NEVER MIND

This blog is about debating political issues, with specific reference to human rights

Wives of the Holy Prophet Muhammad

Excerpts from Karen Armstrong’s Book “Muhammad: Prophet for our Time” 

Excerpts from Harper Perennial London 2007 Edition

“Khadijah was probably in her late thirties when she married Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH), and bore him at least six children. Their two sons-Al-Qasim and Abdullah-died in infancy, but Muhammad adored his daughters Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum and Fatimah. It was a happy household, even though Muhammad insisted on giving a high proportion of their income to the poor. He also brought two needy boys into the family. On their wedding day, Khadijah had presented him a young slave called Zayd ibn al Harith from one of the northern tribes. He became so attached to his new master that when his family came to Mecca with the money to ransom him, Zayd begged to be allowed to remain with Muhammad, who adopted him and gave him his freedom.(page 38).

“Medina was well placed to attack the Meccan caravans on their way to and from Syria and shortly after Muhammad had arrived in Medina, he had started to send bands of Emigrants on raiding expeditions. Their aim was not to shed blood, but to secure an income by capturing camels, merchandise, and prisoners, who could be held for ransom. Nobody would have been particularly shocked by this development. The ghazu was a normal expedient in times of hardship, though some of the Arabs would have been surprised by the Muslims’ temerity in taking on the mighty Quraysh, especially as they were clearly inexperienced warriors. During the first two years after the Hijrah, Muhammad dispatched eight of these expeditions. He did not usually go himself but commissioned people such Hamzah and Ubaydah ibn al-Harith, but it was difficult to get accurate information about the caravans’ itinerary, and none of these early raids was successful. (page 126-27).

“Shortly after Muhammad arrived in Medina, he received a revelation that took a more militant line.

“Permission (to fight) is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged-and, verily, God has indeed the power to succor them-those who have been driven from their homelands against all right for no other reason than their saying `Our Sustainer is God!’

For if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, (all) monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques-in (all of) which God’s name is abundantly extolled-would surely have been destroyed (ere now).

“The Quran had begun to develop a primitive just war theory. In the steppes, aggressive warfare was praiseworthy; but in the Quran, self-defense was the only possible justification for hostilities and the preemptive strike was condemned. War was always a terrible evil, but it was sometimes necessary in order to preserve decent values, such as freedom of worship. (page 128).

At first, Muhammad fought according to the traditional rules, but in January 624, just before the change of the qiblah, he had his first experience of the unpredictability of warfare. During the winter months, the Quraysh sent their caravans south, so they no longer had to pass Medina. But ever anxious to attract their attention, Muhammad sent a small raiding party of nine men to attack one of these southbound caravans. It was the end of Rajab, one of the sacred months when all fighting was forbidden. On the last day of Rajab, the Muslims came upon a small caravan encamped in Nakhlah. What should they do? If they waited until the following day, when the truce ended, the caravan would be able to return unscathed to Mecca. They decided to attack. The first arrow killed one of the merchants, most of the others fled, but the Muslims took two prisoners whom they brought back to Medina with the captured merchandise.

But instead of greeting the raiders as conquering heroes, the Muslims were horrified to hear that the raid had violated the sacred month. For a few days, Muhammad did not know how to respond. …..There was something dubious about the whole business. Muhammad had never condemned the practice of the forbidden months before, the sources seem uneasy about the incident. …

Eventually Muhammad received a new revelation that reiterated the central principle of his just war. Yes, it had been wrong to break the sacred truce, but the policy of the Quraysh in driving the Muslims from their homes had been even more heinous. “They will not cease to fight against you till they have turned you away from your faith,” the Quran warned Muhammad. As to fighting during the forbidden month, this was indeed an “awesome thing,” But turning men away from the path of God and denying Him and (turning them away from) the Inviolable House of Worship and expelling its people therefrom – (all this) is far more awesome in the sight of God, since oppression is more awesome than killing.”

Muhammad, therefore, accepted the booty and reassured the community; he divided the spoils equally among the Emigrants and began negotiations with the Quraysh for an exchange of prisoners: he would trade the Meccan captives for two Muslims still living in Mecca who wanted to make the hijrah. But one of the prisoners was so impressed by what he saw in Medina that he decided to remain and convert to Islam. The incident is a good example of the way Muhammad was beginning to work. In his novel position, he could not rely on customary procedure. He was feeling his way forward step by step, responding to events as they unfolded. He had no fixed master plan and, unlike some of his more impetuous companions, he rarely responded to a crisis immediately but took time to reflect until finally – sometimes pale and sweating with the effort – he could bring forth what seemed an inspired solution. (pages 129-131).

And although it is important to fight persecution and oppression, the Quran constantly reminds Muslims that it is much better to sit down and solve the problems by courteous discussion. True, God permitted retaliation in the Torah – eye for eye, tooth for tooth -“but he who shall forgo it out of charity will atone better for some his past sins. Retaliation would be strictly confined to those who had actually perpetrated the atrocity, a great advance on the law of vendetta, which permitted revenge against any member of the killer’s tribe. (page 136).

On their way home from Badr, Muhammad uttered an important and oft-quoted maxim: “We are returning from the Lesser Jihad (the battle) and going to the Greater Jihad,”- the immeasurably more important and difficult struggle to reform their own society and their own hearts. (page 137).

There were also changes in Muhammad’s family life. On his return from Badr, he learned that his daughter Ruqayyah had died. Uthman was sincerely grieved, but was glad to accept the hand of his late wife’s sister Umm Kulthum and retain his close relationship with the Prophet. One of the prisoners of war was Muhammad’s pagan son-in-law, Abul As, who had remained true to the traditional faith. His wife Zaynab, who was still living in Mecca, sent the ransom money to Medina together with a silver bracelet that had belonged to Khadijah. Muhammad recognized it at once and became momentarily distraught with sorrow. He let Abul As go free without taking the ransom, hoping that this would encourage him to accept Islam. He refused conversion but sadly agreed to the Prophet’s request that he send Zaynab and their little daughter Umamah to him in Medina, because life would now be impossible for them in Mecca. It was also time for Muhammad’s youngest daughter, Fatimah, to be married, and Muhammad gave her to Ali. The couple set up house near the mosque.

