Prophet Muhammad As A Husband And Father
The Prophet And His Wives
Prophet Muhammad personifies the roles of perfect father and husband. He was so kind and tolerant with his wives that they could not envisage their lives without him, nor did they want to live away from him.
He married Sawda, his second wife, while in Makka. After a while, he wanted to divorce her for certain reasons. She was extremely upset at this news, and implored him: “O Messenger of God, I wish no worldly thing of you. I will sacrifice the time allocated to me, if you don’t want to visit me. But please don’t deprive me of being your wife. I want to go to the Hereafter as your wife. I care for nothing else.”1 The Messenger did not divorce her, nor did he stop visiting her.2
Once he noticed that Hafsa was uncomfortable over their financial situation. “If she wishes, I may set her free,” he said, or something to that effect. This suggestion so alarmed her that she requested mediators to persuade him not to do so. He kept his faithful friend’s daughter as his trusted wife.
His wives viewed separation from the Messenger of God as a calamity, so firmly had he established himself in their hearts. They were completely at one with him. They shared in his blessed, mild, and natural life. If he had left them, they would have died of despair. If he had divorced one of them, she would have waited at his doorstep until the Last Day.
After his death, there was much yearning and a great deal of grief. Abu Bakr and ‘Umar found the Messengers wives weeping whenever they visited them. Their weeping seemed to continue for the rest of their lives. Muhammad left a lasting impression on everyone. At one point, he had nine wives and dealt equally with all of them and without any serious problems. He was a kind and gentle husband, and never behaved harshly or rudely. In short, he was the perfect husband.
A few days before his death, he said: “A servant has been allowed to choose this world or his Lord. He chose his Lord.”3 Abu Bakr, a man of great intelligence, began to cry, understanding that the Prophet was talking about himself. His illness worsened daily, and his severe headache caused him to writhe in pain. But even during this difficult period, he continued to treat his wives with kindness and gentleness. He asked for permission to stay in one room, as he had no strength to visit them one by one. His wives agreed, and the Messenger spent his last days in Aisha’s room.
Each wife, because of his generosity and kindness, thought she was his most beloved. The idea that any man could show complete equality and fairness in his relationships with nine women seems impossible. For this reason, the Messenger of God asked God’s pardon for any unintentional leanings. He would pray: “I may have unintentionally shown more love to one of them than the others, and this would be injustice. So, O Lord, I take refuge in Your grace for those things beyond my power.”4
What gentleness and sensitivity! I wonder if anyone else could show such kindness to his children or spouses. When people manage to cover up their lower inborn tendencies, it is as if they have done something very clever and shown tremendous willpower. But they sometimes expose these very defects unconsciously while bragging of their cleverness. The Messenger, despite showing no fault, sought only God’s forgiveness.
His gentleness penetrated his wives souls so deeply that his departure led to what they must have felt to be an unbridgeable separation. They did not commit suicide, as Islam forbids it, but their lives now became full of endless sorrow and ceaseless tears.
The Messenger was kind and gentle to all women, and advised all other men to follow him in this regard. Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas described his kindness as follows:
‘Umar said: One day I went to the Prophet and saw him smiling. “May God make you smile forever, O Messenger of God,” I said, and asked why he was smiling. “I smile at those women. They were chatting in front of me before you came. When they heard your voice, they all vanished,” he answered still smiling. On hearing this answer, I raised my voice and told them: “O enemies of your own selves, you are scared of me, but you are not scared of the Messenger of God, and you don’t show respect to him.” “You are hard-hearted and strict,” they replied.5
‘Umar also was gentle to women. However, the most handsome man looks ugly when compared to Joseph’s beauty. Likewise, ‘Umar’s gentleness and sensitivity seem like violence and severity when compared to those of the Prophet. The women had seen the Messengers gentleness, sensitivity, and kindness, and so regarded ‘Umar as strict and severe. Yet ‘Umar shouldered the caliphate perfectly and became one of the greatest examples after the Prophet. He was a just ruler, and strove to distinguish right from wrong. His qualities enabled him to be caliph. Some of his qualities might seem rather severe; however, those very qualities enabled him to shoulder very demanding responsibilities.
The Prophet’s Consultation With His Wives
The Messenger discussed matters with his wives as friends. Certainly he did not need their advice, since he was directed by Revelation. However, he wanted to teach his nation that Muslim men were to give women every consideration. This was quite a radical idea in his time, as it is today in many parts of the world. He began teaching his people through his own relationship with his wives.
For example, the conditions laid down in the Treaty of Hudaybiya disappointed and enraged many Muslims, for one condition stipulated that they could not make the pilgrimage that year. They wanted to reject the treaty, continue on to Makka, and face the possible consequences. But the Messenger ordered them to slaughter their sacrificial animals and take off their pilgrim attire. Some Companions hesitated, hoping that he would change his mind. He repeated his order, but they continued to hesitate. They did not oppose him; rather, they still hoped he might change his mind, for they had set out with the intention of pilgrimage and did not want to stop half way.
