Muslim Marriage Guide – 5
The Blessed Prophet and his Wives
Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
`And We sent messengers before you, and We assigned to them wives and offspring.’ (Quran, 13:38)
It is well known to all Muslims that the wives of the Blessed Prophet, the `Mothers of the Believers’, were saints. In fact, they might usefully be compared to the twelve Disciples of Jesus (A) because of their closeness to him and their role in spreading his teaching. But it is also true that they were conspicuously happy and fulfilled human beings. Some people misguidedly take the point of view that sex is basically worldly (and not a blessing of Allah), and that the Prophet (s) was not interested in it, and all his marriages were contracted for purely pious or political reasons, in order to look after unfortunate widows or war captives. But this is no more than a half fact, applying to only a few of his wives. One can only seriously hold the mistaken view that it applies to all his later spouses if one has not read the hadith! Anyone who has studied the authentic collections of hadith can see straight away that these are the thoughts of the type of Muslim that the Blessed Prophet actually disapproved of – those who would really prefer to be celibate. `The worst among you are your bachelors!’ (Hadith from Abu Ya’la and Tabarani.)
Allah has taught that the foundation of society is marriage, and that marriage, along with physical intimacy, was the Prophet’s way.
Others, equally misguided, read about the number of the Prophet’s marriages and assume that he was some kind of sexual athlete, and wonder how a man with such an appetite can be seen as one of the great Prophets. This again betrays ignorance, for most of the Prophets that came before him of whom we know also had many wives: Abraham, for example, had three, Jacob had four, David had thirteen, and Solomon had three hundred, plus seven hundred concubines! None of this implied that they were not real Prophets, or were obsessed with sex at all; it was the normal practice of good men to take into their households more than one woman if they could afford this. It was regarded as a generous practice!
The Prophet (s), by contenting himself with the love of one wife for twenty-five years, was considered positively abstemious! After the death of Khadija he went on to marry many other women; but as we have seen, he did not take a second wife until he was over fifty, and the ladies who subsequently shared his life were not all tempting young beauties, but women with stories of their own.
We will note in passing here their names, and their ages and status when they married the Prophet (s): Sawda bint Zumu’a ibn Qays (widow of Sakran, aged 55); A’isha bint Abi Bakr (virgin bride aged about 6); Hafsa bint Umar (widow of Khunais ibn Hudhayfa, aged 19); Zaynab bint Khuzayma (divorced by Tufail ibn Harith, and widow of his brother Ubaida, aged about 30); Hind bint Abu Umayya (Umm Salama, the widow of Abdullah ibn Abu’1Asad her cousin, the Prophet’s foster brother, aged either 25 or 29); Zaynab bint Jahsh (daughter of Amina, the sister of the Prophet’s father Abdullah, divorced by Zaid the freeman, aged about 39); Juwayriyya bint Harith (real name Barra, widow of Musaffa ibn Safwan, aged about 14 or 17); Ramla bint Abi Sufyan (Umm Habiba, widow of Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh, aged 36-37); Safiyya bint Huyayy (real name Zaynab, a Jewess, divorced by Salm ibn Mishkam al-Qurazi the poet, widow of Kinana ibn Abi’l-Huqayq, aged about 17); Maymuna bint al-Harith (real name Barra, divorced by Amr, the widow of Abd al-Rahim ibn Abd al-Uzza, aged 51; her father’s wife Hind ibn Awf was the sister of the Prophet’s uncle al’Abbas’s wife Umm Fadl);. Raihana bint Shamum, a Jewess, the widow of al-Hakam al-Qurazi, age unknown but young). There is said to have been another wife, whom the Prophet divorced, either called Aliya bint Zabyan or Qayla bint al-Ash’ath.
Of these ladies, it is clear that even if their marriages were political or undertaken for social reasons, the Prophet (s) physically loved A’isha very much, and also enjoyed the embraces of the four beauties’: the aristocratic Umm Salama, his cousin Zaynab, and two daughters of defeated enemies – Juwayriyya bint al-Harith, and the Jewish woman Safiyya. He must also have enjoyed intimacy with his Coptic Christian Marya (scholars are not united on whether she was wife or concubine), because she gave birth to his son Ibrahim shortly before he died.
