An-Nisa · Juz 4 · Qur'an Tafseer

Polygamy in Islam – The Marriages of Prophet Muhammad

Our beloved Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is often criticized for having more than one wife. A man having excellent virtues as himself was not sent to the world for any other purpose than spreading Islam, purifying the people and teaching the Qur’an. He, by his word and deed, made the teachings of Islam radiate all over the world. His unique style shows that he practiced what he taught.

The books of ahadeeth tell us in great details the things he did inside the walls of his home, how he related to his wives and how he answered questions posed by women who visited his home for this purpose. Such questions can be counted in hundreds, questions that highlight the intermediacy of his blessed wives through whom the Muslim Ummah received necessary guidance. Through the life of the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, we learn the morals and manners of different aspects of life.

According to the limited thinking of some societies, the Prophet’s marriages (God forbid) were simply an expression of his sexual desires. However, when we glance at his life and character we immediately conclude what an awfully wrong interpretation they have made.

Right before the eyes of the Quraysh tribe of Makkah, he led a blame-free life in a way that he, when twenty-five, married an aged widow with children and went on living with her for the next twenty-five years. It was also during this period that he used to leave home, sometimes for as long as a month, and stay in seclusion at the cave of Hira devoting his time to the remembrance of his Lord. All his other marriages came after he was beyond fifty.

The first fifty years of his life, especially his younger years and his youth, were too visible to the people of Makkah. Nobody, not even an enemy, ever found an occasion to accuse him about his piety or purity.  They accused him of being a magician, a sorcerer, a poet, a madman, a liar, a fabricator, but never did they dare say anything about his pious life.

Under these conditions, would it not be worth exploring as to why someone who had spent fifty years of his life in such righteousness and piety and in such peaceful abstinence from the good things of life would be compelled to marry more than once? What was the urge? Let us look at the reality of these marriages as to how they came to pass.

Age twenty-five to fifty, he had only one wife Khadeejah radhiAllahu ‘anha. When she died, the marriage with Saudah and Aishah radhiAllahu ‘anhum was solemnized. But it was Saudah who came to live with him while Aishah continued to live with her father due to her minority. In year two of Hijrah, Aishah came to live with him and it is then that the plurality of marriage began.

After one year, his marriage with Hafsah radhiAllahu ‘anha took place. After some months, Zainab bint Khuzaymah radhiAllahu ‘anha came into his nikkah but died only eighteen months later. According to one report, she lived only three months as his wife. Then, he was married to Umm Salmah radhiAllahu ‘anha in 4 A.H. and to Zainab bint Jahsh radhiAllahu ‘anha in 5 A.H. This is the time when he was fifty-eight. He now had four wives.

Later he married Jaweria radhiAllahu ‘anha in 6 A.H., Umm Habibah radhiAllahu ‘anha in 7 A.H., Safiyyah radhiAllahu ‘anha in 7 A.H. and Maymunah radhiAllahu ‘anha later on in the same year.

To sum up, we see that he lived for twenty-five years with Kahdeejah radhiAllahu ‘anha and four to five years with Saudah radhiAllahu ‘anha. After that, when he was fifty-eight, he had four wives, the rest of the blessed wives came to live with him within a period of 2 – 3 years.

It is worth mentioning here that, out of all the wives he had, there was only one who was married to him as a virgin, Aishah radhiAllahu ‘anha. Other than her, all wives were widows (except Zainab bint Jahsh).

If he was inclined to keep more than one wife, he would have married none but virgins. In fact, there was nothing to stop him from keeping a wife for one or two months and then take new ones in their place. But, he never did this. A prophet never follows his mundane desire; whatever he does is by the will of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala

Polygamy in Islam: Benefits to Ummah of the Prophet’s Marriages

The educational benefits of Prophet’s marriages that reached the Muslim community are countless. Let us read some of the lessons that we learn from the Prophet’s marriages.

