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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Questions This Modern Age Puts to Islam


this modern age puts to Islam


Fethullah Gulen.



What were the reasons behind the several
marriages of the Prophet, upon him

be peace? 

- Introduction

- Khadijah


-Umm Salamah

-Umm Habibah

-Zainab bint Jahsh

-Juwayriyah b. Harith


-Sawdah b. Zam'ah b. Qays



Some critics of Islam, either because they
are not aware of the facts about the marriages of the Prophet Muhammad,
upon him be peace, or because they are not honest and objective about those
facts, have reviled the Prophet as a self-indulgent libertine. They have
accused him of character failings which are hardly compatible with being
of average virtue, let alone with being a prophet and God's last Messenger
and the best model for all mankind to follow. However, if the facts are
simply recounted-and they are easily available from scores of biographies
and well-authenticated accounts of his sayings and actions-it becomes clear
that the Prophet lived the most strictly disciplined life, that his marriages
were a part of that discipline, a part of the many, many burdens that he
bore as God's last Messenger.

The reasons behind the Prophet's several
marriages are various, but even in the privateness of some of those reasons,
they all had to do with his role as the leader of the new Muslim ummah,
guiding his people towards the norms and values of Islam. In the following
pages we shall try to explain some of those reasons and, in so doing, demonstrate
that the charges levelled against the Prophet on this count are as vile
and indecent as they are utterly false.

The Prophet, not at that time called to
his future mission, first married at the age of twenty-five. Given the
cultural environment in which he lived, not to mention the climate and
other considerations such as his youth, it is remarkable that he should
have enjoyed a reputation for perfect chastity as well as integrity and
trustworthiness generally. As soon as he was called to the prophethood
he acquired enemies who did not hesitate to publicise false calumnies against
him-but not once did any of them (and in their jahiliyya (ignorance) they
were not scrupulous men) dare to invent against him what no-one could have
believed. It is important to realise that his life was founded upon chastity
and self-discipline from the outset, and so remained.

At the age of twenty-five, then, and in
the prime of life, Muhammad, upon him be peace, married Khadijah, a woman
much his senior in years. This marriage was very high and exceptional in
the eyes of the Prophet and God. For twenty-three years, his life with
Khadijah was a period of uninterrupted contentment in perfect fidelity.
In the eighth year of prophethood, however, Khadijah passed away and the
Prophet was once again single, as he had been until the age of twenty-five,
though now with children. His enemies cannot deny, but are forced to admit
that, during all these long years, they cannot find a single flaw in his
moral character. During the lifetime of Khadijah, the Prophet took no other
wife, although public opinion among his people would have allowed him to
do so had he wished to. After Khadijah's death, he lived a single life
for four or five years. All his other marriages began after he reached
the age of fifty-five, an age by which very little real interest and desire
for marriage remains. The allegation that his marriages after this age
were an expression of licentiousness or self-indulgence, is as groundless
as it is foul.

A question people often ask is: How can
the plurality of his marriages be in accord with his role as the Prophet?
There are three points to be made in answering this question, but first
let us recognize that those who continually raise such questions are either
atheists (who themselves have no religion) or are 'people of the Book'
i.e. Christians or Jews. Both these classes of critics are equally ignorant
of Islam and religion, or wilfully confuse right with wrong in order to
deceive others and spread doubt and mischief.

Those who neither believe in nor practise
any religious way of life have no right to reproach those who do. They
have relations and unions with many women without following any rule or
law or ethic. However they may pretend otherwise, what they do is unrestrained
self-indulgence with, in practice, little regard for the consequences of
their life-style upon the happiness and well-being of even their own children,
let alone of the young in general. In certain circles who advertise themselves
as the most 'free', sexual relations which most societies condemn as incestuous
are regarded as permissible; homosexuality is as 'normal' for them as any
other kind of relationship; some even practise polyandry-that is, one woman
having at the same time many 'husbands'-the agony of any children from
such unions who may never be sure of who their father is, we leave to the
reader's imagination. The only motive that people who live in this way
can have for criticising the Prophet's marriages is the foolish hope that
they can drag Muslims down with them into the mess of moral confusion and
viciousness in which they themselves are trapped.

