Waqar Akbar Cheema
The hadith reports about Prophet Muhammad visiting all his wives in a single night are often presented to suggest that he used to have intimacy with all of them every night. Polemicists pick upon this to add a further pejorative tone to their depiction of the fact of Prophet’s polygamous life. This article seeks to address the issue by putting together other reports on the subject showing that it happened only once and to a specific end.
Hadith reports are isolated pieces of information and need to be collated together to make right sense of them. In this age of digitization while the major hadith collections have been translated and made available to masses there is no automated solution to educated collation and comprehension issues. The way hadith about the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) visiting all his nine wives in a single night has been treated online is a case in point. The critics and gullible common Muslims fall under the impression that the hadith suggests every night the Prophet (ﷺ) would have intimacy with all his wives. Most responses also go after the impression and try to answer in ways unknown to traditional Muslim scholarship. In this paper we shall examine the hadith in detail, and try to place it in the wider context without seeking to break with the idiom and immediate sense of the wording used.
2. The hadith of Anas bin Malik
We shall bring together various reports that mention the visits of the Prophet (ﷺ) to all his wives. The most commonly quoted hadith comes from Anas bin Malik and is narrated four times in the most authentic collection of hadith – Sahih of al-Bukhari;
عن أنس رضي الله عنه: أن نبي الله صلى الله عليه وسلم كان يطوف على نسائه، في الليلة الواحدة، وله يومئذ تسع نسوة
At first instance the translator, Muhsin Khan, puts it as;
The Prophet (ﷺ) used to visit all his wives in one night and he had nine wives at that time.
And at the other two instances he adds a parenthetic note regarding the visit and puts it as;
The Prophet (ﷺ) used to pass by/ go round (have sexual relation with) all his wives in one night, and at that time he had nine wives.
And at another instance the hadith is reported with slightly different wording;
عن أنس بن مالك قال: كان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يدور على نسائه في الساعة الواحدة، من الليل والنهار، وهن إحدى عشرة» قال: قلت لأنس أوكان يطيقه؟ قال: كنا نتحدث «أنه أعطي قوة ثلاثين
Anas bin Malik said, “The Prophet (ﷺ) used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number.” I asked Anas, “Had the Prophet the strength for it?” Anas replied, “We used to say that the Prophet (ﷺ) was given the strength of thirty (men).”
3. The purpose of the visit
The translator does not always add the parenthetical note that the visit was meant for intimacy making one wonder if it was the case. The word yaṭūf (يطوف) and yadūr (يدور) used in the hadith ordinarily mean going around and visiting without entailing anything about the purpose of the visit. However, once used with regards to a person’s wives they do suggest intimacy.
4. Routine of the Prophet with regards to visiting his wives
As for the routine of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) regarding paying visits to his wives it is reported;
عن عروة، قال: قالت عائشة: يا ابن أختي كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم لا يفضل بعضنا على بعض في القسم، من مكثه عندنا، وكان قل يوم إلا وهو يطوف علينا جميعا، فيدنو من كل امرأة من غير مسيس، حتى يبلغ إلى التي هو يومها فيبيت عندها
Narrated ‘Urwah: ‘A’ishah said: “O nephew! The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) would not prefer any one of us to another with regards to spending time with us. Hardly a day would go by without him visiting all of us. He would come close to each woman, without touching her, until he reached the one whose turn it was, then he would spend the night with her.
This narration plainly establishes that although the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) routinely visited all his wives he did not have intercourse except with one whose turn it was that day.
5. Resolving the apparent contradiction
The narration of Anas bin Malik seemingly contradicts the report of ‘Aisha. ‘Aisha says the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to have intercourse with only one wife on her day, whereas Anas said he visited all his wives in a single night and the purpose of the visit was intercourse.
5.1 The hadith of Anas is temporally restricted
Even though the translation of the hadith of Anas given above suggests that it was the general practice of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) to visit all his wives in a single night bringing together other reports make it clear that it happened only once.
