Laws of Religion
Laws of Islam Concerning Women and Men
Muhammad Left his Wives for 29 Days
From the hadith compilations of al-Bukhari and Muslim
Muhammad left his wives for 29 days (hadith). The Qur’an (66:3-5) tells briefly about a time when Muhammad told something in confidence to one of his wives, but she revealed the secret to someone else. The Qur’an calls on the offending wives to repent saying that if they persist in aiding each other against Muhammad, then Allah and all the righteous believers and the angels will support him. The Qur’an (66:5) goes on to warn Muhammad’s wives that Allah would provide Muhammad with better wives if he were to divorce his current wives.
This story is told in greater detail in the hadiths:
Before the principles of Islam were taught by Muhammad, the women of his tribe, the Quraish, would be subservient to the men. But this was not true for Muhammad’s wives, or for the women at Medina in general, including those who were already living there when the Muslims arrived. In fact, Muhammad’s wives would talk back to him or even refuse to talk to him.
Umar, in particular, was dismayed about how Muhammad’s wives treated him. When Umar admonished Muhammad’s wives, telling them to stop troubling Muhammad or Allah will give him better wives, the Qur’anic verse (66:5, cited above) saying the same thing was revealed.
When Muhammad was upset with his wives, he separated himself from them. He vowed to stay away from them for a month. The hadiths say that he made such a vow when one of his wives, Hafsa, revealed a secret to another wife, Aisha. He returned to his wives after 29 days.
(Editor’s note: It is not clear what the secret was whose revelation by Hafsa to Aisha got Muhammad angry. The published hadith, English translation, relates this to "his oath that he would not approach Maria." This is explained by some who tell the story that Muhammad went to visit his wife Hafsa when she was not at home and so he had sexual intercourse with her beautiful slave Maria the Copt instead. Hafsa discovered them. She agreed to keep the incident a secret in exchange for Muhammad’s agreement never to approach Maria again. This story is not told in any of the hadith compilations but is from later writings about Muhammad’s life.)
Some hadiths say that Muhammad’s anger about Hafsa revealing a secret to Aisha relates to the time two of his wives, who had discovered that he was spending much time with a third wife drinking honey, tricked him into vowing not to drink honey by making him think it caused his breath to smell bad. (However, this story about eating honey did not involve any secret that might have been revealed and both the Qur’an (66:3, cited above) and hadiths say that Muhammad was angry because a secret was revealed.)
Similarly, some hadiths say that the two wives, Hafsa and Aisha, were conspiring to demand more money from Muhammad, (but this, too, does relate to any secret such as is stated in the Quranic verses and other hadiths on this topic. There really is no way to be sure what revealed secret revealed resulted in Muhammad’s anger. Perhaps there were separate instances of his separation from his wives, one of which resulted from Hafsa revealing a secret to Aisha.)
Some hadiths just say, without explanation, that Hafsa and Aisha were the two wives who aided each other against Muhammad, and that these are the two wives referred to in the Quranic verses (cited above) about Muhammad’s wives troubling him.
When Muhammad was separated from his wives because of his anger at them, Umar and others thought he might have divorced them. However, Muhammad’s anger at his wives caused him neither to divorce them nor to strike them nor to take any action other than to keep away from them for several weeks. Rather than exercising the right to divorce his wives, he asked Aisha if she wanted to divorce him. She said that rather than divorce him, she would choose to stay with him, the Messenger of Allah, and achieve her reward in Paradise as the Qur’an promises for wives who stay with Muhammad. Muhammad never beat any woman or servant with his hand.
Abbreviations used in footnotes:
BK: Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources.
● The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.
 QR 66:3
 QR 66:4
 QR 66:5
 BK 3:43:648, BK 6:60:435, BK 7:62:119, BK 7:72:734, ML 9:3508-3509
 BK 3:43:648, BK 7:62:119, BK 7:72:734, ML 9:3511
 BK 7:62:119, ML 9:3511
 BK 3:43:648, BK 6:60:435, BK 7:62:119, BK 7:62:119, ML 9:3508-3509, ML 9:3511
 BK 3:43:648, BK 6:60:10, BK 7:62:119, ML 9:3508-3509, ML 9:3511
 BK 6:60:10, BK 6:60:438
 BK 3:43:648, BK 6:60:435
 BK 3:43:648, ML 6:2385, ML 6:2386, ML 6:2387-2388, ML 9:3506, ML 9:3507, ML 9:3511
 BK 3:43:648, ML 6:2384
 BK 3:43:648, BK 7:72:734, ML 6:2384, ML 6:2385, ML 6:2386, ML 6:2387-2388, ML 9:3506, ML 9:3507, ML 9:3511
 BK 3:43:648
 BK 6:60:434, BK 7:63:192, BK 7:63:193, BK 8:78:682, BK 9:86:102, ML 9:3496, ML 9:3497
 BK 3:43:648, ML 6:2384
 BK 6:60:434, BK 7:63:192, BK 8:78:682, ML 9:3496
 BK 7:63:193, BK 9:86:102, ML 9:3497
 ML 9:3506, ML 9:3507, ML 9:3508-3509, ML 9:3510
 BK 6:60:435, BK 6:60:436, BK 6:60:437, BK 7:62:119, BK 7:62:119, BK 7:72:734, ML 9:3511
 BK 7:62:119, BK 7:62:119, ML 9:3507, ML 9:3508-3509, ML 9:3511
 BK 3:43:648, BK 7:72:734, ML 9:3507, ML 9:3511
 BK 3:43:648, ML 9:3511
 ML 9:3506, ML 9:3511
 ML 9:3506, ML 9:3511
 QR 33:28-29
 ML 30:5756-5757