Prohibiting ‘Ali from a Legal Marriage: Alleged Inconsistency of the Prophet
Some critics of Islam try to attack the consistency of the Prophet’s actions, in an effort to show that there are contradictions in the religion. They do this as an effort to delegitimize Islam, thus achieving their goal of spreading disbelief. Islam is far above such accusations, and if one were to take the time to examine the full evidence provided – not just the few excerpts provided by people who are unfamiliar with Islamic study – then they would surely come to the correct conclusion.
One such accusation is related to the Prophet’s direction in not allowing his cousin (who was married to his daughter) to marry another woman who was the daughter of the man who was once at war with Islam. These critics say that it does not make sense that the Prophet would prohibit polygamy while it is allowed in the Qur’an,
and that his reasoning does not make sense since he was actually married to the daughter of one of the men fighting against Islam. This article will clearly explain why neither reason is comprehensible, even by using the same evidence that is brought up to “prove” the points of these critics.
One of the most important aspects that people need to consider in the search for truth, be it religion or just life in general, is consistency. The opposite of consistency is inconsistency, double standard or contradiction. Many critics of Islam have laid down this charge against Prophet Muhammad – may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, saying that in some cases he contradicted himself.
This charge is a serious charge that has to be investigated with sincerity and reason. It does not suffice for one to dismiss it and it does not suffice for one to just accept it as a reinforcement of existing stereotypes and misunderstandings. Skeptics, atheists and missionaries have been riding the wave of accusations towards the Prophet of Islam from many different angles.
However, after careful inspection of claims and allegations, one has to come to the conclusion that such things are baseless; rather they are on many occasions in hope that rational minds will not examine them but believe them as truths and somehow join the growing army of ignorance that is creating such a great division in the world between Muslims and non-Muslims.
This paper examines one such assertion and namely that Prophet Muhammad did not allow his son-in-law ‘Ali to take a second wife, even though polygamy is permissible according to Qur’an.
Al-Miswar bin Makhramah reports:
إن علي بن أبي طالب خطب ابنة أبي جهل على فاطمة عليها السلام، فسمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يخطب الناس في ذلك على منبره هذا وأنا يومئذ محتلم، فقال: «إن فاطمة مني، وأنا أتخوف أن تفتن في دينها» ، ثم ذكر صهرا له من بني عبد شمس، فأثنى عليه في مصاهرته إياه، قال: «حدثني، فصدقني ووعدني فوفى لي، وإني لست أحرم حلالا، ولا أحل حراما، ولكن والله لا تجتمع بنت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، وبنت عدو الله أبدا»
When ‘Ali bin Abi Talib asked for the hand of the daughter of Abu Jahl to be his wife besides Fatimah, I heard Allah’s Messenger on his pulpit delivering a sermon in this connection before the people, and I had then attained my age of puberty. Allah’s Messenger said, “Fatimah is from me, and I am afraid she will be subjected to trials in her religion (because of jealousy).”
The Prophet then mentioned one of his son-in-laws who was from the tribe of ‘Abd Shams, and he praised him as a good son-in-law, saying, “Whatever he said was the truth, and he promised me and fulfilled his promise. I do not make a legal thing illegal, nor do I make an illegal thing legal, but by Allah, the daughter of Allah’s Messenger and the daughter of the enemy of Allah (i.e. Abu Jahl) can never get together (as the wives of one man).”
The question they raise is as to why the Messenger of Allah forbade ‘Ali from marrying when Qur’an explicitly allows a man to have four wives at a time. One of these critics even goes as far as to say that by denying ‘Ali the right to marriage permitted by the Qur’an the Prophet actually acted like what he condemned of Jewish rabbis and Christian monks. One critic says, “Demanding the believers such as ‘Ali to obey him rather than to act in accord with the freedom and rights afforded to them by the Qur’an, thereby transforming himself into a god besides Allah.”
They contend that while the Prophet himself had multiple wives together it was inconsistent on his part not to allow ‘Ali the same.