Firstly, the narration of Anas itself mentions that when the said thing happened the Prophet (ﷺ) had nine wives and two concubines. It is known that the Prophet (ﷺ) did not have nine wives together except in the last years of his life. He married Maimuna in the month of Dhu al-Qa’da 7 A.H. and, therefore, what Anas reported could not have happened till that year. Of the two concubines, Maria came to Madina in the year 8 A.H. and Raihana died on return from the Farewell Pilgrimage in Dhu al-Hijja 10 A.H.,  few months before the demise of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). Therefore, the incident must have happened between the early 8 A.H and late 10 A.H.
Moreover, another version of the report of Anas clearly indicates it happened only once.
عن أنس، أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم طاف ذات يوم على نسائه في غسل واحد
One day the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) went to have intercourse with (all) his wives with a single bath.
5.2 The particular incident refers to the Farewell Pilgrimage (al-ḥijjah al-widā’)
The particular incident refers to the Farewell Pilgrimage (al-ḥijjah al-widā’). ‘Aisha reports:
كنت أطيب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فيطوف على نسائه، ثم يصبح محرما ينضخ طيبا
I used to put scent on Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and he used to go round his wives, and in the morning he assumed the iḥrām, and the fragrance of scent was still coming out from his body. (Muhsin Khan Translation)
The mention of assuming the iḥrām clarifies that it was about a singular incident at the time of the Farewell Pilgrimage. Another version of the narration has unequivocal wording to imply the same.
أنا طيبت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، ثم طاف في نسائه، ثم أصبح محرما
I scented Allah’s Messenger and he went round (had sexual intercourse with) all his wives, and in the morning he was a muḥrim (after taking a bath).
It may be pointed out the hadith of Anas in all the four instances in Sahih al-Bukhari uses the word كان (kāna) which the translator understood to imply persistence and routine. The narration of ‘Aisha likewise has كنت (kuntu). In reality, however, the word كان (kāna) does not necessarily imply persistence and routine. Al-Nawawi (d. 676/1278) explains this citing ‘Aisha’s report as an example. He writes:
المختار الذي عليه الأكثرون والمحققون من الأصوليين أن لفظة كان لا يلزم منها الدوام ولا التكرار وإنما هي فعل ماض يدل على وقوعه مرة فإن دل دليل على التكرار عمل به وإلا فلا تقتضيه بوضعها وقد قالت عائشة رضي الله عنها كنت أطيب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم لحله قبل أن يطوف ومعلوم أنه صلى الله عليه وسلم لم يحج بعد أن صحبته عائشة إلا حجة واحدة وهي حجة الوداع فاستعملت كان في مرة واحدة ولا يقال لعلها طيبته في إحرامه بعمرة لأن المعتمر لا يحل له الطيب قبل الطواف بالإجماع فثبت أنها استعملت كان في مرة واحدة كما قاله الأصوليون
The preferred view held by the majority of the experts of juristic theory (al-uṣūliyīn) is that the word كان (kāna) does not necessarily imply persistence and repetition. It is about past tense signifying the occurrence for once. If (independent) evidence proves repetition (it may be taken in that sense) otherwise for itself the word does not imply this. ‘Aisha said: “I applied perfume (kuntu utayyibu) on the shirt of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) before he performed ṭawāf (circumambulation of the Ka’ba),” and it is known that after being with ‘Aisha he never made the pilgrimage except once i.e. the Final Pilgrimage. She used كان (kāna) about a singular happening. And it cannot be said that she may have applied perfume in his iḥrām for ‘umrah because by consensus it is not permitted for the one performing ‘umrah to apply perfume before ṭawāf. Therefore it is confirmed that she used كان (kāna) to refer to a singular event as stated experts of juristic theory.
Accordingly, the correct translation of Anas and ‘Aisha’s reports must be without the “used to” expression.
