Muhammad and His Wives

Analyzing His Treatment of Sauda Bint Zamah

Sam Shamoun

The Quran allows for the mistreatment of wives:

And if a woman fears ill usage or desertion on the part of her husband, there is no blame on them, if they effect a reconciliation between them, and reconciliation is better, and avarice has been made to be present in the (people's) minds; and if you do good (to others) and guard (against evil), then surely Allah is aware of what you do. You will not be able to be equitable between your wives, be you ever so eager; yet do not be altogether partial so that you leave her as it were suspended. If you set things right, and are godfearing, God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. But if they separate, God will enrich each of them of His plenty; God is All-embracing, All-wise. S. 4:128-130

In the above text, instead of warning the men against mistreating their spouses, women who fear mistreatment or desertion are told that they can seek a means of reconciliation. What many don’t realize is that Sura 4:128 was actually composed in relation to Muhammad’s mistreatment of his wife Sauda bint Zamah because she had become old and unattractive. The late Sunni scholar and exegete Ibn Kathir wrote:

Making peace is better than separation. An example of such peace can be felt in the story of Sawdah bint Zam'ah who WHEN SHE BECAME AGED, THE PROPHET WANTED TO DIVORCE HER, but she made peace with him by offering the night he used to spend with her to A'isha so that he would keep her. The Prophet accepted such terms and kept her.

Abu Dawud At-Tayalisi recorded that Ibn ‘Abbas said, "Sawdah feared that the Messenger of Allah might divorce her and she said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! Do not divorce me; give my day to 'A'ishah.’ And he did ...

In the Two Sahihs, it is recorded that 'A'ishah said that when Sawdah bint Zam'ah BECAME OLD, she forfeited her day to 'A'ishah and the Prophet used to spend Sawdah's night with 'A'ishah ...

<And making peace is better>. IT REFERS TO THE WIFE RELINQUISHING SOME OF HER MARITAL RIGHTS and his acceptance of the offer. Such compromise is better than total divorce, as the Prophet did when retained Sawdah bint Zam'ah. By doing so, the Prophet set an example for his Ummah to follow as it is a lawful act ... (the preceding citation taken and adapted from Tafsir Ibn Kathir - Abridged, Volume 2, Parts 3, 4 & 5, Surat Al-Baqarah, Verse 253, to Surat An-Nisa, Verse 147 [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; first edition March 2000], pp. 599-601, and Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Part 5, Sura An-Nisa, ayat 24-147, abridged by Sheikh Muhammad Nasib Ar-Rafa’i [Al-Firdous Ltd., London, 2000 first edition], pp. 193-194; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Renowned Sunni historian and commentator Al-Tabari stated that:

Umra bin Ali & Zaid bin Ahram said: second by Abu Dawud, said: second by Sulaiman bin Mu'ath, from Simak bin Harb, from Ikrimah, from Ibn Abbas, said: Saudah feared divorce by the messenger of Allah, so she said: Do not divorce me, and do not share with me! And he did, and this verse was revealed: And if a woman fears ill usage or desertion on the part of her husband.

Muhammad bin Husain said: He claimed that this verse came down in reference to the messenger of Allah, and Saudah bint Zama'h who became old, then the messenger of Allah wanted to divorce her, but they agreed that he will keep her but give her day to Ai'sha. (Arabic source; translated by Mutee’a Al-Fadi)

Another exegete named Al-Qurtubi said that:

In this verse there are four issues: the first, Al-Tirmidhi told that Ibn Abbas said: Saudah feared that the messenger of Allah will divorce her so she said, "Do not divorce me and keep me, and give my day with you to Ai'sha." He did and this verse came down: "there is no blame on them, if they effect a reconciliation between them, and reconciliation is better." He said: this is a good and strange hadith. (Arabic source; translated by Mutee’a Al-Fadi)

The Muslim scholar Ibn al-’Arabi stated:

when Sauda bint Zam’ah became old, the Prophet of Allah wanted to divorce her. However, she preferred to remain amongst his wives, so she said, ‘Keep me, and my day shall belong to ‘Aisha’, and he did, and thus she died as one of his wives. Ibn Abi Malikah declared that this verse was revealed regarding ‘Aisha. And in this verse is the answer to those light headed fools who say that if a man took the youth of a woman and she became old he cannot replace her. So praise be to Allah who lifted such burden and made an escape from such dilemma. (Abi Bakr Ibn 'Abd Allah, Ahkam al-Qur'an [Dar al-Kotob al-'Elmeyah], commenting on Sura 4:128; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Ar-Razi, in his tafsir on this verse, noted:

This verse was revealed first in Ibn Abi as-Sa’ib who had a wife and children from her and she became old so he was about to divorce her, but she said: Do not divorce me, and let me look after my children and apportion a few nights for me every month. The husband said: If this is so, it is better for me. The second was that the Prophet wanted to divorce Sauda bint Zam’ah but she besought him to keep her on the condition that she would give up her day to ‘Aisha, and he allowed that and did not divorce her. The third is reported on ‘Aisha that it concerns the man who has a wife but he wants to replace her, so she says: Keep me and marry someone else and you are free from supporting me and apportioning your nights to me. (Fakhr Ad-Din Ar-Razi, At-Tafsir Al-Kabir (The Grand Exegesis) on Sura 4:128; bold and underline emphasis ours)

And here are two additional sources which confirm that Q. 4:128 was "revealed" in connection with Sauda giving up her day to Aishah:

… When Sawdah began to feel that she was getting old and that she was no longer able to undertake the marital duties of a wife, she feared that the Messenger of Allah would divorce her and she was keen to remain close to him, seeing him every day, hearing his words and acquiring knowledge from him. At the same time, she was keen to die while married to the Prophet, so that on the Day of Resurrection, she would be brought forth as his wife. For these reasons, she requested him not to divorce her and that her night with him be given to ‘Aishah.

The Messenger of Allah agreed to the request of this virtuous woman, who was possessed of noble sensibility. It is narrated by At-Tirmidhi, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas that he said: "Sawdah feared that she would be divorced by the Messenger of Allah and so she said: ‘Do not divorce me; keep me with you and give my day with you to ‘Aishah.’" Then Allah revealed in the Qur’an [Q. 4:128]: (The Honorable Wives of the Prophet, edited by Abdul Ahad [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Jeddah, Sharjah, Lahore, London, Houston, New York, First Edition: October 2004], pp. 64-65; underline emphasis and statements within brackets ours)

When Saudah bint Zam’ah became old she feared that Muhammad would divorce her and a settlement be made. Her desire was to be raised on the Day of Judgment with the other members of the Prophet’s wives, so she said she would entrust ‘Aishah the time allotted to her. It was at this point that Ayat of Surat An-Nisa’ was revealed to the Prophet:

"And if a woman who fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no sin on them both if they make terms of peace between themselves; and making peace is better." (4:128)

‘Aisha was very touched by her gesture and they became even closer than before. Her heart was so pure that it was totally free of jealousy or malice. (Great Women of Islam Who Were Given Good News of Paradise, by Mahmood Ahmad Ghadanfar, revised by Sheikh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, edited by Muhammad Ayub Sapra & Muhammad Farooq [Darussalam, First Edition: January 2001], p. 36; underline emphasis ours)

The late Muslim biographer Muhammad Husayn Haykal wrote:

… One day, while the Prophet was staying with 'A'ishah, his other wives delegated Zaynab, daughter of Jahsh, to go in and, in their name, to accuse him of injustice and unfairness to them, and to plead that his love for `A'ishah was a violation of the code which he himself had set down of a day and night for each of his wives. On the other hand, realizing that the Prophet did not care very much for her charms, and being no longer anxious to please him, Sawdah had given up her day and night to `A'ishah… (Haykal, The Life of Muhammad, tran. Isma'il Raji al-Faruqi [American Trust Publications, USA 1976; Malaysian edition by Islamic Book Trust], Chapter 26: Ibrahim and the Wives of the Prophet, "The Rebellion", p. 437; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

One recent Muslim author says in a caption that:

Muhammad's personal and family life were not always smooth. His wives sometimes bickered amongst themselves and even once engaged in a petty plot against him. A'ishah, for example, disliked her Jewish co-wife, Safiyah, and insulted her periodically. Muhammad had to defend her status and honor a number of times and scold the youthful A'ishah. Hafsah became jealous of her co-wife, Maria, when she found her and Muhammad resting[sic] in her apartment one day. Sawdah gave up her allotted day with the Prophet WHEN SHE REALIZED HE WAS NOT REALLY ATTRACTED TO HER. As for the conspiracy, A'ishah agreed with two other co-wives to convince the Prophet that eating honey made him unpleasant to be around. When Muhammad vowed to never eat honey again, she privately repented to her co-conspirators. Though these incidents were not the norm, they demonstrate that the women in Muhammad's life were as human as the rest of us. (Yahiya Emerick, Critical Lives: Muhammad [Alpha Books, A Member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2002], p. 263; capital and underline emphasis ours) [1]

Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari of responds to a question on marriage and rights of the wives:

A wife may even relinquish her right of spending the night with her husband and give it to her co-wife. It is narrated that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) issued a revocable divorce to Sawda bint Zam’a (Allah be pleased with her). She requested the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) to take her back, and that she will allocate her turn (of spending the night) to A’isha (Allah be pleased with her), in order that she may be included among the wives of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) on the day of Judgment, thus the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) fulfilled her wish and took her back. (See: Mishkat al-Masabih, 2/966, no. 3237) (Second marriage and the rights of wives; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Author Hamdun Dagher mentions that:

2. Sawda Bint Zam`a: She was the first woman Muhammad married after the death of Khadija. He married her after her husband's death. Muhammad sent a message of proposal to her in Ramadan in the tenth year after the Migration, before his marriage with `AŽisha. According to `AŽisha, "It was Sawda Bint Zam`a and the Messenger of God did not lie with her much. Knowing my importance to the Messenger of God, she was afraid he would leave her, so she said, 'O Messenger of God, give the day allotted to me to `AŽisha [from now on], and you are under no obligation to me.' The Prophet accepted it and this verse was revealed: 'If some woman fears abuse or desertion by her husband, it should not be held against either of them if they should try to come to terms: coming to terms is best.' "(15) Al-Nu`man Ibn Thabit al-Taymi said, "The Messenger of God said to Sawda Bint Zam`a, 'Start you legal period [i.e., you are divorced].' So she waited for him on the road, and said, 'O Messenger of God, I do not love [the relationship with] men; I rather love to be resurrected among your wives, so please take me back.' The Messenger of God took her back."(16) (Dagher, The Position of Women in Islam [Light of Life, PO Box 13, A-9503, Villach Austria; first English edition, 1995], Chapter 25: Muhammad’s Wives in the Books of al-Sira, pp. 138-139; online edition; underline emphasis ours)

In the footnotes Dagher quotes the following:

15. Sura al-Nisa' 4:128; Tabaqat 8:52. Al-Tabari says in his commentary: "If a woman fears that her husband feels aloof to her and starts looking at another woman, either because he hates her or hates some things about her, such as ugliness or old age, there is no fault in such a woman who fears the desertion of her husband to free him from her appointed day [of conjugal right], and thus win his kindness" (al-Tabari, 5:305-306). Yet the case is otherwise with the men who fear the rebelliousness of their wives: "And those you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and [even] beat them" (Sura al-Nisa' 4:34).

16. Tabaqat 8:53. `A'isha `Abd al-Rahman says concerning Muhammad when he drove Sawda away and received her again among his wives, "But he pitied her emotional deprivation and did not like her to fall a victim to the brutal feeling that she was not like the other [wives]. He tried his best to open his heart to her, but he could not get his human nature to do so. The uttermost he could do for Sawda was to equalise her with the rest of his wives in terms of housing and keep; as to his emotions, he found it impossible to force something unpleasant to them, or subdue them by his will-power to the balances of justice and the regulations of fairness!" (Nisa' al-Nabi, p.66). For more information on Sawda, see Ansab al-ashraf, 1:407; Usd al-ghaba, 5:584; Annals of al-Tabari, 3:161. (Ibid., p. 158; online edition; bold and underline emphasis ours)

The following author, a Muslimah who attempts to romanticize the situation and turn it into an act of mercy on Muhammad's part, nonetheless admits that:

She did not deceive herself about the insurmountable barrier that existed between her and Muhammad's heart. From the first moment, she knew it was the Prophet and not the man that had married her and that it was compassion and not love he offered. She was not depressed for the honour of being elevated to the position of Mother of the Faithful was sufficient. She was satisfied to take the offered place and to serve his daughters... But Muhammad felt sorrow for her emotional deprivation and was kind enough not [sic] show her that she was not like the others. He tried his utmost to open his heart to her, but human nature would not permit him. His utmost for Sauda was equal treatment, but as for his emotions, how could he force them to something he did not want or subjugate these emotions by his will to the measure of justice that the situation required? Finally he thought he should release her to relieve her from a situation that was causing her pain and wounding her heart even though she did not complain. No sooner had he reached this decision, out of pity and compassion, than he decided to tell Sauda of it. He waited till her night came round and he told her of his decision to divorce her. She was startled when she heard the news and felt suffocated, as if the walls were closing in on her. She lifted up her face to the Prophet in silent supplication and stretched her hands towards him imploringly. He held her hands with great compassion and sympathy, wishing he could drive away from her the consternation which was about to destroy her. Recovering herself, she supplicated him, "Keep me: I am not a selfish wife, but I wish to see God recognize me as your wife on the day of Resurrection." She hung her head in sorrow feeling she should not make him do anything against his will. She also blamed herself for not responding to his desire to release her, though she would willingly have given her life to drive away one moment of sorrow from him. She felt the coldness of age touch her heavy and tired body. She felt ashamed for adhering to a husband for whose love 'A'isha, Zaynab, Umm Salama and Hafsa were now competing. She censured herself for trying to wrest a place for herself among these women, but she felt that by claiming a night for herself, she was claiming something she was no longer entitled to. She was about to say, with grief and shyness, "Release me, O Prophet of God," but the words choked in her throat. Her torment and perplexity increased as the Prophet looked at her with pity. Suddenly an idea flashed through her mind and quietened her; she turned to the Prophet and said calmly and respectfully, "Keep me, O Prophet of God, and I will donate my night to 'A'isha as I do not demand that which women desire." Muhammad shook with emotion for this overwhelming and tolerant love. He could not believe that he, who had come to Sauda with the objectionable news of divorce, would find such noble altruism in her. (Bint al-Shati', The Wives of the Prophet, Translated from Arabic with introduction by Matti Moosa in collaboration with D. Nicholas Ranson [Gorgias Press, First Gorgias Press Edition 2006], pp. 51, 52-54)

There is also a footnote which says:

16. According to Isaba the Prophet sent her a message divorcing her. "She sat on the road along which he usually passed and asked him to keep her and that she offered her day to 'A'isha. The Prophet consented." (P. 53)

The Sahihayn (the two Sahih collections) provide attestation to the reports of these commentators since they record that Sauda gave up her conjugal rights so as to please Muhammad:

Narrated Aisha:
Whenever Allah's Apostle wanted to go on a journey, he would draw lots as to which of his wives would accompany him. He would take her whose name came out. He used to fix for each of them a day and a night. But Sauda bint Zam’a gave up her (turn) day and night to ‘Aisha, the wife of the Prophet in order to seek the pleasure of Allah's Apostle (by that action). (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 47, Number 766)

‘A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: Never did I find any woman more loving to me than Sauda bint Zam'a. I wished I could be exactly like her who was passionate. As she became old, she had made over her day (which she had to spend) with Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) to ‘A’isha. She said: I have made over my day with you to ‘A’isha. So Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) allotted two days to ‘A’isha, her own day (when it was her turn) and that of Sauda. (Sahih Muslim, Book 008, Number 3451)

The Sunan of Abu Dawud narrates:

... When Sauda daughter of Zam'ah BECAME OLD AND FEARED THAT THE APOSTLE OF ALLAH (may peace be upon him) WOULD DIVORCE HER, she said: Apostle of Allah, I give to 'A'ishah the day you visit me. The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) accepted it from her. She said: We think that Allah, the Exalted, revealed about this or a similar matter in the Qur'an: "If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part." (Sunan Abu Dawud, English translation with explanatory notes by Prof. Ahmad Hasan [Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, Booksellers & Exporters; Lahore, Pakistan, 1984] Volume 2, Book V. Kitab al-Nikah (Book of Marriage), Chapter 705: Division of Time Among One's Wives, Number 2130, p. 572; capital and underline emphasis ours)

We are further told in the Mishkat Al Masabih that:

Ibn ‘Abbas said that when God’s messenger died he left nine wives, eight of whom he used to visit equally. (Bukhari and Muslim.)

