Sura 4 (from the Quran)
The Quran is the most important sacred text of Islam. Muslims believe The Quran is comprised of the words of God (Allah in Arabic); according to tradition, these words were dictated to Muhammad by the archangel Jibril (Gabriel in Jewish/Christian scriptures). Some twenty years after Muhammad’s death, The Quran was compiled and organized into 114 chapters (suras), starting with the longest sura (1) and proceeding to the shortest sura (114).
The organization of The Quran does not, however, represent the chronological order in which Muhammad recited his visions to his growing band of followers. According to scholar of religion, Karen Armstrong, the earliest suras were delivered from Mecca and tend to emphasize the character of God and God’s expectations of people in response to God’s revelations. Sura 55 falls into this category, if you care to have a look.
The later suras (24 in total) were delivered from the city of Medina and deal with the expansion of the Muslim community from a small band of followers to a religious movement that eventually included almost all of the Arab tribes on the Arabian peninsula. These Medinia suras deal with how best to organize and govern this new community of believers. The excerpt from Sura 4 (below) is a small part of a longer Medinia sura.
I'm providing two translations in an effort to give you a more comprehensive sense of the text. You do not need to read both, but it might be worth browsing through at least a portion of each.
The translation Ghali translation was completed by a university professor in Cairo, Dr. Mahammad Mahmoud Ghali. The Yusuf Ali translation, though much older, has historically been one of the most popular translations worldwide. I've provided notes on the Ghali translation - despite being the more recent translation, it strikes me as the more challenging to read. The notes do apply to both translations though.
Translations are always tricky...and political...and literary...and incomplete. But each has it's advantages too - some capture the poetry of the original text, some the historical meaning of complex words or ideas, some aim for readability for new readers of a text. The Wikipedia page for English Translations of the Quran can give you a better sense of this.
Dr. Ghali Translation (1997)
4.1 O you mankind, be pious to your Lord, Who created you of one self, and created from it its spouse, and from the two disseminated many men and women;1 and be pious to Allah, about Whom you ask one another, and to the wombs; (i.e., be pious to the relatives) surely Allah has been Ever-Watchful over you.
4.2 And bring the orphans2 their riches, and do not exchange the wicked (you have) for the good (they own); and do not eat up their riches with your riches; surely that is a great outrage.
4.3 And, in case you fear that you will not act equitably towards the orphans, then marry such women as is good to you, two, three, four,3 (Literally: in twos and threes and fours) then, in case you fear that you will not do justice, then one (only), or what your right hands possess.4 That (way) is likelier you will not be in want (Or: you will have too many dependents).
4.4 And bring the women their dowries5 as an endowment, so in case they are good to you concerning any portion of it, (Literally: in case they feel good in themselves to you about anything of it) then eat it up rejoicing with wholesome appetite (i.e., take it and make use of it to your profit and advantage).
4.5 And do not bring the foolish ones your riches that Allah has made for keeping you up, (i.e., as a means of support) and provide for them out of it, and give them raiment, and speak to them beneficent words.
4.6 And try the orphans until they reach (the) marriageable age. So, in case you perceive in them right-mindedness then pay over to them their riches, and do not eat them up extravagantly and in anticipation of their (attaining) majority. And whoever is rich, then let him keep abstaining, (i.e. let him abstain generously) and whoever is poor, then let him eat (of it) with beneficence. So, when you pay over to them their riches, then take witnesses over them; and Allah suffices as Ever-Reckoner.
4.7 To the men is an assignment of whatever the parents and the nearest kin have left, and to the women is an assignment of whatever the parents and the nearest kin have left, of whatever it be, little or much, an ordained assignment.6
4.8 And when the near of kin (Literally: endowed with kinship, "nearness) and the orphans and the indigent are present at the division, then provide for them out of it, and say to them beneficent saying.
4.9 And let the ones be apprehensive (of Allah), who, if ever they left behind them weak offspring, would fear (poverty) for them. So let them be pious to Allah, and let them say a befitting saying.
4.10 Surely the ones who eat the riches of the orphans unjustly, they surely only eat (up) Fire in their bellies and will roast in a Blaze.7
4.11 Allah enjoins you concerning your children: to the male the like of the portion of two females; so in case they are women above two, then for them is two-thirds of whatever he has left; and in case she be one, then to her is the half. And to (both) his (i.e., the deceased's) parents, to each one of the two is the sixth of whatever he has left in case he has children; then in case he has no children, and his parents are his heirs, then a third is to his mother; (yet) in case he has brothers, then to his mother is the sixth, even after any bequest he may bequeath, or any debt. Your fathers and your sons (Or: children) - you do not realize which of them is nearer in profit to you. (This is) an ordinance from Allah; surely Allah has been Ever-Knowing, Ever-Wise.
