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Books Section > Ahmadiyyat in the Service of Islam by Naseer Ahmad Faruqui Sahib > The Holy Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) Marriages

Chapter 9:
The Holy Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) Marriages:

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These were the chief target of attack by the Christian orientalists and missionaries, and aped by the Arya Samajists, and although they were repeatedly explained by the Promised Messiah and his able followers, particularly Maulana Muhammad Ali [Of the books by Maulana Muhammad Ali, see the English Translation with Commentary of the Holy Quran, footnote 2000, under 33:50; Muhammad the Prophet, chapter 'The Prophet's Marriages'; and Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad, pp. 25-30], questions are asked about them even today.

To misconstrue the Holy Prophet's marriages, as some of the Western critics have done, as sexual indulgence (God forbid) is the height of injustice, amounting almost to a crime, in view of the following historical facts:

(1) He led a life of the utmost moral purity throughout. Although he was a handsome and a healthy man, and in the pre-Islamic Arabian society it was customary for young men to indulge in sex freely, he lived a life of puritanical chastity. Even a hostile critic of Islam like the nineteenth-century author Sir William Muir has remarked that the Holy Prophet Muhammad's moral conduct was exemplary and unique in its chastity.

(2) Later in life, after he was called to prophethood, the Holy Quran threw the following challenge about him to his enemies:

'(Say), I have lived among you a lifetime before this. Do you not then use your reason?' (10:16).

His opponents were thus challenged to find a single fault in his lifetime spent with them. Not one of them could say anything against his character or morals.

(3) After leading an absolutely clean and spotless life up to the age of 25, he married a widow of 40, who was twice married before. And he was an absolutely faithful husband to her for twenty-five years when she died. She thought so highly of his sterling and outstanding qualities that when he was called to prophethood she was the first person to believe in him and accept him as a prophet of God. The well-known adage is that 'No man is a hero to his valet.' To that I would add, 'much less to his wife,' for wives are the worst critics of their husbands. Here was a wife, older than the husband by fifteen years, who could find no fault in him; on the other hand, she was the first to believe in him as a prophet of God. Could there be a greater testimony to his character and qualities?

(4) Polygamy was common in Arabia even before Islam. Had the Holy Prophet also married a young and beautiful virgin, even after marrying a widow, as a man given to sex would have, his first wife would have understood completely and been a willing partner to the decision. But not the Holy Prophet, who denied himself as no other person could have.

(5) It is not that the Holy Prophet was not offered the temptation. When his opponents, who were not only overwhelming in numbers, but were also in authority in Makkah, could not budge him from his mission by persecution and harassment, they tried all possible temptations. 'If you want to be our king, we will accept you as such,' they offered. 'If you want wealth, we will heap piles of gold and silver before you. If you want a beautiful woman or women, name them and we will provide them for you,' they said. The Holy Prophet's reply is well-known in history: 'Even if you bring down the sun to place it in my right hand, and the moon in my left hand, I will not give up the mission entrusted to me.' Could this be the reply of any person given to the call of flesh or of this world at all?

(6) If the Holy Prophet did not for any reason take a second wife while his first wife was alive, although polygamy was the fashion in the society of his time, what was there to prevent him from marrying a more attractive wife after his first wife had died? Yet he never gave a thought to marriage, although he had two young daughters to look after, in addition to the onerous calls of prophethood. After three more years of self-denial, when he was advised to marry again, he chose another widow who was seventy years of age and far from attractive! It should be obvious to any fair-minded person that sex did not enter into his mind. It was compassion and sympathy for those in distress, so overwhelming in his nature even otherwise, that made him select old and helpless widows as his sole wives - one at a time - until he was fifty-five years old. In the hot and enervating climate of the tropics one is well past the prime of life by that age. To suspect a man who thus sacrificed the best years of his manhood to provide protection for old widows, one after the other, without a thought for his natural desires, of indulging in sex, is the height of injustice and enmity, for what else can it be?

(7) He took more than one wife from 2 A.H. to 7 A.H. (623-628 CE). The reasons for that were again entirely unselfish. Firstly, these were the years of the wars imposed upon him and his followers by their enemy (the disbelievers, out to destroy him, his followers, and above all the religion of Islam). Hundreds of his followers fell as martyrs. Because they died for him, he felt an obligation to take care of their widows. Therefore he and his surviving followers married them.

(8) Four of his marriages during this period were due to reasons of state (of which he was now becoming the head - much against his wishes) and high policy. The wives he thus married were Safiyya (daughter of the Jewish chief of Khaibar after it fell to the Muslims -- to placate and win over the Jews after their defeat), Juwairiya (daughter of the chieftain of the huge tribe of Banu Mustaliq - after the tribe's revolt and defeat, again to placate the fallen foe), and Mary the Copt, who was bestowed upon the Holy Prophet by Maququs, the King of Egypt, as a gesture of goodwill and friendship. As a great deal of misunderstanding exists about this lady's case, a detailed discussion is summarized below.

(9) Mary the Copt

It is commonly, but quite wrongly, assumed about this lady that the Holy Prophet took her into his household without marrying her, as she was (i) a bestowed slave girl, and (ii) not a Muslim. What an awful assumption! The facts, on the contrary, are that:

(a) She was not a slave, but a lady from a noble family, sent as a present by King Maququs of Egypt as a token of his regard and esteem for the Holy Prophet. Maulana Shibli, in his famous Sirat-un-Nabi ('Life of the Holy Prophet'), has quoted on pages 305-306 of the first volume the letter which King Maququs of Egypt wrote to the Holy Prophet in reply to the latter's invitation to him to accept Islam. In that letter, the King, after saying that he was expecting such a prophet to appear, etc., goes on to say:
'I have given due honour to your emissary, and I send you as a gift two girls who are held in high esteem and honour among the Copts (residents of Egypt).

Maulana Shibli goes on to say in his footnote that the expression 'they are held in great honour and esteem,' used for Mary the Copt and her sister (sent to keep her company in the new country) could never have been used for slave girls, but only for women from a noble family. Mary's sister was given by the Holy Prophet to one of his Companions in marriage.

(b) The assumption that liberties could have been taken with Mary because she was Christian is also wrong from all points of view. It is true that Mary was a Christian when she left Egypt. But during the long journey by camel to Arabia, the two sisters were much impressed by the religious observances (such as prayers five times a day, even Tahajjud prayers, and recitation of the Holy Quran} of the Holy Prophet's emissary and his companions, and their model behaviour. And the two ladies became Muslims before reaching Madinah.

On grounds (a) and (b) above, Maulana Shibli concludes that Mary the Copt could not but have been married by the Holy Prophet. But let us proceed with other evidence on the point.

(c) There is a clear hadith on the point that the Holy Prophet did not on his death leave behind any slave - male or female (Bukhari, 55: 1). Now Mary survived the Holy Prophet for years. Had she been a female slave she would have been mentioned as such.

(d) There is further evidence that, on the Holy Prophet's death, the Caliphs fixed a maintenance allowance for his wives. The allowance given to Mary was the same as to other wives. This would not have been so, had she not been a married wife, but only a female slave.

(e) She took the veil like other wives of the Holy Prophet and of other Muslims, unlike slave girls, who did not take it when going out.

(f) When she died in the time of the second Caliph Hazrat Umar, he called the Muslims and himself led the funeral prayers, an honour shown only to the wives of the Holy Prophet (Al-Zarqani, Vol. 3, p. 272, Egyptian edition).

(g) Some people argue that there is no evidence of the nikah (marriage) ceremony of the Holy Prophet with Mary. So what? Reports of the nikah ceremony do not exist for all the wives, and yet they are treated as wives and not 'those whom your right hands possess.' I will show later that there is such evidence.

(h) In any case, no Muslim can dare to believe that the Holy Prophet himself could possibly have violated the injunctions of the Holy Quran, quoted already, that no sexual relationship can be had between man and woman except by regular marriage (4:25). The Holy Quran testifies that the Holy Prophet was the first to act on Divine Commands, and that is as it should have been. That is why Hazrat Ayesha, wife of the Holy Prophet, called him 'the personification of the Holy Quran.'

(j) Some people say that in verse 33:50 of the Holy Quran, talking about the wives of the Holy Prophet being taken under Divine dispensation, mention has been made of those 'whom your right hands possess.' As already shown, some of the wives of the Holy Prophet had come as prisoners of war, and were freed and married (such as Hazrats Safiyya, Juwairiyya and Maimuna), and the quoted expression refers to them for the reason already given in the last chapter under the subtitle "Concubinage". But the word fay, also used in that verse, has been taken advantage of to argue that it implies, not a prisoner of war, but a woman received as a gift. As will be shown in the next paragraph, she was married by the Holy Prophet as a regular wife and not kept as a slave girl. So the argument is baseless.

(k) And now for the clear and conclusive evidence of the following hadith:

'Hazrat Abdullah Al-Zubeiri reports: The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) then took in marriage Mary, daughter of Shamun (after nikah). It is the same Mary who was bestowed upon him by Maququs the Ruler of Egypt' (Sahih Al-Mustadrak Hakim, Book 4, 'Information about the Companions of the Holy Prophet: Mary the Copt,' page 38).

The doubts and unwarranted assumptions about this case should now be laid to rest forever. May Allah forgive those who have held them so far. I have discussed this case in detail as it was a great slur on the Holy Prophet to hold the view that he had, Allah forbid, violated the clear Divine Command in 4:25 (Holy Quran), and even many Muslims were involved in such thinking through ignorance.

(l) Incidentally, the following historians, in addition to Maulana Shibli, already quoted, support the view that the Holy Prophet had married Mary the Copt, like his other wives:
i. Hitti's History of the Arabs

ii. Ameer Ali's The Spirit of Islam

iii. Haykal's The Life of Muhammad

iv. Bahjuzi's Muhammad and the Cause of Islam

v. Namoos-e-Rasool by Hafiz Muhammad Sarwar of England.

(10) Another marriage forced upon him by circumstances was with his cousin, Zainab. The Holy Prophet, who was the greatest champion and emancipator of slaves, had freed his slave named Zaid. He later proposed marriage between Zaid and Zainab. This was distasteful to Zainab and her family. But out of respect for the wishes of the Holy Prophet, who pressed for the match to show that he regarded slaves (emancipated or otherwise) as equal to free men, Zainab and her family reluctantly gave in. But the marriage failed and Zaid divorced Zainab, in spite of the Holy Prophet's persistent advice to him not to do so. Zainab's plight was now hopeless and tragic. There was a shortage of men to marry even otherwise. But Zainab was now further handicapped by the double stigma of divorce and of having been married to a slave, even though freed. The then Arabs would possibly take widows as their additional wives, but not a divorcee, as it was assumed (however wrongly) that there must have been something seriously wrong with her to be divorced. And as marriage to a slave (even a free one) was considered a serious blot on the woman concerned, nobody would think of marrying her if she was divorced -a double stigma. So there was no hope for Zainab. And as the Holy Prophet felt himself to be responsible for the tragedy that befell her, he felt a moral responsibility to marry her, which he did.

That explains four of his ten marriages. The rest were also to widows and divorcees, barring Hazrat Ayesha, who was the only virgin to become his wife. That she was chosen by God, under Whose orders the Holy Prophet came completely after being called to prophethood (as is clear from the Holy Quran), to play a historic role in the Prophet's mission to humanity, will be shown later.

(11) None of the Holy Prophet's wives, except Hazrat Ayesha, was good-looking or attractive, as indicated in the books of Hadith, and admitted by the famous British historian Bosworth Smith. So that sex or self-indulgence did not come into these alliances at all.

(12) Then why did the Holy Prophet, who had attained to fifty-five out of his sixty-three years with only one wife at a time, and that, too, a widow, take so many wives at the fag-end of his life? Wars and the resulting widows are one reason. Divine dispensation is another, for the Holy Prophet came under Divine orders after being called to prophethood, as is clear from the Holy Quran (33:50). But why did Divine dispensation put such a heavy burden on the Holy Prophet in his old age? The reasons are extremely important, as will be shown below.

(13) The years when the Holy Prophet had to marry so many wives, 2 A.H. to 7 A.H., were not only the years of wars and multiplying widows, they were also the years when the Shari'ah (Islamic law) was given to the Holy Prophet, and through him to the Muslim community. A special and startling feature of these laws was the emancipation of women, who were not only declared to be equal to men as human beings, but were given rights which they never possessed before, even in a small measure - rights which are not enjoyed even today by women in the so-called advanced countries of the West, 'women's lib' notwithstanding. These included grant of the right to inherit and hold property to women, who were themselves previously considered to be the property of men. Now the women could inherit, and hold independently of the men, their properties which they (the women) were to inherit in their various capacities in life - as daughters, as sisters, as wives, as mothers, and so on. There were other unheard-of rights now granted to women. The Muslims (men) bowed to the will of God and His Prophet, but to say that there was no struggle for rights would be to misunderstand the position. The new rights included the right of the women to divorce their husbands or to remarry after divorce or after the death of their husbands. A reference to the Holy Quran will show that the only bar which the women had to overcome was iddat (compulsory waiting period) in case the widow or the divorced or divorcing woman was later found to be pregnant by her husband -in which case certain obligations fell on the husband or a dead husband's family. You can take it that the unhappy men and their family who had never heard of such rights to women before fought every inch of the ground, shaken, and slipping away from under their feet as the erstwhile lords and masters of their womenfolk. So the Muslim women had to approach their champion, the Holy Prophet, who was luckily among them, and whose word, when given, was law to the Muslim men. As the compulsory period of waiting (iddat) is based on the woman's menstruation, to decide whether she has conceived or not, this, and the linked matters, were not such that women could discuss them freely with, or even mention them before, the Holy Prophet. It was more discreet and respectable for these women to discuss such affairs with the Holy Prophet's wives as a link between them and him.

The number of women who came to the Holy Prophet's household to claim their rights or seek elucidation about their rights was quite large. Besides, even generally, the Divine commandments were terse and fundamental, and required a lot of elucidation and explanation of details by the Holy Prophet. So resort and recourse to him by men and women was often and time-consuming. The women, even then, were given to long talking and unnecessary details. And the Holy Prophet was overburdened with other duties. So the intervention of his wives, who acted as the link between him and the women clamouring for, or claiming, their rights, was absolutely essential. That the wives were groomed for this purpose will be clear from the next point.

(14) The Holy Prophet was declared by God to be the last Prophet; to be an exemplar to the whole of mankind for all time to come, i.e. till Doomsday; to be the spiritual father of mankind as a whole (Holy Quran 33:40 and 21). It was therefore necessary to preserve for all time to come, for the benefit of all nations of the world, all that he said or did. This was a task which no one, not even a few persons, could perform. It required hundreds, in fact thousands, of his followers to do. And they did it so well that everything he said in explanation of the Holy Quran, or to give details of its commandments (which by itself was a monumental task), and all he did to illustrate and exemplify the teachings of the Holy Quran, or the thousands of prophecies (or the immense knowledge of the future or the unseen) that he uttered, is all preserved. So that he is truly the only historical prophet, whose life is as much before us today as it was before his followers 1400 years ago.

In performing this Herculean task, his wives played as important a role as his followers from outside. If his life and sayings outside the home required hundreds, nay thousands of men followers to preserve, his life and sayings inside the home could not possibly have been preserved by one woman. So that if between the years 2 to 10 A.H., when the Shari'ah (Muslim law) was being given, he eventually had ten wives, that was not too large a number to preserve the details of his sayings, explanations and amplifications of the fundamental commandments given in the Holy Quran, his examples set on different occasions at home, and his amplifications of the laws or commandments, given in reply to questioners, including women. Because it was necessary for at least ten wives to preserve all the details of his life (nearly half of it inside the home - taking into account the nights, the greater part of which he spent in praying), he was required to keep on all his ten wives (Holy Quran 33:50), even when the ceiling of four for polygamy was imposed by the Holy Quran. And it was for this noble mission of preserving his life-story in full that one or two wives had to accompany him even on the arduous journeys by camel when he was compelled to go on his campaigns. In the battles which followed they served as nurses for the wounded or water-carriers for the thirsty.

