Is There a Contradiction between the Prohibition and Permissibility Given to the Prophet in Regards to Marriage?
Brief description of the dubiety
In the Holy Quran in Surah al-Ahzaab, verse 50 the Prophet has generally been permitted to marry women, but in verse 52 of this same Surah it prohibits the Prophet from marrying women. In verse 50, Allah makes a certain number of women permissible for the Prophet; however, in verse 52, marriage and even changing his wives with other wives has been prohibited upon the Prophet. These two rules appear to be contradictory to one another.
Detailed description of the dubiety
Verse in which multiple marriages have been permitted for the Prophet
In Surah al-Ahzaab, verse 50 Allah says: “O Prophet! Indeed We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given their dowries, and those whom your right hand owns, of those whom Allah gave you as spoils of war, and the daughters of your paternal uncle, and the daughters of your paternal aunts, and the daughters of your maternal uncle, and the daughters of your maternal aunts who migrated with you, and a faithful woman if she offers herself to the Prophet and the Prophet desires to take her in marriage, (a privilege exclusively for you, not for [the rest of] the faithful; We know what We have made lawful for them with respect to their wives and those whom their right hands own so that there may be no blame on you), and Allah is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful.”
This verse allows the Prophet to marry from seven categories of women as mentioned.
Verse in which marriage has been prohibited for the Prophet
In Surah al-Ahzaab, verse 52 Allah says: “Women are not lawful for you, nor that you should change them for other wives even though their beauty should impress you, except those whom your right hand owns. And Allah is Watchful over all things.”
The message of this verse is that after the revelation of this verse, the Prophet was not allowed to engage in any new marriage with any women. Even changing one of his wives by giving her a divorce and then marrying another woman was not permissible. The rule understood from this verse is inclusive of all of the seven categories of women that were mentioned in the previous verse. This means that the Prophet has no right to marry any women – be it from those categories mentioned earlier, or otherwise.
In one verse of Surah al-Ahzaab, the Prophet has been permitted to marry a number of women from different categories, whereas in verse 52 of the same Surah he has been prohibited from engaging in any type of marriage. Since permissibility and prohibition are irreconcilable, it appears to be that these verses are in contradiction to one another.
A summarized response
Verse 52 of Surah al-Ahzaab means that women outside of those seven categories mentioned in verse 50 are not permissible for the Prophet to marry, thus there is no contradiction between these verses. Even if we were to assume that the two verses meant exactly what has been described in the critique, then the contextual situation of the Prophet results in the change of his responsibilities. However, even in this case there is no contradiction because it is possible that during one period of time there was one rule, and in another period of time there was another rule that was applicable for the Prophet indicating that there is nothing contradictory in this scenario.
A detailed response
Omission of the word “after” in the Arabic language
One of the rules in Arabic grammar is the omission of a word which makes a combination of words like ‘before’ and ‘after.’ In some places, even though the word that follows is mentioned, the previous word is omitted. For example, in verse 10 of Surah al-Hadeed it says: “Not equal [to others] are those of you who spent and fought before the victory. They are greater in rank than those who have spent and fought afterwards…”
The phrase “after victory” has been omitted after the phrase “before the victory” in this verse. The reason for that is because of its very apparent implication.
Necessity of paying attention to one’s speech for a correct understanding
In order to understand the correctness of a lecturer’s speech, one should consider all of one’s statements together. By taking statements out of context and not considering what was said before or after a certain sentence, one cannot claim that they truly and correctly comprehend what a speaker was saying.
For example, in verse 4 of Surah al-Maun it says: “Woe to them who pray.” If one does not read the next verse of this Surah, then one will think that Allah is condemning those who pray; however when a person looks at the next two verses, it becomes very clear who Allah is condemning: “Those who are heedless of their prayers, those who show off.”
Looking at all of these verses together helps us to understand that “Woe to them who pray” mentioned in verse 4 are those who are negligent and heedless towards their prayers.
Therefore, one must consider the verses before verse 52 of Surah al-Ahzaab in order to understand the true meaning of what Allah has commanded.
In verse 52 of Surah al-Ahzaab, the word “after” has been omitted, and the clarity of this verse is dependent on determining this omitted word. In order to properly establish which word has been omitted and is in accordance with the speaker’s intent, one must look at all of the verses put together. Given this, it becomes clear that verse 50 plays a critical role in clarifying the meaning of verse 52. This is similar to verses 5 and 6 of Surah al-Maun which were important to consider in order to understand the intent of verse 4.
After putting verses 50 and 52 together of Surah al-Ahzaab, we can determine what phrase has been omitted for convenience. This is how the verses should be rendered:
Surah al-Ahzaab, verse 50: “O Prophet! Indeed We have made lawful to you your wives whom you have given their dowries, and those whom your right hand owns, of those whom Allah gave you as spoils of war, and the daughters of your paternal uncle, and the daughters of your paternal aunts, and the daughters of your maternal uncle, and the daughters of your maternal aunts who migrated with you, and a faithful woman if she offers herself to the Prophet and the Prophet desires to take her in marriage, (a privilege exclusively for you, not for [the rest of] the faithful; We know what We have made lawful for them with respect to their wives and those whom their right hands own so that there may be no blame on you) and Allah is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful.”
Surah al-Ahzaab, verse 52: “Women are not lawful for you, nor that you should change them for other wives even though their beauty should impress you, except those whom your right hand owns. And Allah is Watchful over all things.”
Verse 52 should technically read: ‘After the categories of women who have been enumerated,’ then would come ‘women are not lawful for you.’ As such, the meaning of the two verses is that Allah has allowed the Prophet to marry women from these seven categories mentioned, however beyond these seven categories, no other women were permissible for him.  In other words, verse 52 of Surah al-Ahzaab is implying that after having enumerated the permissible instances for the Prophet, any other conceivable instance for marriage was not permissible for him. With this explanation, not only is there no contradiction between these verses, rather they both give an appropriate understanding.
Even if someone does not accept this explanation and says that verse 52 means that after the revelation of this specific verse, the Prophet had no right to marry, there will still be no contradiction, because verse 50 of Surah al-Ahzaab mentions the permissible instances related to certain conditions that were present before the revelation of verse 52. Once the conditions changed, verse 52 was revealed and after the revelation of this verse, the Prophet had no right to marry any other women. Even with this reconciliation, the meanings of both verses become clear and contextualized for their specific conditions and scenarios; and since both of these verses pertain to two different times, they are both in agreement without any contradiction.
A doctor may tell his patient to eat a certain type of food. He may say: “You are allowed to eat bread, beans, vegetables and fresh mutton.” Then he might say: “You must not eat anything else after this.” If these two statements are heard and understood outside of their context, it could imply that after your visit to the doctor, you are not supposed to eat any food. However, considering the context of the statements and putting them together, the doctor’s words become clear and the correct meaning is understood. What the doctor really meant to say is that after my prescription to you in regards to what you should eat, you should not eat any other food.
In verse 52 of Surah al-Ahzaab, the phrase “after” and the sentence following it has been omitted for convenience. The meaning can only be understood correctly after considering this omitted phrase. The reason why a misunderstanding is caused in this verse is because the omitted phrase has been understood to be “after the revelation of this verse.” This would imply that the meaning of the verse is: “After the revelation of this verse, the Prophet is not allowed to marry any other women.”
- Tafseer al-Mizan, Volume 16, Page 336