Muhammad also took a new wife: Umar’s daughter Hafsah, who had been recently widowed. She was beautiful and accomplished, and at the time of her marriage to the Prophet was about 18 years old. Like her father, she could read and write, but she also had Umar’s quick temper. Aisha was happy to welcome her into the household. Aisha would be jealous of Muhammad’s other wives, but the growing bond between their fathers made these two girls firm friends. They particularly enjoyed ganging up together against the stolid, unimaginative Sawdah.

Aisha may by this time have moved into the apartment that had been prepared for her in the mosque, though Tabari says that because of her youth she was allowed to remain for a while longer in her parents’ house. Muhammad was an indulgent husband. He insisted that his wives live frugally in their tiny, sparse huts, but he always helped them with the household chores and looked after his own personal needs, mending and patching his clothes, cobbling his shoes, and tending the family goats. With Aisha particularly he was able to unwind, challenging her to footraces and the like. She had a sharp tongue and was by no means a shy or submissive wife, but she liked to spoil Muhammad, anointing his hair with his favorite perfume, and drinking from the same cup. One day, while they were sitting together, the Prophet busily repairing his sandals, she saw his face light up at a passing thought. Watching him for a moment, she complimented him on his bright, happy expression, and Muhammad got up and kissed her forehead, saying “Oh Aisha, may Allah reward you well. I am not the source of joy to you that you are to me.”

Muhammad lived cheek by jowl with his family and companions and saw no opposition between his public and private life. It was possible for his wives to hear every word that was spoken in the mosque from their apartments. The Emigrants had immediately noticed that the women of Medina were different, less rigorously controlled than in Mecca, and soon found that their own wives were picking up the free and easy ways of the Medinese women: Umar was furious when his wife started to answer him back instead of meekly accepting his reproaches, and when he rebuked her she simply replied that the Prophet allowed his wives to argue with him. Trouble was brewing. Muhammad’s deliberate conflation of private and public was a blow to male supremacy, which can only exist if this distinction is maintained. (page 140).

Each of the Muslim dead (at Mount Uhud) had left wives and daughters without protectors. After the defeat, a revelation came to Muhammad giving Muslims permission to take four wives. Muslims must remember that God had created men and women from a single living entity, so that both sexes were equally precious in his sight.

Hence render unto the orphans their possessions and do not substitute bad things (of your own) for the good things (that belong to them) and do not consume their possessions together with your own; this, verily, is a great crime.

And if you have reason to fear that you might not act equitably towards orphans, then marry from among (other) women such as are lawful to you – (even) two or three or four but if you have reason to fear that you might not be able to treat them with equal fairness, then (only) one – or from among those whom you rightfully possess. This will make it more likely that you will not deviate from the right course.

The institution of polygamy has been much criticized as the source of considerable suffering for Muslim women, but at the time of this revelation it constituted a social advance. In the pre-Islamic period, both men and women were allowed several spouses. After marriage, a woman remained at the home of her family, and was visited by all her husbands. It was, in effect, a form of licensed prostitution. (page 145).

Paternity was, therefore, uncertain, so children were usually identified as the descendants of their mothers. Men did not need to provide for their wives and took no responsibility for their offspring. But Arabia was in transition. The new spirit of individualism in the peninsula meant that men were becoming more interested in their own children, were more assertive about personal property, and wanted their sons to inherit their wealth. The Quran encouraged this trend toward a more patriarchal society. Muhammad endorsed it by taking his wives into his own household and providing for them, and the verses instituting polygamy take it for granted that Muslim men will do the same. But the Quran was also aware of a social problem that this new revelation sought to redress.

In the pre-Islamic period, a woman could not own property. Any wealth that came her way belonged to her family and was administered by her male relatives. But in Mecca, where individualism was more pronounced than elsewhere in Arabia, some of the more aristocratic women had been able to inherit and administer their fortunes. Khadijah was a case in point, but this was still rare in Mecca and almost unheard of in Medina. Most men found the idea that women could inherit and mange their property quite ludicrous. Women had no individual right. How could they? Apart from a few notable exceptions, they did nothing to contribute to the economy; and because they took no part in the ghazu, they brought no wealth to the community. Traditionally women were considered part of a man’s estate. After his death, his wives and daughters passed to his male heirs, who often kept them unmarried and impoverished in order to control their inheritance.

The Quranic institution of polygamy was a piece of social legislation. It was designed not to gratify the male sexual appetite, but to correct the injustices done to widows, orphans, and other female dependants, who were especially vulnerable. All too often, unscrupulous people seized everything and left the weaker members of the family with nothing. They were often sexually abused by their male guardians or converted into a financial asset by being sold into slavery. Ibn Ubayy, for example, forced his women slaves into prostitution and pocketed the proceeds. The Quran bluntly refutes this behavior and takes it for granted that a woman has an inalienable right to her inheritance. Polygamy was designed to ensure that unprotected women would be decently married, and to abolish the old loose, irresponsible liaisons; men could have only four wives and must treat them equitably; it was an unjustifiably wicked act to devour their property.

