Overview - Surah 24: an-Nur (The Light)

Surah Introduction

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This Surah contains many rules for the development of a society based on righteousness and morality. It talks about male-female relations, rules of proper dress for Muslim women, rules for the punishment of adultery and punishment of those who accuse others of adultery or fornication.

Sections:

  1. Punishment of adultery. Rules of testimony in the case of adultery.
  2. The false rumors against Sayyidah 'Aisha - may Allah be pleased with her.
  3. Beware of those who slander pious chaste women.
  4. Rules about entering others homes, proper dress, help those who are single to get married.
  5. The light of Allah and the struggle between light and darkness.
  6. Everything in the heaven and earth glorifies Allah.
  7. Believers must obey Allah and His messenger. Allah's promise to the Believers to establish them in the land.
  8. Rules of privacy for men and women, at home and outside.
  9. Special respect of the Prophet and Believers' duties towards him.

Surah an-Nur [The Light]  takes its name after the Ayat, اللَّـهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ "Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth...." [24:35].

The word Nur [light] is mentioned 7 times in this Surah, mentioned more times than in any other Surah of the Qur'an.

The Surah has 64 Ayat.

Overview

Total Ayat64
Total Words *1316
Root Words *294
Unique Root Words *5
Makki / MadaniMadani
Chronological Order* 102nd (according to Ibn Abbas)
Year of Revelation* 19th year of Prophethood (6th Year Hijri)
Events during/before this Surah*
Treaty of Hudaiybiyah - Letters to Kings and Rulers, Battle of Ahzab - Expedition of Banu Quraydhah, , Battle of Uhud, Change of Qiblah from Jerusalem to Makkah - Battle of Badr, Migration from Makkah to Madinah - Building of Masjid Nabi in Madinah - Treaty with Jews of Madinah - Marriage of Prophet to Aishah, , 2nd Pledge of Aqabah, 1st Pledge of Aqabah, Death of Abu Talib - Death of Khadijah - Stoning at Ta'if - al-Isra wal Mi'raj - Night Journey, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 3, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 2, Boycott of Banu Hashim Yr 1, 2nd Migration to Abyssinia, Physical beating and torture of some Muslims - 1st Migration of Muslims to Abyssinia, Public Invitation to Islam - Persecution of Muslims; antagonism - ridicule - derision - accusation - abuse and false propaganda., Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam , Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam , Revelation begins - Private Invitation to Islam
Events during/after still to occur*
,Conquest of Makkah - Battle of Hunain,Hajj led by Abu Bakr - Expedition of Tabuk,Farewell Hajj by Prophet - Death of Prophet - End of Divine Revelation
Names of Prophets Mentioned
No Prophets names are mentioned in this Surah
Surah Index
Behaviour (men (toward women)) , Behaviour (towards slaves) , Behaviour (women (toward men)) , Biology (living things made of water) , Charity, Charity (sharing food) , Chastity, Clothing (the veil or women’s clothing in non-household situations) , Commandments (general religious) , Disbelievers (God’s promise to) , Hell, Iblis, Judgement (Day) , Marriage (adultery) (evidence required (four witnesses)), Marriage (adultery) (false accusers punishment), Marriage (adultery) (if there aren’t four witnesses), Marriage (adultery) (marriage after), Marriage (adultery) (punishment for), Marriage (if unable) , Marriage (to slave) (and among slaves), Marriage (to unmarried only) , Muhammad (summons from) , Muhammad (taking leave of) , Prayer (times of day of) , Privacy, Privacy (nakedness at mid-day) , Privacy (sharing food) , Religion, Revelation, Sea, Sea (darkness in the depths of) , Sexual Relations, Slaves, Slaves (don’t force female slaves into prostitution) , Slaves (freeing) (those who ask you to who have any good in them), Weather (clouds) , Weather (hail) , Weather (rain) , Women (lack of outer garments for older)

Central Theme

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This Surah and v. 28-73 of Surah 33: al-Ahzab (The Confederates), of which this is the sequel, were sent down to strengthen the moral front, which at that time was the main target of the attack.  v. 28-73 of al-Ahzab were sent down concerning the Prophet’s marriage with Zainab, and on the occasion of the second attack (the ‘Slander’ about A’isha) this Surah was sent down to repair the cracks that had appeared in the unity of the Muslim Community. If we keep this in view during the study of the two Surahs, we can understand the wisdom that underlies the commandments about the veil.