Only young people can suppose, anyway, that it is impossible for women over forty to be interested in physical intimacy. Middle aged women who have had a miserable and unfulfilled life with selfish husbands are probably quite glad to give it up, but those with thoughtful husbands would be very sad to set a `sell by date’ on their intimate life. Incidentally, it is worth pointing out to those who think the Prophet (s) cannot have had a physical relationship with the older ladies that Khadija did not marry the Prophet (s) until she was over 40, and yet kept him satisfied until she was 65, and gave birth to most of his children.
The Blessed Prophet was not a wealthy man and did not marry young. His first wife, Khadija bint Khuwaylid, was in fact his employer – a wealthy and intelligent widow who ran her own business, and herself proposed matrimony to the devout and highly thought-of young merchant, seeing in him the sort of man that she admired. She had been married twice before, with children from both marriages.
It is evident that they were both exceedingly pious people, even before the Prophet’s call to Apostleship, and that they had the admiration for each other that could easily become love. The Prophet had worked as the overseer of her caravans for quite some time, and they knew each other well. The age factor appears not to have come into it. (The present author has seen fifty summers go by, and is at present blessed by the love of a pious man twenty years her junior, has faced exactly the same criticisms, and can so speak with gratitude for the gracious, brave and open minded example of our dear Prophet!)
Later, the Prophet (s) made it quite clear that when people were considering matrimony, they should not marry for looks, or wealth, or rank, but for compatibility and piety. That was what counted; it was the force that would overcome the obstacles, and would make or break the marriage.
Abdullah ibn Umar reported that God’s Messenger (.Y) said:
`Do not marry only for a person’s looks, for their beauty might become a cause of moral decline. Do not marry for the sake of wealth, as this may become a source of sin. Marry rather on the grounds of religious devotion.’ (Tirmidhi)
A man said to al-Hasan al-Basri: `Several suitors have asked for my daughter. To whom should I give her in marriage?’ He replied: `To him who fears God the most. For if he loves her he will respect her, and even if he comes to dislike her he will not be cruel to her.’ (Al-Ghazali)
To fall in love with someone simply because of their looks is dangerous and misguided for many reasons. Firstly, those good looks might conceal less pleasant sides to their character to which `love is blind’. Later, because of the obsession with the partner’s looks, the enamoured partner might be influenced into doing or accepting all sorts of wrong conduct in their desperation to keep their love of their `idol’. Thus, those good looks might even cause a form of shirk in the heart of the one desperately in love with them!
Secondly, the good looking person might be perfectly decent and good, but unfortunately the good looks begin to deteriorate with age, or increasing fatness, or damage through accident or illness. What then? If the lover only wanted them because of their looks, the relationship is now on tricky ground. The wise Prophet advised having more secure foundations for marriage than being carried away by a person’s face or figure.
In fact, Khadija was a remarkable woman. She loved the Blessed Prophet until she died, was his first convert, and became his comforter through many crises.
`Whom shall I appeal to?’ he asked her one day, during one of the long conversations that they had each time the angel Gabriel appeared to him. `Who will believe in me?’ Happy to see that he no longer doubted his new mission, Khadija exclaimed, At least you can call on me before all others. For I believe in you!’ The Prophet (s) was very joyful, and recited the shahada to Khadija, and Khadija believed. (Tabari, Annals, II, 209.)
He never took another wife while she lived, and even after her death he never forgot her or ceased to love her. Their marriage had lasted twenty-five years. There are several touching traditions which show the Prophet (s) being deeply affected and moved to tears when he heard her sister Hala’s voice, which sounded so much like hers, or saw something which had once belonged to her.
The Prophet’s next beloved, A’isha, recorded:
`Although I had never met Khadija, I was never more jealous of anyone than her.’ Once, when Khadija’s sister Hala came to visit the Prophet (s), and called from outside for permission to enter, he trembled, being reminded of Khadija, for the two sisters had very similar voices. `It must be Hala,’ he said. A’isha said, `Why do you keep thinking of that elderly woman who has been dead for so long, when Allah has given you such good wives? ‘No, no, no,’ the Prophet (s) answered, `I was given no finer wife than her. She believed in me when everyone else belied me; when they denied me she became a Muslim; when no one would help me, she was my help. I had my children from her.’ And he asserted, `Allah gave me my love for her.’
After that, A’isha resolved never to take hurt from Khadija’s memory.