The Quran was attempting to give women a legal status that most Western women would not enjoy until the nineteenth century. The emancipation of women was a project dear to the Prophet’s heart, but it was resolutely opposed by many men in the ummah, including some of his closest companions. In a society of scarcity, it took courage and compassion to take financial responsibility for four women and their children. Muslims must have confidence that God would provide:

Paternity was, therefore, uncertain, so children were usually identified as the descendants of their mothers. Men did not need to provide for their wives and took no responsibility for their offspring. But Arabia was in transition. The new spirit of individualism in the peninsula meant that men were becoming more interested in their own children, were more assertive about personal property, and wanted their sons to inherit their wealth. The Quran encouraged this trend toward a more patriarchal society. Muhammad endorsed it by taking his wives into his own household and providing for them, and the verses instituting polygamy take it for granted that Muslim men will do the same. But the Quran was also aware of a social problem that this new revelation sought to redress.

In the pre-Islamic period, a woman could not own property. Any wealth that came her way belonged to her family and was administered by her male relatives. But in Mecca, where individualism was more pronounced than elsewhere in Arabia, some of the more aristocratic women had been able to inherit and administer their fortunes. Khadijah was a case in point, but this was still rare in Mecca and almost unheard of in Medina. Most men found the idea that women could inherit and mange their property quite ludicrous. Women had no individual right. How could they? Apart from a few notable exceptions, they did nothing to contribute to the economy; and because they took no part in the ghazu, they brought no wealth to the community. Traditionally women were considered part of a man’s estate. After his death, his wives and daughters passed to his male heirs, who often kept them unmarried and impoverished in order to control their inheritance.

The Quranic institution of polygamy was a piece of social legislation. It was designed not to gratify the male sexual appetite, but to correct the injustices done to widows, orphans, and other female dependants, who were especially vulnerable. All too often, unscrupulous people seized everything and left the weaker members of the family with nothing. They were often sexually abused by their male guardians or converted into a financial asset by being sold into slavery. Ibn Ubayy, for example, forced his women slaves into prostitution and pocketed the proceeds. The Quran bluntly refutes this behavior and takes it for granted that a woman has an inalienable right to her inheritance. Polygamy was designed to ensure that unprotected women would be decently married, and to abolish the old loose, irresponsible liaisons; men could have only four wives and must treat them equitably; it was an unjustifiably wicked act to devour their property.

The Quran was attempting to give women a legal status that most Western women would not enjoy until the nineteenth century. The emancipation of women was a project dear to the Prophet’s heart, but it was resolutely opposed by many men in the ummah, including some of his closest companions. In a society of scarcity, it took courage and compassion to take financial responsibility for four women and their children. Muslims must have confidence that God would provide:

Marry the spouseless among you, and your slaves and handmaidens that are righteous; if they are poor, God will enrich them of his bounty, God is all-embracing All knowing.

Muhammad led the way, After Uhud, he took another wife, providing a home for Qaynab bint Khuzaymah, a widow whose husband had died at Badr. She was also the daughter of the Bedouin chief of Amir and so the match forged a new political alliance. An apartment was built for her beside the mosque and she joined her sisters: Sawdah, Aisha and Hafsah—there.

The Prophet did not regard his women as chattel. They were his companions—just like the men. He usually took one of his wives along on a military expedition and disappointed his commanders by spending the whole of every evening in their tent, instead of bonding with his men. In the camp, the women did not remain meekly secluded, but walked around freely, taking an interest in everything that was going on. This type of freedom had been common for elite women in pre-Islamic Arabia, but in infuriated Umar. “Your boldness borders on insolence!” he yelled when he came one day upon Aisha strolling along the front lines. “What if disaster overtakes us? What if there is a defeat and people are taken captive?” Muhammad’s domestic arrangements gave his wives a new access to politics, and they seemed quite at home in this sphere. It would not be long before other women began to feel similarly empowered, and his enemies would use this women’s movement to discredit the Prophet. (pages 146 to 148).

In Medina, Muhammad’s position was still weak. But in the peninsula as a whole, the tide was beginning to turn in his favor. Whenever he heard that a Bedouin tribe had joined the Meccan confederacy, he would lead a ghazu to capture its flocks and herds –even if it meant a trek of 500 miles to the Syrian border. (page 152).

The Prayer of Fear showed how beleaguered and defensive the new religion had become. It is in this context that we must see the Quran’s apparent retreat from gender equality. In January 626, his new wife Zaynab had died, just eight months after their wedding. Not long afterwards, he approached Hind bint Abi Umayyah, the widow of his cousin Abu Aslamah, who had died after Uhud, leaving her with four children. Hind-or Umm Salamah, as she was usually known, was 29 years old; beautiful, sophisticated, and extremely intelligent, she would provide the Prophet with the kind of companionship he had enjoyed with Khadijah. She was also the sister of a leading member of Makhzum, one of the most powerful Meccan tribes. At first, she was reluctant to marry Muhammad. She had loved her husband very much, she explained; she was no longer young, had a jealous disposition, and was not sure that she could adapt to life in the harem. Muhammad smiled-he had a smile of great sweetness, which almost everybody found disarming-and assured her that in his late fifties, he was even older than she, and that God would cure her jealousy.

She was right to be wary, because life in the mosque was not easy. The apartments of Muhammad’s wives were so tiny that it was almost impossible to stand upright inside them. Muhammad did not have a house of his own. He passed the night with each of his wives in turn and her hut became his official residence for the day. There was practically no privacy, as Muhammad was constantly surrounded by crowds of people. He had frequent visits from his daughters and grandchildren. He was devoted to Hasan and Husain, the sons of Ali and Fatimah, was especially fond of his little grand daughter Umamah, whom he would carry into the mosque on his shoulders. He was constantly closeted with his closest companions: Abu Bakr, Ali, Uthman and increasingly Umar. As he became more widely respected in Arabia, he also received delegations from the Bedouin tribes, who crowded into the courtyard with their camels.