Noticing this reluctance, the Prophet returned to his tent and asked Umm Salama, his wife accompanying him at that time, what she thought of the situation. So she told him, fully aware that he did not need her advice. In doing this, he taught Muslim men an important social lesson: There is nothing wrong with exchanging ideas with women on important matters, or on any matters at all.
She said: “O Messenger of God, don’t repeat your order. They may resist and thereby perish. Slaughter your sacrificial animal and change out of your pilgrim attire. They will obey, willingly or not, when they see that your order is final.”6 He immediately took a knife in his hand, went outside, and began to slaughter his sheep. The Companions began to do the same, for now it was clear that his order would not be changed.
Counsel and consultation, like every good deed, were practiced by God’s Messenger first within his own family and then in the wider community. Even today, we understand so little about his relationships with his wives that it is as if we are wandering aimlessly around a plot of land, unaware of the vast treasure buried below our feet.
Women are secondary beings in the minds of many, including those self-appointed defenders of women’s rights as well as many self-proclaimed Muslim men. For us, a woman is part of a whole, a part that renders the other half useful. We believe that when the two halves come together, the true unity of a human being appears. When this unity does not exist, humanity does not exist—nor can Prophethood, sainthood, or even Islam.
Our master encouraged us through his enlightening words to behave kindly to women. He declared:
“The most perfect believers are the best in character, and the best of you are the kindest to their families.”7
It is clear that women have received the true honor and respect they deserve, not just in theory but in actual practice, only once in history—during the period of Prophet Muhammad.
The Choice God’s Messenger Gave to His Wives
His wives were given the choice of remaining with him or leaving:
O Prophet, say to your wives: “If you desire the life of this world and its glitter, then come! I will provide for your enjoyment and set you free in a handsome manner. But if you seek God, His Messenger, and the Home of the Hereafter, verily God has prepared for you, the well-doers among you, a great reward.” (33:28-29)
A few of his wives who wanted a more prosperous life asked: “Couldn’t we live a little more luxuriously, like other Muslims do? Couldn’t we have at least a bowl of soup everyday, or some prettier garments?” At first sight, such wishes might be considered fair and just. However, they were members of the family that was to be an example for all Muslim families until the Last Day.
The Messenger reacted by going into retreat. The news spread, and everyone rushed to the mosque and began to cry. The smallest grief felt by their beloved Messenger was enough to bring them all to tears, and even the smallest incident in his life would disturb them. Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, seeing the event in a different light as their daughters were directly involved, rushed to the mosque. They wanted to see him, but he would not leave his retreat. Eventually, on their third attempt, they gained entry and began to rebuke their daughters. The Messenger saw what was happening, but only said: “I cannot afford what they want.”8 The Qur’an declared:
O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women (33:32).
Others might save themselves by simply fulfilling their obligations, but those who were at the very center of Islam had to devote themselves fully, so that no weakness would appear at the center. There were advantages in being the Prophet’s wife, but these advantages brought responsibilities and potential risks. The Messenger was preparing them as exemplars for all present and future Muslim women. He was especially worried that they might enjoy the reward for their good deeds in this world, and thereby be included in:
You have exhausted your share of the good things in your life of the world and sought comfort in them (46:20).
Life in the Prophet’s house was uncomfortable. For this reason, either explicitly or implicitly, his wives made some modest demands. As their status was unique, they were not expected to enjoy themselves in a worldly sense. Some godly people laugh only a few times during their lives; others never fill their stomachs.
For example, Fudayl ibn Iyad never laughed. He smiled only once, and those who saw him do so asked him why he smiled, for they were greatly surprised. He told them: “Today, I learned that my son ‘Ali died. I was happy to hear that God had loved him, and so I smiled.”9 If there were such people outside of the Prophets household, his wives, who were even more pious and respectful of God and regarded as “mothers of the believers,” would certainly be of a higher degree.
It is not easy to merit being together with the Messenger in this world and the Hereafter. Thus, these special women were put to a great test. The Messenger allowed them to choose his poor home or the world’s luxury. If they choose the world, he would give them whatever they wanted and then dissolve his marriage with them. If they choose God and His Messenger, they had to be content with their lives. This was a peculiarity of his family. Since this family was unique, its members had to be unique. The head of the family was chosen, as were the wives and children.
The Messenger first called ‘A’isha and said: “I want to discuss something with you. You’d better talk with your parents before making a decision.” Then he recited the verses mentioned above. Her decision was exactly as expected from a truthful daughter of a truthful father: “O Messenger of God, do I need to talk with my parents? By God, I choose God and His Messenger.”10
‘A’isha herself tells us what happened next: “The Messenger received the same answer from all his wives. No one expressed a different opinion. They all said what I had said.” They did so because they were all at one with the Messenger. They could not differ. If the Messenger had told them to fast for a lifetime without break, they would have done so, and endured it with pleasure. So, they endured hardship until their deaths.
