Closer Look at Prophet Muhammad’s M...

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

Closer Look at Prophet Muhammad’s Marriages

Closer Look at Prophet Muhammad’s Marriages

When it comes to the issue of the multiple marriages of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) some questions are being posed regarding many aspects of his marriages. The first aspect has to do with the number of wives he took simultaneously which are 9 wives. A question might be raised of why the Prophet did not stick to the maximum number of four wives which is prescribed by Islamic law.

The primary answer to this concern is that the Prophet took these wives before the divine legislation of limiting the number of wives to only 4 and these wives were lady ‘Aisha, lady Sawdah, lady Hend (Um Salamah), lady Safiyyah, lady Hafsah, lady Zaynab bint Jahsh, lady Juwayreyah, lady Ramlah (Um Habibah) and lady Maymounah.

After the divine revelation of limiting the maximum number of wives to be only 4 instead of the countless number of wives that Arabs used to have in pre Islamic era, any new Muslim embracing Islam and was married to more than four wives, had to choose only four and let go of the rest of them. Numerous examples are found in the Prophet’s biography, for example al Harth ibn Qays narrated that when he embraced Islam, he was married to eight wives and the Prophet asked him to choose only four of them. The same action was taken with Ghaylan ibn Salmah al Thaqafi who embraced Islam and had ten wives in the Pre Islamic era so the Prophet asked him to let go of six of them. (narrated by al Tirmidhi). Another companion, Nawfal ibn Mu’awiyah had 5 wives before Islam so the Prophet asked him to let go of one.

Secondly, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not let go of five of his wives after the divine legislation of limiting the number of wives because God prohibited for him to marry any woman other than the nine he already has. For Muslims they have the option of divorcing and marrying new wives but that was not an option for the Prophet as the divine decree obliged him not to take any new wives or replace the current ones. God says in the Quran “Not lawful to you, [O Muhammad], are [any additional] women after [this], nor [is it] for you to exchange them for [other] wives…” (33:52)
Al Baidawi in his exegesis of this verse explained that the Prophet was not allowed to get married to any more women even if one of his wives died, he can’t have a new marriage or replace one wife with another through divorce. In this regard, Ibn ‘Abbas added further that when the Prophet opened the floor for his wives to choose between staying with him and earn God’s pleasure or getting a divorce and allow them to have a new life with better living conditions, all his wives chose to stay with the Prophet bearing the hardships of poverty and the harshness of the living conditions due to the lack of financial resources. God in response was grateful for their choice and prohibited for the Prophet to divorce any of them or take new wives. Also they were honored by being called “the mothers of the believers” and therefore it was prohibited for Muslim men to marry any of the Prophet’s wives after his death.

More importantly the Prophet gave his wives the option to remain in wedlock or to be separated and divorced. This occurred after all his wives complained and showed impatience towards the severe and poor living conditions they were having at the Prophet’s house. He asked each and every single one of his wives and he started with lady ‘Aisha saying “O ‘Aisha I am going to propose an offer to you and don’t hasten in reply before consulting your parents about it” and after hearing his offer, she readily replied “would I consult my parents about you? I surely choose God, his messenger and the hereafter”. All his wives had the same answer as ‘Aisha and chose to live with the Prophet and bear the harsh living conditions over worldly pleasures.

Furthermore, it is a historical fact that the Prophet did not marry more than one wife until he migrated to Medinah and started to establish the new born state and he was about 50 years old at that time which indicates that his multiple marriages had legislative, social and political purposes which will be explained in a while. It is worth mentioning that the Prophet married lady Khadijah which is his first wife and the mother of his children when he was 25 years old and she was 15 years his senior and was married twice before her marriage to the Prophet. Their marriage lasted for 25 years and he did not take another wife until after she died.

Thirdly, if Prophet Muhammad had divorced any of his wives, it would have led to political turmoil and social upheaval. If we take a close look at the nine wives of the Prophet and examine their noble status, we would realize that divorcing any of them would tantamount to political strife.

Let’s take one by one. If the Prophet had divorced lady ‘Aisha for example, the Muslim community would have suffered the brunt of this divorce and people’s hearts would have ached. Lady ‘Aisha is the daughter of the beloved companion Abu Bakr who was the first to readily embrace Islam and the closest companion to the Prophet’s hearts. Abu Bakr was a pious wealthy prestigious man among Arabs who exerted all his money and efforts to support the Prophet and to spread the message of Islam. It would be only a sort of disloyalty and injustice for his daughter to be divorced and this is not the morals of Prophets or the attitudes of the righteous people. Therefore, Prophet Muhammad could have never divorced lady ‘Aisha.