Moreover, they argue that ‘Ali’s proposal to daughter of Abu Jahl, the staunch enemy of the Muslims, should not have been a problem as the Prophet himself married the daughter of another bitter enemy Abu Sufyan (Umm Habeebah).
2. The nature of Prophet’s instruction to ‘Ali to not to marry
It is very clear that the blessed Prophet did not mean to legally declare unlawful for ‘Ali to marry again while he had the Prophet’s daughter in marriage. The blessed Prophet categorically stated:
وإني لست أحرم حلالا، ولا أحل حراما
“I do not make a legal thing illegal, nor do I make an illegal thing legal.”
It is, therefore, ridiculous to say that he did what the Jewish rabbis or monks used to do by changing the law of Allah.
3. Why did the Prophet not allow ‘Ali second marriage in spite of it being legal?
3.1 Was it favoritism and double standards?
Let it be clear that even when Islam allows polygamy it does not claim that women absolutely love the idea. Naturally women are uneasy with it and no women loves to share her husband with another woman but it is for other social considerations and greater good of the society that Islam allows it.
Prophet Muhammad knew his daughter and her level of jealousy and he did not want this second marriage to be a trial in her faith. He did not in any way change the law; he did not in any way say that it’s forbidden for ‘Ali to marry from a religion point of view. This assumption is baseless and a distortion of the facts as we have seen in the narration.
The next issue that might come into someone’s mind is that Prophet Muhammad was favoring his own daughter and was making exceptions in the law for her, even though he was not changing the law. This has no base as we can see from the narration bellow, where the Prophet makes a very strong statement by using his daughter Fatimah as an example in the case of a woman who stole. The people were trying to intercede with the Prophet so that he might overlook this incident; however he made sure he made an example out of it:
عن جابر، أن امرأة من بني مخزوم سرقت، فأتي بها النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم، فعاذت بأم سلمة زوج النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم، فقال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: «والله لو كانت فاطمة لقطعت يدها» ، فقطعت
It was narrated from Jubair that a woman from Banu Makhzum stole, and she was brought to the Prophet. She sought refuge with Umm Salamah, the wife of the Prophet, but the Prophet said: “If Fatimah were to steal I would cut off her hand.” And her hand was cut off. 
We clearly see that Messenger of Allah opposed the marriage of ‘Ali to another woman only due to the suffering that it might have caused Fatimah, and this was done only to protect her faith. Any harm or suffering, emotional or spiritual, on the part of Fatimah would have hurt the Prophet and therefore he had every right to use his influence to dissuade ‘Ali from going for any action that could lead to it.
In fact family of every woman has the right to do it. We see that the Prophet was very staunch in applying the rules of Allah, including to his own family, which is clear from the above example as well as from the fact that he waged war against his own relatives for the sake of upholding the law of Allah.
3.2 ‘Ali himself consulted the Prophet about second marriage and willingly respected his feelings
The way the issue is presented tends to convey as if there was some battle of nerves going on in a way that ‘Ali was dying to marry that woman and the blessed Prophet legally barred him from doing so. In reality there is no such suggestion in the hadith reports.
أن المسور بن مخرمة، قال: إن عليا خطب بنت أبي جهل فسمعت بذلك، فاطمة فأتت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، فقالت: يزعم قومك أنك لا تغضب لبناتك، وهذا علي ناكح بنت أبي جهل، فقام رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، فسمعته حين تشهد، يقول: «أما بعد أنكحت أبا العاص بن الربيع، فحدثني وصدقني، وإن فاطمة بضعة مني وإني أكره أن يسوءها، والله لا تجتمع بنت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وبنت عدو الله، عند رجل واحد» فترك علي الخطبة
Narrated al-Miswar bin Makhramah: ‘Ali demanded the hand of the daughter of Abu Jahl. Fatimah heard of this and went to Allah’s Messenger saying, “Your people think that you do not become angry for the sake of your daughters as ‘Ali is now going to marry the daughter of Abu Jahl.” On that Allah’s Messenger got up and after his recitation of the tashahhud.
