Sabab al-Nuzool Study: “And Do Not Wish for …”

What follows is an excerpt from the book al-Muharrar fee Asbaab Nuzool al-Qur’an by Dr. Khalid al-Muzayni, an academic text dealing with the circumstances behind the revelation of certain ayaat:

وَلَا تَتَمَنَّوْا مَا فَضَّلَ اللَّـهُ بِهِ بَعْضَكُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ ۚ لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبُوا ۖ وَلِلنِّسَاءِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبْنَ ۚ وَاسْأَلُوا اللَّـهَ مِن فَضْلِهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ كَانَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمًا

And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you to excel others. For men is a share of what they have earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned. And ask Allah of His bounty. Surely, Allah is Ever All-Knower of everything. [4:32]

سبب النزول : أخرج الامام أحمد والترمذي عَنْ أُمِّ سَلَمَةَ، أَنَّهَا قَالَتْ يا رسول الله يَغْزُو الرِّجَالُ وَلاَ يَغْزُو النِّسَاءُ وَلَنَا نِصْفُ الْمِيرَاثِ ‏.‏ فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ : وَلَا تَتَمَنَّوْا مَا فَضَّلَ اللَّـهُ بِهِ بَعْضَكُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ

The Circumstance of Revelation: Imam Ahmad and al-Tirmidhi both report from Umm Salamah that she said, “O Messenger of Allah, the men go to battle while the women do not go to battle, and we received half of the inheritance.” So Allah revealed:

وَلَا تَتَمَنَّوْا مَا فَضَّلَ اللَّـهُ بِهِ بَعْضَكُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ

And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you to excel others.

دراسة السبب : هكذ جاء في سبب نزول هذه الاية وقد أورد جمهور المفسرين هذا الحديث عند التفسير الاية الكريمة منهم الطبري والبغوي وابن العربي وابن عطية والقرطبي وابن كثير وابن عاشور. ـ

Study of This Report: This is the sabab al-nuzool – circumstance of revelation – that has been mentioned for this ayah, and the majority of the mufassiroon have mentioned this hadeeth in their tafsir of this ayah, including al-Tabari, al-Baghawi, ibn al-‘Arabi, ibn ‘Atiyyah, al-Qurtubi, ibn Kathir, and ibn ‘Aashoor.

وقد تبين بدراسة السند ضعيف الحديث إلى أم سلمة – وأن الصواب فيه أنه من مراسيل مجاهد ولأجل شهرته ذكره المفسرون قال الطبري : ( وذكر أن ذلك نـزل في نساءٍ تمنين منازلَ الرجال، وأن يكون لهم ما لهم، فنهى الله عباده عن الأماني الباطلة، وأمرهم أن يسألوه من فضله، إذ كانت الأمانيّ تورِث أهلها الحسد والبغي بغير الحق. ) اهـ

Upon examining this report, it becomes clear that its chain of narration connecting it back to Umm Salamah is weak, and that the correct grading is that it is a disconnected narration going back only to Mujahid, but it was still mentioned by the mufassiroon due to how well-known it is.

al-Tabari said:

It is mentioned that this ayah was revealed regarding some women who wished that they could have the same status as men and have what they men have. So Allah then forbade His servants from wishing in vain, instead commanding them to ask Him for His bounty, as vain wishing only results in envy and unjustified enmity.

وقال ابن العربي : (يروى ان أم سلمة قالت : يا رسول الله ، يغزو الرجال ولا نغزو …)أهـ  وصرح في موضع آخر بهذا حيث قال عن روايات الحديث: ( وهي أحاديث حسان لم تبلغ درجة الصحة ) اهـ

Ibn al-‘Arabi said:

It has been transmitted that Umm Salamah said, “O Messenger of Allah, the men fight in battles but we do not fight in battles …”

And elsewhere in his work he more clearly mentions the incident with multiple chains of narration, saying, “These hadeeth narrations are hasan without reaching the level of saheeh.”

وقال ابن عطية : ( سبب الآية أن النساء قلن: ليتنا استوينا مع الرجال في الميراث، وشركناهم في الغزو، وروي أن أم سلمة قالت ذلك أو نحوه ) اهـ

Ibn ‘Atiyyah said:

The event behind the revelation of this ayah was some women who said, “If only we were equal to the men in terms of inheritance and could take part in the battles with them.” And it has been transmitted that Umm Salamah said that or something to that effect.

وقال ابن كثير : ( وَالْآيَةُ نَهَتْ عَنْ تَمَنِّي عَيْنَ نِعْمَةِ هَذَا ، يقول : ( وَلَا تَتَمَنَّوْا مَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بِهِ بَعْضَكُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ ) أَيْ : فِي الْأُمُورِ الدُّنْيَوِيَّةِ ، وَكَذَا الدِّينِيَّةِ أَيْضًا لِحَدِيثِ أُمِّ سَلَمَةَ ، وَابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ . وَهَكَذَا قَالَ عَطَاءُ بْنُ أَبِي رَبَاحٍ : نَزَلَتْ فِي النَّهْيِ عَنْ تَمَنِّي مَا لِفُلَانٍ ، وَفِي تَمَنِّي النِّسَاءِ أَنْ يَكُنَّ رِجَالًا فَيَغْزُونَ . ) اهـ بتصرف يسير ـ

Ibn Kathir said:

This ayah forbade wishing for for such blessings by saying:

وَلَا تَتَمَنَّوْا مَا فَضَّلَ اللَّـهُ بِهِ بَعْضَكُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ

And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you to excel others.

i.e. wishing for worldly things. And likewise for religious matters, as comes in the hadeeth of Umm Salamah and ibn ‘Abbaas. ‘Ataa’ ibn Abi Rabah relayed a similar report that, “This ayah was revealed to prohibit wishing for what someone else has, and was revealed in regards to the women who wished to be men so they could engage in battle.”

