Some exegetes have entered into a discussion regarding verse [12:28] from Sūrah Yūsuf. We will just allude to this discussion, but its details will be discussed at another time. This verse is essentially a statement of the husband of Zulaykha – but is this statement condemning the wife or praising her? Who says this is a condemnation? Yes, because you are reading this verse with a preconceived notion that women are condemned, you will take this to mean condemnation. What if we were to say, this is a praise, and the husband is saying women are experts in making plans.
Who said, kayd (to plot) in it and of itself is condemned? Yes, if a plot is for something condemned, then the plot is also condemned, but if it is something commendable, then the plot is also commendable. What do you say about makr (deceiving)? On first thought, you may think it is condemned, but what do you say about verses where Allah (swt) attributes makr and kayd to Himself?
[86:15-16] Indeed, they are planning a plan, But I am planning a plan.
[3:54] And the disbelievers planned, but Allah planned. And Allah is the best of planners.
God is not only the wisest of all, best of providers, but also the best of planners (mākirīn). Who told you that anytime the word makr or kayd is used, they are negative? We took the prima-facie of this word to be negative when we read the verse regarding Zulaykha because through our literature, in our society, we have presumed women are condemned, and thus we read this perception into the connotation of this word when it was used for her. We took it for granted that because women are condemned, thus her planning is also evil.
Some people may say that the narration from Tafsīr al-Burhān from the Prophet (p) – quoted in the previous lesson – is an alibi for the view that this plot by Zulaykha – and by extension women – is evil. In al-Jāmi’ al-Aḥkām al-Qur’ān of Qurṭubī (d. 621 AH), a narration from Muqātil bin Sulayman is recorded on pg. 324 as follows:
قال مقاتل عن يحيى ابن ابي كثير عن ابي هريرة قال: قال رسول الله ان كيد النساء اعظم من كيد الشيطان لأن الله تعالى يقول ان كيد الشيطان كان ضعيفا و قال: ان كيدكن عظيم
This narration is reported on the authority of Abū Hurayrah, what value does it have?
Ignoring this narration on the topic, we said there is no contextual evidence to say that this comparison and contrasting between the two verses is valid. Rather, there is a general principle and contextual evidence from the Qur’ān that says this comparison is not correct. The Qur’ān as a matter of fact blamed all types of whispers, trickery, evil plots, beautifying the pleasures of the world, misguidance, to Satan. Let us refer to the well-known book of ‘Allāmah al-Musṭafawī, al-Taḥqīq fi Kalamāt al-Qur’ān, vol. 6, pg. 73, under the root word Sha-Ṭa-Na:
و يذکر للشیطنة في القرآن آثار ولوازم: کالأضلال والأغواء، والعداوة، والبغضاء، والامر بالفحشاء، والمنکر، والتزیین، والوسوسة، وغيرها
This is evidence from within the Qur’ān it self. Furthermore, we have narrations that say women are from the helpers of Satan. That makes her secondary and subsequent to Satan. How can something subsequent and secondary be greater than the actual cause? Thus, this comparison is not correct.
So, what do we do with the narration of the Prophet (p) – if we even consider it to be an authentic narration? Firstly, it is against the Qur’ān and is not in accordance with the message of the Qur’ān. The Qur’ān has considered Satan the cause of evil and misguidance, and if a woman does happen to be a source of misguidance, wrongdoing, corruption etc. she will only be secondary to Satan.
Secondly, its chain of transmission is weak. The narration in Tafsīr al-Burhān from ‘Umar bin Ibrāhīm al-Awsī, is a mursal and ‘Umar bin Ibrahīm himself is majḥul (unknown). The same narration that al-Qurṭubī reports, is from Abū Hurayrah, and Muqātil himself has been accused of lying and fabricating and is considered weak. In the work Kashf al-Khifā’ wa Muzīl al-Albās of al-‘Ijluni (d. 1162 AH), vol. 1, pg. 44, under hadith #87, he writes:
اتقوا شرار النساء وكونوا من خيارهن على حذر هو من كلام بعضهم ففي الكشاف عن بعض العلماء اني خاف من النساء اكثر من اخاف من الشيطان لأن الله تعالى يقول ان كيد الشيطان كان ضعيفا وقال في النساء ان كيدكن عظيم
He doesn’t even consider it a tradition, and Zamaksharī in his al-Kashhāf is saying this is what some of the scholars have said. Zamaksharī is a much earlier scholar, around 4th – 5th century hijri, and he is saying some of the scholars have given this opinion. We have so many such traditions that are uttered on the tongues of people, even scholars, that are not even traditions to begin with. Before I had researched into my current methodology, I fell trap to this as well, and ended up writing a complete commentary on a supposed tradition attributed to an Imām (a), which I later found out is not even a narration, and is not found in any reliable works.
