The wives of Muhammad

December 2020

In domestic life the conduct of Muhammad was often praiseworthy but with one grave exception. As a husband his devotion was entire, bordering at times upon jealousy. As a father he was loving and tender. But it was at the age of fifty-four that he made the dangerous trial of polygamy, by taking Ayesha, yet a child, as the rival of Sauda.

Muhammad had eleven wives as explained in the hadith of Bukhari Volume 1, Book 5, Number 268: 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.”

Khadijah Muhammad’s first wife

The first wife of Muhammad was Khadijah, a Qurraishi lady, and the daughter of Khuwalid Ibn Asad. When she met Muhammad she was a well-to-do widow being a successful business woman and entrepreneur.

She had been previously married twice. Her first husband had died and she left the second. She had borne two sons and a daughter which she brought into the marriage with Muhammad. The chief men of the Qurraish had sought her in marriage but she chose to remain an independent business lady.

When she heard of Muhammad’s fidelity, honesty and good manners, she sent to him and proposed that he go to Syria on her behalf and trade her goods. She promised to give more of the profits to him than to the others. Muhammad agreed to the proposal and travelled with her goods to Syria, along with Maisara, her servant. Khadijah was suitably impressed with the success of this mercantile journey.

The traditions relate that she was suitably attracted to her young employee and as her father was dead she herself offered to marry Muhammad; other traditions indicate that her father was still alive and she got him so drunk that he proposed the marriage while in a state of intoxication. Muhammad told his uncle about Khadijah’s marriage proposal and his uncle, Haza Ibn Abd al-Muttalib, went with him to her father to ask for her hand in marriage. Muhammad married her and presented her with twenty young camels. At the time of their marriage she 40 and Muhammad was 25.

Upon this marriage Muhammad received a faithful and affectionate companion, and in spite of her age, not an unfruitful wife, for within the next ten or twelve years Khadijah bore Muhammad two sons and four daughters. The first son was Qasim who died at the age of two years, his other sons Tahir and Tayyib also tragically died. His eldest daughter was Zainab followed by Rockeya, Fatimah and Omm Kolthum. Khadijah sacrificed at the birth of each boy two kids and one at the birth of every girl. She nursed all her children herself but only Fatimah survived. She conducted as before the duties of her establishment and left him to enjoy his leisure hours. Her house became his home and he was content to stay with her, loving her, and benefiting from her considerable wealth. Khadijah was the mother of all his children with the exception of Ibrahim whose mother was Mary, the Copt.

Tradition shows her as very supportive of her husband particularly at the time he began to have his revelations and in this she was supported by her cousin Waraka b. Nawfal her cousin. Also according to Hisham ‘Life of Muhammad’ “Whenever Muhammad was downcast over hearing an unfavourable report, experiencing antagonistic back-talk, or being accused of spreading lies, Allah comforted him through Khadija. When he returned home to her, she always encouraged him, assured him of her belief in him and showed him how insignificant the people’s gossip was.” So her death, when he was 51, about three years before the Hijra was a great blow to him for he owed much to her and his loss was correspondingly great.
Khadijah was the first to believe in Muhammad although her testing of Muhammad’s revelations are very unorthodox as stated in the following account given by Khadijah herself to Ismail ibn Abi Hakim (Ibn Hisham Life of Muhammad): “I said to Muhammad, ’Can you tell me as soon as your friend appears to you?’ He said yes. I asked him to do this. When Gabriel reappeared again, he told me. I said to Muhammad, ‘Sit upon my left thigh!’ Once he had done this, I asked. ‘Do you still see him?’ He answered yes. Then I told Muhammad to sit upon my right thigh and asked him once again if he could still see Gabriel. When he said yes again, I had him sit upon my lap and asked once more. When Muhammad said that he could still see Gabriel, I sighed and cast off my veil. Then I asked Muhammad again if he could see Gabriel, and he said no. So I exclaimed, “Rejoice my cousin, and be of good cheer, for by Allah it is indeed an angel and no demon!”
In later years Muhammad looked back at his marriage to Khadijah with fondness. Ayesha, his later favourite wife, said that she was more jealous of this rival whom she had never seen than all the other wives who contested with her for the affections of Muhammad (Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 156). She also became a favourite of heaven (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 588)

Saudah – Muhammad’s second wife

She had earlier accompanied her husband to Abyssinia, and there he became a Christian, but died and so she became a widow. They had a son who was killed in a battle. Her marriage to Muhammad was arranged by Khawla bint Hakim, the wife of Uthman, who wished to console Muhammad for the loss of Khadijah. It took place after a month of Khadijah’s death.

Saudah was not young when she married Muhammad, and as she grew older became fat and ungainly. As she grew older Muhammad neglected her and he divorced her but she stopped him in the street and begged to be taken back stating that he could take ‘her day’ and give it to ’Aisha, for her only desire was to rise again on the Judgement Day. The prophet consented and Sura An-Nisa’ 4:128 was revealed: “If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men’s souls are swayed by greed. But if ye do good and practise self-restraint, Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.”

