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Bearers of Seed (2:223) – Join islam

One of the Quran’s verses often butchered in translation and interpretation is Sura 2: The Heifer (Al-Baqarah), verse 223.

نِسَآؤُكُمْ حَرْثٌ لَّكُمْ فَأْتُوا۟ حَرْثَكُمْ أَنَّىٰ شِئْتُمْ وَقَدِّمُوا۟ لِأَنفُسِكُمْ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَٱعْلَمُوٓا۟ أَنَّكُم مُّلَـٰقُوهُ وَبَشِّرِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

Here are some of the common traditional Sunni translations of this verse.

Your wives are your tilth; go, then, unto your tilth as you may desire, but first provide something for your souls, and remain conscious of God, and know that you are destined to meet Him. And give glad tidings unto those who believe Muhammad Asad

Your wives are like farmland for you, so approach them ˹consensually˺ as you please. And send forth something good for yourselves. Be mindful of Allah, and know that you will meet Him. And give good news to the believers. – The Clear Quran, Dr. Mustafa Khattab

Your wives are a field for you, so go into your fields however you want and do beforehand all that is necessary, being fully mindful of God and knowing that you will meet Him. Give good news to the believers. – Safi Kaskas

Unfortunately, these translations have been severely polluted by being interpreted through the lens of Hadith, where wives must sexually submit themselves to their husbands or risk being cursed by the angels.

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “If a husband calls his wife to his bed (i.e. to have sexual relation) and she refuses and causes him to sleep in anger, the angels will curse her till morning.”

حَدَّثَنَا مُسَدَّدٌ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو عَوَانَةَ، عَنِ الأَعْمَشِ، عَنْ أَبِي حَازِمٍ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ إِذَا دَعَا الرَّجُلُ امْرَأَتَهُ إِلَى فِرَاشِهِ فَأَبَتْ، فَبَاتَ غَضْبَانَ عَلَيْهَا، لَعَنَتْهَا الْمَلاَئِكَةُ حَتَّى تُصْبِحَ ‏”‏‏.‏ تَابَعَهُ شُعْبَةُ وَأَبُو حَمْزَةَ وَابْنُ دَاوُدَ وَأَبُو مُعَاوِيَةَ عَنِ الأَعْمَشِ‏.‏

Sahih al-Bukhari 3237

The major error in the above translation and interpretation is that it frames a relationship between a husband and wife as one in which the wife’s primary function is only a source of pleasure for the husband. In this context, it subjugates the women and absolves the men of responsibility, allowing them to seek pleasure from their women in any way they desire. This is the complete opposite of what the verse is conveying.

God willing, let’s try to understand this verse in the light of the Quran alone.

To start, let’s look at the first seven words, specifically the word “ḥarthun” ( حَرْثٌ ), which is used twice in this section. This word can be translated in different ways, and depending on which definition one chooses, it will influence the message conveyed.

نِسَآؤُكُمْ حَرْثٌ لَّكُمْ فَأْتُوا۟ حَرْثَكُمْ أَنَّىٰ شِئْتُمْ وَقَدِّمُوا۟ لِأَنفُسِكُمْ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَٱعْلَمُوٓا۟ أَنَّكُم مُّلَـٰقُوهُ وَبَشِّرِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

The word and its derivatives from its root are used 14 times in the Quran. It is used in the Quran for a field (2:71, 21:78), a tilth as a place to plant seed (56:63), it is also used for crops (6:136, 138, 68:22) as a place for future gains (2:205, 3:14), as well as a harvest (3:117, 42:20). An interesting example of the use of the term “harth” ( حَرْثَ ) in the context of a harvest can be found in the following verse.

[42:20] Whoever seeks the harvest (rewards) of the Hereafter, we multiply the harvest for him. And whoever seeks the harvest of this world, we give him therefrom, then he receives no share in the Hereafter.

 مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةِ نَزِدْ لَهُۥ فِى حَرْثِهِۦ وَمَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ حَرْثَ ٱلدُّنْيَا نُؤْتِهِۦ مِنْهَا وَمَا لَهُۥ فِى ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةِ مِن نَّصِيبٍ

If we apply these different meanings to the first seven words, we will get one of the following possible translations:

[2:223] Your wives are your farmland; so go to your farmland as you will…
[2:223] Your wives are your tilth; so go to your tilth as you will
[2:223] Your wives are your harvest; so go to your harvest as you will
[2:223] Your women are the bearers of your seed; so go to the bear your seed as you will

If we look at the next portion of the verse, we see that there is a hint that the definition one uses should correspond with some kind of future return. This is conveyed in the expression “waqaddimū li-anfusikum” ( وَقَدِّمُوا۟ لِأَنفُسِكُمْ ), which transates to “and send forth for yourself.” The root for the word “waqaddimū” ( وَقَدِّمُوا۟ ) is used 48 times in the Quran and is typically associated with the deeds and actions that one sets forth like in the below example.

[73:20] Your Lord knows that you meditate during two-thirds of the night, or half of it, or one-third of it, and so do some of those who believed with you. GOD has designed the night and the day, and He knows that you cannot always do this. He has pardoned you. Instead, you shall read what you can of the Quran. He knows that some of you may be ill, others may be traveling in pursuit of GOD’s provisions, and others may be striving in the cause of GOD. You shall read what you can of it, and observe the contact prayers (Salat), give the obligatory charity (Zakat), and lend GOD a loan of righteousness. Whatever good you send ahead on behalf of your souls, you will find it at GOD far better and generously rewarded. And implore GOD for forgiveness. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.

 إِنَّ رَبَّكَ يَعْلَمُ أَنَّكَ تَقُومُ أَدْنَىٰ مِن ثُلُثَىِ ٱلَّيْلِ وَنِصْفَهُۥ وَثُلُثَهُۥ وَطَآئِفَةٌ مِّنَ ٱلَّذِينَ مَعَكَ وَٱللَّهُ يُقَدِّرُ ٱلَّيْلَ وَٱلنَّهَارَ عَلِمَ أَن لَّن تُحْصُوهُ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ فَٱقْرَءُوا۟ مَا تَيَسَّرَ مِنَ ٱلْقُرْءَانِ عَلِمَ أَن سَيَكُونُ مِنكُم مَّرْضَىٰ وَءَاخَرُونَ يَضْرِبُونَ فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ يَبْتَغُونَ مِن فَضْلِ ٱللَّهِ وَءَاخَرُونَ يُقَـٰتِلُونَ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ فَٱقْرَءُوا۟ مَا تَيَسَّرَ مِنْهُ وَأَقِيمُوا۟ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَءَاتُوا۟ ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ وَأَقْرِضُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ قَرْضًا حَسَنًا وَمَا تُقَدِّمُوا۟ لِأَنفُسِكُم مِّنْ خَيْرٍ تَجِدُوهُ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ هُوَ خَيْرًا وَأَعْظَمَ أَجْرًا وَٱسْتَغْفِرُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌۢ

Additionally, the last section of the verse again warns that based on what we send forth, we should be conscientious of God and know that we will meet Him.

وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَٱعْلَمُوٓا۟ أَنَّكُم مُّلَـٰقُوهُ وَبَشِّرِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ

This understanding makes the first two options of translating “harath” as farmland or tilth less suitable and the understanding of a harvest or bearer of seed more appropriate. Planting seeds and harvesting signify that these efforts will lead to a future outcome in the form of a harvest. This means this is not a passive activity that men get to simply enjoy but an act that requires hard work and cultivation.

[2:223] Your women are the bearers of your seed. Thus, you may enjoy this privilege however you like, so long as you maintain righteousness. You shall observe GOD, and know that you will meet Him. Give good news to the believers.

Women hold a pivotal role as the bearers of seeds for humanity, with their offspring representing the harvest that will reflect the actions and deeds of the men and women who joined together to produce them. A society founded on righteousness will tend to have righteous children, while a society founded on wickedness will tend to lead to a society in turmoil.