Some of his wives had enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle before their marriage to him. One of these was Safiyya, who had lost her father and husband, and had been taken prisoner, during the Battle of Khaybar. She must have been very angry with the Messenger, but when she saw him, her feelings changed completely. She endured the same destiny as the other wives. They endured it because love of the Messenger had penetrated their hearts.
Safiyya was a Jewess. Once, she was dismayed when this fact was mentioned to her sarcastically. She informed the Messenger, expressing her sadness. He comforted her saying: “If they repeat it, tell them: ‘My father is Prophet Aaron, my uncle is Prophet Moses, and my husband is, as you see, Prophet Muhammad, the Chosen One. What do you have more than me to be proud of?’”11
The Qur’an declares that his wives are the mothers of the believers (33:6). Although fourteen centuries have passed, we still feel delight in saying “my mother” when referring to Khadija, ‘A’isha, Umm Salama, Hafsa, and his other wives. We feel this because of him. Some feel more love for these women than they do for their real mothers. Certainly, this feeling must have been deeper, warmer, and stronger in the Prophet’s own time.
The Messenger was the perfect head of a family. Managing many women with ease, being a lover of their hearts, an instructor of their minds, an educator of their souls, he never neglected the affairs of the nation or compromised his duties.
The Messenger excelled in every area of life. People should not compare him to themselves or to the so-called great personalities of their age. Researchers should look at him, the one to whom angels are grateful, always remembering that he excelled in every way. If they want to look for Muhammad they must search for him in his own dimensions. Our imaginations cannot reach him, for we do not even know how to imagine properly. God bestowed upon him, as His special favor, superiority in every field.
God’s Messenger And Children
He was an extraordinary husband, a perfect father, and a unique grandfather. He was unique in every way. He treated his children and grandchildren with great compassion, and never neglected to direct them to the Hereafter and good deeds. He smiled at them, caressed and loved them, but did not allow them to neglect matters related to the afterlife. In worldly matters he was extremely open; but when it came to maintaining their relationship with God, he was very serious and dignified. He showed them how to lead a humane life, and never allowed them to neglect their religious duties and become spoiled. His ultimate goal was to prepare them for the Hereafter. His perfect balance in such matters is another dimension of his Divinely inspired intellect.
In a hadith narrated by Muslim, Anas bin Malik, honored as the Messenger’s servant for 10 continuous years, says: “I’ve never seen a man who was more compassionate to his family members than Muhammad.”12 If this admission were made just by us, it could be dismissed as unimportant. However, millions of people, so benign and compassionate that they would not even offend an ant, declare that he embraced everything with compassion. He was a human like us, but God inspired in him such an intimate affection for every living thing that he could establish a connection with all of them. As a result, he was full of extraordinary affection toward his family members and others.
All of the Prophet’s sons had died. Ibrahim, his last son born to his Coptic wife Mary, also died in infancy. The Messenger often visited his son before the latter’s death, although he was very busy. Ibrahim was looked after by a nurse. The Prophet would embrace, kiss, and caress him before returning home.13 When Ibrahim died, the Prophet took him on his lap again, embraced him, and described his sorrow while on the brink of tears. Some were surprised. He gave them this answer: “Eyes may water and hearts may be broken, but we do not say anything except what God will be pleased with.” He pointed to his tongue and said: “God will ask us about this.”14
He carried his grandsons Hasan and Husayn on his back. Despite his unique status, he did this without hesitation to herald the honor that they would attain later. One time when they were on his back, Umar came into the Prophet’s house and, seeing them, exclaimed: “What a beautiful mount you have!” The Messenger added immediately: “What beautiful riders they are!”15
They may not have been aware that the Messenger had honored them. This special compliment was due to their future status as leaders and family heads of the Prophet’s household. Among their descendants would be the greatest and most respected saints. His compliment was not only for his grandsons, but for all his offspring. For this reason, Abd al-Qadir Jilani, a well-known descendant of the Prophet’s household, said: “The Messenger’s blessed feet are on my shoulders, and mine are on the shoulders of all saints.” This statement will probably stand for all saints to come.
The Messenger was completely balanced in the way he brought up his children. He loved his children and grandchildren very much, and instilled love in them. However, he never let his love for them be abused. None of them deliberately dared to do anything wrong. If they made an unintentional mistake, the Messenger’s protection prevented them from going even slightly astray. He did this by wrapping them in love and an aura of dignity. For example, once Hasan or Husayn wanted to eat a date that had been given to distribute among the poor as alms. The Messenger immediately took it from his hand, and said: “Anything given as alms is forbidden to us.”16 In teaching them while they were young to be sensitive to forbidden acts, he established an important principle of education.
