Surat An-Nisa

Lecture 10: Unveiling the Ethical Compass of Surat An-Nisa

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Exploring Surat An-Nisa’: A Thematic Overview

Surat An-Nisa’ is pivotal in the Quran. It weaves together diverse themes to deliver a message centered on societal strength, justice, and adherence to Islamic values. This Surah intricately details how a just society should protect its most vulnerable members and uphold true Islamic virtues. It is structured into two main parts, each addressing critical aspects of social justice and faith.


Introduction to Surat An-Nisa’

  • Overview: Set the stage for the subsequent discussions on justice, societal responsibilities, and faith.


Part I: Foundations of a Just Society

Protecting the Vulnerable

  • Overview: Introduces the imperative of safeguarding society’s weakest members, laying the groundwork for a compassionate community.


Upholding Justice

  • Twelve Ways to Uphold Justice: Outlines a dozen actionable steps to ensure fairness and equity, pivotal for maintaining societal balance.
  • Identifying Barriers to Justice: Delve into twelve societal barriers that impede justice, offering insights into overcoming these challenges to ensure the welfare of all community members.


Part II: Faith, Loyalty, and Societal Responsibilities

The Principles of Loyalty and Disassociation (Al-Wala’ and Al-Bara’)

  • Impact on Islamic Law: This section examines how the principles of loyalty to believers and disassociation from non-believers influence the application of Islamic law, particularly in protecting the vulnerable.
  • Foundational to Faith: Discusses the centrality of Al-Wala’ and Al-Bara’ to Islamic theology, highlighting it as a critical commitment for Muslims.


Community Responsibilities

  • Towards Non-Muslims: Explores the Muslim community’s obligations towards non-Muslims, illustrating how these duties align with Islamic teachings on respectful disagreement and promoting Islam with wisdom.
  • Faithful Commitment: Stresses the consequences of failing to uphold the principles of loyalty and disassociation, underscoring their importance for the Muslim community’s integrity and unity.


Conclusion: A Call to Action

  • Significant Message: It Summarizes the Surah’s key themes, reinforcing the call for justice, protection of the vulnerable, and the adherence to Islamic values as cornerstones for a strong and just society.


Introduction to the Surah: (4:1)

Surat An-Nisa’ thus serves as a comprehensive guide for building and maintaining a society that is not only just and equitable but also deeply rooted in the rich tapestry of Islamic faith and values. Its detailed exploration of social justice issues, principles of faith, and community duties offers timeless wisdom for Muslims navigating the complexities of upholding their commitments in both personal and societal contexts.


Surat An-Nisa’ opens with a profound verse that introduces the themes of the Surah and establishes the foundation for a discourse on justice, equality, and the protection of the vulnerable within society. This opening verse succinctly encapsulates the essence of Islamic teachings regarding societal structure, interpersonal relationships, and divine accountability.


The verse under discussion eloquently sets the stage for the thematic content of the chapter, particularly emphasizing the necessity of implementing justice in society and protecting those who are vulnerable and oppressed. This pivotal verse serves as a beacon, guiding the subsequent discussions on societal justice and rights within Islamic discourse.


At its core, the verse reminds humanity of their common origin—created from a single soul, Adam, and from him, his wife, Eve, and many men and women were spread across the earth. This acknowledgment of a shared beginning is a powerful reminder of the inherent equality among all individuals, advocating for the equitable treatment of everyone, irrespective of race, gender, or social status. It lays down the principle that no one is inherently superior to another, establishing the equality of all human beings as a fundamental tenet and setting a solid foundation for the theme of justice within the Surah.


The verse calls for dutifulness to Allah, the Creator of all, positioning the concept of rights and responsibilities within a divine framework. This suggests that adherence to divine commands and the observance of duties towards Allah are intrinsically linked to realizing justice on earth. Such dutifulness transcends acts of worship to include ethical treatment of others, highlighting the importance of implementing justice as an act of worship and obedience to the Creator.


Emphasizing the fear of Allah, through whom mutual rights are demanded, the verse underscores the divine basis for all rights and obligations. It highlights the importance of upholding these rights as sacred duties ordained by Allah, including protecting kinship ties. Urging the maintenance of family relationships underscores the significance of safeguarding the vulnerable within the family unit, extending the concept of justice to the most immediate social circles and beyond.