He grieved for her for a long time, and was eventually persuaded to take other wives by his friends, and especially by his aunt Khawla, who was distressed to see him so sad and lonely. Khawla visited him one day and found him getting on with the domestic chores, washing the dishes with his four young daughters. Moved to pity, she urged him to take a companion to look after his household affairs.
When he did finally remarry, at first love did not enter into it. Like most leaders in Arabia in his day, he chose his next two wives for practical and political reasons rather than for their sexual charms. Sawda was an old friend, one of the first Muslims, and the widow of his friend Sakran, the brother of Suhayl. She was a homely, chubby, fall woman slightly older than himself- he was fifty-two, she fifty five- the ideal person to look after his domestic arrangements and bring up his four motherless daughters. A’isha, his third wife, was only a little child, the daughter of his best friend. By marrying them the Blessed Prophet forged important links of kinship with the tribes of Suhayl and Abu Bakr.
Later, of course, we know that he came to love A’isha very much indeed, and when she became old enough the relationship became physical. He was never particularly attracted to Sawda, on the other hand, although they were good friends; later, she was quite content to let A’isha have `her’ night with him.
Those who are surprised that the Prophet (.s) could marry a six year old child forget that it was quite normal in both Arab and Jewish society for betrothals to be made for tiny children, even at birth, and for the little girls to enter their future husbands’ house-holds long before their marriages were consummated. One presumes that it was precisely this arrangement that Joseph the Carpenter of Nazareth undertook when he lived with the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus (A). Physical intimacy would not begin until the girl was old enough, usually at around the age of thirteen to fourteen, as in A’isha’s case.
Once, the Blessed Prophet’s companion Amr ibn al-As asked him which person he loved most in the world, expecting him to name one of the heroic young warriors. To his surprise, the Prophet replied straight away: `A’isha’. (Zarkashi, al-Ijaba, 52.)
A’isha herself recorded a touching detail that indicated his love: `After I ate one part of the meat on a bone, I used to hand it to the Prophet (s), who would bite the morsel from the place where I had bitten. Similarly, when I used to offer him something to drink after drinking a part, he would drink from the place I had put my lips.’ (Muslim.)
Like Khadija, A’isha gave the Blessed Prophet full support in his life of prayer and submission to God, frequently standing behind him through his long nightly hours of meditation, praying with him, and ready to give him whatever aid he needed when he had finished. His daily needs were very little – he lived so simply and ate so sparingly. The burden of this ascetic life fell on his women folk, who all shared his regimes. This would certainly not have suited every woman; the wives who married the Blessed Prophet were expected to be of like mind to himself, devout and self sacrificing, living the life of the poorest folk of Medina.
It is therefore to her immense credit that A’isha had the full confidence of the Prophet (s) during his lifetime. This has allowed us to receive a wealth of information on private and intimate aspects of his Sunna, as we will see later. No one apart from Khadija knew him as she did, she who shared his most intimate moments and private devotions; but, unlike Khadija, A’isha left a treasure of thousands of hadith!
The Blessed Prophet appreciated her high intelligence and deep understanding, and he found her a worthy coworker for Allah. He used to tell the Muslims that if they had any religious problems while he was absent from Medina, or needed any information, they could go for advice to A’isha.
After his death, the Muslims used to go to her for verification of what they had heard, confident of her judgment, not only because other closeness to the Blessed Prophet, but also because of her own recognised abilities.
Ibn Ata said: `A’isha was, among all the people, the one who had the most knowledge of fiqh, the one who was the most educated, and compared to those who surrounded her, the one whose judgment was the best.’ (Ibn Hajar, al-Isaba)
It is interesting to record that on one occasion she heard Abu Hurayra repeating a hadith concerning what the Blessed Prophet used to do after he made love. She disputed the details, crying: `But who has heard that from Abu’1-Qasim’? (a name of the Prophet). The point was that Abu Hurayra was relying on hearsay, whereas she had had the experience of sharing the Blessed Prophet’s most intimate times.
She had a keen mind and memory, and no fewer than 2,210 hadiths are narrated on her authority. In an age when the tribal elite found it difficult to accept the full significance of the Islamic teaching on female dignity, her reliability and the respect in which she was held formed a much needed precedent for later generations of Muslim scholars.
For example, when according to Ibn Marzuq someone invoked in front of her a hadith stating that the three causes of the interruption of prayer were dogs, asses and women, she rounded on him smartly with the words: `Now you compare us to asses and dogs! In the name of Allah, I saw the Prophet (s) saying his prayers while I was there, lying on the bed between him and the qibla, and in order not to disturb him, I did not move.’ (Bukhari.)
She never accepted a hadith that was at variance with the Holy Quran, even if it came from so reliable a source as the son of the Caliph Umar. Human beings, no matter how high their rank, were all capable of making mistakes. Once Umar’s son related a hadith about dead persons suffering punishment on account of the wailings of the mourners. She explained that he had misunderstood or misheard; no person in the Hereafter suffers for the misdeeds of the living. The Blessed Prophet had been commenting on the burial of a Jewess, and pointed out that her relatives were wailing while she was being punished. Ibn Umar conceded the point.
The Prophet’s next wife was Hafsa, the daughter of Umar, whose husband Khunays had died from wounds suffered at the Battle of Badr when she was nineteen years old. Umar instantly approached their friend Uthman, who had just lost his own wife, the Prophet’s daughter Ruqayya. However, Uthman did not rush to marry her, and neither did Abu Bakr, for whom she was also mentioned. It is possible that their reluctance might have been because the lady, like her father, had a fiery temperament.
The Prophet (s), realising Umar was hurt, offered to marry her himself. Hafsa was highly educated and very intelligent, and spent much of her time reading and writing. She also frequently argued points with the Blessed Prophet, a habit for which her father rebuked her, but which the Prophet responded to with gentleness. A’isha said of her: `Hafsa is the daughter of her father. She is strong willed like him.’
Perhaps in recognition of her strength of character, it was to Hafsa that the written text of the Holy Quran was given for safekeeping, and this was later recognised as the standard and authentic version against which all others were checked.
The Blessed Prophet did not turn away from women who were strong or argumentative or full of character – women like Khadija, A’isha, Hafsa or Umm Salama. In fact, he admired and loved them. The hadiths show that his wives were not disappointed, meek, downtrodden, shadowy, boring figures, there simply to do his bidding; on the contrary, his household was full of laughter, his women spoke up whenever they were upset about something (on their own behalf or on behalf of others), and their quarters sometimes rang with female outrage and arguments. The Blessed Prophet’s friends were sometimes frankly amazed that he did not discipline his wives as they expected!
Many new Muslims found this very perplexing, especially Hafsa’s father Umar, who on occasion found the relaxed freedom granted to Muslim women difficult to accept.
Umar said: `By Allah, in the Jahiliyya (pre-Islamic age of ignorance) we did not pay attention to women until Allah revealed concerning them that which He revealed, and assigned for them that which He has assigned!’ (Bukhari)
`Once, when I was pondering a certain matter, my wife told me she wanted me to do such-and-such a thing. I asked her what it had to do with her. Whereupon she said: “How strange you are, son of al-Khattab! You don’t want to be argued with, whereas your daughter Hafsa argues even with Allah’s Messenger (s), so much that he remains angry for a full day!”‘
Umar went round to check the unpalatable facts with his daughter. To his chagrin, he found that his wife had spoken the truth. Furious with Hafsa, he warned her never to do it again. Then he went to the house of another of the Blessed Prophet’s wives Umm Salama, who was also his relation, and spoke of it again. She, however, rounded on him and rebuked him:
`O son of al-Khattab! It is astonishing that you interfere in everything! Now you even want to interfere between Allah’s Messenger (s) and his wives!’ (Bukhari)
The Blessed Prophet’s fifth female `apostle’ was Zaynab bint Khuzayma, a lady of outstanding piety and self sacrifice, whose husband was martyred at Uhud, leaving her poverty stricken and alone. After her marriage she was called `Umm al-Masakin’, the Mother of the Poor, for her generosity to the destitute. Once, when a poor man came to her house to ask for food, she had only flour enough for one meal, but gave it to him and went without herself. The Blessed Prophet deeply admired her, but tragically she died only a few months after their marriage. Umm Salama (Hind bint al-Mughira) was the widow of his cousin Abu Salama. She was the mother of four children, who was twenty-nine years old when he married her. At first she was reluctant to marry him, not because she did not like him, but because she had been deeply in love with her husband, was pregnant with his last child, and did not know how she would adjust to being a co wife. She had already turned down both Abu Bakr and Umar, who had offered to take her in.
The hadiths reveal her shyness; when the Blessed Prophet first used to visit her after their marriage, she used to pick up her baby daughter, and the Prophet (s) would leave her so that she could feed her. It took the persuasion of her foster brother, who found out about this, to persuade her to be at ease with the Prophet.
She was an intelligent woman and a good companion to the Prophet (s), and came to love him intensely. When he was dying, she prayed that God would take her or her whole family, if only He would spare him.
He often took her along with him on major campaigns, and she offered him valuable advice on several occasions (for example, it was she who suggested he make the sacrifice at Hudaybiyya when the Muslims were refused access to Makka); The famous ayats that mention the equality of male and female believers were revealed following her inquiry as to why it was the Quran rarely specified women believers. (See Sura 33:35.)
The Prophet’s only `cousin-marriage’ was to the strong willed Zaynab bint Jahsh, who despite her age of 39 is said by the historians to have been very beautiful. She had previously been brought up under the Prophet’s supervision, and had eventually married his freed slave and adopted son Zayd. Although the marriage did not finally succeed, this was an example of people from very different social backgrounds becoming equal in Islam. (It is important to notice how the Prophet (s) had quite deliberately not recommended cousin-marriage as his Sunna. Although he did eventually marry this cousin, Zaynab was his seventh wife – a long way from being first choice.)
We do not know how old Zaynab was when she married Zayd, but the Prophet may have arranged this marriage because he feared that she would never marry. It is possible that she had resisted marriage for so long because she had hoped to be married to her cousin, the Prophet (s), and may have been disappointed when she only married Zayd instead.
Following her divorce, the Prophet (s) was pressed to marry her himself, to resolve the situation. At this stage, he did not see how he could marry her, for he had regarded Zayd as his own son; but then Allah revealed a verse to confirm that an adopted son could never be considered in the same category as a blood relation, and the Prophet (s) was able to take Zaynab into his household.
It was on this particular wedding night that he became distressed when inconsiderate guests tactlessly stayed too long; the `verse of the Hijab’ was revealed that enabled him to separate his private quarters from public life, and gain a little privacy.
Juwayriyya was the daughter of al-Harith, the chief of the Mustaliq tribe. The tribe attacked the Muslims, but were defeated, and Juwayriyya was among the booty. She was allocated initially to alThabit ibn Qays. As the daughter of a chief, she did not wish to be the property of an ordinary soldier, and requested release on payment of ransom.
When Juwayriyya was brought to A’isha, A’isha said that her heart sank when she saw her, because she was so pretty. `By Allah, I had scarcely seen her in the doorway of my room before I disliked her!’ She recalled later: `I knew he would see her as I did.’
Sure enough, the Prophet (s) asked to marry her, and Juwayriyya accepted Islam; thus the enemy tribe became an ally. But A’isha is said to have always nurtured a certain jealousy towards her.
The Prophet’s marriage to Umm Habiba was very different. She was the daughter of Abu Sufyan, and hence the sister of the future caliph Mu’awiya, and the widow of the Prophet’s cousin Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh, Zaynab’s brother. Her mother Safiyya bint Abu’1-As was the sister of the father of the Blessed Prophet’s dear friend and son-in-law Uthman. Ubaydullah had migrated to Abyssinia with her, but there had apostasized and became a drunkard. When he died, the Negus of Abyssinia was distressed for her, and contacted the Prophet, who agreed to marry her himself. The wedding was performed by proxy. There was also a tradition that the people of Medina requested the Prophet (s) to marry her for she was a staunch Muslim, one of the earliest converts. They wished to spare her returning to the care of her then unbelieving father Abu Sufyan.
Little is known about Raihana of the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir. She was a prisoner of war seen by the Prophet, who offered to marry her if she accepted Islam. Some traditions claim that she never gave up her Jewish faith, and the Prophet (s) kept her as a maidservant. One day she did accept Islam, but by that time the verse limiting the number of wives had been revealed, and so he did not marry her. On the other hand, the historian Ibn Sa’ d claims that he did marry her after liberating her. Ibn Ishaq states that she died ten years before the Prophet (s), so one can only say about her life story that Allah knows best. Zaynab bint Huyayy, to whom the Prophet (s) gave the name Safiyya, was another Jewess, the seventeen-year-old daughter of an enemy of the Muslims. Huyayy, the chief of the Banu Nadir tribe traced his ancestry from the prophet Harun (Aaron). Her husband Kinana had earned notoriety for burying alive the brother of Muhammad ibn Maslama, who subsequently killed him in reprisal. She was chosen as a maid from the war booty by Dihya al-Kalbi, but as a chief’s daughter she also requested a more honour- able fate. The Blessed Prophet released her, and married her himself.
