This is a Medinan surah which was prompted by a domestic disturbance between Muhammad and two of his wives. Apparently, the prophet told a secret (the surah does not say what the secret was) to one of his wives, who then broke his confidence by telling the secret to another wife. And yes, Muhammad (like the biblical figures Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, etc.) had multiple wives.
Because the prophet had a direct line to God, the Almighty told him of his wife's indiscretion, and he proceeded to scold her. The end of the surah gives two examples of "bad wives" who betrayed their husbands (the wives of Noah and Lot), and two examples of "good wives" who remained faithful to their husbands and to God: the wife of Pharaoh, and Mary, the mother of Jesus.
These examples of "good wives" vs. "bad wives" hi-light some interesting differences between Islamic and Jewish/Christian traditions about important women of sacred history. For example, in the Bible, Pharaoh's wife is a minor character, and she is neither good nor bad. In Islam, however, Pharaoh's wife (named Asiya) is revered as one of the greatest women of all time, because she remained faithful to God despite her evil husband. Islam also has some unique traditions regarding Mary, the mother of Jesus. In fact, Mary is actually mentioned more in the Qur'an than in the New Testament. She has a whole surah dedicated to her (the 19th surah).
|Mary and Jesus (called Maryam and Isa in the Qur'an) from a Persian miniature.|