I am writing this article to offer my critique on the interpretation of Signs 15|16 of Composition 4-‘The Women’ from the Holy Quran, done by the theologian, scholar and exegete Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Sahab from Pakistan. This article is a sequel in a series of articles I have written in support of the punishment of stoning till death for adultery in Islam Vis-à-vis Ghamidi Sahab’s flagship interpretation. You can find the links to those articles towards the end. I have also had interactive sessions over Skype with Ghamidi Sahab on this issue, for which I am most thankful to him. The topic is still alive and a work in progress between us.
While I have propounded my interpretation in sufficient details (I hope so), I have been meaning to write a wholesome treatise that would expose the weaknesses in Ghamidi Sahab’s interpretation as well: as I had mentioned earlier…..Just because we are wrong, doesn’t mean you’re right – we can both be wrong as well. I’ve also realized that the quotation by Sir B. H. Liddell-Hart that:
“The only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out”
is true for all ideological entities; and hence in order to successfully convince someone, aside from positing arguments in favor of the new/different interpretation, one has to debunk or at least debase the reasoning already favored by the target audience. Moreover, an article appearing in the January 2013 edition of ‘Ishraq’ (إشراق), a monthly journal published by Al-Mawrid institute, has forced my hand; particularly because silence, by many, is perceived to be a form of tacit approval.
The article has been written by a Rizwan ullah (رضوان الله) Sahib and offers a comprehensive insight into the classical interpretation of the Signs in question. It is a copious account of the numerous interpretations that have existed this far, proffered by some prolific scholars of the Muslim Ummah, and the author seems to have done his due diligence in offering his appraisal of these views. Although some arguments scattered in its text ipso facto do confront some of my proffered arguments too, but this would be the subject of another debate. But since the article claims to explicate Ghamidi Sahab’s interpretation, I’ll base my critique offered herein on this published article. The author writes:
“Arguments that Ghamidi Sahab has proffered in Al-Bayan in support of this view, and others that he has not mentioned but can be presented in favor of this view, their details can be as follows”
I hope therefore, that the text that I am basing my critique on faithfully represents Ghamidi Sahab’s viewpoint on the matter. I could have based it on Ghamidi Sahab’s own essay on the subject, but his essay is more like a blueprint or a foundation, rather than an actual building. The author has efforted to raise its walls and roof, and has therefore enabled critics like myself to visualize that blueprint in ‘3D’. Thus it seemed more reasonable to base my critique on this expanded version: as a larger demographic might be able to comprehend the original arguments vis-à-vis my criticism. The author of the article in question therefore deserves our gratitude!
So let’s get on with it…..
Just to remind the readers, Ghamidi Sahab has opined that in the Signs in question, the phrase ‘وَاللَّاتِي يَأْتِينَ الْفَاحِشَةَ مِنْ نِسَائِكُمْ’ purports to be dealing with the issue of prostitutes/sex workers (women only), while the term ‘وَاللَّذَانِ يَأْتِيَانِهَا مِنْكُمْ’ signifies a man and a woman in an affair (of sexual nature). My response ensues:
The author has given a premise and some arguments; each spanning distinct domains: 1. Premise is based on Sociological and anthropological statistics; and 2. Arguments on Semantic and Syntactic analysis of the Signs in question.
Arguments pertaining to the first domain are irrelevant in our study. They are actually an essay on human sexual tendencies in which the author has restricted himself to prostitution and affairs. Instead of taking up valuable time of my readers in pointing out the subjective manner in which the author opines about prostitution, I’ll go ahead and agree with all of these – because as far as determining the meaning of these Signs is concerned, these don’t serve any purpose! I can go ahead and deliver a similar sermon on inclinations like homosexuality and lesbianism, highlight the differences between adultery and fornication, and go on and on; but that has got nothing to do with ‘what these Signs mean’. If the author has penned them down to show that perhaps separate legislation is required to deal with prostitutes, let’s agree with this too. And while we are at it, I would recommend separate legislation for homosexuality as well. Our law should distinguish between adultery and fornication too; a distinction, that by the way, has always been there in Semitic religions and almost all cultures and eras of the world. But what has this narrative got to do with these Signs? Once we have established what the Signs mean, only then to convince ourselves of their wisdom and raison d’être and make them palatable, would such like arguments offer any purpose; and not the other way around!
However, if the learned author shall insist, and a case is made that necessitates discussion of these arguments in ascertaining the ‘meaning’ of these Signs, I shall reason with him that why prostitution does not necessitate divine legislation! And if done, then keeping divine modus operandi in perspective, why it should have been diametrically different from this one!
Foregoing in view, I’ll restrict myself to arguments from the second domain; i.e. Exegesis of Signs 15|16.
The author has given 5 arguments in support of this view, out of which only 4 are actual arguments, while the 5th one is…. well I don’t know what it is but it is surely not an argument; or perhaps my comprehension skills were too inept. Until the ‘argumentative’ value of the 5th argument becomes clear to me, in the meantime, I’ll discuss the other 4, one by one, in ensuing paras.
The 1st argument is a preposterous claim. Though presumptuous and incorrect, but for anyone not familiar with Quranic parlance, or not adept in deductive logic, which in my perception is a huge majority among the present day Muslims, it might seem plausible. However, in order to debunk this claim in a convincing manner, I shall discuss it in the end. By that time, God willing, readers would be in a better position to comprehend my criticism.
2nd Argument: The 2nd argument is actually the central argument for this point of view. The argument is that ‘أتى الفاحشة’ is a famous expression used to refer to ‘زنا’ (Zina, i.e. unlawful sex) in Arabic. But since the verb (أتى) in past tense has been used in its present/future form (مضارع) i.e. ‘يَأْتِينَ’, and since this form is frequently used to express continuity and perpetuity in Arabic, and has been used in this perpetual sense in the Holy Quran as well, hence, the correct translation of the phrase cannot be “Those women that commit Zina” but rather the correct translation can only be “Those women who practice Zina (frequently)”, thereby pointing to prostitutes. My response is as follows:
Replying to 2nd Argument: I want the audience to fully comprehend the argument first. Is the argument, “Since the expression يَأْتِينَ الْفَاحِشَةَ herein means women who continuously commit zina, and therefore refers to prostitutes” OR “Since the women mentioned here are prostitutes, therefore يَأْتِينَ الْفَاحِشَةَ herein should be taken to mean women who continuously commit zina“? Although it is quite clear to me that the author has only endeavored to prove the latter, it is a fact that the case can only be proven by the former! But I’ll play along. I’ll assume that the author is actually trying to prove the former and therefore offer my critique, accordingly.
