This is not, in fact, a question but an expression of disapproval. The object is not to ask the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) why he had done so, but to warn him that his act to make unlawful for himself what Allah had made lawful is not approved by Allah. This by itself gives the meaning that nobody has the power to make unlawful what Allah has made lawful; so much so that the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) himself also did not possess any such power. Although the Holy Prophet did not regard this as unlawful as a matter of faith nor legally but only forbade himself its use, yet since he was not an ordinary man but Allah's Messenger, and his forbidding himself something could have the effect that his followers too would have regarded it as forbidden, or at least reprehensible, or the people of his community might have thought that there was no harm in forbidding oneself something his Allah had made lawful, Allah pointed it out to him and commanded him to refrain from such prohibition.
This shows that in this case the Holy Prophet had not made a lawful thing unlawful because of a personal desire but because his wives had wanted him to do so, and he had made it unlawful for himself only in order to please them. Here, the question arises: why has Allah particularly made mention of the cause of making the thing unlawful besides pointing out the act of prohibition? Obviously, if the object had been to make him refrain from making a lawful thing unlawful, this could be fulfilled by the first sentences and there was no need that the motive of the act also should have been stated. Making mention of it in particular clearly shows that the object was not to check the Holy Prophet only for making a lawful thing unlawful, but along with that to warn the holy wives also to the effect that in their capacity as the Prophet's wives they had not understood their delicate responsibilities and had made the Holy Prophet do a thing which could lead to making a lawful thing unlawful.
Although it has not been mentioned ill the Qur'an as to what it was that the Holy Prophet had forbidden himself yet the traditionists and commentators have mentioned in this regard two different incidents, which occasioned the revelation of this verse. One of these relates to Hadrat Mariyah Qibiyyah (Mary, the Copt lady) and the other to his forbidding himself the use of honey.
The incident relating to Hadrat Mariyah is that after concluding the peace treaty of Hudaibiyah one of the letters that the Holy Prophet (upon whom be Allah's peace) sent to the rulers of the adjoining countries was addressed to the Roman Patriarch of Alexandria also, whom the Arabs called Muqawqis. When Hadrat Hatib bin Abi Balta a took this letter to him, he did not embrace Islam but received him well, and in reply wrote: "I know that a Prophet is yet to rise, but I think he will appear in Syria. However, I have treated your messenger with due honor, and am sending two slave-girls to you, who command respect among the Coptics. " (Ibn Sa'd). One of those slave-girls was Sirin and the other Mariyah (Mary). Un his way back from Egypt Hadrat Hatib presented Islam before both and they believed. When they came before the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) he gave Sirin in the ownership of Hadrat Hassan bin Thabit and admitted Hadrat Mariyah into his own household. In Dhil-Hijjah, A.H. 8 she gave birth to the Holy Prophet's son, Ibrahim. (Al-Isti'ab; Al-Isabah). This lady was very beautiful. Hafiz Ibn Hajar in Al-Isabah has related this saying of Hadrat 'A'ishah about her: "No woman's entry into the Holy Prophet's household vexed me so much as of Mariyah, because she was very beautiful and pleased him much. " Concerning her the story that has been narrated in several ways in the Hadith is briefly as follows:
One day the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) visited the house of Hadrat Hafsah when she was not at home. At that time Hadrat Mariyah came to him there and stayed with him in seclusion. Hadrat Hafsah took it very ill and complained of it bitterly to him. Thereupon, in order to please her the Holy Prophet vowed that he would have no conjugal relation with Mariyah in future. According to some traditions, he forbade Mariyah for himself, and according to others, he also swore an oath on it. These traditions have been mostly reported by the immediate successors of the Companions without mentioning any intermediary link. But some of these have been reported from Hadrat 'Umar,. Hadrat `Abdullah bin 'Abbas and Hadrat Abu Hurairah also. In view of the plurality of the methods of narration, Hafiz Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari has expressed the view that there is some truth in the story. But in none of the six authentic collections of the Hadith has this story been narrated. In Nasa'i only this much has been related from Hadrat Anas: "The Holy Prophet had a slave-girl with whom he had conjugal relations. Then, Hadrat Hafsah and Hadrat `A'ishah began to point out this to him repeatedly until he forbade her for himself. There upon, Allah sent down this verse: 'O Prophet. why do you make unlawful that which Allah has made lawful for you?"