In Surah al-Ahzab, God sent the following instructions to strengthen and safeguard the moral front, and to counteract the storm of propaganda that was raised on the occasion of the marriage of Zainab:

  1. The wives of the Prophet were enjoined to remain within their private quarters, to avoid the display of adornments and to be cautious in their talk with other persons (v. 32, 33).
  2. The other Muslims were forbidden to enter the private rooms of the Prophet and instructed to make their requests from behind a curtain (v. 53).
  3. A line of demarcation was drawn between the mahram (unmarriageable kin) and the non-mahram relatives. Only the former were allowed to enter the private rooms of those wives of the Prophet with whom they were closely related (v. 55).
  4. The Muslims were told that the wives of the Prophet were prohibited for them just like their own mothers; therefore every Muslim should regard them in the highest esteem and with the purest of intentions (v. 53 - 54).
  5. The Muslims were warned that they would invite the curse and punishment of God if they offended the Prophet. Likewise it was a heinous sin to attack the honour of or slander any Muslim man or woman (v. 57 – 58).
  6. All the Muslim women were enjoined to cover over themselves with their outer garments, when they had to go out of their houses (v. 59, al-Ahzab).

On the occasion of the second attack, Surah an-Nur was sent down to keep pure and strengthen the moral fibre of the Muslim society, which had been shaken by the enormity of the slander. Below is a summary of the commandments and instructions in their chronological order so that one may understand how the Qur’an makes use of the event to reform the community through legal, moral and social measures.

  1. Fornication which had already been declared to be a social crime (Surah 4: an-Nisa’ (The Women) v. 15–16,) was now made a criminal offence and was to be punished with a hundred lashes.
  2. It was enjoined to boycott the adulterous men and women and the Muslims were forbidden to have any marriage relations with them.
  3. The one who accused another of adultery but failed to produce four witnesses, was to be punished with eighty lashes.
  4. The law of ‘lian’ was prescribed to decide the charge of adultery by a husband against his own wife.
  5. The Muslims were enjoined to learn a lesson from the incident of the ‘slander’ about A’isha. People should be very cautious in regard to charges of adultery against righteous people, and should not spread lies. Rather they should refute and suppress such ideas immediately. A general principle was also expressed that the proper spouse for a pure man is a pure woman, and vice versa.  Also, reflecting upon the incident, the people knew that the Prophet was a pure man chosen by God, the purest of all human beings.  So how could they believe that God would allow him to marry a wicked woman and exalt her as the most beloved of his wives? It was obvious that an adulterous woman could not have been able to deceive a pure man like the Prophet. They also ought to have considered the fact that the accuser was an evil person, with vested interests, while the accused was always known as a pure chaste woman. This should have been enough to convince them that the accusation was not worth their consideration and not even conceivable.
  6. Those who spread news and evil rumours and propagate wickedness in the Muslim community deserve punishment and not encouragement.
  7.  A general principle was laid down that relations in the Muslim community should be based on good faith and not on suspicion: everyone should be treated as innocent unless he is proven to be guilty.
  8. The people were forbidden to enter the houses of others unceremoniously and were instructed to take permission for this.
  9. Both men and women were instructed to lower their gaze and forbidden to cast unnecessary glances at each other.
  10. Women were enjoined to cover their heads and cover themselves up even inside their houses, when in the presence of non-mahram men.
  11. Women were forbidden to appear beautified before other men, except their servants or such male-relatives (mahram) with whom marriage is prohibited.
  12. They were enjoined not to dress up or beautify such that would be visible to non-mahram men when they went out of their houses, and even forbidden to put on jingling ornaments that would also attract attention when outside.
  13. Marriage was encouraged and enjoined even for slaves and slave-girls, since marriage prevents indecency.
  14. The institution of slavery was discouraged and the owners and other people were enjoined to give financial help to slaves to help earn their freedom under the law of Mukatabat.
  15. Prostitution by slave girls was forbidden, for prostitution in Arabia was confined to this class alone. This in fact implied the legal prohibition of prostitution altogether.
  16. The sanctity of privacy in the home was enjoined even for servants and under-age children, including one’s own. They were enjoined not to enter the private rooms of any man or woman without permission; especially in the morning, at noon and at night.
  17. Old women were given the concession that they could set aside their head covers within their houses but should refrain from the displaying their adornments. They were even told that it was better for them to continue keeping themselves covered.
  18. The blind, lame, crippled and sick persons were allowed to take any article of food from the houses of other people without permission, since it is the responsibility of the community to feed such people.  This act was not to be treated like theft and cheating, which are clear offences.
  19. On the other hand, the Muslims were encouraged to develop mutual relationships by taking their meals together. Near relatives and intimate friends were allowed to take their meals in each other’s house without any formal invitation. This was to produce mutual affection and develop sincere relationships between them to counteract any future mischief. Side by side with these instructions, clear signs of the believers and the hypocrites were stated to enable every Muslim to discriminate between the two. At the same time, the community was bound together by adopting disciplinary measures in order to make it stronger and firmer and to discourage the enemies from continuously creating mischief.