4.12 And for you is a half of whatever your spouses have left, in case they have no children; (yet) in case they have children, then for you is the fourth of whatever they have left, (only) after any bequest they may have bequeathed, (Literally: enjoined) or any debt. And for them is a fourth of whatever you have left, in case you have no children; yet in case you have children, then they have an eighth of whatever you have left, (only) after any bequest you may have bequeathed, or any debt. And in case a man or a woman has no heir direct, and has a brother or a sister, then to each one of the two is the sixth; yet in case they are more numerous than that, then they shall be sharers in the third, (only) after any bequest may have been bequeathed, or any debt, without harming (others). (This is) an injunction from Allah; and Allah is Ever-Knowing, Ever-Forbearing.
4.13 Those are the bounds of Allah; and whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger, He will cause him to enter Gardens from beneath which Rivers run, eternally (abiding) therein; and that is the magnificent triumph.
4.14 And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger and transgresses His bounds, He will cause him to enter a Fire, eternally (abiding) therein, and for him is a degrading torment.
4.15 And (as for) the ones of your women who come up with the obscenity, (i.e., illegal sexual intercourse; abomination) so, call four of you to witness against them. Then in case they (bear) witness, then retain them (The pronoun is the feminine plural) in the homes until death takes them up, (i.e., they die) or Allah sets for them a way.8
4.16 And (as for) the two of you who come up with (an obscenity), then hurt them both. Yet, in case they (both) repent and act righteously, then veer away from them (both); surely Allah has been Superbly Relenting, Ever-Merciful.9
4.17 Surely relenting from (Literally: upon, i.e.' Allah relents) Allah is only towards the ones who do any odious deed in ignorance (and) thereafter they repent shortly; so Allah relents towards those and Allah has been Ever-Knowing, Ever-Wise.
4.18 And relenting is not for the ones who do odious deeds until, when death is present to one of them, he says, "Surely now I repent, " neither (for) the ones who die (while) they are steadfast disbelievers; for those We have readied a painful torment.
4.19 O you who have believed, it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will; (Literally: through compulsion) neither pose problems for them that you may go away with some (part) of what you have brought them except when they come up with a (demonstrably) evident obscenity. And consort with them with beneficence; so in case you hate them, then it is possible you may hate something, and Allah sets in it much charity (i.e. benefit).
4.20 And in case you are willing to exchange a spouse in place of (another) spouse, and you have brought one of them a hundredweight, (Literally: a Kantar) then do not take anything of it. Will you take it by way of all-malicious (calumny) and evident vice?
4.21 And how should you take it, and each of you has already gone privily with the other, (Literally: some of you have been privily with (some) and they have taken from you a solemn compact?
4.22 And do not marry women that your fathers married, except what has already gone by;10 surely that is an obscenity and detestation, and an odious way.
4.23 Prohibited to you are your mothers and your daughters, and your sisters, and your paternal aunts, and your maternal aunts, and (your) brother's daughters, and (your) sister's daughters, and your mothers who have given suck to you, and your suckling sisters, and your women's mothers, and your step-daughters who are in your laps (i.e. under your guardianship) being born of your women whom you have been into-yet, in case you have not been into them, (Literally: entered with) it is no fault in you-and the lawful (spouses) of your sons who are of your loins, and that you should take to you two sisters together, except what has already gone by.11 Surely Allah has been Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful.
4.24 And women in wedlock (are forbidden to you), except what your right hands possess. It is the prescribing (Literally: the book) of Allah for you. And lawful for you, beyond all that, is that you seek after (them) with your riches (i.e., that you pay them a dowry) in wedlock, other than in fornication. So (with) whomever of these (women) you enjoy the privilege of marriage, then bring them their rewards as an ordinance, and it is no fault in you in whatever you consented to among yourselves even after the ordinance. Surely Allah has been Ever-Knowing, Ever-Wise.
4.25 And whoever of you is unable to (provide) ample (means) for marrying (free) believing women in wedlock, then (let him take) from the believing handmaids that your right hands possess;12 and Allah knows best your belief, the ones of you are as the others (Literally: Some of you are from some others, i.e., you are equal). So marry them by the permission of their families, (i.e. their folk) and bring them their rewards with beneficence, as (women) in wedlock, other than in fornication or taking mates to themselves. (So) when they are in wedlock, (then) in case they come up with an obscenity, (5) they shall have then half the torment of free women in wedlock. That is for the ones of you who are apprehensive of distress; (i.e., sin) (and) to be patient is more charitable for you; and Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful.