The other incident has been related in Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Da'ud, Nasa'i and several other books of Hadith from Hadrat `A'ishah herself and its purport is as follows:
“The Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) usually paid a daily visit to all his wives after the `Asr Prayer Once it so happened that he began to stay in the house of Hadrat Zainab bint-Jahsh longer than usual, for she had received some honey from somewhere as a gift and the Holy Prophet was very fond of sweet things; therefore, he would have a drink of honey at her house. Hadrat 'A'ishah states that she felt envious of this and spoke to Hadrat Hafsah, Hadrat Saudah and Hadrat Safiyyah about it and together they decided that whoever of them was visited by the Holy Prophet, she should say to him: 'Your mouth smells of maghafir ' Maghafir is a kind of flower, which gives out an offensive smell, and if the bee obtains honey from it, it is also tainted by the same odor. They all knew that the Holy Prophet was a man of very fine taste and he abhorred that he should emit any kind of unpleasant smell. There fore, this device was contrived to stop him from staying in the house of Hadrat Zainab and it worked. When several of his wives told him that his mouth smelt of Maghafir, he made a promise not to use the honey any longer. In one tradition his words are to the effect "Now, I will never have a drink from it: I have sworn an oath. " In another tradition he only said: "I will never have a drink from it," and there is no mention of the oath And in the tradition which Ibn al Mundhir, Ibn Abi Hatim, Tabarani and Ibn Marduyah have related from Ibn 'Abbas the words are to the effect: "By God, I will not drink it!"
Our eminent scholars regard this second version as correct and the first as unreliable. Imam Nasa'i says: "About honey the Hadith reported from Hadrat 'A'ishah is authentic, and the story of forbidding Hadrat Mariyah for himself by the Holy Prophet has not been narrated in a reliable way." Qadi 'Iyad says: "The truth is that this verse was sent down concerning honey and not Mariyah." Qadi Abu Bakr Ibn al-'Arabi; also regards the story about honey as correct and the same is the opinion of Imam Nawawi and Hafiz Badruddiu 'Aini. Ibn Humam writes in Fath al-Qadir "The story of the prohibition of honey has been narrated in Bukhari and Muslim from Hadrat `A'ishah who was herself a party to it; therefore, it is much more reliable."
Hafiz Ibn Kathir says: "The truth is that this verse was sent down about forbidding honey for himself by the Holy Prophet."
That is, "Although the act of making a lawful thing unlawful only in order to please your wives was an act unbecoming of your high and responsible office, yet it was no sin, which might have entailed a punishment. Therefore, Allah has only pointed it out to you and corrected it, and has forgiven you for this error. "
It means: "Act according to the method Allah has prescribed for absolution from oaths by expiation in Al-Ma'idah :89 and break your promise that you have trade to forbid yourself a lawful thing. " Here, an important legal question arises and it is this: Is this Command applicable to the case when a person has forbidden himself a lawful thing on oath, or is forbidding oneself a lawful thing by itself tantamount to swearing an oath, whether the words of the oath have been used or not'? The jurists in this regard have expressed different opinions:
One section of them says that mere forbidding oneself a lawful thing is not an oath. If a person without swearing an oath has forbidden himself a wife, or some other lawful thing, it is an absurd thing which does not entail any expiation, but he can resume without any expiation the use of the thing that he had forbidden himself. This is the opinion of Masruq, Sha'bi, Rabi'ah and Abu Salamah; and the same view is held by Ibn Jarir and all the Zahiris. According to them forbidding oneself something would be an oath only in case express words of oath are used when forbidding it for oneself. In this regard, their reasoning is that since the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) while forbidding himself a lawful thing had also sworn an oath, as has been reported in several traditions, Allah told him to act according to the method that had been appointed for absolving oneself from oaths.
The second group says that to forbid oneself something without using the words of oath is not an oath by itself, but the case of the wife is an exception. If a person has forbidden himself a garment, or an article of food, it is meaningless, and one can use it without expiation. But if concerning a wife or a slave-girl he has said: "I forbid myself an intercourse with her," she would not become unlawful and forbidden, but one would have to expiate the oath before going in to her. This is the opinion of the Shafe'is. (Mugni al-Muhtaj). And a similar opinion on this question is held by the Malikis. (Ibn al-'Arabi, Ahkam al-Qur an).
The third group says that to forbid oneself something is by itself an oath even if the words of oath have not been used. This is the opinion of Hadrat Abu Bakr. Hadrat 'A'ishah, Hadrat 'Umar, Hadrat 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud, Hadrat Zaid bin Thabit and Hadrat 'Abdullah bin 'Abbas (may Allah bless them all). Although from Ibn 'Abbas another opinion has been reported in Bukhari to the effect: "If a man has forbidden himself his wife, it is meaningless," yet it has been interpreted to mean that according to him this is not divorce but an oath which entails an expiation. For in Bukhari, Muslim and Ibn Majah, another saying of Ibn 'Abbas has been reported that to forbid oneself one's wife entails an expiation, and in Nasa'i the tradition is to the effect that when Ibn 'Abbas was asked his opinion on this, he said: "She is not forbidden to you, but you must pay the expiation." and in Ibn Jarir's tradition the words of Ibn 'Abbas are to the effect: "If the people forbid themselves what Allah has made lawful for them, they must expiate their oath." This same is the opinion of Hasan Basri, 'Ata, Ta'us. Suleman bin Yasar. Ibn Jubair and Qatadah, and the same has been adopted by the Hanafis. Imam Abu Bakr al-Jassas says: `The words of the verse lima tuharrimu do not indicate that the Holy Prophet (upon whom be peace) along with forbidding himself the lawful thing had also sworn an oath, therefore, one will have to admit that tahrim (to forbid oneself something) itself is an oath; for after it Allah made obligatory the expiation of the oath in connection with the prohibition." Farther on he writes again: 'Our companions (i.e. the Hanafis) regard tahrim as an oath in case it is not accompanied by the intention of divorce. If a person forbade himself his wife, he in fact said: "By God, I will not come near you," thus, he committed ila' (act of temporary separation!. And if he forbade himself an article of food. etc, he in a way said: "By God, I will not use that article." For Allah first said: "Why do you forbid that which Allah has made lawful?" and then said. "Allah has appointed a way to absolve you from your oaths." Thus, Allah has regarded tahrim as an oath, and the word tahrim in its meaning and legal effect becomes synonymous with an oath."
