Quran Read-Along: The Opening Verses of Al-Nesaa’

I’m very intrigued by the opening line to this sura, which says that mankind was created out of one living entity. The reason is that the latter part of the sentence makes sense: out of two (a man and woman or Adam and Eve), mankind came. Makes sense. However, the earlier part of the sentence only makes sense if I apply Genesis 2-3, the story in which God creates Eve out of Adam (his rib). That isn’t being said here, but is there an alternative Quranic version of creation in which the first woman comes from the first man? Or am I missing this entirely? Also, by way of biblical reference, there are two humanity creation stories, the aforementioned, and the one in Genesis 1, in which God creates man and woman at the same time.

I also like that it is God who provides the order for civilization, which is to say that from God we claim human rights. As philosophically relevant as that is, I feel like it had particular relevance in the early umma when people were still accustomed to tribal rule and loyalty, and order amongst more than internal tribal entities was only possible by ascribing to something higher – namely, God.
2: A familiar Quranic trope: respect and protect the orphan. God’s going to know if you engage in any funny business related to the orphans’ accounting.

There’s always a great deal of concern in “modern” Western society that polygamy is all about male domination and pleasure and that nothing governs the institution, but here’s one of those lines that tells us that it’s being meditated on. That is, take more than one wife if you want, but treat them all equally – and if you don’t think you can, keep it to one.

Now, if Big Love has taught us anything, it’s the difficulty of truly treating multiple women equally, and personally, I think one’s enough of a handfull – I couldn’t imagine a second. However, some people, I think, like this way of life, and though it’s not for me (or most), I think that if all parties agreed, it’s something that’s worth trying.

That said, I was watching (I know, horror of horrors), True Life on MTV (not my choice – I was staying with friends and apparently it was tevoed quite thoroughly), and the episode we watched was about polyamorous relationships. Now, if you are willing to put your polyamorous relationship on MTV for the rest of us to watch, then I contend that you are not mature enough to have one, but at the same time, at least these unmarried polyamorous relationships can happen, and if equality proves impossible (or even too difficult, which it often does), the participants can split up and no harm no foul. That, however, is most unlike the conventionally religious take on polygamy. I can hardly pass judgment on something I have difficulty imagining, but I just feel like it’s so fraught with difficulty and that a lot of people end up stuck in a situation which perhaps is far from ideal for them. Thoughts?

The placement of these ideas makes sense, as this is a sura on women and addressing these issues as they are for women is important. But the addressee is definitely men, it seems. In what ways to women conventionally listen to the Quran, if at all? Is the Quran addressed in specific places at women and not men?

Am I reading verse 7 right? Are both women and men and allowed to inherit? If so, that’s awesome, and quite unusual at this time.

Please share your thoughts on these verses and comment and critique what I’ve said. And accept my apologies for my negligence in replying to comments on past posts. I wrote them down in a doc while I was flying and I’m not sure if they made it back or if I posted them or what. I’ll be more conscientious from here forward.