Whenever he returned to Madina, he would carry children on his mount. On such occasions, the Messenger embraced not only his grandchildren but also those in his house and those nearby. He conquered their hearts through his compassion. He loved all children.
He loved his granddaughter Umama as much as he loved Hasan and Husayn. He often went out with her on his shoulders, and even placed her on his back while praying. When he prostrated, he put her down; when he had finished, he placed her on his back again.17 He showed this degree of love to Umama to teach his male followers how to treat girls. This was a vital necessity, for only a decade earlier it had been the social norm to bury infant or young girls alive. Such public paternal affection for a granddaughter had never been seen before in Arabia.
The Messenger proclaimed that Islam allows no discrimination between son and daughter. How could there be? One is Muhammad, the other is Khadija; one is Adam, the other is Eve; one is Ali, the other is Fatima. For every great man there is a great woman.
Fatima, the daughter of the Messenger, is the mother of all members of his household. She is our mother, too. As soon as Fatima entered, the Messenger would stand, take her hands and make her sit where he had been sitting. He would ask about her health and family, show his paternal love for her, and compliment her.
He loved her like his own self, and Fatima, knowing how fond he was of her, loved him more than her own self. Her great mission was to be the seed for saints and godly people. She always watched her father and how he called people to Islam. She wept and groaned when the Messenger told her that he would die soon, and rejoiced when he told her that she would be the first family member to follow him.18 Her father loved her, and she loved her father. The Messenger was totally balanced even in his love for Fatima. He trained her for the heights to which the human soul should rise.
The Messenger raised her, as well as all of his other family members and Companions, in a way to prepare them for the Hereafter. All of us were created for eternity, and so cannot be satisfied except through eternity and the Eternal Being. Therefore, we only want Him and long for Him, either consciously or unconsciously. The essence of all religions and the message of every Prophet was about the Hereafter. For this reason, the Messenger always sought to prepare his followers for the eternal peace and permanent bliss; meanwhile, his very existence among them was a sample of that peace and bliss they would taste in His presence.
He loved them and directed them toward the Hereafter, to the otherworldly and eternal beauty, and to God. For example, He once saw Fatima wearing a necklace (a bracelet, according to another version), and asked her: “O my daughter, do you want people to say of my daughter that she is wearing a chain of Hellfire?” These few words, coming from a man whose throne was established in her heart and who had conquered all her faculties, caused her to report, in her own words: “I immediately sold the necklace, bought and freed a slave, and then went to the Messenger. When I told him what I had done, he rejoiced. He opened his hands and thanked God: All thanks to God, Who protected Fatima from Hell.”19
Fatima did not commit any sin by wearing this necklace. However, the Messenger wanted to keep her in the circle of the muqarrabin (those made near to God). His warning to her was based on taqwa (righteousness and devotion to God) and qurb (nearness to God). This was, in a sense, a neglect of worldly things. It is also an example of the sensitivity befitting the mother of the Prophet’s household, which represents the Muslim community until the Last Day. To be a mother of such godly men like Hasan, Husayn, and Zayn al-‘Abidin was certainly no ordinary task. The Messenger was preparing her to be the mother first of his own household (Ahl al-Bayt), and then of those who would descend from them, such great spiritual leaders as Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Muhammad Baha’ al-Din al-Naqshband, Ahmad Rifa‘i, Ahmad Badawi, al-Shadhili, and the like.
It was as if he were telling her: “Fatima, you will marry a man (‘Ali) and go to a house from which many golden rings will emerge in the future. Forget the golden chain on your neck and concentrate on becoming the mother for the golden chains of saints who will appear in the spiritual orders of Naqshbandiya, Rifa‘iya, Shadhiliyya, and the like.” It was difficult to fulfill such a role while wearing a golden necklace. For this reason, the Messenger was more severe with his own household than with others. He reminded them of the straight path by turning their faces toward the other world, closing all the windows opening on this world, and telling them that what they need is God.
They were to lead their whole lives looking to the other world. For this reason, as a sign of his love, the Messenger purified his own household from all worldly rubbish and allowed no worldly dust to contaminate them. He turned their faces toward the exalted realms and prepared them for being together there.
“YOU ARE WITH THOSE WHOM YOU LOVE”
According to this hadith, if you love Prophet Muhammad you will be on his path, and those on his path will be together with him in the world beyond. To prepare his household and Companions for this gathering, the Messenger loved and embraced them. He used this love efficiently. Bukhari and Muslim gave another example of how he educated them. ‘Ali narrates that:
We had no servant in our house, and so Fatima did all the housework by herself. We lived in a house with just a small room. There, she would light a fire and try to cook. She often singed her clothes while trying to increase the fire by blowing. She also baked our bread and carried water. Her hands became covered in calluses from turning the millstone, as did her back from carrying water. Meanwhile some prisoners of war were brought to Madina. The Messenger gave them to those who applied. I suggested to Fatima that she ask for a servant from her father. And she did.