‘A’isha told that when Sauda became old she said, "Messenger of God, I appoint to ‘A’isha the day you visit me." So God’s messenger allotted two days to ‘A’isha, hers and Sauda’s. (Bukhari and Muslim.) (Mishkat Al Masabih, English translation with explanatory notes by Dr. James Robson [Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, Booksellers & Exporters, Lahore-Pakistan, Reprint 1990], Volume II, Book XIII. – Marriage, Chapter X: Sharing Visits to one’s Wives Equally, p. 686)


‘Ata told that when they were with Ibn ‘Abbas at Maimuna’s funeral in Sarif he said, "This is God’s messenger’s wife, so when you lift her bier do not shake her or disturb her, but be gentle with her, for God’s messenger had nine wives with eight of whom he shared his time, but to one of them he did not allot a share." ‘Ata said that they heard that the one to whom God’s messenger did not allot a share was Safiya who was the last of them to die. Razin said that someone other than ‘Ata declared that she was Sauda, and that is sounder. She gave her day to ‘A’isha when the messenger intended to divorce her, saying to him, "Keep me. I have given my day ‘A’isha. Perhaps I may be one of your wives in paradise." (Ibid., p. 687; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Another modern writer unashamedly admits that:

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. I will sacrifice the time allocated to me, if you do not wish to visit me. 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.’ Her plea was accepted by the Messenger, who, however, never neglected visiting her, and Sawda remained one of the pure wives. (F. Gulen, The Infinite Light, Volume 1, Chapter 6: The Prophet Muhammad as husband and father, THE PROPHET AND HIS WIVES; source)

Although Gulen confirms that Muhammad intended to divorce her, and that Sauda gave up her day, he fails to provide any sources to substantiate his assertion that Muhammad continued to give her a day. His claim contradicts the consensus of the Islamic scholarly references.

The hadiths also mention that Sauda was an overweight woman:

Narrated Aisha:
Sauda (the wife of the Prophet) went out to answer the call of nature after it was made obligatory (for all the Muslims ladies) to observe the veil. She was a fat huge lady, and everybody who knew her before could recognize her. So ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab saw her and said, "O Sauda! By Allah, you cannot hide yourself from us, so think of a way by which you should not be recognized on going out. Sauda returned while Allah's Apostle was in my house taking his supper and a bone covered with meat was in his hand. She entered and said, "O Allah’s Apostle! I went out to answer the call of nature and 'Umar said to me so-and-so." Then Allah inspired him (the Prophet) and when the state of inspiration was over and the bone was still in his hand as he had not put in down, he said (to Sauda), "You (women) have been allowed to go out for your needs." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 318)

What this basically implies is that Muhammad no longer felt attracted to Sauda and wanted to abandon her because she was old and "fat". Hence, Sura 4:128-130 gives men the right to simply ignore wives whom they are no longer attracted to, denying them the pleasure of love and intimacy!

Due to the obvious embarrassment and humiliation these sources cause for Muhammad it is not surprising that there are Muslims who seek to discount them. One such source (here) claims that there is no evidence to support that Muhammad wanted to divorce [2] and that these narrations are classified as mursal ghareeb, which means that they are unattached (containing a gap in one generation between the transmitters) and scarce or strange.

What Zawadi doesn’t tell his readers is that other scholars such as al-Tirmidhi have classified this story as hasan ghareeb, meaning good but strange, and acceptable on the basis of there being so-called sound reports supporting it. Note for instance the sources provided by the Salafi scholars at that confirm the veracity of the reports which link Sura 4:128 with Muhammad and Sauda:

Al-Tirmidhi reported via Sammaak from ‘Ikrimah from Ibn ‘Abbaas that he said: "Sawdah was afraid that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) would divorce her, so she said: ‘O Messenger of Allaah, do not divorce me; give my day to ‘Aa’ishah.’ So he did so. Then this aayah was revealed." Al-Tirmidhi said: "(This is) hasan ghareeb." I say: there is corroborating evidence in a hadeeth from ‘Aa’ishah narrated by al-Bukhaari and Muslim, without referring to the revelation of the aayah. (From Fath al-Baari).