Al-Nesaa’ 1-10

1. O MANKIND! Be conscious of your Sustainer, who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate, and out of the two spread abroad a multitude of men and women. And remain conscious of God, in whose name you demand [your rights] from one another, and of these ties of kinship. Verily, God is ever watchful over you! 2. Hence, render unto the orphans their possessions, and do not substitute bad things [of your own] for the good things [that belong to them], and do not consume their possessions together with your own: this, verily, is a great crime. 3. And if you have reason to fear that you might not act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among [other] women such as are lawful to you – [even] two, or three, or four: but if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then [only] one – or [from among] those whom you rightfully possess. This will make it more likely that you will not deviate from the right course. 4. And give unto women their marriage portions in the spirit of a gift; but if they, of their own accord, give up unto you aught thereof, then enjoy it with pleasure and good cheer. 5. And do not entrust to those who are weak of judgment the possessions which God has placed in your charge for [their] support; but let them have their sustenance therefrom, and clothe them, and speak unto them in a kindly way. 6. And test the orphans [in your charge] until they reach a marriage able age; then, if you find them to be mature of mind, hand over to them their possessions; and do not consume them by wasteful spending, and in haste, ere they grow up. And let him who is rich abstain entirely [from his ward’s property]; and let him who is poor partake thereof in a fair manner. And when you hand over to them their possessions, let there be witnesses on their behalf – although none can take count as God does. 7. MEN SHALL have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, and women shall have a share in what parents and kinsfolk leave behind, whether it be little or much – a share ordained [by God]. 8. And when [other] near of kin and orphans and needy persons are present at the distribution [of inheritance], give them something thereof for their sustenance, and speak unto them in a kindly way. 9. And let them stand in awe [of God], those [legal heirs] – who, if they [themselves] had to leave behind weak offspring, would feel fear on their account – and let them remain conscious of God, and let them speak [to the poor] in a just manner. 10. Behold, those who sinfully devour the possessions of orphans but fill their bellies with fire: for [in the life to come] they will have to endure a blazing flame!

6 Responses

  1. “…who has created you out of one living entity, and out of it created its mate,…”
    –notice the word “entity”—the arabic word it refers to is Nafs (soul) —which, I think correlates to “Nefesh” in Judaism? Because Nafs is a grammatically feminine gender, “created its mate” would apparantly sound “created her mate” in arabic—(but that would be confusing) at any rate, we are ALL one family with kinship ties and we should treat each other as God would want us to, —with Compassion, Mercy and Justice…..
    This reminds me of a passage from the Tao te Ching….
    “Unevolved people are eager to act out of strength,
    but a person of Tao values peace and quiet,
    He knows that every being is born of the womb of Tao.
    This means that his enemies are his enemies second, his own brothers and sisters first.
    Thus he resorts to weapons only in the direst necessity, and uses them with the utmost restraint.
    He takes no delight in killing.
    Whoever delights in killing will not find sucess in this world. Observe victories as you observe a death in the family: with sorrow and mourning, Every victory is funeral for kin.

    gotta go for now……..

  2. I love that, Kay. What an awesome passage to bring about from the Tao Te Ching to elucidate this Quranic verse. It’s funny how these texts act and guide in tandem.

    Interesting too about the gender issue there, and yes, the word in Hebrew is the corollary as you’ve suggested. Perhaps, then, the verse is vaguer than my presuppositions trying to tie it to Adam/Eve/Bible make it . . .


  3. “It’s funny how these texts act and guide in tandem.”—isnt it just great!!.—but if God is Compassionate, Merciful and Just,—he would have guided everyone…

    “O MANKIND! Be conscious of your Sustainer, …. And remain conscious of God, in whose name you demand [your rights] from one another, ….” —-This verse, more or less, sets the theme of how the rest of the Surah should be understood. —notice the word “Sustainer” used here to refer to God. This refers to the qualities of maintainer/provider…and hints at the responsibilities required. This ties in with the other part of the verse about “God-given rights”—-that all our rights come with responsibilities. In our interactions with others, we have both rights and responsibilities. An example of this is best expressed in the relationship between a Guardian and his charge (orphan).—(The Prophet(pbuh) was also an orphan).
    verse 3 should be understood in context—-Surah 4 came after the battle of Uhud, which had casualties on both sides. This left some war widows without protectors (fathers, brothers…etc) and before Islam, such women could be captured as slaves. The Quran encourages the freeing of slaves, however, a blanket rule to free all slaves would have left some women without security, maintenance or a protector—this would have created a social problem. So the Quran takes a different route—when (orphan or slave) women become wives, they gain security, protection, and a provider for them and their children. (the Quran further protects/gives security to women by giving them rights to property and inheritance)

