Suratul Baqarah: Verse 187

(١٨٧) أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ لَيْلَةَ الصِّيَامِ الرَّفَثُ إِلَىٰ نِسَائِكُمْ ۚ هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَّكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَّهُنَّ ۗ عَلِمَ اللَّهُ أَنَّكُمْ كُنتُمْ تَخْتَانُونَ أَنفُسَكُمْ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَعَفَا عَنكُمْ ۖ فَالْآنَ بَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَابْتَغُوا مَا كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ ۚ وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا حَتَّىٰ يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَيْطُ الْأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الْخَيْطِ الْأَسْوَدِ مِنَ الْفَجْرِ ۖ ثُمَّ أَتِمُّوا الصِّيَامَ إِلَى اللَّيْلِ ۚ وَلَا تُبَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَأَنتُمْ عَاكِفُونَ فِي الْمَسَاجِدِ ۗ تِلْكَ حُدُودُ اللَّهِ فَلَا تَقْرَبُوهَا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ

It is made lawful to you on the night of the fast to go in unto your wives; they are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them; Allah knew that you were acting unfaithfully to yourselves, so He has turned to you (mercifully) and forgiven you. Wherefore, now be in contact with them and seek what Allah has written for you, and eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct unto you from the black thread (of night) at dawn-break, then complete the fast until night. And associate not with them while you are confined in the mosque. These are the limits (prescribed by) Allah; therefore, draw not yourselves near them. Thus does Allah make clear His signs for the people, so that they may guard themselves (against evil). (2:187)


Qur’an: It is made lawful to you on the night of the fast to go in unto your wives.

Ihlal (الاحلال) means to allow; its root is hall (to open, الحلّ) which is opposite of ‘aqd (to tie, العقد)

Rafath (الرّفث) literally means to say clearly such words which are generally unmentionable, which are normally only hinted at; such words are usually uttered during sexual intercourse.

Now, this ‘‘uttering unmentionable words’’ has been used as metaphor of the sexual intercourse; and this is the nobility of the exalted Qur’an.

And all words used for this meaning in the Qur’an are of the same type; none were made for copulation, all are used as a metaphor, like mubashirah (to be in contact with each other, المباشرة), dukhūl (to enter, الدّخول), mass or lams (to touch, المسّ or اللّمس), ityan (to come to, الاتیان),qurb (to be near, القرب), etc.

The same is the case of the words, wat’ (to press down, الوطء ) and jima‘ (to come together, الجماع ) which are used in Islamic books other than the Qur’an, although some of these words have been so much used for this meaning that now they are no longer metaphoric.

The words, farj (an opening, الفرج) and gha’it (the depth, الغائط), which are now commonly used for ‘‘vulva’’ and ‘‘excrement’’ respectively, are the other examples of this type.

It is said that the preposition ila (to, الی) coming here after rafath (الرّفث) gives the meaning of entering into.

Qur’an: they are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them.

Libas (اللّباس) means what a man uses to cover his body. The two sentences are used figuratively, because each spouse restrains the other from unchastity, and protects society from debauchery.

Thus each one is like an apparel for the other with which he/she covers his/her shame and protects his/her privacy.

It is a very fine metaphor, and its literary value has been increased by putting it after the sentence, It is made lawful to you … to go in unto your wives.

A man hides his private parts from others with his dress, but there is no hiding from the dress itself. Likewise, each spouse protects the other one from having sexual relations with others; but there is no restriction on them against such relations with each other.

Qur’an: Allah knew that you were acting unfaithfully to yourselves, so He has turned to you (mercifully) and forgiven you.

Ikhtiyan (الاختیان) and khiyanah (الخیانة) are synonymous; and it is said that they convey the meaning of defect, decrease.

You were acting unfaithfully conveys the meaning of continuity; and it shows that this unfaithfulness commonly continued among the Muslims after the command of the fast had been promulgated; and they were sinning against Allah secretly by being unfaithful to their own souls.

