Justice and Personal Desire
By: A Muhammad

You may defer whom you wish of them, and you may take unto yourself whom you wish. There is no blame on you if you should desire any of them whom you had previously set aside. This makes it more likely that they will be happy, to have no grief, and for all of them to be accepting of what you have given them. God knows what is in your hearts. God is Knowledgeable, Forbearing.

The words above (addressed to prophet Muhammad) are a continuation of the subject of 33:50 in which God outlines for the prophet various categories of women who are lawful for him to marry. In 33:51, God grants the prophet what could be regarded as privileges related to how he may treat his wives.
The first part of 33:51 allows the prophet total freedom at any time in choosing which of his wives he wishes to be in the company of, and which of his wives he wishes to defer to another time. The words of the verse imply that God left this choice totally to the prophet's own personal desire.

The second part of the verse states that this arrangement will make his wives happy and that they will not grieve.

On first impression, it may seem that there is a contradiction between the prophet treating his wives in such a way, and other verses in which God commands all people to behave in accordance with justice and not according to personal desire.
The first part of 33:51 may also seem to clash with 4:3 and 4:129 in which treating wives fairly is set as a condition for having more than one wife. As a result, this apparent contradiction needs to be researched and resolved.

It is also necessary to understand how it can be possible for the wives of the prophet to be happy with such an arrangement in which they are treated in what seems to be a demeaning manner.
Before any research is conducted, it is important to affirm that God's justice and wisdom are never in question. If a certain Quranic verse appears to be unjust or difficult to comprehend, such as 33:51, the cause is always the human's inadequate understanding and never the wisdom behind the divine message.

To analyse this subject, it is necessary to note the following:

The prophet of God was allowed multiple wives for a number of reasons, some were political reasons, also for supporting orphans and other reasons. We also know that the marriage rules that applied to the prophet and his wives were not the same as those that applied to ordinary people.

Various Quranic verses affirm that the prophet had many wives (33:50, 66:3 and others). This indicates that the upper limit of 4 wives (4:3) did not apply to the prophet. Due to that unique situation, it would not have been possible for the prophet to be with all of his wives all the time. It would have been quite normal for the prophet to have inclinations to be with some of his wives at times and not the others. He would have had to make such decisions on a daily basis. If the prophet were to see his different wives strictly on a rota system, regardless of his feelings and desire, this would have resulted in him being with some of his wives when he did not really wish to be. That would have caused various negative consequences.

We are given in 33:51 various keywords that shed important light on the meaning.
At first reading, the words "God knows what is in your hearts" seem to be detached from the subject of the verse, but on close reading, they are closely connected to the wisdom behind this verse.
With these words, God was saying to the prophet that He knows the content of his heart, namely that at different times he would desire to be with some of his wives over the others.

Now we come to the words "This makes it more likely that they will be happy, to have no grief."
The question here is: how can the wives of the prophet be happy with that treatment?
For a start, without any doubt, the wives of the prophet were much more accepting of this arrangement knowing that it was ordained by God. If this verse was not in the Quran, they would have probably been totally grieved and they would have accused the prophet of being an unfair man.

The women who married the prophet already knew that he was not an ordinary man. They were also aware that God granted him various privileges not granted to ordinary men. They were also made aware that marrying a prophet of God is not like marrying any ordinary man, but that it would require them to donate themselves totally to him:

..... a believing woman if she donates herself to the prophet.

While knowing all the above, the wives of the prophet married him willingly. They were not forced to marry him.
When they married the prophet they must have been accepting of all that comes with that title.

Still, none of the above explains how can the arrangement given to the prophet in 33:51 make the wives of the prophet happy, not grieve, and be accepting of it.

The wives of the prophet were informed (in the same Sura) that if they were to obey God and the messenger, and are accepting of all that comes with their position, and donate themselves fully to the prophet without being resentful of the privileges God granted the prophet, that in return, their reward would be double the reward of ordinary women:

And for whoever of you (wives of the prophet) who obeys God and His messenger, and does good deeds,
We will reward her twice over, and We have prepared for her a generous provision. 33:31

Having taken all matters into consideration, without any doubt, the wives of the prophet were by far the true winners among all women.
The Quran affirms in numerous verses that the worldly life is very brief and short lived while the Hereafter is eternal.
To have some minor inconveniences in the fleeting worldly life, yet in return have a doubled reward in the Hereafter, which is eternal, is without doubt the greatest triumph.

Any believing woman who believed in the Hereafter would have craved to be in the position of his wives so as to receive double the reward.
Indeed, God placed several restrictions on the wives of the prophet. Those included:
- Not being allowed to marry other men after the prophet (33:53)
- Instructed to keep themselves to their homes (33:33)
- Speaking to strangers only from behind a barrier (33:53)
However, the believing wives of the prophet would have fully accepted that all these restrictions put together represent a very insignificantly meagre price to pay in return for attaining a doubled reward in the forthcoming eternal Hereafter.

Ultimately, the righteous believing wives of the prophet would have had every reason to be happy and very little to make them feel treated unfairly:

This makes it more likely that they will be happy, to have no grief, and for all of them to be accepting of what you have given them.