Jews and Christians who attack the Prophet
for the plurality of his marriages can only be motivated by their fear
and jealous hatred of Islam. They plainly forget that the great patriarchs
of the Hebrew race, named as prophets in the Bible as well as the Qur'an,
and revered by the followers of all three faiths as exemplars of moral
excellence, all practised polygamy-and indeed on a far greater scale than
the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace.

Polygamy was not originated by the Muslims.
Furthermore, in the case of the Prophet of Islam, as we shall see, polygamy
(or, more strictly, polygyny) has, from the viewpoint of its function within
the mission of prophethood, far more significance than people generally

In a sense, the plurality of wives was
a necessity for the Prophet through whose practice (or Sunna) the statutes
and norms of Muslim law were to be established. Religion may not be excluded
from the private relations between spouses, from matters that can only
be known by one's partner. Therefore, there must be guidance from women
who can give clear instruction and advice without using an allusive language
of hints and innuendoes which leaves the meaning obscure and incomprehensible.
The chaste and virtuous women of the Prophet's household were the teachers
responsible for conveying and communicating to the people the norms and
rules that concern the conduct of Muslims in their private lives.

Some of the marriages of the Prophet Muhammad,
upon him be peace, were contracted for specific reasons to do with his

1) Since there were young, middle-aged
and old women amongst them, the requirements and norms of Islamic law could
be exemplified in relation to their different life stages and experiences.
These provisions of the law were first learnt and applied within the Prophet's
household and then passed on to other Muslims through the teaching of his

2) Since each of his wives was from a different
clan or tribe, the Prophet established bonds of kinship and affinity throughout
the ummah. This enabled a profound attachment to him to spread amongst
the diverse peoples of the new ummah, creating and securing equality and
brotherhood amongst them in a most practical way and on the basis of religion.

3) Each of his wives, from their different
tribes, both whilst the Prophet was living and after he passed away, proved
of great benefit and service to the cause of Islam. They conveyed his message
and interpreted it to their clans; the outer and inward experience, the
qualities, the manners and faith of the man whose life, in all its details,
public and intimate, was the embodiment of the Qur'an-Islam in practice.
In this way, all the members of their clan, men and women, learnt about
the Qur'an, Hadith, tafsir (interpretation and commentary on the Qur'an),
and fiqh (understanding of the Islamic law), and so became fully aware
of the essence and spirit of the Islamic religion.

4) Through his marriages, the Prophet Muhammad,
upon him be peace, established ties of kinship throughout the Arabian peninsula.
What this meant was that he was free to move and be accepted as a member
in each family, each of whose members regarded him as one of their own.
For that reason each felt that they could go to him in person to learn
about the affairs of this life and of the life hereafter, directly from
him. Equally, the tribes benefited collectively also from this proximity
to the Prophet; they esteemed themselves to be fortunate and took pride
in that relationship, such as the Ummayads through Umm Habibah, the Hashimites
through Zaynab bint Jahsh, and the Banu Makhzum through Umm Salamah.

What we have said so far is general and
could, in some respects, be true of all the Prophets. However, now we will
discuss the life sketches of ummahat al-mu'min-the mothers of the believers-not
in the order of the marriages but in a different perspective.