To start off, let’s assume that the expression here is depicting perpetuity. Hence the first argument coming to anyone’s mind would be, that this would only imply that those women who keep committing Zina are being discussed; how is it conclusive for prostitutes, who do it as a profession and in exchange for money? There are many women in the society who are referred by the slang ‘Sluts’, who are fond of promiscuity, but do not do it as a profession, or require any benefits in return; why shouldn’t they be considered as being implied here: especially since no words here are qualifying professionalism or monetary gains? But no! Let’s assume this also for argument’s sake – that perpetuals = professionals. Thus the arguments in its reply would be something like this:
Replying to 2nd Argument|Sub-Argument Alpha: Let us look at it as an expression first. The distinction drawn between ‘أتى الفاحشة’ and ‘يَأْتِينَ الْفَاحِشَةَ’ is absolutely unfounded in the Arabic vernacular. Just like the former can be used to refer to the basic crime of adultery/fornication, the latter can, and is, also. Since the author has not given any proof from the archives of linguistic history or the Holy Quran, not much needs to be said to reject it. Despite that, I’ll say a few words.
‘يَأْتِينَ الْفَاحِشَةَ’ is not only a famous expression used to denote Zina (adultery/fornication) in Arabic in general, it is used unswervingly and repeatedly in the Holy Quran to denote the same. Have a look at the following Sign from 33rd Composition, سورة الأحزاب, from the Holy Quran:
يَا نِسَاءَ النَّبِيِّ مَنْ يَأْتِ مِنْكُنَّ بِفَاحِشَةٍ مُبَيِّنَةٍ يُضَاعَفْ لَهَا الْعَذَابُ ضِعْفَيْنِ وَكَانَ ذَلِكَ عَلَى اللَّهِ يَسِيرًا – Oh wives of the Prophet: whoever from among you shall commit brazen lewdness, punishment for her shall be increased to twofold; for this is easy for Allah.
It is obvious that Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) is not telling the wives to remain away from prostitution; He is forbidding them from committing Zina or the likes, even once. The instruction comprises of the same predicates as the one in question: i.e. only women are being addressed and the verb is in ‘مضارع’.
Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) has used the same term repeatedly, to solidify what He means. Even a few Signs ahead in the same Composition as the Signs under discussion (i.e. Composition 4|Sign 19), Allah says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا لَا يَحِلُّ لَكُمْ أَنْ تَرِثُوا النِّسَاءَ كَرْهًا وَلَا تَعْضُلُوهُنَّ لِتَذْهَبُوا بِبَعْضِ مَا آَتَيْتُمُوهُنَّ إِلَّا أَنْ يَأْتِينَ بِفَاحِشَةٍ مُبَيِّنَةٍ وَعَاشِرُوهُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ فَإِنْ كَرِهْتُمُوهُنَّ فَعَسَى أَنْ تَكْرَهُوا شَيْئًا وَيَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ خَيْرًا كَثِيرًا – O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women, (that too) through coercion – Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may take away part of what ye have given them,-except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary, live with them on a footing of goodness. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and God brings about through it a great deal of good.
The same phrase is repeated in Composition-65-The Divorce, wherein Ghamidi Sahab explains: ‘یعنی اِس ہدایت سے مستثنیٰ صرف یہ صورت ہے کہ مرد نے عورت کو طلاق ہی کسی ’فَاحِشَۃٍ مُّبَیِّنَۃٍ‘کے ارتکاب پر دی ہو۔ عربی زبان میں یہ تعبیر زنا اور اُس کے لوازم و مقدمات کے لیے معروف ہے’ which means: the only contingency excepted from this instruction is when the man has divorced his woman due to the very commission of ’فَاحِشَۃٍ مُّبَیِّنَۃٍ‘ – this expression is popular in the Arabic language for referring to Zina and its paraphernalia.
Hence, as far as the expression is concerned, it is a popular way to refer to Zina. Prostitution can, in no way, be implied by it! However, if the author thinks that this expression has been used to refer to prostitution at some place, whether in the Holy Quran or whether in Arabic literature of that era, I’ll be most interested to have a look at the evidence.
I, therefore, conclude this argument on the statement: Not only is this expression not a popular reference to prostitution, it is on the contrary a popular expression denoting Zina! And it is completely against the style of the Holy Quran to use a non-popular, in fact an incorrect term; that too while legislating!
Replying to 2nd Argument|Sub-Argument Bravo: The author has also isolated the word ‘يَأْتِينَ’ from the expression and endeavored to show that it has been used here to depict perpetuity. The reason he’s given for this is that depiction of perpetuity is a popular purpose of this tense. Although, this claim is merely sufficient to show that this tense ‘can’ be used to depict perpetuity and NOT that ‘here it does’ depict perpetuity, but since this is a linguistic contention and might seem esoteric to most of our folk unfamiliar with Arabic language, I’ll offer some insight to rebut it:
Tenses have been coined in every language to mainly depict ‘time periods’ for verbs. There are only two explicit tenses in the Arabic language, unlike three commonly used in other languages. i.e. one tense to represent past, and one to depict both present and future. Then, there are four types of tenses that we are normally familiar with: Simple, Perfect, Continuous and Perfect Continuous and each of these has a present, past and future form. Hence all of these different types of tenses have to be represented by only two tenses in Arabic. In other languages such as English, whenever a particular tense is used to depict a particular type, it is always prefixed or suffixed with certain characters or words to mark this depiction, e.g. ing for continuous and have/had for perfect etc. Arabic being a highly eloquent language, does not contain prefixes or suffixes for each of these types; instead it relies many a times on the context of the sentence to depict a particular type: in fact, even the ‘time periods’ are swapped frequently in view of eloquence: For example, past is used for future while present/future tense to depict the past. But never does it happen that people speaking Arabic get confused as to what period or type is the tense referring to. Explicit or Implied predicates in the sentence leave no room for ambiguity for any listener to ascertain the meaning.
The continuous tense is no different. Whenever the tense is used to depict perpetuity, it is always qualified by either explicit predicates in the phrase or are predicated clearly by the context of the sentence. No linguist ever feels confused and unsure about this qualification. The way the posited opinion has conflated the continuous tense, the fact of the matter is, that due to this explanation the legs of every linguist will start trembling with uncertainty whenever he comes across this tense in any text. How will he ever come to know that whether the tense was depicting perpetuity or not? Not to mention, that no one ever has interpreted this word here to be continuous, despite the fact that a plethora of interpretations exist to date!
Though I can present several examples from the Holy Quran to illustrate this concept, let’s have a look at the one the author has inscribed:
كُلَّمَا نَضِجَتْ جُلُودُهُمْ بَدَّلْنَاهُمْ جُلُودًا غَيْرَهَا لِيَذُوقُوا الْعَذَابَ – Every time their skins are going to get roasted we will change them with fresh ones, so that they may continue to experience punishment.