When he left the mosque after prayers, hordes of petitioners, herded around their Prophet, pulling at his garments and yelling their questions and demands into his face. They would follow him into his wife’s hut, thronging round the table so tightly that it was sometimes impossible to pick up a morsel of food. This was stressful for Muhammad, who was shy, fastidious, and sensitive to unpleasant bodily odors and bad breath. He was also getting older. He still had only a few grey hair and walked so energetically that his feet seemed scarcely to touch the ground, but he was nearly 60-a not inconsiderable age in Arabia, he had been injured at Uhud, and the constant pressure was beginning to tell on him at a time when the whole of Medina was waiting in terror for the inevitable return of the Meccan army and the ummah was more divided than ever before.

This internal dissension became apparent as soon as Umm Salamah took up residence in the mosque. Aisha fiercely resented the arrival of this distinguished, superior woman, and a rift developed in the harem that reflected tensions within the ummah itself. Umm Salamah represented the more aristocratic Emigrants, whole Aisha and Hafsah, the daughters of Abu Bakr and Umar, came from the more plebeian party in power. Each of Muhammad’s wives sided with one of these two rival factions. Umm Salamah often relied upon the support a third group, the ahlal beit, the people of the household, who were members of Muhammad’s immediate family. At the time of her marriage to Muhammad, these divisions were only in their infancy, but it would soon become clear that the ummah was a not a monolithic group, and that the people who entered Islam had done so with very different expectations.

Umm Salamah quickly became the spokesperson for the women of Medina. Muhammad’s living arrangements, which had physically positioned his wives at the epicenter of the community, had given Muslim women a new vision of their role. Aisha and Hafsah were still young girls, and were sometimes flighty and selfish, but Umm Salamah was a very different proposition. Shortly after her marriage, a deputation of women asked her why they were mentioned so rarely in the Quran. Umm Salamah brought their question to the Prophet, who as usual, took time to reflect upon it seriously. A few days later, while she was combing her hair in her apartment, she heard Muhammad reciting a revolutionary surah in the mosque:

Men and women who have surrendered,

Believing men and believing women

Obedient men and obedient women

Truthful men and truthful women

Enduring men and enduring women

Men and women who give in charity

Men who fast and women who fast

Men and women who guard their private parts

Men and women who remember God oft-

For them God has prepared forgiveness

And a mighty wage.

In other words, there was to be complete sexual equality in Islam; both men and women had the same duties and responsibilities. When the women heard these verses, they were determined to make this vision a concrete reality in their daily lives.

God seemed to be on their side. Shortly afterwards, a whole surah was dedicated to women. Women were no longer to be bequeathed to male heirs as though they were camels or date palms. They could themselves inherit and compete with men for a share in an estate. No orphan girl should be married to her guardian against her will, as though she were simply moveable property. As had been customary during the pre-Islamic period, women retained the power to initiate divorce proceedings, though the husband could refuse to comply. In Arabia, the groom traditionally presented dowry to his bride, but in practice this gift had belonged to her family. Now the dowry was to be given directly to the woman as her inalienable property, and in the event of divorce, a man could not reclaim it, so her security was assured. Quranic legislation insisted that the individual was free and sovereign – and that also applied to women.

In seventh century Arabia, this was a shocking innovation, and the men of the ummah were furious. God was taking away their privileges. They were ready to fight for him to the death, but now he was demanding sacrifice in their personal lives! The Medinese were particularly incensed; were they expected to divide their farms to give women a share? “How”, they asked, “can one give the right of inheritance to women and children, who do not work and do not earn their living? Are they now going to inherit just like men who have worked to earn that money? And was the Prophet seriously telling them that even an ugly girl could inherit a fortune? “Yes, absolutely,” replied Muhammad. Some tried to find a loophole in the legislation, but the women complained to Muhammad and the Quran supported them. ………………Umar especially could not understand the Prophet’s ridiculous leniency towards women.

……….Matters came to a head over the question of wife-beating. The Quran forbade Muslims to inflict violence upon one another, and the women began to complain to the Prophet when their husbands hit them, demanding that they be punished as the Quran prescribed. Some even started to refuse sex to their abusive husbands. Muhammad was revolted by the very idea of violence towards women. The Prophet never raised his hand against one of his wives, or against a slave, nor against any person at all, Ibn Sad recalled. He “was always against the beating of women.” But he was ahead of his time. Men like Umar, Ibn Ubayy, and even the gentle Abu Bakr beat their wives without giving the matter a second thought. Knowing that Abu Sufyan was mustering a massive army against Medina, Muhammad had to give way in order to retain the loyalty of his men. “Very well,” he told his indignant companions, “beat them, but only the worst of you will have recourse to such methods.” A revelation seemed to give husbands permission to beat their wives but Muhammad did not like it. “I cannot bear seeing a quick-tempered man beat his wife in a fit of anger,” he said. Yet again, the conflict with Mecca had compromised his vision and forced him to adopt a course of action, that, in more normal circumstances, he would have preferred to avoid. The Quranic legislation about women is intertwined with verses about the war, which inevitably affected everything that happened in Media at this time; Muhammad knew that he had no hope of surviving a Meccan onslaught with disaffected troops. (pages152 to158)

(In March 627, following the unsuccessful attack on Medina, made so by a trench made by Hazrat Muhammad, some of the tribes asked Hazrat Muhammad to be merciful towards a Jewish tribe, Qurayzah, which had sided with the Meccans. One Sad believed) “that the Qurayzah were an unacceptable security risk and made the conventional judgment: all 700 men of the tribe should be executed, their wives and children sold into slavery, and their property divided among the Muslims. When he heard the verdict, Muhammad is reported to have cried: “You have judged according to the ruling of Allah above the seven skies!” The next day, the sentence was carried out.” (page 162)

