This is an exposition of surah 58.
1 God has heard the word of her that disputes with thee concerning her husband, and makes complaint to God. And God hears you two conversing together; God is hearing and seeing.
2 Those among you who assist among their wives: — they are not their mothers; their mothers are only those who gave them birth. And they say what is perverse of speech, and a falsehood; but God is forgiving and merciful.
3 And those who assist among their wives, then go back on what they have said: the freeing of a slave before they touch one another. By that are you admonished; and God is aware of what you do.
4 And whoso has not the means: a fast of two months consecutively before they touch one another.And whoso is not able: the feeding of sixty needy persons. That is that you might believe in4 God and His messenger. And those are the limits of God; and for the false claimers of guidance is a painful punishment.
The Traditionalist insists upon a fanciful, highly specialised interpretation here. In summary, his assertion (see also 58:1-4) is that pre-Islamic Arabs would divorce their wives by saying that a wife was ‘like the back of’ his mother, and that it is this practice which the verb at this juncture (rendered by me as assist) references. No support is found for this assertion in the text itself, we are expected simply to take the Traditionalist’s word for it. Facts first: the form III verb based on ẓahara objectively and correctly means to assist, to help, to aid, to support – and the Traditionalist himself renders this form III verb in just this sense in all other instances outside of this specific context and its adjunct at 58:1-4 (see 9:4, 33:26, 60:9). Allowing the verb its natural meaning (i.e. that of assisting among your wives) fits the context exactly. The Qur’anic redress for those who swear off their wives (which is what the Traditionalist is claiming as the sense here though by another name) is entirely different and comprehensively treated at 2:226. Now to the application of reason: in a context which permits of limited polygeny a situation is possible in which one wife might not be able to have children while others might be able to have them. In such a case, a man – it may be reasoned – might decide (it is assumed within the Qur’anic principle of mutual consultation) to ‘assist’ both the fertile and infertile wives by allowing the infertile wife to raise a child born to the fertile wife. Thus, the infertile wife might experience something of the joys of motherhood, and the fertile wife – who may already have her hands full with existing children – might get support in the raising of a child. (Other comparable scenarios are where the husband has a child from a previous wife, or a wife brings an existing child into a marriage.) The point in such scenarios (i.e. in which a man ‘assists’ among his wives) is that we should remember who the true mother is and not obfuscate that fact. These points granted, it is possible to envisage a case in which a man has allowed a wife to raise a child of which she is not the natural mother, and that that decision has resulted either in regret on the part of the natural mother or in a change of mind on the part of the man. It is surely such a case which is the subject here, i.e. one in which a man has to go back on this arrangement (returning a child to the care of its natural mother, thus depriving the adoptive mother of her charge). This scenario is addressed also at 58:1-4, to which the present verse forms an adjunct.
Original video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z50ETbUdjFE