One doesn’t need to be an expert linguist to see here that after the words like ‘Every time’ or ‘as often as’, if the type of the verb ‘يَذُوقُوا’ is perceived to be continuous it would make more sense. In fact, even the past tenses used in this expression are purporting future continuous tense. And this is only one of the reasons. The other reason is that ‘الْعَذَابَ’ points to the torture of the hereafter – which by design is going to be eternal. Since the object of the verb is continuous, the verb can only be interpreted as continuous. Although the choice of Sign might have been juvenile, nevertheless, there are many phrases in the Holy Quran where the predicates are not this explicit. But if and when, such an example is presented, I’ll endeavor to reason, why the verb should or could not be interpreted to be continuous.
But even here, the thing to note is that even if the verb is not translated as continuous there wouldn’t be any problem with the meaning. For e.g, if it was translated as ‘so that they may amply experience‘, as done by both Ghamidi and Islahi Sahab, it would still work. I am stating this to demonstrate to my readers that how flimsy are such inflections for acting as basis for legal injunctions.
Hence, the question to which no answer has been proffered is that, why should the verb be interpreted to be continuous in our subject Sign? There’s a sweet distance between can and is, that this opinion has failed to bridge.
Replying to 2nd Argument|Sub-Argument Charlie: Furthering the discussion on the continuous tense, let us ponder upon the very next two Signs, i.e. Signs 17|18 – which by the way have been quoted in the article in support of the claim – to discover when and why ‘مضارع’ is used in the continuous form. Although, my critique on the interpretation of these Signs as done by the author shall ensue under the heading of 4th Argument, however, from a totally linguistic point of view I think pondering upon these Signs shall illustrate a better understanding of the continuous tense. In Sign 17 the words are ‘يَعْمَلُونَ السُّوءَ’ and in Sign 18 they are ‘يَعْمَلُونَ السَّيِّئَاتِ’. They have been translated by Ghamidi Sahab as ‘گناہ کر بیٹھتے ہیں’ (commit a lapse as an aberration) and ‘گناہ کیے چلے جاتے ہیں’ (keep committing sins as a matter of practice), respectively. At both places the verb (highlighted in red) is the same, and in ‘مضارع’. The reason why the latter is depicting repeated executions is predicated by the usage of ‘حَتَّى إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَهُمُ الْمَوْتُ’ (till the time death confronts one of them) which unequivocally purports that the person committing the offenses kept on committing them throughout his life. Moreover, observe how the object of the verb is in plural in this latter Sign i.e. ‘السَّيِّئَاتِ’ (offenses), but not so in the former i.e. ‘السُّوءَ’ (an/the offense): just like ‘الْفَاحِشَةَ’ in Sign 15 and not ‘الفحشاء’. Pondering on these Signs shall reveal that it is not this simple to merely find a verb in its present/future form and claim that it has been used here to depict perpetuity.
Replying to 2nd Argument|Sub-Argument Delta: The great thing about ‘Farahi’ school of thought is that this school vehemently believes that Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) uses words in their popular meaning. A logical corollary of this principle is that He should use a popular term to depict a popular sense; which one can see consistently throughout the scripture. This, then, has to be the only exception! Let me explain…
Using the noun ‘الْفَاحِشَةَ’ alone to signify ‘prostitution’, is utterly inappropriate in the Arabic language. Wheresoever the word ‘فَاحِشَةَ’ has been used to depict anything other than Zina, or any other form of sexual offence, it is always qualified with additional words and phrases to mark this distinction. For example, wherein it is used to depict Sodomy, the words are ‘الْفَاحِشَةَ مَا سَبَقَكُمْ بِهَا مِنْ أَحَدٍ مِنَ الْعَالَمِينَ’ (m. a form of vulgarity that no one else through the ages has committed before you), and then is qualified further in succeeding Signs. Similarly when the word is used to depict another kind of vulgarity where marriage with step-moms was to be referred to, the words are ‘فَاحِشَةً وَمَقْتًا’ m. a vulgarity and wretched, wherein the word ‘مَقْتًا’ clearly points to ‘زواج المقت’, another term that was popular in the Arabs to depict such a union.
Moreover, it is not like Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) has not mentioned the issue of prostitution in the Quran: He did so in the 24th Composition with the words ‘الْبِغَاءِ’ therein. This is how clearly God speaks in the Holy Quran. He could’ve said ‘وَلَا تُكْرِهُوا فَتَيَاتِكُمْ عَلَى الْفَاحِشَةَ’. But no! Since He wanted to discuss something that is entirely different from Zina, He brought about a unique and popular identifier for it. Arabs popularly say ‘خرجت المرأة تباغي’ meaning the woman went forth for prostituting herself. I wonder why Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) would not use this word – or ‘مُسَافِحَاتٍ’: which according to the author is the same tendency that Sign 15 is pointing to – and instead use such a word that means something completely different, which resultantly not only could, but in point of fact did mislead the entire ummah and all scholars to date?
Replying to 2nd Argument|Sub-Argument Echo: Then noteworthy is the fact, that the verb in the same form i.e. ‘مضارع’ with the same noun i.e. ‘الفاحشة’ is used in the succeeding Sign as well, that according to the author is dealing with people who succumb to their carnal desires, overwhelmed by temptation. If ‘يَأْتِينَ الْفَاحِشَةَ’ is referring to the tendency of unabated and malicious commissions of Zina, in fact not only Zina but to the author the words are so conclusive to be depicting profession of Zina, how can the same words in the very next Sign be referring to an entirely different tendency? It is only logical that two utterly different tendencies, be depicted by different expressions!
Replying to 2nd Argument|Sub-Argument Foxtrot: What I can also not overlook, is the usage of the pronoun ‘ها’ (that) in the word ‘يَأْتِيَانِهَا’ (those two who bring about that) in Sign 16, which is undisputedly pointing to ‘الفاحشة’ in Sign 15. Whenever any speaker/writer ties together two conditionals, with one pronoun pointing to an earlier noun in two consecutive statements, and does not elaborate or qualify the change in the meaning explicitly, like Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) has done here, there is no way we can assume two separate crimes which are inherently different: assuming professionals at one place and simpletons at other; or people who knowingly provide sex services in return for money at one, and those simply succumbing to temptation unwittingly at the other. Again, pondering on Signs 17|18 would prove beneficial for anyone seeking clarity, wherein Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) only had to mention two different tendencies for committing sins, but since they were different, as one commission was merely incidental and the other repeated, He not only repeated His words in the succeeding Sign, but also marked them with inflections and elaborated them with an additional phrase. This is how any man, let alone God, would and does speak!
Replying to 2nd Argument|Sub-Argument Golf: Then, never does Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) reveal legislation in such a manner where the entire law is based on a tiny inflection of a verb, which if interpreted differently, the entire law would be up for grabs. I would be most indebted to the author, if he could point me to such an article of law, enacted by God in the Holy Quran, where the words He chose are so gullible, that they may be swung in any direction.