Above all, the most striking thing about this discourse is that it is free from the unpleasantness which inevitably follows such shameful and vicious attacks. Instead of showing any bitterness at this provocation, the discourse prescribes laws and regulations and enjoins reformative commandments and wise instructions that were required at the time for the education and training of the community. Incidentally, this teaches us how to deal with such provocative mischief - calmly, wisely and generously. At the same time, it is a clear proof that this is not the word of the Prophet Muhammad but of a Being Who is observing all human conditions and affairs from the highest level, and guiding mankind without any personal prejudices, feelings and leanings. Had this been the word of the Prophet there would have been at least some tinge of natural bitterness in spite of his great generosity and forbearance, for it is but human that a noble man naturally becomes enraged when his own honour is attacked in this mean manner.

Connection of the name of the Surah and its Ayaat

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The word Nur [light] is mentioned 7 times in this Surah, mentioned more times than in any other Surah of the Qur'an.

Connection between the beginning and the ending of the Surah

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Manuscripts / Inscriptions

Connection of the Surah to the Surah before/after it

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  • The begining of the previous Surah [23: al-Mumineen] had the words, وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ لِفُرُوجِهِمْ حَافِظُونَ "And they who guard their private parts" [23:5] and this Surah begins with the ruling regarding those who do not gaurd their private parts, i.e. commit Zina [illegal sexual intercourse].

The Virtues of the Surah

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  • Harithah bin Mudhrib said, "Umar ibn al-Khattab wrote to us, [advising] to teach Surah an-Nisa, al-Ahzab and an-Nur to our women." [Shawkani, Fath al-Qadeer - Kanzul A'mal]

Special Features of the Surah

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Important key and unique words of the Surah

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  • Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. اللَّـهُ نُورُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ مَثَلُ نُورِهِ كَمِشْكَاةٍ فِيهَا مِصْبَاحٌ ۖ الْمِصْبَاحُ فِي زُجَاجَةٍ ۖ الزُّجَاجَةُ كَأَنَّهَا كَوْكَبٌ دُرِّيٌّ يُوقَدُ مِن شَجَرَةٍ مُّبَارَكَةٍ زَيْتُونَةٍ لَّا شَرْقِيَّةٍ وَلَا غَرْبِيَّةٍ يَكَادُ زَيْتُهَا يُضِيءُ وَلَوْ لَمْ تَمْسَسْهُ نَارٌ ۚ نُّورٌ عَلَىٰ نُورٍ ۗ يَهْدِي اللَّـهُ لِنُورِهِ مَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَيَضْرِبُ اللَّـهُ الْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ  "Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly [white] star lit from [the oil of] a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. Allah guides to His light whom He wills. And Allah presents examples for the people, and Allah is Knowing of all things." (24:35)
 
