Surah al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2 : 187

أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ لَيْلَةَ ٱلصِّيَامِ ٱلرَّفَثُ إِلَىٰ نِسَآئِكُمْ ۚ هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَّكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَّهُنَّ ۗ عَلِمَ ٱللَّهُ أَنَّكُمْ كُنتُمْ تَخْتَانُونَ أَنفُسَكُمْ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَعَفَا عَنكُمْ ۖ فَٱلْـَٰٔنَ بَٰشِرُوهُنَّ وَٱبْتَغُوا۟ مَا كَتَبَ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ ۚ وَكُلُوا۟ وَٱشْرَبُوا۟ حَتَّىٰ يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ ٱلْخَيْطُ ٱلْأَبْيَضُ مِنَ ٱلْخَيْطِ ٱلْأَسْوَدِ مِنَ ٱلْفَجْرِ ۖ ثُمَّ أَتِمُّوا۟ ٱلصِّيَامَ إِلَى ٱلَّيْلِ ۚ وَلَا تُبَٰشِرُوهُنَّ وَأَنتُمْ عَٰكِفُونَ فِى ٱلْمَسَٰجِدِ ۗ تِلْكَ حُدُودُ ٱللَّهِ فَلَا تَقْرَبُوهَا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ ءَايَٰتِهِۦ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
It has been made permissible for you the night preceding fasting to go to your wives [for sexual relations]. They are clothing for you and you are clothing for them. Allāh knows that you used to deceive yourselves, so He accepted your repentance and forgave you. So now, have relations with them and seek that which Allāh has decreed for you [i.e., offspring]. And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night]. Then complete the fast until the night [i.e., sunset]. And do not have relations with them as long as you are staying for worship in the mosques. These are the limits [set by] Allāh, so do not approach them. Thus does Allāh make clear His verses [i.e., ordinances] to the people that they may become righteous.

Qur'an Dictionary

Click word/image to view Qur'an Dictionary
Word Arabic word

(in the) nights
(of) fasting
(is) the approach
your wives

(are) garments


(are) garments


used to
so He turned

and He forgave


have relations with them
and seek

has ordained

And eat
and drink

becomes distinct

the thread
[the] white

the thread
[the] black

[the] dawn

the fast
the night

have relations with them

(are) secluded

the masajid

(are the) limits
(set by) Allah

approach them

makes clear
His verses
for [the] people

(become) righteous

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

The sūrah then resumes its elaboration on the rules of fasting. It points out that, in addition to food and drink, married Muslims are permitted sexual intimacy with their spouses between sunset and dawn. It gives the exact time for the fasting which extends from dawn till sunset. It points out that during any period when people retire to a mosque for worship in Ramadan, i.e. i`tikāf, sexual intimacy is not permitted for married people.

When fasting was first instituted, once one got to sleep at night, one would not eat, drink or have sexual intercourse with his wife, even if one woke up before dawn. It so happened that some Muslims did not have anything to eat at the time of the evening meal. One person was overtaken by sleep before he could eat anything and had to fast the following day as well, which made the fast arduous. Likewise, some were inclined to have sexual intercourse and did so. The Prophet became acutely aware of the hardship the Muslims were experiencing. Soon afterwards, God eased the situation by revealing this verse as a token of His mercy and benevolence.

It is lawful for you to be intimate with your wives during the night preceding the fast.” The Arabic expression translated here as ‘to be intimate with one’s wife’ denotes the preliminaries of sex, or denotes sexual intercourse. In fact, both are intended here and made lawful. However, in setting out this rule, God does not overlook to describe the marital relationship in transparent and compassionate terms: “They are as a garment for you, as you are for them.” The word used to describe the marital relationship in the Arabic original is libās, literally meaning garment. Marriage does indeed cover and protect both spouses. Islam fully takes into account man’s natural drives, instincts and desires. It elevates man, treating him as one integral entity. Accordingly, Islam responds to the needs of the flesh, incorporating them into a decent and virtuous context.

The verse reveals the fact that some Muslims were finding it difficult to suppress their natural sexual desires, and some were even breaking the rules: “God is aware that you have been deceiving yourselves in this respect, and He has turned to you in His mercy and pardoned you.” The self deception mentioned here refers to suppressed desires, or to the breach of the rules, as happened in some cases. Whichever was the case, the Qur’ān affirms that God understood their weaknesses and forgave them. New rules are laid down: “You may now lie with them and seek what God has ordained for you.” It tells the Muslims that they are allowed to enjoy the intimacy of their spouses to satisfy their craving and to seek offspring, both of which are legitimate aspects of the relationship.

Thus, marriage is given a much wider dimension and higher objectives, over and above the mere satisfaction of the carnal sexual desire. It assumes an honourable status that must be cherished, treasured and protected.

These hints that the Qur’ān gives from time to time indicate the credit that should be given to the effort Islam dedicates to raising man’s moral and ethical standards within the parameters of his human nature and disposition. This is what makes Islam such a unique, practical and effective way for education and development. It is, after all, God’s way.

