The marital life of the Prophet (sws) has generally been
misinterpreted by the critics of Islam. In this regard, unfortunately, the real
stance of the Qur’ān has often been misconceived even by some Muslim scholars.
In the following paragraphs, we shall attempt to explain the Qur’ānic viewpoint
on this issue.
In order to understand the reason behind the various
marriages of the Prophet (sws), it is of paramount importance to appreciate two
specific dimensions of his personality peculiar to him only.
Of these, the first dimension is that he was a Nabi; in
fact, on him the institution of Nabuwwat ended. A Nabi revives divine guidance
and clears all misconceptions and doubts about it. He cleanses it from alien
concepts and strives to reform the society. Since the Prophet (sws) was also the
final Nabi, two basic requirements had to be arranged for: It was necessary to
complete, finalize and seal the contents of the Last Word of Allah so that it
could remain the ultimate source of guidance for all subsequent generations of
mankind. Secondly, it was equally necessary to educate and instruct his wives so
that they could become a model for all other women as well.
Also, it was necessary to highlight and preserve the private life of the Prophet
(sws) so that Muslims could be able to follow him in this sphere also. It must
also be realized that it was the Prophet's lofty character as a Nabi which
played a key role in bringing about a remarkable change among the unlettered
people of Arabia. During the course of his daunting mission, he came across many
untoward and emergency situations. As a Nabi, he took lead in solving the social
problems in particular, which arose during this perilous journey.
The second dimension of the Prophet's personality is that
besides being a Nabi, he was also a Rasool. Like a Nabi, a Rasool is not sent
merely to preach and sermonize, but to decide the fate of the nation he
addresses. He accomplishes the all important task of Itmaam-i-Hujjat
upon his nation, after which they are not given any right to live if they still
deny the truth revealed to their Prophet. This is because they have failed in
the real test for which they were created. The nation of a Rasool must accept
faith if they are to live. Victory for the Rasool over the forces of evil is
ordained by the Almighty. Consequently, the Prophet (sws) adopted all measures
which helped him in achieving the political dominance of the religion revealed
With these dimensions of the Prophet's personality in the
background, we now examine each of the Prophet's marriages.
The two initial marriages of the Prophet (sws), it is
obvious, were solemnized in a normal perspective and on customary footings. He
first of all married a widow, Khadijah (rta), when he was about twenty five
years old, while she was almost forty years old. For the next twenty five years,
the couple remained happily married and the Prophet (sws) during this period was
seen in the role of an ideal husband --- something which he maintained
throughout his marital life. At the death of Khadijah (rta), the Prophet (sws)
was left with small children. Consequently, he married a widow, Saudah (rta),
then fifty three years old. The need for this marriage like the previous one, it
is obvious, arose from perfectly natural needs.
All subsequent marriages of the Prophet (sws) were
conducted to fulfil the responsibilities of Nabuwwat and Risaalat.
In the year 622, the Prophet (sws) migrated to Medinah as
its undisputed ruler. His marriage with Ayesha daughter of his dear Companion,
Abu Bakr (rta) was consummated two years later.
The marriage had been legally solemnized a couple of years before migration. It
seems that this marriage was, in fact, a divine selection, for the services
rendered by Ayesha (rta) for the cause of Islam stand unparalleled. She was,
perhaps, the greatest authority on Islam after the Prophet (sws). All the
illustrious Companions of the Prophet (sws) consulted her for religious
guidance. The Prophet's marriage with Ayesha (rta) and later with Hafsa (rta)
daughter of Umar (rta), also proved instrumental in the strengthening of ties
with his two close Companions.
Now, within the first few years after migration, many
Muslim women were widowed particularly, because their husbands had been killed
in the battles of Badr and Uhad. A large number of them including their children
were left helpless. The opening verses of Sūrah Nisaa came to their rescue and
suggested a way out to deal with their apathy. The custom of polygamy which was
prevalent in Arabia was utilized to solve this problem. The Qur’ān urged the
Muslims to marry them if they could be just to all their wives and at the same
time this number should not exceed four. Since the Prophet (sws) was to set an
example in this regard, he took lead and married two widows Zainab binti
Khuzaimah and Hafsah binti Umar. At this stage, he had four wives Ayesha (rta),
Saudah (rta), Hafsa (rta) and Zainab binti Khuzaimah (rta). A few months later,
Zainab binti Khuzaimah (rta) died and the Prophet (sws) married Ummi Salmah (rta)
whose husband had been martyred in the battle of Uhad. Her husband Abu Salmah (rta)
had rendered meritorious services for the cause of Islam.