Had not this unfaithfulness been a sin, there would have been no need to mention turning to them mercifully and forgiving; and although these two words do not say openly that a sin had already been committed, still their most obvious meaning shows a preceding sin, especially when both are mentioned together.

Accordingly, the verse proves that before its revelation, sexual intercourse in the nights of the fast was forbidden; and that it was this verse which made it lawful and abrogated its prohibition, as has been stated by a group of the commentators of the Qur’an.

As a further proof, look at the words,

It is made lawful to you. You were acting unfaithfully, so He has turned to you (mercifully) and forgiven you and Wherefore, now be in contact with them.

Had there been no previous prohibition, such words would have been out of context; instead there would have come the words like ‘‘there is no blame on you that you be in contact with them’’.

Some people say: ‘‘This verse does not abrogate any rule, because the verse of fasting mentioned earlier did not prohibit intercourse or food or drink in the night.

Apparently, according to some Sunni traditions, when the fast was prescribed and the words were revealed, Fast has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you refers to the fast per se, and not meant total conformity in all the details of fast.

It is said that the Christians used to eat, drink and go to their women during the early period of the night, then abstained from it. So the Muslims adopted the same system. But it proved difficult.

Many youths could not restrain themselves from secret sexual intercourse, but they thought that they were committing a sin and acting unfaithfully to themselves.

Likewise, aged persons found it a heavy burden to abstain from eating and drinking once they began their sleep. Sometimes someone could not keep his eyes open before eating and drinking and then thought that food and drink was unlawful for him.

It was to remove this misunderstanding that this verse was revealed; it made it clear that sexual intercourse, food and drink was not unlawful for them during the night of Ramadhan.

This verse also made it clear that the comparison in as it was prescribed for those before yourefers to the fast per se, and not to its details. The words It is made lawful to you do not necessarily mean that this was unlawful before that; it simply declares legality of this action.

See, for example, the words:

The game of the sea is made lawful to you (5:96);

as it is known that the game of the sea was not unlawful to the pilgrims before the revelation of this verse. Likewise, the words Allah knew that you were acting unfaithfully to yourselves means that they were doing wrong according to their own view only.

That is why Allah said ‘‘unfaithfully to yourselves’’. Had He said ‘‘unfaithfully to Allah’’, it would have conveyed the meaning of prohibition, as, for example, in the verse:

Be you not unfaithful to Allah and the Apostle (8:27).

Also the word ikhtiyan (الاختیان) may be taken to mean ‘‘curtail’’ or ‘‘decrease’’ and the sentence may be translated as ‘‘Allah knew that you were curtailing your desires’’.

The words He has turned to you (mercifully) and has forgiven you do not clearly convey the idea that sexual intercourse was a sin before that.

But this argument is not conclusive, because it goes against the clear meaning of the verse.

We have already said that the words like It is made lawful to you; you were acting unfaithfully to yourselves, He has turned towards you (mercifully) and forgiven you do not say openly that a sin had already been committed; still, this is their most obvious implication.

Add to it the words now be in contact with them which would be inappropriate if there were no previous prohibition, as I have explained earlier.

The argument, that ‘‘this verse does not abrogate any rule because the verse of fasting did not prohibit sexual intercourse in the night’’, is not valid because that verse did not prohibit it clearly for the day time also.

It is known that the Messenger of Allah had explained the rules of fasting before this verse was revealed. Perhaps the prohibition of sexual relations during the night was one of those rules; and the verse abrogated it.

So this verse cancels not another verse, but a tradition of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).

Someone may object: The words they are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them have been used as the reason for this permission.

Now, the husband and wife were like apparel to each other when, supposedly, copulation at night was forbidden and they remained like the apparel when that prohibition was supposedly lifted.

So where, in these words, is the reason for the supposed abrogation if they are equally true in both conditions — before abrogation and after abrogation?

