Prophet Muhammad and his wives

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How did Prophet Muhammad treat his wives?

The Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, is the most excellent example as father and husband. He was very kind and tolerant towards his wives. They could not live, they could not envisage life, without him. They could not live away from him.

Separation from the Messenger of God was a calamity. All his wives felt the same. The ‘lord of the two worlds’ had established his throne in their hearts. They were completely at one with him. They shared in his blessed, mild and natural life. If he had left them, they would have died of suffocation.

After his death, there was much yearning and a great deal of grief. Abu Bakr and ‘Umar found the wives of the Messenger weeping whenever they visited them. Their weeping seemed to continue for almost a lifetime. Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, left a lasting impression on everyone. They could not forget him. At one point, he had nine wives and dealt equally with all of them without any serious problems. He was a kind and gentle head of family. He never behaved harshly or rudely. The perfect manner in which he carried out his role as husband demonstrates that he was the Messenger of God.

A few days before his death, he said, A servant has been left free to choose this world or his Lord. He chose his Lord [2]. Abu Bakr, a man of great intelligence, began to cry, recognizing that the servant referred to was the very person speaking. Day after day, his illness got worse. His severe headache made him writhe with pain. Even during this difficult period, he continued to act kindly and gently towards his wives. He asked for permission to stay in one room as he had no strength to visit them one by one in each of their rooms. All his wives agreed and the Messenger, upon him be peace, spent his last days in ‘A’isha’s room.

He respected and honoured the rights of his wives even under the most severe conditions

Each of his wives, because of his generosity and kindness, thought that she was his most beloved. The idea that any man could show equality and complete fairness in relationship with nine women seems impossible. For this reason, the Messenger of God asked God’s pardon for any unintentional leanings. He would make this prayer:

I may have unintentionally shown more love to one of them than the others and this would have been injustice. So, O Lord, I take refuge in Your grace for those things which are beyond my power [3].

His gentleness must have penetrated the souls of his wives so deeply that his departure led to what they must have felt like an unceasing separation. They did not commit suicide as Islam forbids it. However, life became an endless sorrow and ceaseless tears.

The Messenger was kind and gentle to all women and advised everyone else to be kind to them. His kindness was described on the authority of Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas, who related:

‘Umar said: ‘One day I went to the Prophet and saw him smiling. “May God make you smile forever, O Messenger of God!”, I said, and asked why he was smiling.

- I smile at those women. They were chatting in front of me before you came. When they heard your voice, they all vanished, he answered still smiling.

On hearing this answer, I raised my voice and told them, ‘You are scared of me, but you are not scared of the Messenger of God, and you do not show respect to him.’ “You are hard-hearted and strict”, they replied.4

‘Umar was also gentle to women. However, the most handsome of men look ugly when compared to the beauty of Joseph. Likewise, ‘Umar’s gentleness and sensitivity would seem like violence and severity when compared to that of the Prophet.

The women had witnessed the gentleness, sensitivity and kindness of the Messenger. For this reason, they regarded ‘Umar’s behaviour as strict and severe. Yet ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him, shouldered the burden of the Caliphate perfectly. He was to become one of the greatest examples after the Prophet. He showed justice in his behaviour and made a great effort to distinguish right from wrong. He had the qualities that led him to the rank of Caliph. Some of these qualities might seem rather severe to some of us; but, it was precisely because of these qualities that he was able to shoulder such demanding responsibilities.

The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, discussed matters with his wives as friends. Certainly he did not need their advice, since he was directed by Revelation. However, he wanted to teach his nation. Contrary to the conventions of the time, women in Islam were to be given every consideration. He began teaching us through his own relationship with his wives.

The Prophet’s consultation with his wives

The conditions of the Treaty of Hudaybiya seemed, at first sight, very heavy to the Muslims. They felt they had no power left. They wanted to reject the treaty and go on to Makka and face the possible consequences. The Messenger ordered those with him to slaughter their sacrificial animals and leave their pilgrim attire. Some of the Companions were hesitant. They had hoped for a change in his decision. Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, repeated his order. It did not change their reluctance. They did not oppose him, but still hoped he might change his mind as they had set out with the intention of pilgrimage and did not want to stop half way.

Noticing the reluctance of some of his Companions, the ‘lord of the two worlds’ returned to his tent and asked the opinion of his wife, Umm Salama. This great lady explained her opinion, fully aware that the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, did not need her advice. In doing this, he taught us an important social lesson. We should learn that there is nothing wrong with exchanging ideas with women on such important matters.

She said: ‘O Messenger of God! Do not repeat your order. They may resist and thereby perish. Slaughter your sacrificial animal and change out of your pilgrim attire. They will obey you, willingly or not, when they recognize the certainty of your order.’ [5]. Immediately he took a knife in his hand, went out and began to slaughter his sheep. The Companions began to do the same. Everybody understood that there would be no change in his decision.

Counsel and consultation, like every good deed, were both practised by God’s Messenger first in the context of his own family and then in the wider community. We are very far from understanding his relationships with his wives; we are wandering around in the backyard unaware of the vast treasure inside.

Our master encouraged us through his enlightening words to behave kindly to women. He declared: The most perfect of believers is the best of them in character and the best of you is the kindest to his family. [6].