Khadijah, radi Allahu anha, was the first
among the Prophet's wives. At the time of her marriage, she was forty years
old and Muhammad, upon him be peace, was twenty-five. She was the mother
of all his children except a son, Ibrahim, who did not live long. As well
as being a wife, Khadijah was also a friend to her husband, the sharer
of his inclinations and ideals to a remarkable degree. Their marriage was
wonderfully blessed; they lived together in profound harmony for twenty-three
years. Through every contumely and outrage heaped upon him by the idolaters,
through every persecution, Khadijah was his dearest companion and helper.
He loved her very deeply and did not marry any other woman during her lifetime.
This marriage is the ideal of intimacy, friendship, mutual respect, support
and consolation, for all marriages. Though faithful and loyal to all his
wives, he never forgot Khadijah after her death and mentioned her virtues
and merits extensively on many occasions. The Prophet did not marry for
another four to five years after Khadijah's death. Providing their daily
food and provisions, bearing their troubles and hardships, Muhammad, upon
him be peace, looked after his children and performed the duties of mother
as well as father. To allege of such a man that he was a sensualist or
suffered from lust for women, is as disgraceful and as stupid a lie as
can be imagined. For if there were even the least grain of truth in it,
he could not have lived as we know that he did.




'A'isha, radi Allahu anha was his second
wife, though not in the order of marriages. She was the daughter of his
closest friend and devoted follower, Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr, one of the earliest
converts to Islam had long hoped to cement the deep attachment that existed
between himself and the Prophet, by giving to him his daughter in marriage.
By marrying 'A'isha the Prophet accorded the highest honour and courtesy
to a man who had shared all the good and bad times with him throughout
his mission. In this way, Abu Bakr and 'A'isha Siddiqa acquired the distinction
of being spiritually and physically near to the Prophet.

Moreover, 'A'isha, who proved to be a remarkably
intelligent and wise woman, had both the nature and temperament to carry
forward the work of prophetic mission. Her marriage was the schooling through
which she was prepared as a spiritual guide and teacher to the whole of
the female world. She became one of the major students and disciples of
the Prophet and through him, like so many of the Muslims of that blessed
time, her skills and talents were matured and perfected, so that she joined
him in the abode of bliss both as wife and as student. Her life and her
services to Islam after her marriage prove that such an exceptional person
was worthy to be the wife of the Prophet. For, when the time came, she
proved herself one of the greatest authorities on Hadith, an excellent
commentator on the Qur'an and a most distinguished and knowledgeable expert
(faqih) in Islamic law. She truly represented the inward and outward qualities
and experiences (zahir and batin) of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be
peace, through her unique understanding. This is surely why the Prophet
was told in his dream that he would marry 'A'isha, and thus, when she was
innocent and knew nothing about men and worldly affairs, she was prepared
and entered into the Prophet's household.




Umm Salamah, radi Allahu anha, was from
the clan of Makhzum. She was first married to her cousin. The couple had
embraced Islam at the very beginning and emigrated to Abyssinia, to avoid
the persecutions of the Quraysh. After returning from Abyssinia, the couple
and their four children migrated to Madinah. Her husband participated in
many battles and received severe wounds at the battle of Uhud from which
he later died. Abu Bakr and 'Umar proposed marriage to Umm Salamah, aware
of her needs and suffering as a widow with children to support and no means
of doing so. She refused because, according to her judgement, no-one could
be better than her late husband.

Some time after that, the Prophet himself
offered to marry her. This was quite right and natural. For this great
woman who had never shied from sacrifice and suffering for her faith in
Islam was now alone after having lived many years in the noblest clan of
Arabia. She could not be neglected and left to beg her way in life. Considering
her piety, sincerity and all that she had suffered, she certainly deserved
to be helped. By taking her into his household, the Prophet was doing what
he had been doing since his youth, namely befriending those who were lacking
in friends, supporting those who were unsupported, protecting those who
were unprotected. In the circumstances in which Umm Salamah found herself,
there was no kinder or more gracious way to give her what she lacked.

Umm Salamah was intelligent and quick in
comprehension just as 'A'isha was. She had all the capacities and gifts
to become a spiritual guide and teacher. When the gracious and compassionate
Prophet took her under his protection, a new student to whom all the female
world would be grateful, was accepted into the school of knowledge and
guidance. Let us recall that, at this time, the Prophet was approaching
the age of sixty. For him to have married a widow with many children, to
have accepted the expenses and responsibilities that entailed, cannot be
understood otherwise than in humble admiration for the infinite reserves
of his humanity and compassion.




