this hadith, after the Prophet (pbuh) said that having sex with one’s wife is considered a charitable act, all the men around him ran off home. 😉 ]

    This [third benefit of marriage] is obtained by enjoying the company and sight of one’s wife, and by shared amusement, whereby the heart is refreshed and strengthened in worship; for the lower self (nafs) is prone to boredom and inclined to shun duty as something unnatural to it. If constrained to persevere in something repugnant, it jibes and backs away, whereas if revived occasionally by pleasures it acquires new strength and vigor. In familiarity with women, one finds the relaxation to banish cares and to refresh the heart.

    The souls of the pious need legitimate recreation, which is why the Exalted One said: “That he may rest with her.” [Qur’an 7:189]

    There is a Hadith which says: When anyone of you comes to his wife, let him not fall suddenly upon her, but let him speak words of love to her and then kiss each other. The Prophet said: Let none of you fall suddenly upon his wife like a lower animal. Let him send the Envoy before cohabitation. Someone asked ‘What is the Envoy O Prophet?’ He said, ‘kisses and words of love.’ The Prophet said: In three matters, the weakness of a male is disclosed. Firstly if a lover meets his beloved, and then they separate without enquiring into their mutual condition and health; secondly, rejecting the honour which someone wishes to pay him [i.e., by rejecting a gift which was offered]; thirdly to engage in sexual intercourse with the wife or the female who is legally permitted, without talking to her or kissing her or by being unable to restrain the ejaculation of semen before that of his wife.

    A young husband should enjoy sexual intercourse with his wife once every four days. To preserve the character of the wife, this may be increased or decreased. Sexual intercourse with the wife at the time of her menstruation is unlawful. However, it is lawful to enjoy her without sexual intercourse e.g. enjoy the region beneath the petticoat, or if there be such a need, even use the wife’s hand for his ejaculation and stop short of actual copulation [in Arabic terminology, this is known as jima’ bil yad, which means ‘intercourse by hand.’] God says: “Your wives are a tilth unto you; so go to your tilth when and how you will.” A man may keep company with his wife during her menstrual period for eating, resting/sleeping [without copulation] or other purposes. He is not obliged to avoid her.

  6. I don’t think you’re suggesting that the Quran was just waiting for this injunction to matter, but rather that HIV is just an example of a blood born illness that could pass more easily under such circumstances.

    You’re right; I wasn’t suggesting that. In fact, usually what I’m trying to point out are things that modern people of today have difficulty in comprehending because the thing is new but taken for granted. For example, trying to prevent STDs from being transmitted from one person to another. Most people today might suggest that the male wear a condom. Yes, fine, but condoms are a relatively recent invention (on a 1400-year time scale). A lot of people whom I’ve tried to explain Islam to can’t quite grasp that certain prohibitions in Islam were meant for the benefit of individual humans and society as a whole. (Not that I put you in that category! 🙂 ) They can’t see where the use of the prohibition might have benefited people in the past and that there are still benefits today.

    BTW, I also wanted to bring up on the “sex for pleasure” thing a quote from a Muslim marriage handbook of mine:

    Islam regards sexual satisfaction as a key element in the marital contract, such that sexual malfunction can be considered fair ground for the dissolution of the marriage.

  7. Let me say collectively that that is an awesome and healthy approach to sex. Living in a post-Puritan society, we are encouraged to repress sexual desires and urges – whether married/lawful or not – and only have sex for the purpose of procreation. This is evident throughout Christianity, particularly the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control and former-President Bush’s abstinence only policy and implementation of the Gag Rule. So, it is very refreshing to read about a religion whose attitude towards sex is both healthy and natural.

    Nice, too, that a man is supposed to make sure a woman is sexually satisfied before he gets his. Obviously your final quote means at least that a man has grounds for divorce if the sex doesn’t work. Does a woman have the same legal right?

  8. Does a woman have the same legal right?

    Yes.

  9. If I could inject a woman’s perspective here—-I think JD, the health concerns here (in the verse)are for the benefit of woman–not man! We, women are not in our best state during this uncomfortable time (I am often grouchy!) because of the various symptoms that come with mensturation (which I won’t get into)……
    Also, keep in mind—that this is a response to a question posed on this issue (by someone). I would like to say more but am out of time—–I hope to get back to this and other points.