    A certain incident in France highlighted this particular situation—a man was accused of having more than one wife (against French law)—but the man claimed he only had one wife, the others were mistresses. Because a mistress does not have rights like a wife it can leave her vulnerable, not to mention, a situation where the mistress is hidden from the wife can create injustice for both women. On the other hand, if the decision making on this issue is put in the hands of the woman—the outcome becomes different. For example—If a wife decides—according to her nature and circumstances, that she prefers a monogamous relationship, but the husband would prefer a polygamous one, then they can divorce. Everything is aboveboard and transparent. If, on the other hand, a wife is amenable, her willingness would reduce the tension and if stress did occur, there would be a chance to resolve it. (not that I could ever imagine such a scenario myself). Note—Much of this premise is based on the idea that “social security” for women is either inadequate or non-existant (Which, I understand is not the case in France–so the framework of these arguments would not quite apply.)

    In the case of some Mormons, I understand polygamy is a religious requirement. This is not the case in Islam where the emphasis is on the protection of women—which is why the Quran stresses the responsibility on men, of equitable treatment, if they (insanely–IMO) choose the course of polygamy.

  4. Talmud Yerushalmi 23a—“whoever destroys the life of a single human being, is as if he has destroyed an entire world …and whoever saves the life of a single human being, is as if he had saved the life of an entire world…”

    (This is also mentioned in the Quran in the next surah….)
    If I understand correctly, the word Nefesh is used here in the Hebrew? (interestingly…Nafs is also used in the Quran verse that mentions this)

    I will be back to answer your other questions…but gotta go for now…..

  5. sorry—I was commenting on another blog and used anon instead of kay and forgot to correct it…..

  6. Correction—the above post should read “Talmud Sanhedrin Yerushalmi 23a”—hopefully this is the correct way to write it…….

    Creation of human beings—-Since all knowledge is from God, and the Quran is both time-bound and timeless, Muslims can understand the verses of the Quran through the lens of Modern knowledge as well as through the practices and sayings of the Prophet(pbuh).

    Surah 21, Verse 30—-Do not the unbelievers see that the heavens(space)and the earth were joined together (as one Unit of creation/singularity), before we clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?
    —Life evolved from water and water is essential for life.
    Surah 25, verse 54—-it is he who has created man from water: then has he estabished relationships of lineage (blood)and marriage: for your Lord has power (over all things)
    —Genetics and sexual reproduction.
    Surah 15, verse 26—We created man from sounding clay, from mud moulded into shape.
    —-(apparently, also mentioned in Talmud Sanhedrin 38b) clay=can be understood as the same “carbon-based” material as the earth. Refers to how the body (biochemistry) is created.
    Surah 23, verse 12-15—Man we did create from an (extract)essence (of clay),
    13 Then we placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest firmly fixed;
    14 Then we made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; (embryo) Then of that clot we made a (foetus) lump; then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then we developed out of it another creature.(stages of developmet) So blessed be God the best to create!
    15. After that, at length you will die.

    As you can see, these verses are brief yet detailed. 1400 years ago, when people had little knowledge of science, these verses had to be accepted as is, but today, we have more knowledge about human origins and development and can use this knowledge to understand these verses better.

    Genesis and Quran—There are differences, generally the Jewish understanding can be acceptable because Islam also does not have a concept of “original sin”. However, the Quran does not blame Eve for eating from the tree (remember, Eve isn’t mentioned by name in the Quran). —The blame is placed equally on the couple. The Quran does not mention Eve being made from (Prophet) Adam’s (pbuh) rib.
    (—I also understand that Judaism does not interpret the word “day” literally, like the Arabic word “youm” it can be understood as “ages”/era……)

    Women and Quran—Women scholars such as Baktiar, Wadud and others have made efforts to bring their perspectives to the understanding/interpretation of the Quran. However, this is not a “new” thing. During the time of the Prophet(pbuh) Women were also listening, discussing and debating the revelations. They were also active participants in religious and civic life and promoters of social justice. This is reflected in Sura 33 verse 35
    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 much in god’s rememberance,
    For them God has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.

    Jay—-Could you delete the other comment? sorry about that.

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