The first generation of Muslims surely regarded the Prophet's comportment and way of life as a model they endeavored to emulate, because he was God’s spokesman in their midst and also their divinely appointed leader to whom they had pledged obedience. The notion of the Prophet's personal peerlessness expanded and intensified after his death when the victorious wars of conquest that led to the foundation of a vast Muslim empire were triumphant proof of the truth of Muhammad's mission. Within the newly expanded realm of Islam, later generations of Muslims, most of them not of Arab stock, came to see the Prophet in terms of a personal infallibility and sinlessness that had not been perceived by his contemporaries in Mecca and Medinah. The Hadith is both a record of what Muhammad actually said and did and also a record of what his community in the first two centuries of Islamic history believed that he said and did. Thus, the Hadith has been called "a guide to understanding the historical Muhammad as well as a guide to understanding the evolution of Muslim piety from the seventh to the ninth centuries." Even in the authenticated Hadith, "history" and "example" were intertwined in that the compilers' intent and methodology were not to record historical data per se but to institutionalize Muhammad's exemplary behavior for the benefit of the community.
The transformation of Muhammad's historic personality into ideal persona is, in part, reflected in the proliferation, content, and function of early Islamic Prophetic hagiography. Gordon Newby has recently shown the influence of Jewish and Christian hagiography and prophetology (qua isra'iliyyat traditions) on the Prophet's sacred biography. During the second quarter of the eighth century (beginning of the second century of the Islamic calendar), Islam began to pull back from such influences as part of pervasive spiritual and intellectual processes that, within the parameters of the formation of Islamic law, elaborated the notion that the Prophet's way of life was Sunnah (sacred precedent and impeccable model). The latter principle was made the cornerstone of legal theory by Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi'i (d. 819/20) who, on the basis of Qur'an, Surah An-Nur, 24:52 (divine command to obey God and His Prophet) declared that the Prophet's actions were tacitly inspired, beyond human questioning, a source of the divine will complementary to the Qur'an, and therefore an infallible "source," or "root," of the law. In tandem with other factors, this development in Islamic legal theory necessitated the excision of Biblerelated foreign "inspirational" models of prophethood and also established the need for greater vigilance in Hadith transmission, especially regarding isra'iliyyat materials. Thus, it was the adoption of the Prophet as authority of law that in the generations after al-Shafi'i called forth the great medieval effort of full-scale Hadith criticism and the "sifting out" of the authentic Hadith. The latter was compiled in the ninth century (third century of the Islamic calendar) by a number of renowned traditionists, six among whom authored collections that the Muslim community accepted as authentic, or "sound" (sahih).
Among the six, Bukhari (d. 870) and Muslim (d. 875) are held in special esteem. By their time, Hadith proliferation had reached such dimensions that of the 600,000 traditions which he examined, for instance, Bukhari is said to have retained as authentic only 7257, when the repetitions, which number 4000, are eliminated. The science of Hadith criticism paid great attention to the question of soundness of "chain of transmitters" (sanad, isnad) of each tradition, including reliability of each transmitting authority as examined in biographical dictionaries such as the Kitab al-tabaqat al-kabir of Ibn Sa'd (d. 845).
While critiquing the authorities, the works of biographical history themselves were, however, less exclusive (i.e., less rigid in the criteria applied) than the authenticated collections that were compiled mainly for legal purposes. Nevertheless, even in Bukhari and Muslim and other Sahih collections, contradictory traditions abound that give both sides of an argument, with the noteworthy exception of traditions on some women's issues-especially regarding matters of social status and rights - in which only one side of the argument, the restrictive, is documented.
Similar developments are recognizable in the copious Hadith materials on the Prophet's wives. Although their status and importance, of course, never matched the Prophet's, the women's Qur'an-established rank, also their role as the Prophet's helpmates and supporters in his mission to preach and implement God's truth, and, finally, their intimate involvement with the righteous Prophet in all of the minutiae of daily life elevated them even during their lifetime to a level of prestige above the community's other females. This special status grew loftier with the progression of time when Muslim piety came to view the women of the Prophet's household as models for emulation. Eventually, the Prophet's wives' behavior as recorded in the traditions was likewise recognized as Sunnah that furnished many of the criteria of what was lawful (halal) or forbidden (haram) for Muslims, especially Muslim women. These criteria were then codified (qua examples) in the works of early Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh).