Replying to 2nd Argument|Sub-Argument Hotel: Last but not the least, it is Quran’s standard way to mention culprits as habitual offenders while revealing punishments. By portraying wrongdoers as actively pursuing vices – numerous benefits are accrued; discussion of which is not necessitated to make this point. For example like saying ‘يُحَارِبُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَسَادًا’ where verbs are used in a way that perpetuity might be inferred; or when Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) says ‘الزَّانِيَةُ وَالزَّانِي’ or ‘وَالسَّارِقُ وَالسَّارِقَةُ’, by using nouns instead of verbs, a certain element of habit is hinted; like when one calls someone ‘صادق’. Leveraging this standard Quranic parlance to point to an entity: strictly limited by perpetuity – would be contrary to Quranic motif.
3rd Argument: The argument goes something like this: since ‘فَاسْتَشْهِدُوا’ (call to witness) is of form ‘استفعال’ and ‘عَلَيْهِنَّ’ (on/against these women) has been used instead of ‘عليها’ (on/against the crime), thus due to these peculiarities in order to justly translate the phrase, the correct purports of the instruction would be that witnesses will not be ‘called’ but ‘sought’ by the authorities, and they would not be required to present testimony based on witnessing the crime, but rather would only be required to testify against the infamy of the suspects (women). This means that the authorities would not wait for a crime to occur, but rather will initiate a trial on their own behalf against such notorious women. Similarly, the witnesses will not have to narrate what they observed, but rather they’ll only have to give a declaration about the tainted fame of these women. Both these conditions can only be applicable to subjects whose notoriety is in-concealable, hence, women mentioned can only be prostitutes.
Although the author is alone in this contention, as Ghamidi Sahab does not hold this opinion, nevertheless, since such an argument might arise in other minds as well, it merits discussion.
Replying to 3rd Argument|Sub-Argument Alpha: The premise of the argument is that it is an ‘exclusive’ method to establish guilt and therefore can only be applicable to prostitutes, whose notoriety is well-established in the society. This argument has risen perhaps because the presenter hasn’t given due thought to the ‘Law of Implication’. In eloquent speech, words and phrases are omitted, provided the sense or the grammatical construction or a preceding usage will necessarily show that there is an omission, and will readily suggest the word, words or entire phrases to be supplied. Though it is frequently employed by speakers and writers belonging to all languages throughout the world, Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) has extensively utilized it in the Holy Quran. According to this law, it is absolutely certain that the same phrase is implied in the next Sign as well, i.e. these words ‘فَاسْتَشْهِدُوا عَلَيْهِما أَرْبَعَةً مِنْكُمْ فَإِنْ شَهِدُوا’ which mean ‘then call to witness 4 from among yourselves against these two, then if they testify‘ have to be assumed after the words ‘وَاللَّذَانِ يَأْتِيَانِهَا مِنْكُمْ’. The repetition of this phrase would have been redundant in the next Sign and thus was omitted rightly. It is obvious and undisputed.
Now if the same means for proving guilt have been prescribed for both prostitutes and normal-fornicators, then it is only logical that this same ‘novel’ method shall be adopted to condemn the suspects in both cases. This would mean that whether the suspects are only women – like in the 1st case; or a man and woman in sexual affair – like in the 2nd case; 4 x persons would only have to pronounce “yes she is a prostitute” or “yes they are a fornicating couple” and voila! the poor defendants are condemned. This is illogical and a legal fallacy, but i’ll come back for it in a bit …
So with ‘exclusivity’ slashed, the question is, if the same phrase has been used to establish guilt in both cases, how is it ‘conclusive’ proof (or any proof at all) that the women in the 1st case are prostitutes?
Secondly, this much is certain, and is endorsed in the article as well, that the 2nd case, i.e. that of a couple, was finally codified in Composition 24-The Light. In 24:4, it is obvious that the onus of producing witnesses has been laid on the accusers; and there is no dispute of ‘عَلَيْهِنَّ’ and ‘عليها’ therein. Then let’s suppose A is the case mentioned in Sign 15, B is the case mentioned in Sign 16 and C in Composition 24:4. Since, A=B (derived above) and B=C (agreed by author), hence A=C. Thus the procedure to prove guilt has clearly been codified as in accusers shall have to produce witnesses of the crime.
To summarize this point, one: the method prescribed is not ‘exclusive’, therefore not ‘conclusive’ for referring to prostitutes; and two: the method is the same as for normal cases of Zina, therefore, hinting towards a normal case of Zina, and not prostitution!
Replying to 3rd Argument|Sub-Argument Bravo: Let’s analyze the two words ‘فَاسْتَشْهِدُوا’ and ‘عَلَيْهِنَّ’ separately also, since two discrete results have been derived from each one of these in the article.
‘فَاسْتَشْهِدُوا’ is of the form ‘استفعال’. The specialty of this form is that it induces the meaning of asking, demanding or seeking something into the root form; like for example ‘غفر’ generally means to forgive, but when it takes this form like ‘إستغفر’ it adopts the meaning to seek/ask for/demand forgiveness. The word has come here to render the meaning of ‘demand witnesses’, and is translated similarly by both Islahi and Ghamidi Sahab (i.e. ‘گواہ طلب کرو’). It would be the logical choice to use this form if the convening authority is to be instructed to summon the witnesses. I mean, the accusers name their witnesses and the convening authority ‘summons’ these witnesses to record their testimony. It is therefore obvious that Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) is instructing to demand witnesses if and when such a case is reported, as in all the other types of cases, with the only difference that the number of witnesses required is 4. Owing to such brevity and popular meaning of these terms, prima facie, to anyone remotely familiar with legal parlance, it doesn’t look like Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) is mentioning a novel method of initiating a case. But the author insists that the usage of this form is definitive to be implying that the authorities will ‘initiate’ the trial themselves. So let’s roll with it for now! Hence, suppose it is a ‘Suo Motu’ notice: No harm, no fowl. Despite this, the court still has to prove that the defendants are in fact prostitutes. This is where ‘عَلَيْهِنَّ’ comes in…
According to the author’s interpretation the word that ought to have come was ‘عليها’ (on it) and since it was replaced by ‘عَلَيْهِنَّ’ (against them), it is conclusive that the testimony would only be about the ‘عرفي حيثيت’ (fame) of the defendant and not the commission of the offence. And this, therefore, is an evidence in the learned scribe’s perception that the women being discussed here can only be prostitutes; for only they are the ones whose fame is well-established and in-concealable.
