Monday, February 06, 2012

Verse 2:223 - Women and 'Tilth'

In my previous post, 'Faith, Rationality and Consequences', I had discussed about a controversial verse of Quran in which, allegedly, the women are to be treated as 'tilth'. Antagonists argue that this demeaning verse sets the tone for blanket exploitation of women commonly visible in Islamic societies all over the world.

The Quranic verse is this.

2:223 -  Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will; but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah. And know that ye are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give (these) good tidings to those who believe. 

Now per se, there is nothing sinister in this verse nor admirable. Things come to open when one comes to the nitty gritty of it. Three possible interpretation of this verse are as follows:

 Interpretation 1 - The verse means just as it says, your wives are a tilth for men. Good for producing only babies and nothing else. A man is to do what a bull would do in a field. 

 Interpretation 2Reference to 'tilth' is being given since for a farmer, the tilth is the most precious thing to cherish. It provides him with bounty and protection. Unless and until the farmer invests his sweat and blood in it, he is not getting respect from the his tilth.

 Interpretation 3 - This relates more to  the context in which the verse was supposedly revealed. Some say that people used to ask how should they 'do' their wives and in came the clarification that the intercourse has to vaginal and not anal. 'tilth', 'produce'... dig?

Now what on earth does this verse mean. If you are an antagonist, you will definitely go for the first interpretation and you would cite the issues of 'a man can have 4 wives and a woman cannot' (No you can't) and 'man is allowed to have sex slaves' (no he can not) as your arguments. Basic idea being that since Islam treats women as secondary so the conclusion of this verse is fairly easy to see.

Then there is another side of the story as well. Quran says:

30:21 - And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. 


2:182 - ... They are your garments and ye are their garments...

If spousal relationship means tranquility, love and mercy and both of them are like garments to each other, 'tilth' would make all the more sense. You can not do without each other. People argue that why the reference of tilth is given? This means that women have to be in the 'ownership' of a man, nothing by themselves and require a man to be of any good value. Further, when a tilth becomes infertile, it will be abandoned.

Quite frankly I don't know why the reference of tilth was given. If I were a God or had god-like powers, I would have been screwing around a lot instead of sending books for reforms. But then that is just me. Some might say that by just screwing around I would already be following the job description of god. The main thing, I think, is to note that its not the object in that reference that matters rather the relationship of those objects referred. Take the example for 'garments'. Both men and women are referred to being garments of each other. A garment, too, is nothing by itself and requires ownership to be of any value but when it comes to what it signifies... then it means protection, covering, privacy, intimacy etc. So tilth has to be viewed in that respect and not just object per se.

So to conclude, this verse is really open ended. I would not be surprised if the antagonists point out the meanness of this verse. Perhaps all the cruelty done to women in islamic societies is due to this verse. I on the other hand, an adherent to this scripture, see the positive side of this verse. The million dollar question being - what interpretation would you chose if you were an adherent of this scripture? Go for the compassionate verve or be a bull in tilth? The choice is totally yours. Perhaps this verse is a mirror.. shows whats inside you.


P.S: I ain't a saint.


Pinky said...

Wow! JazzakAllah..
LOVED the second interpretation :)

yup, it is one of those verses which are used to justify a certain behaviour/mindset...anyone dares to say "feminism" and "islam" in one breath and *smack* this verse is thrown at them like a deal breaker :/

aur if only literal implications were to be considered, then that garment related hadith (?) would also have generated controversy e.g who is qameez? husband or wife? ;p

PostMan said...

that garment related... is a verse not hadith.

Oh come on.. honestly tell me the first thing that came in your mind was pajamas and not qameez. Or is it my mind only?