Here, for the benefit of the common man, it would be useful to tell what is the legal command according to the jurists in respect of forbidding oneself one's wife and forbidding oneself other things besides the wife.
The Hanafis say that if without the intention of divorce somebody forbade himself his wife, or swore an oath that he would not have conjugal relations with her, this would be ila (temporary separation), and in this cast he would have to expiate his oath before having the sexual relation. But if with the intention Of divorce he said: "You are unlawful to me," it will have to be ascertained what was his actual intention. If his intention was of three divorces, the three divorces will take place, and if the intention was of a lesser number, of one or two divorces, only one divorce will take place in either case. And if some body says: "I have forbidden myself whatever was lawful for me, this would not apply to the wife unless he said these words with the intention of forbidding himself the wife. Apart from the wife, one cannot use the thing O11e has forbidden oneself until one has expiated the oath. Badai as-Sana'i: Hedayah; Fath Al-Qadir,' al-Jassas, Ahkam al-Qur an.
The Shafe'is say that if one forbids oneself the wife with the intention of divorce or zihar, the intended thing would become effective, whether it is a revocable divorce or an irrevocable divorce, or zihar. And if a person used the words of tahrim with the intention of both divorce and zihar, he would be asked to choose one, or the other, for both divorce and zihar cannot be established at one and the same time. Divorce dissolves marriage but in case of zihar it continues and if without any intention the wife is forbidden, she would not become forbidden, but expiation of the oath would become necessary. And if another thing, apart from the wife, is forbidden, it would be meaningless; there is no expiation for it. (Mughni al-Muhtaj).
The Malikis say that if a person forbids himself anything other than the wife, it neither becomes forbidden nor entails an expiation. But if he says to the wife, "You are unlawful, or unlawful for me, or I am unlawful for you," this would amount to a triple divorce in any case whether this was said to a wife with whom marriage has been consummated, or to one with whom it has not yet been consummated, unless his intention was of less than three divorces. Asbagh says: 'If a person says: whatever was lawful for me, is unlawful, the wife also becomes forbidden unless he makes an exception of the wife." In al-Mudawwanah, distinction has been made between the wife with whom marriage has been consummated and the wife with whom it has not been consummated. If one forbids oneself the former, a threefold divorce will take place irrespective of the intention, but in case of the latter the same number of divorces would take effect as was intended, and if there was no intention of any particular number, it would be considered a triple divorce (Hashiyah ad-Dusuqi). Qadi Ibn al-'Arabi in his Ahkam al-Qur'an has cited three statements of Imam Malik: (1) That forbidding oneself the wife amounts to an irrevocable divorce; (2) that it amounts to three divorces; and (3) that in case of the wife with whom marriage has been consummated it amounts to three divorces, bat in case of the one with whom it has not been consummated, to only one divorce if one was intended Then he says: 'The correct thing is that forbidding oneself the wife amounts to one divorce only. for if the man uses the word divorce instead of calling her unlawfirl without specifying the number, only one divorce will take place."
Three different views in this regard have been reported from Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal: (1) That to forbid oneself the wife, or to make a lawful thing absolutely unlawful for oneself, is zihar, whether zihar was intended or not; (2) that this is an express allusion to divorce, and it amounts to pronouncing a triple divorce whether only one divorce was intended; and (3) that it is an oath, unless The man had the intention of divorce or zihar and in this case the same would take effect as was intended. Of these only the first one is the best known view among the Hanbalis. (Al-Insaf)
That is, "Allah is your Master and Guardian of your affairs. He knows best in what lies your own good, and whatever Commands He has given, they are all based on wisdom. "The first thing means: "You are not independent in this world, but you are servant of Allah and He is your Master; therefore, none of you possesses any power to alter or change the ways and methods prescribed by Him; the best thing for you is to entrust your affairs to Him and continue to obey Him."
The second thing means that all the methods and laws that Allah has enjoined, are based on knowledge and wisdom, Whatever He has made lawful, has been made lawful on the basis of knowledge and wisdom and whatever He has made unlawful also has been made unlawful on the basis of knowledge and wisdom. Nothing has been made lawful or unlawful at random. Therefore, those who believe in Allah should understand that it is Allah Who is AII-Knowing and All-Wist and not they. and their well-being lies only in carrying out duly the Commands given by Him.