Why was Prophet Muhammad polygamous?
Non-Muslims often ask as to why Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had more wives at one time than what is allowed for common Muslim i.e. four . Some of them even yell obscenities alleging that these were sensual passions that made the Prophet (PBUH) polygamous. Can there be any greater lie?
For the complete understanding of the issue, consider the following points;
Certain things were specific for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) only:
Let it be clear that this was not the only thing peculiar to the Holy Prophet, infact there were many. For instance, as we Muslims believe that Prayers at Late Night (Tahajjud) is a great deed of piety, still for us, common Muslims, it is not obligatory. But it was required of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) (cf. Qur’an 17:79, 73:2-4).
And it is really demanding to get out of bed and offer Late Night (Tahajjud) prayers and that too regularly not missing without a genuine reason. This is only to refute the notion that Holy Prophet (PBUH)-God forbid!- himself created some exceptions for himself.
Holy Prophet (PBUH) didn’t marry out of his physical desires!
He did not marry more women out of his physical desires for he had only one wife even till the age of 54. Till 50 he had only one wife Sayyidah Khadija who was 15 years elder to him and was twice widowed before. And for next 4 years his only wife was Sayyidah Sawda, also an aged lady. All, but one, of his wives were either widows or divorced. It was only at the age of 55 that four wives gathered in his marriage.
John Bagot Glubb admits this fact in the following words;
“It is, however, worthy to note that of all his wives, only Aisha was a virgin when he married her. Zainab bint Jahash was a divorced wife and all the rest were widows, some of them, it would seem, not particularly attractive. Moreover the Apostle had married Khadija when he was twenty-five and she was a widow considerably older than he was. He had remained completely faithful to her for twenty-four years until her death.” (The Life and Times of Muhammad p.237, pub. Stein And Day, New York, 1971)
Further he says;
“In Medina, Muhammad had less and less leisure time and must often have been mentally and physically exhausted, especially as he was in his fifties and latterly over sixty. These are not the circumstances under which men are interested in the indulgence of extreme sexuality.
The assumption that he was a sensualist because he had eleven wives when he died at the age of sixty-two is therefore not absolutely a foregone conclusion, as many have assumed. This is particularly so in view of the fact that he had only one wife until he was fifty.” (p.239)
All this belies the notion that the Last Prophet of Islam (PBUH) married multiple time for of his physical desires. John Davenport asks a valid question;
“.. and it may then be asked, is it likely that a very sensual man, of a country where polygamy was a common practice, should be contented for five-and-twenty years with one wife, she being fifteen years older than himself;[?]” (An Apology for Muhammed and the Koran p.26 pub. J. Davy and Sons, London)
Stanely Lane Poole also writes;
“… to say that Mohammad was a voluptuary is false. The simple austerity of his daily life, to the very last, his hard mat for sleeping on, his plain food, his self-imposed menial work, point him out as an ascetic rather than a voluptuary.” (Studies in a Mosque p.77, pub. W. H. Allen & Co. London, 1883)
Another European, Thomas Carlyle, commented on this oft-repeated lie about the Prophet (PBUH);
“Mahomet himself, after all that can be said about him, was not a sensual man. We shall err widely if we consider this man as a common voluptuary, intent mainly on base enjoyments, — nay on enjoyments of any kind.” (On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History p.65 Lecture II, pub. Champan and Hall, London, 1840)
Wisdom behind his marriages:
All his marriages had great wisdom behind them. His plural marriages were to practically show all sorts of permissible marriages in Islam and had extra-ordinary political benefits for the nascent Muslim community.
1-His marriage with Khadija (RA) shows that it is permissible for a person who is bachelor to marry a widow, to marry a woman who is older than him, for a (relatively) poor and orphan man to marry a rich woman, for an employee to marry his employer. His relation with Khadija (RA) was a perfect show of mutual trust and fidelity.