The assertion that Allah is an “All-Watcher” over humanity serves as a powerful reminder of divine accountability. It implies that Allah observes actions, especially those related to the treatment of others and the upholding of justice. This awareness is meant to motivate individuals and societies to strive for justice and equitable treatment of all, particularly the vulnerable and oppressed, knowing they are accountable to a higher authority for their actions.


In summary, the opening verse of Surat An-Nisa’ provides a divine mandate for implementing justice, rooted in the shared humanity of all people, the sacred obligations ordained by Allah, the importance of maintaining social and familial bonds, and the ultimate accountability to Allah. It invites readers to reflect on their roles in establishing a just society that protects and honors every individual, emphasizing the necessity of advocacy and protection for those most in need.


Championing Justice and Compassion for the Vulnerable

The initial section of Surat An-Nisa’ shines a light on the plight of various oppressed and vulnerable groups within society, such as orphans, women, those enslaved, and non-Muslim minorities residing among Muslims. The Surah advocates for the core Islamic principle of justice and compassion towards these groups, underscoring the moral duty of Muslims as witnesses on Earth. A key aspect of demonstrating justice begins within the household, particularly in the treatment of women. A just and compassionate approach towards one’s wife sets the foundation for extending justice across societal lines, transcending class, race, or ethnicity differences. Allah Almighty calls for justice for all individuals, emphasizing equality and fairness without discrimination.


The Surah also cautions believers against neglecting the rights of kin, orphans, women, and men, advocating against unjustly consuming others’ wealth and promoting justice among people. It clarifies that Shariah’s directives aim not to burden Muslims but to guide them toward righteousness, easing the stringent practices imposed by prior communities.

Categories of the Vulnerable include:


  1. Orphans and orphaned women: Highlight their rights to fair treatment, protect their assets, and ensure they are not exploited. (4:2, 4:3,4:6,4:9, and 4:10).
  2. Individuals deemed “fools” due to their inability to manage their finances responsibly: The Surah advises against giving them control over their wealth without guidance.
  3. Women, focusing on widows and those lacking guardianship: The Surah stresses their rights to live with dignity, equitable marriage, and inheritance.
  4. The impoverished and needy: Underscoring the importance of zakat and Sadaqah to aid their financial situation.
  5. Children, particularly orphans: Advocating for their well-being and protection.
  6. People with disabilities: Implied through the call to care for all who cannot care for themselves.
  7. The elderly: Encouraging respect and support for older community members, especially those without family care or financial independence.
  8. Travelers and migrants: Recognizing their vulnerability and need for assistance.
  9. Captives and those enslaved: Addressing their rights, fair treatment, and encouragement towards emancipation.
  10. Non-Muslims living under Muslim protection (Dhimmi): Stressing the importance of just and equitable treatment for all, regardless of faith.


Orphans and orphaned women: Guidance and Protection (4:2,3,6,9,10)


Surat An-Nisa’ addresses the protection and rights of orphans, emphasizing fair treatment and justice, especially for orphan girls vulnerable to exploitation. Here’s a concise overview of the Quranic directives regarding orphans, as detailed in specific verses:

  • Verse 2 emphasizes protecting orphans’ properties, cautioning against substituting their valuable assets with lesser ones and illegally consuming their wealth, and highlighting such acts as major sins.
  • Verse 3 offers guidance on marrying orphan girls and advises guardians to ensure fair treatment. It discourages marrying them merely to gain control over their assets and advocates for marriages based on genuine affection and equity.
  • Verse 6 outlines the management of orphans’ wealth, instructing guardians to responsibly oversee their properties until they reach a mature, decision-making age. It warns against misuse and specifies the conduct of wealthy and needy guardians, underscoring the importance of accountability before Allah.
  • Verse 9 encourages empathy and justice from guardians, urging them to fear Allah and speak justly, reminding them to consider how they would feel if their offspring were left vulnerable.
  • Verse 10 sternly warns against the unjust consumption of orphans’ properties, likening it to consuming fire, signaling severe punishment in the Hereafter for exploiters.


These verses collectively stress Islam’s commitment to safeguarding orphans’ welfare, advocating for their protection, fair treatment, and rights. Thus, they ensure they are treated with kindness, justice, and dignity.


The Foolish and Financial Responsibility (4:5)

Definition: “The foolish” denotes individuals lacking prudent financial management and known for unnecessary spending or poor investments. This broad category includes anyone, regardless of age or gender, who mismanages their resources.


