Muhammad’s domestic affairs

Surah 33 (Al-Ahzab/The Parties): 53

O you who believe! Enter not the houses of the Prophet unless invited there for a meal, but then go not there too early as to wait for the meal to be ready. But enter at the time you are invited, and as soon as you have finished your meals, disperse!

And linger not for a customary talk. This does indeed cause inconvenience to the Prophet, but he is too embarrassed to tell you. And Allah is not embarrassed to express the truth.

And when you ask for anything from them (ladies of the Prophet’s household), ask of them from behind a curtain. This would be better for the purity of your hearts and of theirs.

And it behoves you not to cause inconvenience to the Messenger of Allah, nor to marry his wives after him.

This is indeed a matter of great significance with Allah.


The Qur’an, and in particular Surah 33, contains several verses that are explicitly directed towards the domestic affairs of Muhammad. A series of connected verses from this surah, {33.4-5, 37, 40, 50-53, 60-62 & 69}, supposedly permitting Muhammad’s marriage to Zaynab bint Jhash whilst prohibiting any believer from marrying Muhammad’s wives after his death have already been considered above 〈62.〉


Surah 33 contains several other provisions that are specifically limited to Muhammad’s domestic affairs.

In {33.28-33} the Qur’an prescribes a number of special rules for the wives of Muhammad who as ‘People of the House’ (‘ahl al-bayt’) are declared to be ‘not like other women’.


{33.30} doubles the punishment for any wife of the prophet that commits a ‘flagrant indecency’, (see 〈66.〉 above: presumably this was announced in relation to the flogging punishment of {24.2} rather than either the confinement punishment of {4.15} or stoning to death, since it is impossible to double a capital sentence),

{33.33} advises these wives of a special duty to demonstrate the modesty and decorum appropriate to their position, and to ‘abide in their homes’:

O wives of the Prophet! You are not like other women. If you are reverent, then be not overly soft in speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease be moved to desire; and speak in an honourable way.

Abide in your homes and flaunt not your charms as they did flaunt them in the prior Age of Ignorance. Perform the prayer, give the alms, and obey God and His Messenger.

God only desires to remove defilement from you, O People of the House, and to purify you completely.

Some see in the reference to the ‘prior Age of Ignorance’, a reference to an age of ignorance that had existed before the age of ignorance that the Qur’an had been sent to correct, that is to say, a reference to the time before the Flood, when Jewish literature describes the angel Azazel teaching women eye-shadow and other make-up techniques,〈14.〉


{33.53}, in one of the most surprising verses in the Qur’an, prescribes house rules for guests attending dinner parties hosted by Muhammad. Attendees are told only to speak to Muhammad’s wives through a veil, and in an assertion that seems at odds with all other indications of his character, Muhammad is described as being ‘embarrassed’ (per The Study Qur’an), ‘shy’, (Pickthall) or ‘ashamed’ (Yusuf Ali, Arberry) to ask that his guests depart his house immediately after a meal, rather than lingering to chat, although fortunately Muhammad is spared the social awkwardness of having to do so by announcing a revelation from God who is ‘not embarrassed’ to lay down these rules on his prophet’s behalf.


In addition, {66.1-2} permits Muhammad to break his oath to his wives – ‘God has already ordained for you the absolution of your oaths’ – and the following verses, which clearly refer to some incident in which one of Muhammad’s wives stood accused of having broken his confidence, there is a warning to all his wives from God that they may readily be replaced with more devoutly obedient wives should they incline against him.


{66.3} When the Prophet confided a certain matter to one of his wives, but she divulged it, and God showed it to him, he made known part of it and held back part of it. When he informed her of it, she said ‘Who informed thee of this?’ He replied: ‘The Knower, the Aware informed me.’

{66.4} If you both repent unto God for your hearts did certainly incline, and if you aid one another against him, then truly God, He is his Protector, as are Gabriel and the righteous among the believers, and the angels support him withal.

{66.5} It may be that if he divorces you, his Lord would give him wives in your stead who are better than you, submitting, believing, devoutly obedient, penitent, worshipping, and given to wayfaring—previously married, and virgins.


A story exists in two forms to account for these verses, involving jealousy on the part of Hafsa, daughter of Umar, towards Maryam, Muhammad’s concubine from Egypt. In one of these accounts, Hafsa had complained to her co-wives that Muhammad had had intercourse with Maryam on the day that had been allocated to Hafsa, and in Hafsa’s apartment. In the other, probably an amended version of the first, created to provide a more reputable explanation, Hafsa and Aisha had conspired to try to make Muhammad believe that Maryam’s honey made his breath smell, in order to sow discord between the two of them.


Meanwhile Surah 49 begins with a list of rules for followers to observe in order that the announcer of the Qur’an be shown special deference:

{49.1} You who believe! Advance not before God and His Messenger, and reverence God.

Truly God is Hearing, Knowing.


{49.2} O you who believe! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, nor address him in the manner that you address one another, lest your deeds come to naught, while you are unaware.


{49.3} Truly those who lower their voices before the Messenger of God, they are the ones whose hearts God has tested for reverence. Theirs shall be forgiveness and a great reward.


{49.4} Truly those who call thee from behind the apartments, most of them understand not.


{49.5} Had they been patient until thou camest out unto them, it would have been better for them.

And God is Forgiving, Merciful.