What is Islam? Even the name stands out unique among other religions in that it means a state of being; it does not refer to any particular person, such as Christianity, Buddhism or Zoroastrianism; a tribe like Judaism; or a nation like Hinduism. The root Arabic word from which Islam is derived implies peace, safety, salutation, protection, blamelessness, wholesomeness, submission, acceptance, surrender, and salvation. Islam specifically means being in the state of submission to God, worshipping Him Alone, and reverently accepting and obeying His Law. Through this submission, the peace, security, and wholesome well-being implied in its literal meaning is achieved.
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The first aspect has to do with the number of wives he took simultaneously which are 9 wives. A question might be raised of why the Prophet did not stick to the maximum number of four wives which is prescribed by Islamic law. After the divine revelation of limiting the maximum number of wives to be only 4 instead of the countless number of wives that Arabs used to have in pre Islamic era, any new Muslim embracing Islam and was married to more than four wives, had to choose only four and let go of the rest of them.
The same action was taken with Ghaylan ibn Salmah al Thaqafi who embraced Islam and had ten wives in the Pre Islamic era so the Prophet asked him to let go of six of them.
Secondly, Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him did not let go of five of his wives after the divine legislation of limiting the number of wives because God prohibited for him to marry any woman other than the nine he already has. For Muslims they have the option of divorcing and marrying new wives but that was not an option for the Prophet as the divine decree obliged him not to take any new wives or replace the current ones.
God in response was grateful for their choice and prohibited for the Prophet to divorce any of them or take new wives. More importantly the Prophet gave his wives the option to remain in wedlock or to be separated and divorced. Furthermore, it is a historical fact that the Prophet did not marry more than one wife until he migrated to Medinah and started to establish the new born state and he was about 50 years old at that time which indicates that his multiple marriages had legislative, social and political purposes which will be explained in a while.
It is worth mentioning that the Prophet married lady Khadijah which is his first wife and the mother of his children when he was 25 years old and she was 15 years his senior and was married twice before her marriage to the Prophet.
Their marriage lasted for 25 years and he did not take another wife until after she died. Thirdly, if Prophet Muhammad had divorced any of his wives, it would have led to political turmoil and social upheaval.
If we take a close look at the nine wives of the Prophet and examine their noble status, we would realize that divorcing any of them would tantamount to political strife. Abu Bakr was a pious wealthy prestigious man among Arabs who exerted all his money and efforts to support the Prophet and to spread the message of Islam. It would be only a sort of disloyalty and injustice for his daughter to be divorced and this is not the morals of Prophets or the attitudes of the righteous people.
By analyzing this narration, we realize that divorcing the wives of the Prophet was a grave matter for the Muslim community even graver than being raided by enemies. It was also narrated that some sort of a gap happened between the Prophet and Hafsa. They had migrated to Ethiopia, and Abu Salamah was well known for his courage and prowess as an equestrian. He died from injuries sustained during the battle of Uhud.
Hend initially refused citing reasons of being and old woman and had orphan children and was very jealous by nature. Regarding the age of lady Hend, the Prophet did not care much about that because he married her out of mercy for her old age and to take care of her orphan children as well as to keep the ties of kinship with his aunt along with fulfilling the duty of taking care of the family of his deceased brother through nursing.
So it would have been very difficult for the Prophet to divorce lady Hend with her orphan children. The fourth wife of the Prophet was his cousin lady Zaynab bint Jahsh. It was a customary practice for Arabs that foster sons are treated as biological sons when it comes to marriage and inheritance. With the advent of Islam, God wanted this old deep rooted customary practice to cease and wanted to differentiate between foster children and biological ones.
A man may adopt a child and take care of him, but that child cannot assume the lineage of his adopted father. He must retain his own family name. Prophet Muhammad had a foster son, Zayd, who was a slave and the Prophet manumitted him and adopted him and Zayd was used to be called Zayd ibn Muhammad.
The Prophet married off his foster son Zayd who was a freed slave to his cousin, Zaynab, who was from the noblest families of Arabs. Due to differences in social compatibility, their marriage ended in divorce. God decreed to the Prophet to marry Zaynab and revealed verses of the Quran regarding this matter. The divine aim of this marriage is to end the deep rooted customary taboo of the Arabs of not marrying the divorcees of their foster sons.
Prophet Muhammad could not have divorced lady Zaynab as her marriage was heavenly decreed and she was from his noble family. The fifth marriage of the Prophet was to lady Ramlah who is also known as Um Habibah. Um Habibah was the noble daughter of Abu Sufyan who was one of the most prestigious figures of the tribe of Quraysh. She bore her daughter, Habibah, in Abyssinia and suffered the brunt of being alone with her born child. The Prophet realized the immense suffering that noble lady Ramlah was going through and the hardships she suffered and how she firmly was holding tight to her religion in the face of her converted husband and by going against the will of her prestigious family and by abandoning her homeland and migrating to a new country, the Prophet wanted to restore her lost dignity and pride by offering to marry her and honor her by this noble marriage.
It would have been seen as a real shame if the Prophet after honoring lady Ramlah by marrying her, to simply abandon her through divorce. The prophet was informed of this and dispatched an individual by the name of Barid to their land to look into the matter. He contacted the head of the tribe unidentified and learned of the plot.
After returning to Madinah, he confirmed the reports. He brought some beneficial news to the prophet. At the same time, their spy was caught among the Muslims, leaving them without any news of what had transpired.
Because of their plot, the prophet took the offensive and attacked them first instead. The noble lady Juwayreyah refused to remain captive and offered to pay a ransom for her freedom, the Prophet realized the noble status of lady Juwayreyah and her honorable lineage so offered to set her free and if she wishes he would marry her and she readily agreed. Due to the marriage of the Prophet to the daughter of the chieftain of the tribe of Bani al Mustalaq, an unbreakable bond between the prophet and this tribe was made and many of those who had been taken prisoners were unconditionally set free just because of this relation.
One of the blessed outcomes of this wedlock was the freedom of many prisoners. Therefore, it would have been a shock to her tribe, if the Prophet had later divorced her. The seventh wife is lady Safiyyah bint Huyay ibn Akhtab.
She was the daughter of the leader of Banu al Nadir tribe who was also a Jewish rabbi. So lady Safiyyah was from a noble regal and rabbinical heritage. The Banu al Nadir tribe was a Jewish tribe residing in Medinah. When Banu al Nadir breached the peace treaty with the Prophet through conspiring against the newly born state, the Muslims seized the fortress of Khaybar and lady Safiyyah fell as a captive.
The Prophet set her free and earlier she embraced Islam secretly so he offered her either to stay in Medinah and marry him or she can freely go back to her tribe. Lady Safiyyah chose to marry the Prophet and became one of the pious mothers of the believers. This blessed marriage of the Prophet to lady Safiyyah helped in abating the severe hostility of the Jewish tribes to the newly born Muslim state in Medinah. She was the first wife of the Prophet after the death of his beloved wife lady Khadijah.
Lady Sawdah embraced Islam and migrated to Ethiopia with her husband. After skimming rapidly through the reasons behind the multiple marriages of the Prophet, we would notice that the Prophet stroke a unique example of how men should treat women. His gentle teachings and compassionate behavior towards his wives, made them favor the Prophet over all worldly pleasures and were deeply in love with him. It was narrated that when the Prophet was at his death bed aching over the throes of death, tears were running down the cheeks of his wives and each of them wished if she could bear the pain and suffer instead of the Prophet.
The Prophet taught his wives and the Muslims at large the true meanings of love, mercy and compassion peace and blessings be upon him.
M. M. Akbar