Total Word Count per Ayat (shows how many words per Ayat) *

Unique Root Words to this Surah only


5 unique root words that do not appear in any other Surah *

Top 10 Most Frequent Root Words used in this Surah

Root Word Frequency
in Surah
Frequency
in Qur'an
أ ل ه 80 2851
ٱلَّذِى 30 1464
أ م ن 22 879
ع ل م 20 854
ب ي ن 14 523
ب ي ت 14 73
ش ي أ 13 519
ق و ل 12 1722
ك و ن 11 1390
ش ه د 11 160

Period of Revelation

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The consensus of opinion is that this Surah was sent down after the campaign against Bani Al-Mustaliq and this is confirmed by v. 11-20 that deal with the incident of the ‘slander’ which occurred during that Campaign. But there is a difference of opinion as to whether this Campaign took place in 5 A.H. before the Battle of the Trench or in 6 A.H. after it.

Background Reasons for Revelation

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After the victory at Badr the Islamic movement began to gain strength day by day; so much so that by the time of the Battle of the Trench it had become so strong that the united forces of the enemy numbering about ten thousand, failed to crush it and had to cease the siege of Madinah after one month. Both parties understood that it meant that the war of aggression, which the disbelievers had been waging for several years, had come to an end. The Prophet himself declared: “After this year the Quraysh will not be able to attack you; now you will take the offensive.”

When the disbelievers realised that they could not defeat Islam on the battlefield they chose a new path of attack, to assault the moral fabric of the Muslim community. It cannot be said with certainty whether this change of tactics was the outcome of deliberate consultations or due to the humiliating retreat in the Battle of the Trench, for which all the forces of the enemy had been concentrated.

The disbelievers knew that the rise of Islam was not due to the number of Muslims, nor to their superior arms and ammunition and neither to their greater material resources.  In fact, the Muslims were fighting against fearful odds on all these fronts. They considered that they owed their success to their moral superiority. The pure and noble qualities of the Prophet and his followers were capturing the hearts of the people and binding them into a highly disciplined community. As a result, they were defeating the Polytheists and Jews because of their lack of discipline and character.

The wickedness of the disbelievers led them to start a campaign of vilification against the Prophet and the Muslims in order to destroy their high moral standard. The strategy was to attain the assistance of the hypocrites to spread slanders against the Prophet and his followers so that the Polytheists and the Jews could exploit these to sow the seeds of discord among the Muslims.

The first opportunity for the use of the new strategy was afforded in Dhul-Qa’dah 5 A.H. when the Prophet married Zainab (the daughter of Jahsh) who was the divorced wife of his adopted son Zayd bin Harithah. The Prophet had arranged this marriage in order to put an end to the ignorant custom where an adopted son was considered like a biological son to the adopted parents, whereas in Islam this is a right that is solely retained by the true parents. The hypocrites however considered it a golden opportunity to maliciously slander the Prophet from inside the community, whilst the Jews and the Polytheists focused on exploiting it from outside the community, in a bid to ruin his high reputation.

For this purpose fantastic stories were concocted and spread to this effect: “One day Muhammad happened to see the wife of his adopted son and fell in love with her; he manoeuvred her divorce and married her.” Though this was absurd it was spread with such skill, cunning and artfulness that it succeeded in its purpose; so much so that some Muslim traditionalists and commentators also have cited some parts in their writings, leaving the orientalises to exploit it further. As a matter of fact, Zainab was not a stranger to the Prophet, which undermines the absurd slander that he saw her by chance and fell in love with her at first sight. Actually, she was his first cousin being the daughter of his paternal aunt Umaimah, daughter of Abdul Muttalib. He had known her from her childhood to her youth. Only a year before this incident, he himself had persuaded her against her will to marry Zayd bin Haritha, a former slave, in order to practically demonstrate that slaves were equals. However because of their differences, the marriage inevitably ended in divorce. The above mentioned facts were well known to all, yet the slanderers succeeded in their false propaganda with the result that even today there are people who continue to exploit these false stories to defame Islam

The second slander was made on the honour of A’isha, a wife of the Prophet, in connection with an incident which occurred while he was returning from the Campaign against Bani al-Mustaliq. As this attack was even severer than the first one and was the main background of this Surah, we shall deal with it in greater detail.

Let us start with a few words about Abdullah bin Ubayy, who was the villain of the attack. He belonged to the clan of Khazraj and was one of the most important chiefs of Madinah. Directly before the coming of the Prophet, the people had originally intended to make him their king, but his succession was superseded by the arrival of the Prophet. Though he had embraced Islam, in his heart he remained a staunch hypocrite and his hypocrisy was so apparent that he was called the “Chief of the Hypocrites.” He never lost any opportunity to slander Islam in order to take his revenge.

Now for the main theme. In Sha’aban 6 A.H. the Prophet learned that the people of Bani al-Mustaliq were making preparations for a war against the Muslims and were also trying to muster other clans for this purpose. The Prophet pre-empted their attack and took the enemy by surprise, capturing the people of the clan and their belongings.  The Prophet made a halt near Muraisi, a spring in their territory. One day a dispute concerning taking water from the spring started between a servant of Umar ibn Al Khattab (a famous companion) and an ally of the clan of Khazraj, and developed into a quarrel between the immigrants (Muhajirs) and the Muslims of Madina (Ansar). Nevertheless the dispute was soon settled but this did not suit the strategy of Abdullah bin Ubayy, who had also joined the expedition with a large number of hypocrites. So he began to incite the Ansar, saying, “You yourselves brought these people of the Quraysh from Makkah and made them partners in your wealth and property. And now they have become your rivals and want domination over you. If even now you withdraw your support from them, they shall be forced to leave your city.” Then he swore and declared, “As soon as we reach back to Madinah, the respectable people (Ansar) will turn out the degraded people from the city (Muhajirs).”

When the Prophet came to know of this, he ordered the people to immediately set off on a march back to Madinah. The forced march continued up to noon the next day without a halt on the way, leaving the people exhausted with no time for idle talk.

Though this wise judgment and quick action by the Prophet averted the mischief, Abdullah bin Ubayy got another opportunity for something far more serious, engineering a ‘slander’ against the Prophet’s wife (A’isha).  This mischief might well have involved the young Muslim community in a civil war, if the Prophet and his sincere and devoted followers had not shown wisdom, forbearance and marvellous discipline in dealing with it. In order to understand the events that led to the incident of the ‘Slander,’ we cite the story in A’isha’s own words. She says “Whenever the Holy Prophet went out on a journey, he decided by lots as to which of his wives should accompany him. Accordingly, it was decided that I should accompany him during the expedition to Bani al-Mustaliq. On the return journey, the Holy Prophet halted for the night at a place which was the last stage on the way back to Madinah. It was still night, when they began to make preparations for the march. So I went outside the camp to ease myself. When I returned and came near my halting place, I noticed that my necklace had fallen down somewhere. I went back in search for it but in the meantime the caravan moved off and I was left behind all alone. The four carriers of my carriage had placed it on my camel without noticing that it was empty. This happened because of my light weight due to the lack of food in those days. I wrapped myself in my sheet and lay down in the hope that when it would be discovered that I had been left behind, a search party would come back to pick me up. In the meantime I fell asleep. In the morning, when Safwan bin Mu’attal Sulami passed that way, he saw me and recognised me for he had seen me several times before the commandment about covering (Hijab) had been sent down. No sooner did he see me than he stopped his camel and cried out spontaneously : “How sad! The wife of the Holy Prophet has been left here!” At this I woke up all of a sudden and covered my face with my sheet. Without uttering another word, he made his camel kneel by me and stood aside, while I climbed on to the camel back. He led the camel by the nose-string and we overtook the caravan at about noon, when it had just halted and nobody had yet noticed that I had been left behind. I learnt afterwards that this incident had been used to slander me and Abdullah bin Ubayy was foremost among the slanderers.” (According to other traditions, when A’isha reached the camp on the camel, led by Safwan, and it was known that she had been left behind, Abdullah bin Ubayy cried out, ‘By God, she could not have remained chaste. Look, there comes the wife of your Prophet openly on the camel led by the person with whom she passed the night.’)

