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The Unlettered Prophet (51)
Khalid Masud
(Tr. by:Nikhat Sattar)

Mothers of the Faithful


The Prophet (sws) was married 15 years before the advent of prophethood. This marriage continued for 25 years. He did not enter into a second marriage during these 25 years. After this, during eight or nine years, he married 10 ladies. When he departed from the world, nine of his wives were still living. Details about his wives are as follows:  

1. Khadijah bint Khuwaylid ibn Asad

She belonged to the branch of the Banu Asad of the Quraysh and her family tree is connected to the Prophet in the fifth generation. She was initially married to Ati’id ibn ‘Abdullah Makhzumi and Abu Hala ibn Niyas Tamimi. Both had passed away. Abu Halah’s children were still infants when she married the Prophet (sws). Khadijah (rta)’s companionship with the Prophet (sw) remained for 25 years. During this time he did not even think of marrying again. He was extremely saddened by her death. Later, praising her, he would say that she had accepted faith when all others were deniers; she sacrificed her wealth for him when he was deprived by others and God blessed him with children through her. Truly, she was the wife who shared his grief and helped him in every way when he was being oppressed from all sides in the difficult environment of Makkah. She gave birth to two sons and four daughters. Her sons died during infancy but the daughters grew up and were married. When the Prophet (sws) passed away, three of his daughters: Zaynab (rta), Ruqayyah (rta) and Umm Kulthum (rta) had died. The fourth daughter, Fatimah (rta) lived only for six months after his death.


2. Sawdah bint Zam‘ah ibn Qays

The Prophet (sws) was 50 years old when he married Sawdah (rta) This was his second marriage. She was almost his age. She belonged to the older group of Muslims and belonged to the branch ‘Amir ibn Luyyi of Quraysh. Her first husband Sakran ibn ‘Amr (rta) had migrated with her to Abyssinia. On their return, Sakran (rta) passed away. With Khadijah (rta) having passed away, and given the conditions in his house, the Prophet (sws) chose Sawdah (rta) for marriage. After migration to Madinah, when the Prophet (sws) married again, in order to maintain justice amongst his wives, the Prophet (sws) stayed with theSm one by one. Sawdah (rta) gave her assigned turn to ‘A’ishah Siddiqah (rta).


3. ‘A’ishah bint Abi Bakr ibn Abi Quhafah (rta)

She belonged to the branch of the Banu Tamim of the Quraysh. He was the daughter of a man who was very reputed for his morals and character among the Quraysh even before the advent of Islam. Not only was he among the first to have accepted Islam, his services to the cause of Islam are second to none. This personality, for whom even the Prophet (sws) had expressed gratitude, was Abu Bakr, who was the Prophet’s companion during migration and his trusted advisor for all religious and national work.

After Khadijah (rta)’s demise, when the Prophet (sws) felt the need for someone to look after domestic responsibilities, two names were suggested to him. One was that of Sawdah (rta) and the other of ‘A’ishah (rta). At that time ‘A’ishah (rta) was engaged to Mut‘am ibn ‘Adi’s son, Jabir. Hence, the Prophet (sws) married Sawdah (rta). Abu Bakr (rta) decided to ask Mut‘am ibn ‘Adi his opinion about the engagement and the latter expressed some hesitation in going through with the marriage. At this, Abu Bakr broke off the engagement and informed the Prophet (sws). To fulfill the wishes of his loyal friend, the Prophet (sws) married ‘A’ishah (rta) but delayed her departure to his house according to the custom in Arabia. This event took place after migration, in Madinah. Amongst all his wives, she was the only virgin wife and most beloved because of her traits and capabilities.

It is commonly believed, and this belief is based on a narrative found in books of Hadith, that ‘A’ishah  (rta) was six years old when she was married to the Prophet (sws) and when she went to her husband’s house, she was nine years old. In his house, her interests were playing with toys, calling girls over and listening to their songs. When she was 18 years old, which is the age considered to be adulthood, the Prophet (sws) passed away. On the other hand, many biographers such as Muhammad ibn Ishaq, ‘Asqalani and Zarqani describe her as being one of those who accepted Islam after its advent. This means that at the time of prophet hood, she must have been of an age when she understood the difference between truth and falsehood and chose Islam for herself. Narratives related to the migration to Abyssinia and Madinah can be traced back to her and their style of narration is not that of small children. Instead, it shows depth of understanding and thought. She herself said that she remembered the revelation of Surah Qamar, which was revealed in 4th Nabavi. Thus, she was of an age when she could understand something requiring scholarship. Children may remember a few isolated events, but to remember the time of revelation of a specific surah at a young age is not possible. Her companionship with the Prophet (sws) lasted eight years. In those eight years, she gained such a status in her understanding of religious matters that many earlier companions had not attained. She had differed on many issues with famous companions and provided rational arguments for the same. No one was more knowledgeable than her on matters related to the reasons, wisdom and evolution of religious instructions. It is beyond comprehension to find such depth and analytic thought in a playful girl of tender years.

If her age is accepted as being so young, it will be necessary also to accept many things that go against known facts. Firstly, she was engaged to Jabir ibn Mut‘am. It is also known that this engagement had lasted for quite some time and her departure to his house was being delayed. This is why it is considered acceptable for Abu Bakr (rta) to speak with Jabir’s father. Otherwise he could have said that only a little time had passed and he should not worry about the wedding. Jabir was his parent’s young son. There must not have been any lack of suitable matches for him. What problem did his parents face that they had arranged a match for him with a 4-5 year old child, who needed another 7-8 years to grow up?  This is against all norms and customs of the time.

Secondly, this match was suggested to the Prophet at a time when he wanted a well mannered, adult woman to take care of his household, not a child. Had ‘A’ishah  (rta) been really very young, the Prophet (sws) would have stopped the lady who had suggested this match to him and would have told her that the child who played with dolls would not be able to take care of his house.

Thirdly, narratives indicate that the Prophet (sws) did not bring ‘A’ishah  (rta) to his house for one year after migration. When he was asked about the reason, he did not say that he was waiting for her to gain puberty, but instead, he said that he did not have anything to give her as dower. Then a loan was arranged for him and so ‘A’ishah  (rta) came to his house.

The idea of ‘A’ishah (rta)’s young age has come from a narrative by Hisham bin Urwa. He said that she was six years old when her nikah took place, nine when she went to her husband’s house and 18 when she became a widow. In the view of researchers, there is no narrator from Madinah who supports this narrative, although Hisham was from Madinah and lived there until 145 AH. During that year, he traveled to Iraq when he was 84 years old. In Iraq, not one or two, but 11 narrators of this narrative are found to have come up. Then, unreliable narrators produced proofs to support this narrative.1 Consider this to be Hisham’s forgetfulness or the use by Iraqis of Hisham’s name for an unrealistic narrative, this strange narrative gained fame and spread in the entire ummah. In our view, facts indicate that at the time of the Prophet (sws)’s demise, ‘A’ishah  (rta)’s age was probably 28 years. At this age, her grasp of religious matters, the wisdom behind God’s instructions and her debates with other companions are better understood and nothing remains incomprehensible. 

4. Hafsah bint ‘Umar bin al-Khattab

Her connection is with the Banu ‘Adi, a branch of the Quraysh. Her husband Khanis ibn Hudhayfah ibn Qays Sahmi (rta) was from the first people who had accepted Islam. He had migrated to Abyssinia first with his wife. He was wounded in the battle of Uhud and did not recover. In consideration of Hafsah (rta)’s religious services and the status and position of her father, the Prophet (sws) married her. The honour bestowed on her was that the book in which the Prophet (sws) used to have the Qur’anic verses documented was entrusted to her safe keeping. Even after the demise of the Prophet (sws), it remained with her. There are 160 Ahadith that have been narrated from her in the books of hadith.  

5. Zaynab bint Khuzaymah ibn al-Harith

She did not belong to the tribe of Quraysh. She was initially married to two cousins of the Prophet (sws): Tufayl and ‘Ubaydah, who were sons of Harith ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib. After their deaths, she married ‘Abdullah ibn Jahash (rta), who was martyred in the Battle of Uhud. ‘Abdullah was also the Prophet (sws)’s cousin. Taking her difficult life and long association with Islam into account, the Prophet married her. She died two or three months later.  

6. Umm Salamah bint Abi Umayyah ibn Mughirah

She belonged to the influential and wealthy clan of the Banu Makhzum of the Quraysh. She was among the first who had accepted Islam and had married the Prophet (sws)’s cousin who was also his foster brother, Abu Salamah ibn ‘Abd al-Asad (rta). They had migrated to Abyssinia after being tormented by their families. Upon their return, they spent some time with Abu Talib. When the environment in Yathrab was noted to be congenial for Islam, they decided to migrate there. They had just left Makkah when the Banu Makhzum stopped Umm Salamah (rta). Abu Salamah (rta) went to Yathrab alone. Their family deprived the mother of her child also. Thus Umm Salamah (rta) spent a very painful life. One year passed before she was allowed to go to Yathrab.