Let’s ignore the unprecedented claim of the learned author that ‘عليها’ ought to have come – for it is a standard practice of the Holy Quran to use ‘عَلَيْهِمْ’ (on them) instead of ‘عَلَيْهِ’ (on it), like for example in Sign 6 of the same Composition; and also disregard the fact that the distinction drawn between ‘عليها’ and ‘عَلَيْهِنَّ’ is a figment of the presenter’s imagination; with the help of a little nip here and tuck there, let us assume that the claim is established, and focus entirely on the inevitable legal consequences of this instruction:
- A religion that made it extremely difficult for evil-mongers to taint any woman’s character by blaming her of fornication, has simultaneously made it extremely easy for them to blame a woman of prostitution. Instead of blaming any woman of fornication, the mischief makers need only to blame her of prostitution; as it is much easier to ‘claim’ than to ‘prove’. To prove fornication -the punishment of which is 100 stripes – people have to jump through all kinds of hoops, their eye-witnesses cross-examined, their testimonies synced and analyzed for the minutest irregularity, and on the slightest in-congruence not only is the defendant absolved, the accuser is meted out 80 lashes. On the other hand, if he were to accuse someone of prostitution -the punishment for which was temporarily incarceration till death and finally violent death – mere ‘word of mouth’ would suffice; and there is no penalty of 80 stripes.
- The propounder of this ideology did not divulge as to how could the defendant/accused deny the accusation. Or does he believe that the woman should not be given any chance to defend herself at all? If the woman could defend herself, the question arises that how does one defend oneself against a claim? Would the woman have to present some proof, or perhaps a counter-claim would suffice? If the latter eventuality is the case, the entire case was an exercise in futility. However, if the former occurs, then the next point is inevitable.
- The method clearly predicates that the defendant shall have to prove her innocence, which is contrary to the universal law of ‘presumption of innocence‘: this means that guilt has to be established and not innocence. Legal experts often explain it as “The proof lies upon him who affirms, not upon him who denies; since, by the nature of things, he who denies a fact cannot produce any proof.” Similar statements also exist in the traditions of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). I wonder, why Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) is inverting this logical law allowing people to laugh at Quranic injunctions, and handing people down the very instrument of slander and libel!
- I say, why limit this novel method to prostitution only. Why not implement it on other criminals like gangsters, rapists, terrorists, abductors etc. This novel method obviates the cut-throat requirements of ‘Due Process’ and ‘Evidence’, which are hated by every prosecutor. Hence, if this kind of testimony is enough for prostitution – wherein the penalty is violent death – it is good enough for all these other crimes as well! Not to mention the amount of time this method would save.
A lot many things could be said to show the linguistic and technical inaccuracies in this interpretation, but I hope, by showing where this interpretation would lead us in case of acceptance, I rest my case.
4th Argument: This argument states that the very next two signs, i.e. Sign 17|18 of same Composition, corroborate that Sign 15 refers to habitual offenders and Sign 16 refers to offenders who give in to their overwhelming temptations. Sign 17 delineates that Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) will surely forgive those who commit an offence as a momentary lapse and then repent in the near. Whereas Sign 18 states that forgiveness is not for those who keep committing sins till death confronts them nor for the ones who die in a state of disbelief. Matching Sign 16 with 17, and Sign 15 with 18, it transpires that the women mentioned in Sign 15 are prostitutes.
Replying to 4th Argument|Sub-Argument Alpha: First of all, it isn’t necessary that if two linked statements are followed by two other linked statements, each of the latter pair must have a 1-1 correspondence with the former pair. Consider the following instruction, issued by a boss to his subordinates:
Women coming late, despite being provided official transport, shall be dealt with strictly. Couples, on the other hand, since not being provided such conveyance, may be excused selectively. I shall be inclined to exercise lenience, if and when lapses are occasional. No lenience shall be afforded to those coming late as a matter of habit, and neither those coming late without a sound excuse.
It is obvious, that the final statements are remarks and words of caution for all offenders. Just because these instructions occur in pair, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are applied to pairs. The argument, therefore, is based on wafer-thin ice.
Replying to 4th Argument|Sub-Argument Bravo: The contention has spawned perhaps due to a very cursory attention granted to these Signs. Had some greater thought gone into it, the beholder would have realized that the latter two Signs aren’t talking about the punishment or penitence of this world at all; as Signs 15|16 are doing. Hence, it is like comparing apples and oranges!
The penitence mentioned in Sign 17|18 is the penitence of the hereafter, manifested by Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) in our eternal lives. That is why Sign 18 clearly signifies ‘death without repentance’ as the reason for rejection of penitence; and not mere ‘Habit’ or ‘Continuity’. It is an established fact in Islam that anyone who repents sincerely before the onset of “terminal indicators”, no matter how many sins he/she has committed, is eligible for God’s mercy. Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) says in the Holy Quran:
قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَى أَنْفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِنْ رَحْمَةِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
Say, “Oh my servants, those who hath committed much excesses against their souls! despair not of the mercy of Allah: verily Allah forgives sins en masse”: for He is Oft-forgiving, Ever-merciful.
I hope the zealots of the tendered opinion are not implying that there can be no forgiveness for women in Sign 15 in the hereafter? The tendency mentioned in Sign 18 is clearly unabated commission till death. While in Sign 15, what to talk of till death, even the tendency of unabated commissions is being contended here.
Replying to 4th Argument|Sub-Argument Charlie: Now let’s focus on the linguistic indicators to discover the obvious – that Sign 18 is applicable to both Sign 15|16, just like Sign 17 is applicable to both.
Observe how the words in Sign 15|16 are ‘يَأْتِينَ الْفَاحِشَةَ’ and ‘يَأْتِيَانِهَا’ respectively. Focus on the word ‘الْفَاحِشَةَ’ and see how it is used in the singular just like it is used in Sign 17 in the words ‘يَعْمَلُونَ السُّوءَ’. Now have a look at the words ‘يَعْمَلُونَ السَّيِّئَاتِ’ in Sign 18 and note how in order to depict abundance and continuity of offences the word ‘السُّوءَ’ in preceding Sign has intentionally been changed to plural ‘السَّيِّئَاتِ’ in this one. Moreover, see how it is unequivocally stated that the people mentioned in Sign 18 are only those who keep committing offences till the time death approaches or those who die as disbelievers. And there is no mention of “commissions till death” in either of Sign 15 and 16. I wonder with these obvious markers how can one align Sign 18 with Sign 15, exclusively!
