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Muhammad (pbuh) is the prophet and founder of Islam. Muhammad was married to 14 wives and all for various reasons. The marital history of Prophet Muhammad has been the discussion and focus of many critics throughout the modern area. Scholars have a variety of reasons justifying polygamy, such as a woman’s inability to continuously provide her husband with conjugal relations during times of menstruation, pregnancy, or a wife’s barrenness. Prophet Muhammad’s marriages reveals that all of the women he married were either divorced or widowed with the exception of one virgin. During that era, they had no social institutions that provided a safe haven for such women.
It was the state of women in that area that made the Prophet practice polygamy, which based on that time was very common. In most cases, women of that era needed a husband to shelter and protect them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The Prophet, as a statesman and humanitarian, was obligated to assist them. A professor of religion John L. Esposito (1988), says based on his studies and historical accounts, the marriages of Prophet Muhammad had political and social motives. The professor further explains the customs of the Arabs, as a way to cement alliances they would offer marriages politically. In addition, other marriages were to widows of his companions who had died in battle and were in dire need of protection. In the Qur’an, chapter 33 verse 6, the wives of the prophet are honored by being called the “Mothers of the believers”. Their marriages to the Prophet were voluntary and they could initiate and ask for divorce, though none ever did. The wives of the prophet played a vital role in the revolutionary changes made in the Qur’an and Muhammad on the status of women, exemplars of these changes. As the Prophet’s behavior with his wives was one of love, affection, respect and dignity, those that followed him were expected to follow his example.
One of the reasons of his marriages was the result of divine revelation. In the case of his wife Aisha, God sent this inspiration through a dream whereby the angel Gabriel presented her to him. God is aware of all, and is the best of planners. Aisha became the best scholar and transmitter of hadith, as she narrated more than thousands hadiths that discussed the sunnah of the prophet (Haylamaz, 2013). In addition, the marriage to Zeinab bint Jahsh, was Gods decree as there were verses in the Quran that were revealed regarding this matter, in chapter 33 verse 37-40. The divine purpose of this marriage was to abolish a deep rooted taboo of the Arabs of marrying the divorcees of their foster sons. At the time of the Arabs, the wife of a foster son can’t be betrothed to his father. But with the advent of Islam, God abolished this and wanted to differentiate between foster children and biological ones. As a man can adopt a child and care for him, but that child cannot take his name and assume the lineage of his adopted father.
From a humanitarian perspective, the prophet married orphan women as they were more vulnerable to exploitation by men because they did not have a father or family defending their honour. For instance, one of the first marriages of Prophet Muhammad was to a woman named Sawdah bint Zam’ah whose husband had died during the second migration to Abyssinia (Emerick, 2002). Her father and brother were amongst those who were the bitter enemies of Islam, if she were to return to them she’d have been tormented and abused as they were doing to others, to the extent of killing them all in order for them to renounce their religion. Thus, for her protection Prophet Muhammad offered her marriage, it was not out of carnal desires, but in order to safeguard a woman and honour her late husband as a martyr of Islam. In addition, the Prophet did not distinguish between ages. He married a woman older then him by 15 years and younger then him. In Ummu Salamah’s old age, with a husband dead and many orphaned children, the prophet married her as another suggestion for his followers to take (Tamam, 2013). Furthermore, the Prophets marriage to Juwayriyyah was another message to the Muslims as a whole to practice, the freeing of slaves and their treatment (Emerick, 2002). After emancipatory her, the prophet offered her marriage which she accepted and the captives being from Banu al-Mustaliq became his relatives and thus were freed (Emerick, 2002). As impressed as they were by this honour and nobility, the entire tribe converted to Islam. So far, he has married widows, orphans and the disadvantaged. This way the way of the prophet, who only sought to shelter and protect women.
In addition, the Prophet married to form political alliances, as most wives of the Prophet came from various social classes, tribes, and countries, hence propagating and defending Islam through marital alliance. Each wife came from a different clan or tribe, the Prophet established kinship and affinity to the entirety of his followers. This allowed attachment to the prophet and message to be more widely spread and pronounced, as his followers, as diverse as they were wanted to be connected and uphold his message. This created and secured equality and brotherhood amongst all the followers of Islam in the most practical and ideal way and on the basis of religion. Each of his marriages proved a great service and benefit to Islam, as they all conveyed his message and interpreted it to their clans, as they were the closest to the prophet and could therefore relate his qualities, manners, faith of the man whose life in all its details was the embodiment of the Quran. The tribes, collectively benefited from the proximity to the Prophet, as they esteemed themselves to be admired and fortune enough in this relationship, such as the Ummayads through the marriage of Umm Habiba, the Hashimites through Zaynab bint Jahsh, and the Banu Makhzum through Umm Salama (Tamam, 2013).
The Prophet’s marriages were mutual, peace, love, compassion and not satisfying human sexual desire. His marriages were mainly for social, political, spiritual or humanitarian perspectives. He was a leader who showed the norms and values of Islam. It is important to note that marriages of the Prophet were made with the view to help the women whose husbands had been killed while they were defending Islam, while others were with a view to cement relationships with devoted followers like Abu Bakr.
1. Emerick, Yahiya. The life and work of Muhammad. Penguin, 2002.
2. Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path. New York: Oxford University Press34 (2005): 93.
3. Gülen, Fethullah. The messenger of God Muhammad: An analysis of the Prophet’s life. Tughra Books, 2000.
4. Haylamaz, Resit. Aisha: The Wife, The Companion, The Scholar. Tughra Books, 2013.
5. Kahn, Tamam. Untold: A history of the wives of Prophet Muhammad.Monkfish Book Publishing, 2013.
6. Ramadan, Tariq. In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad. Oxford University Press, 2009.
7. Watt, William Montgomery. Muhammad: Prophet and statesman. London: Oxford University Press, 1961.