Abu Salamah (rta) was wounded during the Battle of Uhud. These wounds resulted in his death. In Shawwal of 4th AH, the Prophet (sws) sent Umm Salamah a proposal of marriage. She had two sons and two daughters by Abu Salamah and hesitated because of her children, but the Prophet (sws) was desirous of supporting these children himself. Hence they were married.

In terms of intelligence and capabilities, Umm Salamah (rta) is considered only second to ‘A’ishah (rta). She has narrated 1378 Ahadith as found in the books. During the journey of ‘umrah, at the time of the Treaty of Hudaybiyah, she was accompanying the Prophet (sws). The Muslims were not satisfied with the terms of the treaty and the Prophet (sws) was very worried about the situation. Umm Salamah (rta) advised him to open his ihram and sacrifice the camels. When the Prophet (sws) carried this out, the Muslims followed suit. 

7. Zaynab bint Jahash ibn Ri’ab

She belonged to the tribe of the Banu Asad ibn Khuzaymah. She was the Prophet (sws)’s cousin and among the first ones to accept Islam. The Prophet (sws) married her to Zayd ibn Harithah (rta), against the wishes of her tribe. Zayd was the Prophet (sws)’s adopted son. The couple could not get along well and Zayd divorced his wife. The Prophet (sws) was very saddened by the whole affair. Because the marriage had taken place upon his insistence, he felt that he was also responsible for the breakup. God made this incident the source of a significant societal reform and instructed the Prophet (sws) to marry Zaynab (rta). In Arab society, the widow or divorcee of an adopted son was considered to be a real daughter in law, so the hypocrites found an opportunity to criticize the Prophet (sws) and spread malicious rumours about him. The same rumours have been used by the Orientalists of this period to cast aspersions upon the character of the Prophet (sws). The Prophet (sws) obeyed God and Zaynab (rta) was proud of being thus blessed throughout her life.  

8. Umm Habibah Ramlah bint Abi Sufyan bin Harb 

Umm Habibah (rta) was closest to the Prophet (sws) after Khadijah (rta) in terms of her status. She was initially married to ‘Ubaydullah ibn Jahash and both migrated to Abyssinia. In that environment, ‘Ubaydullah converted to Christianity and died later. Umm Habibah (rta) was left alone in an unknown land without resources. When the Prophet (sws) found out, he decided to marry her, considering her familial position and religious services. He sent ‘Amr ibn Umayyah al-Damari (rta) to the King of Abyssinia who had converted to Islam. He communicated the Prophet (sws)’s proposal of marriage to Umm Habibah who accepted the proposal. The king himself read out the sermon of the nikah and paid her a large amount of mahr from his own pocket. After the Battle of Khaybar, she reached Madinah with a caravan of Muslims. Her daughter Habibah grew up under the patronage of the Prophet (sws). Books of hadith include 65 narratives traced to her.


9. Juwayriyah bint al-Harith ibn Abi Darar (rta)

She was the daughter of the leader of the tribe of the Banu Mustaliq. Due to the conspiracies and constant problems created by this tribe, the Prophet (sws) attacked it and it was defeated. Juwayriyah was made captive and was handed to Thabit ibn Qays (rta) as his slave. She asked him to release her on payment of ransom and came to the Prophet (sws) to ask for assistance. When he found that she was the daughter of the leader, he suggested that he would pay Thabit and free her and then marry her. When Juwayriyah accepted this, her father married her to the Prophet (sws). The Banu Mustaliq was very impressed with this treatment and became Muslims. The Muslims also returned to them the war booty they had collected. In this way, the enmity between two tribes was transformed into love on the basis of a single marriage. Juwayriyah had been initially married to Musafih ibn Safwan.                  


10. Safiyyah bint Huyi ibn Akhtab (rta)

She was the daughter of the leader of the Banu Nadir and was captured during the Battle of Khaybar. Her family was traceable to Harun (sws). When the Prophet (sws) found out about her lineage, he chose her for himself and then married her. She had been initially married to Salam ibn Mushkam and then Kananah ibn Abi al-Huqayq. Kananah was killed in the Battle of Khaybar.