We know that the reason given for a rule of the shari‘ah is mostly its benefit, and not necessarily its real causes. And as a benefit, it need not be fully comprehensive. Still, in a supposedly abrogating verse at least it should not be common to both conditions.

But deep consideration of the verse does not sustain this objection. It is not acceptable that this sentence is the reason of this permission.

The permission in this verse is limited to the night of the fast, while the simile of apparel is as much true during the day as in the night. So, it cannot be the reason of that permission.

The fact is that the three clauses in this verse coming one after the other, and all taken together, give us the reason for this abrogation. They are on the night of the fast, they are an apparel for you … ,and you were acting unfaithfully to yourselves.

As the spouses are like apparel to each other they should be allowed to establish sexual relations together without any restriction.

Then came the commandment of the fast, without demanded self-denial and abstention from desires, like food, drink and sexual relations. But the servants of Allah found it difficult to abstain for a full month from copulation, and this unfaithfulness was common and continued.

Therefore, Allah in His mercy eased the conditions and lightened their burden by allowing it during the night.

In this way, the general implication of the sentence of apparel is made subordinate to the fast; and thus is limited to the night time only (when there is no fast).

In short, the sentence of apparel is not a reason for this permission; rather it is the reason or benefit of copulation per se. The main aim of the whole verse is to explain why copulation was allowed in the night of fast.

And the sentence beginning with they are an apparel and ending on forgiven you taken together show this reason, not any single sentence alone. And this reason is not found in the rule which was followed before this permission.

Qur’an: Wherefore, now be in contact with them and seek what Allah has written for you.

This is an order preceded by prohibition; thus it means permission.

The verse begins with the words, It is made lawful to you. The meaning, therefore, is,’ from now on you are allowed to establish sexual relations with them’’. Ibtigha’ (الابتغاء) means ‘to seek’, ‘to desire’.

Seek what Allah has written for you means seeking the children which Allah has written to give to the mankind. Allah created in human being the desire to copulate and made it the means of that gift (of children) and to some extent put them under the pressure of that desire.

When a couple engages in that action, they are in reality seeking what Allah has written for them, even if at that time their only aim is to satisfy their sexual desire or lust. It is like taking food and drink.

Allah had written that their lives, growth and health depend on food and drink, and that remains the goal of nature even when they, at that particular time, do not look further than satisfying their hunger and thirst or to pamper their gustatory pleasure. This is the compulsion put on them by Allah in all such matters.

It has been said: What Allah has written for you means ‘‘what Allah has allowed to you’’; and the implication is that they should take advantage of this permission.

Allah likes His servants to take advantage of His permission as He likes them to obey His compulsory commandments.

But his view is not acceptable, because we have not seen a single instance in the Qur’an where ‘‘writing’’ is used for ‘permission’.

Qur’an: and eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct unto you from the black thread (of night) at dawn-break.

There are two dawns: the first is called the ‘false’ dawn because it vanishes in a short time.

It is also called the ‘tail of the wolf’ because it looks as if a tail is raised. This false dawn is a beam of light like a vertical column; it appears at the end of the night on the eastern horizon when the sun reaches an angle of 18 degrees below the horizon.

Then it gives way to a horizontal line of light which looks as if a white thread has been stretched on the horizon. This is the second dawn. It is called ‘true’ dawn because it truthfully announces the arrival of day-time and is connected with sunrise.

Obviously, the white thread in this verse means the ‘‘true dawn’’; and ‘‘at’’ (min, من) in ‘‘at dawn-break’’ (mina ’l-fajri, من الفجر) is explanatory so as to clarify this phrase.

This sentence is metaphorical and it likens the streak of light, stretched across the horizon, to a white thread and the darkness of night adjoining that light to a black thread.

This shows that the limit of the given permission is exactly the beginning of the true dawn, because soon after, when the sun comes nearer to the horizon, both threads disappear. There remains neither the white thread nor the black.

Qur’an: Then complete the fast until night:

As the start of the fast was from the dawn-break, there was no need to say, ‘keep the fast during day-time’. Instead its other limit is now mentioned in these words.