Replying to 4th Argument|Sub-Argument Delta: Had the interpretation not been suffering from these visible discrepancies, even then equating ‘continuity’ with ‘professionalism’ needs an explicit cue; absent which, they are not the same! I’ve stressed this point previously also but seems appropriate to do it again. The learned author while explaining the mutual similarity between the pair states:
یعنی، زنا کے عام مجرم جو جذبات میں بہ کر گناہ کر گزرتے ہیں، اور وہ مجرم جو اس گناہ کے اس قدر عادی ہو گےء ہیں کہ لگاتار اس کا ارتکاب کرتے رہتے، حتی کہ اسے ہی کمائ کا ذریعہ بنا لیتے ہیں
(these two groups are therefore aligned with the aforementioned two groups,) that is those who are common offenders who succumb to their desires, and those offenders who have become so habitual of this sin that they continually commit it, so much so that they have made it the very source of their income.
Even if continuity is accepted, the statement in red is still non-sequitur; No Sign out of these four explicitly mentions professionalism! ‘جو عورتیں بدکاری کرتی ہیں’ cannot be equated with ‘جو عورتیں بدکاری کا پیشہ کرتی ہیں’. Had God even used ‘جو عورتیں بدکار ہیں’, continuity or profession would have been on the table; but God was so cautious that He didn’t use such like nouns or people would’ve been tempted to deduce what the author has deduced. The tendency to do something repeatedly is absolutely un-equatable with the tendency to do it as a profession; or for money. This actually shows how little the ideologues of this ideology understand this difference. If I’m fond of watching dirty movies, is it the same offence as of the one who establishes a small-cinema house wherein such movies are aired day and night, and charges for them?
1st Argument: Now for the 1st argument that I left high and dry earlier. It states: If a collective entity – that has in its front the Human Behavioral Experiences and the Standard Quranic Parlance – is addressed by saying that incarcerate those from your women who commit vulgarity, and then fornicating men and women are also mentioned separately; then the women mentioned in the first instance would inevitably be referring to prostitutes.
Replying to 1st Argument: I sincerely think that this is the ‘only’ reason that has led the advocates to honestly believe in this interpretation. All the other arguments were simply ‘mechanics’. But I also humbly think that this interpretation has been influenced by pre-determination! Instead of letting the words determine what they mean, this interpretation has been obtained through a hit-and-trial method; whereby a meaning thought of before-hand, has been associated with the words. Any solution acquired through these means, would at worst be absolutely unintended; and at best, manifest a poor choice of words.
The argument has obviously been tendered to appease commoners, i.e. non-scholars; since out of a gazillion scholars to date, what to talk of inevitability, none has even ‘considered’ this possibility. Even from a commoner’s perspective, while percolating it in the mind, one gets the feeling that one gets when something doesn’t seem to add up, or when something’s amiss. But placated by the solemn tone of the claimant, and knowledge of own inability to come up with any specific argument against it, a commoner is tempted to accede to it: because any layman would be incapable of testifying to the following claim, that is a modified version of the original claim:
“If a collective entity – that has in its front the Human Behavioral Experiences but either is unfamiliar with Standard Quranic Parlance or chooses to ignore it all the same – is addressed by saying that incarcerate those from your women who commit vulgarity and then fornicating men and women are also mentioned separately, then the women mentioned in the first instance might be taken to refer to prostitutes.”
Every diligent student knows it for a fact that Quran only uses popular expressions to refer to popular crimes: It doesn’t use disputed inflections to refer to offences that would not only blemish its eloquence, but also prove catastrophic; especially considering that if misunderstood, will result in stringent punishments wrongly meted out; and that it never uses the same expression to mean two completely different crimes, that too in successive Signs. But even if the condition of “Standard Quranic Parlance” is reduced from the claim, commoners are more probable to yield to the following claim, rather than the one tendered by the author:
“If a collective entity – that has in its front the Human Behavioral Experiences – is addressed by saying that incarcerate those from your women who commit vulgarity; and then two fornicating persons – referred to by male pronouns – are also mentioned separately; and the punishment for women is incarceration and men is chastisement: then the women mentioned in the first instance would inevitably be referring to lesbians, and men would be referring to sodomites.”
I bet there would be more people who would endorse the latter claim than the ones who’d ratify the former!
The fact is that this whole argument is an empty claim. What does the author mean by ‘قرآن مجید کا عرف’ (Standard Quranic Parlance) is a mystery in itself: as no proof has been provided. What these words would normally imply, is one of the following:
- Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) has mentioned prostitution in the scripture with such like words
- He, often, or at least sometimes, uses non-popular terms to refer to crimes when legislating
- He uses terms famous for one crime to refer to another without any explicit qualifications
None of these seem fulfilled. Not only that, but all the proof is stacked up against this claim. I sincerely wish to find out what the author meant by Standard Quranic Parlance. Please do not take it as sarcasm; if the author can corroborate his claim, it would be a great learning for me – for which I’m always earnestly ready!
And finally, in order to cleanse any lurking doubt in the minds of commoners, consider the following argument:
For the sake of argument let us assume that Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) set out to declare the punishment of prostitutes and those indulging in unlawful sex. Let us get into God’s shoes for the duration of this assumption. Hence, if you or I wanted to divulge punishments for these two entities, and decided not to use words like prostitute, slut, whore, harlot etc., neither wanted to give any hints for deducing professionalism; but instead, for no apparent reason, would depend solely on the context for the audience to infer the punishment for these professional harlots, I would surely have reversed the sequence. I would first state that the punishment for men and women who indulge into fornication, their punishment should be so and so; and then I would mention women separately; it would still be a poor choice of words, but anyhow, would have to be in this sequence. It is only logical that after building the context, I narrate what can only be inferred by the context!
Even the author unwittingly accedes to this claim of mine: See how he states that “…and then fornicating men and women are also mentioned separately, then the women mentioned in the first instance…“. Hence he confesses that in order to allocate his intended meaning to Sign 15, Sign 16 is required. He is using a feedback loop to allot a completely new meaning to Sign 15, that wasn’t there once we passed by it in the first iteration. It was only the 2nd iteration that lent it a meaning.
It is absolutely impossible for any eloquent speaker, let alone God, to adopt this style. I mean, what were we supposed to understand from Sign 15 if we were reciting the Composition in its natural sequence? It is utterly unlikely that God sequenced this Sign at such a place that when we recite it in its natural order it has absolutely no meaning, or a completely different one, that wasn’t intended at all. Is this eloquence? or even common-sense? Logic and the science of speech, give their verdict in the negative!
I would therefore request the learned author to look for a meaning that could be assumed while in the 1st iteration – otherwise, any meaning you and I allot to it, would remain uncanny, and would manifest a poor choice of words!
Supplementary Arguments from My Side
Heretofore, I have presented itemized rebuttal to the arguments proffered by the learned author. Now I shall delineate some supplementary arguments from my own side, that I think will augment my dissent in this matter.
The Holy Quran on Prostitution
A few words; because in my humble opinion the reason why advocates of this school of thought have veered into this opinion is because, one: they saw it as a ubiquitous evil pervasive in the society throughout the ages, and two: they could not find any other explanation of the Signs in question that could convince them; and thus made the connection. I’ve endeavored to show in this article that since it was an interpretation alien to the Holy Quran, therefore the words in the Signs aren’t part of the solution, but rather part of the problem. But what I think has snuck un-discussed, is prostitution itself.