11. Maymunah bint al-Harith (rta)

It is said about her that she was the only woman to have gifted herself to the Prophet (sws) and he too wished to marry her. He had been given permission by God to enter into such relationships. She had been initially married to Abu Rahm ibn ‘Abd al-‘Uzza who had died. There are 76 narratives that are attributed to her as the source.


12. Mariyah Qibtiyah (rta)

The king of Egypt, Maqawqas sent two maids for the Prophet (sws) on receipt of a letter from him. They were sisters. The Prophet (sws) gave one to Hassan ibn Thabit (rta) and kept Mariyah (rta) for himself. She gave him a son who was named Ibrahim. At the age of 18 months, he passed away.


A Look at the Married Life of the Prophet (sws)   

Enemies of Islam have attempted to despoil the pure and pious life of the Prophet (sws). The detractors of today have used the false propaganda which was deployed by both Jews and hypocrites and the baseless stories they created in new ways to attack his personal life. The facts of the Prophet (sws)’s life are themselves proof of the falsehood of these stories. The following facts must always be kept in mind:

1.   The Prophet (sws)’s early life was full of extremely pious and constructive work. This is why the Makkan society accorded him all the dignity and respect owed to a young man who was of a sound and highly moral character and who was trustworthy and reliable. During his 25 years, not a single stain can be found on his character. When he married at the age of 25, his wife had children and had been married twice before, but was known to be a woman of great piety and virtue. The Prophet (sws) spent his entire youth in her companionship and did not even think of a second marriage, although had he done so, it would have been a normal act according to Arab society. The memory of this serene married life was dear to the Prophet (sws) even after his wife had passed away. This is not the attitude of anyone who is given to frequent affairs or is overly sexed.

2.   At the age of 50, when he realized the need for a second wife to take care of his household, he married someone of his own age, whose main attribute was her steadfastness of faith and desire to sacrifice everything for it. Her previous husband had passed away.

3.   At the age of 54, he married a virgin. Her key qualities were that she was the daughter of his most trustworthy companion who had been with him in the most trying of circumstances, his childhood friend and an active personality in the society, who himself had desired to establish such a relationship with the Prophet (sws). The Prophet (sws) honoured this request of a companion to whom he was also grateful, at the same time acknowledging his services to their religion. Experience has shown that the efforts and services this esteemed wife carried out to further the Prophet (sws)’s cause and to make it popular among women cannot be compared with any other woman.

4.   Muslims had suffered considerable loss of life during the Battle of Uhud. Taking care of widows and the orphaned children of martyrs emerged as a major problem in society. The Qur’an brought it to the attention of Muslims that men could marry two, three or four women to address this issue. The Prophet (sws) married three women one after the other, in accordance with this instruction. These women had been married to his close relatives and their husbands had been martyred in the Battle of Uhud. A major factor behind these marriages was to support them and their orphaned children and to set an example for other Muslims.

5.   When the Prophet (sws) had completed the stipulation of a maximum of four wives after marrying the widows of martyred men, the incident of divorce to Zaynab bint Jahash (rta) by Zayd ibn Harithah (rta) happened. God made use of this incident for the correction of two wrong practices in society, so that the work of prophethood could be completed through the practical example of the Prophet (sws). One wrong practice was the status of adopted sons and the other was the marriage of his widowed or divorced wife with his adopted father. Arabs used to treat adopted sons as their own and gave the status of a real daughter in law to the son’s wife. The Qur’an declared this to be against nature and decided that when no relationship existed between an adopted son and his wife, and he divorced her, the adopted father could marry her and there was nothing wrong with this act. God instructed the Prophet (sws) to set an example himself to correct this societal issue and gave him permission to have more than four wives in order to pave the way for this marriage as well as marry others who would come to him as maid servants. Additionally, if a woman was desirous of marrying him and he himself wished to as well, he could do so.

6.   Under this special exemption, the Prophet (sws) married Zaynab bint Jahash (rta), and after that, the daughters of the leaders of the Banu Mustaliq and the Banu Nadir, both of whom had come as captives during battles. They were first freed and then he married them. He also married Maymunah bint al-Harith (rta) at the age of 59. Maymunah (rta) became an important source of spreading Islamic teachings.

These details tell us that the entire life of the Prophet (sws) was spent in purity and piety. He spent the time until he was 50 years old with one wife, despite the fact that this period is one in which a man is most sexually active. During this time, he was blessed with prophethood and his entire attention was focused on fulfilling the responsibilities of his mission. He was busy in matters such that worldly activities were of secondary importance to him. Thus, even when he married, the benefits to his religion and nation remained a priority.


