بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Zihar is a term to describe a situation in which a married man calls his wife, his mother. In Quran, it is mentioned that people who do that, have to pay penalty before they can resume relationship with their wives. Why would a serious believer and a companion of the prophet call his wife his mother except for confusion about his understanding about some Ayas of Quran. Lets review this concept in Quran.
Quran says that the wives of the prophet are mothers of the believers. This case is for those women who are physically wedded to the prophet. Any woman who dedicates her soul to the prophet and become a spritual pair to him, does not have any physical relationship with the prophet and therefore does not become the mother of her husband. The below Ayas will make this concept clearer:
33:50 يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ إِنَّا أَحْلَلْنَا لَكَ أَزْوَاجَكَ اللَّاتِي آتَيْتَ أُجُورَهُنَّ وَمَا مَلَكَتْ يَمِينُكَ مِمَّا أَفَاءَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْكَ وَبَنَاتِ عَمِّكَ وَبَنَاتِ عَمَّاتِكَ وَبَنَاتِ خَالِكَ وَبَنَاتِ خَالَاتِكَ اللَّاتِي هَاجَرْنَ مَعَكَ وَامْرَأَةً مُّؤْمِنَةً إِن وَهَبَتْ نَفْسَهَا لِلنَّبِيِّ إِنْ أَرَادَ النَّبِيُّ أَن يَسْتَنكِحَهَا خَالِصَةً لَّكَ مِن دُونِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ۗ قَدْ عَلِمْنَا مَا فَرَضْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ فِي أَزْوَاجِهِمْ وَمَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُمْ لِكَيْلَا يَكُونَ عَلَيْكَ حَرَجٌ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا
O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee your wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whose (relationship) you possess rightfully, whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of your paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of your maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her nafs to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her;- this only for thee, and not for the believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and those (whose relationships) they possess rightfully;- in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
There is a special case mentioned in this Ayat about a believing woman who dedicates her nafs/psyche to the prophet. This woman as a special case which is not for other believers, can be made a pair with the prophet. This pairing of the woman with prophet can be a wedding if the prophet wills it, and of course if the woman is single. If the woman is not single, this pairing will be spiritual only, without affecting the marital life of the woman in any way. The spiritual pairing will be for the advancement of belief of the woman. This spiritual pairing is the special case mentioned in the Ayat for the prophet, as marrying a single woman is not a special case and any believing man can marry a single woman.
Now lets consider that the husband of the wife who made a spiritual pair with the prophet, did not understand this concept and he assumed that his wife has become his mother as per Ayat 33:6 (The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers )النَّبِيُّ أَوْلَىٰ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنفُسِهِمْ ۖ وَأَزْوَاجُهُ أُمَّهَاتُهُمْ
Therefore this man called his wife his mother and their family life was disturbed. The woman obviously was disturbed and she complained to Allah
58:1-2 قَدْ سَمِعَ اللَّهُ قَوْلَ الَّتِي تُجَادِلُكَ فِي زَوْجِهَا وَتَشْتَكِي إِلَى اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ يَسْمَعُ تَحَاوُرَكُمَا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَمِيعٌ بَصِيرٌ الَّذِينَ يُظَاهِرُونَ مِنكُم مِّن نِّسَائِهِم مَّا هُنَّ أُمَّهَاتِهِمْ ۖ إِنْ أُمَّهَاتُهُمْ إِلَّا اللَّائِي وَلَدْنَهُمْ ۚ وَإِنَّهُمْ لَيَقُولُونَ مُنكَرًا مِّنَ الْقَوْلِ وَزُورًا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَعَفُوٌّ غَفُورٌ
Allah has indeed heard the statement of the woman who pleads with thee concerning her husband and carries her complaint to Allah. and Allah hears the arguments of you both. For Allah hears and sees (all). If any men among you declare their wives (calling them mothers), they cannot be their mothers. None can be their mothers except those who gave them birth. And in fact they use strange words and falsehood, but truly Allah is forbearing and forgiving.
Allah declares that your wives don’t become your mothers from your words.
