This injunction instructed the believers that they should not enter the houses of the Prophet (S.A) at any time, except when he allows them to do so. The commentators have stated that this is the same etiquette that is required for the believers to adopt. They should not enter other people’s houses unless they are permitted to do so. Seeing that the incident was regarding ‘invitation to a meal’, the guideline given by Allah was that they should not enter unless permission is given to them ‘for a meal’. In this regard, the companions were also instructed, ‘not (so early as) to wait for its preparation’.
The companions were ordered to arrive only when they were called. They should not reach too early that the food is still being prepared since this will cause them to wait in idle, thus causing inconvenience to the Prophet (S.A). This is another etiquette taught to the believers that when invited to dine at a person’s residence, they should not enter the house so early as to wait for the preparation of the meal. Instead, they should enter when requested to do so.
The verse continues by saying, ‘and when you have taken your meal, disperse without sitting for a talk’. This means that when they have taken their meals, they (the companions) should not remain sitting in the house of the Prophet (S.A) to ‘carry-on’ conversations with each other. They should think to themselves that this causes harm to the Prophet (S.A), hence, they should leave immediately after having their meals. This is also required to be adopted by the believers. When people have taken their meals, then they should not remain sitting for long ‘chats’ and ‘conversations’. They should disperse and should not cause inconvenience to the host or his family members. As mentioned by the scholars, where there is a practice and a norm for invitees and guests to remain after meals in order to talk and chat with each other, this will be permitted as long as the host allows it and it does not cause discomfort or trouble to him.
While explaining this etiquette (mentioned in the verse), the commentators have stated that the verse also brings about the instruction to the companions that they should not enter into the Prophet’s houses in order to wait for the preparation of meals, and they should also not enter his houses for the sake of chatting and holding conversations with each other.
Regarding the reason for giving such instructions, Allah says in the above mentioned verse: ‘Verily such behavior hurts the Prophet (S.A) and he is shy to tell you. But Allah is not shy of telling you the truth’. Here, Allah makes it known to the companions that their conduct caused harm to the Prophet (S.A), but his gentle and soft nature was such that, he felt shy to say anything to them. Allah, however, is the governor of all affairs and the dictator of that which is good to man. The truth cannot be concealed, nor can anyone or anything stop it from becoming manifest. As such, Allah revealed these injunctions to the believers so that through its implementation, they will refrain from causing harm to the Prophet (S.A).
The commentators have mentioned that these ‘manners’ given in the Holy Quran show that Islam does not allow the believers to cause harm and trouble to others. It strictly forbids causing inconvenience and discomfort to others. In this regard, Imam Qurtubi has stated, ‘These are good manners and etiquettes through which Allah corrects the troublesome people.’. Tha’labi has also written, ‘It suffices for one to know that Islam does not tolerate troublesome people’. (Safwatut Tafseer vol.12 pg. 70)
Verse 53 (of Sura Ahzab) continues to give more injunctions to the believers and says, ‘And when you ask them (his wives) for anything, then ask them from behind a screen (curtain)’. Here, the companions were instructed that whenever they needed to ask the wives of the Prophet (S.A) for something of necessity, then they must ask them from behind a screen/curtain. They should not come in front of them face to face. This rule was revealed as a form of hijaab to the wives of the Prophet (S.A) in that just as they were not allowed to be in front of men face to face, so too, all the believing men were prohibited from looking at them and being in front of them face to face. If there was a dire need to get something from them, then one had to ask them from behind a curtain. This avoided one from seeing/looking at them and also avoided any sort of close contact from taking place.
Allah in his great wisdom and perfect knowledge has outlined these guidelines regarding the wives of the Prophet (S.A) which are also applicable to all believing women. Allah goes further to explain to the believers why such injunctions are given to them. He says: ‘That is purer for your hearts and their hearts’. It means that asking women from behind a curtain in order to avoid face to face interaction with them, is purer for the hearts of the believers, males and females. It is the best way to avoid evil thoughts from entering the hearts and the ideal manner of protecting the hearts from evil promptings (waswasa) and satanic temptations.
The verse then highlights an important teaching to all believers and states, ‘And it is not right that you should hurt the Prophet (S.A)’. It means that it is not becoming of any believer to do anything which will cause harm to the Prophet (S.A). One must not say anything to the Prophet (S.A) or about the Prophet (S.A), nor should one be engaged in such actions which will cause discomfort to the Prophet (S.A).
One such action which will cause harm to the Prophet (S.A) is to marry any of his wives after his demise. It is because of this, Allah said, ‘nor that you should ever marry his wives after him. Verily, this is grave in the sight of Allah’. Here, Allah has made it haram (unlawful) for a believing man to marry any wife of the Prophet (S.A). Those whom he married are his wives in this world and the hereafter, and they are the mothers of the believers. Hence, marriage with them is totally prohibited. This act is indeed a grave sin in the sight of Allah.
Having given guidelines to correct the conduct of the believers and that which will bring purity to their hearts, Allah says to the believers in verse 54:
54. Whether you reveal anything or conceal it, verily, Allah is Ever All-Knower of everything.
It means that if anyone reveals or hides anything in his heart, then Allah has full knowledge of it. All the secret thoughts of the hearts and the evil promptings are all known to Allah and He will take a person into account.
Sura Ahzab continues in verse 55 and states:
55. It is no sin on them (the Prophet’s wives, if they appear unveiled) before their fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or their brother’s sons, or the sons of their sisters, or their own (believing) women, or their (female) slaves, and keep your duty to Allah. Verily, Allah is Ever All-Witness over everything.
In verse 53, it was stated that when someone wanted to ask the wives of the Prophet (S.A) for anything, then it was essential to ask them from behind a curtain/screen/partition. Here, in verse 55, an exception is given to that law and it states that the ‘Maharim’ (blood relatives to the wives of the Prophet S.A) are exempted from the law. The verse made it clear that it was permissible for the blood relatives to speak to them (the wives of the Prophet S.A) and to ask for something from them face to face.
It is stated in Tafseer Al Qurtubi that when the law regarding hijab for women was revealed, the sons, fathers and blood relatives came to the Prophet (S.A) and said, ‘Do we also have to speak to them (the Prophet’s wives) from behind a curtain?’ Upon this, the above verse was revealed, informing them that they were exempted from that law since they were blood relatives. (Tafseer Al Qurtubi vol.14 pg. 205; Muslim, Abu Dawood, Nasaai, Ahmad, Hakim, Ibn Hibban)
It is to be noted that although the above verse was addressed regarding the wives of the Prophet (S.A), the law equally applied to all other women. As mentioned in the verse, the law of hijab will be lifted for women with respect to the following categories of male relatives: (1) Fathers (2) Sons (3) Brothers (4) Nephews (brothers’ sons and sisters’ sons)