Tafsir Zone - Surah 2: al-Baqarah (The Cow)

Tafsir Zone

Surah al-Baqarah 2:236
 

Overview (Verses 236 - 237)
 
Kindness after Divorce
 

The sūrah then tackles a different, but frequently met, situation, in which a woman is divorced before the consummation of the marriage. It outlines the respective rights and obligations of both spouses.
 
You will incur no sin if you divorce women before having touched them or settled a dowry for them. Provide for them, the rich according to his means and the straitened according to his means. Such a provision, in an equitable manner, is an obligation binding on the righteous. If you divorce them before having touched them but after having settled a dowry for them, then give them half of that which you have settled, unless they forgo it or he in whose hand is the marriage tie forgoes it. To forgo what is due to you is closer to being righteous. Do not forget to act benevolently to one another. God sees all that you do. (Verses 236-237)
 

Two situations are outlined here. The first involves a woman who is divorced before her marriage had been consummated or a dowry agreed. In this case, the husband is obliged to recompense her according to his means. Such a gesture would have an immense psychological impact on the woman, who would be devastated at having her marriage dissolved before it has even begun. It would go a long way towards dissipating any bitterness or acrimony left in her heart. The unfulfilled marriage would be understood as an unfortunate mistake rather than a reflection on her suitability or integrity. The aim would be to diffuse the tension and conduct the severance of the relationship amicably, in a spirit of fairness and with no hard feelings. Meanwhile, the size of the gift offered in this case is left to the man’s discretion and conscience, within his financial ability: “the rich according to his means and the straitened according to his means. Such a provision, in an equitable manner, is an obligation binding on the righteous.” (Verse 236)
 

The second possibility arises if a dowry has been agreed and settled, in which case half of it must, in principle, be paid unless the wife, or her guardian if she is young, choose, without any pressure, to forgo such a payment. Forgoing such a claim is the attitude of one who has the power of the law on her side but she declines to touch the money of a man with whom she no longer has any relation.
 
Nevertheless, the Qur’ān goes on to urge more fear of God, tolerance, magnanimity and benevolence on the part of all involved. It exhorts: “To forgo what is due to you is closer to being righteous. Do not forget to act benevolently to one another. God sees all that you do.” (Verse 237)