وَلَا تُكْرِهُوا فَتَيَاتِكُمْ عَلَى الْبِغَاءِ إِنْ أَرَدْنَ تَحَصُّنًا لِتَبْتَغُوا عَرَضَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَمَنْ يُكْرِهُّنَّ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ مِنْ بَعْدِ إِكْرَاهِهِنَّ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
But force not your maids to prostitution when they desire chastity, coveting a gain in the goods of this life – for whoever compels them, then after such compulsion, is God, Oft-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful
This is the only place where prostitution is mentioned in the Holy Quran. There could be, and are, numerous takes on prostitution; but how gracious is the angle that God has taken. Not only did He announce amnesty for bondswomen being compelled to sell their honour, Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) has taken the angle that is most befitting to the creator, the omniscient and omnipresent. He knows that this tendency is not a natural tendency that women are susceptible to: It is like selling a part of there-selves. It is a tendency that almost always erupts from social or economic persecution of some sort. ‘Duress’ is the dominant reason for this tendency even today. And Islam is most compassionate towards people in distress. That is why see how realistic and soft-handed is God’s take on this profession. And the anger hidden in the instruction is instead directed towards the pimps and the brothel-owners.
Unbeknownst, one might assume that perhaps the general structure of the context might have been inappropriate for any lawmaking, or mentioning of harsh punishments would have spoilt the mood of the narrative therein; but that is not the case. Composition 24 – The Light, is the Composition of ‘social reforms’. It kicks off with Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) revealing strict punishments for fornicators and slanderers. After that, all possible avenues – wherefrom lewdness can creep into a muslim society – were blocked permanently. There could, in point of fact, be no other place more appropriate to take a harsher stance on this social evil. But He took the route, that any decent person with deep insight into this evil would adopt.
Just think for a moment, if prostitution was already legislated upon in Composition 4, the remark offered in this Composition sticks out like a sore thumb, absolutely out of sync from God’s declared stance.
Even today, if Islamic reforms are brought about in any society, in order to cleanse the society of such evils, would the prudent route be to violently kill all such prostitutes, most of whom God knows undergo this tormenting experience due to what compulsions ? or would it be to announce a general amnesty for them to begin with; get to know their problems; fill any financial voids in their livelihoods; extract them from the clutches of pimps and evil-mongers; get them a life of honour and bashfulness that almost none of them were afforded previously; then preferably be wed to nobles of the society……no but the former route, though mindless, seems much easier and tempting!
صبغة الله…I think we should try to sense our Lord’s tone as humble slaves, rather than twisting them into our submission. Prostitution no doubt is a gross social evil, but slaughter is not its only remedy; let alone it’s first.
Why 4 x Witnesses?
Suppose God did legislate punishment for Harlotry: why would there be the need for 4 x witnesses? Harlotry if criminalized, which according to Ghamidi Sahab it was, has to be tagged with other crimes like theft, brigandage, murder etc. The proponents of this ideology do believe that the temporary punishment of incarceration was supplanted by the injunction of ‘محاربة’ revealed later; under which these prostitutes were condemned to violent death, but this in itself is reason enough that the crime be established through any means. There shouldn’t be any quantification of evidence in case of this crime, like all the other crimes under the same head. The aggrandizement of evidence to 4 x witnesses was an obvious move to strangle the means of reporting fornication and adultery; because where would one find 4 people of noble repute who’s testimony would be acceptable in a court of law? To arrange for so many witnesses, that weren’t involved in the actual act, wherein not only do they have to testify that fornication occurred – but also that the woman took money for it – is mind-boggling. It makes no sense to apply this threshold to prostitution, which according to the author is a plague and pest for the society.
Prostitution: a corrupt tendency
It is not a normal crime, hence improbable to have been coupled with Zina: it is either done under duress, or alternatively is the result of an incontrovertible corruption of the soul. Moreover, it is a compound crime: wherein the offender not only commits unlawful sex, but becomes a walking-talking add for pleasure-seekers (according to the author). The question is, that if punishment for fornication/adultery was not enough to cover this crime, and separate legislation had to be done about prostitutes, then why hasn’t the punishment been revealed for Sodomy, Lesbianism, Human trafficking as sex slaves, Child molestation, Rape, Sex with forbidden relatives etc. Didn’t all of these merit explicit mention? The answer to this is that God only mentions punishments for normal tendencies that humans are susceptible to indulge in. Offences that result from perversion are never the subject of God’s Royal Speech. He has given enough guidance while discussing the basic crimes that we can extrapolate the punishments for compound crimes.
Moreover, using a word or an expression used primarily to refer to crimes of passion resulting from a natural inclination, using it to refer to a heinous crime that could only result from extreme distress or extreme corruption, is not only ‘Bad’ speech, but would also serve to mislead people into equating both, especially once the speaker is Allah (سبحانه وتعالى). If our creator paints both tendencies with the one brush, to the extent that even expressions used to signify both are exactly the same, why shouldn’t we? Anyone familiar with the style of the Quran knows that God does not conflate sins and crimes like this. In fact, just like we humans forge distinct separations between different crimes, such as fornication and prostitution, God also draws notable separation between them; one might even say that the distinction drawn by God is much more pronounced!
Is selectively incarcerating ‘Muslim’ prostitutes supposed to stop prostitution?
In the interpretation under discussion, ‘نِسَائِكُمْ’ (your women) has obviously been interpreted as ‘Muslim’ women. The question that arises then is that why only muslim women are being mortified in Sign 15? Consequently, was prostitution as an industry still condoned to thrive in the society at large? How was selectively incarcerating ‘muslim’ women supposed to cleanse the society of this social evil?
It is irrational and self-defeating. If and when, any legislative body decides to purge this evil from any society, only an across the board stratagem would serve any purpose. Otherwise, it would be equivalent to saying that muslim men can fulfill their unlawful desires from non-muslim prostitutes, but if any muslim woman is found prostituting herself she’ll be subjected to excruciating ends. Did God wish to populate the Islamic state of Medina with infidel red-light areas?
Please don’t mix it up with fornication and adultery: for these two sexual offences are sub rosa crimes; committed as a result of tacit liaison; where punishments are mainly ‘purgatorial’; because no religion is worried about the moral fabric of non-subscribers of its ideology. They aren’t industries that if only muslims are targeted, the industry would still thrive on.