(15) That the size of the Holy Prophet's household was by Divine dispensation, for the important role the wives were to play, is clear from the Holy Quran, for instance:

'O wives of the Prophet, you are not like any other women. And remember that which is recited in your houses of the messages of Allah and the wisdom (of the Prophet). Surely Allah is ever Knower of subtleties, Aware' (33:32-34).

The wives of the Holy Prophet, who were thus made the spiritual mothers of the believers as much as the Holy Prophet was made their spiritual father, were required to:

(a) Remember that which was recited in their houses of the messages of Allah.

(b) Remember the wisdom and knowledge of religion imparted to them by the Holy Prophet; and

(c) Be an exemplar to women as much as the Holy Prophet was an exemplar to men, in the field particularly of simplicity and frugality in matters of dress, ornaments, and the good things of life.

When these were earlier demanded by the wives, since they were lawful and were being enjoyed by other women, the Holy Prophet demurred, and he was later confirmed by Divine revelation, which came down to say:

'O Prophet, tell thy wives, If you desire the world's life and its adornment, come, I will give you a provision and allow you to depart a goodly departing. And if you desire Allah and His Messenger, then surely Allah has prepared for the doers of good among you a mighty reward' (33:28-29).

The Holy Prophet's wives, one and all, chose Allah and His Messenger and gave up the good things of life.

This act of Divine Wisdom was to:

(a) Forestall any objection later, as in fact was raised by Western orientalists, that the Holy Prophet was motivated by the desire for the good things of life in his campaigns (which were, in fact, for self-defence, but were misconstrued by Christian critics to be for plunder and booty). Hence the Holy Prophet's extremely poor and abstemious life, as well as that of his wives, is a complete answer to the mischievous allegations later of the Christian writers that he was motivated by desire for loot, plunder and booty in the wars (which were, in fact, forced upon him).

(b) Forestall the objection of women, who are by nature fond of clothes, ornaments and the good things of life, that it was possible for a man (in this case the Holy Prophet) to be simple and frugal because a man has not got the women's natural attraction for clothes, ornaments, etc. Here, the wives of the Holy Prophet, not one but ten, set for womankind for all time to come an example of simplicity and abstemiousness, so that women should not make the life of their husbands miserable by making excessive demands on them for clothes, ornaments and the good things of life, which frequently force men to commit unlawful acts for obtaining money.

(16) The wives of the Holy Prophet discharged their responsibilities to perfection. Not only did they preserve for the whole of mankind for all time to come the sayings and example of the Holy Prophet in all walks of life, but they really became the spiritual mothers of the believers who flocked to them after the Holy Prophet's death in thousands to learn religion. It is estimated that nearly one third of the religion has come down to us through Hazrat Ayesha, who, being young (seventeen years old) when married to the Holy Prophet, survived him for nearly fifty long years to teach religion to men and women alike. Even the greatest Companions of the Holy Prophet would later come to her to seek understanding of some of the verses of the Holy Quran or to seek knowledge about the Holy Prophet's example in a particular matter.

The same role was played by the other widows of the Holy Prophet. After 40 A.H., when the seat of the Muslim empire was shifted from Madinah to Damascus by Hazrat Muawiyyah, two of the Holy Prophet's widows gave up their life-long home in Madinah and the spiritual consolation they derived from being near to the Holy Prophet's grave, to travel to distant Damascus and to take up residence there to teach religion to the Muslims - men and women - who flocked to the new capital in thousands from the far corners of the Muslim empire, which then spread from China to the Atlantic. These two estimable widows of the Holy Prophet died, and are now buried, in Damascus. I, with all my sinfulness and unworthiness, have had the honour of visiting their graves in the company of my wife, and of saying my humble prayer for the souls of these two great benefactors of mankind.


Books Section > Ahmadiyyat in the Service of Islam by Naseer Ahmad Faruqui Sahib > The Holy Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) Marriages


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