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Islamic Ideology ( 31 Aug 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Prophet’s Wives And Reasons For His Multiple Marriages

By Dr. Safvet Halilović

In Islamic tradition the wives of the Prophet of Allah, s.a.w.s., occupy a special place. According to the letter of the Qur`an, they are umahaatu-l-mu'miniin (the mothers of the believers): “The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers…” (Al-Ahzab, 6)

The Prophet’s wives had a specific treatment also after his death. To them it was not permissible to marry again. In this regard there is a unanimous concensus among Islamic scholars.

Without doubt, the Prophet of Allah, s.a.w.s., did not opt for multiple marriages for reason of satisfying his lust. As for those who object that he did it for his physical satisfaction, it is advisable to remind them of the following indisputable facts:

First, the Prophet had every opportunity to chose for wives the most beautiful young girls and that way please his sexual urge. The fact is, however, that he did not do so. The truth is that the only virgin whom he married was A`isha r.a. All other wives of his were women who had been previously married and majority of them were of more advanced age. This, undoubtedly, shows that to him satisfaction of physical desires was secondary, while fulfilment of the higher moral demands was primary. In that way the Prophet s.a.w.s. affirmed the noblest human virtues. We can convince ourselves of this by getting an insight into the specific reasons for marriage with every individual woman that he made his wife. It is obvious that not once the pursuit of bodily satisfaction was a deciding factor for him. Second, it is well known that Muhammad s.a.w.s. spent his childhood in Makkah, living a modest and decent life. Muslim and non-Muslim scholars are unanimous in this. People around him knew him by his nick-names As-Sadiq (the one who always speaks the truth) and Al-Ameen (trustworthy). His biographers recorded that, when the Mekkan youngsters were lustfully enjoying wine, gambling and women, he was far away from such evils. Third, the Prophet spent in marriage with one wife a larger part of his life, from his 25th to 50th year. For a quarter of century he was with his first wife Khadijah, which, by the way, was 15 years older than him. Only after her death, when he stepped into the 6th decade of his life, did he marry more women. These facts, well established in the relevant historic literature, undisputably indicate that the Prophet’s multiple marriages had much deeper sense than mere satisfaction of physical urge. This concise work is dedicated to the wives of the Prophet of Allah, all of whom have been awarded the status of mothers of the believers, as well as the reasons which made the Prophet s.a.w.s. resort to multiple marriages.


It is well established that the Prophet s.a.w.s., after his death, left behind 9 wives. One of his exclusive privileges was that it was permitted to him exclusively to be in marriage with more than 4 wives at the same time, unlike other men.[2] There are more reasons for that. Islamic scholars cite four most important ones: a) teaching Islam to others, b) establishing certain Shari’ah rulings, c) social reasons and d) political reasons. [3]

Before we examine each of these reasons, it is necessary to point out that the Prophet’s multiple marriages should be understood in their historic contexts. One should keep in mind that Islam did not invent the practise of multiple marriages, but it was present in the culture of all ancient nations: Athinians, Chinese, Hindus, Babilonians, Sumerans and Egyptians.

Most of these peoples simply had no limit to number of wives. Chinese Law Lao Ce permitted to men to have hundred and thirty wives. One of the Chinese kings had more than a thousand. [4] Jewish religion, also, made it lawful to men to have unlimited number of wives. All the prophets of Torah were polygamous. In Torah Sulaiman a.s. is mentioned to have had 700 wifes and additional 300 concubines.

In Christianity too, one does not find explicit texts forbidding multiple marriages. Moreover, it is historically proven that the ancient Christians married more women, and some church dignitaries also had more than one wife.[5] Therefore, the fact that the idea of polygamy exists in Islam too should not come as a surprise. However, in Islam it is limited to the maximum of four wives, and that, of course, only to those men who meet certain conditions. Exceptionally, in the case of the last Prophet of Allah, permission to marry more than four was given as one of his exclusive privileges and special rights. Nevertheless, for each one of his marriages there was a signifficant reason.

Reasons Of The Prophet’s Multiple Marriages

It has already been mentioned that there are four essential reasons which motivated the Prophet s.a.w.s. to contract his numerous marriages, and those are:

a) Teaching Islam to others,

b) Establishing certain Shariah rulings,

c) Social reasons,

d) Political reasons.

