Maulana Shams Pirzada has translated verse 2: 223 somewhat to the effect as:
Your wives are a tilth for you, so go into your tilth when you like, and PROVIDE FOR THE FUTURE, and be careful (of your duty) to Allah, and know that you will meet Him, and give good news to the believers.
The emphasis I have provided is on “PROVIDE FOR THE FUTURE”. The respected writer has inferred from this verse, and particularly the emphasized portion, that the underlying spirit of the Qur’an is against birth control.
Maulana Maududi has translated the particular verse somewhat differently, but the meaning is quite similar. The respected writer gives an opinion that, what Shams Pirzada has translated as “provides for the future”, there are two possible meanings. The first is that it refers to the act of begetting children and ensuring the survival of the human race and the second is that the parents should provide all the necessary support for the upbringing of the child. As is evident, both interpretation refer to the act of begetting children.
My question is, does the verse have anything to do with what the above learned writers have said, especially in the CONTEXT of the wives being TILTHS? Or is the emphasis on the verse just stipulating a moral principle of observing proper etiquette during such an intense period as sexual intercourse? Could you please comment also on the metaphor of tilth?
This question may seem silly to some, but it takes on extreme importance in the light of the modern notions of family planning. A lot of the Muslim thinkers of this century have taken extreme reactionary positions to the position of the West and its attempts to influence other nations in what it deems as ‘civilized society’. And I believe that the ‘danger’, for lack of a better word, for Muslims is not the western attitude but the unbalanced positions of Muslim thinkers, which is only a human phenomenon anyways, that have arisen or may arise.
The cited translation of Al-Baqarah 2:223 seems quite acceptable. However, I would have preferred the following words:
Your women are a tilth for you. Come unto your tilth, as you please. And make provision for your future; and fear God [abiding by His limits] and know that soon you shall all be meeting Him; and [O Prophet,] give glad tidings [of the eternal bliss of Paradise] to the true believers.
Although the difference in the translations is only nominal, yet I do not ascribe to the explanation of the verse given by the two scholars, especially their derivation that ‘the spirit of the Qur’an is against birth control’.
The Qur’an has referred to the relation between a man and his wife at a few other instances too. At a number of instances the Qur’an has referred to men and women to be two parts of a complementary pair (Zawj), implying a mutual relationship of companions and partners; In Surah Al-Room (31: 21), the Qur’an has referred to the relationship between a man and his wife to be a source of mutual tranquility, enjoyment and comfort; while in the referred verse of Surah Al-Baqarah, the Qur’an has referred to the relationship as the sole source of the satisfaction of man’s natural desire of perpetuating life through his progeny. If seen in the correct perspective, the verse, refers to one of the basic aspects of the relationship between man and wife, rather than the relationship as a whole. It is not that the Qur’an defines the relationship between a man and wife as one of producing children alone, as the learned scholars seem to have implied. On the contrary, the Qur’an has referred to this relationship as one of producing children, besides being a complementary relationship of companionship and partnership and besides being a relationship, which provides mutual gratification, satisfaction, tranquility, comfort and enjoyment.
It should be clear from the above explanation that the referred verse should not be viewed as one defining the boundaries of the relationship between man and wife, but should be seen as one, which is referring to one of the aspects of the relationship that exists between man and wife.
From amongst the various aspects of the relationship between man and wife, one of the most important aspects is that of producing children. From this particular aspect, the relationship between a man and his wife is that of a farmer and his tilth. Just as a farmer expects to get his desired produce from his tilth, a man relies on a woman for the satisfaction of his desire for children (and vice versa). By comparing a woman, in this particular respect, with a farmer’s tilth, the Qur’an has implied certain responsibilities that a man, naturally, has toward his wife, which are comparable to those that a farmer has toward his tilth. For instance, like a farmer, a man should not be apathetic toward the natural requirements of his wife; like a farmer, a man should take into account all the variables that can affect the health of his wife as well as that of the desired produce; like a farmer, a man should sow his seeds at the right place, time and season; and most importantly, like a farmer, a man should effectively plan for the produce that he desires to get from his wife.
It should also be kept in mind that the referred verse is immediately preceded by the prohibition of sexual contact during the wife’s menstruation. It is after the imposition of this restriction that the Qur’an has given the directive under consideration, which entails a reminder that no other restrictions are imposed on the sexual relationship between a man and his wife.
In this context, the Qur’an, after having mentioned the freedom, the lack of restrictions and the uninhibited relationship between a man and his wife has directed man to ‘make provision for your future’, in the establishment of this relationship. As has been stated earlier, the particular aspect of the relationship between the husband and wife that is being referred to in the verse under consideration is that of being the source of children, which is also quite apparent in the analogy of the ’tilth’. Although it is obvious that children are a provision for one’s future during the life of this world, yet it is not merely this obvious provision, which is being referred to in this verse. The phrase: ‘make provision for your future’, in my opinion, should be seen in a wider perspective than merely ‘producing children’. According to the Qur’an and a number of narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh), pious children are not only a great blessing during the life of this world, but shall also be a source of great reward during the life hereafter. It is not only the provision for the potential future during the life of this world, but also for the more definite future during the life hereafter that has been referred in the verse. Thus, the phrase ‘make provision for you future’ in the stated context, refers to the fact that if bestowed with children, as a result of the sexual contact with one’s wife, the parents should make provision for their future during the life of this world as well as for their hereafter, by arranging for the proper training and upbringing of the child.
As should be clear from the above explanation that although the verse under consideration is not restricting sexual contact between man and wife only to producing children, yet it is referring to the particular aspect of producing children in this contact.
November 24, 2000