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.
He married Sawda, his second wife, while in Makka. However, after a
while, he wanted to divorce her for certain reasons. When she heard this,
she was extremely upset. She ran to him and begged, �O Messenger of God, I
wish no worldly thing of you. But, please, do not deprive me of being your
wife. I wish to go to the Hereafter as your wife. I care for nothing else.�1
Her plea was accepted by the Messenger, and Sawda remained one of the pure
This was the position the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, held
in their hearts. If he had divorced one of them, she would have waited at
his doorstep until the Last Day.
Once, he noticed that Hafsa felt some discomfort as a result of their
financial situation. �If she wishes, I may set her free�, he said, or
something to that effect. This suggestion alarmed her a great deal.
Mediators insistently told him what a good woman she was, requesting him not
to divorce her. He did not, rather, he kept his faithful friend�s daughter
as his trusted wife.
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
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 honored the rights of his wives even under the most
severe conditions. This was the Messenger of God!
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
What gentleness and sensitivity! I wonder if anyone else could show such
kindness to his children or spouses. When people manage to partially cover
up their lower inborn tendencies, it is as if they have done something very
clever and shown a sign of their tremendous will-power. Sometimes it even
happens that in bragging of their cleverness, they exhibit their defects
unconsciously. The Messenger, despite showing no fault, asked God�s
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
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, �O enemies
of your own selves, 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 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
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
Women are secondary beings in the minds of many, including those who
claim they are defending women�s rights. For us, a woman is part of a whole,
a part which renders the other half useful. We believe that when the two
halves come together, the true unity of a human being appears. When this
unity does not exist, humanity does not exist, nor can Prophethood or
sainthood; nor, in fact, can Islam.
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
It is clear that womanhood has been honoured in a meaningful sense only
once in history; it was during the period of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him
be peace and blessings.
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,
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
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
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
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.
Some of the Prophet�s wives had previously enjoyed an extravagant
lifestyle. One of these was Safiyya. She had lost her father and husband
during the Battle of Khaybar, where she herself was taken as a prisoner of
war. She must have been very angry with the Messenger, but when she saw him,
her feelings changed completely. She endured the same destiny as the other
wives. They endured it because love of the Messenger had penetrated their
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.