The choice God’s Messenger gave to his wives

The wives of the Messenger were given the choice of remaining with him or leaving. This incident is referred to as al-takhyir and is also called al-ila. It was mentioned in the Qur’an as follows:

O Prophet! Say to your consorts: ‘If it be that you desire the life of this world, and its glitter, then come! I will provide for your enjoyment and set you free in a handsome manner. But if you seek God and His Messenger and the Home of the Hereafter, verily God has prepared for you, the well-doers amongst you, a great reward’. (al-Ahzab, 33:28-9)

A few of his wives had wished for a more prosperous life and said: ‘Couldn’t we live a little more luxuriously, like other Muslims do? Couldn’t we have at least a bowl of soup everyday? Could we not have some prettier garments?’ At first sight, such wishes might be considered fair and just. However, they were members of the family that were to be an example for all Muslim families until the Last Day.

The Messenger, upon him be peace, reacted to this situation by not visiting them and going into retreat. The news spread and everybody rushed to the mosque and began to cry. The smallest grief felt by their beloved Messenger was enough to bring them all to tears. The Muslims were so close to the Messenger that the smallest incident would disturb them.

Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, two of the Messenger’s closest friends, saw the event in a different light, as their daughters were directly involved. They also rushed to the mosque.

They wanted to see him, but he would not leave his retreat. Eventually, on their third attempt, they gained entry to the house and began to manhandle their daughters. The Messenger saw what was happening, but his only comment was: I cannot afford what they want.7

The Holy Qur’an declared:

O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. (al-Ahzab, 33.32)

Others might save themselves by simply fulfilling the obligations placed upon them, but those who were at the very centre of this religion had to devote themselves fully so that no weakness would appear at the centre. There were some advantages in being the Prophet’s wife, but these advantages brought responsibilities and potential risks. The Messenger was preparing them as ‘examples’. He was especially worried that they might enjoy here in the world the reward for their good deeds and thereby be included in the verse:

You have exhausted your share of the good things in your life of the world and sought comfort in them. (al-Ahqaf, 46.20)

The life in the Prophet’s house was uncomfortable. For this reason, they explicitly or implicitly, made some modest demands. As their status was different from other women, they were not expected to enjoy themselves in a worldly sense.

There are some godly persons who laugh only a few times in a whole lifetime and who do not fill their stomachs even once. An example is Fudayl ibn ‘Iyaz, who never laughed. He smiled only once, and on that occasion, when people asked the reason in surprise, he said: ‘Today, they informed me of the demise of my son, ‘Ali. I was happy to hear God had loved him, and so I smiled.’8 If this was the state of such men, then, the Messenger’s wives, who were even more God-fearing and regarded as the mothers of all Muslims, would certainly be of a higher degree.

It is not easy to merit being together with the Messenger in this world and the Hereafter. Thus, these special women were put to a great test. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, gave them the choice of his poor home or the luxury of the world. If they were to choose the world, the Messenger would give them whatever they wanted, but then set them free. If they were to choose God and His Messenger, they had to be content with what they had of this world. This was a peculiarity of his family. Since this family was unique, the members of it had to be unique, too. The head of the family was chosen, as were the wives and children.

The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, called ‘A’-isha first and said: ‘I want to discuss a matter with you. You’d better talk to your parents before making a decision.’ Then he recited the verses mentioned above. Her decision was exactly as expected from a truthful daughter of a truthful father:

O Messenger of God! Do I need to talk to my parents? By God, I choose God and His Messenger.

‘A’isha herself tells us what happened next: ‘The Messenger received the same answer from all his wives. No one expressed a different opinion. They all said what I had said.’ [9]

They said the same thing because they were all at one with the Messenger. They could not differ. If the Messenger had told them to fast for a lifetime without break, they would have done that. They would have endured it with pleasure. However, they endured hardship until their death.

Safiyya was of Jewish origin and on one occasion she was dismayed when her origin was mentioned to her sarcastically. She informed the Messenger, expressing her sadness. Our master comforted her saying: If they repeat it, give them this response: ‘My father is the Prophet Aaron, my uncle is the Prophet Moses and my husband is, as you see, the Prophet Muhammad, the Chosen One. What do you have more than me to be proud of?’10

The Qur’an declares that the wives of the Prophet are mothers of the believers (al-Ahzab, 33.6). Although fourteen centuries have passed, we still feel delight in saying ‘my mother’ when referring to his wives, Khadija, ‘A’isha, Umm Salama, Hafsa and the others. We feel this because of him. Some feel this more than they do for their real mothers. Certainly, this feeling must have been deeper, warmer and stronger then.

In conclusion, we can see that the Messenger was the perfect head of family. Managing many women with ease, being a lover of their hearts, an instructor of their minds, an educator of their souls, he never neglected the affairs of the nation nor compromised his duties. This is a clear proof of his Prophethood. If this were the only proof, it would be enough.

1. Muslim, “Rada’,” 47.

2. Bukhari, “Salat,” 80.

3. Tirmidhi, “Nikah,” 41. / 4. Bukhari, “Adab,” 68.

5. Bukhari, “Shurut,” 15.

6. Abu Dawud, “Sunna,” 15; Tirmidhi, “Rada’,” 11.

7. Muslim, “Talaq,” 34, 35.

8. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya’, 8.100.

9. Muslim, “Talaq,” 35.

10. Tirmidhi, “Manaqib,” 64.

 

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