The hadeeth mentioned by al-Haafiz ibn Hijr (may Allaah have mercy on him) is in Sunan al-Tirmidhi, 2966, where it is reported that Ibn ‘Abbaas said: "Sawdah was afraid that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) would divorce her, so she said: ‘Do not divorce me. Keep me and give my day to ‘Aa’ishah.’ So he did so, then Allaah revealed the aayah: ‘… there is no sin on them both if they make terms of peace between themselves; and making peace is better…’ [al-Nisaa’ 4:128]. So whatever they agreed upon was permissible." It is as if the last sentence was the comment of Ibn ‘Abbaas. Abu ‘Iesa said: this is a hasan ghareeb hadeeth.

Al-Mubaarakpoori said, commenting on this hadeeth:

‘Sawdah was afraid…’ This refers to Sawdah bint Zam’ah ibn Qays al-Qurashiyyah al-‘Aamiriyyah. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) married her in Makkah after Khadeejah had died, and consummated the marriage there. The scholars agree that he consummated his marriage to her before he consummated his marriage to ‘Aa’ishah, and she migrated to Madeenah with him. She died at the end of the khilaafah of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab.

"… was afraid that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) would divorce her, so she said…’ Al-Bukhaari and Muslim reported from ‘Aa’ishah that Sawdah bint Zam’ah gave her day to ‘Aa’ishah, so the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) used to give ‘Aa’ishah her own day and that of Sawdah. Al-Haafiz said in al-Fath: Abu Dawood reported this hadeeth (from ‘Aa’ishah): ‘The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) never used to prefer any of us over others in sharing his time (i.e., he was fair in dividing his nights among his wives, and each one of them had her allotted night). When Sawdah bint Zam’ah grew old and feared that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) might divorce her, she said: ‘O Messenger of Allaah, my day is for ‘Aa’ishah,’ and he accepted this from her. Then concerning this and similar cases, the aayah was revealed (interpretation of the meaning): ‘And if a woman fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part…’ [al-Nisaa’ 4:128]. These reports agree that she feared divorce and so gave her day to ‘Aa’ishah.

Then al-‘Allaamah al-Mubaraakpoori said: The aayah may be explained thus: ‘If a woman fears’ means if she expects. ‘Cruelty’ means that he spurns her by refusing to sleep with her or by spending less on her than he should, because he dislikes her and wants to marry someone more beautiful. ‘Desertion’ means that he turns his face away from her. ‘There is no sin on them both if they make terms of peace between themselves’ means with regard to the sharing of his time and his spending on her, i.e., he should still give her something in this regard (sharing time or spending) in order to preserve the relationship: if she accepts, this is OK, otherwise the husband must either give her full rights or divorce her. ‘Making peace is better’ means better than separation, cruelty and desertion. Whatever they agree upon between themselves is permissible. (Tuhfat al-Ahwadi Sharh Jaami’ al-Tirmidhi). (Question #2218: A man doesn’t want to live with his wife but doesn’t want to divorce her for the sake of the children; online source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

This next reference claims that some of the reports which state that Q. 4:128 refers to Sauda’s situation are actually based on sound chains:

When ‘Aishah taunted her over her age, she feared that she could be divorced by the Prophet. But her desire was to be raised as the Prophet’s wife on the Day of Judgement. So she gifted away her day to ‘Aishah. It is said that the Verse 128 of An-Nisa’ was revealed in reference to her She was a heavy woman, of slow movements. Once she said to the Prophet, "Last night I prayed behind you, but while bowing down I held my nose from the fear of the blood drops." (That is because the Prophet’s bowing and prostration were severely long). The Prophet smiled at her. And because of her weight and old age, the Prophet allowed her and others of her kind to leave Muzdalifah at Hajj at night before others could do.

6 Al-Bukhari/Al-Fath (19/273/H. 5212), Muslim (2/1085/H. 1463), Abu Dawud (2/602/The Book of Nikah/H. 2135), Ahmad: Al-Fathur-Rabbani (22/108) and (16/239): Sahih Ibn Majah (1/334/H. 1972) where Albani said it is Sahih.

