Muhammad, Lord of the Sent Ones?

The following incident concerns a lady called Sauda bint Zam’ah. She was first married to one of the early Muslims, as-Sakran ibn ‘Amr ibn ‘Abd Shams, who took her and seven of his friends and emigrated to Ethiopia to escape persecution. In Ethiopia Sauda’s husband died and she returned to her home land.

At about the same time Mohammad lost his first wife Khadijah.

Not long after, Mohammad married Sauda. No doubt because of their common experience, they could understand each other's pain and were able to comfort one another.

During the course of time Mohammad married other women. And before his death, he had nine wives.

Ibn Kathir, quoting Muslim, reported that Mohammad died leaving nine wives, but he used to apportion his days to only eight of the nine. This ninth wife was Sauda who gave her day to ‘Aisha.

وقال الشافعى : أخبرنا مسلم ، عن ابن جريج ، عن عطاء ، عن ابن عباس ، أن رسول الله (صلعم) توفى عن تسع نسوة ، وكان يقسم لثمان . (ابن كثير)

قال الشافعى رحمه الله : التاسعة التى لم يكن يقسم لها سودة ، وهبت يومها لعائشة ، أخبرنا سفيان ، عن هشام ، عن أبيه : أن سودة وهبت يومها لعائشة. (ابن كثير)

In spite of the long companionship Mohammad had with Sauda, the Hadith tells us that Sauda later on missed out on her privileges as a wife and a companion to Mohammad. Mohammad did not only stop fulfilling his obligations as a husband to Sauda, but he even stopped visiting her.

The authenticity of this report is undeniable. For example Bukhari reported:

Narrated ‘Aisha that Sauda bint Zam’ah gave up her turn to ‘Aisha, and so the prophet used to give ‘Aisha both her day and the day of Sauda.[1]

عن عائشة : أن سودة بنت زمعة وهبت يومها لعائشة ، وكان النبى (صلعم) يقسم لعائشة بيومها ويوم سودة . (بخارى عربي انجليزى : الجزء السابع : كتاب النكاح ، حديث 139)

But why would Sauda give up her privileges and the company of the only man in her life to ‘Aisha?

We find the answer in most commentaries on Q. 4:128:

"If a woman fears rebelliousness or aversion in her husband, there is no fault in them if the couple set things right between them; right settlement is better; and souls are very prone to avarice."

"وإن امراةٌ خافت من بعلها نشوزاً أو إعراضاً فلا جناح عليهما أن يصلحا بينهما صلحاً..." (النساء : 128)

Of the above verse Ibn Kathir said:

"If the wife fears that her husband might reject her, or avoid her, she might give up all or some of her rights concerning financial support or clothing or housing or such other rights against him, and he can accept these concessions from her. There is no fault on her for giving up her rights and there is no fault on him if he accepts her concessions. This is why the Most High said: (there is no fault in them if the couple set things right between them) then He said: (right settlement is better) than separation... this is why, when Sauda bint Zam’ah became old, the Prophet of Allah decided to divorce her. She besought him to keep her in return of giving up her day to ‘Aisha. So he accepted her offer and did not divorce her.

... on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas who said: Sauda feared that the Prophet of Allah might divorce her, so she said to him: O Prophet of Allah, do not divorce me, and my day shall belong to ‘Aisha. So he did and that verse Q. 4:128 was revealed."

قال ابن كثير:

ما إذا خافت المرأة من زوجها أن ينفر عنها ، أو يعرض عنها ، فلها أن تسقط حقها أو بعضه ، من نفقة أو كسوة ، أو مبيت ، أو غير ذلك من الحقوق عليه ، وله أن يقبل ذلك منها فلا جناح عليها فى بذلها ذلك له ، ولا عليه فى قبوله منها ، ولهذا قال تعالى : (فلا جناح عليهما أن يصالحا بينهم صلحا) . ثم قال : (والصلح خير) ، أى : من الفراق ... ولهذا لما كبرت سودة بنت زمعة عزم رسول الله (صلعم) على فراقها . فصالحته على أن يمسكها ، وتترك يومها لعائشة ، فقبل ذلك منها وأبقاها على ذلك .

ذكر الرواية بذلك . قال أبو داود الطيالسى : حدثنا سليمان بن معاذ ، عن سماك بن حرب ، عن عكرمة ، عن ابن عباس قال خشيت سودة أن يطلقها رسول الله (صلعم) ، فقالت يا رسول الله ، لا تطلقنى واجعل يومى لعائشة . ففعل ، ونزلت هذه الآية . (ابن كثير) (هذا الحديث رواه الترمذى وقال هذا حديث حسن صحيح غريب)

Why did the Prophet of Allah want to divorce Sauda? And if he did not want to divorce her why did she fear him divorcing her so that she gave up her day to ‘Aisha? What was her fault?

There was no fault on Sauda’s part except that she became old according to Ibn Kathir.

Some reports say that Mohammad did actually divorce Sauda but she negotiated a settlement with him which he accepted.

Al-Qasim ibn Abi Beza said the prophet sent to Sauda a message divorcing her. So she waited for the prophet on his way to ‘Aisha. When she saw him she said I implore you by Him who revealed His words to you and chose you above all his creation why did you divorce me. I have become old and have no need of men but I wish to be resurrected amongst your wives in the last day. So he changed his mind and she said I have given my day and night to [‘Aisha] the prophet’s beloved... (See Ibn Kathir on Q. 4:128)

حدثنا القاسم بن أبى بزة قال: بعث النبى صلعم الى سودة بنت زمعة بطلاقها، فلما أن أتاها جلست له على طريق عائشة فلما رأته قالت له: أنشدك بالذى أنزل عليك كلامه واصطفاك على خلقه لِما راجعتنى، فإنى قد كبرت ولا حاجة لى فى الرجال، [لكن أريد أن] أبعث مع نسائك يوم القيامة. فراجعها فقالت: إنى قد جعلت يومى وليلتى لحبة رسول الله ...(أبن كثير فى سورة النساء:128، وطبقات ابن سعد الجزء الثانى ص 36)

Others say that he did not divorce her but only wanted to.

What is certain though is that Sauda gave up her day to ‘Aisha.

But why would any woman give up her share of her only husband to another woman?

To get a fuller picture of the above incident let us look at what the commentators said about Q. 4:128.

Of Q. 4:128 Razi said:

"Some said: ‘(Feared)’ meaning ‘knew’, others said: ‘(feared)’ meaning ‘thought’. But all that is ignoring the obvious for no reason. What is meant (by feared) is fear itself. But fear does not happen unless there are signs indicating fear. These signs here are that the man says to his wife you are ugly or you are old and I want to marry a beautiful youthful woman... the (rebelliousness or aversion) of the husband against the rights of the woman is to avoid her, looks angry when looking her in the face, deserts her sexually and mistreats her."

كتب الرازى : قال بعضهم : خافت أى علمت ، وقال آخرون : ظنت ، وكل ذلك ترك للظاهر من غير حاجة ، بل المراد نفس الخوف إلا أن الخوف لا يحصل إلا عند ظهور الإمارات الدالة على وقوع الخوف ، وتلك الإمارات هنا أن يقول الرجل لامرأته إنك دميمة أو شيخة وإنى أريد أن أتزوج شابة جميلة ... ونشوز الرجل فى حق المرأة أن يعرض عنها ويعبس فى وجهها ويترك مجامعتها ويسئ عشرتها . (الرازى فى تفسير سورة النساء : 128)

Did Mohammad treat Sauda as Razi commented? Sauda must have seen the writing on the wall so she decided to salvage some protection from Mohammad.

Ibn Kathir also said:

"Concerning Q. 4:128 ‘Aisha said: ‘It concerns the man who has two wives. One of them has become old or is ugly and he does not like her company much, so she says: "Do not divorce me, and you are free from your obligations towards me."’" This Hadith is established in the Two Sahihs. What the verse seems to say that their reconciliation, on the condition that she gives up some of her rights, and the acceptance of the husband of that is better than complete separation, just as the Prophet kept Sauda on the condition that she gave her day to ‘Aisha and did not divorce her but kept her amongst his wives and this was done in order that his nation might take him as their example and that this act is lawful and permissible."

عن عائشة في قوله : "وإن امرأة خافت من بعلها نشوزاً أو إعراضاً فلا جناح عليهما أن يصلحا بينهما صلحاً..." (النساء : 128) قالت هو الرجل يكون له المرأتان إحداهما قد كبرت أو هي دميمة ، وهو لا يستكثر منها ، فتقول لا تطلقني ، وأنت فى حل من شأنى . وهذا الحديث ثابت فى الصحيحين .

والظاهر من الآية أن صلحهما على ترك بعض حقها للزوج ، وقبول الزوج ذلك ، خير من المفارقة بالكلية، كما أمسك النبى (صلعم) سودة بنت زمعة على أن تركت يومها لعائشة رضى الله عنها ، ولم يفارقها بل تركها من جملة نسائه ، وفعله ذلك لتتأسى به امته فى مشروعية ذلك وجوازه . (ابن كثير)

Indeed the nation of Mohammad has imitated him. Razi informs us:

This verse was revealed first in Ibn abi as-Sa’ib who had a wife and children from her and she became old so he was about to divorce her, but she said: Do not divorce me, and let me look after my children and apportion a few nights for me every month. The husband said: If this is so, it is better for me. The second was that the Prophet wanted to divorce Sauda bint Zam’ah but she besought him to keep her on the condition that she would give up her day to ‘Aisha, and he allowed that and did not divorce her. The third is reported on ‘Aisha that it concerns the man who has a wife but he wants to replace her, so she says: Keep me and marry someone else and you are free from supporting me and apportioning your nights to me.

ذكر المفسرون فى سبب نزول الآية وجوها : الاول : عن ابن عباس أن الآية نزلت فى ابن أبى السائب كانت له زوجة وله منها أولاد وكانت شيخة فهم بطلاقها ، فقالت لا تطلقنى ودعنى أشتغل بمصالح أولادى واقسم فى كل شهر ليالى قليلة، فقال الزوج: ان كان الأمر كذلك فهو أصلح لى. والثانى أنها نزلت فى قصة سودة بنت زمعة أراد النبى عليه الصلاة والسلام أن يطلقها، فالتمست أن يمسكها ويجعل نوبتها لعائشة، فأجاز النبى عليه الصلاة والسلام ذلك ولم يطلقها. والثالث: روي عن عائشة انها قالت: نزلت فى المرأة تكون عند الرجل ويريد أن يستبدل بها غيرها فتقول: أمسكنى وتزوج بغيرى، وأنت فى حل من النفقة والقسم. (الرازى)

And here is what Ibn al-’Arabi, a great Muslim scholar has said:

"... when Sauda bint Zam’ah became old, the Prophet of Allah wanted to divorce her. However, she preferred to remain amongst his wives, so she said, ‘Keep me, and my day shall belong to ‘Aisha’, and he did, and thus she died as one of his wives. Ibn Abi Malikah declared that this verse was revealed regarding ‘Aisha. And in this verse is the answer to those light headed fools who say that if a man took the youth of a woman and she became old he cannot replace her. So praise be to Allah who lifted such burden and made an escape from such dilemma.[2]

"...سودة بنت زمعة لما أسنّت أراد النبى (صلعم) أن يطلقها فآثرت السكون مع زوجاته . فقالت له : امسكنى واجعل يومى لعائشة ، ففعل صلى الله عليه وسلم وماتت وهى من أزواجه . وقد صرح ابن أبى مليكة بذلك فقال : نزلت هذه الآية فى عائشة . وفى هذه الآية ردٌ على الرّعن [الاغبياء] الذين يرون الرجل إذا أخذ شباب المرأة وأسنت لا ينبغى له أن يتبدل بها ، فالحمد لله الذى رفع حرَجا وجعل من هذه الضيقة مخرَجا . (أحكام القرآن لابى بكر محمد بن عبد الله المعروف بابن العربى ، فى تفسير سورة النساء : 128 ، دار الكتب العلمية)

So the nation of Mohammad innocently and completely has imitated his action, and did not forget to give Allah the praise.

Dr bint ash-Shati’ the author of the book The Wives of the Prophet (nisaa’ an-Nabi) described Sauda as an unattractive old widow and over weight.[3] (Bukhari tells us that Sauda was a tall,[4] fat and very slow lady.[5])

Dr bint ash-Shati’ described the matrimonial relationship between Mohammad and Sauda in the following words: "Sauda realised from the experience of her age that there is an insurmountable barrier between her and the heart of Mohammad ... and she realised without a doubt that her share of the prophet is one of mercy and kindness, not love, harmony and oneness."[6]

تصف الدكتورة بنت الشاطئ مولفة كتاب "نساء النبى" سودة أنها كانت أرملة، مسنة، غير ذات جمال ثقيلة الجسم. ويخبرنا الحديث أنها كانت ضخمة؟؟...

وتصف الدكتورة بنت الشاطئ طبيعة العلاقة الزوجية بين محمد وسودة فى هذه الكلمات: "أدركت سودة بتجربة سنها أن بينها وبين قلب محمد-صلى الله عليه وسلم- حاجزا لا سبيل إلى اقتحامه...وأيقنت دون ريب، أن حظها من الرسول بر ورحمة، لا حب وتآلف وامتزاج...

If there was no love, harmony and oneness why did Mohammad marry Sauda in the first place?

And if there was no love, harmony and oneness, where is the mercy?

Dr bint ash-Shati’said that Khola bint Hakim was the one who suggested to Mohammad marring Sauda and ‘Aisha who was seven years old at the time. After mentioning ‘Aisha, "Mohammad commented at her suggestion saying: ‘but who will look after the house and who will serve the daughters of the prophet?’" At this Khola suggested the marriage of Sauda... and the prophet agreed. "And Sauda was completely satisfied to take her place in the house of the prophet and to serve his daughters."[7]

تقول الدكتورة بنت الشاطئ أن خولة بنت حكيم السلمية هي التى اقترحت زواج الرسول لعائشة وسودة بعد وفاة خديجة. فبعد أن فاتحت خولة الرسول فى زواج عائشة التي كان عمرها فى ذلك الوقت سبع سنين قال لها الرسول: "لكن من للبيت يرعي شؤنه ومن لبنات الرسول يخدمهن؟" وهنا اقترحت خولة سودة بنت زمعة بن قيس بن عبد شمس ابن عبد ود العامرية فأذن لها الرسول في خطبتهما...

وأرضي سودة كل الرضي أن تأخذ مكانها في بيت رسول الله، وأن تخدم بناته...

Now the picture is clear; ‘Aisha became the love of Mohammad, and Sauda became the servant of the daughters of the prophet. And after so many years where Sauda cooked, washed, mended, served the prophet and his daughters and comforted the prophet in his sorrows after the death of his first wife, when Sauda became old Mohammad wanted to divorce her for no reason except that she became old and unattractive.

وهكذا صارت عائشة حبيبة رسول الله، وصارت سودة خادمة بنات رسول الله.

وبعد أن طبخت وغسلت ورتقت و خدمت رسول الله وبناته ، وواسته فى أحزانه بعد أن فقد خديجة، عندما أسنّت سودة بنت زمعة أراد محمد رسول الله أن يطلقها لا لسبب ما إلا أنها قد شاخت.

The Qur’an speaks of love and tenderness between husbands and wives in the following words:

Of His signs it is that He has created mates for you of your own kind that you may find peace of mind through them, and He has put love and tenderness between you. (Q. 30:21)

The above incident gives us an idea about the meaning and the limitations of this love and tenderness spoken of by the Qur’an.

Where is the love and the mercy spoken of by the Qur’an in the incident of Sauda? Should Mohammad be judged by the Qur’an or is Mohammad above the Quran?

The author of a standard text book on Islamic law wrote:

What some men of lust who have no moral values do, in divorcing their wives without a reason, is a thing that is not stated nor approved by Islam. And Allah must take vengeance on such men in this life and the next.[8]

فما يفعله بعض الشهويين الذين لا خلاق لهم من تطليق زوجاتهم بدون سبب لا يقره الدين الاسلامى ولا يرضاه، ولابد أن ينتقم الله من هؤلاء فى الدنيا وفى الآخرة. (الفقه على المذاهب الأربعة، عبد الرحمن الجزيرى، الجزء الرابع، ص 278)

The above statement sounds beautiful and reasonable until we read a few pages later the following words by the same author: "[Divorce is permissible] if the reason was the unsuitability of the woman for enjoyment due to certain defects in her or due to old age or such things."[9]

...إذا كان السبب عدم صلاحية المرأة للاستمتاع، بسبب عيوب قائمة بها أو كبر أو نحو ذلك. (الفقه على المذاهب الأربعة، عبد الرحمن الجزيرى، الجزء الرابع، ص 281)

Divorcing one’s wife because of old age is permissible and acceptable within the scope of being good to one’s wife; even considered to be the best standard, for Mohammad described himself as the best husband and the Qur’an says of Mohammad "Thou dost most surely posses high moral excellence. Q. 68:4.

"وإنك لعلى خُلُقٍ عظيم." (سورة القلم:4)

And on the other hand the "Qur’an was Mohammad’s character" as one Hadith says.

But Dr bint ash-Shati’s excuse for Mohammad’s behavior is that he was a mere human being. So the Qur’an was his character and he also was a mere human being. The equation is clear enough for all to see.

  1. Bukhari, the Book of Nikah, Hadith No. 139.
  2. Ahkam al-Qur'an, Abi Bakr Ibn 'Abd Allah known as Ibn al-'Arabi, Dar al-Kotob al-'Elmeyah, commenting on Q. 4:128.
  3. Nisaa' 'an-Nabi, Dr. Bint ash-Shati', Dar al-Kitab al-'Arabi, 1985, p. 62, 67.
  4. Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 4, Hadith No. 148.
  5. Bukhari, Vol. 2, Book 26, Hadith No. 740.
  6. Nisaa' 'an-Nabi, Dr. Bint ash-Shati', Dar al-Kitab al-'Arabi, 1985, p. 64.
  7. Nisaa' 'an-Nabi, Dr. Bint ash-Shati', Dar al-Kitab al-'Arabi, 1985, p. 64.
  8. 'Abd ar-Rahman al-Gaziri, al-Fiqh 'ala al-Mazahib al-Arba'a, Dar al-Kutub al-'Elmeyah, 1990, vol. 4, p. 278.
  9. 'Abd ar-Rahman al-Gaziri, al-Fiqh 'ala al-Mazahib al-Arba'a, Dar al-Kutub al-'Elmeyah, 1990, vol. 4, p. 281.

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