Now that we know this comparison is not correct, what do we do with the verse concerning Zulaykha? The verse says her plot is great – the concept of great is a relative concept and there must be something there that is not great. The next possibility that can be given here is that her plot is greater than that of a man’s.
Some scholars have expressed this opinion. They have said, Satan’s plot is weak, in relation to Allah’s (swt) planning. Al-Ālūsi in his Rūḥ al-Ma’ānī, vol. 12, pg. 295 writes:
كون ضعف الشيطان إنما هو في مقابلة كيد الله تعالى وعِظم كيدهن إنما هو بالنسبة إلى كيد الرجال
The weakness of Satan’s plot is in relation with God’s plans, and the greatness of their (women) plot is in contrast to men’s plots
Secondly, Ayatullah Jawādī Āmulī in his work al-Tasnīm, vol. 40, pg. 425:
کيد زنان هرگز از كيد شيطان بزرگتر نيست
Women’s plots are in no way greater than Satan’s plots
Thirdly, we have Ayatullah Ṣadiqī Tehrānī in his al-Furqān, vol. 14, pg. 380:
انه عظيم وجاه كيد الرجال ولكنهما معاً ضعيفان بجانب كيد الشيطان
Her plot is great in respect to the plots of men, but both of their plots are weak in relation with Satan’s plots.
Question: what is the evidence for this? Whether Satan’s plot is weak in relation to God’s plans or not, is not our discussion. What is the evidence that says women’s plots are greater than that of men’s? We did not find any evidence in any of these works that shows this comparison to be between men and women.
First, they presumed that this verse is condemning women, and they also knew that the Qur’ān has condemned men’s plots in [14:46], so in order to explain why women’s plots are greater, they brought in men. Once again, to summarize:
Firstly: Is verse [12:28] condemning women or not? I am not denying that it is not, I am simply asking, if it is, then what is the evidence for it.
Secondly: The comparison between Satan and women’s plots is incorrect.
Thirdly: A woman’s plot being greater than that of man’s – what is the evidence for this? There is no evidence established for it so far.
So, then what does it mean for her plot to be great? We need to enter into a second discussion.
Is this verse referring to all women at all times, or is it referring to a specific class or group of women? Is this verse suggesting, wherever you see and find a woman plotting, her plot is greater than that of a man’s? Or, is it referring to a specific category of women? We have at the very least two reasons to believe this is not a reference for all women, that would give us the right to extract a general principle form it.
Firstly, this is a statement of the ‘Azīz (Zulaykha’s husband). Was he speaking about all women, or was he speaking about women in and around his surrounding? When we speak in such terms, do we generally mean universal principles? If we speak about men in a certain way, most of the times, we are speaking about qualities that we have experienced and dealt with. Not about all men wherever they are living, especially when we haven’t even seen or have no knowledge about others outside of our vicinity and limited experience. This is the logic behind induction.
A few scholars have alluded to this as well. There is a very good book 2-volume work titled al-Mar’ah fī al-Qiṣaṣ al-Qur’ānī, by Dr. Aḥmad Muḥammad al-Sharqāwī, published in 1421 AH. He writes:
والذي نراه والله اعلم: أن الخبر اشيع عن طريق الخادمات وزوجات الخدم
He suggests that the report of what Zulaykha had been doing began to spread through the helpers in the palace, and through their wives, until the news spread to the womenfolk of other respected and noble individuals. Thus, these were not ordinary women of the city – the best evidence for this are the next verses:
وَقَالَ نِسْوَةٌ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ امْرَأَتُ الْعَزِيزِ تُرَاوِدُ فَتَاهَا عَن نَّفْسِهِ ۖ قَدْ شَغَفَهَا حُبًّا ۖ إِنَّا لَنَرَاهَا فِي ضَلَالٍ مُّبِينٍ
فَلَمَّا سَمِعَتْ بِمَكْرِهِنَّ أَرْسَلَتْ إِلَيْهِنَّ وَأَعْتَدَتْ لَهُنَّ مُتَّكَأً وَآتَتْ كُلَّ وَاحِدَةٍ مِّنْهُنَّ سِكِّينًا وَقَالَتِ اخْرُجْ عَلَيْهِنَّ ۖ فَلَمَّا رَأَيْنَهُ أَكْبَرْنَهُ وَقَطَّعْنَ أَيْدِيَهُنَّ وَقُلْنَ حَاشَ لِلَّهِ مَا هَٰذَا بَشَرًا إِنْ هَٰذَا إِلَّا مَلَكٌ كَرِيمٌ
[12:30] And women in the city said, “The wife of al-‘Azeez is seeking to seduce her slave boy; he has impassioned her with love. Indeed, we see her [to be] in clear error.”