She is said to have been beautiful, and A’isha was again beset by a degree of jealousy. At first A’isha and the other wives made life difficult for her, agitating her with jibes. But the Blessed Prophet always took her side. When A’isha once said that she did not know what all the fuss was about since `one Jewess is much like another’, the Prophet rebuked her by saying: `Do not speak thus, for she has entered Islam and made good her Islam.’ When they taunted her about her father, the Prophet (s) taught her to reply: `My father is Harun and my uncle is Musa.’ Once, Zaynab refused to lend `that Jewess’ a camel, and the Prophet (s) defended the `Jewess’ by separating himself from Zaynab for several months. Safiyya became a close friend of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima, and in due course she and A’isha did become friends. In fact, A’isha, Hafsa and Safiyya formed a kind of `trio’. She never gave up all of her links with her Jewish relatives, however; and when she died she willed a third of her estate to her sister’s son. Although this was criticised, A’isha insisted that the bequest be upheld.
The Prophet’s final wife was the elderly widow Barra, the sister of the his uncle al-Abbas’s wife, who wished to mitigate her sufferings, and see her well placed. The Prophet changed her name to Maymuna. Her nephew was the famous warrior Khalid ibn al-Walid, who became a convert after the marriage.
When the Blessed Prophet was sixty years of age, Allah sent a revelation limiting the. number of a man’s wives to four (Quran 4:3); but as his existing wives had by now been declared Mothers of the Believers, he did not put them aside.
The Blessed Prophet was a human man, and his wives were human women. While their life together was focused on prayer, fasting, and spiritual advancement, their house was not a silent monastery. They knew many of the hurts and grief of married life as well as its joys. On two occasions there were major crises in his household: when A’isha was accused of adultery, and when he took Marya the Copt into his household.
The `event of the necklace’, which caused the Blessed Prophet so much grief, took place when A’isha, who had been accompanying the Prophet on a journey, got left behind by the caravan and was brought back by a young tribesman. This created consternation: those who disliked her influence with the Prophet (s) instantly accused her of adultery, and did not believe her when she explained that she had been searching for her favourite necklace when the caravan moved on.
Outraged and heartbroken, A’isha left the Prophet’s house and went to her parents, where she wept for two days. Her mother, Umm Ruman, tried to comfort her by pointing out that all beautiful women had to expect this kind of trouble. Her father, Abu Bakr, advised her to go back to the Prophet and be penitent. When the Prophet (s) saw her, he asked her to confess any sin, saying that even if she was guilty, God would forgive her.
With great dignity, she looked steadily at him and said she would never admit to something she had not done. Her duty was to show patience, and ask God for help. By the time she had finished speaking, the Revelation came and the Blessed Prophet was communing with God. Abu Bakr covered him with a mantle, while her mother waited fearfully for the result. When God confirmed her innocence, all three adults were overjoyed and relieved.
Although she was still only fourteen years old, she had become a proud and dignified Muslim woman, who represented the kind of wife who owed her allegiance to Allah alone. The Blessed Prophet did not resent this nor complain of it – for such was the teaching of Islam, and A’isha understood it well.
Any man who embarks on the adventure of polygamy knows that there will be tensions and stresses caused by the inescapable friction of more than one woman in the household. When the Muqawqis of Egypt sent the Prophet (s) two attractive Coptic Christian girls, the strain on the wives’ selfless acceptance of their husband’s wishes was considerable. Of course, taking a concubine was not regarded as in any way abnormal or wrong at the time; but any woman who loves her husband would feel disappointed if she felt that she had not been able to fill his loving thoughts entirely.