The verse goes on to define the parts of the day and night allocated for fasting and eating, respectively, which, when taken with reports from the Prophet’s own practice, indicate that fasting begins not long before sunrise.

Ibn Jarīr relates on the authority of Samurah ibn Jundub who quotes the Prophet as saying: “Do not take much heed of Bilāl’s call for dawn Prayer or this whiteness; do not start the fast until dawn breaks fully.” Another version quotes the Prophet as saying: “Do not abstain from eating if you hear Bilāl calling for the dawn Prayer, or when you see the elongated dawn light. But begin the fast when the dawn spreads over the horizon.” This means the light spreading in the eastern sky a short while before sunrise. It is also important to recall here that Bilāl used to raise the call to prayer early to wake people up, while Ibn Umm Maktūm used to make a second call at a later time to indicate the beginning of the fast. Hence, the Prophet clarifies the point of starting the fast.

The sūrah then instructs the Muslims not to lie with their wives when they decide to retreat in the mosques. This is a reference to a special practice known in Arabic as i`tikāf. It is an act of devotion involving a stay in the mosque for several days during the last ten days of the month of Ramadan, for prolonged Prayer, recitation of the Qur’ān, reflection and spiritual rejuvenation. Once one decides to observe i`tikāf one will only go home when it is necessary. The Prophet was known to observe this practice during the last ten days of the month. To enhance their sense of devotion and enable them to concentrate their hearts and minds on the worship of God during such retreat, or i`tikāf Muslims are barred from sexual intercourse with their wives during such period.

The sūrah then links these rules and instructions directly with God, emphasising that: “These are the bounds set by God, so do not come near them.” Although the Qur’ān uses the words ‘come near’, the warning is against the violation of these bounds. But a margin of safety has to be maintained, because man cannot always rely on his moral strength and self-control. It is far better to keep away from evil rather than walk into it, over-confident of resisting, and then failing to do so. Prudence is liable to develop and cultivate that very precious quality of God-fearing, one of the most fundamental goals the Qur’ān is coaching man to attain in his life: “Thus God makes clear His revelations to people, that they may remain God fearing.

2. Linguistic Analysis

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  • الرَّفَث The word رَفَثَ [acts leading to and including sexual intercouse] appears only in Surah al-Baqarah. Occuring twice in (2:187) and (2:197) 

Frequency of Root words in this Ayat used in this Surah *

3. Surah Overview

4. Miscellaneous Information

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5. Connected/Related Ayat

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6. Frequency of the word

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7. Period of Revelation

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The scholars are unanimous that Surah al-Baqarah is Madani and that it was the first Surah revealed in Madinah. [Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in Fath al-Bari no. 160/8].

Despite it being the first Surah to be revealed in Madinah, it contains Ayaat from a later period also. In fact, according to Ibn Abbas [as mentioned in Ibn Kathir] the last Ayat revealed to the Prophet was Ayat no. 281 from Surah al-Baqarah and this occurred 8 days or so before his death [which corresponds to the year 11 Hijri].

8. Reasons for Revelation

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In order to understand the meaning of this Surah, we should know its historical background:

1. At Makkah, the Quran generally addressed the polytheist Quraysh who were ignorant of Islam, but at Madinah it was also concerned with the Jews who were acquainted with the creed of Monotheism, Prophethood, Revelation, the Hereafter and Angels. They also professed to believe in the law which was revealed by God to their Prophet Moses, and in principle, their way was the same (Islam) that was being taught by Prophet Muhammad. But they had strayed away from it during the centuries of degeneration and had adopted many un-Islamic creeds, rites and customs of which there was no mention and for which there was no sanction in the Torah. Not only this: they had tampered with the Torah by inserting their own explanations and interpretations into its text. They had distorted even that part of the Word of God which had remained intact in their Scriptures and taken out of it the real spirit of true religion and were now clinging to a lifeless frame of rituals. Consequently their beliefs, their morals and their conduct had gone to the lowest depths of degeneration. The pity is that they were not only satisfied with their condition but loved to cling to it. Besides this, they had no intention or inclination to accept any kind of reform. So they became bitter enemies of those who came to teach them the Right Way and did their utmost to defeat every such effort. Though they were originally Muslims, they had swerved from the real Islam and made innovations and alterations in it and had fallen victims to hair splitting and sectarianism. They had forgotten and forsaken God and begun to serve material wealth. So much so that they had even given up their original name “Muslim” and adopted the name “Jew” instead, and made religion the sole monopoly of the children of Israel. This was their religious condition when the Prophet went to Madinah and invited the Jews to the true religion. That is why more than one third of this Surah has been addressed to the children of Israel. A critical review of their history, their moral degeneration and their religious perversions has been made. Side by side with this, the high standard of morality and the fundamental principles of the pure religion have been put forward in order to bring out clearly the nature of the degeneration of the community of a prophet when it goes astray and to draw clear lines of demarcation between real piety and formalism, and the essentials and non-essentials of the true religion.

