Zul-Qada / Zul Hijja 1422
Volume 15-02 No:182
When a Muslim is allowed to marry a maximum of four wives, how is it that Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) had eleven wives?
The Quran in Surah Nisa chapter 4 verse 3 (4:3) states that a Muslim is allowed to marry a maximum of only four wives. Another verse in the Quran makes Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) an exception to this rule. In Surah Ahzab chapter 33 verse 52 (33:52): “ It is not lawful for thee (to marry more) women after this nor to change them for other wives even though their beauty attract thee, except any thy right hand should possess (as hand maidens) and Allah doth watch over all things “.
This verse clearly gives Prophet Muhammad the permission to keep all his wives, but prohibits him to marry any more women except which his right hand possessed i.e. slave girls.
The reason why the Prophet was allowed to keep more than one wife was because no one was allowed to marry the Prophet’s wives after they were divorced or widowed as they were Ummul-Momineen (mother of the believers).
People falsely accuse the Prophet of being hyper-sexual because he had 11 wives. If you read the life history of the Prophet, only two of his marriages, one with Khadija (R) and the other with Ayesha (R) were marriages in the normal course, while all the other marriages were contracted as a necessity and were based on various considerations.
The first marriage of the Prophet took place when he was 25 years of age and he married Hazrat Khadija (R) who was twice widowed and was 40 years old. If the Prophet was hyper-sexual, why would he marry a woman who was 15 years older than him and who was also widowed twice? Till his first wife Hazrat Khadija was alive, he never took a second wife. Hazrat Khadija passed away when the Prophet was of the age of 50 and only after this did he marry others. If he married eleven wives for sexual reasons, he should have had multiple wives in his youth, but history tells us that all the marriages with his remaining ten wives took place when he was between the age of 53 and 59.
Among his wives, all were between the age of 36-50 except for two wives. His reputation had spread far and wide not only in Arabia but also in the neighbouring countries. Couldn’t he have got younger and lovelier girls to marry? Most of his marriages were for the cause of Islam.
In Arabia, no one could carry on the work of reform and upliftment unless he belonged to some specific and respectable class, and so in the interest of his mission, the Prophet needed inter-tribal relationships. He wanted to weld the quarreling tribal and clan factions into one Muslim Ummah as brethren in faith (Ikhwan fi’d -din)
For instance, his wife Juwayriyya belonged to the Banu Mustaliq clan which was very powerful. The entire clan was a bitter enemy of Islam from the start. At last, they were suppressed by military action. But when the Prophet married Juwayriyya, the Muslims released all their prisoners saying that they could not keep the Prophet’s relatives in bondage and it was due to this marriage that the whole clan accepted Islam and became peaceful and obedient to the laws of the new Islamic state.
Maymunah also came from a very powerful clan from Najd and was the sister of the wife of the then chief. It was this clan which had brutally murdered 70 members of an Islamic missionary deputation. The Prophet’s marriage with Maymunah changed the whole atmosphere and Najd accepted Madinah’s authority under the leadership of the Prophet.
Umm Habibah was the daughter of the Qurayshi chief Abu Sufyan. It was after the Prophet’s marriage to Umm Habibah that Abu Sufyan never fought against the Prophet. This marriage was largely responsible for the conquest of Makkah. There is further significance. Umm Habibah was first married to a certain Ubaydullah and emigrated with him to Abyssinia where Ubaydullah became a Christian and a drunkard. Excess consumption of wine killed him. It was a double shock to her that her husband had become a Christian and later died, and she badly needed solace.
Safiyyah was the daughter of a very prominent Jewish chief, Huyyah ibn Aktab. In consideration of her family status, she could not be merged into an ordinary household. So the Prophet himself married her. After this marriage, the Jews did not dare to revive their opposition to the Prophet and his mission.
In the case of Hafsah, it was the Prophet’s desire to bind in relationship those of his great companions (sahabah) who were his advisers and who were trained for future leadership. He had married Abu Bakr’s daughter, married two of his own daughters to Uthman and one to ‘Ali (Fatima). ‘Umar could not be kept outside of this wide circle of relationship. By marrying his daughter Hafsah, the Prophet forged a strong bond of relationship within the Islamic movement thus strengthening the pillars of the Ummah.
The Prophet had married his first cousin, Zaynab, to his freed slave, Zayd ibn Haritha, whom he had adopted as his son. This was intended to break family and social barriers but the marriage did not prove a success and ended in divorce. When he saw that Zaynab was left alone, the Prophet felt his responsibility in the matter. He also had to break another convention according to which an adopted son became a real son. This difficult problem was solved by the Prophet’s marriage to Zaynab (as mentioned in the Qur’an in Surah Ahzab chapter no 33 verse 37) to annul that pre-Islamic conception and promulgate an Islamic law instead.
Another Zaynab, Umm al Masakin (mother of the poor and helpless), daughter of Khuzayma ibn Al-Haith, belonged to the Hawazin clan. Her husband gave the supreme sacrifice to the cause of Islam and was killed in the Battle of Uhud. To rescue her from widowhood, the Prophet took her as his wife.
After the revelation of the verse Surah Ahzab chapter 33 verse no 52 (33:52), the Prophet only married Mary, who was a slave girl sent as a present by the Christian Muqauqas of Egypt. Since the Christian chieftain of Egypt sent Prophet Muhammad a slave girl as a present, he could not refuse, then the refusal would have disturbed the political alliance. He could not keep her as a slave girl, since Prophet Muhammad preached that slaves should be freed. The only option left with him was to marry her since the Qur’an gave him the permission to do so. Later on she became the mother of Ibrahim who died in his infancy