The Hadith, however, portrays the Prophet's wives in several distinctive ways; that is, the women appear in a number of conflicting sets of personae. On the one hand, they emerge as perfect exemplars of their sex regarding virtue and righteousness. On the other hand, they are portrayed as embodiments of female emotionalism, irrationality, greed, and rebelliousness. As discussed below, these divergent "images" of the Prophet's wives appear in the Hadith as functionally convergent. That is to say, the "images" as recorded/transmitted by the medieval scholars of Islam provided both the paradigm for the limits that needed to be placed on women's roles in religion and society, and also their justification, that is, scripturalist proof of "women's nature." In the scholars' formulation, then, the Qur'anic revelations of restriction directed at (and obeyed by) the Prophet's wives were made applicable to all Muslim women, while the human frailties of Muhammad's wives, which the Qur'an had sought to rectify, were maintained (indeed, highlighted) as symbolic for all that was wrong with the female sex.
What follows is a representative sampling and classification of the Hadith, here mainly culled from the eighth volume of Ibn Sa'd's (d. 845) Kitab al-tabaqat al-kabir, entitled fi Al-Nisa' ("On the Women"). The material available in this and other Hadith collections constitutes three different categories, here entitled: (1) the Prophet's wives as "ordinary women"; (2) the Prophet's wives in early Hadith hagiography; and (3) the Prophet's wives as paragons of virtue and models for emulation by all Muslim women. Of these, the second category is largely linked to the legacy of the qussas (popular tellers of pious lore). The first and third are complex mixtures of history and "image," in which close reading can discover concerns and experiences of the early community as understood by medieval traditionalist scholarship; in addition, the third also bears the imprint of development of the terms of Islamic law.
Our approach to the Hadith on the Prophet's wives is to report the traditions in all their variety in order to be able to investigate the modes of their deployment both medieval and also modern. The literary analysis approach pursued here aims to discover paradigmatic meanings of the text and their symbolic functions. The Hadith on the Prophet's wives signifies both itself and also something else. As text, it presents "images" of the Prophet's consorts. As subtext, these images are meaningful in relation to the society of their first formulation and also the societies to which they then were (or are) applied by way of instruction, explanation, to legitimate the status quo or establish the validity of a new paradigm. At present, new uses of the authenticated Hadith on the Prophet's wives often involve some reformulation or tacit, selective elimination of established traditions. But innovation has recently also yielded some direct textual criticism of authenticated texts by Muslim scholarship undertaken with the techniques of classical hermeneutics, that is, by way of proof of unreliability of transmitters of a given item.
An earlier and shorter version of this and the next chapter appeared in The Muslim World, vol. 82, nos. 1-2 (1992), pp. 1-36.
Bulky segments of the classical Hadith portray the Prophet's wives as "ordinary women" possessed and motivated by petty jealousies. It is noteworthy that these "anecdotal" household hadiths make up such a large segment of classical Muslim literature on the Mothers of the Believers. Why is it that pious tradition has lavished so much attention on the details of the domestic intrigues, squabbles, jealousies, envies, and other human foibles of the Prophet's wives? Traditions depicting the women as "ordinary females" may, firstly, stem from the Hadith's exegetic function by which the Qur'anic materials of rebuke and censure directed at Muhammad's wives were legitimate topics for pious concern. Secondly, the women's family ties, hence their relations with rival political cadres in early Muslim history, in all likelihood made them fitting targets for enhancing, or, conversely, disparaging detail. Thirdly, the Hadith also developed what may be called a "typology of pettiness" that employed the theme of the women's jealousy in formulaic fashion to "explain" a number of occurrences whose original nature was unknown, or unacceptable, to later Muslim traditionists. Some of the jealousy accounts, then, may be "encodings" of events and practices known only to the original source and transmitter. Fourthly, the fact that scholarly consensus continued to support and make great use of these traditions is related to the generally low opinion of women's nature expressed in medieval religious literature as a whole. Indeed, in its function of providing exegetic material and also raw legal data, the medieval Hadith on the Prophet's wives may well have served in several ways toward the medieval institutionalization of a decline in women's societal rank and obtainable legal rights. By emphasizing the ambiguity (or, two-sidedness) of the materials on the female elite of Islam, the Prophet's wives, whose scripturalist personae it presented as partially flawed, the Hadith in fact questioned the equality of male and female in the early community; in all justice and by necessity, then, the laws governing women's lives had to be more restrictive. Even the Prophet's wives' "image" as blameless saintly women did not substantially alter this state of affairs because (by the consensus of the scholars of Islam) it failed to eradicate the other.