  10. I like the idea of a woman’s perspective on an issue involving women 🙂
    I would have liked to comment to this effect (that this may be a rule for the benefit of women) but I wasn’t quite sure about that. Looking forward to further thoughts!

  11. Someone once wrote that the Quran understands the human condition—both the male and female. As a person and as a woman, I do not feel left out when reading the Quran. However, there are places where men (males) are addressed such as verse 223–which can make it seem as if all the Quran is for men. This point was brought to the attention of the Prophet and subsequently, the revelations included a more specific mention of women —such as Surah 33, v35
    For muslim men and women
    for believing men and women
    for devout men and women
    for true men and women
    for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity and for men and women who engage in God’s remembrance, For them has God prepared forgiveness and a geat reward.
    ……The purpose was to make it very clear that the Quran considers males and females equal. —However–as previously explained–“equal” in the Quran does not mean “same”. Sometimes one has more benefits–but with it comes more responsibilty–and sometimes one has more responsibilty—and it is compensated with benefits.(verse 228 and others like it…) Gender concepts are based on this principle. Thus–men do not get pregnant–so they are (financially) responsible for the well being of their families. Women can get pregnant—so they have a right to expect that they and their children be provided for. Both men and women are necessary to each other and both have an equally important role—the specifics of that role within marriage and the structure of their family (family planning) is a mutual decision. The main purpose of marriage is not “procreation” but companionship on our spiritual journey—so that our mates can help/encourage us to be better “muslims”. Sexual relations is a way to strenghten this bond between couples. To wilfully break this bond in anger to cause hurt is discouraged. —According to the commentary on these verses 224–226, the Arabs had a habit of taking oaths abstaining from sexual intimacy—causing misunderstanding and separation. However, as verse 226 points out–when there is a serious problem in marraige–it is ok to consider separation with the intent of divorce.—though the door to reconciliation should be kept open.
    An unhappy marriage cannot encourage spiritual progress for either of them. Viewed from this perspective, verse 223 encourages men (males) to cultivate and respect the special bond of sexual intimacy between a husband and wife. —except during mensturation. (out of concern for a woman’s well-being). had someone not asked about this matter—the Quran might not have mentioned it…..The main purpose of the Quran is to guide us to spiritual progress–and “us” refers to our souls. Thus, even though a question may have been asked simply out of curiosity, the Quran replies by reminding us that all of our actions have spiritual consequences.

  12. @ Kay:

    I think JD, the health concerns here (in the verse)are for the benefit of woman–not man!

    I would say both, but point taken. Actually, Yusuf Ali’s commentary for this part of the verse reads:

    Adhan: hurt, pollution. Both aspects must be remembered. Physical cleanliness and purity make for health, bodily and spiritual. But the matter should be looked at from the woman’s point of view as well as the man’s. To her there is danger of hurt, and she should have every consideration. In the animal world, instinct is a guide which is obeyed. Man should in this respect be better: he is often worse.

  13. I agree—I enjoy reading yours and Jay’s opinions of the verses. The Quran is especially meaningful when it speaks to you personally. I think that different perspectives can help enhance the understanding of the Quran. In that spirit, I would like to mention an opinion of some early jurists that todays muslim women jurists have picked up on. Some scholars are of the opinion that the Quran chooses words carefully. Thus the fact that verse 223 is addressed to “men” and not men and women both is seen to imply that women have the right to refuse intimacy at any time and addressing men in this way avoids infringing on the rights of women. Such interpretation would likely be of use only to those concerned with “legalities” (–thus, —-jurists deduce from this that in any intimacy—a wife’s consent is required …….etc)

  14. Great comments from all of you.

    I think the verses talk to men simply because it was the men who made the question about menstruation.

  15. I agree with the quote my Marcelo, but also.. just because it is talking to the man doesn’t mean its just for the man. You can gather from that women being mentioned and from that it is also about them.. so that verse is telling them what is to be done..

    is that understandable?

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