In the verse, it is mentioned that if any such sin or wrongdoing has been committed by a wife of the Prophet (S.A), then she will face a double punishment to what a common woman will face. This is on account of her great status in the sight of Allah.
Seeing that good deeds done the Prophet’s wives were rewarded greatly (more than what is given to others), so too, sins committed by them will bring about greater punishment. Hence, while their request for an increase in allowance was deemed to be a simple matter in their eyes, it was a very serious one in the sight of Allah, since they were honoured to be the noble wives of the Prophet (S.A) and occupied a high position in Allah’s sight. As such, their slips and mistakes were taken to be grave.
The verse states ‘this is very easy for Allah’. It means that the doubling of the punishment is very easy for Allah. Their status as being wives of the Prophet (S.A) cannot stop this from occurring if Allah wishes to punish them.
While commenting on this verse, the great scholar Allama As Saawi writes, ‘In this verse, there is an address from Allah to the wives of the Prophet (S.A) in order to show their virtues and great status in the sight of Allah. It is so because rebuke and harshness in this address, is an indication to their lofty status, because of their extreme closeness to the Prophet (S.A), and because they will be his wives in paradise. Hence, on account of the closeness to the Messenger of Allah (S.A), they have become close to Allah. (Hashiya As Saawi Ala Al Jalaalain – Safwatut Tafseer vol.12 pg. 58)
Having warned them of committing mistakes, the wives of the Prophet (s.a.s) are further informed (in verse 31) that if they do good deeds, they will be highly rewarded. The verse states:
31. And whosoever of you is obedient to Allah and His Messenger (S.A), and does righteous good deeds, We shall give her, her reward twice over, and We have prepared for her Rizqan Karima (a noble provision Paradise).
It means that those of the wives who are consistent upon the obedience of Allah and His Prophet, and achieve closeness to Allah by continuous righteous deeds, then they will be given double rewards. One will be for their obedience and piety, and the other will be on account of their desiring the pleasure of the Prophet (S.A) by showing contentment and living in goodness. Besides these, Allah has prepared noble provisions and beautiful palaces for them in Paradise.
After mentioning the great rewards the wives of the Prophet (S.A) will achieve for doing righteous deeds, Sura Ahzab goes further in verse 32 to highlight their noble status and states:
32. O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women. If you keep your duty (to Allah), then be not soft in speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire, but speak in an honourable manner.
Here, the blessed wives of the Prophet (S.A) have been told (by Allah) that they are different from all other women. They are more virtuous and honoured than all others because they are the wives of the final Messenger and the greatest of the creation, Muhammad (S.A). Therefore, each one of them is not on the same level as any other woman from among the believers.
In the verse, after saying, ‘O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women’, Allah states, ‘If you fear Allah’. This means that only if they fear Allah and have Taqwa, then they will be considered more virtuous and honoured above other women. While explaining this statement, Imam Qurtubi writes, ‘(Here), Allah has explained that the virtue and excellence (which the blessed wives have been given) is only complete with the condition of Taqwa (piety). This is on account of what Allah has conferred upon them from the companionship of the Messenger (S.A) and his great status with Allah, and the fact that (verses of) the Quran have been revealed about them’. (Tafseer Al Qurtubi vol.14 pg. 157 – Print Maktaba Rasheediya Baluchistan Pakistan).
Hafiz Ibn Katheer (A.R) has also mentioned (while explaining this verse), ‘(Here), Allah has addressed the wives of the Prophet (S.A) saying that if they fear Allah just as He has ordered them to do, then no one from among the other women will be like them, and no one will be able to reach their excellence and status’. (Tafseer Ibn Katheer vol.3 pg. 482 – Print- Amjad Academy Lahore Pakistan 1982).
The gist of these explanations is that the lofty position and excellence which have been granted to the wives of the Prophet (S.A) is on account of Taqwa and fear of Allah which they are required to have. In this regard, Sayyidina Abdullah bin Abbas (R.A) said, ‘Allah has made Taqwa a condition upon them, to explain that their excellence (virtue) is only with Taqwa, not merely on account of their attachment with the Prophet (S.A)’. (Zaad Al Maseer- Safwatut Tafseer vol.12 pg. 58 – Print Darul Quran Al Kareem Beirut-1981)
It is to be noted that the excellence and virtue which the wives of the Prophet (S.A) have been given above all other women, does not include their excellence above certain special women like Maryam (A.S), Fatima and Aasiya. The virtue and high status of these women are evident from the text of the Quran and Ahadith and these women are superior to all other women of the world.
Regarding Maryam (A.S), Sura Al Imran states: ‘And (remember) when the angels said ‘O Maryam! Verily Allah has chosen you, purified you( from polytheism and disbelief), and chosen you over all the women of the world’. (Al Imran (3): verse 42). As for the other women, the Prophet (S.A) is reported to have said, ‘Sufficient for you (to hold in high status) out of all women are: Maryam, the daughter of Imran; Khadija, the daughter of Khuwailid (and wife of the Prophet S.A); Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad (S.A) and Aasiya, wife of the Pharoah’. (Tirmizi). From this, it is known that besides the above mentioned women, the wives of the Prophet (S.A) are superior and honoured above all other women.
The verse continues by giving special instructions to the wives of the Prophet (S.A). It states, ‘then do not speak in a soft manner in speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire. But speak in a befitting manner’.
Here, an instruction is given to the wives of the Prophet (S.A) and also to all believing women that while speaking to men who are not their Mahram (blood related relatives); they must not speak in a soft and alluring tone. This mode of speech and tone of voice can bring about an evil desire, and can cause lust to rise in the heart of a man, especially those who already have the disease of hypocrisy and evil in their hearts.
Here, the Quran enjoins upon women that while speaking to a non-Mahram (when there is a need to do so), then an effort should be made to avoid the soft tone and gentleness which may naturally be present in their voices. Instead of this, they have been ordered by Allah to speak in a befitting and appropriate manner. The manner of speech (or reply) should be brief and concise, without the desire to prolong a conversation. As mentioned by Hafiz Ibn Katheer (A.R), ‘the manner of speech (and tone of voice) should not be soft, mellow, carefree and relaxed. While speaking to strangers (non-Mahram), a woman must not speak as she would normally speak to her husband’. (Tafseer Ibn Katheer vol.3 pg. 482. Print Amjad Academy- Lahore Pakistan 1982)
The objective of this instruction is to protect women from the evil desires and lustful thoughts of men who are attracted to the voice of a woman, and consequently, entertain wicked feelings in their hearts. While elaborating on this, the great scholar, Mufti Muhammad Shafi (A.R) wrote, ‘In essence, the aim of the first instruction is to empower women to achieve the high status of self protection from non-Mahram men through personal avoidance and legal Hijab, so that they do not even go near a non-Mahram weak in faith, lest some temptation or tilt creeps into his heart’.(Ma’ariful Quran vol.7 pg.139)
The Sura (Ahzab) goes further in verse 33 to give more instructions to the wives of the Prophet (S.A) and the believing women of his Ummah. The verse states:
33. And stay in your houses, and do not display yourselves like that of the times of ignorance, and perform As-Salat, and give Zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah wishes only to remove Ar-Rijs (evil deeds and sins, etc.) from you, O members of the family (of the Prophet), and to purify you with a thorough purification.
Here, first of all, the wives of the Prophet (S.A) and the believing women have been instructed to ‘remain in their homes’. They have been told to remain indoors and must not come out without a need/necessity. They should not behave as the heedless women who loiter on the streets aimlessly, and without having any need to be there. (Safwatut Tafseer vol.12 pg. 59)