In Arabia as a whole, the tide had turned in Muhammad’s favor, but within Medina the opposite was true. There the conflict had become more venomous than ever; every day Ibn Ubayy insinuated that had he retained the leadership, Yathrib could have been pacified without incurring the lethal enmity of the most powerful city in Arabia. Muhammad’s enemies rarely attacked him openly, but conducted a somewhat underhanded smear campaign. His controversial attempt to improve the status of women was a godsend to them, and they began to circulate malicious and salacious rumors about his wives. Some made it known that they had their eye on some of the more attractive members of his harem and intended to marry them after his death – a suggestion that carried more than a hint of assassination. It was whispered that Muhammad was now too old to satisfy his wives or that he had a testicular hernia. There was a good deal of spiteful gossip about Aisha and a young man called Safwan ibnal Muattal. When people crowded into his family quarters to put their questions and complaints to Muhammad, some of the men had actually insulted his wives before his very eyes. The situation was getting out of hand. At night, when it was cooler, Medina came to life, and people liked to walk about and socialize outside, enjoying the fresher air, but since the siege, women had been attacked on the streets. When the Prophet’s wives went out together, the Hypocrites had started to follow them, yelling obscene suggestions and making lewd gestures. When challenged, they protested that in the darkness they had mistaken the women for slave girls, who were considered fair game for this type of harassment.

Muhammad was emotionally and physically drained by the strain of the last few years. He had always been emotionally dependent upon his women and this made him vulnerable. When he decided to take another wife, tongues started to wag again. Zaynab bint Jahsh had always been close to Muhammad; she was his cousin, but she was also the wife of Zayd, his adopted son. Muhammad had arranged the match himself shortly after the hijrah, even though Zaynab had been far from enthusiastic: Zayd was not physically pre-possessing and she may even then have been interested in Muhammad himself. Zaynab was now her late thirties, but, despite the harsh climate and conditions of Arabia, she was still extremely beautiful. A pious woman, she was a skilled leather-worker and gave all the proceeds of her craft to the poor. Muhammad seems to have seen her with new eyes and to have fallen in love quite suddenly when he had called at her house one afternoon to speak to Zayd, who happened to be out. Not expecting any visitors, Zaynab had come to the door in dishabille, more revealingly dressed than usual, and Muhammad had averted his eyes hastily, muttering “Praise be to Allah, who changes men’s hearts1” Shortly afterwards, Zaynab and Zayd were divorced. The marriage had never been happy and Zayd was glad to release her. This story has shocked some of Muhammad’s Western critics who are used to more ascetic Christian heroes, but the Muslim sources seem to find nothing untoward in this demonstration of their Prophet’s virility. Nor are they disturbed that Muhammad had more than four wives: why should God not give his prophet a few privileges? What scandalized his opponents in Medina was the fact that Zaynab had been married to Zayd: Arabs regarded adoption as conferring an almost biological relationship and there was much scandalized talk about incest. Muhammad was reassured on this point by a revelation that assured him that Allah himself desired the match and that it was not sinful to marry the spouse of an adopted child. Aisha who was always prone to jealousy, happened to be with Muhammad when he received this divine message. How very convenient she remarked tartly, “Truly thy Lord makes haste to do thy bidding1” As usual, tensions in the harem reflected divisions in the community as awhole: Muhammad’s marriage to one of his own cousins would further the political ends of the Prophet’s family, advancing the cause of the ahlal beit. (page 166 to 168).

Because of the scandal, Muhammad insisted that the entire community attend the wedding celebrations. The courtyard was crowded with guest, many of them hostile to the Prophet, and the atmosphere would not have been pleasant. Eventually the party began to break up, but a small group remained behind in Zaynab’s new apartment, apparently blissfully unaware that it was time for the bride and groom to be alone. Muhammad left the room and sat with his other wives, hoping that these tactless guests would take the hint. “How do you like your new companion?” Aisha inquired acidly, when he dropped in on her. He eventually returned to Zaynab’s hut, where the revelers were finally being ushered out by his friend Anas ibn Malik. As he entered the room, Muhammad somewhat impatiently drew a curtain (hijab) between himself and Anas, uttering the words of a new revelation:

O you who have attained to faith! Do not enter the Prophet’s dwellings unless you are given leave; (and when invited) to a meal, do not come (so early as) to wait for it to be readied: but whenever you are invited, enter (at the proper time); and when you have partaken of the meal, disperse without lingering for the sake of mere talk: that, behold might give offence to the Prophet, and yet he might feel shy of (asking) you (to leave): but God is not shy of (teaching you) what is right.

And as for the Prophet’s wives, whenever you ask them for anything that you need, ask them from behind a screen: this will but deepen the purity of your hearts and theirs.

The revelation went on to ordain that Muhammad’s wives should not remarry after his death, and ordered them to wear their jilbab (which could refer to various garments) in distinctive way, so that they could be recognized in the street and avoid harassment. (pages 168 to 169).

… But the situation did not improve. A few weeks after the introduction of the hijab, Muhammad’s enemies orchestrated a vicious attack on Aisha, which devastated the Prophet and almost succeeded in dividing the community. Aisha was an easy target.
Everybody knew that she was Muhammad’s favorite. She was beautiful, spirited, proud of her prominent position, jealous, outspoken, not without egotism, and had doubtless made many enemies. On this occasion, Muhammad had chosen Aisha to accompany him on an expedition against an ally of the Quraysh …It was a successful raid: the Muslims …managed to carry off …200 of their women. Juwayriyyah bint al-Harith, daughter of the chief was among the captives. Aisha’s heart sank as soon as she set eyes on her, because Juwayriyyah was so pretty, and sure enough, during the negotiations that followed the raid, Muhammad proposed marriage to seal the alliance with her father. (page 171 to 172).

……….During one of the halts, Aisha slipped away to relieve herself, and when she returned, found that she had mislaid her necklace. It had been a wedding gift from her mother, and she could not bear to lose it, so she went back to search for it. While she was gone, the men lifted her litter – duly shrouded with the hijab – onto her camel, assuming that she was safely inside, and the party moved off without her. ………..She sat down to wait and sure enough, her old friend Safwant ibnal Muattal, who had fallen behind the others, turned up and put her on the back of his own camel. When Aisha rejoined the expedition with Safwan, the old rumor about their illicit relationship started up again, and Muhammad’s enemies gleefully imagined the worst. It was not surprising that Aisha had fallen for Safwan, Ibn Ubayy remarked loudly, because he was so much younger and more attractive than her husband. The scandal rocked Medina, and the story seemed so plausible that some of the Emigrants began to believe it and even Abu Bakr, Aisha’s father, began to suspect that it might be true.

