“And We sent messengers before you, and We assigned to them wives and offspring.” (Qur’an, Surah Ar-Ra'd, 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 (Peace be upon him) 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 (Peace be upon him) 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 (Peace be upon him), 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 (Peace be upon him): 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'l Asad 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 (UmmHabiba, widow of Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh, aged 36-37); Safiyya bintHuyayy (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 (Peace be upon him) 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 (Peace be upon him) cannot have had a physical relationship with the older ladies that Khadija did not marry the Prophet (Peace be upon him) 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 (Peace be upon him) 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 (Peace be upon him) 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.' (Reported by 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 (Peace be upon him) 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(Peace be upon him) 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 (Peace be upon him), 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 (Peace be upon him) 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 (Peace be upon him) 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 (Peace be upon him). 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.)
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