2. At Makkah, Islam was mainly concerned with the propagation of its fundamental principles and the moral training of its followers. But after the migration of the Prophet to Madinah, where Muslims had come to settle from all over Arabia and where a tiny Islamic State had been set up with the help of the ‘local supporters’ (Ansar), naturally the Quran had to turn its attention to the social, cultural, economic, political and legal problems as well. This accounts for the difference between the themes of the Surahs revealed at Makkah and those at Madinah. Accordingly about half of this Surah deals with those principles and regulations which are essential for the integration and solidarity of a community and for the solution of its problems.

After the migration to Madinah, the struggle between Islam and disbelief (Kufr) had also entered a new phase. Before this the Believers, who propagated Islam among their own clans and tribes, had to face its opponents at their own risk. But the conditions had changed at Madinah, where Muslims from all parts of Arabia had come and settled as one community, and had established an independent city state. Here it became a struggle for the survival of the Community itself, for the whole of non-Muslim Arabia was bent upon and united in crushing it totally. Hence the following instructions, upon which depended not only its success but its very survival, were revealed in this Surah:

a. The Community should work with the utmost zeal to propagate its ideology and win over to its side the greatest possible number of people.

b. It should so expose its opponents as to leave no room for doubt in the mind of any sensible person that they were adhering to an absolutely wrong position.

c. It should infuse in its members (the majority of whom were homeless and indigent and surrounded on all sides by enemies) that courage and fortitude which is so indispensable to their very existence in the adverse circumstances in which they were struggling and to prepare them to face these boldly.

d. It should also keep them ready and prepared to meet any armed menace, which might come from any side to suppress and crush their ideology, and to oppose it tooth and nail without minding the overwhelming numerical strength and the material resources of its enemies.

e. It should also create in them that courage which is needed for the eradication of evil ways and for the establishment of the Islamic Way instead. That is why God has revealed in this Surah such instructions as may help achieve all the above mentioned objects.

At the time of the revelation of Al-Baqarah, all sorts of hypocrites had begun to appear. God has, therefore, briefly pointed out their characteristics here. Afterwards when their evil characteristics and mischievous deeds became manifest, God sent detailed instructions about them. [REF: Mawdudi]

9. Relevant Hadith

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  • Adi bin Hatim narrated: I said, "O Messenger of Allah! What is the white thread from the black thread Are they actual threads'' He said, Your Qafa is wide if you see the two threads. Rather, they are the blackness of the night and the whiteness of the daylight. [Sahih Bukhari]
  •  Anas narrated that Allah's Messenger said, "Eat the Suhur, for there is a blessing in Suhur". [Sahih Muslim]
  • Amr bin Al-`As narrated that Allah's Messenger said, "The distinction between our fast and the fast of the People of the Book is the meal of Suhur." [Sahih Muslim]
  • Abu Sa`id narrated that Allah's Messenger said, "Suhur is a blessed meal. Hence, do not abandon it, even if one just takes a sip of water. Indeed, Allah and His angels send Salah (blessings) upon those who eat Suhur". [Ibn Kathir]
  • Abu Dharr saying that Allah's Messenger said, "My Ummah will always retain goodness as long as they hasten in breaking the fast and delay the Suhur".
  • A'ishah narrated that Allah's Messenger said, "The Adhan pronounced by Bilal should not stop you from taking Suhur, for he pronounces the Adhan at night. Hence, eat and drink until you hear the Adhan by Ibn Umm Maktum, for he does not call the Adhan until dawn". [Sahih Muslim]
  • Qays bin Talq quoted from his father that Allah's Messenger said, "Dawn is not the (ascending) glow of white light of the horizon. Rather, it is the red (radiating) light". [Sahih Buhkari]
  • Samurah bin Jundub narrated that Allah's Messenger said, "Do not be stopped by Bilal's Adhan or the (ascending) whiteness, until it spreads" [At-Tabari]
  • Umar bin Al-Khattab said that Allah's Messenger said, "If the night comes from this direction (the east), and the day departs from that direction (the west), then the fasting person breaks his fast." [Bukhari and Muslim]
  • Sahl bin Sa`d As-Sa`idi narrated that Allah's Messenger said, "The people will retain goodness as long as they hasten in breaking the fast."
  • Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Prophet said, "Allah the Exalted said, `The dearest among My servants to Me are those who hasten in breaking the fast the most.' [Ibn Kathir]
  • Abu Hurayrah saying that Allah's Messenger said, "Do not practice Al-Wisal in fasting."  So, they said to him, "But you practice Al-Wisal, O Allah's Messenger!'' The Prophet replied, "I am not like you, I am given food and drink during my sleep by my Lord."  [Ibn Kathir]
  • Abu Sa`id Khudri states that Allah's Messenger said, "Do not practice Al-Wisal, but whoever wishes is allowed to practice it until the Suhur." [Ibn Kathir]


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