Muhammad’s Multiplicity of Marriages

Sam Shamoun

The Quran limits the number of wives that a Muslim can have to four:

If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice. S. 4:3

On at least two occasions Muhammad forced certain man who had more than four wives to divorce some of them:

Narrated Abdullah ibn Umar
Ghaylan ibn Salamah ath-Thaqafi accepted Islam and that he had ten wives in the pre-Islamic period who accepted Islam along with him; so the Prophet (peace be upon him) told him to keep four and separate from the rest of them.
Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah transmitted it. (Al-Tirmidhi, Number 945 taken from the Alim CD-ROM Version)

Narrated Al-Harith ibn Qays al-Asadi
I embraced Islam while I had eight wives. So I mentioned it to the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Select four of them. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 12, Number 2233)

Yet Muhammad failed to live up to his own standards since he had more than 4 wives and didn’t treat them all fairly:

O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the captives of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makkah) with thee; and any believing woman who gives herself to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her;- this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess;- in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Thou mayest defer (the turn of) any of them that thou pleasest, and thou mayest receive any thou pleasest: and there is no blame on thee if thou invite one whose (turn) thou hadst set aside. This were nigher to the cooling of their eyes, the prevention of their grief, and their satisfaction - that of all of them - with that which thou hast to give them: and Allah knows (all) that is in your hearts: and Allah is All- Knowing, Most Forbearing. It is not lawful for thee (to marry more) women after this, nor to change them for (other) wives, even though their beauty attract thee, except any thy right hand should possess (as handmaidens): and Allah doth watch over all things. S. 33:50-52

The hadiths state:

Narrated Qatada:
Anas bin Malik said, "The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were ELEVEN IN NUMBER." I asked Anas, "Had the Prophet the strength for it?" Anas replied, "We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men)." And Sa'id said on the authority of Qatada that Anas had told him about nine wives only (not eleven). (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 5, Number 268)

Narrated 'Ata:
We presented ourselves along with Ibn 'Abbas at the funeral procession of Maimuna at a place called Sarif. Ibn 'Abbas said, "This is the wife of the Prophet so when you lift her bier, do not Jerk it or shake it much, but walk smoothly because the Prophet had NINE WIVES and he used to observe the night turns with eight of them, AND FOR ONE OF THEM THERE WAS NO NIGHT TURN." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 5)

Narrated Anas bin Malik:
The Prophet used to pass by (have sexual relation with) all his wives in one night, and at that time he had NINE wives. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 142)

One modern Muslim biographer of Muhammad provides the names of his wives and concubines:

The Prophetic Household

  1. Khadijah Bint Khuwailid: In Makkah — prior to Hijra — the Prophet’s household comprised him [pbuh] and his wife Khadijah bint Khuwailid. He was twenty-five and she was forty when they got married. She was the first woman he married. She was the only wife he had till she died. He had sons and daughters with her. None of their sons lived long. They all died. Their daughters were Zainab, Ruqaiya, Umm Kulthum and Fatimah.

    Zainab was married to her maternal cousin Abu Al-‘As bin Al-Rabi‘ and that was before Al-Hijra. Ruqaiya and Umm Kulthum were both married to ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan successively (i.e. he married one after the death of her sister). Fatimah was married to ‘Ali bin Abi Talib; and that was in the period between Badr and Uhud battles. The sons and daughters that Fatimah and ‘Ali had were Al-Hasan, Al-Husain, Zainab and Umm Kulthum.

    It is well-known that the Prophet [pbuh] was exceptionally authorized to have more than four wives for various reasons. The wives he married were thirteen. Nine of them outlived him. Two died in his lifetime: Khadijah and the Mother of the poor (Umm Al-Masakeen) — Zainab bint Khuzaima, besides two others with whom he did not consummate his marriage.

  2. Sawdah bint Zam‘a: He married her in Shawwal, in the tenth year of Prophethood, a few days after the death of Khadijah. Prior to that, she was married to a paternal cousin of hers called As-Sakran bin ‘Amr.

  3. ‘Aishah bint Abu Bakr: He married her in the eleventh year of Prophethood, a year after his marriage to Sawdah, and two years and five months before Al-Hijra. She was six years old when he married her. However, he did not consummate the marriage with her till Shawwal seven months after Al-Hijra, and that was in Madinah. She was nine then. She was the only virgin he married, and the most beloved creature to him. As a woman she was the most learnd woman in jurisprudence.

  4. Hafsah bint ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab: She was Aiyim (i.e. husbandless). Her ex-husband was Khunais bin Hudhafa As-Sahmi in the period between Badr and Uhud battles. The Messenger of Allh [pbuh] married her in the third year of Al-Hijra.

  5. Zainab bint Khuzaimah: She was from Bani Hilal bin ‘Amir bin Sa‘sa‘a. Was nicknamed Umm Al-Masakeen, because of her kindness and care towards them. She used to be the wife of ‘Abdullah bin Jahsh, who was martyred at Uhud, was married to the Prophet [pbuh] in the fourth year of Al-Hijra, but she died two or three months after her marriage to the Messenger of Allh [pbuh].

  6. Umm Salamah Hind bint Abi Omaiyah: She used to be the wife of Abu Salamah, who died in Jumada Al-Akhir, in the fourth year of Al-Hijra. The Messenger of Allh [pbuh] married her in Shawwal of the same year.

  7. Zainab bint Jahsh bin Riyab: She was from Bani Asad bin Khuzaimah and was the Messenger’s paternal cousin. She was married to Zaid bin Haritha — who was then considered son of the Prophet [pbuh] . However, Zaid divorced her. Allh sent down some Qur’nic verses with this respect:

    "So when Zaid had accomplished his desire from her (i.e., divorced her), We gave her to you in marriage." [Al-Qur'an 33:37]

    About her, Allh has sent down some verses of Al-Ahzab Chapter that discussed the adoption of children in detail — anyway we will discuss this later. The Messenger of Allh [pbuh] married her in Dhul-Qa‘dah, the fifth year of Al-Hijra.

  8. Juwairiyah bint Al-Harith: Al-Harith was the head of Bani Al-Mustaliq of Khuza‘ah. Juwairiyah was among the booty that fell to the Muslims from Bani Al-Mustaliq. She was a portion of Thabit bin Qais bin Shammas’ share. He made her a covenant to set her free at a certain time. The Messenger of Allh [pbuh] accomplished the covenant and married her in Sha‘ban in the sixth year of Al-Hijra.

  9. Umm Habibah: Ramlah, the daughter of Abu Sufyan. She was married to ‘Ubaidullah bin Jahsh. She migrated with him to Abyssinia (Ethiopia). When ‘Ubaidullah apostatized and became a Christian, she stoodfast to her religion and refused to convert. However ‘Ubaidullah died there in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). The Messenger of Allh [pbuh] dispatched ‘Amr bin Omaiyah Ad-Damri with a letter to Negus, the king, asking him for Umm Habibah’s hand — that was in Muharram, in the seventh year of Al-Hijra. Negus agreed and sent her to the Prophet [pbuh] in the company of Sharhabeel bin Hasnah.

  10. Safiyah bint Huyai bin Akhtab: From the Children of Israel, she was among the booty taken at Khaibar battle. The Messenger of Allh [pbuh] took her for himself. He set her free and married her after that conquest in the seventh year of Al-Hijra.

  11. Maimunah bint Al-Harith: The daughter of Al-Harith, and the sister of Umm Al-Fadl Lubabah bint Al-Harith. The Prophet [pbuh] married her after the Compensatory ‘Umrah (Lesser Pilgrimage). That was in Dhul-Qa‘dah in the seventh year of Al-Hijra.

Those were the eleven women that the Messenger of Allh [pbuh] had married and consummated marriage with them. He outlived two of them — Khadijah and Zainab, the Umm Al-Masakeen. Whereas the other nine wives outlived him.

The two wives that he did not consummate marriage with were, one from Bani Kilab and the other from Kindah and this was the one called Al-Jauniyah.

Besides these, he had two concubines. The first was Mariyah, the Coptic (an Egyptian Christian), a present gift from Al-Muqauqis, vicegerent of Egypt — she gave birth to his son Ibrhim, who died in Madinah while still a little child, on the 28th or 29th of Shawwal in the year 10 A.H., i.e. 27th January, 632 A.D. The second one was Raihanah bint Zaid An-Nadriyah or Quraziyah, a captive from Bani Quraiza. Some people say she was one of his wives. However, Ibn Al-Qaiyim gives more weight to the first version. Abu ‘Ubaidah spoke of two more concubines, Jameelah, a captive, and another one, a bondwoman granted to him by Zainab bint Jahsh. [Za'd Al-Ma'ad 1/29] (Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (THE SEALED NECTAR) Biography of the Noble Prophet, Saif-ur-Rahman al-Mubarakpuri [Maktaba Dar-us-Salam Publishers & Distributors, First Edition 1995], "The Prophetic Household", pp. 483-485; online source)

Al-Mubarakpuri says regarding Muhammad’s marriage to his adopted son’s divorcee that:

Hypocrites aroused a lot of suspicions and made a broad false propaganda against that marriage. Their acts and talks about that marriage had ill-effects on those Muslims whose Faith was still weak, particularly that Zainab was the fifth wife — and the Noble Qur’n limited the number up to four only; Zaid was traditionally his son, and so a father marrying his son’s divorcee was a heinous sin in the eyes of the Arabians.

Al-Ahzab Surah was revealed to shed full light on the two issues, i.e. Islam does not recognize adoption of children, and the Prophet [pbuh] is given (by Allh) more freedom as regards the number of wives he can hold than other Muslims in order to achieve noble and honourable purposes. (Ibid., pp. 489-490; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Is this not exhibiting an astonishing measure of hypocrisy on the part of Muhammad?

And there is more.

Some Muslims claim that Sura 33:52 forbade Muhammad from marrying any more wives. This explanation does nothing to refute the fact that Muhammad still had more than four wives. Furthermore, some Muslim scholars say that Sura 33:52 was actually abrogated by 33:50. Here are renowned Sunni scholar Ibn Kathir’s comments:

More than one of the scholars, such as Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, Ad-Dahhak, Qatadah, Ibn Zayd, Ibn Jarir and others stated that this Ayah was revealed as a reward to the wives of the Prophet expressing Allah's pleasure with them for their excellent decision in choosing Allah and His Messenger and the Home of the Hereafter, when the Messenger of Allah gave them the choice, as we have stated above. When they chose the Messenger of Allah their reward was that Allah restricted him to these wives, and forbade him to marry anyone else or to change them for other wives, even if he was attracted to their beauty - apart from slave-girls and prisoners of war, with regard to whom there was no sin on him. THEN ALLAH LIFTED THE RESTRICTION STATED IN THIS AYAH AND PERMITTED HIM TO MARRY MORE WOMEN, but he did not marry anyone else, so that the favor of the Messenger of Allah towards them would be clear.

Imam Ahmad recorded that ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, said: ‘The Messenger of Allah did not die until Allah permitted (marriage to other) women for him.’ It was also recorded by At-Tirmidhi and An-Nasa’i in their Sunans. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Volume 8, Surat Al-Ahzab, Verse 51 to the end of Surat Ad-Dukhan, p. 21; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir wrote in another place that:

When the wives made their choices to be his wives, was the Prophet … prohibited from divorcing them? The scholars suggested firmly that it was not forbidden; however, Allah ... at first, denied him other women as a good reward to the Prophet's wives (for they chose Allah, his Prophet and the Hereafter), then He … made it lawful for him … ‘Aisha ... said: "Before his death, other women were lawful for him to marry" transmitted by Ashafi. (The Seerah of Prophet of Muhammad (S.A.W.), abridged by Muhammad Ali Al-Halabi Al-Athari [Al-Firdous Ltd., London, 2001: First Edition], Part II, pp. 99-100; bold emphasis ours)

What is even more astonishing is that Sura 33:50 is supposed to have come before 33:52, which means that an earlier verse canceled one that came afterwards! The late Iranian Muslim scholar Ali Dashti noted regarding this strange phenomenon:

"In Zamakhshari's opinion, ‘A’esha’s words show that verse 52 was abrogated by custom and by verse 49 (‘O Prophet, We have made lawful for you …’). But an abrogating verse ought to come after the abrogated one. Nevertheless Soyuti, in his treatise on Qor’anic problems entitled ol-Etqan, maintains that in this case the earlier verse abrogated the later one." (Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad [Mazda Publishers Costa Mesa, CA 1994; ISBN: 1568590296], p. 128; bold emphasis ours)

Talk about confusion! In light of the foregoing it comes as no surprise that the hadiths record Aisha as mockingly saying regarding Muhammad’s marital privileges:

Narrated Aisha:
I used to look down upon those ladies who had given themselves to Allah’s Apostle and I used to say, "Can a lady give herself (to a man)?" But when Allah revealed: "You (O Muhammad) can postpone (the turn of) whom you will of them (your wives), and you may receive any of them whom you will; and there is no blame on you if you invite one whose turn you have set aside (temporarily)." (33.51) I said (to the Prophet), "I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 311)


Further Reading

An Examination of Muhammad’s Marriage Privileges
Muhammad's Multiple Marriages


On Muhammad
Articles by Sam Shamoun
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