The Prophet (sws), while discharging his duties as the
final Nabi, next married Zainab binti Jahash (rta) in the fifth year after
migration. The reason for this marriage must be understood in the light of some
important details: Islam inherited the inhuman institution of slavery. There
were scores of slave men and women in every house. Instantly freeing them, it is
clear, would have resulted in a lot of social and economic problems. Islam,
therefore, adopted a gradual methodology to do away with slavery. It undertook
various measures in this regard. However, freeing these slaves was not the only
problem which was to be tackled. An even more important problem was to blend and
graft them within the normal social structure of the society once they had been
set free. Keeping in view the great sense of superiority the Arabs had over
slaves, this was an extremely uphill task. Consequently, the Prophet (sws) in
order to make them acceptable as normal members of a society took a very radical
step. He persuaded his cousin sister Zainab binti Jahash to marry Zaid bin
Haarisah, a slave boy he had set free and brought up as a son. The marriage took
place, but, unfortunately, it could not continue due to certain reasons and Zaid
bin Haarsihah had to divorce his wife. After this unfortunate dissolution of
marriage, the only thing which could console Zainab (rta) was if the Prophet (sws)
married her. Furthermore, it was necessary to reform a social custom concerning
some erroneous concepts about an adopted son. According to this custom, the
Arabs regarded the adopted sons and foster sons equally in all respects. This,
of course, is against human nature and as such had to be abrogated. However, as
a social custom, it was so deeply rooted in the Arab society that it could only
be the Prophet's personality which could abolish it. Consequently, on the
Almighty's bidding, the Prophet (sws)
married her to sympathize with her and to reform this custom.
Also, with this marriage, the normal law of keeping four
wives was extended by the Almighty for the Prophet (sws) so that he could
effectively discharge his responsibilities as a Nabi and a Rasool.
The Qur’ān says:
"O Prophet! We have made lawful to you the wives whom you
have paid their dowers and the slave girls whom Allah has given you as booty and
the daughters of your paternal uncles and aunts and the daughters of your
maternal uncles and aunts who migrated [from Mecca] with you; and any believing
women who gifts her soul to the Prophet on the condition that the Prophet wishes
to marry her. This privilege is yours alone and not for the believers. We very
well know what We have imposed on them as obligations regarding their wives and
slave girls --- in order that there be no difficulty for you [in your mission]
and Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. You can keep any of them away from you and
keep any of them near you and it is lawful for you to bring any of them near you
whom you have kept away. This is more proper so that they be contented and not
be sorrowful --- that they may feel satisfied with what you give them. And Allah
knows what is in your hearts and Allah is All-Knowing and Most Forbearing. All
other women besides these are not lawful for you nor can you change them for
other wives, even though their beauty attracts you except those who are your
slave-girls. And Allah does watch
over all things." (33:50-2)
An analysis of the above mentioned verses reveals two
Firstly, two restrictions were imposed on the Prophet (sws):
neither could he marry outside a certain sphere defined by the Quran, nor could
he divorce any of his wives in order to wed another woman. According to this
range, he could only marry women belonging to the following three categories.
i) Women who had been made prisoners in a battle.
ii) Women who had migrated from Mecca with the Prophet (sws)
and were his close relatives.
iii) Women who wanted to gift their soul to the Prophet (sws)
on the condition that he wished to marry them. This meant a complete surrender
of marital rights and acceptance of whatever the Prophet (sws) could afford to
give them as far as time and attention were concerned.
Secondly, since all these marriages were conducted to
realize a mission, all restrictions
which are generally imposed on men in the capacity of husbands were lifted.
Consequently, he was absolved from observing equality between his wives.
After this special law had been revealed for the Prophet (sws),
he married Ummi Habibah (rta), Safiyah (rta), Jawairiyah (rta) --- all of whom
were the daughters of the leaders of the Quraish in order to tone down the
rivalry of this leadership. It must be borne in mind that the Arabian society
was feudal in nature and had its own peculiar traditions. One such tradition was
the extreme respect and regard the Arabs had for their sons-in-law. Various
tribes were at peace with others merely due to this relationship. To fight with
a son-in-law was considered as a great shame for them. In these conditions, it
was very appropriate for the Prophet (sws) to marry in various tribes and put an
end to their hostility.
Ummi-Habibah (rta) was the daughter of Abu-Sufyaan, the
Prophet's paternal uncle and one of his greatest enemies. She had migrated to
Abyssinia to get some respite from the atrocities of the Quraish. There her
husband accepted Christianity and she was left helpless. The Prophet (sws)
married her and after this marriage, it became very difficult for Abu-Sufyan to
remain the Prophet's adversary. Ultimately, with the conquest of Mecca, he
Jawairiyah's (rta) tribe Bani Mustaliq had taken to
highway robbery. The Prophet (sws) waged war on them and subdued them. A great
number of them were taken prisoners. Jawairiyah the daughter of the tribe's
chief was also among them. The Prophet (sws) married her and eliminated the
seeds of hostility from this tribe.
In the battle of Khaibar, after a peace treaty had been
concluded with the enemy, the Muslim forces came across Safia binti Huyee --- a
helpless widow of an aristocratic family. Her father, Huyee bin Akhtab --- a
prominent leader of the Jews had been killed in the battle of Quraizah. The
Prophet (sws) set her free and gave her the option to go to back to her family
or to marry him if she wanted. Saffiyah showed her consent to marry the Prophet
(sws). The marriage subsequently took place, and proved very effective in toning
down the hostilities of the Jews.
At the conquest of Mecca in the eighth year after
migration, the Prophet (sws) married Maimoonah (rta), who had gifted her soul to
him. Her only wish was to be associated with the Prophet (sws).
From the above details, it is evident that most of the
marriages of the Prophet (sws) were conducted to help in realizing his mission
as a Nabi and a Rasool. He had been given special directives in this regard and
as such his marriages should be viewed in the light of these directives.