Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
On the night of the fast it is lawful for you to have sexual relations with your wives: they are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them. Allah knew that you used to betray yourselves, so He pardoned you and excused you. So now associate in intimacy with them and seek what God has ordained for you. Eat and drink until you discern the white streak of dawn against the blackness of night; then observe the Fast until night sets in. But do not have sexual intercourse with them while you are in retreat in the mosques. These are God’s limits, so do not go near them. In this way does God make His Signs clear to people so that hopefully they may guard themselves. (2:187)
In the previous verses, Allah taught us the etiquettes of supplication and showed us how fasting prepares and purifies us for worship. In this verse, He Almighty explains the etiquettes of intercourse between married couples during Ramadan. This sort of overlapping between different topics in the Quran is meant so you understand that religion is a way of life that addresses all of your humanity and gives equal attention to all aspects of life, whether physical or spiritual.
God says: “On the night of the fast it is lawful for you to have sexual relations with your wives” suggesting that it was unlawful before. This is because fasting means to abstain completely from food, drinks, and intimate relations. In fact, before the revelation of this verse, sexual intercourse was unlawful during the entire month of Ramadan –day or night-, and eating and drinking were prohibited after the night prayer –Isha- until sunset the next day.
A man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: I returned home from a long day’s work and found that my wife had not prepared food for me, so I fell asleep. When I woke up, Isha had passed and I knew I could not eat anything. I’m really suffering from fatigue. Allah responded with two permits: first: sexual relations for married couples is now permitted during the nights of Ramadan, and second: During Ramadan, food and drink are now allowed for Muslims from sunset until before dawn. He says: “Eat and drink until you discern the white streak of dawn against the blackness of night”
Here you may ask: Why did Allah delay the revelation of these two permits, while He permitted the traveler and the ill to break the fast from the beginning? We answer that God delayed these two allowances so that every Muslim would acknowledge and appreciate the mercy and love associated with these rulings. Some companions had tried to abstain from sexual relations for an entire month but failed. Allah forgave those who could not comply. He says: ‘they are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them. Allah knew that you used to betray yourselves, so He pardoned you and excused you.’ It was precisely because many had tried but failed to curb the sexual desire for an entire month that they received the ruling with gratitude and love.
Some of God’s permits and easing for the believers came at the time of obligation; while others were granted later. God says: ‘God wants ease for you, not hardship.’ We should also learn from the companions who shared their difficulties with our beloved prophet. Omar went to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: O Messenger of God, I let my desires get the best of me; Another companion came to the prophet to share the difficulty and exhaustion he faced from hunger. Both of their issues were soon addressed by God through the verse under study. Now, we all benefit from being able to eat, drink, and have marital relations from sundown until sunrise in the month of Ramadan. Allah took into account our human capabilities, and granted us ease over hardship.
Here we should take a few moments to appreciate the beauty of the Quranic expression regarding the relationship between married couples. God says: ‘they are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them.’ A garment is the clothing used to cover and beautify the body. It is used to protect our skin and shield our private parts from the sight of others. Hence, a wife is a cover and protection for her man, and a husband is a cover and protection for his woman. A husband is the garment that shields and protects the private parts of the wife, and vice-versa. It is a reciprocal and equal relationship. Moreover, God wants to teach us to value the privacy this cover provides both the husband and the wife. In other words, what is shared between the husband and wife of physical intimacy and pillow-talk should be kept private between them and not exposed to others. This respect for each other’s private moments applies to both: physical matters and the conversations and secrets they share with each other.
The verse continues: “Allah knew that you used to betray yourselves, so He pardoned you and excused you.” Recall from earlier sessions that repentance has three stages: first, God legislates repentance; second, you ask for forgiveness, and lastly God accepts your repentance and grants you mercy.
God continues: ‘So now associate in intimacy with them and seek what God has ordained for you.’ Here we should appreciate the great blessings of marriage. Allah did not want sexual relations to go unchecked; rather He channeled and protected our sexual desires through marriage. This guarantees social integrity and reproduction in a proper family setting. The wife provides an outlet and protection for the husband so that he does not look elsewhere at other women. Likewise, the husband provides an outlet and protection for his wife so she does not look elsewhere and be victimized by society. Most importantly, a child born through this relation is born into a solid ground of purity, and family care. This leaves no room for questioning a child’s progeny. Every parent is responsible for what he or she has enjoyed and bears the responsibility of this relation. ‘and seek what God has ordained for you’ refers to the institution of marriage, and the integrity and purity of reproduction. It is a gift and a mercy from Allah to the entire society.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him said: ‘When one of you has marital relations, it is an act of charity.’ A companion asked: ‘O Messenger of God, could I be rewarded for having intimate relations with my wife?’ The prophet answered ‘If you were to have sexual relations outside marriage, wouldn’t you incur a sin? The man answered: “yes, it would be a sin.” Prophet Muhammad said: “then, if you indulge your desire in a lawful way, God will reward you for it.’