Verse 5 Guidance: “Do not give your property, which Allah has entrusted you for support, to the foolish. Instead, provide for their basic needs and guide them with kind and just words.”

Commentary: This verse addresses protecting wealth from misuse by financially irresponsible individuals within the community. It advises guardians to ensure the welfare of such individuals by providing basic needs and guidance rather than entrusting them with the wealth they cannot manage wisely.


According to Ibn Jarir, “the foolish” broadly covers those likely to squander their wealth, emphasizing the Quranic concern for financial prudence and communal welfare. The directive for guardians to use “your money” for support underlines the responsibility to act in the best interest of those under their care, promoting patient oversight until they can manage their finances responsibly.


This guidance underscores the Islamic value of community solidarity. It advocates a supportive approach that respects individual dignity while ensuring financial stability for both the individual and the community.


Women’s Rights and Marital Justice in Surat An-Nisa’:

Obligation of Dowry and Fairness (Verses 3-4): Surat An-Nisa’ emphasizes the importance of a just dowry for women and equitable treatment in polygamous marriages. It advocates for monogamy if fairness cannot be maintained. The dowry is highlighted as a right solely belonging to the woman, not her guardians or spouse.


Inheritance Rights for Women (Verses 7, 11, 12, 176): This Surah marks a significant departure from pre-Islamic customs by ensuring women’s and children’s rights to inheritance, which provides them with financial security and recognition.


Prohibitions against Unjust Practices (Verses 19-21): Surat An-Nisa abolishes the practice of inheriting women against their will, underscores the need for mutual consent in marriage, and mandates kind treatment towards women, upholding their dignity and rights.


Marriage Restrictions (Verses 22-24): It details forbidden matrimonial relationships, safeguarding familial bonds and societal morals. The verses advocate for marriages based on mutual respect, love, and lawful bounds, excluding those relations deemed haram (forbidden).

Empowerment and Protection (Verses 97-99): The Surah exempts women from certain duties, such as migration and jihad, acknowledging their circumstances and offering protection under Islamic law.


Marital Relations and Rights (Verses 1, 3, 19, 34-35, 128-130): This section focuses on the sanctity of marriage and advocates for rights, respect, and fairness within the marital bond. It also addresses the management of marital issues, emphasizing reconciliation, fairness, and kindness as foundational elements for a stable and loving marital relationship.


Surat An-Nisa offers comprehensive guidance on women’s rights, marital justice, and societal harmony. It promotes a balanced and compassionate approach to familial and community relations.

Non-Muslim Minorities: Upholding Justice (4:105-113)

Surat An-Nisa’ outlines the principles of justice for non-Muslim minorities within a Muslim society, mainly through verses 105-113. These verses were revealed in response to a significant incident involving a theft accusation against a Jew by a Muslim, highlighting the imperative of impartial justice, regardless of religious affiliation.


The backdrop involves a tense moment in Medina’s early Muslim community, marked by a history of inter-tribal conflict and suspicion towards Jews. A Muslim falsely accused a Jew of theft, potentially igniting inter-tribal strife. This situation presented a critical test for the nascent Muslim community’s commitment to justice.


Verse 105-113 Commentary:

These verses firmly establish the command to judge with fairness and integrity, emphasizing that justice must prevail over tribal loyalties or religious biases. They reiterate that Allah’s guidance through the Quran is meant to ensure fair judgment among people, warning against deceit, betrayal, and false testimony.

  • Verse 105 stresses the importance of adhering to divine guidance for just judgment, warning against defending deceitful actions.
  • Verses 106-110 advocate for seeking Allah’s forgiveness for wrongdoing, emphasizing personal accountability and the grave sin of shifting one’s misdeeds onto the innocent.
  • Verse 111 underlines that sins are self-detrimental, with Allah fully aware of all actions.
  • Verse 112 condemns falsely accusing the innocent, describing it as bearing false witness and a manifest sin.
  • Verses 113 acknowledge the divine mercy and guidance bestowed upon the Prophet Muhammad, ensuring his uprightness despite attempts to mislead him.


This section of Surat An-Nisa’ serves as a pivotal reminder of the Quranic mandate for equity and justice. It underscores the critical importance of fairness and truthfulness in judicial matters and the grave consequences of perverting justice, especially when it involves vulnerable minorities. The verses emphasize that true justice is blind to faith, ethnicity, and social standing, reflecting the Islamic principle that righteousness and fairness should govern all human interactions.