I went to my father, but he was not at home. ‘A’isha said she would tell him when he came, so I returned home. As soon as we went to bed, the Messenger came in. We wanted to get up, but he did not let us and instead sat between us. I could feel the cold of his foot on my body. He asked what we wanted, and I explained the situation. The Messenger, in an awesome manner, replied: “Fatima, fear God and be faultless in all your duties to Him. I will tell you something. When you want to go to bed, say subhan Allah (All glory be to God), al-hamdu li-Allah (All praise be to God), and Allahu akbar (God is the greatest) 33 times each. This is better for you than having a maid.20
What he was actually saying through this conversation was:
I am turning your faces to the otherworldly realms. There are two ways for you to reach them and be together with me there: Fulfill your duties in perfect servitude to your Lord and fulfill your duties to your husband. If a maid takes your responsibilities, this may make you deficient. You must have two wings to fly to the higher ranks. How can a man or woman become a perfect slave of God? How can a person become a perfect human being and fulfill all of his or her obligations? It is your duty to find the answers to these questions. First of all, become a perfect slave of God. Then, become a perfect human being by performing your duties to ‘Ali, a great man who represents all the saints who will descend from your family. If you do so, you will be with me in Heaven, where all the perfect things and perfect human beings shall come together.
I cannot help but digress to mention a fact about ‘Ali. The Messenger gave him his daughter in marriage without hesitation, because he deserved to have such a wife and to be a Prophet’s son in-law. ‘Ali was the king of saints, and was created in this nature. The Messenger told him: “O ‘Ali, every other Prophet had his own offspring. However, mine will come from you.”21 ‘Ali is the father of the Prophet’s household, namely, his grandchildren and later descendants. For this reason, obeying ‘Ali means obeying the Messenger, and obeying the Messenger means obeying God. Also, those who love ‘Ali should love the Prophet and follow his Sunnah.
Why He Had More Than One Wife
Some critics of Islam, either because they do not know the reasons for these marriages or because they want to portray him as a self-indulgent libertine, have accused the Messenger of character failings that are incompatible with having even average virtue, let alone with the virtue of God’s final Messenger and best example for humanity. The facts, all of which are easily available in scores of biographies and well-authenticated accounts of his sayings and actions, refute all such allegations and show that these marriages were part of a strictly disciplined life and yet another burden he had to bear.
The reasons behind his several marriages, while differing from case to case, all have to do with his role as the leader of the new Muslim community, and his responsibility to guide his followers toward the norms and values of Islam.
The Prophet married his first wife when he was 25 years old, 15 years before his Prophethood began. Given the cultural and moral climate in which he lived, not to mention his youth and other factors, he nevertheless enjoyed a sound reputation for chastity, integrity, and trustworthiness. As soon as he was called to Prophethood, he acquired enemies who made all sorts of charges. However, not even his fiercest enemies attacked his reputation, for doing so would have caused them to be ridiculed and discredited immediately. It is important to realize that his life was founded upon chastity and self-discipline from the outset, and so remained.
When he was 25 and in the prime of life, the Prophet married Khadija, a widow 15 years his senior. This marriage was very high and exceptional in the eyes of the Prophet and God. For 23 years, this devoted couple lived together in complete contentment and fidelity. The Prophet took no other wives while Khadija was alive, although public opinion and social norms would have allowed this. Even his enemies admitted that, during these years, they could find no flaw in his moral character. When she died during the eighth year of Prophethood, the Prophet found himself single once again, but this time with children. He remained unmarried for 4 or 5 years. All of his other marriages began when he was 53 years old or older, an age when very little real interest and desire for marriage remains, especially in Arabia where people grow old relatively earlier. Thus, allegations of licentiousness or self-indulgence are groundless.
People often ask how a Prophet can have more than one wife. There are three points to be made in answering this question. But, let’s first see who is asking this question. Mostly, they are either Christians or Jews (People of the Book), or atheists. As such people usually know next to nothing about Islam, their question is based either on genuine ignorance or the desire to spread doubt among believers.
Those who neither believe in nor practice a religion have no right to reproach those who do. Such people are known for their casual relations and liaisons with numerous sexual partners and their refusal to follow any moral rules or ethics. Their disguised yet unrestrained self-indulgence, as well as their refusal to consider its consequences upon themselves and young people in general, not to mention their own children, has had serious social repercussions. Considering themselves free, they engage in what most societies consider to be immoral behavior: incest, homosexuality, polyandry (multiple husbands at the same time), and others. They never stop to consider what effect such practices have on the children of such unions.