Complete the fast shows that the fast of one day is one unit, a single act of worship which is not made up of various parts. There is a difference between completion (tamam, التّمام) and perfection (kamal, الکمال).

Completion (tamam, التّمام), the word used in this verse, means that a single thing (which is not made of such parts which may have separate functions) finally comes into being.

Perfection (kamal, الکمال) means that a single thing (which has various parts and every part has a separate function) finally comes into being.

Allah says:

This day I perfected (akmaltu, اکملت) for you your religion and completed (atmamtu, اتممت) My favour on you (5:4).

The religion is a collection of various things like prayer, fast, hajj etc. and all these have a separate effect; therefore, the religion was ‘‘perfected’’. But the favour of Allah is one thing without any parts (as I will explain under that verse); therefore, it was ‘‘completed’’.

Qur’an: And associate not with them while you are confined in the mosques:

‘ukūf (العکوف) and i‘tikaf (الاعتکاف) both mean ‘‘to keep close to’’. When used with the name of a place, they mean to remain continuously in that place.

I‘tikaf (الاعتکاف) is an act of worship. When in i‘tikaf (الاعتکاف), one must remain inside a mosque, not going out without a genuine reason (e.g. to relieve oneself); and fasting is an essential part of this act of worship.

As the Muslims were given permission to have sexual relations with their wives in the night of fast, there was a possibility that they might think that that permission extended to the nights of i‘tikaf also, when they were inside a mosque. This sentence removed the chance of any such misunderstanding.

Qur’an: These are the limits (prescribed by) Allah; therefore, draw not near them.

Hadd (limit, الحدّ) literally means ‘‘to keep from’’, ‘‘to restrict’’. All its uses carry this meaning; for example, haddu ’s-sayf (edge of sword ,حدّ السّیف), haddu ’d-dar (boundary of the house, حدّ الدار), haddu ’1 fujūr (punishment of immorality, حدّ الفجور) etc.

Therefore the phrase, hudūdu ’llah (حدود الله) mentioned in the verse, means, the ‘‘restrictive ordinances of Allah’’ and the command not to go near them figuratively means not to commit that sin.

In short, it says: you should not commit the sins mentioned here, i.e., eating, drinking and copulating during the prohibited hours; you should not trespass beyond the limits ordained for you; you should not neglect the fast or the guarding of yourselves against evil in the period of that special worship.


as-Sadiq (a.s.) said: ‘‘Food and copulation were unlawful in the month of Ramadhan at night after sleeping.’’ (That is, if one prayed the prayer of al-‘isha’ and slept without breaking one’s fast, then, he was not allowed to eat or drink even if he awoke later in the night.

And sexual intercourse was unlawful in the month of Ramadhan both in the day and in the night.) There was a companion of the Messenger of Allah, Khawwat ibn Jubayr al-Ansari.

He was brother of ‘Abdullah ibn Jubayr, who in the battle of Uhud, was deputed by the Messenger of Allah at the mouth of the mountain-pass with fifty archers; most of them left him, but he remained at this station with only twelve soldiers and was martyred there.

His brother Khawwat ibn Jubayr, was an aged and weak person, and was fasting with the Messenger of Allah in the battle of the Khandaq (Trench).

In the evening he came to his house and asked: ‘‘Do you have any food?’’ They said: ‘‘Do not go to sleep; we shall prepare some food for you.’’

There was some delay in cooking and he was overcome with sleep before breaking his fast. When he woke up he said to his family: ‘‘Now eating is forbidden to me tonight.’’

Next day, he presented himself at the Khandaq and fainted. The Messenger of Allah looked at him and felt pity for him. Also, there were some youths who had secretly indulged in sexual relations at night in the month of Ramadhan.

Therefore Allah sent down (the verse); It is made lawful to you on the night of fast to go in unto your wives …

Thus Allah allowed sexual relations during the nights of the month of Ramadhan, and eating after going to sleep up to the dawn-break, as He said, until the white thread becomes distinct from the black thread (of night) at dawn-break.

