Here’s a traditional translation of verse 2:228, courtesy of Abdullah Yusuf Ali:
“Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what Allah Hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.” 2:228
This verse has sparked a significant amount of debate, centering on “women have rights similar to those against them…and men have a degree over them.” Traditional discourse has differed on what a degree means, rendering it as anything from responsibility to moral superiority.
A few commentators have even attempted to link verse 2:228 with verse 4:34, using these verses in conjunction to establish that the “bounty” (Arabic: fadl) mentioned in 4:34 is apparently a reference to the “degree” noted in 2:228.
The word for degree in verse 2:228 is daraja. It can mean a step, a rank, or a station. It’s used in multiple ways throughout the Qur’an. For instance, in verse 6:132, daraja refers to the different degrees/ranks assigned to people in the Hereafter depending on their good deeds:
“And for all are degrees (Arabic: darajatun) from what they have done. And your Lord is not unaware of what they do.” 6:132
Verse 2:228 is a continuation of the previous verses of Surah Baqarah and discusses divorce processes. It’s been translated incorrectly by nearly every mainstream Quranic exegete, including Yusuf Ali. Here’s a word-by-word breakdown of the verse, with relevant terms in bold:
wal-muṭalaqatu–and the divorced women
bi-anfusihinna–concerning themselves [lit. “their souls–nafs“]
walaa–and it is not
an yaktumna–that they conceal
maa khalaqah–what has been created [perfect tense]
fi arhamihinna–in their wombs
in kunna–if they
wal yawmil-akhiri–and the Last Day.
wabuʿulatuhunna–And their husbands
ahaqqu–have the right
biradihinna–to take them back
fi zaalika–in that [time period]
in aradu–if they [masculine plural pronoun–refers to husbands] wish
walahunna–and for them
mithlu–is the like
allazi–of that which
‘alayhinna–is upon/against them [feminine plural]
bil ma’ruf–with kindness/fairness/good,
walirrijaali–and for men
‘alayhinna–upon/against them [feminine plural]
darajatun–[is a] degree.
azeezun–is the Most Powerful,
The entirety of verse 2:228 is referring to divorced women who may be pregnant, as stated at the beginning of the verse (“And the divorced women shall wait…”).
The Quran explains that after a man swears away from his wife, her waiting period is extended to the duration of her pregnancy if she is with child (see the preceding verses).
2:228 says that it is unlawful for a divorced woman to conceal her pregnancy from her (ex-)husband.
During the waiting period, a man has the primary right to rescind his declaration of divorce if he desires reconciliation, and he has the right to know if the woman is pregnant. This is what the “degree above” refers to. When read in context, this is not difficult to discern.
The Quran says that men have a degree above them, not that men have a degree above women in general. The word “them” (Arabic: hunna) can only refer to the divorced women mentioned at the beginning and referenced throughout the verse.
Unfortunately, translators have replaced “them” (the divorced women) with “women” as a whole, thus rendering 2:228 as a declaration of men being bestowed with a “degree above” all women in every situation.
Muhammad Asad notes that this is an erroneous interpretation of the verse, although he is one of the few commentators who does. He takes the “degree above” statement in context:
“A divorced wife has the right to refuse a resumption of marital relations even if the husband expresses, before the expiry of the waiting-period, his willingness to have the provisional divorce rescinded; but since it is the husband who is responsible for the maintenance of the family, the first option to rescind a provisional divorce rests with him.” (Quran Ref: 2:228)
Verse 2:228 is fairly clear when read in accordance with the Quran’s original Arabic. There is no warrant to remove it from context as most translators have done.