33:4 مَّا جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لِرَجُلٍ مِّن قَلْبَيْنِ فِي جَوْفِهِ ۚ وَمَا جَعَلَ أَزْوَاجَكُمُ اللَّائِي تُظَاهِرُونَ مِنْهُنَّ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ ۚ وَمَا جَعَلَ أَدْعِيَاءَكُمْ أَبْنَاءَكُمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ قَوْلُكُم بِأَفْوَاهِكُمْ ۖ وَاللَّهُ يَقُولُ الْحَقَّ وَهُوَ يَهْدِي السَّبِيلَ
Allah has not made for any man two hearts in his (one) body, nor has He made your wives whom ye declare (by Zihar) your mothers. nor has He made your called ones your sons. Such is (only) your words by your mouths. But Allah tells the Truth, and He shows the (right) Way.
And further the Prophets confirms this concept to the companion:
33:37 وَإِذْ تَقُولُ لِلَّذِي أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْسِكْ عَلَيْكَ زَوْجَكَ وَاتَّقِ اللَّهَ وَتُخْفِي فِي نَفْسِكَ مَا اللَّهُ مُبْدِيهِ وَتَخْشَى النَّاسَ وَاللَّهُ أَحَقُّ أَن تَخْشَاهُ ۖ فَلَمَّا قَضَىٰ زَيْدٌ مِّنْهَا وَطَرًا زَوَّجْنَاكَهَا لِكَيْ لَا يَكُونَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ حَرَجٌ فِي أَزْوَاجِ أَدْعِيَائِهِمْ إِذَا قَضَوْا مِنْهُنَّ وَطَرًا ۚ وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ مَفْعُولًا
Behold! When you (the prophet) said to the one who had received the favor of Allah and your favour. “Retain your wife and fear Allah; you hide in your heart which Allah is about to make manifest and you fear people, but it is more fitting that you should fear Allah.”
Then when Zaid completed from her requirements, We made her a (spiritual) pair with you (the prophet). In order that there may be no difficulty to the believers in matter of their calling of wives, when they complete requirements with them, and Allah’s command is bound to happen.
In the above Ayat, Prophet tells Zaid, to hold on to his wife and fear Allah and don’t fear people. The prophet further tells Zaid, that Zaid is hiding in his nafs something which is bothering him, however, Zaid should not fear people but fear Allah. Traditional tafasirs/explanations of this Ayat, don’t do justice to Prophet’s exemplary character. People of even ordinary character when they have feelings for a particular woman, and if the woman gets married to someone else, they let that feeling go, which is an appropriate thing to do. To imagine, that the prophet was harboring secret feelings for wife of a brother muslim, is insulting to the exemplary character of the prophet.
This concept is not what the Ayat is about. Ayat is telling that Zaid was disturbed that his wife if made a spiritual pair with the prophet, she could become his mother. However, the prophet told him to hold on to his wife in marriage and don’t fear people as the pairing with the prophet is spiritual only and does not affect his marriage in anyway. Understanding of this concept by Zaid, was the requirement after which there is no difficulty on a believer to have doubts on his relationship with his wife.
33:52 لَّا يَحِلُّ لَكَ النِّسَاءُ مِن بَعْدُ وَلَا أَن تَبَدَّلَ بِهِنَّ مِنْ أَزْوَاجٍ وَلَوْ أَعْجَبَكَ حُسْنُهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا مَلَكَتْ يَمِينُكَ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ رَّقِيبًا
It is not lawful for you (the Prophet pbuh), women after this, nor to change them for (other) wives, even though their beauty attract you, except any which your right hand possesses and Allah watches over all things.
This Ayat is not actually about timings in history, its a instruction for the Prophet to marry within the community and not to marry women outside those mentioned in 33:50. If a religious exemplary model for the society such as the Prophet, goes on to marry exotic and foreign women, though legitimately, some people may get the idea that prophet is a womanizer and marries for the beauty of women. Therefore the instruction for the prophet is to marry believing women within the community. This restriction is not imposed on believers in general.