A verse that is often cited by opponents of the Quran and critics of Muhammad is 33:37 where God commanded Muhammad to marry the divorced wife of his adopted son, Zeid.
[33:37] Recall that you said to the one who was blessed by GOD, and blessed by you, “Keep your wife and reverence GOD,” and you hid inside yourself what GOD wished to proclaim. Thus, you feared the people, when you were supposed to fear only GOD. When Zeid was completely through with his wife, we had you marry her, in order to establish the precedent that a man can marry the divorced wife of his adopted son. GOD’s commands shall be done.
وَإِذْ تَقُولُ لِلَّذِي أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْسِكْ عَلَيْكَ زَوْجَكَ وَاتَّقِ اللَّهَ وَتُخْفِي فِي نَفْسِكَ مَا اللَّهُ مُبْدِيهِ وَتَخْشَى النَّاسَ وَاللَّهُ أَحَقُّ أَنْ تَخْشَاهُ فَلَمَّا قَضَىٰ زَيْدٌ مِنْهَا وَطَرًا زَوَّجْنَاكَهَا لِكَيْ لَا يَكُونَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ حَرَجٌ فِي أَزْوَاجِ أَدْعِيَائِهِمْ إِذَا قَضَوْا مِنْهُنَّ وَطَرًا وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ مَفْعُولًا
People often use this verse to claim that Muhammad’s revelations were disproportionately favoring to his wishes, and fail to see the relevance such a command has upon the religion as a whole and why such a command would be included in the Quran. What these individuals fail to understand is all the wisdom that is packed into this verse and the accompanying verses transcend this one event in time and serve as a perpetual lesson for all the later generations of people who follow the Quran.
The Quran was not written only to be applied by Muhammad and the contemporaries of that time. Muhammad and the events that took place at that time are only loosely mentioned in the Quran. For instance, Muhammad by name is only mentioned four times in the entire text. In addition only a handful of other individuals that lived in that time are mentioned by name, and only a select number of events that transpired at that time are even described. Even when they are they are cited it only select details are made. Why is this?
Despite the Quran containing the most accurate history (12:3) it is not meant to be a history book for future generations to know all the details that took place at the time of Muhammad. The revelations in the Quran and the lessons embedded in this scripture possess timeless lessons for followers of the Quran that are just as relevant today, as they were during the time of Muhammad, and they will be for future generations. Therefore, any information that God chose to reveal in the Quran are just as applicable today as they were at the time of the prophet. This is the reason I believe God only retained some of the details of these events, because this is the portion that is intrinsically valuable throughout history. Any information that God intentionally omitted from the Quran, therefore, is not necessary for our salvation.
A perfect example of this is in Quran’s narration of the sleepers of the cave, where God informs us that the number of sleepers are irrelevant, as are their names, or their exact ages. All the information we need is embedded in the verses that God revealed, so there is no point in arguing regarding these other points.
[18:22] Some would say, “They were three; their dog being the fourth,” while others would say, “Five; the sixth being their dog,” as they guessed. Others said, “Seven,” and the eighth was their dog. Say, “My Lord is the best knower of their number.” Only a few knew the correct number. Therefore, do not argue with them; just go along with them. You need not consult anyone about this.
سَيَقُولُونَ ثَلَاثَةٌ رَابِعُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ وَيَقُولُونَ خَمْسَةٌ سَادِسُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ رَجْمًا بِالْغَيْبِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَبْعَةٌ وَثَامِنُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ قُلْ رَبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِمْ مَا يَعْلَمُهُمْ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ فَلَا تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلَّا مِرَاءً ظَاهِرًا وَلَا تَسْتَفْتِ فِيهِمْ مِنْهُمْ أَحَدًا
So laying this framework what is the lesson to be learned from God included the commandment for Muhammad to marry the divorced wife of his adopted son that would be relevant for us to understand today?
1) Let’s start by looking the previous verse in order to provide some context to the command:
[33:36] No believing man or believing woman, if GOD and His messenger issue any command, has any choice regarding that command. Anyone who disobeys GOD and His messenger has gone far astray.
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤْمِنٍ وَلَا مُؤْمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَمْرًا أَنْ يَكُونَ لَهُمُ الْخِيَرَةُ مِنْ أَمْرِهِمْ وَمَنْ يَعْصِ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ فَقَدْ ضَلَّ ضَلَالًا مُبِينًا
From 33:36 we learn that not even Muhammad was above the law from following the commands given by God. That he was just as responsible to follow the commands given to him by God and His messenger as any other believer at that time. This shows that there is a distinction between Muhammad the man and Muhammad the messenger, and the possibly that Muhammad the man might be intimidated to abide by the commands given from Muhammad the messenger. There are other verses that distinguish between Muhammad the man and Muhammad the messenger, but this shows the vulnerability of a man despite God selecting him to be His messenger.