6. Wisdom behind the Prophet’s act
With the foregoing it has been established that whereas the Prophet (ﷺ) used to see his all wives every day and used to have intimacy only with the one whose turn it used to be on a given day, at the eve of the Farewell Pilgrimage he did have intimacy with all of his wives in a single night. The Prophet (ﷺ) did it for a specific reason. It is recommended for the married people to have intimacy with their spouses before assuming the state of iḥrām for Hajj. It is likewise recommended to do the same on removing iḥrām. Since all his wives accompanied him on the Farewell Pilgrimage he visited them all in single night to enable them all to do the recommended. Late Pakistani scholar Yusuf al-Banori (d. 1397/1977) following his teacher al-Anwar Shah Kashmiri (d. 1353/1934) explains:
أن الواقعة وقعت مرة أو مرتين وذالك في حجة الوداع وكانت أمهات المؤمنين كلهن معه (ﷺ) وخرج (ﷺ) من المدينة بعد ما صلى الظهر وصلى العصر بذى الحليفة وبات بها ولما كان يريد الإحرام ومن سنته أن يأتي زوجته لو كانت معه, فكان إتيانهن لأداء هذه السنة وهى لاتأني إلا بإتيانهن جميعاً, لأن كلا منها زوجته وكل واحدة منهن كانت تريد الإحرام, فكما أنه مطلوب فى حق الزوج فكذالك فى حق الزوجة. ثم لما أراد الإحلال بمنى يوم النحر بعد الإضافة فكذالك أحل إحلالاً كاملاً بإتيانهن أداءً لسنة الإحلال فى حقه وحقهن جميعاً
The incident happened once or twice. This was at the eve of Farewell Sermon when all of the Prophet’s wives were with him. He left Madina after praying Zuhr and prayed ‘Asr at Dhu al-Ḥalīfa where spent the night. It is from the sunnah to have intimacy with one’s spouse when one intends to put on iḥrām. The Prophet went to all his wives to fulfill this sunnah and it would not have been done without going to them all because they were all his wives and each of them intended to put on iḥrām. Intimacy then is required from wife as much from husband. Thereafter, when he intended to remove iḥrām at Mina on the day of sacrifice it was likewise done through following the sunnah of intimacy which was again true for all them all.
Here we see that a matter used to portray the Prophet (ﷺ) in pejorative light when duly probed in fact brings to fore a great aspect of the Prophet’s (ﷺ) life that he took great care of his wives and treated them equally. He broke his routine and visited all his wives in a single night to enable them to fulfill a ritual.
7. Summary and Conclusion
In routine the Prophet (ﷺ) visited all his wives daily after the afternoon prayers but spent nights with them by turns. It is, however, true that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) did visit all his wives in a single night during the Farewell Pilgrimage before putting on iḥrām and after removing it, and this he did it to enable them all to fulfill a recommendation regarding iḥrām.
References & Notes:
 Al-Bukhari, Muhammad bin Isma’il, al-Saḥīḥ, Hadith 284
 ibid., Hadith 5068, 5215
 ibid., Hadith 268; “eleven in number” because it takes into account two concubines, Maria and Raihana, as well. See, Al-‘Asqalāni, Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ Al-Bāri, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1379 AH) Vol.1, 378. Ibn Ḥajar further refers to Ibn Hibban’s attempted reconciliation between the “nine” and “eleven” versions of Anas’ report by suggesting that former happened soon after the Prophet’s arrival in Medina and the latter towards the end of his life and shows that it cannot be the case as nine wives were not gathered until very late as shown below. Ibn Ḥibbān’s other claim that such one night visits happened “not once but quite often” (mirāran kathīratan lā marratan wāḥida) is equally wrong as it contradicts testimony of Prophet’s wife – ‘Aisha – details of which follow.
