A choice for the Prophet’s wives
At one point the Prophet’s wives made a joint request asking him to provide them with a better standard of living. It was not an unreasonable request, since it came after the Muslim state had enjoyed victories over its enemies and its fortunes were getting much better. It was the sort of request any woman who had lived through years of poverty with her husband would make when they enjoyed better times. Yet the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not care for any material comfort. He wanted his household to remain an example for all Muslims, in all generations. Therefore, he did not look favorably at this request.
His closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar, were allowed into his home after they had heard of the problem. They were the fathers of two of the Prophet’s wives.
They found the Prophet (peace be upon him) silent, looking distressed. Abu Bakr sought to relax the somber atmosphere. He said: “Messenger of Allah! If you could only see my wife when she asked me for more money to spend. I pierced my finger into her neck.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) smiled and said: “You see them all around me asking for more money.” Abu Bakr went up to his daughter, Ayesha, and Umar went up to his daughter, Hafsah, piercing them in the neck. They said to them: “How come you ask the Prophet to give you what he does not have?” Both of them said: “We will never again ask the Prophet for what he does not have.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was upset by the whole episode. He wanted his household to be totally free of the material concerns of worldly life. He wanted his own family to aspire only for what is with Allah. He, therefore, decided to stay away from all his wives for a whole month. He then received revelations requiring him to give his wife a choice.
When the month was over, he mentioned the choice to every one of his wives, starting with Ayesha. The choice is outlined in the following Qur’anic verses:
“Prophet! Say to your wives: ‘If you desire the life of this world and its charms, I shall provide for you and release you in a becoming manner; but if you desire Allah and His Messenger and the life of the hereafter, know that Allah has readied great rewards for those of you who do good.’” [ Quran 33: 28-29 ]
Before he read them the two Qur’anic verses, the Prophet (peace be upon him) told each one that she needed not make her choice straightaway. She should consult her parents or her guardian. Every single one of them said to him: “I need not consult anyone concerning my status with you. I certainly choose Allah and His messenger, hoping for success in the life to come.” They assured him that they desired nothing in preference to life with him.
It should be mentioned that as Ayesha made her choice, being the first asked, she requested the Prophet (peace be upon him) not to make her choice known to any of his other wives, should they ask him about her choice. She felt that if any of them was unsure, she should not be helped by learning of Ayesha’s choice.
The Prophet (peace be upon him), however, declined her request, telling her that his mission was to teach people every good thing for them. Therefore, if any would ask him about her choice, he was certain to inform them of it. They could then follow her example, if they so wished. However, in the event, none needed that sort of help.
They all recognized that their status as wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and mothers of all believers was so precious that they would not change it for anything in this world.