Umm Habibah, radi Allahu anha, was the
daughter of Abu Sufyan who, for a long time had been the most determined
enemy of the Prophet's mission, and the most determined supporter of kufr
(unbelief). Yet his daughter was one of the earliest converts to Islam.
She emigrated to Abyssinia because of persecution by the unbelievers. Whilst
there, her husband converted to Christianity. As she remained a Muslim,
she separated from him. When, shortly after that, her husband died she
was all alone, and desperate, in exile.

The Companions of the Prophet were then
few in number and had little in the way of material wealth to support themselves,
let alone to support others. What then were the practical options open
to Umm Habibah? She might convert to Christianity and so obtain support
from the Christians, but that was unthinkable. She might return to her
father's home, now a headquarters of the war against Islam, but that too
was unthinkable. She might wander from household to household as a beggar,
but again it was an unthinkable option for one who belonged to one of the
richest and noblest Arab families to bring shame upon her family name by
doing so.

God recompensed Umm Habibah for all that
she lost or sacrificed in the way of Islam. She had suffered a lonely exile
in an insecure environment among people of a race and religion different
from her own; she was made wretched too by her husband's conversion and
death. The Prophet, on learning of her plight, responded by sending an
offer of marriage through the king Negus. This was an action both noble
and generous, and a practical proof of the verse: We have not sent you
save as a mercy for all creatures (al-Anbiya', 21.107).

Thus Umm Habibah joined the Prophet's household
as wife and student, and contributed much to the moral and spiritual life
of the Muslims who learnt from her and, in their turn, passed on their
knowledge to future generations.

Through this marriage, the powerful family
of Abu Sufyan came to be linked with the person and household of the Prophet,
something that led them to adopt a different attitude to Islam. It is also
correct to trace the influence of this marriage, beyond the family of Abu
Sufyan, on all the Umayyads, who ruled the Muslims for almost a hundred
years. The clan whose members had been the most fanatical in their hatred
of Islam produced some of Islam's most renowned warriors, administrators
and governors in the early period. Without doubt it was the marriage to
Umm Habibah that began this change: the Prophet's depth of generosity and
magnanimity of soul surely overwhelmed them.




Zainab bint Jahsh, radi Allahu anha, was
also a lady of noble birth, descended and a close relative of the Prophet.
She was, moreover, a woman of great piety, who fasted much, kept long vigils,
and gave generously to the poor. When the Prophet asked for the hand of
Zainab for Zaid, Zainab's family and Zainab herself were at first unwilling.
The family had hoped to marry their daughter to the Prophet. Naturally,
when they realized that it was the Prophet's wish that Zainab should marry
Zaid, they all consented out of deference to their love for the Prophet
and his authority. In this way, the marriage took place.

Zaid had been taken captive as a child
in the course of tribal wars and sold as a slave. The noble Khadija whose
slave he was, presented him to Muhammad, upon him be peace, on the occasion
of her marriage to the future Prophet. The Prophet immediately gave Zaid
his freedom and shortly afterwards adopted him as his son. The reason for
his insistence on Zaid's marriage to Zainab was to establish and fortify
equality between the Muslims, to make this ideal a reality. His desire
was to break down the ancient Arab prejudice against a slave or even freedman
marrying a 'free-born' woman. The Prophet was therefore starting this hard
task with his own relatives.