When we understand this, we can take their criticisms for what they are: a desire, whether conscious or otherwise, to drag believers into the mess of moral confusion and viciousness in which they themselves are trapped.
One wonders why Jews and Christians attack the Prophet for his multiple marriages. Have they forgotten that the great Hebrew patriarchs, considered Prophets in the Bible and in the Qur’an and revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as exemplars of moral excellence, all practiced polygamy? Moreover, as in the case of Prophet Solomon,22 they had far more wives than Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace. One wonders if they are moved more by their anti-Islam bias than genuine concern or interest.
Polygamy did not begin with the Muslims. Furthermore, in the case of the Prophet of Islam, it was an essential part of conveying the message of Islam and bringing unbelievers into its fold. For example, a religion that encompasses every sphere of life cannot be shy when it comes to intimate matters. Such things can only be known by one’s spouse. Therefore, there must be women who can give clear instruction and advice, as such matters cannot be left to the usual allusions, hints, and innuendos. The Prophet’s wives functioned as teachers who conveyed and explained to other women, as well as men, Islamic norms and rules for correct domestic, marital, and other private concerns.
Some marriages were contracted for specific reasons, such as:
Since his wives were young, middle-aged, and elderly, the requirements and norms of Islamic law could be applied correctly to each stage of their lives and experiences. These provisions were learned and applied within the Prophet’s household and then conveyed to other Muslims through his wives.
Each wife was from a different clan or tribe, which allowed him to establish bonds of kinship and affinity throughout Arabia. This caused a profound attachment to him to spread among the diverse peoples of the new Muslim community, and also created and secured equality, brotherhood, and sisterhood among both in practical matters and in terms of religion.
Both before and after the Prophet passed away, each wife proved to be of great benefit and service. They conveyed and interpreted Islam to their people in all its inner and outer experiences, as well as the qualities, manners, and faith of the man who was living embodiment of the Qur’an in every aspect of his life. In this way, their people learned the Qur’an, the Traditions, tafsir (Qur’anic interpretation and commentary), and fiqh (understanding of the Islamic law), and so became fully aware of Islam’s essence and spirit.
These marriages allowed Prophet Muhammad to establish kinship ties throughout Arabia, and thus to move freely wherever he wished and to be accepted as a member in each family. In addition, everyone so connected to him felt that they could approach him personally for guidance on any issue. The entire tribe also benefited from this connection; they considered themselves fortunate and took pride in their new relationship. For example, such relationships were established for the Umayyads (through Umm Habiba), the Hashimites (through Zaynab bint Jahsh), and the Banu Makhzum (through Umm Salama).
So far, what we have said is general and could, in some respects, be true of all Prophets. However, now we will give brief life sketches of these women, not in the order of marriage but from a different perspective.
Khadija was the Prophet’s first wife. When they married, she was 40; he was 25. She was the mother of all his children except for his son Ibrahim, who did not survive infancy. But she was more than just his wife—she was his friend who shared his inclinations and ideals to a remarkable degree. Their marriage was wonderfully blessed, and they lived together in profound harmony for 23 years. Through every outrage and persecution heaped upon him by the Makkans, Khadija was his dearest companion and helper. He loved her deeply, and married no other woman while she was alive.
This marriage presents the ideal forms of intimacy, friendship, mutual respect, support, and consolation. Though faithful and loyal to all his wives, he never forgot Khadija; for the rest of his life, he often mentioned her virtues and merits. The Prophet did not remarry for 4 or 5 years after her death. Providing his children’s daily food and provisions, bearing their troubles and hardships, caused him to be both a father and a mother. To allege that such a man was a sensualist or lusted after women is beyond belief. If there were even the least grain of truth in it, he could not have lived as history records that he did.
‘A’isha, his second wife (though not in the order of marriage), was the daughter of Abu Bakr, his closest friend and devoted follower. One of the earliest converts to Islam, this man had long hoped to cement the deep attachment between himself and the Prophet by giving ‘A’isha to him in marriage. His acceptance of this arrangement conferred the highest honor and courtesy on a man who had shared all the good and bad times with him throughout his mission.
‘A’isha, who proved to be a remarkably intelligent and wise woman, had both the nature and temperament to carry forward the work of Prophetic mission. Her marriage prepared her to be a spiritual guide and teacher to all women. She became a major student and disciple of the Prophet and through him, like so many Muslims of that blessed time, she matured and perfected her skills and talents so that she could join him in the abode of bliss both as wife and as student. Her life and service to Islam after her marriage prove that such an exceptional person was worthy to be the Prophet’s wife.
Over time, she proved to be one of the greatest authorities on hadith, an excellent Qur’anic commentator, and a most distinguished and knowledgeable expert (faqih) in Islamic law. She truly represented the inner and outer qualities and experiences of Prophet Muhammad through her unique understanding.
