Wisdom behind Prophet Muhammad’s Plural Marriages
Non-Muslims, in general, have many misconceptions on Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Islâm. As the product of so many false propaganda written against the Messenger of Islam and the true religion from Allah, many non-Muslims misunderstood the beauty, rationality, practicality, completeness, truthfulness or in short, excellence of Islâm and its teachings. One excellent Islâmic teaching in Islâm is polygamy (plurality of marriage among men). Non-Muslims must know that everything that Allâh the Exalted, Most Glorious) and His Messenger (PBUH) command us to do is good for every one and for the society as a whole.
Polygamy or plural marriage of men (polygyny) in Islam is limited only to a maximum of four with a condition that husbands are able to treat their wives with justice. Otherwise, the rule in Islam is monogamy as clearly stated in the following Ayah (Qur’anic Verse): “If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two, three, or four. But if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or that which your right hands possess. That will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice.” (Qur’an, 4:3)
Polygamy solves adultery among men, who by nature are polygamous, or are not happy with their wives from committing adulteries. It prevents the prevalence of AIDS and other similar diseases arising from illicit sexual relations among people of loose morals. It minimizes divorce as men are given the option to marry other women of their choice without divorcing their present wives. This subsequently, avoids the occurrence of juvenile delinquencies among children of broken families.
Furthermore, polygamy gives opportunity for more unmarried women to be married, considering the fact that women exceed men in number. This in turn eliminates fornication and prostitution, thus greatly reducing the number of children born out of wedlock. Unfortunately, children born out of wedlock are being ostracized in the same way as their mothers are being looked down by the society. In polygamy, children are recognized as legal offspring of their fathers just as their mothers are respected as legally married women. Many enemies of Islâm center their biased criticisms on the Prophet Muhammad’s plural marriages, which exceeded more than four as allowed in the Qur’ân. They brand the Prophet (PBUH) as “sexually obsessed man” for marrying more than four. In Islam, men are allowed to marry maximum four as long as they can show fair treatment to the women (whom they marry) as stated in Chapter 4 Verse 3 of the Holy Qur’an.
Non-Muslims need to correct their distorted notion of the Prophet (PBUH) as “sexually obsessed man” for marrying more than four. They need to know that Allâh the All-Knowing, Most High commands all of us to follow His Messenger (PBUH) as the Prophet (PBUH) is the best example to the whole mankind. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) possesses an exalted standard of character (i.e., sublime morals) (Qur’ân 68:4). He is therefore, the best excellent example for us to follow in order to attain prosperous life in the Hereafter. Allah the Almighty says: “Indeed in Allah’s Messenger (Muhammad) you have an excellent example to follow for him who hopes in (meeting with) Allah and the Last Day, and remembers Allah much.” (Qur’ân 33:21)
“Those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (Scriptures); — in the Torah and the Gospel; for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil. He allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure). He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honor him, help him, and follow the Light which is sent down with him — it is they who will prosper.” (Qur’ân 7: 157)
In an authentic Hadîth we read that the Prophet (PBUH) himself said: Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “I have been sent (as a Messenger) in the best of all generations of Adam’s offspring since the Creation.” (Bukhari 4/757)
Islâm as the perfect religion is both rational and practical. The Prophet’s plural marriages, which exceeded the maximum number allowed for men is an exception to the Qur’ânic injunction (i.e., 4:3) to show all possible types of marriages in Islâm. If he was “sexually obsessed man” he would have married more in his early manhood, not after he had passed the age of fifty. The fact that he married Khadijah bint Khuwailid (may Allah be pleased with her) and lived a monogamous life for twenty-seven years till Khadijah died, showed that he (PBUH) was not “sexually obsessed man”. But his marriage to Khadijah shows only limited types of marriage that are allowed in Islâm. That is, it is permissible for a man to marry a woman who is older than him, for a poor and orphan man to marry a wealthy woman, for an employee to marry his employer, and for a bachelor man to marry a widow.