We will examine briefly each one of the reasons behind the Prophet’s multiple marriages.

a) Teaching Islam to others

One of the primary objectives of the multiple marriages of the Prophet s.a.w.s. was to provide qualified female teachers who will teach Muslim women the rules of Islam. Islamic society was in its developing stages and the wives of the Prophet s.a.w.s. had very important role in the domain of instructing female population in Islam. The Prophet was in a dire need of female daa’iis capable of doing da’wa among women, particularly in cases when exclusively feminine issues were to be dealt with, which men naturally would feel shy to speak about to the female audience.

It is well known that the culture of the Islamic family and marital life is associated with numerous specific rules, like those pertaining to: sexual relations between spouses, the rules about menstruation (hajd) and post birth cleaning (nifaas), ghusl required from the marital partners after sexual intercourse, the rules on cleanliness of woman, etc. It is also known that the Prophet s.a.w.s. was a person with very noticeable shyness. In the works of Hadith he has been described as someone “whose shyness was greater than the shyness of a virgin hiding in her rooms”.

Therefore, it is understandable that he could not directly respond to all the questions of other women regarding marital and intimate relations between husband and wife. Occasionally, his answers were of metaphorical nature, unlike those given by his wives, who spoke to other ladies directly, conveying to them the Shariah rules from the domain of family and marital life. The classical Islamic literature abounds in traditions about that. Bukhari and Muslim in their respective Sahihs, have reported from Aisha that a lady from al-Ansar asked the Prophet s.a.w.s about taking bath after menstruation. Instructing her how she should do it, the Prophet s.a.w.s said to her: “Take a piece of moshus and wipe yourself with it.” She asked: “How should I do that?” His response was: “Glory be to Allah, wipe yourself with it.” Aisha got involved. “I pulled her”, she narrates, “towards myself and told her: ‘Wipe the troubled area, so that you remove the traces of blood.”[6]

Hadith literature contains numerous similar examples where the Prophet’s wives appeared as teachers and pedagogues. This was especially the case with his wife Aisha, r.a., whom he married when she was very young. Thanks to her age, she was brought up under his guidance and supervision and was also educated in the teachings of the Deen directly by him. Following the Prophet’s death, she lived for almost a half of the century, teaching others the Islamic injunctions all that time.

b) Establishing certain Shariah rulings

This is mentioned as the second reason for the Prophet’s multiple marriages. It is well known that, for example, pre-Islamic Arabs had a custom of adopting a son (tabannii). According to that, an adopted child would be ascribed to the one who adopted him, in spite of that person not being his father. In the Islamic jurisprudence (Shari’ah) the institution of adoption is abrogated. Of course, the Shari’ah highly recommends that the orphans and unprovided for children should be looked after, but it does not permit their literal adoption by way of changing their last name, so as to make them fully ascribed to those who adopted them.

In the biographies it is mentioned that before his prophethood, Muhammad s.a.w.s. had adopted Zaid Ibn Haritha, whom he received as a slave from his wife Khadijah. As his male children did not survive, he adopted Zaid, who was called after that Zaid Ibn Muhammad, Zaid the son of Muhammad. At that time it was customary that, when an adopted son divorced his wife, it was not permitted to his adopted father to marry her. That custom was abolished and the Prophet married Zainab bint Jahsh, Zaid’s former wife. The marriage between Zainab and Zaid did not succeed, and it was ended in divorce. The glorious Qur`an speaks about that in the ayah 37 of the Surah Al-Ahzab:“Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favour: ‘Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah.’ But thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear Allah. Then, when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And Allah`s command must be fulfilled.”

