24. Noor

Syed Abu-Ala' Maududi's Chapter Introductions to the Quran


This Sura takes its name An Nur from verse 35.

Period of Revelation

The consensus of opinion is that it was sent down after the Campaign against Bani al-Mustaliq and this is confirmed by vv. 11-20 that deal with the incident of the "Slander" which occurred during that Campaign. But there is a difference of opinion as to whether this Campaign took place in 5 A. H. before the Battle of the Trench or in 6 A. H. after it. It is important to decide this issue in order to determine whether this Sura was sent down earlier or Sura Al- Ahzab(XXXIII) which is the only other Sura containing the Commandments about the observance of purdah by women. Sura Al-Ahzabwas admittedly sent down on the occasion of the Battle of the Trench. Now if this Battle occurred earlier it would mean that the initial instructions in connection with the Commandments of purdah were sent down in Sura Al-Ahzab?and they were complemented later by the Commandments revealed in this Sura. On the other hand if the Campaign against Bani al-Mustaliq occurred earlier the chronological order of the Commandments would be reversed and it would become difficult to understand the legal wisdom and implications of the Commandments of purdah. According to Ibn Sa'd the Campaign against Bani al Mustaliq took place in Shaban 5 A. H. and the Battle of the Trench in Zil- Qa'dah the same year. This opinion is based on some traditions from Hadarat Ayesha about the events connected with the "Slander" in which she refers to a dispute between Hadrat Sa'd bin 'Ubadah and Sa'd bin Mu'az. Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az according to authentic traditions died during the Campaign against Bani Quraizah which took place immediately after the Battle of the Trench. It is therefore evident that he could not be present in 6 A. H. to take part in a dispute about the "Slander". On the other hand Muhammad bin Ishaq says that the Battle of the Trench took place in Shawwal 5 A. H. and the Campaign against Bani al-Mustaliq in Sha'ban 6 A. H. This opinion is supported by many authentic traditionss from Hadrat Ayesha and others. According to these traditions (1) the Commandments about purdah had been sent down in Sura Al-Ahzabbefore the incident of the "Slander" (2) the Holy Prophet had married Hadrat Zainab in Zil-Qa'dah 5 A. H. after the Battle of the Trench (3) Hamnah sister of Hadrat Zainab had taken a leading part in spreading the "Slander" just because Hadrat Ayesha was a rival of her sister. All this evidence supports the view of Muhammad bin Ishaq. Now let us consider the two opinions a little more closely. The only argument in favour of the first opinion is the mention of the presence of Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az in a dispute connected with the incident of the "Slander". But this argument is weakened by some other traditions from Hadrat Ayesha in which she mentions Hadara Usaid bin Hudair instead of Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az in this dispute. It may therefore be assumed that there has been some confusion regarding the two names in reporting the traditions. Moreover if we accept the first opinion just because of the mention of the name of Hadrat Sa'd bin Mu'az in some traditions we encounter other difficulties that cannot be resolved in any way. For in that case we shall have to admit that the revelation of the Commandments of purdah and the Holy Prophet's marriage with Hadrat Zainab had taken place even earlier than the Battle of the Trench. But we learn from the Qur'an and many authentic traditions that both these events happened after that Battle and the Campaign against Bani Quraizah. That is why Ibn Hazm Ibn Qayyim and some other eminent scholars have held the opinion of Muhammad bin Ishaq as correct and we also hold it to be so. Thus we conclude that Sura AlAhzabwas sent down earlier than Sura An-Nur which was revealed in the latter half of 6 A. H. several months after Sura AlAhzab.

Historical Background

Now let us review the circumstances existing at the time of the revelation of this sura. It should be kept in mind that the incident of the "Slander" which was the occasion of its revelation was closely connected with the conflict between Islam and the disbelievers. After the victory at Badr the Islamic movement began to gain strength day by day; so much so that by the time of the Battle of the Trench it had become so strong that the united forces of the enemy numbering about ten thousand failed to crush it and had to raise the siege of Al Madinah after one month. It meant this and both the parties understood it well that the war of aggression which the Disbelievers had been waging for several years had come to an end. The Holy Prophet himself declared: "After this year the Quraishwill not be able to attack you; now you will take the offensive." When the disbelievers realized that they could not defeat Islam on the battlefield they chose the moral front to carry on the conflict. It cannot be said with certainty whether this Change of tactics was the outcome of deliberate consultations or it was the inevitable result of the humiliating retreat in the Battle of the Trench for which all the available forces of the enemy had been concentrated:They knew it well that the rise of Islam was nor due to the numerical strength of the Muslims nor to their superior arms and ammunition nor to their greater material resources; nay the Muslims were fighting against fearful odds on all these fronts. They owed their success to their moral superiority. Their enemies realized that the pure and noble qualities of the Holy Prophet and his followers were capturing the hearts of the people and were also binding them together into a highly disciplined community. As a result of this they were defeating the mushriksand the Jews both on the peace and on the war front because the latter lacked discipline and character. Under the above mentioned circumstances the wicked designs of the disbelievers led them to start a campaign of vilification against the Holy Prophet and the Muslims in order to destroy the bulwark of morale that was helping them to defeat their enemies. Therefore the strategy was to attain the assistance of the hypocrites to spread slanders against the Holy Prophet and his followers so that the mushriksand the Jews could exploit these to sow the seeds of discord among the Muslims and undermine their discipline. The first opportunity for the use of the new strategy was afforded in Zil-Qa'dah 5 A. H. when the Holy Prophet married Hadrat Zainab (daughter of Jahsh) who was the divorced wife of his adopted son Zaid bin Harithah. The Holy Prophet had arranged this marriage in order to put an end to the custom of ignorance which gave the same status to the adopted son that was the right only of the son from one's own loins. The hypocrites however considered it a golden opportunity to vilify the Holy Prophet from inside the community and the Jews and the mushriksexploited it from outside to ruin his high reputation by this malicious slander. For this purpose fantastic stories were concocted and spread to this effect: "One day Muhammad (Allah's peace be upon him) happened to see the wife of his adopted son and fell in love with her; he manouvered her divorce and married her." Though this was an absurd fiction it was spread with such skill cunning and artfulness that it succeeded in its purpose; so much so that some Muslim traditionalist and commentators also have cited some parts of it in their writings and the orientalists have exploited these fully to vilify the Holy Prophet. As a matter of fact Hadrat Zainab was never a stranger to the Holy Prophet that he should see her by chance and fall in love with her at first sight. For she was his first cousin being the daughter of his real paternal aunt Umaimah daughter of Abdul Muttalib. He had known her from her childhood to her youth. A year before this incident he himself