As Westerners See It: Why did the Holy Prophet Muhammad Marry many Wives?

The Light (Pakistan), 1st/8th February 1978 Issue (Vol. 58, Nos. 5–6, pp. 12–14)

Pity and Protection of Women, Political and Personal Alliances:

“Muhammad’s numerous marriages after Khadijah’s death have been attributed by many European writers to gross passion, but they would seem to have been main­ly dictated by motives of less coarse kind. Several of his alliances were political in character, the Prophet being anxious to bind his chief followers more and more closely to himself. This was doubtless his object in marrying the daughters of Abu Bakr and Umar; while a political motive of a different sort is to be found in his alliances with the daughters of political opponents or fallen enemies.” (Margoliouth)

Marriage with Zainab:

“It is necessary to notice here, with a view to refutation, a malicious charge brought, about this time, against Muham­mad, by his enemies — that of having com­mitted incest by marrying the divorced wife of his adopted son. The real facts are these: long before the promulgation of Islam, it was a custom among the Arabs that if any person happened to call his wife, mother, he could no longer continue to cohabit with her; or should he call any youth, son, the latter would thenceforth be entitled to all the rights of a real one. Now both these customs having been abolished by the Quran, a man might still continue to live with his wife, even after he had called her mother, or could marry the wife of his adopted son upon her being divorced. Muhammad having a great esteem for a maiden Zainab, proposed her marriage with Zeid (Zaid), a youth for whom he had a like esteem. The marriage not proving a happy one, Zeid (Zaid) determined upon a divorce, notwithstand­ing all the remonstrances of Muhammad. The latter, conscious that he himself was to blame in having originally recommend­ed the marriage, and moved by the tears and distress of Zainab, resolved to make her the only reparation in his power, that of marrying her himself after her divorce from Zeid (Zaid). It was with difficulty he deter­mined upon this step, being apprehensive that such of his countrymen who still retained the custom above-mentioned would accuse him of incest, but a strong sense of duty overcame these objections, and Zainab became the wife of the Pro­phet.” (Davenport)

“Well, then, on what authorities, good, bad or doubtful, do the allegations of Muhammad’s profligacy rest? I have no hesitation in affirming that, following every such story to its source, it will be found to be entirely unsubstantiated, and that, on the contrary, to the very great credit of Muhammad, in spite of many temptations, he preserved the utmost chastity in a state of society which did not practise that virtue…. I believe that the real cause of his many marriages at an old age was charity and in order to protect the widows of his persecuted followers. The married Englishwoman, can give evidence in attestation of a birth, marriage or death, which is still denied to a woman in republican France.” (Leitner).

“It should be remembered, how­ever, that most of Muhammad’s marriages are to be explained, at least, as much by his pity for the forlorn condition of the persons concerned, as by other motives. They were almost all of them with widows who were not remarkable either for their beauty or their wealth, but quite the reverse. May not this fact, and his un­doubted faithfulness to Khadija till her dying day, and till he himself was fifty years of age, give us some ground to hope that calumny has been at work in the story of Zainab? There are some indications on the face of it that this is the case.” (Smith).

Circumstances Under Which so Many Widow Wives Were Married:

“Muhammad’s first wife after Khadijah was a destitute widow whose Muslim husband had died in exile. At the urgent request of Abu Bakr, Muhammad then married Ayesha, Abu Bakr’s daughter. Abu Bakr had served Islam so long and devotedly that Muhammad could not re­fuse his request. Umar also had a daughter Hafsa, her husband had died, and she wanted to marry again; but she was so notoriously bad-tempered that no one would have her. The Muslims avoided her; Abu Bakr and Uthman, one of Muhammad’s principal followers, declined when Umar asked one after the other to take his daughter. Umar then went into a terrible rage at what he regarded as an insult to himself, and an uprising among the Mus­lims was imminent. Muhammad married Hafsa and preserved the peace. The be­autiful Zainab was married to a freed slave. She considered her husband beneath her socially, and was so over-bearing to­wards him that he could not stand her, then went to Muhammad and asked him to marry his too-well-born wife and give her a home. A tribal chieftain rose against Muhammad. When Muhammad conquered him, he married the chieftain’s daughter, and in this way won the friendship of the whole tribe, for by this marriage he became their relative. To conciliate the conquered rebels of Khaibar, he married the widow of one of their chieftains. To prove to the Quraish that he was their friend he married the daughter of their chieftain, Abu Sufyan. Muhammad married three middle-aged widows whose husbands were killed fighting for Islam. Because these women were Mus­lims, their relatives, Muhammad’s enemies, left them to starve. He married a poor re­lative, a woman over fifty who had no home, and won the allegiance of two in­fluential men, his uncle Abbas, and Khalid, of Islam’s foremost warriors. The Christian governor of Egypt who held his office under the Roman Emperor sent Muhammad a young slave girl. If Muhammad had refused to marry her it would have been a deadly insult to Egypt. In all, after Khadijah’s death, he married eleven women. The Christian wife from Egypt was the only one of them by whom he had a child.” (Vail)

“As pointed out long ago by Lane (Mod­ern Egyptians, Ch. III on Civil Law) the Prophet may have been actuated (in taking many wives) in this matter by the want of off­spring for he had no son who reached man­hood — rather than compelled by voluptu­ousness.” (Levey)

“Thirteen years of meek endurance had been rewarded by nothing but aggravated injury and insult. His greatest per­secutors had been those of his own tribe, the Korashites, especially those of the rival line of Abd Schems, whose vindictive chief, Abu Sofyan, had now the sway of Mecca. By their virulent hostility his fortunes had been blasted and he him­self driven into exile.” (Irving)

“At the instigation of Abu Sofyan, the goods and the houses of the Emigrants were confiscated in Mecca.” (Dermenghem)

The refugees were not even allowed (on conquest of Mecca) to reclaim the houses which had been seized or sold to the Meccans: They had to be satisfied with the pro­mise of houses in paradise instead — Mu­hammad setting the example with Khadejah’s former dwelling.” (Margoliouth)

The Last or Farewell Pilgrimage:

For seven years, Quraish harried the new Arabian state. They signed a solemn treaty of peace with Muhammad, and broke it; they intrigued against him; they aided an­other tribe in an attack on one of his allied tribes. Arabia could have no peace until the Meccans kept their treaties. With an army of ten thousand soldiers, Muhammad went across the desert to Mecca…. Now Muham­mad’s word was law, his power was abso­lute; he could if he chose become rich and worldly. The people of Medina, who watch­ed every incident of his daily life, testified that Muhammad gave away almost every­thing he received, and lived with rigorous self-denial.

The last sermon:

“Ye people” said Mu­hammad “listen to my words for I know not whether another year will be vouch­safed to me after this year to find myself with you. Your lives and property are sacr­ed and inviolable among you, until ye ap­pear before the Lord, as this day and this month are sacred for all; and remember ye shall have to appear before Him.