Similarly the Prophet couldn’t have divorced Hafsah bint ‘Umar ibn al Khattab because it would have been seen as a grave act against the blessed companion ‘Umar ibn al Khattab. It was narrated in al Bukhari that one night one of the Ansars came over to ‘Umar’s house and said to ‘Umar “a grave event has happened” so ‘Umar readily asked “Did the tribe of Ghassan raid us?” {at that time, the tribe of Ghassan was getting ready to raid over the Muslims} so the Ansari replied “No but a graver thing occurred. The Prophet had divorced his wives” so ‘Umar said in response “Hafsah is now doomed and at loss”. In the early morning ‘Umar went to his daughter Hafsah and found her crying profusely so he asked her “Did the Prophet divorce you” so she replied “I don’t know, he isolated himself in this room” so ‘Umar asked for the permission to enter to the Prophet and when he was granted permission, he greeted the Prophet and questioned about the reality of the matter of divorcing his wives and the Prophet replied in negative so ‘Umar was pleased with this reply.

By analyzing this narration, we realize that divorcing the wives of the Prophet was a grave matter for the Muslim community even graver than being raided by enemies. When the Prophet was mad at his wives and isolated himself from them for about a month due to their demands of having more financial resources to conduct comfortable lives instead of the poor living conditions they had in the Prophet’s house, the Muslim community thought that the Prophet had divorced his wives and this alarmed Muslims severely.

It was also narrated that some sort of a gap happened between the Prophet and Hafsa. ‘Umar thought that the Prophet divorced his daughter so he lamented severely and said “God wouldn’t care about ‘Umar and his daughter anymore”. These narrations and many others show the severity of divorcing the Prophet’s wives on the Muslim community.

Regarding his third wife Hend (Um Salamah), she was the widow of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abd al Asad, known as Abu Salamah, who was the son of the Prophet’s aunt, lady Burah bint ‘Abd al Muttalib and he was his brother through nursing. They had migrated to Ethiopia, and Abu Salamah was well known for his courage and prowess as an equestrian. He died from injuries sustained during the battle of Uhud. When ‘Abduallah died he left behind four children and Hend was an old woman so the Prophet offered to marry her and foster her children and take care of her.

Hend initially refused citing reasons of being and old woman and had orphan children and was very jealous by nature. The prophet said in response “as for your orphans I will take care of them and as for your jealousy, I will pray to God to make it go away”. Regarding the age of lady Hend, the Prophet did not care much about that because he married her out of mercy for her old age and to take care of her orphan children as well as to keep the ties of kinship with his aunt along with fulfilling the duty of taking care of the family of his deceased brother through nursing. So it would have been very difficult for the Prophet to divorce lady Hend with her orphan children.

The fourth wife of the Prophet was his cousin lady Zaynab bint Jahsh. It was a customary practice for Arabs that foster sons are treated as biological sons when it comes to marriage and inheritance. Therefore, the wife of a foster son can’t be betrothed to his foster father. With the advent of Islam, God wanted this old deep rooted customary practice to cease and wanted to differentiate between foster children and biological ones. A man may adopt a child and take care of him, but that child cannot assume the lineage of his adopted father. He must retain his own family name. 

Prophet Muhammad had a foster son, Zayd, who was a slave and the Prophet manumitted him and adopted him and Zayd was used to be called Zayd ibn Muhammad. After the divine legislation which deems it necessary for foster sons to retain their biological father’s name and assume their family name out of fairness and safeguarding lineage, Zayd retained his old family name and was called Zayd ibn Haritha.

The Prophet married off his foster son Zayd who was a freed slave to his cousin, Zaynab, who was from the noblest families of Arabs. Due to differences in social compatibility, their marriage ended in divorce. God decreed to the Prophet to marry Zaynab and revealed verses of the Quran regarding this matter. The divine aim of this marriage is to end the deep rooted customary taboo of the Arabs of not marrying the divorcees of their foster sons. Prophet Muhammad could not have divorced lady Zaynab as her marriage was heavenly decreed and she was from his noble family.

The fifth marriage of the Prophet was to lady Ramlah who is also known as Um Habibah. Um Habibah was the noble daughter of Abu Sufyan who was one of the most prestigious figures of the tribe of Quraysh. She embraced Islam against the will of her parents and migrated to Abyssinia with her husband ‘Ubaidullah who later converted to Christianity while she steadfastly remained a Muslim. She bore her daughter, Habibah, in Abyssinia and suffered the brunt of being alone with her born child. The Prophet realized the immense suffering that noble lady Ramlah was going through and the hardships she suffered and how she firmly was holding tight to her religion in the face of her converted husband and by going against the will of her prestigious family and by abandoning her homeland and migrating to a new country, the Prophet wanted to restore her lost dignity and pride by offering to marry her and honor her by this noble marriage. Also her father, Abu Sufyan, who was one of the staunch opponents of Islam when he heard about her daughter’s marriage to the Prophet, he was pleased with the noble lineage of the Prophet and praised him. This marriage was the reason which facilitated for Abu Sufyan to embrace Islam the very next year of his daughter’s marriage to the Prophet. It would have been seen as a real shame if the Prophet after honoring lady Ramlah by marrying her, to simply abandon her through divorce.

