It is the Qur'anic verse 'Your wives are as a tilth unto you so approach your tilth when or how ye will, but do some good act for your souls beforehand; and fear Allah, and know that ye are to meet Him (in the Hereafter), and give (these) good tidings to those who believe.' (2:223) that has been criticized here. The allegation here is that the Qur'an, by comparing the wife to the cultivating field, has made her a mere instrument for the purpose of reproduction.
There are numerous similes used in the Qur'an. Those which compare woman, with tilth and with attire form but a couple amongst them. Similes tend to have one speciality. It is that each person may interpret them in a way most suitable to his own mode of thinking. Here, according to the peculiarities of the mind of the interpreter, a person may claim that since the Qur'an has compared the wife with the cultivating field, it contends that she may be tread upon with impunity even as the fields are tread upon and that she may be sold off at any time just as the fields are sold off and that like the fields are apropportioned off, she, too, may be given away to various individuals. Furthermore, it may be possible to claim that by comparing the wife with the attire of her husband the Qur'an contends that she may be constantly discarded for a new one even as it is in the case with clothing. But a psychological analysis will surely reveal that these interpretations are nothing but the reflections of the mental outlook as well as the prejudices of the interpreters themselves.
To interpret the ornate smiles enshrined in any book, it is essential to be aware of the basic facts concerning the contents of the book as well as the ideology that it advocates as also the social structure that it puts forth. The Qur'anic verse 'Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. And it is not 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 over them and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.' (2:228) provides foundational knowledge pertaining to its views on the relationship between man and woman. The statement of the Prophet that 'a virtuous woman is the greatest of the treasures of a man' is but a natural corollary. It is only on this basic premise that the beauty inherent in the aforementioned similes can be truly appreciated.
What does the Qur'an mean by comparing the woman with clothing? Clothes are the material objects which are in the closest proximity with the human body. It provides cover to those parts of the body that are not to be seen by another person. It is clothing which protects the body from the uncomfortable conditions of the external climate. Indeed, the very status of man is embodied in clothing. Clothes are also employed to enhance beauty and joy. Above and beyond all else, clothes represent the very culture of a person. It is particularly relevant that the Qur'an has not confined itself to referring to the woman as the clothing of man. The Qur'an says that 'They are your garments. Allah knoweth what ye used to do secretly among yourselves: but He turned to you and forgave you; so now associate with them, and seek what Allah rath ordained for you, and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast till the night appears; but do not associate with your wives while you are in retreat in the mosques. Those are limits (set by) Allah: approach not night thereto. Thus doth Allah make clear His Signs to men: that they may learn self-restraint.' (2:187) How beautiful, indeed, is the comparison made by the Qur'an! How exact! After all, it is the inability to exist with this mutual intimaly that causes all problems in the family.
What does the Qur'an mean when it compares the woman to the fields and the man to the cultivator? To realize the relationship between the field and its cultivator it is necessary to ask the cultivator himself. Indeed, he is ready to sacrifice even his own life for the sake of his farmland. Even the very mention of soil would turn him into a wellspring of emotions. He is the one who is well aware of the laws of the farmland. He would never allow another person to sow seeds on his terrain. And he would himself never seek to sow his seeds in the fields of another. The fields are never to be wasted. They are never to be allowed to lain waste or misused. They are to be fertilized. The soil is to be enriched. Soil erosion should be prevented. The farmer who hears the Qur'anic instruction that 'your women are your tilths' (2:223) can never consider the woman to be a mere instrument for reproduction. But for those who are unable to understand the depth of feeling inherent in the relationship that exists between the farmer and his farm land, they can never appreciate the comparison that has been made here. The case of the farmer is, however, different. He understands the full meaning of the simile that is coined here. He appreciates the sheer beauty of it. It is to the raw human being that the Qur'an speaks; that it does not address those sham 'intellectuals', who practice futile mental acrobatics, is a point of particular relevance.
It would be well to ascertain the revelatory context of the Qur'anic verse which compares the woman to the tilth fields. There was a superstitious belief amongst the Jews of Medina that it was a sin to have sexual intercourse with one's wife in a particular way and that the child born in such a case would have defective eyes. The companions of the Prophet enquired of him concerning this. It is the opinion of many commentators of this e Qur'an that his was the occasion of revelation of the said verse. It would help to avert misunderstandings if this occasion of revelation is kept in mind while analysing the verse which states that 'your wives are your tills. Therefore go into your tills in whichsoever manner you please. The Qur'an teaches here that like the farmer who tills his field in whichsoever manner that he pleases, it would also be alight, like wise, if in the act of sexual intercourse any method of approach is employed. The only thing that must be ascertained is that the seeds are being sown at the right place. Through these verses the Qur'an teaches that sexual relations do not only serve to provide for emotional gratification alone but that its main objective lies in the very means of propagation of the human race.