Prophet’s Marriage to Umm Salmah:

The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam married Umm Salmah radhiAllahu ‘anha after her husband Abu Salmah radhiAllahu ‘anhu had died. When she came to live with him in his house along with her children, the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam took care of her children and brought them up with love and concern.

Thus, he demonstrated through his conduct the love and care one must give when bringing up stepchildren. Of his wives, she was the only one who came with her children from a previous marriage. If none of his wives was like her, this aspect of the upbringing of stepchildren would have remained practically undemonstrated and the Muslim Ummah would have remained deprived of any guidance in this matter.

Her son, Umar ibn Abi Salmah says, 

“I was brought up in the lap of the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Once, while eating with him, I was dunking my hand everywhere in the bowl. He said, ‘Say the name of Allah and eat with your right hand and eat from what is in front of you.” 

[Bukhari, Muslim, from Mishkat, p. 363]

Prophet’s Marriage to Jaweria:

Jaweria radhiAllahu ‘anha came as a prisoner of Jihad. Like other prisoners, she too became one of the distributed and found herself in the share of Thabit ibn Qays or his cousin. But she succeeded in making a deal with her master. The deal was that she would give him a certain amount of money against which he will release her. After making this arrangement, she came to the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and sought financial assistance from him. He said, “Shall I not tell you something much better than this? That I pay on your behalf and marry you?” She agreed with pleasure. Thereupon, he paid the amount due on her behalf and married her. This resulted in something unusually benign.

Hundreds of Jaweria radhiAllahu ‘anha’s people had been captivated by the Companions as prisoners. When the Companions found out that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had married her, all of them released their respective slaves out of deference to the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Imagine how elegant their behavior was, how genuine, how sublime? It was in view of their emotional realization that all these people have now become connected with the family of Rasoolullah in bonds of in-law-ship that they simply could not have the audacity to keep them as slaves. So, they set all of them free.

Aishah radhiAllahu ‘anha says about this incident, 

“Because of his marriage with Jaweria, one hundred families from Banu al-Mustaliq became free. I know no other woman who proved to be greater in blessing for her people.”  

Prophet’s Marriage to Umm Habibah:

Umm Habibah radhiAllahu ‘anha had become a Muslim in Makkah during the early days of Islam along with her husband. Later on, both husband and wife migrated to Ethiopia as members of a caravan. After reaching there, her husband became a Christian and it so happened that a few days later, he died.

The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam proposed her through the office of Najashi (the Emperor of Ethiopia) which she accepted and it was in Ethiopia that the same Najashi gave her in marriage to the Prophet. It is interesting to note that Umm Habibah was the daughter of Abu Sufyan, leader of the group which regarded hostility to Islam as its main objective in life.

They were always on the lookout for excuses to hurt Muslims and torture the Prophet of Allah. If they ever got the chance they would not have hesitated for a moment to eliminate him once and for all. When he found out about this marriage, he involuntarily uttered these words, “He is a man of valor. His nose cannot be cut off.” The sense was that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam is a man of honor. It is not easy to disgrace him. Here we are doing our best to disgrace him and there we see, right under our noses that our daughter has become his wife.

This marriage proved to be a weapon of psychological warfare. The ambitions of the leader of the disbelievers against Muslims were watered down. It cannot be denied that this marriage brought in its wake political gain for Islam and Muslims. This gain is certainly something that the far-sighted and wise Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam had in his sight.

These are just a few examples which have been quoted here; the Seerah of Rasoolullah is filled with countless elements of wisdom in the plurality of his marriages.

Though unfortunate, yet the truth is that this trap sucks in a lot of educated but ignorant Muslims. They go into the spider’s web and do not return because they do not know the Seerah of Rasoolullah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and the history of Islam from authentic sources. Their knowledge of everything Islamic comes from anti-Islam books written by the so-called orientalists.

[SOURCE: Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani, Ma’arif ul Qur’an]

One thought on “Polygamy in Islam – The Marriages of Prophet Muhammad

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