Umm Salama, of the Makhzum clan, was first married to her cousin. The couple had embraced Islam at the very beginning and emigrated to Abyssinia to avoid Qurayshi persecution. After their return, they migrated to Madina with their four children. Her husband participated in many battles and, severely wounded at Uhud, attained martyrdom shortly thereafter. Abu Bakr and ‘Umar proposed marriage, aware of her needs and suffering as a widow with children but without means to support them. She refused, believing that no one could be better than her late husband.
Sometime after that, the Prophet offered to marry her. This was quite right and natural, for this great woman, who had never shied from sacrifice and suffering for Islam, was now alone after having passed many years among the noblest Arab clan. She could not be neglected and left to beg her way in life. Considering her piety, sincerity, and all that she had suffered, she deserved to be helped. By marrying her, the Prophet was doing what he had been doing since his youth, namely, befriending those lacking friends, supporting those without support, and protecting those without protection.
Umm Salama also was intelligent and quick in comprehension. She had all the capacities and gifts to become a spiritual guide and teacher. After her marriage to the Prophet, she became a new student in the school of knowledge and guidance, one to whom all women would be grateful. Let us recall that, at this time, the Prophet was approaching the age of sixty. His marriage to a widow with four children and acceptance of all related expenses and responsibilities can be understood only in terms of his infinite reserves of humanity and compassion.
Umm Habiba was the daughter of Abu Sufyan who, for a long time, was the Prophet’s bitterest foe and strongest supporter of unbelief. Despite this, his daughter was one of the earliest converts to Islam and emigrated to Abyssinia with her husband. Her husband died there, leaving her alone and desperate in exile.
Umm Habiba could not support herself. She was faced with several options: conversion to Christianity in return for Abyssinian Christian support (unthinkable); return to her father’s home, now a headquarters of the war against Islam (unthinkable); or go begging from household to household. This last option was just as unthinkable as the other two, but had the added disadvantage that if she were forced to do so, she would bring shame upon her family name, as it was one of the richest and noblest Arab families.
God recompensed Umm Habiba for all that she lost or sacrificed in the way of Islam. She had been reduced to a lonely exile and a grieving widow in an insecure environment among people who were racially and religiously different from her. The Prophet, learning of her plight, sent an offer of marriage through the king Negus. This noble and generous action is a practical proof of:
We have not sent you save as a mercy for all creatures (21:107).
Through this marriage, Abu Sufyan’s powerful family was linked with the person and household of the Prophet, a fact that caused them to rethink their opposition. It also is correct to trace this marriage’s influence beyond Abu Sufyan’s immediate family and to the Umayyads, who ruled the Muslims for almost a hundred years. This clan, whose members had been the most hostile to Islam, went on to produce some of Islam’s most renowned warriors, administrators, and governors in the early period. It was his marriage to Umm Habiba that began this change: the Prophet’s depth of generosity and magnanimity of soul surely overwhelmed them.
Zaynab bint Jahsh was a lady of noble birth and descent, as well as a close relative of the Prophet. She also was a woman of great piety, who fasted a great deal, kept long vigils, and gave generously to the poor. When the Prophet made known to her parents that he wished her to marry Zayd (at one time his adopted son), both she and her family were at first unwilling. The family had hoped to marry their daughter to the Prophet. Naturally, when they realized that it was the Prophet’s wish that she marry Zayd, they all consented out of their love for the Prophet and his authority.
As mentioned above, the Messenger made this marriage to abolish several pagan customs: a freed ex-slave could not marry a free-born woman, an adoptive father could not marry his adopted son’s ex-wife or widow. The marriage did not bring happiness to either person. Both were devout Muslims and loved the Prophet, but they were not compatible. Zayd several times asked the Prophet to allow him to divorce Zaynab, but the Prophet told him to be patient and not divorce her. Then, once when the Prophet was talking with some people, Gabriel came and a Divine Revelation was given to him.23 This verse announced the Prophet’s marriage to Zaynab as a bond already contracted:
We have married her to you (33:37).
There was no lust involved here. Rather, it was such a severe trial that ‘A’isha later said: “Had the Messenger of God been inclined to suppress anything of what was revealed to him, he would surely have suppressed this verse.”24
Juwayriya bint Harith, daughter of the defeated Banu Mustaliq clan’s chief, was captured during a military expedition. She was held, like other members of her proud family, alongside her clan’s “common” people. She was in considerable distress when taken to the Prophet, not least because her kinsmen had lost everything and she really hated the Muslims. The Prophet understood her wounded pride and dignity, and how to heal them. He agreed to pay her ransom, set her free, and offered to marry her.
How gladly Juwayriya accepted this offer can easily be imagined. About 100 families were freed when the Ansar and the Muhajirun learned that the Bani Mustaliq were now related to the Prophet by marriage. A tribe so honored could not be allowed to remain in slavery.25 In this way, the hearts of Juwayriyah and all her people were won.