4.26 Allah wills to make this evident to you and guide you into the enactments of the ones before you and to relent towards you; and Allah is Ever-Knowing, Ever-Wise.
4.27 And Allah wills to relent towards you, and (the ones) who closely follow (their) lusts would have you incline (Literally: tilt away a tremendous tilting) away a tremendous inclining.
4.28 Allah wills to lighten (things) for you, and man was created a weakling.
4.29 O you who have believed, do not eat (up) your riches among you untruthfully, except there be commerce by your mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves (i.e. kill one another). Surely Allah has been Ever-Merciful to you.
4.30 And whoever performs that in hostility and unjustly, then We will eventually roast him at (the) Fire; and that has been for Allah an easy (thing).
4.31 In case you avoid the great (sins) that are forbidden you, We will expiate for you your odious deeds and cause you to enter an honorable entrance.
4.32 And do not covet that whereby Allah has graced some of you over the others (Literally: some of you more gracious than some "others"). To the men is an assignment from what they have acquired, and to the women is an assignment from what they have acquired. And ask Allah of His Grace; surely Allah has been Ever-Knowing of everything.
4.33 And to everyone We have made patronized relatives (i.e. inheritors) of that (property) which parents and nearest-kin have left, and the ones with whom you contracted oaths, (Or: your right hands have made a pledge) (so) bring them their assignment by will (by wasiyyah); surely Allah has been Ever-Witnessing over everything.
4.34 Men are the ever upright (managers) (of the affairs) of women for what Allah has graced some of them over (some) others and for what they have expended of their riches. So righteous women are devout, preservers of the Unseen for. And the ones whom you fear their non-compliance, then admonish them and forsake them in their beds, (Literally: a madajic= reeclining) and strike them, (i.e. hit them lightly) yet in case they obey you, then do not seek inequitably any way against them; surely Allah has been Ever-Exalted, Ever-Great.13
4.35 And in case you fear discord (Literally: opposition) between the two, then send forth a judge from his family and a judge from her family. in case they (both) are willing to act righteously, Allah will cause them to reach an agreement between them (two); surely Allah has been Ever-Knowing, Ever-Cognizant.
4.36 And worship Allah and do not associate anything with Him. And (show) fairest (companionship) to parents, and to the near kinsman, and the orphans and the indigent, and the neighbor who is near kinsman, and the neighbor who is a stranger, (i.e. not of the family or creed or "nationality") and the companion at your side, and the wayfarer, and what your right hands possess. Surely Allah does not love whoever has been conceited (and) constantly boastful,
4.37 The ones who are miserly and bid (other) men (Literally: command mankind) to be miserly, and (who) keep back whatever Allah has brought them of His Grace. And We have readied for the disbelievers a degrading torment.
4.38 And also (for) (the ones) who expend their riches showing off to (other) men, (Literally: mankind) and do not believe in Allah nor in the Last Day. And whoever has Ash-Shatan (The all-vicious, i.e., the Devil) for a comrade, then how odious is such a comrade!
Yusuf Ali Translation (1934)
4.1 O mankind! reverence your Guardian-Lord, who created you from a single person, created, of like nature, His mate, and from them twain scattered (like seeds) countless men and women;- reverence Allah, through whom ye demand your mutual (rights), and (reverence) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah ever watches over you.
4.2 To orphans restore their property (When they reach their age), nor substitute (your) worthless things for (their) good ones; and devour not their substance (by mixing it up) with your own. For this is indeed a great sin.
4.3 If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.
4.4 And give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, Take it and enjoy it with right good cheer.
4.5 To those weak of understanding Make not over your property, which Allah hath made a means of support for you, but feed and clothe them therewith, and speak to them words of kindness and justice.
4.6 Make trial of orphans until they reach the age of marriage; if then ye find sound judgment in them, release their property to them; but consume it not wastefully, nor in haste against their growing up. If the guardian is well-off, Let him claim no remuneration, but if he is poor, let him have for himself what is just and reasonable. When ye release their property to them, take witnesses in their presence: But all-sufficient is Allah in taking account.
4.7 From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large,-a determinate share.
4.8 But if at the time of division other relatives, or orphans or poor, are present, feed them out of the (property), and speak to them words of kindness and justice.
4.9 Let those (disposing of an estate) have the same fear in their minds as they would have for their own if they had left a helpless family behind: Let them fear Allah, and speak words of appropriate (comfort).