More seriously, Muhammad himself began to doubt Aisha’s innocence – a telling sign of his waning confidence during this difficult period. For a few days he seemed confused and uncertain. His need for Aisha was so great that, faced with the possibility of losing her, he seemed confused and hesitant. He no longer received any messages from God; it was the first time, since the very beginning of his prophetic career, that the divine voice had fallen silent.

………Finally Muhammad went to confront Aisha, who had taken refuge in her parents home. She had wept for two days but her tears dried like magic as soon as her husband entered the house and she faced him calmly. Muhammad urged her to confess her sin honestly if she repented, God would forgive her. But with great dignity, the 14-year old gird stood her ground and gazed steadfastly at her husband as she made her reply. There seemed little point in her saying anything at all, she said. She could not admit to something she had not done, and if she protested her innocence, nobody – not even her own parents – would believe her. She could only repeat the words of the prophet Jacob: “Patience in adversity is most goodly in the sight of God; and it is to God (alone) that I pray to give strength to gear the misfortune which you have described to me. She then turned silently and lay down on her bed.

Muhammad knew Aisha through and through, and she must have convinced him, because as soon as she had finished speaking, he fell into the deep trance that was so often a prelude to revelation. He swooned and Abu Bakr put a leather cushion under his head, while he and his wife waited, terrified, for God’s judgment. “Good news, Aisha!” Muhammad cried at last: God had confirmed her innocence. Overcome with relief, her parents urged her to get up and come to her husband but Aisha remained implacable. “I shall neither come to him nor thank him,” she replied. “Nor will I thank the both of you, who listened to the slander and did not deny it. I shall rise and give thanks to Allah alone!” Duly chastened, Muhammad humbly accepted the rebuke, and went to recite the new revelation to the crowd that had gathered outside. (pages 173 to 175).

……………How, the Emigrants asked, were they supposed to earn a living if they could no longer attack the Meccan caravans? Muhammad knew that he could not allow this discontent to fester; somehow he had to find a way of compensating them without damaging the truce, so after Hudaybiyyah, he directed the Muslims’ attention to the north, away from Mecca. Khaybar – the new home of the exiled Jewish tribe of Nadir – was still a danger. (page 191).

……….To seal the agreement (after the siege at Khaybar), Muhammad took the daughter of his old enemy Huyay, chief of Nadir, as his wife. The beautiful 17-year-old Safiyyah was happy to enter Islam, and Muhammad gave stern orders that there were to be no unkind remarks about her father, who had died during the siege…..(page 192).

On his return from Khayabar, ………..He also greeted yet another new wife. Earlier that year, he had learned that his cousin Ubaydallah ibn Jahsh had died in Abyssinia, and decided to marry his wife Ramlah, usually known by her kunya, Umm Habibah. The ceremony was performed by proxy before the Negus, and an apartment had already been prepared for her in the mosque. This was another shrewd political move, because Umm Habibah was the daughter of Abu Sufyan. (pages 192 to 193).

On his last evening in the city (Mecca), Muhammad enjoyed another family reunion when his uncle Abbas, who still adhered to the old religion, was allowed to enter the city to visit his nephew and offer him the hand of his sister Maymunah, who had been recently widowed. Muhammad accepted, doubtless hoping to entice Abbas himself into Islam, and mischievously sent word to the Quraysh to invite them to the wedding. This was pushing things too far, and Suhayl came down to inform Muhammad that his three days were up and he should leave immediately. (page 194).

In this year of political triumph, Muhammad had a private joy. None of the women he had married in Medina had borne him any children, but the governor of Alexandria in Egypt had sent him a beautiful, curly-haired slave girl as a gift. Maryam was a Christian and did not wish to convert to Islam, but she became Muhammad’s saraya, a wife who retained the status of a slave but whose children would be free. Muhammad grew very fond of her, and was overjoyed when at the end of 629 she became pregnant. He named their son Ibrahim, and loved carrying him around Medina, inviting all passers by to praise the baby’s beautiful complexion and his likeness to himself. (page 196).

Eventually Muhammad collapsed in the apartment of Maymunah. His wives hung lovingly over him, and noticed that he kept asking: “Where shall I be tomorrow? Where shall I be tomorrow?” and they realized that he wanted to know when he could be with Aisha. They agreed that he should be moved to her hut and nursed there. Muhammad lay quietly with his head in Aisha’s lap, but people seemed to have believed that he was merely suffering from a temporary indisposition. ……….As evening approached, Aisha felt him leaning more heavily against her than before, and he seemed to be losing consciousness. Still, she did not realize what was happening. As she said later, “It was due to my ignorance and extreme youth that the Prophet died in my arms.” She heard him murmur the words: “Nay, the most Exalted Companion in Paradise” – Gabriel had come to fetch him. Looking down, Aisha discovered that he had gone. Carefully she laid his head on the pillow and began to beat her breast, slap her face, and cry aloud in the traditional way. (pages 207 to 208).

Of Aisha’s age at marriage

by Nilofar Ahmed

It is said that Hazrat Aisha was six years old when her nikah was performed with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Makkah, and nine years old when she moved in to live with her husband in Madina after Hijra.

This piece of misinformation has led to the wrong view that child marriage has the sanction of Islam. It must be noted that establishing the authenticity of hadiths, the narrators’ circumstances and the conditions at that time have to be correlated with historical facts. There is only one hadith by Hisham which suggests the age of Hazrat Aisha as being nine when she came to live with her husband.

