Did Allah forget the wives?

Surah At-Tur (52:21)

The Muslim translators Pickthall, Yusuf Ali and Shakir render Surah 52:21 the following way:

Pickthall Yusuf Ali Shakir
And they who believe and whose seed follow them in faith, We cause their seed to join them (there), and We deprive them of nought of their (life's) work. Every man is a pledge for that which he hath earned. And those who believe and whose families follow them in Faith, - to them shall We join their families: Nor shall We deprive them (of the fruit) of aught of their works: (Yet) is each individual in pledge for his deeds. And (as for) those who believe and their offspring follow them in faith, We will unite with them their offspring and We will not diminish to them aught of their work; every man is responsible for what he shall have wrought.

What is the correct translation? "Families" is obviously a much broader term than "offspring". The family includes also the spouse (or, in Islam, possibly wives in the plural), and perhaps even parents. The Arabic original, however, says "seed", which refers to the children only. Why, then, would Yusuf Ali render the word as "families"? Is this only a minor inaccuracy? Unintentional carelessness? Or is he again trying to cover up a serious problem by his mistranslation?

To understand what is going on, we need to read this verse in context. The following is Surah 52:17-21 in Arberry's translation:

Surely the godfearing shall be in gardens and bliss,
rejoicing in that their Lord has given them; and their Lord shall guard them against the chastisement of Hell.
Eat and drink, with wholesome appetite, for that you were working.
Reclining upon couches ranged in rows; and We shall espouse them to wide-eyed houris.
And those who believed, and their seed followed them in belief, We shall join their seed with them,
and We shall not defraud them of aught of their work; every man shall be pledged for what he earned.

It should be obvious: If there are children (seed, offspring), then there must be mothers as well!

Without question, children are part of a man's pride and achievement in life. Certainly it will be a great comfort for them to know that their children will be with them in Paradise. However, mothers often love their children even more than the fathers do, they have sacrificed much in raising them. While the men go out, have a career, earn money, have success in this world and get most of the recognition, the women stay at home, and invest themselves in their chilren. The children are often all they have, and now they are told in this passage: In the next life, your children will be with their fathers, who also get other women, and you are not even worth mentioning!

Certainly we have to ask: Where are the wives of the godfearing?

The believers are promised that they will get houris in Paradise (v. 20), i.e. not their earthly wives, but beautiful women especially created to be available as sex partners to the faithful. And they are promised that they will see their children again (provided if they also believed in Muhammad).

The believers (i.e. the men) will be given perfect, beautiful, sensuous houris. Why should they care about those old, nagging, and comparatively ugly wives that were so difficult to live with on earth?

Islamic paradise is a man's world. The Quran grew out of the fantasy and imagination of one man trying to secure the loyalty of the men around him by the promises he included in his "revelations". It is not the word of God.

This passage is unjust and incredibly cruel to women.

Seemingly, Yusuf Ali was at least embarrassed. His mistranslation of S. 52:21 reveals how uncomfortable he was with this, so that he tried to render it more politically correct for his western readers.

Note: If such a "revelation" had been given to one particular faithful believer who had an unbelieving wife with a difficult character, this could perhaps be accepted. However, this is a general statement, a promise directed to all Muslim believers, including those whose wives are faithful and devoted Muslim believers themselves.

Anyone who believes that God is just will have to reject the Quran. It is not the word of God.

A question to ponder for all Muslim women: What will you get in Paradise?

Further reading:

Women in the Qur'an
The majority in hell are women?

Further discussion (a Muslim response and our answer)

Qur'an Versions
Answering Islam Home Page