4.10 Those who unjustly eat up the property of orphans, eat up a Fire into their own bodies: They will soon be enduring a Blazing Fire!
4.11 Allah (thus) directs you as regards your Children's (Inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is a half. For parents, a sixth share of the inheritance to each, if the deceased left children; if no children, and the parents are the (only) heirs, the mother has a third; if the deceased Left brothers (or sisters) the mother has a sixth. (The distribution in all cases ('s) after the payment of legacies and debts. Ye know not whether your parents or your children are nearest to you in benefit. These are settled portions ordained by Allah; and Allah is All-knowing, Al-wise.
4.12 In what your wives leave, your share is a half, if they leave no child; but if they leave a child, ye get a fourth; after payment of legacies and debts. In what ye leave, their share is a fourth, if ye leave no child; but if ye leave a child, they get an eighth; after payment of legacies and debts. If the man or woman whose inheritance is in question, has left neither ascendants nor descendants, but has left a brother or a sister, each one of the two gets a sixth; but if more than two, they share in a third; after payment of legacies and debts; so that no loss is caused (to any one). Thus is it ordained by Allah; and Allah is All-knowing, Most Forbearing.
4.13 Those are limits set by Allah: those who obey Allah and His Messenger will be admitted to Gardens with rivers flowing beneath, to abide therein (for ever) and that will be the supreme achievement.
4.14 But those who disobey Allah and His Messenger and transgress His limits will be admitted to a Fire, to abide therein: And they shall have a humiliating punishment.
4.15 If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, Take the evidence of four (Reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim them, or Allah ordain for them some (other) way.
4.16 If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, Leave them alone; for Allah is Oft-returning, Most Merciful.
4.17 Allah accept the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will Allah turn in mercy: For Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.
4.18 Of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil, until death faces one of them, and he says, "Now have I repented indeed;" nor of those who die rejecting Faith: for them have We prepared a punishment most grievous.
4.19 O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may Take away part of the dower ye have given them,-except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.
4.20 But if ye decide to take one wife in place of another, even if ye had given the latter a whole treasure for dower, Take not the least bit of it back: Would ye take it by slander and manifest wrong?
4.21 And how could ye take it when ye have gone in unto each other, and they have Taken from you a solemn covenant?
4.22 And marry not women whom your fathers married,- except what is past: It was shameful and odious,- an abominable custom indeed.
4.23 Prohibited to you (For marriage) are:- Your mothers, daughters, sisters; father's sisters, Mother's sisters; brother's daughters, sister's daughters; foster-mothers (Who gave you suck), foster-sisters; your wives' mothers; your step-daughters under your guardianship, born of your wives to whom ye have gone in,- no prohibition if ye have not gone in;- (Those who have been) wives of your sons proceeding from your loins; and two sisters in wedlock at one and the same time, except for what is past; for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful;-
4.24 Also (prohibited are) women already married, except those whom your right hands possess: Thus hath Allah ordained (Prohibitions) against you: Except for these, all others are lawful, provided ye seek (them in marriage) with gifts from your property,- desiring chastity, not lust, seeing that ye derive benefit from them, give them their dowers (at least) as prescribed; but if, after a dower is prescribed, agree Mutually (to vary it), there is no blame on you, and Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.
4.25 If any of you have not the means wherewith to wed free believing women, they may wed believing girls from among those whom your right hands possess: And Allah hath full knowledge about your faith. Ye are one from another: Wed them with the leave of their owners, and give them their dowers, according to what is reasonable: They should be chaste, not lustful, nor taking paramours: when they are taken in wedlock, if they fall into shame, their punishment is half that for free women. This (permission) is for those among you who fear sin; but it is better for you that ye practise self-restraint. And Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
4.26 Allah doth wish to make clear to you and to show you the ordinances of those before you; and (He doth wish to) turn to you (In Mercy): And Allah is All-knowing, All-wise.
4.27 Allah doth wish to Turn to you, but the wish of those who follow their lusts is that ye should turn away (from Him),- far, far away.
4.28 Allah doth wish to lighten your (difficulties): For man was created Weak (in flesh).
4.29 O ye who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves in vanities: But let there be amongst you Traffic and trade by mutual good-will: Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves: for verily Allah hath been to you Most Merciful!
4.30 If any do that in rancour and injustice,- soon shall We cast them into the Fire: And easy it is for Allah.
4.31 If ye (but) eschew the most heinous of the things which ye are forbidden to do, We shall expel out of you all the evil in you, and admit you to a gate of great honour.
4.32 And in no wise covet those things in which Allah Hath bestowed His gifts More freely on some of you than on others: To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn: But ask Allah of His bounty. For Allah hath full knowledge of all things.