Many authentic hadiths also show that Hisham’s narration is incongruous with several historical facts about the Prophet’s life, on which there is consensus. With reference to scholars such as Umar Ahmed Usmani, Hakim Niaz Ahmed and Habibur Rehman Kandhulvi, I would like to present some arguments in favour of the fact that Hazrat Aisha was at least 18 years old when her nikah was performed and at least 21 when she moved into the Prophet’s house to live with him.

According to Umar Ahmed Usmani, in Surah Al-Nisa, it is said that the guardian of the orphans should keep testing them, until they reach the age of marriage, before returning their property (4:6). From this scholars have concluded that the Quran sets a minimum age of marriage which is at least puberty. Since the approval of the girl has a legal standing, she cannot be a minor.

Hisham bin Urwah is the main narrator of this hadith. His life is divided into two periods: in 131A.H. the Madani period ended, and the Iraqi period started, when Hisham was 71 years old. Hafiz Zehbi has spoken about Hisham’s loss of memory in his later period. His students in Madina, Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifah, do not mention this hadith. Imam Malik and the people of Madina criticised him for his Iraqi hadiths.

All the narrators of this hadith are Iraqis who had heard it from Hisham. Allama Kandhulvi says that the words spoken in connection with Hazrat Aisha’s age were tissa ashara, meaning 19, when Hisham only heard (or remembered), tissa, meaning nine. Maulana Usmani thinks this change was purposely and maliciously made later.

Historian Ibn Ishaq in his Sirat Rasul Allah has given a list of the people who accepted Islam in the first year of the proclamation of Islam, in which Hazrat Aisha’s name is mentioned as Abu Bakr’s “little daughter Aisha”. If we accept Hisham’s calculations, she was not even born at that time.

Some time after the death of the Prophet’s first wife, Hazrat Khadija, Khawla suggested to the Prophet that he get married again, to a bikrun, referring to Hazrat Aisha (Musnad Ahmed). In Arabic bikrun is used for an unmarried girl who has crossed the age of puberty and is of marriageable age. The word cannot be used for a six-year-old girl.

Some scholars think that Hazrat Aisha was married off so early because in Arabia girls mature at an early age. But this was not a common custom of the Arabs at that time. According to Allama Kandhulvi, there is no such case on record either before or after Islam. Neither has this ever been promoted as a Sunnah of the Prophet. The Prophet married off his daughters Fatima at 21 and Ruquiyya at 23. Besides, Hazrat Abu Bakr, Aisha’s father, married off his eldest daughter Asma at the age of 26.

Hazrat Aisha narrates that she was present on the battlefield at the Battle of Badar (Muslim). This leads one to conclude that Hazrat Aisha moved into the Prophet’s house in 1 A.H. But a nine-year-old could not have been taken on a rough and risky military mission.

In 2 A.H, the Prophet refused to take boys of less than 15 years of age to the battle of Uhud. Would he have allowed a 10-year-old girl to accompany him? But Anas reported that he saw Aisha and Umme Sulaim carrying goatskins full of water and serving it to the soldiers (Bukhari). Umme Sulaim and Umme Ammara, the other women present at Uhud, were both strong, mature women whose duties were the lifting of the dead and injured, treating their wounds, carrying water in heavy goatskins, supplying ammunition and even taking up the sword.

Hazrat Aisha used the kunniat, the title derived from the name of a child, of Umme Abdullah after her nephew and adopted son.
If she was six when her nikah was performed, she would have been only eight years his senior, hardly making him eligible for adoption. Also, a little girl could not have given up on ever having her own child and used an adopted child’s name for her kunniat.

Hazrat Aisha’s nephew Urwah once remarked that he was not surprised about her amazing knowledge of Islamic law, poetry and history because she was the wife of the Prophet and the daughter of Abu Bakr. If she was eight when her father migrated, when did she learn poetry and history from him?

There is consensus that Hazrat Aisha was 10 years younger than her elder sister Asma, whose age at the time of the hijrah, or migration to Madina, was about 28. It can be concluded that Hazrat Aisha was about 18 years old at migration. On her moving to the Prophet’s house, she was a young woman at 21. Hisham is the single narrator of the hadith whose authenticity is challenged, for it does not correlate with the many historical facts of the time.

13 thoughts on “Wives of the Holy Prophet Muhammad

    1. you are the lier .there is no dihonest bone in her body , Next time SAY SOMETHING YOU KNOW IT LIKE THE BAck of your hand.

  1. The point of view from which this book is written is to introduce Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to people who know very little about him, whatever they know is based on mis characterizing the Prophet.

    Throughout the book, Karen Armstrong was very respectful of the Prophet while presenting him as a bashr (mortal human being, which he was!)

    Don’t know what Br. Ismail is unhappy about!

  2. Just saw the URL for this post! I could NOT believe my eyes! No wonder Muslims are regarded as intolerant savages! They don’t have anyone else to blame but themselves! Unbelievable!!

  3. ANOTHER STOREY OF A WORRIOR AND HIS LIFE LESS SPIRITUALITY. GOD IS NOT DEFINED. TALKING ABOUT AFTERLIFE IS TO DISTRACT A THINKING MAN NOT TO WORRY ABOUT HIS PRESENCE WHICH IS MORE REAL THAN THE PRODUCT OF THE MIND I.E IS HEAVEN AND HELL. LOOK AROUND AND OBSERVE WITH AT LEAST A LITTLE COMMON SENSE… WHY PEOPLE OF BELIEFS AND FAITH ADOPT AND ACCEPT THE CREATIVE THINKERS INNOVATIVE CREATIONS SUCH AS PLANES, MEDICINES AND MODERN SURGERY, VEHICLES, TV, COMPUTERS, HAND PHONES, CINEMAS, ETC…. BECAUSE THEY CANNOT DEVELOP ANYTHING USEFUL FOR MANKIND AS THEY HAVE ALWAYS BECOME PARASITES OF THE SAID THINKERS USEFULNESS. THESE FAITH AND BELIEF UPHOLDERS ARE LIABILITIES. WITH BRAIN DEVELOPMENT WE WILL SEE RAPID CHANGES IN THE REALITY THINKERS.