It is symptomatic of a new age and debate on women's questions, then, that modern and contemporary Muslim literature on the Prophet's consorts has largely excized the "anecdotal" materials so copious in Ibn Sa'd and other medieval sources. The same applies, at least in part, to the hagiographic dimension. Excepting the works of popular piety (often with a Sufi bent) and others of general conservative-inspirational character, contemporary Muslim literature now de-emphasizes the miraculous experiences of the Prophet's wives, just as it also de-emphasizes their all-too-human frailties. It is as fighters for the establishment of Islamic values, and there mainly by way of their impeccable morality and manner of life, that the Mothers of the Believers are now depicted; as such, they embody that model behavior the contemporary Muslim woman can recognize and must strive to follow. 
 The Qur'an enjoins obedience to the Prophet (e.g., Surah An-Nur, 24:52) and also calls him "the beautiful model" (Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:21), "of noble nature" (Surah Al-Qalam, 68:4), blessed by God and His angels (Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:56), sent "as a mercy for [or, to] the worlds" (Surah Al-Anbiya’, 21:107).
 The Prophet's cosmic significance and concomitant role of savior of his community later came to be essential aspects of Sufi doctrine and piety. Cf Annemarie Schimmel, And Muhammad is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), esp. pp. 24-175; also Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "Shiism and Sufism," in Shiism: Doctrines, Thought, and Spirituality, ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Hamid Dabashi, and Seyyed Yali Reza Nasr (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988) pp. 100 -108. On similar doctrines concerning the innate nature of the Prophet and his descendants in Shiism, cf Nasr, Shiism, pp. 127-187.
 Tarif Khalidi, Classical Arab Islam (Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1985), p. 36.
 Cf. ibid., pp. 36-37.
 Gordon D. Newby, The Making of the Last Prophet (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989), pp. 1-32.
 N. J. Coulson, A History of Islamic Law(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1964), pp. 55ff; and Gordon D. Newby, "Tafsir Isra'iliyyat," Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 47, no. 4S (1979), pp. 694-695.
 Newby, "Isra'iliyyat," p. 695.
 The other four compilers of Sahih collections are: Abu Da'ud (d. 888), al-Tirmidhi (d. 892), Ibn Maja (d. 896), and al-Nisa'i (d. 915).
 Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Isma'il al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, ed. with "marginal commentary" by al-Sindi (Cairo: Dar ihya' al-kutub al-arabiyya, n.d.) vol. 1, p. 1.
 For additional samples of traditions taken from Ibn Sa'd's Tabaqat, cf the exegetic materials quoted in the first segment of this chapter. This source is identified as Ibn Sa'd, Nisa' in the following narrative text and in its footnotes. Ibn Sa'd's Hadith collection was chosen here because of the fact that that author's interest lay mainly with writing biographical history, not a text for legal or theological purposes. He thus strove to give all points of view, contradictory though they often were, which in turn gives access to a greater number of early Muslim opinions than would be provided in a law-oriented Hadith collection.
 For example, Mernissi's feminist "deconstruction" of several classical mysogynist traditions transmitted by the Prophet's contemporaries Abu Bakra and Abu Hurayra (Veil, pp. 49-81).
 Many of these "household traditions" might, therefore, be read in relation to larger, as well as later, sociopolitical communal developments. This applies, for instance, to the many traditions that elevate A'isha (Muhammad's wife and Abu Bakr's daughter) at the expense of Fatima (Muhammad's daughter and Ali ibn Abi Talib's wife), or Fatima at the expense of A'isha, Similar valuation/devaluation traditions exist on several other individuals of the Prophet's household.
 An example of this genre of medieval "reformulation" may be found in the traditions transmitted on the institution of hiba ("marriage offered by a woman without participation of a guardian or expectation of a dower"); this institution, presented above under Qur'an 33:50, is further pursued by way of the Hadith in what follows. Another example is constituted by the traditions which indicate that the Prophet's wives showed a special kind of jealousy toward Muhammad's wives of Jewish origin, and also his Coptic concubine; cf below.
 The images of the Prophet's wives in modern and contemporary Muslim literature are discussed below in the final segment of this chapter.
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