7 Surat An-Nisa’: 128.

8 See Tabari: Tafsir (9/276-278) through a Sound (Sahih) chain, Abu Dawud (2/602/The Book of Marriage/H. 2135) and Albani: Sahih At-Tirmidhi (3/The Book of Tafsir/H. 2434), where Tirmidhi said that this has a Hasan-Sahih (Good & Sound) chain which was also the opinion of Albani. (A Biography of the Prophet of Islam In the Light of Original Sources: An Analytical Study, by Dr. Mahdi Rizqullah Ahmad, translated by Syed Iqbal Zaheer [Darussalam Publishers and Distributors, Riyadh, Jeddah, Sharjah, Lahore, London, Houston, New York; First Edition: November 2005], Volume 2, Chapter 29: The Mothers of the Believers, pp. 866-867; underline emphasis ours)

Moreover, here is what the site has to say regarding the commentaries of al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir:

Each of these Tafseers was written by a great Sunni scholar, and the scholars still recommend them. Each of them has its own characteristics which means that the seeker of knowledge cannot show preference to one of them over the other. There follow a few comments on these two Tafseers.

Note the quotes they present from Muslim scholars in praise of al-Tabari:

Abu Haamid al-Isfaraayini said: If a traveller were to travel to China in order to obtain it, that would not be too much.

Tabaqaat al-Mufassireen by al-Dawoodi, 2/106.

Ibn Khuzaymah said: I have read it from beginning to end and I do not know of anyone on the face of the earth who is more knowledgeable than Ibn Jareer.

Siyar A’laam al-Nubala’, 14/273.

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said: With regard to the Tafseers that are in circulation among the people, the most sound of them is the Tafseer of Muhammad ibn Jareer al-Tabari, for he mentions the views of the salaf with proven isnaads, and there is no bid’ah (innovation) in it, and he does not transmit reports from dubious sources such as Muqaatil ibn Bukayr and al-Kalbi.

Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 13/358.

He also said in Muqaddimah fi Usool al-Tafseer (p. 35), concerning the Tafseer of Ibn Jareer:

It is one of the best and greatest of Tafseers.

He relied on the views of three generations of mufassireen among the salaf, namely the Sahaabah, the Taabi’een, and the followers of the Taabi’een, and he quotes their opinions with isnaads going back to them. This is an important feature of his book which is not present in many of the books of Tafseer that are in circulation among us. But this feature does not matter to many ordinary Muslims who are not able to research isnaads and distinguish sound isnaads from weak ones; all they want is to know whether an isnaad is sound or weak by means of a clear and brief statement to that effect.  

When he has finished quoting their opinions, he states which he thinks is most likely to be correct, then he describes how he reached that conclusion.

Here is their conclusion:

No seeker of knowledge can do without these two books. With regard to which is superior, nothing like the Tafseer of Ibn Jareer (al-Tabari) has been written since. It is essential for scholars and seekers of knowledge, but it is not appropriate for ordinary people because they are not qualified to understand it properly. The Tafseer of Ibn Katheer is more appropriate for the ordinary people, and there is much in it from which scholars and seekers of knowledge can benefit. (Question #43778: Which is more sound, Tafseer Ibn Katheer or Tafseer al-Tabari?; online source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Sunni author GF Haddad provides additional quotes from scholars praising al-Tabari:

Muhammad ibn Jarir ibn Yazid ibn Kathir, Abu Ja`far al-Tabari (d. 310), one of the major mujtahid Imams and the founder of a school of Law which remained for 150 years after his death, then disappeared. He is the author of a massive commentary on the Qur'an; an equally large universal history; a biographical history entitled Tarikh al-Rijal; an encyclopedia of jurisprudence entitled al-Basit and a medium-sized work entitled Latif al-Qawl fi Ahkam Shara'i` al-Islam, which he abridged into a smaller work; a book on the dialects and sciences of the Qur'an entitled al-Qira'at wa al-Tanzil wa al-`Adad; the unfinished book of al-Fada'il on the immense merits of the Companions; al-Manasik on the rituals of Pilgrimage; Sharh al-Sunna ("Explanation of the Sunna"); al-Musnad ("Narrations With Uninterrupted Chains"); the unfinished Tahdhib al-Athar ("Classification of Transmitted Reports"); Tabsir Uli al-Nahi ("Admonishment for the Wise") for the people of Tabaristan; Ma`alim al-Huda ("Sign-Posts of Guidance"); Ikhtilaf al-Fuqaha' ("The Differences Among the Jurists"); Tartib al-`Ulama' ("Classification of the Scholars of Knowledge") etc. Al-Dhahabi praises the latter book and mentions that al-Tabari begins it with the rules of conduct for the purification of the self and the sayings of the Sufis... Al-Tabari limited his Tafsir of the Qur'an and his great history to thirty volumes each out of compassion for his students, as he originally intended to write three hundred volumes respectively. Al-Khatib heard the linguist `Ali ibn `Ubayd Allah al-Lughawi say: "Muhammad ibn Jarir spent forty years writing forty pages a day." Abu Hamid al-Isfarayini the faqih said: "If a man travelled all the way to China in order to obtain the Tafsir of Muhammad ibn Jarir it would not be too much." This alludes to the hadith narrated from the Prophet -- Allah bless and greet him --: "Seek knowledge even as far as China." Husaynak ibn `Ali al-Naysaburi said the first question Ibn Khuzayma asked him was: "Did you write anything from Muhammad ibn Jarir?" Husaynak said no. Why? came the reply. Husaynak said: "He would not show himself, and the Hanbalis forbade people from going in to see him." Ibn Khuzayma said: "You did poorly. To write from him alone would have been better for you than all those from whom you wrote." ... (Haddad, AL-TABARI; source)

We can therefore trust al-Tabari’s view that Sura 4:128 was given in connection to Sauda, especially when there are other sources that corroborate it.

What further supports the validity of these reports is the criteria of embarrassment, that these narrations are quite embarrassing from a Islamic viewpoint since they cast Muhammad in a very negative light. In light of how embarrassing this event is upon Muhammad what Muslim would pass on such a story if it had no basis in fact? In other words why would Muslim historians, scholars, and expositors etc., preserve or concoct these tales when such anecdotes present Muhammad in such a bad manner? Do not these stories have the strongest probability of having taken place because of the inconceivability that Muslims would make them up on their own or receive them from non-Muslims?

Trying to brush aside these harsh anecdotes and accounts by attacking the reliability of the source documents will not do. The Muslims are going have to come up with some better answers and explanations if they want to convince non-Muslims that these reports are lies especially when it is the Muslim scholars who passed on and preserved such negative depictions of their beloved prophet.

We therefore feel that the foregoing data presents a very strong basis for the veracity of this story that Muhammad threatened to divorce Sauda on the grounds that she was too old and no longer pleasing to him.


[1] The Council of American Islamic Relationships (CAIR) actually distributes this book free of charge for the asking (here). We encourage our readers to request their free copy of this book.

[2] What makes Zawadi’s "rebuttal" all the more ironic is that he appeals to an online article (here) from Ibn Kathir on the wives of Muhammad which actually confirms that the latter did want to divorce Sauda! Here is what this source expressly says at the conclusion of the discussion on Sauda:

After a long, hard journey Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) reached Yathrib amidst scenes of great rejoicing. Their time in Mecca had just come to an end, and their time in Medina had just begun - for Madina is the name that was now given to Yathrib, Madina al Munawarra, which means 'the illuminated city', the city that was illuminated by the light of the Prophet Muhammad and his family and his Companions, may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him and on all of them. The journey of the Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr is usually called the hijrah, and it is at this point that the dating of the Muslims begins, for it was after the hijrah that the first community of Muslims rapidly grew and flowered and bore fruit. When she was older, the prophet was worried that Sawda might be upset about having to compete with so many younger wives, AND OFFERED TO DIVORCE HER. She said that she would give her night to Aisha, of whom she was very fond, because she only wanted to be his wife on the Day of Rising. She lived on until the end of the time of Umar ibn al Khattab. She and Aisha always remained very close. (Emphasis ours)

Thus, when Zawadi’s own quote from Ibn Kathir is read in context it only confirms, rather than disproves, that Muhammad sought to divorce Sauda even though it desperately tries to justify it with the lamest of excuses! This also shows that despite classifying the reports of Muhammad wanting to divorce Sauda as mursal ghareeb, Ibn Kathir still accepted their veracity and validity.

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