I heard him saying, “Then after! I married one of my daughters to Abu Al-‘As bin ar-Rabi‘ (the husband of Zaynab, the daughter of the Prophet) before Islam and whenever he spoke to me, he spoke the truth. No doubt, Fatimah is a part of me, and I hate to see her being troubled. By Allah, the daughter of Allah’s Messenger and the daughter of Allah’s enemy cannot be the wives of one man.” So ‘Ali gave up that engagement.
This hadith shows it was Fatimah who brought the issue to the notice of the Prophet. However there is evidence that later ‘Ali himself talked to the blessed Prophet about the issue.
عن سويد بن غفلة، قال: خطب علي ابنة أبي جهل إلى عمها الحارث بن هشام فاستشار النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم، فقال: «أعن حسبها تسألني؟» قال علي: قد أعلم ما حسبها ولكن أتأمرني بها؟ فقال: «لا، فاطمة مضغة مني، ولا أحسب إلا وأنها تحزن أو تجزع» فقال علي: لا آتي شيئا تكرهه
Narrated Suwayd bin Ghaflah: ‘Ali sent the proposal for the daughter of Abu Jahl to her uncle al-Harith bin Hisham and consulted the Prophet – may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. He asked: ‘Are you asking about her lineage?’ ‘Ali said: ‘I know what her lineage is but do you allow me to marry her?’ The Prophet said: ‘No, Fatimah is a part of me, and I do not wish her to be displeased or troubled.’ ‘Ali said: ‘I will never do what you dislike.’
Ibn Hajar asserts the collective suggestion of these reports is that ‘Ali was not present when the Prophet made that speech. He naturally consulted the Prophet about the idea, and once he learned that it would displease the Prophet he dropped the idea.
It is thus clear that ‘Ali as expected consulted the Prophet on the idea of proposal and once he learnt that the Prophet did not like it, he dropped the idea altogether. It was only that in his absence that Sayyidah Fatimah brought the issue to the notice of the Prophet and seeing her agony expressed his feelings.
3.3 Comparison with Sayyidah Zaynab’s husband, Abul-‘As bin ar-Rabi‘
In a speech that the Prophet made when he learnt of ‘Ali’s proposal he said, “I married one of my daughters to Abul-‘As bin ar-Rabi‘ (the husband of Zaynab, the daughter of the Prophet) before Islam and he proved truthful in whatever he said to me.”
Commenting on it Ibn Hajar and Ibn al-Qayyimassert that it suggests that Abul-‘As, the husband of Zaynab, had made the commitment not to marry anyone while Zaynab was with him. Either ‘Ali had a made a similar commitment or the Prophet for the extreme love of Fatimah and his own affection with ‘Ali expected the same from ‘Ali.
Islamic law allows the woman to stipulate certain stipulations in the marriage contract, and one of them can be that the husband to be should agree that he will not seek another marriage while she is alive. If the husband agrees to this condition he is bound by it, at least ethically, and violating it can lead to the dissolving of the marriage contract. Each case is different and each woman is different.
Some women are strong and even search for second or third wives for their husbands, while others will not marry without making sure that she will be the only wife. Polygamy is lawful, however based on each situation; it is the couple’s prerogative as well as that of wife’s father or representative to uphold it or not.
3.4 Prophet’s fear that Fatimah may face trial in her religion
Furthermore in his speech, the Beloved Prophet said about Sayyidah Fatimah, “I am afraid she will be subjected to trials in her religion,” by the reason of jealousy (i.e. Sayyidah Fatimah might do or say something potentially dangerous for her own religion to the other woman from jealousy).
A more specific reason for this fear of the Prophet could be for the fact that the proposed woman in question was the daughter of Abu Jahl. Even though she had embraced Islam Sayyidah Fatimah, in her natural jealousy, could say something to her about her father that would only hurt her. Not only that Abu Jahl was well-known in his extreme hatred for the blessed Prophet, but Sayyidah Fatimah especially must have had imprinted the same in her mind since the time she was little. Relate it to the following:
Narrated Abdullah: “Once the Prophet was offering the prayer in the shade of the Ka‘bah. Abu Jahl and some Qurayshi men sent somebody to bring the abdominal contents of a she camel which had been slaughtered somewhere in Makkah, and when he brought them, they put them over the Prophet.
Then Fatimah came and threw them away from him, and he said, ‘O Allah! Destroy (Al-Mushrikin of) Quraysh; O Allah! Destroy Quraysh; O Allah Destroy Quraysh,’ naming especially Abu Jahl bin Hisham, ‘Utbah bin Rabi‘a, Shaybah bin Rabi‘a, al-Waleed bin ‘Utbah, Ubayy bin Khalaf and ‘Uqbah bin Abi Mu‘ait.”
One narration says, “She removed them (the abdominal contents of the camel) and cursed at the Quraish on their faces.”
Sayyidah Fatimah had seen Abu Jahl doing all this to the Prophet. She herself cursed him and heard the Prophet invoking Allah’s wrath on him by name. This happened when she was tender of age and it must have had everlasting effect on her. Perhaps this is one thing that added to the fear of the Prophet that she may say or do something to the proposed second wife of her husband that would not go with her character. Therefore, by dissuading ‘Ali, the Prophet wanted to protect his daughter from that trial.
Just to clarify, fear of reference to a co-wife’s past is not a farfetched idea even for the blessed ladies of the Prophet’s household. We know Sayyidah Hafsah made a reference to Sayyidah Safiyyah’s Jewish parentage and the Prophet asked her to fear Allah.
4. Comparison between the daughter of Abu Jahl and Umm Habeebah, the daughter of Abu Sufyan
Critics of Islam believe a strong proof of the Prophet’s inconsistency here is in the fact that he himself married the daughter of another great enemy of Islam (Abu Sufyan). They say, if the Prophet could himself marry Abu Sufyan’s daughter, then why could ‘Ali not marry the daughter of Abu Jahl, especially when Abu Jahl had already died?
Then to highlight how great the alleged inconsistency is, they mention facts about enmity of Abu Sufyan and as to what his wife did with Hamzah and how his own daughter treated him for his disbelief. However, this only shows their weak understanding of the situation.
Sayyidah Umm Habeebah embraced Islam in its early days at Makkah. She even migrated to Abyssinia and when her husband apostatized and became a Christian, she remained firm on Islam even in an alien land. A perfect confirmation of her ultimate fidelity with the Prophet and firmness on Islam is in what these critics themselves quote:
“Abu Sufyan then set out and went to the Messenger of God in Medina. Abu Sufyan [first] visited his own daughter, Umm Habeebah bint Abi Sufyan. When he was about to sit on the bed of the Messenger of God, she folded it up to stop him.
He said, ‘My daughter, by God, I don’t know whether you think I am too good for this bed or you think it is too good for me.’ She said: ‘It is the bed of the Messenger of God, and you are an unclean polytheist. I did not want you to sit on the bed of the Messenger of God.’”
All this shows her sincerity and firmness on Islam was beyond doubt.
On the other hand, though daughter, family and the tribe of Abu Jahl embraced Islam after the conquest of Makkah and there is no reason to doubt their belief but even with this their fidelity with Islam could not be confirmed and readily tested to the level of bringing them within the fold of Prophet’s own family.
Such people should have been treated with kindness and given extra favors to bring their hearts closer to Islam, but to have one of their women in the house of beloved daughter of the Prophet could have led to troubles. Perhaps, it will be pertinent to mention that at the eve of conquest of Makkah ‘Ali had wished to kill the uncle of the Abu Jahl’s daughter before he was given protection by the Prophet.
In view of these facts it was only natural to have disdain for the idea of a Prophet’s companion as close as ‘Ali marrying a woman whose faith had not been tested and total fidelity not confirmed.
How can the belief of one who embraced it in the times of extreme hardship and remained firm on it in extraordinary situations be compared with the one who accepted it only after ultimate defeat? In fact the Qur’an itself argues against such a comparison.