4.33 To (benefit) every one, We have appointed shares and heirs to property left by parents and relatives. To those, also, to whom your right hand was pledged, give their due portion. For truly Allah is witness to all things.
4.34 Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
4.35 If ye fear a breach between them twain, appoint (two) arbiters, one from his family, and the other from hers; if they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation: For Allah hath full knowledge, and is acquainted with all things.
4.36 Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious;-
4.37 (Nor) those who are niggardly or enjoin niggardliness on others, or hide the bounties which Allah hath bestowed on them; for We have prepared, for those who resist Faith, a punishment that steeps them in contempt;-
4.38 Not those who spend of their substance, to be seen of men, but have no faith in Allah and the Last Day: If any take the Evil One for their intimate, what a dreadful intimate he is!
- The Quran shares some overlap with Jewish and Christian scriptures; this verse is quite similar to the creation of humans in the book of Genesis. ↩
- Children who have lost their parent; in the tribal society that Islam grows out of, members of the community are expected to adopt and care for these orphans. Usually an uncle, aunt, or cousin adopts the child and serves as guardian of the child - as well as whatever wealth or possessions the child inherits from their parents. ↩
- In this case “orphans” probably refers to female orphans. The verse is commenting on a common practice - male heads of household could and did marry female orphans under their care in order to fully gain control of the orphans’ property and wealth. This verse seems to say, if you can’t treat the orphans fairly (as in, can’t give them their wealth or can’t view them neutrally b/c of their wealth) then it’s better to marry women who are not orphans in your household.
Furthermore, a man may marry up to four wives IF he can provide (emotionally and financially) for all four in equal measure. ↩
- Probably a reference to slaves, in this case most likely female slaves ↩
- A dowry is property or wealth (money, cattle, possessions) brought by a woman into a marriage or given to a woman when she gets married. ↩
- Hre we enter into a number of verses that deal with inheritance laws and the division of property. It’s easy to get caught up in (and confused by) the details, so it’s worth stepping back and trying to figure out what the overarching point is here. What expectations are being outlined for the community? ↩
- “Fire” and “a Blaze” refer to hell ↩
- Okay, yes, we have the possibility of women being accused of adultery or sexual misconduct here. BUT it’s important to note that women can’t be condemned outright in this case - four witnesses have to testify against her to be convicted and punished. [In other parts of the Quran (esp. Sura 24), false accusations against women are punished as heavily as adultery.]
It's also worth noting the "other way" mentioned at the end of the verse. This seems to suggest a willingness to accept that God may more rightly judge a woman than the people around her. ↩
- In this translation, there seems to be a suggestion that both parties (male and female) should be tried for “an obscenity” (for improper sexual conduct) ↩
- This verse and the next are incest taboos. Almost every culture has rules and customs about who you can marry and who you cannot. What’s interesting, though, is that an accommodation is offered here - “except what has already gone by.” This suggests that the advice given here applies for the future, but does not require men to divorce women if they fall into the category of “father’s wife.” ↩
- Men are advised not to marry their fathers’ wives, their mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces, wet-nurses, wives’ mothers, step-daughters. son’s wives, sons, or two women who are sisters. BUT if this has happened before the man was a believer or before Islam was present in the community, then the text here says, “okay, let what’s already happened remain in place” ↩
- if you can’t afford to provide for a wife who is a free woman then, the text seems to say, it’s okay to marry one of your slave women if she’s already a believer. The verse goes on to say she should receive all of the privileges of marriage, but there’s some concessions if this slave woman (now wife) is accused of an “obscenity” (her punishment will be half of what a woman who is free would be).
- This is perhaps the most highly debated verse in the text and therefore is worth reading in context. I repeat again CONTEXT. What's happening in this verse is an effort to moderate the power of husbands over wives. That power is unquestioned in the original context (families are patriarchal, meaning the husband/father holds greater power in the family than other members). Moderate physical punishment is listed as a last resort here rather than a first - which in the original context would have been a radical check on the power of men.
Has this verse been used more recently to justify violence against women. Yes. But, first, this is by no means the only (or the most prominent) interpretation of the verse - historically or presently. Check out this article from Brandeis University for an overview of the complexities and varying interpretations of 4:34: Understanding a Difficult Verse, Qur'an 4:34.
And, second, it's worth noting that tricky verses like this aren't unique to Islam.(Ephesians 5:22-24 at times has been equally troublesome for women in Christianity. That isn't to excuse domestic violence when it is justified by either religion (or ever). Only to say that the problem isn't particular to a single religion. ↩