The Imam said: ‘‘It means the whiteness of the day from the darkness of the night.’’ [at-Tafsir, al-Qummi]

The author says: The sentences (given in bracket), starting with ‘‘That is’’ and ending upto ‘‘both in the day and in the night’’, are explanatory notes of the narrator of this tradition.

This episode is narrated in other traditions also, by al-Kulayni, al-‘Ayyashi and others.

All these traditions say that the words, eat and drinkwere revealed because of the event of Khawwat ibn Jubayr al-Ansari; and the words It is made lawful to you … were revealed because of the secret doings of some Muslim youths.

There is another tradition in ad-Durru’l-manthūr from various commentators and traditionalists from Bara’ ibn ‘Azib who said:

‘‘It was the custom among the companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) that if someone fasted and the time of iftar (breaking the fast) came but he went to sleep before breaking his fast, he did not eat that night and fasted the next day without eating anything, till the next evening came.

Once Qays ibn Sarmah al-Ansari fasted, and that day he had been working in the field. The time came for breaking the fast and he came to his wife and asked: ‘Do you have any food?’

He could not keep awake and went to sleep. When his wife returned and found him sleeping she said: ‘Woe unto you! Did you go to sleep?’ In the noon of the next day, he fainted.

This was reported to the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Then this verse was sent down:

It is made lawful to you on the night of the fast … at dawn-break.

And the Muslims were extremely happy at it.’’

The author says: This story is narrated by other chains also. In some of them the name is given as Abū Qubays ibn Sarmah; in others, Sarmah ibn Malik al-Ansari. There is some variation in the story also.

Ibn Jarir and Ibn al-Mundhir have narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas as follows: ‘‘The Muslims were forbidden (sexual relations with) women and food in the month of Ramadhan once they had prayed the prayer of al-‘isha’, till the next evening.

But some of them ate food and had sexual intercourse with women after the al-‘isha’ in one Ramadhan; one of them was ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. Then they complained about it to the Messenger of Allah. Therefore Allah sent down the verse,

It is made lawful to you … be in contact with them. [ad-Durru ’l-manthūr]

The author says: There are numerous traditions from Sunni chains about this matter; most of them mention the name of ‘Umar.

All say with one voice that the rule about sexual intercourse in the night of Ramadhan was the same as that about food and drink; all of these were allowed before the sleep, forbidden after it.

But the obvious meaning of the first tradition is that the sexual intercourse was completely forbidden in the month of Ramadhan, during the night as well as in the day-time; and the food and drink were allowed before sleeping, forbidden after that.

And the context of the verse supports this tradition. Had the sexual relation been like food and drink (allowed before sleeping and forbidden after) it would have been necessary to mention here the farthest limit of the permission, as was done about food and drink (eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct…)

But it only says:

It is made lawful to you on the night of the fast to go in unto your wives,

without putting any limit to it. It shows that previously they were forbidden to indulge in this act the whole ‘‘night of the fast’’.

Some traditions say (and the one quoted last is one of them) that the Muslims were acting unfaithfully not only in the matter of sexual relations, but also in food and drink.

But the sequence of the sentences of the verse does not support it. The sentence, Allah knew that you were acting unfaithfully … is put in the middle of the permission for sexual relations and the words eat and drink appear after this topic has ended.

Therefore the ‘‘acting unfaithfully’’ cannot be connected with eating and drinking.

Verily, the Messenger of Allah said: ‘‘The dawn is of two kinds. The one which looks like the tail of the wolf does not allow anything, nor prohibits anything. But the long one which covers the horizon allows the prayer (of dawn) and prohibits food.’’ [ad-Durru ’l-manthūr]

The author says: The traditions of this meaning are nearly mutawatir from Sunni and Shi‘ah sources; as are the ones about i‘tikaf and prohibition of sexual intercourse in that period.