If Allâh the Most Merciful did not allow the Prophet (PBUH) to marry other women, how could marriage in Islâm be open to all other types of marriages? Had the Prophet (PBUH) not married other women, Muslims who follow the Sunnah (Prophet’s Traditions, Practices and Teachings) would find it difficult to enter into marriage with the limited examples from the Prophet’s marriage to Khadijah. The Prophet’s plural marriages after his monogamous marriage with Khadijah for so many years show that in Islâm it is allowed for a man to marry virgin woman, who is very much younger than him, as in the case of ‘Aishah bint Abi Bakr (may Allah be pleased with her). Glory be to Allah, the All-Knowing, the All Wise, through ‘Aishah Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide have learned authentic ahadeeth from the Prophet (PBUH) as she was not only young but also very intelligent. She has memorized and (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated many of the Prophet’s authentic ahadeeth which renowned Muslim scholars like Imam Bukhari, Muslim, Nasai, Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud compiled in their collections of Ahadeeth. This is the very wisdom of the Prophet’s marriage to ‘Aishah. Non-Muslims who blatantly criticized the Prophet (PBUH) for marrying a very young girl and accused him of “sexually obsessed” must repent to Allah the Most Merciful, Most Forgiving for their evil thoughts.
A man in Islam can choose to marry a young and intelligent woman like ‘Aishah. He can marry his friends’ daughters, in the same way as the Prophet (PBUH) married ‘Aishah and Hafsah, the daughters of his closest friends: Abu Bakar and Umar (may Allah be pleased with them) in order to foster ties of relationships. Or he can marry his enemies’ daughters as the Prophet (PBUH) married: Juwairiyah bint Al-Harith, the daughter of Al Harith, the head of Bani Al-Mustaliq of Khuza’ah and Umm Habibah or Ramlah, the daughter of Abu Sufyan. Note that both Al-Harith and Abu Sufyan were bitter enemies of Islâm. The Prophet’s marriages to their daughters show how Islâm goes for peace and reconciliation.
Knowing that Juwairiah and Ramlah are both from ruling families, man’s marriage to women of high social status is therefore, allowed. Likewise, it is allowed for a man to marry a woman of low social class as in the case of Maria, who was given to the Prophet (PBUH) as a present by the ruler of Egypt. The Prophet (PBUH) elevated her status by marrying her, instead of making her his slave. His marriages to his captives:
Juwairiyah Bint Al-Haritha and Saffiyah Bint Huyay bin Akhtab, not only show how Islâm tolerates mix marriages based on social status; but also shows kindness to the captives and the high regard given to women. Instead of making them slaves, being his captives, he married them and gave them the highest status of women being among the “Mothers of the Believers”. It further shows how the Prophet (PBUH) freed or liberated women from the bondage of slavery.
Aside from inter-social and cultural marriages, the Prophet (PBUH)’s plural marriages also demonstrate that Islâm permits inter-religious marriages with the People of the Book (the Jews and the Christians) by marrying Safiyyah bint Huyay bin Akhtab, a Jew and Maria, a Christian from Egypt. Both of them embraced Islâm and became among the “Mothers of the Believers”.
With his marriage to Sawda Bint Zam’a (may Allah be pleased with her), a widower can opt to marry middle-aged, widow, jolly, and kind woman like Sawda who can take care of his children. The Prophet’s marriage to Sawda, whose race was black, also proved that in Islam it is allowed for a man to marry a woman belonging to a different race as there is no racism in Islam. Furthermore, the Prophet’s marriages to Hafsah Bint Umar bin Al-Khattab, Zainab bint Khuzaimah and Umm Salamah Hind bint Abi Omaiyah (may Allah be pleased with them), all widows, show that Islam encourages men to show sympathy and care for widows. One way to do this is by marrying them. Had he not married Umm Salamah, a widow with many children, he would not have demonstrated his virtuous teachings on the care of the orphans. He showed kindness to them, treated them just like his real children.
The Prophet’s marriage to his cousin, Zainab bint Jahsh (may Allah be pleased with her), who was divorced by his adopted son, Zaid (may Allah be pleased with him), shows that in Islâm, it is lawful for a man to marry his first degree cousin. It is also lawful for a man to marry a woman, divorced by his adopted son, since the adopted son is not related to him by blood.
In addition, Islâm allows the practice of betrothal before entering into marriage as what the Prophet (PBUH) did prior to his marriage to ‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her). It also permits marriage in absentia as in the case of his marriage to Umm Habibah or Ramlah (may Allah be pleased with her), the daughter of Abu Sufyan, who was in Abysinnia. The Prophet (PBUH) asked the King of Negus for Umm Habibah’s hand for marriage, which the King granted. This marriage in absentia demonstrates how practical and easy Islam is both as a religion and as a way of life.
Islâm also allows a case where a man marries a woman who presents herself for marriage as in the case of Maymunah (may Allah be pleased with her). Maymunah voluntarily presented herself to the Prophet (PBUH) and became one of his wives.
It is interesting to note that although the Prophet’s wives (may Allah be pleased with them) came from different socio-cultural backgrounds, they shared something in common. They were all virtuous believing women. No wonder they are called the “Mothers of the Believers”. The Prophet’s sunnah (tradition) for choosing virtuous believing women in marriage serves as guidance for believing men. Allah the All-Knowing guides Muslim men to marry virtuous believing women:
“Marry those among you who are single, and the virtuous ones among your slaves, male or female. If they are in poverty, Allah will give them means out of His grace: for Allah is Ample-Giving and He Knows all things.” (Qur’an, 24:32)
“Do not marry Unbelieving woman until they believe: A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman even though she allures you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe. A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever even though he allures you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire. But Allah beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of Bliss) and forgiveness. And makes His Signs Clear to mankind: that they may receive admonition.” (Qur’an, 2:221)
In line with the above commandments, the Prophet (PBUH) guides every Muslim to give priority to religiosity and piety in choosing a marital partner. Every believing Muslim man and woman who wants successful marriage needs to take guidance from the following teachings of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH):
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “A woman is married for four things, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be a loser.” (Bukhari, 7/27) Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “When someone with whose religion and character you are satisfied asks your daughter in marriage, accede to his request. If you do not do so, there will be temptation on Earth and extensive corruption.” (Tirmidhi, 3090; Nasa’i and Ibn Majah)
The very wisdom behind giving priority to religiosity and piety in choosing a marital partner is that Islam is a divine religion from Allah the Holy One. It is a religion that teaches modesty, piety and righteousness. Women in Islam are expected to be modest. Allah the Exalted commands believing women not to display their beauty (faces) to men who are not related to them in order to guard their modesty by observing Hijab (proper covering of women’s bodies): And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands their fathers their husbands’ fathers their sons their husbands’ sons their brothers or their brothers’ sons or their sisters’ sons or their women or the slaves whom their right hands possess or male servants free of physical needs or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah that ye may attain Bliss (Success). (Qur’ân 24:31)
It must be noted that Muslim women during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) implemented the above Ayah. The proofs are the following authentic ahadeeth:
Safiya bint Shaiba (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that ‘Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) used to say: “When (the Verse): ‘They should draw their veils over their necks and bosoms,’ was revealed, (the ladies) cut their waist sheets at the edges and covered their faces with the cut pieces.” (Bukhari 6/282)
‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “Men on camels used to pass by us while we were with the Prophet (PBUH) and in the state of ihram. We would cover our faces with our gowns when they passed by us, and then uncover them again.” (This is reported by Abu Daw’ud and Ibn Majah. ‘Ata, Malik, AthThawri, Ash-Shafi’i, Ahmad, and Ishaq hold that it permissible for women to cover their faces in the state of ihram.)
‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “Whenever Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) intended to go on a journey, he used to draw lots amongst his wives, and Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) used to take with him the one on whom lot fell. He drew lots amongst us during one of the Ghazwat which he fought. The lot fell on me and so I proceeded with Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) after Allah’s order of veiling (the women) had been revealed…While I was sitting in my resting place, I was overwhelmed by sleep and slept. Safwan bin Al-Muattal As-Sulami Adh-Dhakwani was behind the army. When he reached my place in the morning, he saw the figure of a sleeping person and he recognized me on seeing me as he had seen me before the order of compulsory veiling (was prescribed). So I woke up when he recited Istirja’ (i.e. “Inna lillahi wa inna llaihi raji’un”) as soon as he recognized me. I veiled my face with my head cover at once, and by Allah, we did not speak a single word, and I did not hear him saying any word besides his Istirja’….” (Bukhari 5/462)
Hijab is one of the favors that Allâh the Most Merciful has given to Muslim women. It protects them from being molested by men. Allâh the Almighty says:
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their cloaks (outer garments and veils) over their bodies. That will be better so that they will be known (as decent and respectable women) so as not to be molested. And Allâh is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’ân 33:59)
Hijâb covers women’s beauty from men. It preserves women’s dignity and honor that deserve men’s respect, knowing that women in Islâm play vital role in the society. Likewise, it prevents men from committing any sexual assault or aggression against women. By observing hijab, both women and men who are not related by marriage or by blood are protected from evil temptations that create immorality in the society. Islam admonishes Muslims to avoid indecency and lewdness or immorality. It strictly prohibits them from committing adultery and prostitution:
“Nor come nigh to adultery: for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils).” (Qur’an, 17:32)
“The man and woman guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with a hundred stripes: let no compassion move you in their case, in a matter prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day: and let a party of believers witness their punishment.” (Qur’an, 24:2)
“Let no man guilty of adultery or fornication marry any but a woman similarly guilty, or an unbeliever: nor let any but such a man or an unbeliever marry such a woman: to the believers such a thing is forbidden.” (Qur’an, 24:3)
‘Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “O followers of Muhammad! There is none, who has a greater sense of Ghira (self-respect) than Allah, so He has forbidden that His slave commits illegal sexual intercourse or His slave girl commits illegal sexual intercourse. O followers of Muhammad! If you but knew what I know, you would laugh less and weep more!” (Bukhari, 7/148)
Ubadah ibn as-Samith (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said: “Receive (teaching) from me, receive (teaching) from me. Allah has ordained a way for those (women). When an unmarried male commits adultery with an unmarried female (they should receive) one hundred lashes and banishment for one year. And in case of married male committing adultery with a married female, they shall receive one hundred lashes and be stoned to death.” (Muslim, 4191)
Non-Muslims should know that Allâh the Exalted permitted all Prophet’s plural marriages (i.e., more than four wives at the same time). Allâh the All Knowing, Most Merciful only allowed plural marriages (more than four wives at the same time) to His Messenger (PBUH) and not for the Believers at large. The plural marriages of the Prophet (which exceeded the maximum four allowed for men) are for the guidance of the Believers. They serve as guides on the dos and don’ts of marriages in Islâm. All the types of marriages that we derive from the Prophet’s plural marriages are based on the following Qur’ânic injunctions:
“This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the people of the Book (the Jews and the Christians) is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time, when you give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness. Taking them as lovers. If any one rejects faith, fruitless is his work, and in the Hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost (all spiritual good).” (Qur’an 5:5)
And (remember) when you (O Muhammad) did say to him (Zaid bin Haritha –the freed slave of the Prophet, PBUH) on whom by guiding him to Islâm, and you (too) have done favor (by manumitting him) “Retain (in wedlock) your wife and fear Allâh.” But you did hide in your heart that which Allâh was about to make manifest (that He will give her to you in marriage). You did fear the people but it is more fitting that you should fear Allâh. Then, when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality) (he divorced her). We joined her in marriage to you; in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them (they have divorced them). And Allâh’s command must be fulfilled. (Qur’an 33:37)
O Prophet (Muhammad)! Verily, We have made lawful to you: your wives to whom you have paid their dowers; and those whom your right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allâh has assigned to you; and daughters of your paternal uncles and aunts and daughters of your maternal uncles and aunts who migrated (from Makkah) with you; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her. This is only for you and not for the Believers (at large). We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess in order that there should be no difficulty for you. And Allâh is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur’an 33:50)
Allah’s statement: “…This is only for you and not for the Believers (at large).” (Qur’an 33:50) means that Allah the Almighty has allowed His Messenger (PBUH) more than the maximum number of wives that He has allowed for men in Islam, which is four (at the same time) as clearly stated in Qur’anic Ayâh (Verse) 3 of Chapter 4 (Surah An-Nisa).
It must be noted that other Prophets and Messengers of Allah have more than four wives. Another interesting guidance that mankind can get from the Prophet’s plural marriages is that he (PBUH) never divorced any of his wives although divorce is allowed in Islam. Islâm as a rational religion allows divorce only after the husband and wife have observed the prescribed conditions, which include the waiting period where they should stay in their house together. This is to give them ample time to reconsider their decision. If they find out that they can not really stay together for some incompatibilities, then they can finalize their decision for divorce. Allâh the All Knowing, All Wise says: For those who take an oath for abstention from their wives, a waiting for four months is ordained. If then they return, Allâh is Oft forgiving, Most Merciful. But if their intention is firm for divorce, Allâh hears and knows all things. Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. And it is not lawful for them to hide what Allâh has created in their wombs, if they have faith in Allâh and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable. But men have a degree over them and Allâh is Exalted in Power, All Wise. (Qur’ân 2:226-228)
Divorce is better for the couples than staying together in an atmosphere where love, understanding and harmony do not exist. Most cases of adultery happen among couples, most especially if they are non-Muslims or not god-fearing, because they are unhappy in their marriage lives. Subsequently, many juvenile delinquencies occur as the result of frequent quarrels of their parents who no longer love and understand one another.
All the conditions of types of marriages as demonstrated by the Prophet (PBUH) reflect the wisdom behind his marriages. He has shown to us that any righteous Muslim man can live a happy and peaceful life with his wife or wives (whether young or old, poor or rich or any physical, social or racial status, etc.). A righteous Muslim can live with his believing or righteous wife or wives till death (without resorting to family break-ups) no matter how economically poor he is. He has proven that spiritual richness (i.e., fear and love of Allah and hope for His rewards) makes marriages successful. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) serves as the perfect model for the whole mankind. Verily he is Allah’s Mercy to all mankind. Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah)! Allah has perfected Islam through His Final Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Before the Prophet’s death, Allah has perfected and completed Islam. During his pilgrimage to Makkah on the Day of Arafat he received the following very inspiring revelation:
“…This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” (Qur’an, 5:3)
 For the names and brief descriptions of the Prophet’s wives and other justifications behind his marriages, please refer to the following sources: Safi-ur Rahman al Mubarakpurl, “Al Raheeq Al Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar) Biography of the Noble Prophet (s.a.w.s.)”, Riyadh: Maktaba Darussalam Publishers and Distributors, 1995, Pp. 483-491; Tahia Al-Ismail, “The Life of Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) Based on the Earliest Sources,” Jeddah: Abul-Qasim Bookstore, 1990, Pp. 193-207; and Zakaria Bashier, “Sunshine at Madinah: Studies in the Life of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.)”, Leicester, UK: The Islâmic Foundation, 1990, Pp. 142-152.
Note: Please take note of the following abbreviations used in this article:
(SWT): Subhanahu wa Ta’ala – ‘The Exalted’
(s.a.w.s.) : Sall-Allahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam – ‘Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him’
(r.a.): Radia Allahu ‘Anhu – ‘May Allah be pleased with him’, Radi Allahu ‘Anha- ‘May Allah be pleased with her’, Radi Allahu ‘Anhum – ‘May Allah be pleased with them.’