As regards the “strength of thirty men” it refers to power of intimacy. For a discussion in this connection see, Al-Yahṣubī, Qāḍī ‘Iyāḍ, Ash-Shifā, Translated by ‘Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley (Cape Town: Madinah Press, 1991) 46-49
Some of the narrations about the power of intimacy granted to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) are, however, inauthentic and some are even recognized as fabrications. An example is the alleged saying of the Prophet, “Gabriel brought a kettle from which I ate and I was given the power of sexual intercourse equal to forty men.” See, Ibn Sa’d, Kitāb al-Tabaqāt al-Kabīr, Translated by S. Moinul Haq (New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan, 2009) Vol.1, 439. For critical evaluation of these reports see, al-Albani, Nasir al-Din, Silsala al-Aḥādith al-Ḍa’īfa wa al-Mawḍu’a, (Riyadh: Dar al-Ma’rif, 1992) No. 1685-1686, 4126, and Al-‘Asqalāni, Ibn Hajar, al-Maṭālib al-‘Aliya, Edited by Sa’d bin Nasir al-Shathri et. al. (Riyadh: Dar al-Asima, 2000) Vol.15, 619-621
 Al-‘Ayni, Badr Al-Din, ‘Umdah Al-Qāri, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, n.d.) Vol.3, 213; Al-Asqalāni, Ibn Hajar, Fatḥ Al-Bāri, Vol.1, 151, 371
 Al-Sijistani, Abū Dāwūd, as-Sunan, Hadith 2135; Translated by Yasir Qadi and Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Riyadh: Maktabat Dar-us-Salam, 2008) classified as hasan Saḥīḥ by al-Albani; See also, Ahmad Hasan’s translation of Sunan Abū Dāwūd, (New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan, 1990) Hadith 2130, where he aptly uses the word ‘intercourse’ instead of ‘touching.’
 Al-Bukhari, al-Saḥīḥ, Hadith 5268, 6972 also establishes this where ‘Aisha further adds that the Prophet (ﷺ) made daily visits after ‘Asr prayers. See also, Al-‘Asqalāni, Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ Al-Bāri, Vol.9, 379-380
 Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqāt Al-Kubra, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyya) Vol.8, 175
 Al-Jazri, Ibn Athir, Usud Al-Ghāba, (Beirut: Dar Al-Fekr, 1989) Vol.6, 261
 ibid., Vol.6, 120
 Ahmad Hasan’s translation of Sunan Abū Dāwūd, (New Delhi: Kitab Bhavan, 1990) Hadith 218
 Al-Bukhari, al-Saḥīḥ, Hadith 267
 ibid., Hadith 270
 Al-Nawawi, Abu Zakariyya, Al-Minhāj Sharḥ Saḥīḥ Muslim bin Hajjāj, (Beirut: Dar Ahya‘ al-Turath al-‘Arabi, 1392 AH) Vol.6, 21
 Al-Kashmiri, Anwar Shah, Faiḍ al-Bāri, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyya, 2005) Vol.1, 462. Some of the classical scholars opined likewise that it happened during or upon return from some journey. See, Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, al-Istidhkār, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-‘Ilmiyya, 2000) Vol.1, 300. Al-Kashmiri, therefore, only refined an earlier explanation by linking it to the journey of Farewell Pilgrimage.
 Al-Banori, Muhammad Yousaf, Ma’ārif al-Sunan, (Karachi: Maktaba al-Banoria, 1991) Vol.1, 466; According to a report from Anas, “One day the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) had sexual intercourse with (all) his wives with a single bath” (Sunan Abū Dāwūd, Hadith 218) whereas Abū Rafi’ reported, “One day the Prophet (ﷺ) had intercourse with all his wives. He took a bath after each intercourse. I asked him: Messenger of Allah, why don’t you make it a single bath? He replied: This is more purifying, better and cleaning.” (Sunan Abū Dāwūd, Hadith 219) The two instances mentioned in these reports perhaps refer to recommended act of spousal intimacy before assumption and upon completion of the state of iḥrām.
 ‘Uthmani, Muhammad Taqi, In’ām al-Bāri, (Karachi: Maktaba al-Hira, 2006 ) Vol.2, 463-464; it is recommended to have intimacy before putting on iḥrām to focus on the Hajj rituals as even the talk about it is not allowed during days of Hajj. (See, Qur’an 2:197 cf 2:187)
A question about this rule:
the word كان (kāna) does not necessarily imply persistence and repetition. It is about past tense signifying the occurrence for once.
Is it possible to roughly understand from this construction how many times this or that action can be repeated? This is when it does indicate repetition.