The fact of the matter is that if God wished to legislate against prostitution in this Sign, the words should at least have been something like ‘…واللاتي يعملن البغاء فاستشهدوا’, with no limitation of muslim or non-muslim; like, for example, ‘إِنَّمَا جَزَاءُ الَّذِينَ يُحَارِبُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَيَسْعَوْنَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَسَادًا’ wherein applying any limit of muslim or non-muslim would defeat the purpose. On 2nd thought, the words would’ve been ‘…واللذين يعملون البغاء’ since there is no need whatsoever to limit it to women only: Why should the brothel-owners and pimps have to suffer any other/lesser fate? Especially once historical studies unequivocally reveal that almost always did this business thrive under male patronage, if not oppression!
‘مسافحين’ and ‘مسافحات’
Then noteworthy is the linkage that has been drawn between ‘وَاللَّاتِي يَأْتِينَ الْفَاحِشَةَ’ and ‘مُسَافِحَاتٍ’. In order to make this connection, a seed that is planted subliminally within the readers’ assimilation is that perhaps the Holy Quran at other places has singled out decadent women with the word ‘مُسَافِحَاتٍ’; because unless it is shown that this tendency had some kind of specificity to women as opposed to men, the exclusive mentioning of women vide ‘وَاللَّاتِي يَأْتِينَ الْفَاحِشَةَ’ would still remain unexplained.
Excuse me for digressing, but first of all, neither of these terms is reserved for prostitutes. People who are adept in Quranic sciences know that one of the marvels of this scripture is that when it wishes to use a certain ‘term’ or ‘expression’ to depict a certain meaning, though it might employ it in a literary (as opposed to literal) manner at places, but it also always strategically uses it at a place where the intended meaning is crystal clear. Or alternatively, the term being used is already a famous expression for the intended meaning. These terms are void of both.
Returning to the actual argument, this assertion is misleading. Not only has God applied this word (مُسَافِحِينَ) to men just like He has applied it to women (مُسَافِحَاتٍ), the application to men in the scripture exceeds in number. This is because the word just signifies a tendency of relentless commissions of unlawful sex: And as we all know, men have more propensity for it than women. But nevertheless, it makes no sense to single-out women as a result of this tendency. The words ‘وَالَّذِينَ يَأْتُونَ الْفَاحِشَةَ’ (And those that bring about the vulgarity) would have conveyed the asserted message more precisely, canvassing both men and women; assuming of course that ‘يَأْتُونَ الْفَاحِشَةَ’ means what the learned author wants it to mean!
A Bird’s Eye View of Composition 4
Arguments that transpire from a ‘prudent’ and ‘holistic’ analysis of any given piece of text, are even harder to prove than they are to discover; therefore hold little sway in trending a discussion, let alone being able to act as watersheds in a dissentient debate. But from one earnest student to another, these may prove beneficial. It is on this premise that I tender the following argument.
Composition 4 – The Women (سورة النساء), which houses the Signs under discussion, is inter alia a composition of ‘Family Reforms’; as opposed to Composition 24 – The Light (سورة النور) and Composition 33 – The Clans (سورة الأحزاب), which are compositions of broader ‘Social Reforms’. Although, since family reforms ipso facto fall under the category of social reforms, therefore the former are considered to be a subset of the latter. But nevertheless, it is this distinct niche within social reforms that is the subject matter of Composition 4: at least the part of it wherein the subject Signs occurs. Thus throughout the reforms in this Composition, it can easily be seen that ‘Families’ are the main addressees – in fact, heads of the families, i.e. Men, have been motivated to step forward to resolve a burgeoning crisis; which spawned marital reforms. Society as a whole is only their to ‘oversee’ the implementation of the ‘code’ revealed herein, and motivated to jump-in only if an obstruction of justice is observed. If this angle is kept in mind there would seem no difficulty in ascertaining the meaning of the Signs in question. Hence, the pattern followed in this Composition is:
- The Composition kicks-off with the issue of ‘orphans’; as many families had their heads martyred in a recent battle, there was a looming crisis of guardianship and nurturing of their left-behind offsprings, to address which, God goads men to take these orphans into their patronage
- Using it as a launch-pad, He then recommends marrying their moms to provide congeniality for them and aid them in parentage
- Polygamy having been recommended for a charitable cause, God advises to still treat these women as normal wives, by fulfilling all standard rights such as dower etc.
- Mass martyrdoms dictated dissemination of inheritance among heirs, hence shareholders and their shares, along with some other concerning directions are announced
- The Signs in question occur
- Since marriage as an aide to the problem of orphan-rearing had been suggested, instructions pertaining who to marry and whom not to marry, from among free women are given
- Men are even allowed to marry bondswomen if they were unable to marry free women, but with an apt reminder that if these morally uninitiated slave-girls end up committing vulgarity, they shall be subject to half the punishment earmarked for free women
- Marriage as an institution is discussed in some detail: balance between husband and wife’s relation is installed; conflict-resolution strategies at the family-level are mentioned etc.
- This thread then ends and other threads are taken up for discussion; after which the discussion reverts to this thread again towards the end, wherein some clarifications sought within the ‘orphan-marriage’ paradigm, are decreed
Where in this discussion does the need arise to take-up prostitution as an issue? If we were to draw a regression curve incorporating harlotry in this discussion, there would be an abrupt spike in the otherwise smooth trajectory of instructions, revolving coherently around orphan-rearing and marriage. The way Sign 15 is seamlessly tied together with all of this by using the conjunction ‘و’ (m. and) throughout these instructions, leaves no room for any listener to veer into ‘prostitutes’ with words ‘وَاللَّاتِي يَأْتِينَ الْفَاحِشَةَ مِنْ نِسَائِكُمْ’. Even if, explicit words marking prostitution would have been used, one would have stopped and thought, that hey wait; where did this come from!
We know that sequential reforms that were revealed by our All-Knowing Lord followed a ‘bottom-up’ pattern, rather than ‘top-down’ or ‘haphazard’. First the individuals, then families, then clans and society as a whole were reformed. That is why punishments for larger societal plagues; such as brigandage etc. were revealed the last. And that is why, if any exclusive lawmaking concerning prostitution was desired by the Almighty, it’s correct place would have been Compositions 24 or 33; or perhaps Composition 5, considering the angle the author has on prostitution.
I know this point is argumentative and thus prone to dispute – that is why i’ve mentioned it the last.
I think I’ve tendered all objections that I have against the principal opinion of Ghamidi Sahab in this matter. If the route that this opinion in question has laid out is followed till its destination, we find that Ghamidi Sahab has finally tagged prostitution under the head of ‘محاربة’. If that’s the case, and that is the case, then readers can find some other objections on this interpretation in my 1st article in this series. Just scoot down to the heading ‘Negative’ in my 1st article link appended below.
I hold the author and Ghamidi Sahab in utmost respect. If any remark of mine exudes ridicule or sarcasm, please attribute it to my limited diction. I assure you, it was never my intention: