The Qur’ān provides guidance to man in every sphere of life. Marriage - the
institution on which society rests – is an important subject in this regard. The
relationship between the spouses has to be that of love as well as respect. The
Qur’ān employs raiment as a metaphor for conjugal relationship in 2:187. The
researcher, a student of English literature, attempts to highlight the
similarities between raiment and conjugal relationship in this article.
Every word of the Qur’ān is full of wisdom. It provides guidelines for man in
every field of life. Marriage is the foundation on which society rests. Happy
and healthy relationship between spouses is of utmost importance in maintaining
the sanctity of society.
The Qur’ān provides guidance in this vital sphere of man’s life as it does in
all others. Numerous verses in the Qur’ān deal with different aspects of
marriage. The legalities as well as the formalities are dealt with at great
length. The mutual rights of spouses, the formation as well as the dissolution
of the marriage tie are all clearly spelled out.
Amidst instructions and injunctions, the Qur’ān also highlights the beauty of
the marital relationship. It paints a vivid picture of the relationship between
spouses employing the metaphor of clothes. The Qur’ān says:
Permitted to you, on the night of the fasts, is the approach to your wives.
They are your garments and you are their garments. Allah knows what you used to
do secretly among yourselves; but He turned to you and forgave you; so now
associate with them, and seek what Allah has ordained for you, and eat and
drink, until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from its black
thread; then complete your fast till the night appears; but do not be have a
conjugal relationship with your wives while you are in retreat in the mosques.
Those are limits [set by] Allah: Approach not nigh thereto. Thus Allah makes
clear His signs to men: that they may learn self-restraint. (2:187)
The above verse deals with injunctions regarding fasting. Food, drink and
physical relationship between spouses is forbidden during the fast (from early
dawn to sunset). This is to inculcate discipline amongst the believers and
self-restraint. The present article deals with just one segment of this verse:
They are your garments and you are their garments.
The spouses have been called each other’s garments. Apparently, a simple,
everyday comparison has been made between clothes and c onjugal relationship to
make a delicate matter easily comprehensible. However, this metaphor contains
The significant expression in this verse is لِبَاسٌ.
It has been translated in different ways by different scholars. ‘Abdullah Yusuf
‘Alī, as cited above, as well as ‘Abd al-Mājid Daryābādī, Muhammad Asad and
Muhammad ‘Abdel Halīm translate it as “garment”. Marmaduke Pickthall translates
it as “raiment” while Muhammad Muhsin Khān and Muhammad Taqī al-Dīn al-Hilālī
translate it as “body-cover, or screen, or sakan (i.e. you enjoy the pleasure of
living with them – as in verse 7:189)”.
In the context of the above verse, “لِبَاسٌ”, is a
metaphoric expression for the physical relationship between spouses. It is an
example of Qur’ānic style where a sensitive issue has been handled in a subtle
yet graphic manner.
‘Abdullāh Yūsuf ‘Alī says about this verse:
Men and women are each other’s garments: i.e., they are for mutual support,
mutual comfort, and mutual protection, fitting into each other as a garment fits
the body. A garment also is both for show and concealment. The question of sex
is always delicate to handle: here we are told that even in such matters a
clear, open, and honest course is better than fraud or self-deception. The sex
instinct is classed with eating and drinking, an animal thing to be restrained
but not to be ashamed of. The three things are prohibited during the fast by
day, but permitted after the fast is broken at night till the next fast
The metaphor of garments for spouses covers all aspects of matrimony. It is
appropriate as it highlights the closeness of the marital relationship.
According to Sayyid Mawdūdi, “just as nothing intervenes between a person’s body
and his clothes, so nothing can intervene between a man and his wife; it is a
relationship of inalienable intimacy.”
One of the first things that distinguishes man from animals is raiment. It is
a source of respectability for man as it covers his nakedness as well as hides
defects and short-comings. It is said in the Qur’ān:
O you Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your
shame, as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness -
that is the best. Such are among the Signs of Allah, that they may receive
admonition! O you Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you, in the same manner
as He got your parents out of the Garden, stripping them of their raiment to
expose their shame: for he and his tribe watch you from a position where you
cannot see them: We made the evil ones friends [only] to those without faith.
The Qur’ān thus recounts raiment as a special blessing of Allah to cover
man’s shame as well as an adornment for him. In 7:26, raiment has been mentioned
as a metaphor for righteousness (“raiment of righteousness”) while in 2:187
spouses have been termed each other’s raiment. This would imply that marriage
and righteousness go hand in hand.
Garments are a source of comfort for man as they give protection from heat,
cold, storms, dust, rain as well as exposure. The spouses also protect each
other in all times of turbulence and trial. They safeguard each other’s honour
as well as life and property. Nasīr Ahmad Nāsir interprets the above verse as
“you are each other’s beauty and source of bliss and comfort; a screen of
faults, protector of honour, property and life.”