Tradition states that one of these girls, Shirin, was given to the Prophet’s friend Hassan ibn Thabit, while the second, Marya, was taken by the Prophet (s) to Umm Sulaym. As with the case of Raihana, it is not certain whether or not the Prophet married her. Some argue that the Prophet (s) did not take concubines but only wives; but many books number the Prophet’s wives as nine when he died, which would mean that Marya and Raihana were only concubines. Allah knows best. Ibn Abbas states that the Prophet (s) gave Marya a home with the Nafir tribe where he had some property, and she used to spend the summer there, where the Blessed Prophet would visit her.
Other traditions suggest that he visited Marya every day, and she soon became pregnant. None of the wives apart from Khadija had ever given the Blessed Prophet a child, although there is a tradition that A’isha once miscarried; and inevitably this caused stress. Tempers were strained, and about this time rows broke out in the household concerning the sharing out of the meager items of war spoils that they were allowed to have. Umar heard the racket coming from the women’s quarters, recognised the voices of A’isha and his daughter Hafsa, and was horrified. He was already worried that Hafsa was getting out of hand, and had told her to control her jealousy and accept the fact that she was not as beautiful as A’isha, and that if she provoked the Prophet (s) too much, he would cast her aside.
The women became so vociferous about Marya that the Prophet wearily promised not to go to her again. But things did not improve, and finally the atmosphere became so strained that the Prophet withdrew completely from all his wives, and went into seclusion.
The Muslim community was appalled, for this was no mere domestic crisis. Many political and tribal alliances would have been jeopardised if he divorced them.
At first the Prophet (s) refused to see even Umar, and when he finally admitted him to his room, Umar found him lying on a rush mat which had left marks imprinted on his cheek. In the end, the Prophet (s) received a revelation stating that he should give all his wives a free choice. The Verse of the Option (33:28-9) stipulated that they should either accept his terms and live the kind of Islamic life he required, giving him the time he needed for worship and the administration of the community, or, if they felt they could not do this, to take an amicable and blameless divorce.
The Blessed Prophet stayed away from his wives for a month. At the end of twenty-nine days, he ended his seclusion and went first to the house of A’isha, who greeted him with the words: `0 Allah’s Messenger, you said you would not come back for a month, but there is still a day to go. Only twenty-nine days have passed. I have been counting them one by one.’ The Prophet (s) pointed out that this month had only twenty-nine days. Then A’isha added: `Then Allah revealed the Verse of the Option. And out of all his wives, he asked me first; and I chose him.’
He gave this option to all his wives. Part of the `choice’ involved abandoning sexual relations with several of the wives for whom there was no physical attraction. Although the Blessed Prophet was a vigorous man, he was over sixty; yet he also realised that he needed to be just to all his wives in his marital relationship. Far from accepting that this was perfectly all right, and that they should just put up with things and be grateful that he had at least given them a home, he took their physical needs into account and did something about it.
The wives for whom he had never felt any physical attraction were given the opportunity to be released from marriage with him if they wished. But so much did they respect and love him, that they all chose to reestablish their non-sexual marriages with him rather than leave him. Their words were given, and peace was restored.
The Verse of the Option did not mention Marya at all, but concentrated on the attitude of the wives to luxury and worldly goods. The `apostle women’ agreed to sacrifice their material selfinterest, and earned their titles of Mothers of the Believers.
Marya gave birth to a son, who was given the name of the great Ibrahim, perhaps in recollection of that Patriarch who had founded the Arab tribes through his son Ismail. The Prophet and all the Muslims rejoiced, for his only previous sons, who had been children of Khadija, had died in infancy. Tragically, the same fate was to befall little Ibrahim.
All this must have been particularly painful for A’isha, for of all the Prophet’s wives, she seems to have been the only one who was childless. The others had all had children by their previous marriages. It seems that the Prophet (s) well understood her sense of `emptiness’, and the need to compensate, for he gave her the kunya- name Umm Abdallah, named after one of her sister’s sons.
At the time of the Option the Prophet (s) asked her to reflect very carefully before she agreed to stay with him, and he advised her to consult her father for his opinion. She proudly refused to do so. She did not even have to think: she chose Allah and His Messenger.
There is no doubt but that A’isha was the Prophet’s beloved, and that she genuinely loved him in the fullest sense. She used to stroke his hair with his favourite perfume, wash from the same bowl as him, drink from the same cup, and sleep wrapped in the same garment. His favourite position for relaxation was to lie with his head in her lap.