  4. You are right! God cannot be defined as our minds are finite and how can any finite entity envision the infinite.

    Raj, I taking the liberty of assuming you are of Hindu faith/persuasion.
    I have read about and a little bit of Hindu religious scripture. As Maulana Abul Kalam Azad said that Hinduism at its root, is very close to Islam. I find that to be very accepting. I think that the experiences of Hindu sages were similar to those of Muslim Sufis and Christian Monks.
    What we have witnessed lately in every religion is the phenomenon of Anthropomorphism at play.

    All religions teach love, understanding and acceptance of fellow human – irrespective of color, creed, tribe, belief, ancestry. If one does not understand and accepts this, then no matter what rituals he/she follows and no matter how much – all is lost!

  5. Thank you, Mansor for sweet reply. You seem to a real seeker.

    Once born a human is in an awareness stage and his/her mind is not ready to take all the inputs of the external feelings,things,tables, chairs, and the sky as yet as his brain is in the receiving stage. It takes about a few years before the brain stacks the information on the environment with the help of the mind.

    Awareness with the help of 5 senses via the mind recognises the body and than the world he/she sees.

    All human virtues called feelings in him are seen at the response of his/her mind. Through the mind he/she sees his world and that world ends upon sleep or death. When a doctor sedates a patient the body can be cut into pieces. Where is the body or the world to him. He becomes aware upon be awake later. What is reality cannot go mising and only the awareness remains at all times. Past and future is the product of the mind and hence can not be a reality. I have read most of the holy books. All talks about rewards, do’s and don’ts, heaven and hell. The Upanishads talks about the self and awareness of a living being and the make up of a person and does not talk about any unknown reality such as heaven or hell or rewards. Based on these pracises some of the ancient persians, greeks and indians have revealed the truth so succintly.

    What I have realised is that all prophets that came and gone. At that time they travel on camels and horses or bull carts.. they did not know in their slightest dream that the world that we are could be built on brains development.. and hence gave out theologies based on their primitive thinking like the earth is flat and on illegal sex-4 male witness to be produced by the women or else she will be punished. I doubt this could be proven in the Arab land till today.Many more like these even in the hindu scriptures. Having gone through a variety of experiences and knowldge of great souls of Persia, India and Greece I have found that a :”Belief System” was designed since man has fear apart from other virtures in his heart to put across their objectives based on their egoes. All religions talks of “not to be found heaven” principle and not much in Vedanta principles which is the basis of all religions.

    To me now what is real is my awareness.. as god is something like another word, thats all. Some one asked me whether I belief in god to which I said I don’t belief in god but I know god which is the awareness.

    I takes “You” which is “awareness” to pray, love, hate, enjoy, dream, sleep, go to church, mosque and so forth. Upon withdrawal of awareness the body and the world of own evoporates.

    The good virtues you quoted are in a human being as well animals.. such as love, hate , anger and it does not require another godly being to tell us. You see the world is divided and millions are dying every day because of their beliefs and I believe only our own good virtues are keeping us together and not the verses of god or allah.

    Looking back now I tend to subscribe to one’s quotes ” Religion is an insult to human dignity, without it you have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things it takes religion.”

  6. Raj,first read the holy Geeta,then read the holy QURAN,then find out the truth,then of course compere with both religion,still my brother you won,t find any difference,The think that we pray to only one GOD,ESHWEER,PARMATAMMA,the same word the same religion,the same faith,but my dear the prayer system is the different,now see the facts.

    1. Khusro Mirza,
      Raj gives a very clear picture about his thoughts and all you have to say to him is to read quran and geeta.

      When you say “we pray to same religion”, to me it sounds like your picture of your religion matches with other religions. Some other person will have some other viewpoint. Having a different viewpoint is not the issue here. The issue is people killing each other save thier gods. What a bloody scandal!

  7. this is the right book and Muhammed is the man of Islam religion. And whoever says hi is not , he has to search by an honest way of looking for the right way to God.

  8. Re: the age of Ayesha (ra), please check out a refutation of secular orientalists by Dr Jonathon Brown:

    Additionally, there are countless articles and resources available in the academy, through published journals, books, or resources online – regarding this argument available for any human being.

    I think fundamentally, its not the argument of whether anthropologically it makes sense for women and men to be married at an age of of physical maturity, where different civilizations accordingly understand age and maturity according to subjective conditions. During this time, women in Europe or African continent or even the indigenous civilizations had certain marriage practices. Nor is it about what is in the theological discourse considered sunnah, and what is cultural aspect, nor is it about the common arguments that are thrown by orientalists, Islamophobists and secular pundits. The latter often quote the fallacies of satanic verses, questioning the compilation and preservation of Quran, inability of Islam to submerge in the monopoly of a globalized liberalism, etc. I think fundamentally, the arguments go back to whether God exists or not – whether ontological, cosmological, teleological and as a matter of fact, really arguments that are simply beyond the comprehension of western philosophical discourse but is available in the Islamic intellectual and philosophical traditions through the works of Ashari, Maturidi, Ghazzali, Ar-Razi, Averroes, etc. . And if it does mean that an entity or being of God does exist, then the argument for Qur’an as a manifestation of God’s metaphysical uncreated word through the chose Prophet (sallellahu alayhi wa sallam) ought to be the more reasonable explanation with the least assumptions (at least scientifically, arguments against existence of God has far more assumptions and questionable axioms). So fundamentally, if the leap of faith is taken, as it is with the ideology of scienticism, and God is believed, a lot of these arguments against Islam can be dissolved. waAllahu 3lem.

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