[71:26] Noah also said, “My Lord, do not leave a single disbeliever on earth.
[71:27] “For if you let them, they will only mislead your servants and give birth to nothing but wicked disbelievers.

 وَقَالَ نُوحٌ رَّبِّ لَا تَذَرْ عَلَى ٱلْأَرْضِ مِنَ ٱلْكَـٰفِرِينَ دَيَّارًا

 إِنَّكَ إِن تَذَرْهُمْ يُضِلُّوا۟ عِبَادَكَ وَلَا يَلِدُوٓا۟ إِلَّا فَاجِرًا كَفَّارًا

Women’s capacity to give birth and nurture their offspring essentially seeds tomorrow’s social and cultural landscapes. In this profound role, women act as stewards, shaping future generations through the deep values they instill and the attentive care they administer. Husbands are responsible for protecting and supporting their wives, recognizing that the well-being of women directly impacts the righteousness of future societies. By ensuring the health and safety of women, men are not merely acting out of companionship but are actively investing in the moral and ethical fabric of their collective future and striving so that the deeds they send forth will reflect positively on them on the Day of Judgment.

[2:110] You shall observe the Contact Prayers (Salat) and give the obligatory charity (Zakat). Any good you send forth on behalf of your souls, you will find it at GOD. GOD is seer of everything you do.

 وَأَقِيمُوا۟ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَءَاتُوا۟ ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ وَمَا تُقَدِّمُوا۟ لِأَنفُسِكُم مِّنْ خَيْرٍ تَجِدُوهُ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ

When husbands understand that their relationship with their wives transcends mere sexual gratification and enters the realm of a mutual endeavor akin to a harvest requiring careful cultivation, this realization should profoundly transform their perspective. Recognizing the marital bond as an ongoing commitment to nurture and develop—much like a farmer tends to his fields—husbands are called to invest thoughtfully and consistently in their relationships with their spouses. This shift in mindset underscores the importance of their wives and the relationship itself, framing it not as a source of mere pleasure but as a critical, collaborative venture with far-reaching implications. Such a perspective enriches the matrimonial partnership, promoting a deeper, more fruitful union that benefits both spouses and future generations.

[14:24] Do you not see that GOD has cited the example of the good word as a good tree whose root is firmly fixed, and its branches are high in the sky?
[14:25] It produces its fruit every season, as designed by its Lord. GOD thus cites the examples for the people, that they may take heed.
[14:26] And the example of the bad word is that of a bad tree chopped at the soil level; it has no roots to keep it standing.
[14:27] GOD strengthens those who believe with the proven word, in this life and in the Hereafter. And GOD sends the transgressors astray. Everything is in accordance with GOD’s will. They
[14:28] Have you noted those who responded to GOD’s blessings by disbelieving, and thus brought disaster upon their own families?

أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ ضَرَبَ ٱللَّهُ مَثَلًا كَلِمَةً طَيِّبَةً كَشَجَرَةٍ طَيِّبَةٍ أَصْلُهَا ثَابِتٌ وَفَرْعُهَا فِى ٱلسَّمَآءِ

تُؤْتِىٓ أُكُلَهَا كُلَّ حِينٍۭ بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهَا وَيَضْرِبُ ٱللَّهُ ٱلْأَمْثَالَ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَذَكَّرُونَ

وَمَثَلُ كَلِمَةٍ خَبِيثَةٍ كَشَجَرَةٍ خَبِيثَةٍ ٱجْتُثَّتْ مِن فَوْقِ ٱلْأَرْضِ مَا لَهَا مِن قَرَارٍ

يُثَبِّتُ ٱللَّهُ ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ بِٱلْقَوْلِ ٱلثَّابِتِ فِى ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَفِى ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةِ وَيُضِلُّ ٱللَّهُ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ وَيَفْعَلُ ٱللَّهُ مَا يَشَآءُ

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