End quote, with some minor abridgement.

والظاهر والله أعلم ان الحديث وإن لم يصح سنده إلى أم سلمة فإنه يؤيد بوجهين : ـ

أ – سياق الآية ومطابقته لسياق الحديث من وجوه : 1 إن الآية نهت أن يتمنى المفضول ما حازه الفاضل ، وهذا يطابق قولها في الحديث يغزو الرجال ولا نغزو ولنا نصف الميراث ، فإنها أرادت بهذا أن تغزو النساء كالرجال وأم يكون ميراثها مساويا لميراث الرجال ، وهذا هو النمنى . 2 قوله في الآية : ( لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبُوا ۖ وَلِلنِّسَاءِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبْنَ) يوافق في الحديث يغزو الرجال ولا نغزو ولنا نصف الميراث ، فإنها تتحدث عن الرجال ونساء وخو ما بينته الآية . 3 قوله : (وَاسْأَلُوا اللَّـهَ مِن فَضْلِهِ) يوافق في الحديث رغبتها في الغزو وفضله أخروي ويوافق رغبتها في النصف الثاني من الميراث وهو فضل دنيوي فأرشدها الله وغيرها إلى سؤاله من فضله فإن خزائن السموات والارض بيديه . ـ

So it appears – and Allah knows best – that even if this hadeeth does not have a sound chain connected back to Umm Salamah, it is still supported from two directions:

1. The context of the ayah and the fact that it corresponds to the context of the hadeeth.

This close association is evident in several ways:

a. The ayah forbids someone of lesser standing from vainly wishing for what someone of higher standing has. This corresponds to Umm Salamah’s statement in the hadeeth, “The men fight in battles and we do not fight, and we receive have of the inheritance that they do.” For what she intended here was for the women to fight as the men did and for the women’s inheritance to be equal to the men’s, which is wishing for something in vain.

b. Allah’s statement:

لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبُوا ۖ وَلِلنِّسَاءِ نَصِيبٌ مِّمَّا اكْتَسَبْنَ

For men is a share of what they have earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned.

This corresponds to the section of hadeeth that mentions, “The men fight in battles and we do not fight, and we receive half of the inheritance that they do.” So she was speaking about men and women, which is what the ayah was also clarifying.

c. Allah’s statement:

 وَاسْأَلُوا اللَّـهَ مِن فَضْلِهِ

And ask Allah of His bounty.

This corresponds to the hadeeth as it relates to her eagerness to participate in battles and to gain the special religious advantage of that. It also corresponds with her desire for the larger share of the inheritance, which is a worldly advantage. So Allah directed her and others alike to ask Him of His bounty, for the treasures of the heavens and the earth are in His Hands.

وختم الآية بالعلم مناسب كل المناسبة إذ بعلمه ميز بين الجنسين وقدّر لكل واحد منهما ما يستحقه وفرض عليه من التكاليف ما يطيقه فسبحان العليم الخبير . ـ

Then He concluded this ayah in the most fitting way, which is: it is due to His knowledge that He has differentiated the two genders andHe has apportioned and mandated what is fitting for each one, charging each with the things they can handle. How exalted is He, the All-Knowing, Most Intimately-Aware!

ب – أن الحديث مؤيد بقول جماهير السلف يتابعهم ويوافقهم عليه جمهور المفسرين ولا ريب أن مثل هذا يوجب للمرء جزما ان للحديث أصلا. ـ

2. This hadeeth is also strengthened by the explanations of the majority of the Salaf, as well as the fact that the majority of the mufassiroon followed them in that and adopted the same stance. So there is no doubt that such a level of transmission and acceptance should provide one with certainty that this hadeeth does have its basis in truth.

النتيجة : أن سبب النزول المذكور لم يصح سنده إلى أم سلمة وإنما هو من مراسيل مجاهد لكن الحديث يعتضد بسياق الآية القرآني كما تقدم وبقول المفسرين به وتقديمهم إياه والله أعلم . ـ

Final Conclusion: The sabab al-nuzool report mentioned does not have an authentic chain of transmission connecting back to Umm Salamah, but rather stops at the next level up with Mujahid. Despite that, however, the hadeeth is supported, as has been demonstrated, by the context of the ayah, as well as by the statements of the mufassiroon and their willingness to present it as an explanation for this ayah. And Allah knows best.

[al-Muharrar 1/381-383]

See also: Sabab al-Nuzool – its Definition and Wordings: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See also: The Proper Place of Asbaab al-Nuzool in Understanding the Qur’an: Imam al-Sa’di

See also: An Example of Reconciling Multiple Reports on the Reasons for Revelation: al-Suyooti

See also: What to do when Multiple “Reasons for Revelation” are Mentioned for the Same Ayah?: al-Suyooti

See also: Asbaab al-Nuzool Article Index

To learn more about the scholars of tafsir mentioned or quoted in this article, explore our Mufassir Profiles

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