5. Sadd adh-dhara’i – Blocking the lawful means to an unlawful or harmful end
“The word dhara’i is the plural of dhari’ah (means to an end). It is the means to an end irrespective of the end being lawful or unlawful, beneficial or harmful. The term sadd adh-dhara’i, however, means ‘blocking the lawful means to an unlawful end.’”
The principle is not concerned with unlawful acts because those are prohibited anyway. It is concerned with lawful acts that may be prohibited as they lead to unlawful results or to a harmful end. This principle can have many implications; however it goes only to show the greatness of the Islamic law. Islamic law is not black and white, nor extreme and rigid.
Islamic law is comprehensive and flexible and deals with real life practical situations. It caters to the individual as well as society. It looks at situations and specific cases and rules based on proof and removing harm.
Even though the issue at hand is not legal in nature yet we can see the same spirit is involved here. As such the Prophet saw that his daughter’s safety in her faith was in danger, and he opposed something that was lawful for Ali.
6. Summary and Conclusion
1- The Prophet’s word about the proposed marriage was not meant in the legal sense as he clarified in most categorical words.
2- There was no issue of favoritism or preference in the case of Fatimah.
3- There was no argument among the blessed Prophet and ‘Ali. In fact ‘Ali himself asked the Prophet about it and when he learnt that he disliked the idea he dropped the proposal.
4- The Prophet wanted to save his daughter from the trial of jealousy, especially when it could be coupled with hatred of the proposed woman’s father whom she had seen behaving badly with her father.
5- It was risky and imprudent to have daughter of the worst enemy of the Prophet in the closest family circle of the Prophet.
6- The case of the daughter of Abu Jahl cannot be compared with that of Sayyidah Umm Habeebah, the daughter of Abu Sufyan. Sayyidah Umm Habeebah was among the earliest people to embrace Islam and she remained firm on it even when her husband apostatized whereas the daughter of Abu Jahl embraced Islam only after her people were ultimately defeated.
7- A lawful thing is not necessarily binding and the stake-holders have every right to use their influence to see any rightful settlement of the issue and this is what the Prophet did.
References & Notes:
al-Bukhari, as-Sahih, Translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan (Riyadh: Maktabat Dar-us-Salam, 1997) Hadith 3110
Shamoun, Sam, “Muhammad’s Inconsistency: Prohibiting a Lawful Marriage”
 Muslim bin Hajjaj, as-Sahih, Translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Riyadh: Maktabat Dar-us-Salam, 2007) Hadith 4413 (11-1689)
 ath-Thanwi, Ashraf Ali, Imdad al-Fatawa, (Karachi, Maktaba Darul ‘Uloom, 2010) Vol.5, 143
al-Bukhari, as-Sahih, Hadith 3729
 al-Hakim, Abu Abdullah, al-Mustadrak, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 1990) Hadith 4749; al-Hakim said its chain is authentic as per the standards of Bukhari and Muslim, and adh-Dhahabi said it is “mursal qawi.”
 al-Asqalani, Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifah, 1379 AH) Vol.9, 328
 Ibid., Vol.7, 86
 Ibn al-Qayyim, Zad al-Ma‘ad, (Beirut: ar-Resalah Publications, 1994) Vol.5, 107
al-Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, Vol.9, 329
 al-Bukhari, as-Sahih, Hadith 2934
Ibid., Hadith 520
at-Tirmidhi, al-Jami, (Cairo: Maktabah Mustafa al-Babi, 1975) Hadith 3894
 al-Jazri, Ibn Atheer, Usd al-Ghabah, (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1994) Vol.7, 116
at-Tabari, Abu Ja‘far Ibn Jareer, The History of at-Tabari – The Victory of Islam, Translated by Michael Fishbein (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997) Vol. 8, 164
 Taqi Usmani, Muhammad, Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ at-Turath al-‘Arabi, 2006) Vol.5, 138
al-Jazri, Ibn Atheer, Usd al-Ghabah, Vol.1, 643
Qur’an 57: 10
Nyazee, Imran Ahsan Khan, Islamic Jurisprudence, (Islamabad: Islamic Research Institute, 2000) 24