The marriage did not bring happiness to
either Zainab or Zaid. Zainab, the lady of noble birth, was a good Muslim
of a most pious and exceptional quality. Zaid, the freedman, was among
the first to embrace Islam, and he too was a good Muslim. Both loved and
obeyed the Prophet, but their marriage was unsustainable because of their
mutual incompatibility. Zaid found it no longer tolerable and on several
occasions expressed the wish to divorce. The Prophet, however, insisted
that he should persevere with patience and that he should not separate
from Zainab. Then, on an occasion while the Prophet was in conversation,
the Angel Gabriel came and a divine revelation was given to him (Bukhari,
Tawhid, 22). The Prophet's marriage to Zainab was announced in the revealed
verses as a bond already contracted: We have married her to you (al-Ahzab,
33.37). This command was one of the severest trials the Prophet, upon him
be peace, had yet had to face. For he was commanded to do a thing contrary
to the traditions of his people, indeed it was a taboo. Yet it had to be
done for the sake of God, just as God commanded. 'A'isha later said: Had
the Messenger of God been inclined to suppress anything of what was revealed
to him, he would surely have suppressed this verse (Bukhari and Muslim).

Divine wisdom decreed the need to join
so distinguished and noble a person as Zainab to the Prophet's household,
so as to provide her with true knowledge and prepare her for the task of
guiding and enlightening the Muslims. In the event, after the marriage
finally took place, Zainab proved herself most worthy to be the Prophet's
wife; she was always aware of the responsibilities as well as the courtesies
proper to her role, and fulfilled those responsibilities to universal admiration.

In the jahiliyya, the period of ignorance
before Islam, an adopted son was regarded as a natural son, and an adopted
son's wife was therefore regarded as a natural son's wife would be. According
to the Qur'anic verse, those who have been 'wives of your sons proceeding
from your loins' fall within the prohibited degrees of marriage. But this
prohibition does not relate to adopted sons with whom their is no real
consanguinity. What now seems obvious was not so then. The pagan taboo
against marrying the former wives of adopted sons was deeply rooted. It
was to uproot this custom that the Prophet's marriage to Zainab was commanded
by the Revelation.

To have an unassailable authority for future
generations of Muslims, the break in the taboo had to be achieved through
the authority of the Prophet's own example. It is but one further instance
of the depth of faith of the man that he accepted the divine decree, against
the most established customs of his people. As a result the Arabs were
rescued from their pagan confusion of a legal fiction, however worthy,
with a biological, natural reality.




Juwayriyah b. Harith, radi Allahu anha,
was one of a large number of captives taken by Muslims in a military expedition.
She was the daughter of Harith, chief of the defeated Banu Mustaliq clan.
She was held captive, like other members of her proud family, alongside
the 'common' people of her clan. When Juwayriyah was taken to the Prophet,
upon him be peace, she was in considerable distress, not least because
her kinsmen had lost everything and her emotions were a profound hate and
enmity toward the Muslims. The Prophet understood the wounded pride and
dignity and the suffering of this woman; more than that he understood also,
in his sublime wisdom, how to resolve the problem and heal that wounded
pride. He agreed to pay her ransom, set her free and offered to take her
as his wife. How gladly Juwayriyah accepted this offer can easily be imagined.

About a hundred families, who had not yet
been ransomed, were all set free when the Ansar and the Muhajir (the Emigrants)
came to realise that the Bani Mustaliq were now among the Prophet's kin
by marriage. A tribe so honoured could not be allowed to remain in slavery
(Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 6, 277). In this way the hearts of Juwayriyah and
all her people were won. A hundred families who regained their liberty
blessed the marriage of Juwayriyah with Muhammad, upon him be peace. Through
his compassionate wisdom and generosity he turned a defeat for some into
a victory for all; what had been an occasion of enmity and distress became
one of friendship and joy.


Safiyyah, radi Allahu anha, was the daughter
of Huyayy, one of the chieftains of the Jewish tribe of Khaybar, who had
persuaded the Bani Qurayzah to break their treaty with the Prophet. From
her earliest years she saw her family and relatives determined in opposition
to the Prophet. She had lost her father, brother and husband at the hands
of Muslims, and herself became one of their captives. The attitudes and
actions of her family and relatives might have nurtured in her a deep indignation
against the Muslims and a desire for revenge. But three days before the
Prophet, upon him be peace, arrived at Khaybar, and Safiyyah fell captive
in the battle, she had seen in a dream a brilliant moon coming out from
Madina, moving towards Khaybar, and falling into her lap. She later said:
'When I was captured I began to hope that my dream would come true.' When
she was brought before him as a captive, the Prophet generously set her
free and offered her the choice between remaining a Jew and returning to
her people or entering Islam and becoming his wife. 'I chose God and his
Messenger', she said. Shortly after that, they were married.

