Series in Islamic History Marriages of the Holy Prophet (saw)
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Series in Islamic History

Marriages of the Holy Prophet (saw)

The Holy Prophet (saw) left behind nine wives. This has become a main target of the Christian and Jewish writers. They say that plurality of marriage (polygamy) in itself points to lust and desire, and the Prophet (saw) was not content with four wives which had been allowed to his Ummah but exceeded even that limit and married nine women.
 
It is necessary to point out that this is not such a simple matter to be dismissed in a sentence that he was inordinately fond of women, so much so that he married nine wives. The fact is that he had married each one of his wives for some particular reason due to particular circumstances.
 
His first marriage was with Khadijah who was a widow when he married her. He lived with her alone for twenty-five years. It was the prime time of his youth and constitutes two-thirds of his married life.
 
Then he married Sawdah bint Zam'ah whose husband had passed away during the second migration to Abyssinia. Sawdah was a believing lady who had migrated on account of her faith. Her father and brother were among the bitterest enemies of Islam. If she were left to return to them, they would have tortured and tormented her, as they were doing with other believing men and women, oppressing and killing them, forcing them to renounce their faith.
 
At the same time, he married 'Ayesha bint Abu Bakr, who was then very young. She came to the Prophet's house some time after the migration to Medina.
 
Then he emigrated to Medina and began spreading the word of Allah swt. Thereafter, he married eight women, all of them widows or divorcees, all old or middle-aged. This continued for about eight years. It was only then that he was prohibited by the Almighty from marrying any woman besides those whom he had already married. Obviously, these happenings cannot be explained by his love for women because both his early life and the later period contradict such an assumption.
 
Normally a young man with a passion for women would be infatuated with a carnal desire, enamoured by female companionship, with a sensual lust for them.

But these peculiarities are conspicuously absent in the Prophet's life. He married mostly widows (many in old age) after having married a virgin. He offered his wives a choice to give them a good provision and allow them to depart gracefully, i.e. divorce them if they desired this world and its adornment. Alternatively, they should renounce the world and abstain from adornments and embellishments if they desired Allah (swt) and His Prophet (saw) and the latter abode.
 

O Prophet! Say to your wives: If you desire this world's life and its glitter then come, l will give you a provision and allow you to depart a graceful departure. And if you desire Allah and His Messenger and the latter abode, then surely Allah has prepared for the doers of good from among you a mighty reward. (Qur'an, 33:28-29) 
 
Is this the attitude of a man infatuated with lust and desire? The fact is that we will have to look for reasons other than lust and avidity for his plurality of wives:
 
He had married many of them in order to give them protection and safeguard their dignity.


Sawdah bint Zam'ah's marriage comes into this category. Zainab bint Khuzaymah's husband, 'Abdullah ibn Jahsh (a cousin of the Prophet (saw)), was martyred during the battle of Uhud. This was the second time she became a widow. She was one of the most generous ladies even in the era of ignorance, so much so that she was called "Mother of the poor". Now she was facing hard times. The Prophet (saw), by marrying her, preserved her dignity. She passed away in the life-time of the Prophet (saw). Year of marriage: 3 A.H.
 
Ummu Salamah, whose actual name was Hind, was married to 'Abdullah Abu Salamah (another cousin of the Prophet (saw) who was also his foster brother). Abu Salamah and his wife were among the first to migrate to Abyssinia. She had renounced worldly pleasures and was highly distinguished for her piety and wisdom. When her husband died, she was very advanced in age and had many orphaned children. That is why the Prophet married her. Year of marriage 4 A.H.
 
Hafsah bint 'Umar ibn al-Khattab was married to him after her husband Khunays ibn Hudhayfah was martyred during the battle of Badr, leaving her a widow. Year of marriage 4 A.H.

His marriage with Juwayriyyah, i.e. Barrah daughter of al-Harith (chief of Banu al-Mustaliq) was performed in 5 A.H. after the battle of Banu al-Mustaliq. The Muslims had arrested two hundred of their families. Juwayriyyah was a widow, and the Prophet (saw) married her after emancipating her. The Muslims said: These are now the relatives of the Messenger of Allah by marriage; they should not be held captive. So they freed all of them. Impressed by this nobility, the whole tribe of Banu al-Mustaliq entered into the fold of Islam. It was a very large tribe, and this generosity of the Muslims as well as the conversion of that tribe had a great impact throughout Arabia.

Some marriages were entered into in the hope of establishing friendly relationships with some tribes in order to blunt their enmity towards Islam.

 
Ummu Habibah, i.e. Ramlah daughter of Abu Sufyan, was married to 'Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh and had emigrated with them to Abyssinia in the second migration. While there, 'Ubaydullah converted to Christianity, but she remained steadfastly on Islam and separated from him. Her father, Abu Sufyan, was in those days raising one army after another in order to annihilate the Muslims. The Prophet (saw) married her and afforded protection to her although the hope of any change in Abu Sufyan's attitude did not materialize.
 
Safiyyah was the daughter of Huyaiy ibn Akhtab, (Jewish) chief of Banu an-Nadhir Her husband was killed in the battle of Khaybar, and her father sided with Banu Qurayzah. She was among the captives of Khaybar. The Prophet chose her for himself and married her after emancipating her in 7 A.H. This marriage protected her from humiliation and established a link with the Jews.
 

Zainab bint Jahsh was a cousin of the Prophet (saw) (daughter of his paternal aunt, and sister of 'Abdullah ibn Jahsh, the first husband of Zainab bint Khuzaymah). She was a widow. Islam had annulled class differences and declared that a family's tribe, wealth, or social status are not the criteria of distinction. Every Muslim is equal.

While announcing it, the Prophet (saw), in the same sitting, gave his three relative ladies in marriage to persons of "low" birth or status. It was done in order to practically demonstrate the Islamic equality, which up to that moment, was only a theoretical principle. Among them, Zainab bint Jahsh was given in marriage to Zayd ibn Harithah, an Arab slave whom the Prophet (saw) had freed and adopted as son.

 
One of his wives was Maymunah whose name was Barrah bint al-Harith al-Hilaliyyah. When her second husband died in the 7th year of Hijrah, she came to the Prophet (saw) and "gifted" herself to him if he would accept her. She only desired the honour of being called the wife of the Prophet. The Prophet waited for the divine guidance in this regard. Permission was granted to him from his Lord as we read in verse 33:50 of the Holy Qur'an which says:

  
O Prophet! Certainly we have made lawful unto you ... a believing woman if she gifts herself unto the Prophet; if the Prophet desires to marry her, (it is) especially for thee (O Prophet!) rather than for the rest of the believers.(Qur'an, 33:50) 
 
Thus do we see that each of these marriages had some solid reasons behind it; passion and lust were not among them.

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