The very fact that Prophet (PBUH) did not marry during her lifetime belies all the charges of sensuality. Some jaundiced-eyed critics went on to say that it were only Prophet’s (PBUH) financial constraints that kept him away from marrying further during Khadija’s (RA) lifetime.
Stanely Lane Poole, himself a bitter critic of Islam, had to acknowledge the absurdity of such an assertion. He writes;
“An attempt has been made to explain away Mohammad’s fidelity to Khadija, by adducing the motive of pecuniary prudence. Mohammad, they say, was a poor man, Khadija rich and powerfully connected; any affaire de coeur on the husband’s part would have been followed by a divorce and the simultaneous loss of property and position.
It is hardly necessary to point out that the fear of poverty — a matter of little consequence in Arabia and at that time — would not restrain a really sensual man for five-and- twenty years; especially when it is by no means certain that Khadija, who loved him with all her heart in a motherly sort of way, would have sought a divorce for any cause soever.
And this explanation leaves Mohammad’s loving remembrance of his old wife unaccounted for. If her money alone had curbed him for twenty-five years, one would expect him at her death to throw off the cloak, thank Heaven for the deliverance, and enter at once upon the rake’s progress. He does none of those things.” (Studies in a Mosque p.79, pub. W. H. Allen & Co. London, 1883)
2-His marriage to Sawdah bint Zama’a (RA) shows that a widower can opt to marry a middle-aged, kind, jolly and widowed woman who can take care of his children. It was perhaps imperative for the Prophet (PBUH) to marry a lady of her age for then he needed someone to look after his children.
3-He married young and intelligent ‘Aisha bint Abu Bakr (RA) so that she remembers and continues to teach the masses all matters relating to married life and even the rest. This marriage also aimed at fostering his friendly relations with Abu Bakr (RA) and also to refute the baseless Arab tradition of not marrying the daughter of the called-not real brother. It was also a practical manifestation that one can marry a virgin.
4-He married Hafsa (RA), the daughter of ‘Umar (RA) to foster better relations with his important companion.
5- His marriage with Zainab bint Khuzaima (RA), widow of ‘Ubaida (RA) who fell as a martyr in the Battle of Badr, showed his care for the widows of the martyred and was a practical stimulus for Muslim men to be sensitive towards the situation of the widows of those martyred in the service of Islam.
6-He married Umm Habiba (RA), who was the daughter of the Chief of Makkah, Abu Sufyan. This marriage brought him closer to the Umayyads, an important family among the Quraish. This led to rather smooth and bloodless Conquest of Makkah. William Muir acknowledges this motive;
“[The Prophet] perhaps farther hoped to make Abu Sofian, the father of Omm Habiba, more favourible to his cause.” (The Life of Mahomet, vol. 4 p.59 pub. Smith, Elder and Co. London, 1861)
John Bagot Glubb (a.k.a Glubb Pasha) also makes an interesting observation on the same lines;
“He took the trouble to write to the Emperor of Abyssinia to send him Umm Habeeba to be his bride. If his object had been merely to acquire another woman, there must have been hundreds of more attractive brides available in Arabia. Possibly he sent for Umm Habeeba as a bridge to establish relations with Abu Sofian who, he had noticed, was now adopting a more conciliatory attitude.” (The Life and Times of Muhammad p.304)
7-He married Umm Salamah (RA), his only wife who brought children from her previous marriage. Thus Holy Prophet gave a practical example to take care of children that a person’s wife has from some earlier marriage. This marriage pacified her tribe who were earlier very vehement in opposition of Islam as now they had a relation with the Holy Prophet (PBUH). This led many of that tribe to revise their thinking about Islam.