Elevated to the Prophet's household she
had the title of 'mother of the believers'. The Companions of the Prophet
honoured and respected her as 'mother'; she witnessed at first hand the
refinement and true courtesy of the men and women whose hearts and minds
were submitted to God. Her attitude to her past experiences changed altogether,
and she came to appreciate the great honour of being the Prophet's wife.
As a result of this marriage, the attitude of many Jews changed as they
came to see and know the Prophet closely. It is also worth noting here
that it is through such close relation with others that Muslims can come
to understand how those others think and feel and live. And it is through
understanding that Muslims can learn how to influence and guide, if God
wills, those others. Without a degree of trust established by such generous
actions as the Prophet's marriage to Safiyyah, neither mutual respect nor
tolerance can become social norms.



Sawdah b. Zam'ah b. Qays, radi Allahu anha,
was the widow of one Sakran. Sakran and Sawdah were among the first to
embrace Islam and had been forced to flee Abyssinia to escape the persecution
of the idolaters. Sakran died in exile and left his wife utterly destitute.
As the only means of assisting the poor woman, the Prophet Muhammad, upon
him be peace, though himself distressed for the means of daily subsistence,
married Sawdah. This marriage took place some time after the death of the
noble Khadijah.



Hafsah, radi Allahu anha, was the daughter
of 'Umar ibn al-Khattab, the future second Caliph of Islam. This good lady
had lost her husband who emigrated to both Abyssinia and Madina and who
died of wounds received in battle in the path of God. She remained without
a husband for a while. 'Umar also desired, like Abu Bakr, the honour and
blessing of being close to the Prophet in this world and in the Hereafter,
so that the Prophet, upon him be peace, took Hafsah as his wife so as to
protect and help the daughter of his faithful disciple.

Such were the circumstances and noble motives
of the several marriages of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace. We
see that these marriages were intended to provide helpless or widowed women
with dignified subsistence in the absence of all other means; to console
and honour enraged or estranged tribes people, to bring those who had been
enemies into some degree of relationship and harmony; to gain for the cause
of Islam certain uniquely gifted individuals, in particular some exceptionally
talented women; to establish new norms of relationship between different
people within the unifying brotherhood of faith in God; and to honour with
family bonds the men who were to be the first leaders of the Muslim ummah
after him. These marriages had nothing at all to do with self-indulgence
or personal desire or lust or any other of the absurd and vile charges
laid against the Prophet by Islam's embittered enemies. With the exception
of 'A'isha, all of the Prophet's wives were widows, and all his marriages
(after that with the noble Khadijah) were contracted when he was already
an old man. Far from being acts of self-indulgence then, these marriages
were acts of self-discipline.

It was a part of that discipline that the
Prophet, upon him be peace, provided for each of his wives with the most
meticulously observed justice, dividing equally whatever slender resources
he allowed to his household for their subsistence, accommodation and allowance
generally. He also divided his time with them equally, and regarded and
treated them with equal friendship and respect. That his household (despite
the fact that his wives came from different backgrounds and had acquired
different tastes and temperaments) got on well with each other, is no small
tribute to his genius for creating peace and harmony. With each of them,
he was not only a provider but a friend and companion.

A final point to be made is that the number
of wives the Prophet had was by a special dispensation within the Law of
Islam and unique to his person. Some of the merits and wisdom of this dispensation,
as we understand them, have been explained. The number of wives for any
other Muslim may not exceed four at any one time. When that Revelation
restricting polygamy came, the Prophet's marriages had already been contracted.
Thereafter, the Prophet also was prohibited to marry again. May God bless
him and grant him peace, and may He enable us to understand and follow
his noble example.


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