[17:73] They almost diverted you from the revelations we have given you. They wanted you to fabricate something else, in order to consider you a friend. [17:74] If it were not that we strengthened you, you almost leaned towards them just a little bit. [17:75] Had you done that, we would have doubled the retribution for you in this life, and after death, and you would have found no one to help you against us.
وَإِنْ كَادُوا لَيَفْتِنُونَكَ عَنِ الَّذِي أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ لِتَفْتَرِيَ عَلَيْنَا غَيْرَهُ ۖ وَإِذًا لَاتَّخَذُوكَ خَلِيلًا وَلَوْلَا أَنْ ثَبَّتْنَاكَ لَقَدْ كِدْتَ تَرْكَنُ إِلَيْهِمْ شَيْئًا قَلِيلًا إِذًا لَأَذَقْنَاكَ ضِعْفَ الْحَيَاةِ وَضِعْفَ الْمَمَاتِ ثُمَّ لَا تَجِدُ لَكَ عَلَيْنَا نَصِيرًا
2. In the next verse we see that Muhammad attempted to hide what God wished to reveal. This shows that Muhammad was not perfect, that he made mistakes and when he made a mistake God corrected it in the Quran.
[33:37] Recall that you said to the one who was blessed by GOD, and blessed by you, “Keep your wife and reverence GOD,” and you hid inside yourself what GOD wished to proclaim...
وَإِذْ تَقُولُ لِلَّذِي أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْسِكْ عَلَيْكَ زَوْجَكَ وَاتَّقِ اللَّهَ وَتُخْفِي فِي نَفْسِكَ مَا اللَّهُ مُبْدِيهِ
3. This shows that Muhammad in this occasion feared other than God. He feared for his reputation and the stigma of what other people would have thought about him for taking such an action.
[33:37] …Thus, you feared the people, when you were supposed to fear only GOD...
وَتَخْشَى النَّاسَ وَاللَّهُ أَحَقُّ أَنْ تَخْشَاهُ
4. This clearly showed that Muhammad did not want to carry out the action, that if it was up to him he would have preferred to skirt the command if he could. This lesson sheds light on the following verse, that sometimes God’s commands may seem annoying, but if we trust in God then we must follow through with them.
[11:12] You may wish to disregard some of that which is revealed to you, and you may be annoyed by it. Also, they may say, “How come no treasure comes down to him, or an angel?” You are only a warner; GOD controls all things.
فَلَعَلَّكَ تَارِكٌ بَعْضَ مَا يُوحَىٰ إِلَيْكَ وَضَائِقٌ بِهِ صَدْرُكَ أَنْ يَقُولُوا لَوْلَا أُنْزِلَ عَلَيْهِ كَنْزٌ أَوْ جَاءَ مَعَهُ مَلَكٌ إِنَّمَا أَنْتَ نَذِيرٌ وَاللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَكِيلٌ
Take the example of having to perform ablution before Salat and having to wash one’s feet. Obviously this may seem inconvenient, but if we trust in God then we will happily comply and realize that God has a good reason for making such a request from the believers.
5. So why would God command Muhammad to carry through with this command? Is it strictly to establish the precedent that a person can marry the divorced wife of their adopted son?
[33:37] …When Zeid was completely through with his wife, we had you marry her, in order to establish the precedent that a man can marry the divorced wife of his adopted son. GOD’s commands shall be done.
فَلَمَّا قَضَىٰ زَيْدٌ مِنْهَا وَطَرًا زَوَّجْنَاكَهَا لِكَيْ لَا يَكُونَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ حَرَجٌ فِي أَزْوَاجِ أَدْعِيَائِهِمْ إِذَا قَضَوْا مِنْهُنَّ وَطَرًا وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ مَفْعُولًا
It seems a little odd as this is not a normal occurrence for the average person, so what deeper lesson can this provide us?
Oftentimes people resort to utilizing religion to justify prohibiting behavior that they do not approve of. It is okay to be offended or dislike something due to personal opinion, but it is a major sin when we are trying to justify such a stance by falsely claiming that God is the one who prohibited such things. When we do this we are committing one of the worst sins which is attributing lies to God.
[29:68] Who is more evil than one who fabricates lies and attributes them to GOD, or rejects the truth when it comes to him? Is Hell not a just retribution for the disbelievers?
٦٨) وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ افْتَرَىٰ عَلَى اللَّهِ كَذِبًا أَوْ كَذَّبَ بِالْحَقِّ لَمَّا جَاءَهُ أَلَيْسَ فِي جَهَنَّمَ مَثْوًى لِلْكَافِرِينَ
[39:32] Who is more evil than one who attributes lies to GOD, while disbelieving in the truth that has come to him? Is Hell not a just requital for the disbelievers?
فَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنْ كَذَبَ عَلَى اللَّهِ وَكَذَّبَ بِالصِّدْقِ إِذْ جَاءَهُ أَلَيْسَ فِي جَهَنَّمَ مَثْوًى لِلْكَافِرِينَ
If we say I personally choose not to do something we are letting people know that this is a personal decision based on one’s personal opinion, but when we say the reason we shouldn’t do such things is because it is prohibited by God then we are now uttering lies and attributing it to God.
[16:116] You shall not utter lies with your own tongues stating: “This is lawful, and this is unlawful,” to fabricate lies and attribute them to GOD. Surely, those who fabricate lies and attribute them to GOD will never succeed.
وَلَا تَقُولُوا لِمَا تَصِفُ أَلْسِنَتُكُمُ الْكَذِبَ هَٰذَا حَلَالٌ وَهَٰذَا حَرَامٌ لِتَفْتَرُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَفْتَرُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ لَا يُفْلِحُونَ
By God commanding Muhammad to do something that is not sinful, but repulsive to the eyes of the people God is setting a precedent not only that a man can marry the divorced wife of his adopted son, but a larger principle that we cannot prohibit something that God did not specifically prohibit in the Quran.
[6:150] Say, “Bring your witnesses who would testify that GOD has prohibited this or that.” If they testify, do not testify with them. Nor shall you follow the opinions of those who reject our revelations, and those who disbelieve in the Hereafter, and those who stray away from their Lord.
قُلْ هَلُمَّ شُهَدَاءَكُمُ الَّذِينَ يَشْهَدُونَ أَنَّ اللَّهَ حَرَّمَ هَٰذَا فَإِنْ شَهِدُوا فَلَا تَشْهَدْ مَعَهُمْ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِنَا وَالَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْآخِرَةِ وَهُمْ بِرَبِّهِمْ يَعْدِلُونَ
6. If we say something is a sin, then we are saying that one will earn negative credit and damage their soul if they partake in such deeds. God through this example is explaining that sins are only limited to what God specifically prohibited in the Quran, and as long as we maintain righteousness we do not need to fear societal pressure from our actions if they are not sinful. The prophet as depicted in these verses was a reluctant participant in this tough lesson that still is just as relevant for the followers of the Quran today as it was 1400 years ago.
[33:38] The prophet is not committing an error by doing anything that is made lawful by GOD. Such is GOD’s system since the early generations. GOD’s command is a sacred duty. [33:39] Those who deliver GOD’s messages, and who reverence Him alone, shall never fear anyone but GOD. GOD is the most efficient reckoner.
مَا كَانَ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ مِنْ حَرَجٍ فِيمَا فَرَضَ اللَّهُ لَهُ ۖ سُنَّةَ اللَّهِ فِي الَّذِينَ خَلَوْا مِنْ قَبْلُ ۚ وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ قَدَرًا مَقْدُورًا الَّذِينَ يُبَلِّغُونَ رِسَالَاتِ اللَّهِ وَيَخْشَوْنَهُ وَلَا يَخْشَوْنَ أَحَدًا إِلَّا اللَّهَ ۗ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ حَسِيبًا
7. Additionally, this verse shows the purity of the Quran because if the Quran was strictly for the personal benefit of Muhammad why is it that the Quran points out numerous mistakes that Muhammad made throughout his life (80:1, 9:43, 17:74, 33:37, 66:1). If it was strictly for the benefit of Muhammad we would expect more verses to contain his name and to highlight only all his positive traits without mention of anything negative conducted by him, but that is not what we find. Instead we find Muhammad only mentioned four times in the entire Quran and the shortcomings in his vulnerability highlighted and persevered for all time in the verses of the Quran.
There are so many more lessons from this single command and the accompanying verses that transcend time; such as the use of the term nabi (prophet) in relation to the life of the prophet, the distinction of how God tests the believers, or how one can deal with social pressure, or our trust in God, or why certain aspects of Muhammad’s life are included in the Quran, or any other countless lessons that can be learned through this example, that God willing we will save for another time.
[39:27] We have cited for the people every kind of example in this Quran, that they may take heed.
وَلَقَدْ ضَرَبْنَا لِلنَّاسِ فِي هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ مِنْ كُلِّ مَثَلٍ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ
[18:54] We have cited in this Quran every kind of example, but the human being is the most argumentative creature.
وَلَقَدْ صَرَّفْنَا فِي هَٰذَا الْقُرْآنِ لِلنَّاسِ مِنْ كُلِّ مَثَلٍ وَكَانَ الْإِنْسَانُ أَكْثَرَ شَيْءٍ جَدَلًا