Living with Compassion: The Rights Defined in Verse (4:36)

Verse 36 of Surat An-Nisa encapsulates a profound directive from Allah Almighty, emphasizing a broad spectrum of rights spanning divine worship to the ethical treatment of various societal members. This verse is a cornerstone in Islamic teachings, highlighting ten pivotal rights that uphold moral and social harmony within the community.

  • Worshiping Allah is the paramount duty of all believers, underscoring the essence of monotheism and the foundation of the Islamic faith.
  • Parents Are Ranked next in importance, emphasizing respect, care, and kindness toward one’s parents, reflecting the high regard Islam places on familial bonds.
  • Relatives: Encourages maintaining kinship ties recognizing the importance of family relationships in building a cohesive society.
  • Orphans: Advocates for the protection and support of orphans, underscoring their vulnerable status and the community’s responsibility towards them.
  • The Needy (Al-Masakin): Stresses the obligation to assist people experiencing poverty, highlighting the value of empathy and communal support for less fortunate members.
  • The Near Neighbors: Calls for good treatment of neighbors close in proximity, fostering a sense of community and mutual respect.
  • Neighbor-Strangers: Extends the principle of neighborly kindness to those we are not closely connected with, promoting universal goodwill.
  • Companions: Highlights the importance of respectful and considerate treatment of those we interact with daily.
  • Wayfarers: Underscores the importance of assisting travelers, reflecting the Islamic ethos of hospitality and care for those on a journey.
  • Those whom your right hands possess: Addresses the ethical treatment of servants advocating for their rights and dignity.


This verse serves as a comprehensive guide to living a compassionate and righteous life. It illustrates the interconnectedness of worshiping Allah and ethical conduct toward others. It underscores Islam’s holistic approach to societal welfare, where the spiritual, familial, and social dimensions are intertwined. By adhering to these guidelines, believers are reminded of their responsibilities towards Allah, family, and society, promoting a world marked by justice, kindness, and mutual respect.


Realizing Justice through Twelve Strategies in Surat An-Nisa


1.     Encouragement and Warning (Targheeb and Tarheeb), verses 13-14, 29-31, 66-70, 117-122, 144-147: Surat An-Nisa employs encouragement and warnings to urge compliance with divine laws, deter hypocrisy, and maintain justice. This dynamic between hope and fear is designed to inspire righteous action and avoid transgression.


2.     Purification of Society, verses 15-16, 17-18: To foster a virtuous society, the surah sets forth regulations for dealing with moral infractions, emphasizing repentance and reformation. It aims to uphold dignity and purity among individuals, which are crucial for a healthy social fabric.


3.     Appreciating Divine Legislation, verses 26-28: The surah clarifies Islamic laws to guide the community, drawing parallels with previous nations and stressing the ease and mercy of Allah’s commands to alleviate burdens and acknowledge human weakness.


4.     The Prophet’s Witnessing, verses 41-42: These verses remind Muslims of the Prophet’s role as a witness on Judgment Day. They stress accountability and the significance of living by the Prophet’s teachings for eternal success.


5.     Institutionalizing Worship, verses 43, 101, 102, 103: Acts of worship are framed as a means of developing character traits that promote justice and compassion, thereby laying the groundwork for societal harmony and divine closeness.


6.     Avoiding Historical Mistakes, verses 44-53: The surah warns against emulating past communities that strayed from justice, urging Muslims to adhere to divine guidance for societal well-being and to protect the rights of all, especially the vulnerable.


7.     Emulating Exemplary Figures, verses 54-55: Highlighting the importance of following the Prophet Ibrahim and his progeny as models of righteousness, the verses encourage faithfulness and commitment to divine principles.


8.     Adhering to Legitimate Authority, verses 58-59, 77-81: Stressing obedience to those in authority to maintain order and justice, provided it does not contravene divine laws. This includes the duty to arbitrate conflicts fairly and uphold the community’s welfare.


9.     Contentment with Divine Decrees, verses 32, 119: The surah advocates satisfaction with Allah’s allotment of roles and responsibilities, discouraging envy and dissatisfaction and urging trust in Allah’s wisdom.