It is useful to point out that of all the companions of the Prophet of Allah, only Zaid ibn Harithah r.a. is mentioned in the Glorious Qur`an, which is evident from the above ayah of Surah Al-Ahzab.

c) Social reasons

These reasons are stated in the Islamic literature as the third kind of reasons for the Prophet’s multiple marriages. It is well established fact that Islam devotes enormous attention to the institution of marriage, because marriage provides basis for close human links, relations and friendship.[7] These are the objectives which motivated the Prophet s.a.w.s. to marry A`isha, the daughter of his loyal friend and the life associate Abu Bakr, r.a. This marriage additionally strengthened the connection between Abu Bakr and the Prophet s.a.w.s. as the two thus became even family related. The Prophet achieved the same connection also with the eminent companion Umar ibn Al-Khattab, after he married Umar’s daughter Hafsah, following the death of her former husband. By taking Hafsah under his care, the Prophet s.a.w.s. at the same time further cemented closeness with Umar. It is necessary to point out that among the social reasons for Prophet’s marriages was also his desire to secure financially and in other ways a larger number of widows who would otherwise probably remain a social problem. This is evident in the case of his marriage to Zainab bint Huzaimah, whose husband Abdullah ibn Huzaimah, fell as a martyr in the battle of Uhud. After losing her husband, Zainab needed a care and protection, and the Prophet offered to marry her and thus provide her with that. The identical situation was with Ummu Salamah when he married her. She became a widow after the death of her previous husband Abu Salamah. From the Seerah we know that she had small children and the Prophet s.a.w.s. accepted to look after them by marrying her.

d) Political motives

Among the reasons for the Prophet’s multiple marriages the reasons of political nature are also evident. Moreover, these reasons are very important. The Prophet was at the head of the newly-formed state in Madina and naturally he had to think as a politician too. An example of this we find in his marriage with Juwairiya Bin Harith, the daughter of a tribal chief. She was assigned to the Prophet s.a.w.s. after having been taken a prisoner of war by Muslims as they defeated her tribe Bany Mustalaq. As the Prophet was very sensitive and considerate towards those who faced a disgrace of captivity, he offered to marry her and save her from humiliation of becoming somebody’s slave. Moreover, with that offer he also hoped to win the hearts of the Banu Mustaliq tribe for Islam. Now that the members of that tribe have become his in-laws, the release of all their prisoners was but a logical consequence. The Prophet’s hopes and expectations soon proved correct, because the whole tribe entered into the fold of the Deen of Allah.

The same objectives motivated the Prophet s.a.w.s. to offer to marry Safiyya Bin Huyayy, the daughter of the Jewish tribe Bany Nadir. With this particular marital connection he desired to reduce the enmity between Muslims and the People of the Book. Likewise, with his marriage to Umm Habiba, the daughter of the Makkan chief Abu Sufyan, the Prophet s.a.w.s. wanted to improve his relationships with Makkans and open their hearts towards Islam.

On the basis of the above-said, it is clear that the Prophet s.a.w.s. did not look at his multiple marriages as a way to satisfy his lust for women. Those, who are claming this to be the reason behind his numerous marriages, should be reminded of the following historic facts:

First, the Prophet s.a.w.s., given his position, could have chosen for marriage the most beautiful young women and thus satisfy his lust. But, he did not use his position: the only virgin he married was ‘A`isha r.a., while all other wives of his had been married before. Besides, majority of them were of noticably advanced age. This, without any doubt, shows that for the Prophet s.a.w.s. satisfaction of physical desires was obviously secondary, while fulfilment of high moral demands was his primary objective. That way the Prophet of Allah affirmed the most noble human virtues. This can easily be proven by looking into specific reasons which made him enter into the marriage union with each one of his wives. It is obvious that not once satisfaction of bodily desires was a deciding factor.

Second, it is well known that Muhammad s.a.w.s. spent his childhood and adolescent age at Makkah, living a decent and virtuous life. On this, muslim and non-muslim scholarly circles are in agreement. At such a young age he was characterized by high moral qualities and was known under the nicknames As-Sadiq (the one who always speaks truth) and al-Amin (trustworthy). The Prophet’s biographers recorded that, at the time when the youngsters of Makka were spending days and nights in drinking parties, gambling and women, he was far away from such vices.

Third, the Prophet s.a.w.s. lived a larger part of his life in marriage with one wife. From his 25th to 50th, that is to say for whole 25 years, his only wife was Khadijah, who, by the way, was fifteen years older than he. Only after her death, when he entered into 6th decade of life, did he have more wives. For each of his marriages there were big reasons. In order to provide a better insight into this, we will briefly present the circumstances surrounding every one of his marriages. (Summarized)

Translated from Bosnian: Tajib Pasanbegovic