“When I reached Madinah, I fell ill and stayed in bed for more than a month. Though I was quite unaware of it, the news of the ‘slander’ was spreading like a scandal in the city, and had also reached the Holy Prophet. Anyhow, I noticed that he did not seem as concerned about my illness as he used to be. He would come but without addressing me directly, would inquire from others how I was and leave the house. Therefore it troubled my mind that something had gone wrong somewhere. So I took leave of him and went to my mother’s house for better nursing. While I was there, one night I went out of the city to ease myself in the company of Mistah’s mother, who was a first cousin of my mother. As she was walking along she stumbled over something and cried out spontaneously, ‘May Mistah perish!’ To this I retorted, ‘What mother are you that you curse your own son, the son who took part in the Battle of Badr.’ She replied, ‘My dear daughter, are you not aware of his scandal mongering?’ Then she told me everything about the campaign of the ‘slander’. Hearing this horrible story, my blood curdled, and I immediately returned home, and passed the rest of the night crying over it.

“During my absence the Holy Prophet took counsel with Ali and Usamah bin Zayd about this matter. Usamah said good words about me to this effect: ‘O Messenger of God, we have found nothing but good in your wife. All that is being spread about her is a lie and calumny.’ As regards Ali, he said, ‘O Messenger of God, there is no dearth of women; you may, if you like, marry another wife. If, however, you would like to investigate into the matter, you may send for her maidservant and inquire into it through her.’ Accordingly, the maidservant was sent for and questioned. She replied, ‘I declare on an oath by God, Who has sent you with the Truth, that I have never seen any evil thing in her, except that she falls asleep when I tell her to look after the kneaded dough in my absence and a goat comes and eats it.’ On that same day the Holy Prophet addressed the people from the pulpit, saying: ‘O Muslims, who from among you will defend my honour against the attacker of the person who has transgressed all bounds in doing harm to me by slandering my wife. By God, I have made a thorough inquiry and found nothing wrong with her nor with the man, whose name has been linked with the ‘slander’.’ At this Usaid bin Hudair (or Sa’d bin Mauz according to other traditions) stood up and said, ‘O Messenger of God, if that person belongs to our clan, we will kill him by ourselves, but if he belongs to the Khazraj clan, we will kill him if you order us to do so.’ Hearing this Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah, chief of the Khazraj clan, stood up and said, ‘You lie you can never kill him. You are saying this just because the person belongs to our clan of Khazraj. Had he belonged to your clan, you would never have said so.’ Usaid retorted, ‘You are a hypocrite: that is why you are defending a hypocrite.’ At this, there was a general turmoil in the mosque, which would have developed into a riot, even though the Holy Prophet was present there the whole time. But he cooled down their anger and came down from the pulpit.”

Let us point out the enormity of the mischief that was engineered by Abdullah bin Ubayy:

1.         It implied an attack on the honour of the Prophet and Abu Bakr Siddiq (the father of A’isha and the close companion of the Prophet).

2.         He meant to undermine the high moral superiority of the Muslims.

3.         He intended to ignite civil war between the Muhajirs and the Ansar, and between Aus and Khazraj (the two clans of the Ansar).

Relevant Hadith

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  • Mujahid reports that the Prophet [saw] said, "Teach your men Surah al-Maidah [5] and teach your women Surah an-Nisa." [Baihaqi]

Lessons/Guidance/Major-Issues/Reflections

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  • Laws relating to the punishment for rape, fornication and adultery.
  • The punishment for bearing false witness relating to any of these crime.
  • Layan (bearing witness against one's own wife when there is no other witness in a case of adultery). Slander against the wife of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah's declaration of her innocence, and admonition to those who were involved in that scandal.
  • Regulations relating to entering houses other than your own.
  • Regulations relating to mixed gatherings of males and females.
  • Allah's commandment to singles about getting married.
  • Allah's commandment to help slaves in getting their freedom.
  • The fact that Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth.
  • The fact that Allah has created every living creature from water.
  • True believers are those who, when called towards Allah and His Rasool, say: "We hear and we obey."
  • Regulations relating to:
    a) entering the room of a married couple b) eating at houses other than one's own.
  • Allah's commandment for attending meetings which are called for discussions and decisions about taking collective actions.

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Miscellaneous Issues

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