10.  Jihad for Justice, verses 71-76: Jihad is presented as a means of protecting the oppressed and establishing justice, emphasizing the defense of fundamental rights and the preservation of religious freedom.


11.  The Necessity of Migration (Hijrah), verses 97-100: For those facing oppression, migration is framed as a path to a safer environment where one can practice faith freely and live with dignity, underscoring the value of seeking justice and security.


12.  Upholding Truthful Testimony, verse 135: The call to stand firmly for justice, even against oneself or close relatives, highlights the paramount importance of truthfulness and fairness in all dealings.


Challenges to Justice in Surat An-Nisa


1.     Bad Character, verses 37-39: The initial barrier is miserliness, spurred by disbelief in Allah and the Hereafter. This vice leads individuals to prioritize personal gain over fulfilling obligations towards kin, orphans, and people in need, thereby obstructing justice.


2.     Compromising Worship, verse 43:  Infringing upon the sanctity of worship, such as approaching prayers while intoxicated, directly impacts moral character and justice. This illustrates how neglecting spiritual duties can erode societal values.


3.     Ignoring Divine Warnings, verses 44-54: Allah’s admonitions, especially regarding the behavior of the People of the Book, caution against their envy and deception. Disregarding these warnings can lead the community away from justice.


4.     Neglecting Trusts, verse 58: Failing to uphold and return trust erodes the foundation of justice within the community. Allah commands fairness and justice in all dealings, highlighting the importance of trust in maintaining social harmony.


5.     Abandoning Allah’s Judgment, verses 60-65: Seeking judgment outside divine law indicates a departure from justice, especially in disputes. Allah criticizes turning to false judges, underlining the necessity of adhering to His commands for true justice.


6.     Defying Appointed Authority, verses 65, 77: Disobeying or challenging the authority appointed by Allah leads to disorder and injustice. This defiance manifests in reluctance to engage in prescribed actions, like fighting for Allah’s cause when commanded.


7.     Spreading Rumors, verse 83: Rashly disseminating unverified information, especially concerning public safety, can create unnecessary panic and division and hinder the administration of justice.


8.     Hypocrites and Weak in Faith, verses 72-73, 88-89, 141, 145, 138-139: Hypocrisy and lack of faith are significant impediments to justice. Hypocrites’ allegiance to disbelievers and their indecision in critical moments reveal a profound justice deficit within the community.


9.     Rushing to Judgment on Doubtful Matters, verse 94: Premature judgments, especially without proper verification, can lead to grave injustices. This rush to judgment without discernment can result in wrongful harm and regret.


10.  Rivalry in Falsehood, verses 107-109: Engaging in disputes based on deceit rather than truth obstructs the path to justice. Such rivalry distracts from the pursuit of fairness and equity.


11.  Not Resisting Satan’s Plots, verses 117-119: Succumbing to Satan’s temptations, including altering divine creation and following desires against Allah’s commands, diverts believers from the path of justice.


12.  Aqeedah Non-compliance, verses 123-125, 78-79: Misinterpretations of predestination and excessive hope without righteous deeds misguide believers, affecting their commitment to justice. Understanding and balancing fear and hope with true faith is crucial for maintaining justice.


These obstacles not only challenge individual character and faith but also the collective integrity and justice of the Muslim community. Addressing them requires steadfast adherence to divine guidance and a sincere commitment to upholding justice for all.



Surat An-Nisa’ is a vital guide within the Quran, emphasizing justice, compassion, and the moral duty to protect the vulnerable. It intricately weaves teachings on societal obligations and individual conduct, directing a path toward a balanced Islamic society. The Surah advocates for the rights of the vulnerable, such as orphans, women, and non-Muslim minorities, ensuring their dignity and welfare within the community. It outlines strategies for fostering justice and identifies obstacles that could derail this noble goal, from personal flaws like miserliness to societal issues like hypocrisy.


This exploration of Surat An-Nisa highlights its role as a chapter of the Quran and as a blueprint for creating a just, compassionate society that aligns with Islamic values. It calls for a holistic approach to life, integrating faith and ethical conduct, and challenges believers to act justly and mercifully, mirroring divine virtues.


In summarizing Surat An-Nisa’, we are reminded of its timeless relevance and the call to believers to transcend personal interests for a communal harmony that upholds justice and compassion, as ordained by Allah. This Surah serves as a beacon, guiding us towards righteousness and establishing a society that truly reflects the principles of Islam.