8-He married Zainab bint Jahsh (RA) to uproot the baseless Arab tradition of not marrying the divorcees of adopted-not-real sons.Islam holds that no matter how much dear no one can just as one’s son from his own loins. Montgomery Watt writes;
” … a social motive may have outweighed the political one in her case – to show that Muhammad had broken with old taboos.” (Muhammad at Medina p.288, pub. Oxford, 1956)
9- He married Juwairiya bint Al-Haritha (RA) to foster his relations with the important Jewish tribes and also to show that Islam allows mix marriages based on social status. These marriages also show the high regard in which women were held that instead of making them slaves, Holy Prophet (PBUH) married them and thus give them the high status of ‘Mothers of the Believers’ About the political benefits of this marriage, John Bagot Glubb in his aforementioned book writes;
“ … this was a purely political marriage, for it won over Beni Mustaliq to Islam more successfully than a battle.” (p.263)
10-His marriage with Safiyya bint Hayy (RA), daughter of the Nudair tribe of Jews, proved a great success in neutralizing the harsh sentiments of a considerable faction of the Jews in Northern Arabia.
Watt writes; “There may have been political motives in the unions with the Jewesses Safiyah and Rayhana.” (Muhammad at Medina p.288)
11- His marriage with Maimuna (RA) resulted in the some highly valuable people coming to Islam. In the words of Washington Irving;
“This was doubtless another marriage of policy, for Maimuna was fifty-one years of age, and a widow, but the connexion gained him two powerful proselytes. One was Khaled Ibn al Waled, a nephew of the widow, an intrepid warrior … The Other proselyte was Khaled’s friend Amrul Ibn al Aass;” (The Life of Mahomet p.183 pub. Bernhard Tachnitz, Leipzig 1850)
The fact that Prophet’s (PBUH) marriages were for reasons other than alleged sensuality is acknowledged even by a prejudiced critics like D.S. Margoliouth. He wrote;
“In several of these marriages it is easy to see that political considerations were dominant.” (Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Article: Muhammad. vol. 8 p.879 pub. T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1915)
Had Allah Almighty not allowed him to have plural marriages then many Muslims may not have got many benefits which they actually did. Many strong enemies might not have been pacified. Many matters of Shariah (Islamic Law) may not have been explained so well.
These were only the Wives of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) who taught us matters relating to married life and other in-house affairs. Here one must remember that none of the Holy Prophet’s male children lived to maturity and only one of his daughters, Fatimah (RA) lived after his death and that also only for 6 months. In such a situation it would have been virtually a calamity for the Muslim Ummah if Holy Prophet did not have these wives, as many teachings would have remained veiled from us in that case.
All the above details prove that his marriages were not out of his physical desires but for other motives undoubtedly noble and great atleast from the perspective of the Muslim community as evident from their outcomes.
Biblical Prophets also had many wives, infact too many!
a- According to Bible, Abraham (PBUH) had three wives, Hagar (Gen. 16:4), Sarah (Gen. 11:29) and Ketura (Gen. 25:1)
b- Jacob (PBUH) had four wives, Leah (Gen. 29:23), Rachel (Gen. 29:28), Zilpah (Gen. 30:9) and Bilhah (Gen. 30:3)
c- Bible says about Prophet David;
“And David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.” (2 Samuel 5:13)
Reading 1Chronicles 3:1-9 makes it known that Prophet David had at least 6 wives and numerous concubines.
d- About Prophet Solomon it says;
“And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart.”(1 Kings 11:3)
See the list of polygamists in the Bible HERE.
Infact all the marriages of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had great wisdom behind them, not only for his own time but also for the times to come. It has great effect with regard to spiritual and social growth of the Muslim Ummah which is undoubtedly the best nation as far as family setup is concerned.
I wonder what trouble hounds Christians from recognizing the simple truth that Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) marriages were not for sensual reasons but other prudential reasons. If Martin Luther can say that;
“The polygamy of the patriarchs, Gideon, David, Solomon & c., was a matter of necessity, not of libertinism.” (Table Talk, DCCXLII.p.304 Translated by William Hazlitt, Bell & Daldy, London 1872)
Why the same cannot be said of the marriages of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when even many of the die-hard critics also recognize the ‘necessities’ in those cases?
I am sure that only if our Christian fellows can put off the goggles of prejudice they would be able to see things in a much realistic and just manner.
Indeed Allah knows Best.