[12:31] So when she heard of their scheming, she sent for them and prepared for them a banquet and gave each one of them a knife and said [to Joseph], “Come out before them.” And when they saw him, they greatly admired him and cut their hands and said, “Perfect is Allah! This is not a man; this is none but a noble angel.”
This is not referring to all women in existence. All the pronouns in these verses are referring to women of a specific prestige that lived in the city or around the palace.
قَالَتْ فَذَٰلِكُنَّ الَّذِي لُمْتُنَّنِي فِيهِ ۖ وَلَقَدْ رَاوَدتُّهُ عَن نَّفْسِهِ فَاسْتَعْصَمَ ۖ وَلَئِن لَّمْ يَفْعَلْ مَا آمُرُهُ لَيُسْجَنَنَّ وَلَيَكُونًا مِّنَ الصَّاغِرِينَ
قَالَ رَبِّ السِّجْنُ أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِمَّا يَدْعُونَنِي إِلَيْهِ ۖ وَإِلَّا تَصْرِفْ عَنِّي كَيْدَهُنَّ أَصْبُ إِلَيْهِنَّ وَأَكُن مِّنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ
فَاسْتَجَابَ لَهُ رَبُّهُ فَصَرَفَ عَنْهُ كَيْدَهُنَّ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
[12:32] She said, “That is the one about whom you blamed me. And I certainly sought to seduce him, but he firmly refused; and if he will not do what I order him, he will surely be imprisoned and will be of those debased.”
[12:33] He said, “My Lord, prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me. And if You do not avert from me their plan, I might incline toward them and [thus] be of the ignorant.”
[12:34] So his Lord responded to him and averted from him their plan. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing.
Who is Prophet Yūsuf (a) referring to when he talks about their plots and scheme? Is he talking about all women in existence, or the women that were in and around his vicinity who were engaging in such plots? The pronouns are referring to a select group of women – what does this have to do with all women?
وَقَالَ الْمَلِكُ ائْتُونِي بِهِ ۖ فَلَمَّا جَاءَهُ الرَّسُولُ قَالَ ارْجِعْ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ فَاسْأَلْهُ مَا بَالُ النِّسْوَةِ اللَّاتِي قَطَّعْنَ أَيْدِيَهُنَّ ۚ إِنَّ رَبِّي بِكَيْدِهِنَّ عَلِيمٌ
[12:50] And the king said, “Bring him to me.” But when the messenger came to him, [Joseph] said, “Return to your master and ask him what is the case of the women who cut their hands. Indeed, my Lord is Knowing of their plan.”
These verses make it clear that this is a restricted characteristic being attributed to a select group of women. Some of the commentators due to their preconceived understanding that women are condemned, have instead explained this as a general principle regarding women. To back up their claims they resort to the very same traditions concerning Adam and Eve, that we discussed in the first few lectures (that show Eve in a negative light) – something we said goes totally against the Qur’ānic narrative.
To show you how ingrained these preconceived notions are, look at what Ḥabībullah al-Hāshimī al-Khū’ī – in the same reference we mentioned yesterday – says. He says that a second alibi that indicates women’s plots to be great, and that they are the cause of disruption in this world, is the usurpation of the caliphate of Imām ‘Alī (a) which goes back to the personality of ‘Ayesha. She was not only against the Imām, but was also jealous of Fāṭimah, and it was because of her that Abū Bakr began to despite Imām ‘Alī (a).
This is why I keep saying we need to be Qur’ān centric. If we are not Qur’ān centric, these are the types of views we will come out with. We do not have an issue with the ḥadīth corpus on its own, our issue is with the fact that Israīliyyāt have impacted our literature to such an extent, which then becomes the lens by which we read the Qur’ān.
To wrap up, we want to say that this verse of Zulaykha and the women around her, is only restricted to this category of women – not all women. Look at what Zamaksharī says in his al-Kashhāf:
والقصريات من بينهن معهن ما ليس معهن من البوائق
Meaning, these were palace women and those women of the city who were in contact with the palace officials, who had nothing better to do. This is how it is even today – if you were given shelter, money, authority, and power, all of these become can become the basis of corruption and evil schemes. This is not something restricted to women, it happens every where and with anyone.
It is thus, the husband of Zulaykha says, your plots are great – meaning the plot of these women, who had all the luxuries of the world, and no responsibilities. They had nothing better to do, except scheme out these plots.
There are a few more discussions remaining regarding this verse, which we will continue later God Willing.
 He is referring to this: كلّما ميّزتموه بأوهامكم في أدق معانيه مخلوق مصنوع مثلكم مردود إليكم