Safiyya was the daughter of Huyayy, a chieftain of the Jews of Khaybar, who had persuaded the Bani Qurayza to break their treaty with the Prophet. She had seen her family and relatives oppose the Prophet since her youth. In the Battle of Khaybar, she lost her father, brother, and husband, and she was among the captives.
The attitudes and actions of her family and relatives might have caused her to nurture a deep hatred of and desire for revenge against the Muslims. But three days before the Prophet’s appearance in front of Khaybar’s citadel, Safiyya had dreamed of a brilliant moon coming from Madina, moving toward Khaybar, and falling into her lap.
She later said: “When I was captured, I began to hope that my dream would come true.” When she was brought before the Prophet, he generously set her free and offered her the choice of remaining a Jewess and returning to her people or entering Islam and becoming his wife. “I chose God and His Messenger,” she said. They were married shortly thereafter.
Elevated to the Prophet’s household and now a “mother of the believers,” she experienced first-hand the Companions honorable and respectful treatment. She saw the refinement and true courtesy of those who had submitted their hearts and minds to God. Her attitude to her past experiences changed altogether, and she came to appreciate the great honor of being the Prophet’s wife. This marriage also changed the attitude of many Jews, as they came to see and know the Prophet closely.
Sawda bint Zam‘a was Sakran’s widow. This couple had been among the first to embrace Islam and emigrate to Abyssinia. Sakran died in exile and left his wife utterly destitute. To relieve her distress, Prophet Muhammad married her, although he was facing great difficulties in meeting his own daily needs. This marriage took place sometime after Khadija’s death.
Hafsa was the daughter of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, the future second caliph of Islam. Also an exile in Abyssinia and then an immigrant in Madina, she was widowed when her husband attained martyrdom in the path of God. She remained without a husband for a while. ‘Umar wished for the honor and blessing of being close to the Prophet in this world and the Hereafter, just as Abu Bakr had, and so the Prophet married her to protect and help his faithful disciple’s daughter.
Such were the circumstances and motives behind the Prophet’s several marriages. There was no lust involved. Rather, he married them to provide helpless or widowed women with a dignified subsistence; to console and honor enraged or estranged tribes-people by bringing former enemies into some degree of relationship and harmony; to gain certain uniquely gifted individuals, in particular some exceptionally talented women, for the cause of Islam; to establish new norms of relationship between different people within the unifying brotherhood of faith in God; and to honor with family bonds the men who were to be his immediate political successors.
These marriages had nothing to do with self-indulgence, personal desire, or lust. With the exception of ‘A’isha, all of his wives were widows, and all of his marriages (except for that with Khadija) were contracted when he was already an old man. Far from being acts of self-indulgence, these marriages were acts of self-discipline.
The Prophet was given a special Divine dispensation, one unique to his person, to have this number of wives. The Revelation restricting polygamy came after he had contracted all of these marriages. After that event, he was also forbidden to marry again.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
- The reason was not specified in sources. However, there were rare debates among his wives because of jealousy, which might have caused them to speak to him improperly. Another reason may be that it was rare for them to ask the Prophet for something that he could not procure. There was not the least record that some- thing happened between the Prophet and his wives because of sexual reasons. Visiting was not restricted to sexual relations. He may have been offended at her behavior in her room.
- Muslim, “Rada’,” 47.
- Bukhari, “Salat,” 80.
- Tirmidhi, “Nikah,” 41:4; Bukhari, “Adab,” 68.
- Bukhari, “Adab,” 68.
- Bukhari, “Shurut,” 15.
- Abu Dawud, “Sunna,” 15; Tirmidhi, “Rada’,” 11.
- Muslim, “Talaq,” 34, 35.
- Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-Awliya’, 8:100.
- Muslim, “Talaq,” 35.
- Tirmidhi, “Manaqib,” 64.
- Muslim, “Fada’il,” 63.
- Ibid., 62.
- Bukhari, “Jana’iz,” 44; Muslim, “Fada’il,” 62; Ibn Maja, “Jana’iz,” 53.
- Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 13:650.
- Ibn Hanbal, 2:279; Muslim, “Zakat,” 161.
- Bukhari, “Adab,” 18; Ibn Sa‘d, Tabaqat, 8:39.
- Muslim, “Fada’il,” 98, 99; Bukhari, “Manaqib,” 25.
- Nasa’i, “Zinat,” 39.
- Bukhari, “Fada’il al-Ashab,” 9; Muslim, “Dhikr,” 80, 81.
- Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, Lemalar, 4. “Lema.”
- According to I Kings 11:3, Solomon had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines.
- Bukhari, “Tawhid,” 22.
- Bukhari and Muslim.
- Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 6:277.