Responsibilities of the Noble Wives  

The special feature of the lives of rulers and heads of states is that the entire world is open to them with all its attractions and opportunities. They take benefit of this as they wish. Their wives spend a luxurious life, having a multitude of possessions and a crowd of servants. They are drunk with power and float on air. However, the situation of prophets and messengers of God is entirely different. They never give any consideration to the world and focus their attention upon the life hereafter. Their life is defined by obedience to instructions of God and communication of His message to humans.  The same reflection of their lives is necessary in the lives of their wives. This is the reason why the Qur’an has elaborated with such detail the responsibilities of the noble wives of the Prophet (sws). They were told that having accepted the companionship of the Prophet (sws), they should understand that:


a)      If they desire the luxury, adornment and comfort of this world, they will not find these in the Prophet (sws)’s home. They should keep the same objective in mind which the Prophet (sws) had; ie. success in the Hereafter. Improving the standards of life is the approach adopted by world leaders, not of prophets. Therefore, they must be satisfied with a life of want and difficulties.

b)      A messenger is the flag bearer of God consciousness, purity and high morals. The same grandeur and dignity needs to be reflected in his wives. In order to be worthy of his companionship, they must develop a sense of responsibility. They should stay at home and restrain themselves from showing off and having a public profile. They should keep a strict watch over their desires and what they say so that they neither create any difficulties for the Prophet (sws) through any action or word, nor demonstrate any character unworthy of his status and position.

c)      The interests of his wives should be aligned with those of the Prophet (sws). They cannot build a life of their own away from his. God wants that there should not fall even a shadow of polytheism, hypocrisy or any moral weakness over the Prophet (sws)’s home or any of his family members. This home should be an example in terms of purity and piety.

d)      The Messenger of God (sws) is himself a teacher who teaches the Qur’an, clarifies its instructions, opens the doors to its wisdom and purifies the character and morals of people. The same status is that of his wives. They should fulfill their responsibilities as teachers. Thus, they should pray with great attention; pay the zakah and obey all the instructions and orders from God and the Prophet (sws). The revelation that is communicated by the Prophet (sws) to them should be communicated in turn to the women of the ummah by the Prophet (sws)’s wives. They should give to them information about various issues and be the source of providing guidance received from the Prophet (sws).

e)      God had made their role as teachers easy by bestowing upon them the status of the mothers of the faithful. Every person of faith could contact them in order to seek solutions to his problems just as a person could approach his own mother.


The requirement of this status was that no man would harbor immoral thoughts while interacting with them and even think of marrying any of them after the demise of the Prophet (sws). Every Muslim was to have the same feelings in his heart about the wives of the Prophet (sws) that an obedient son had about his real mother. 

The noble wives fulfilled the responsibilities given to them by God in an excellent manner. They resigned themselves completely from worldly comforts and focused entirely upon success in the Hereafter. They remained satisfied with whatever was available to them in the way of survival at home and lived a life of abstinence. They were always ready to obey the instructions of religion. Whatever they heard from the Prophet in his personal life, or anything they observed, they shared it with their relatives or those who came to them to ask questions. The efforts which the noble wives made to light up the way of life are narrated in books of Ahadith and the proof is the massive number of narratives which the ummah has received through them.

It had been clarified to the noble wives that they were to keep the Prophet (sws) free to meet his religious obligation without encumbrance. If he was unable to give attention to them they were not to complain but be satisfied with however much time he could give them from his free time. Similarly, if the Prophet (sws) gave preference to some wives over others, they were not to be grieved because the Prophet (sws) did everything with a religious objective in mind. The Qur’an had made it very clear that in case of marital responsibilities, the Prophet (sws) did not have the same moral and religious obligations which were imposed upon other husbands.

In this matter, the Prophet (sws)’s behaviour was such that he never gave any reason for complaint to any of his wives. He would go every day to each of their homes and ask about them. Then he would stay with the wife whose turn it was according to a defined schedule. He did not change this routine even during the period of his illness when he was close to death. When changing homes became difficult due to weakness and severity of his illness, he spent his last few days with ‘A’ishah (rta) after permission from other wives. Whenever his own living conditions improved, he made sure that he shared this with his wives and gave them necessary provisions, such as grain and other necessities of life. The noble wives too fulfilled their obligations throughout their lives and kept the torch of religious teaching burning for the ummah.     





1. Niyaz Ahmad, Tahqiq ‘umr ‘A’ishah, Mashkur Academy, Karachi.



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