By Imam Murtadha Gusau
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all creations. May Allah extol the mention of the Prophet in the highest company of Angels and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, his family, his Companions and all those who follow him exactly till the Day of Judgement.
Dear brothers and sisters, a non-Muslim brother from far away America named Michael, sent this very important question to me, which I decided to answer through Friday sermon for the benefit of all. The question was as follows:
Respected Imam, when a Muslim is allowed to marry a maximum of four wives, how is it that your Prophet Muhammad had eleven wives?
Below was my answer to him:
Dear brother Michael, know that, for any Prophet to marry and beget children is quite natural. It is the norm, not the exception (Qur’an, 13:38). The practice of polygamy by the Prophets of Allah relates to their mission. Through marital bonds with different tribes and clans, Prophets of Allah sought to bind various peoples together and reduce their enmity. Polygamy was practiced by many great Biblical (and Qur’anic) Prophets, including Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon. According to the Bible, some of these Prophets are said to have had dozens of wives and concubines.
Unlike adultery by those who are officially “monogamous,” polygamy in itself is not immoral. It has been practiced in many cultures throughout history. It is simply another alternative form of family structure suited to certain circumstances and social needs in different times and cultures. Examples of such needs include caring for widows and orphans of victims of wars, or dealing with demographic problems such as occasional imbalances in the gender ratio. Polygamy has been practiced as well by various religious communities, including some Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
In fact, the Qur’an is the only monotheistic noble book that explicitly limited, restricted, and regulated the practice of polygamy (Qur’an 4:3, 129). Yet, due to the wide circulation of erroneous information about Islam, many have the impression that Islam introduced this form of marriage. Among all great polygamous Prophets, Prophet Muhammad is often singled out for criticism for practicing polygamy in the last few years of his life. In fact, none of his marriages raise any question about his chastity and moral excellence. Some ask, however, why Prophet Muhammad limited his followers to a maximum of four wives, while he himself exceeded that maximum. The question itself reflects a serious misunderstanding. These limits, as well as the exception made for the Prophet, were all divine instructions in the Qur’an, which to Muslims is the word of Allah, not the word of Prophet Muhammad or his own instructions or stipulations. After all, the practice of unlimited polygamy was common and socially accepted in pre-Islamic Arabia.
If it were true that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) wished to have more than the four wives that “he restricted” his followers to, then why did he “restrict” them in the first place? Why not “live and let live”? A related question is this: Why did the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) limit himself to one wife, Khadijah, for the prime time of his youth and manhood, from the age of 25 until he was 50 years old when she died? This lengthy monogamous marriage spanning most of his marital life took place when polygamy was socially accepted and widely practiced and before any Qur’anic revelation restricting such a practice and limiting, in the general case, the number of wives to a maximum of four. To claim that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was untruthfully “making up” or forging verses in the Qur’an to “give himself” an exception, is inconsistent with his integrity and acknowledged truthfulness. It is also utterly contrary to reason.
A legitimate question however is this: Why did Allah make such an exception for the Prophet? Like some other Prophets before him, Prophet Muhammad ((Peace be upon him) was not only a Prophet, but also the head of a community which eventually became a political entity. As the central personality of both faith and community, he was in a unique position to reconcile various warring peoples to one another, reconcile the hearts of his enemies, and fulfill his mission through the most peaceful means possible. An effective means of achieving this mission in a tribal society is bonding through marrying women from the various tribes or clans.
Dear Michael, The Qur’an, in Surah Nisa’i, chapter 4 verse 3, states that a Muslim is allowed to marry a maximum of only four wives. Another verse in the Qur’an makes Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) an exception to this rule.
In Surah Ahzab chapter 33 verse 52:
“It is not lawful for you (to marry more) women after this, nor to change them for (other) wives, even though their beauty attract you, except any your right hand should possess (as hand maidens) and Allah do watch over all things.” [Qur’an 33:52]
This verse clearly gives Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) the permission to keep all his previous wives but prohibits him to marry any more women except those which his right hand possessed i.e. slave girls.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) was allowed to keep all his previous wives because no one was allowed to marry the Prophet’s wives (RA) after they were divorced or widowed as they were ummahatul-mu’mineen (mothers of the believers).
Also some people falsely accuse the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) of being hypersexual, because he had eleven wives. If you read the life history of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), only two of his marriages one with Khadijah (RA), and the other, with Aisha (RA) were marriages in the normal course. All his other marriages were contracted as a necessity and were based on various considerations.