Garments are a source of beauty, grace and elegance. A proverb in English
states “Tailor makes a man” indicating that smart clothes add tremendously to
one’s personality. The way one dresses forms one’s identity. Similarly, spouses
are identified through each other. In fact, in western as well as many eastern
societies, a woman is supposed to adopt the name of her husband after marriage.
Islam, in contrast, allows a woman to retain her maiden name after marriage
thus ensuring her individuality in matrimonial relationship. Raiment is a part
of us and yet external to us. Similarly, the spouses though in close proximity,
yet maintain their separate identity.
Raiment is an integral part of one’s personality as one is judged by the sort
of clothes one wears whether shabby, smart, well-kept, etc. Similarly, wives and
husbands are identified as well as responded to in association with their
spouses. For example, the spouse of the head of a state would enjoy certain
privileges which would be denied to that of a criminal.
Garments are an indicator of one’s socio-economic condition and status in
society. So are spouses. A person marrying into a higher socio-economic order
can benefit from the connection. At the same time, wide social and economic
differences between the two can pose a threat to marital harmony. While
marrying, therefore, it is prudent not to venture too far out of one’s order.
This highlights the fact that clothes must be the right fit, neither too big
nor too small, neither too cheap nor too expensive. Similarly, while choosing a
spouse factors such as values, temperament, as well as socio-economic status
should be kept in mind.
As garments identify a person, one tries to keep them clean, avoiding soiling
or staining them. In the same fashion, one should abstain from gossiping about
and abusing one’s spouse in public. This recalls to mind an English proverb that
states “Don’t wash your dirty linen in public”.
Adaptability between spouses under varying circumstances might be likened to
that between raiment and the wearer in changing seasons. Life is in a state of
constant flux. Changing situations and circumstances change people. The garment
metaphor reveals that the relationship between the spouses has to be that of
tolerance and adaptability.
One aspect of 2:187 deserves special attention. It is stated that “they are
your garments and you are their garments.” This is a vivid description of the
fact that spouses are equally indispensable to each other. Wives are garments to
their husbands who are garments to them. None is complete without the other.
Islam thus does not fall into the futile discussion of equality between the
sexes. Rather, it highlights the complementary aspect of the marital
relationship where the husband and the wife form two halves of one whole. This
principle is also stated in 2:228:
And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to
what is equitable.
Most Qur’ānic scholars focus on the positive aspect of the garment imagery in
2:187. However, a little reflection reveals that it equally covers adverse
aspects of marriage. Raiment can be shabby or vulgar, stained or torn. It can be
a source of discomfort as well as disgrace. Similarly, not all marriages are
happy and successful.
Garments reveal but also hide. So should the spouses. The conjugal
relationship should be one of mutual trust. However, it is not always so.
Mistrust and deception cause disruption in many marriages. Continuing the
metaphor of garments, this might be likened to wearing uncomfortable clothes.
Just as raiment can mislead someone about the person within, similarly
marriages can appear to be better or worse than they really are.
None likes to be dressed in borrowed robes. Similarly, sanctity of marriage
is a must. Marriages where spouses betray each other are analogous to wearing
stained or torn garments. Islam lays special emphasis on maintaining the
sanctity of marriage and takes practical steps in this regard.
The metaphor of garments for spouses also covers another dimension. Garments
torn or stained due to adverse circumstances can be re-used after washing and
mending. Similarly, even after passing through a difficult patch, marriages can
still continue to function.
Some marriages dissolve due to difficulties or differences as not all spouses
take care of each other through thick and thin. In the same way, raiment is
changed if it is not entirely to one’s taste, or is rendered unsuitable for use.
Islam weaves the fabric of society by ensuring a stable family unit through
strong ties between husband and wife. The raiment metaphor successfully covers
every conceivable aspect of marriage. According to Daryābādī: “the metaphor is
of exquisite beauty, expressive of close intimacy, identity of interests, mutual
comfort and confidence, mutual upholding of each other’s reputation and credit,
mutual respect of one another’s secrets, mutual affection, and mutual
consolation in misfortune.”
The significance of marriage in Islam can be ascertained from the fact that
the Prophet (sws) has termed it as his “Sunnah” and has indicated displeasure
against those who go against his example. It is recorded:
Marriage is my Sunnah; whoever disregards my Sunnah is not from among us.
(Ibn Mājah, No: 1836)
Numerous narratives in Bukhārī and Muslim persuade followers to marry if they
can. Employing the metaphor of clothes, one can conclude that it is better to
have some clothes, no matter of what sort, rather than having none at all.