The sixth marriage of the Prophet was to lady Juwayreyah bint al Harith, the princess and the elder daughter of the head of the bani Mustalaq tribe (a sub tribe of Khuza’ah). The tribe of Bani Mustalaq, who resided five ‘stations’ (manzil) from Madinah, plotted to siege Madinah by surprise with the help of other Arab tribes. The prophet was informed of this and dispatched an individual by the name of Barid to their land to look into the matter. He contacted the head of the tribe unidentified and learned of the plot. After returning to Madinah, he confirmed the reports. He brought some beneficial news to the prophet. At the same time, their spy was caught among the Muslims, leaving them without any news of what had transpired. Because of their plot, the prophet took the offensive and attacked them first instead. With the defeat of the Bani Mustalaq’s army, much wealth came into the hands of Muslims and many people were taken as war captives. The noble lady Juwayreyah refused to remain captive and offered to pay a ransom for her freedom, the Prophet realized the noble status of lady Juwayreyah and her honorable lineage so offered to set her free and if she wishes he would marry her and she readily agreed.

Due to the marriage of the Prophet to the daughter of the chieftain of the tribe of Bani al Mustalaq, an unbreakable bond between the prophet and this tribe was made and many of those who had been taken prisoners were unconditionally set free just because of this relation. One of the blessed outcomes of this wedlock was the freedom of many prisoners.

Lady Aishah has been reported as saying: “I don’t know of any woman who was more blessed for her tribe than Juwayriyah.” The Bani Mustalaq tribe all embraced Islam due to this honorable bond to the Prophet. Therefore, it would have been a shock to her tribe, if the Prophet had later divorced her.

The seventh wife is lady Safiyyah bint Huyay ibn Akhtab. She was the daughter of the leader of Banu al Nadir tribe who was also a Jewish rabbi.

So lady Safiyyah was from a noble regal and rabbinical heritage. The Banu al Nadir tribe was a Jewish tribe residing in Medinah. When Banu al Nadir breached the peace treaty with the Prophet through conspiring against the newly born state, the Muslims seized the fortress of Khaybar and lady Safiyyah fell as a captive. When a Companion of the Prophet heard of Safiyyah’s captivity, he approached the Prophet with a suggestion that since she was a lady of Banu al-Nadir, it was unfit to remain as a captive. The Prophet set her free and earlier she embraced Islam secretly so he offered her either to stay in Medinah and marry him or she can freely go back to her tribe. Lady Safiyyah chose to marry the Prophet and became one of the pious mothers of the believers.

This blessed marriage of the Prophet to lady Safiyyah helped in abating the severe hostility of the Jewish tribes to the newly born Muslim state in Medinah.

The 8th wife of the Prophet is lady Sawdan bint Zam’ah. She was the first wife of the Prophet after the death of his beloved wife lady Khadijah. Lady Sawdah embraced Islam and migrated to Ethiopia with her husband. Her husband died after they came back from Ethiopia and the Prophet accepted lady Khawla’s offer to marry lady Sawdah because if she had returned to Makkah as a widow, her family would have coerced her to turn back to paganism and would have persecuted her for embracing Islam.

Also the Prophet’s marriages to his wives after the establishment of the newly born Muslim state and with the advent of divine legislations, his wives were seen as authoritative transmitters of the Prophetic traditions and a well versed jurists. The Prophet’s companions after the death of the Prophet would usually consult the Prophet’s wives in matters of juristic disputes. The religious scholarship of the Prophet’s wives were deep rooted as the seeds of knowledge were sewn by their marriage to the Prophet (peace be upon him).

The narrators of the prophetic traditions assert that the number of hadiths narrated by the wives of the Prophet tantamount to more than 3000 hadiths and the largest share of hadiths was narrated by lady ‘Aisha as she transmitted 2210 hadiths and the second in rank is lady Um Salamah, she narrated 378 hadiths. The rest of the Prophet’s wives, their hadith transmission ranged between 11 to 65 hadiths. The wide range in the number of narrated hadiths by the Prophet’s wives is due to the longevity of the life of the Prophet’s wife after his death and the longevity of the time of her marriage to the Prophet before his death. Lady ‘Aisha was married to the Prophet in the first year of the Prophet’s migration to Medina and she died in the year 58 H. Lady Maymounah on the contrary was the last of the Prophet’s wives and was betrothed to the Prophet in the 7th year of Hijrah which explains the few number of hadiths that she transmitted.

After skimming rapidly through the reasons behind the multiple marriages of the Prophet, we would notice that the Prophet stroke a unique example of how men should treat women. His gentle teachings and compassionate behavior towards his wives, made them favor the Prophet over all worldly pleasures and were deeply in love with him. It was narrated that when the Prophet was at his death bed aching over the throes of death, tears were running down the cheeks of his wives and each of them wished if she could bear the pain and suffer instead of the Prophet. The Prophet taught his wives and the Muslims at large the true meanings of love, mercy and compassion (peace and blessings be upon him).

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