The first marriage of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) took place when he was 25 years of age and he married Khadijah (RA) who was twice widowed, and was 40 years old. If the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was hypersexual, why would he marry a woman who was 15 years older than him and already twice widowed?
And until his first wife, Khadijah (RA) was alive, he never took a second wife. Khadijah (RA) expired when the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was 50 years age and only after this, did he marry the others. If he married eleven wives for sexual reasons, he should have had multiple wives during his youth. Contrary to this, history tells us that all his marriages with his remaining ten wives took place when he was between the age of 53 and 59 years.
All his wives (RA) were between the age of 36 to 50 years, except for two wives (RA). His reputation had spread far and wide, not only in Arabia, but also in the neighbouring countries. Could he not have easily got younger and lovelier girls to marry? Most of his marriages were for political and diplomatic gain and for the spread of Islam.
In Arabia, no one could carry on the work of reform and upliftment unless he belonged to, or was related to some specific and respectable tribe. Thus, in the interest of his mission, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) needed intertribal relationships. He wanted to weld the quarreling tribal and clannish factions into one Muslim ummah, as brethren in faith (Ikhwan fid-din).
For instance, his wife Juwairiyyah (RA) belonged to the Banu Mustaliq clan, which was very powerful. The entire clan was a bitter enemy of Islam from the start, and they were finally suppressed by military action. When the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) married Juwairiyyah (RA), the Muslims released all their prisoners, saying that they could not keep the Prophet’s relatives in bondage. It was due to this marriage that the whole clan of Banu Mustaliq accepted Islam and became peaceful and obedient to the laws of the new Islamic state.
Maimunah (RA) also came from a very powerful and recalcitrant clan from Najd and was the sister of the wife of the chief of the clan in those days. It was this clan which had brutally murdered seventy members of an Islamic missionary deputation. The Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be upon him) marriage with Maimunah (RA) changed the whole atmosphere and Najd accepted Madinah’s authority under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
Umm Habibah (RA) was the daughter of the Quraish chief, Abu Sufyan. It was after the Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be upon him) marriage to Umm Habibah, that Abu Sufyan never fought against the Prophet (Peace be upon him). This marriage was largely responsible for the conquest of Makkah. Furthermore, Umm Habibah was first married to a certain Ubaidullah and emigrated with him to Abyssinia, where Ubaidullah became a Christian and a drunkard. Excessive consumption of wine killed him since it was a double shock to her that her husband had become a Christian and later died, she was badly in need of solace.
Safiyyah (RA) 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 Muhammad (Peace be upon him) himself married her. After this marriage, the Jews did not dare to revive their opposition to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and his mission.
In the case of Hafsah (RA), it was the Prophet’s (Peace be upon him) desire to bind in relationship with those of his great Companions (Sahabah) who were his advisers and who were trained for future leadership. He had married Abu Bakr’s (RA) daughter, married two of his own daughters to Uthman (RA) and one to Ali (RA). Umar (RA) could not be kept outside this wide circle of relationship. By marrying Umar’s daughter Hafsah (RA), the Prophet (Peace be upon him) forged a strong bond of relationship within the Islamic movement thus strengthening the pillars of the ummah.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) had married his first cousin, Zainab (RA), to his freed slave, Zaid Ibn Haritha (RA), whom he had adopted as his son. This marriage of Zainab (RA) with Zaid (RA) was intended to break the family and social barriers, but the marriage did not prove to be successful and ended in divorce. When the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) saw that Zainab (RA) was left alone, he 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 Muhammad’s (Peace be upon him) marriage to Zainab (RA) (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 wife Zainab (RA), Ummul Masakin (mother of the poor and helpless), daughter of Khuzaima Ibn Al-Haith, belonged to the Hawazin clan. Her husband was killed in the battle of Uhud. To rescue her from widowhood, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) took her as his wife.
After the revelation of the verse in Surah Ahzab, chapter 33 verse 52, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) only married Mariyah the Copt who was a slave girl sent as a present by the Christian Muqauqis of Egypt. Since the Christian Chieftain of Egypt sent Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) a slave girl as a present, he could not refuse this gift as a refusal would have disturbed the political and diplomatic alliance. He could not keep her as a slave girl, since Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) 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 (RA) who died in his infancy.
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true followers.
The perfect knowledge belongs to Allah the Almighty. Our last prayer is all praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. And May the peace and blessing be upon our beloved Prophet, his Family, his Companions and his Brothers till the Day of Resurrection.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org or +2348038289761.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Safar 12, 1441 A. H. (October 11, 2019).
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