Saudah was the most generous of Muhammad’s wives and for that reason it was said that she would be the first one to join Muhammad in heaven.

Ayesha – the favourite wife of Muhammad

‘Ayesha was the daughter of Abu Bakr and was born at Mecca 8 or 9 years before the Hijra to Medina. Once more it was the suggestion of Khwala, the wife of Uthman that he should marry the child ‘Ayesha. When he asked for the hand of ’Ayesha from Abu Bakr he, at first refused, but then complied and dissolved her existing engagement with Jubair. She was married to Muhammad two or three years before the Hijra. He paid her dowry and she brought her toys to her elderly husband, who sometimes joined her in her childish games: “’A’isha reported that she used to play with dolls in the presence of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and when her playmates came to her they left (the house) because they felt shy of Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him)” (Muslim Book 31, Number 5981)

The marriage was not consummated until six or seven months before the departure to Medina when she was nine ten years old: “Narrated ‘Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., till his death).” (Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 64)

When they moved to Medina the mosque and the adjoining houses, where his wives lived, had been finished seven months earlier. Sauda and ‘Ayesha were installed in their new residences. Therefore, at the age of fifty-four, a new phase commenced in the life of Muhammad. The unity of his family was now broken as he entered a polygamous lifestyle, and his days would be spent between their houses, for Muhammad had no separate apartment of his own.

‘Ayesha was mature in the development of her charms and from the start she displayed a ready wit and enthralled the heart of Muhammad; and though afterwards exposed to the frequent competition of fresh rivals, she succeeded in maintaining to the end of his life her supremacy undisputed.

A severe trial hung over ‘Ayesha when her honour was called into question. She was travelling in a litter on a camel on the return journey to Medina from the campaign against Banu Mustaliq. During one of the stops she withdrew to perform her ablutions but forgot her Yemeni necklace so went back to retrieve it leaving the curtains of the litter chair closed. In her absence the caravan moved off so she waited for someone to return to collect her. When the camel of ‘Ayesha was set down at the door of her house and when the litter was opened it was found to be empty. Some time after towards morning Safwan b. al-Mu’attal, who had been also accidentally detained, passed by, and, recognising ‘Ayesha, expressed surprise at finding one of the Prophet’s wives in this predicament. Having modestly seated her on his camel he made every effort to catch up with the army but could not so they entered Medina together. The sight of ’Ayesha arriving back in the company of another man gave rise to grave accusations which took some time to resolve before ‘Ayesha was vindicated by a heavenly revelation in Sura Al-Nur 24:12-14.

At the time of Muhammad’s death she was 18 years and he had nine wives and two concubines but ‘Ayesha has always been highly regarded by the majority of Muslims. Muhammad died leaning on the chest of ‘Ayesha while seeking forgiveness from Allah with hopes of being with the companions on high: A’isha reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) at the time of breathing his last was reclining against her chest and she was leaning over him and listening to him as he was saying: O Allah, grant me pardon, show mercy to me, enjoin me to companions (on high). (Muslim Book 31, Number 5986 c/f 5990)

‘Ayesha’s father became caliph for a short time and was then succeeded by ‘Uthman Ibn Affan whom she opposed declaring that he must do penance or resign. She probably had a hand in the insurrection against that caliph.

When her enemy ’Ali was elected as Caliph, she did her utmost to raise Muslims against him under the pretext of wanting to avenge the murder of ’Uthman. She joined Talha and al-Zubair who with a great army engaged Ali’s forces at the Battle of the Camel (A.H 36/656), so called because she (being defended by seventy men from the Banu Dabba), sat on her own camel directing her forces. ‘Ali ‘captured ‘Ayesha after her camel was killed but returned her back to Medina unharmed.

1,210 traditions are said to be reported by her from the mouth of Muhammad, here is just one example: ‘A’isha reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) having said: I saw you in a dream for three nights when an angel brought you to me in a silk cloth and he said: Here is your wife, and when I removed (the cloth) from your face, lo, it was yourself, so I said: If this is from Allah, let Him carry it out. (Muslim Book 31, Number 5977)

She was often consulted on theological and judicial matters and some historians assert that up to one-quarter of the Islamic Sharia is based on the collection of hadiths which have come from her narrations. She also is said to have learnt to read and knew several poems by heart.

She died at the age of 65 and is buried at al-Baki, the cemetery of Medina alongside other companions of Muhammad.

Juwairiyah – Muhammad‘s fourth wife 

She was a beautiful widow of about 20 years old and was a captive and daughter of the chief of the Bani Mustaliq tribe. She fell to the lot of a citizen, who, taking advantage of her rank and comeliness, fixed a high ransom.  Despairing to raise so large a sum, she ventured into the presence of Muhammad while he was seated in the apartment of ‘Ayesha, and pleaded for some remission of the heavy price demanded for her freedom. ‘Ayesha, no sooner had she seen that she was fair to look upon prognosticated as to what was about to come to pass. Muhammad listened to her supplication ‘Wilt thou hearken,’ he said, ‘to something better than what thou askest of me?’ Surprised by his gentle accents, she enquired what that might be : ‘Even that I should pay thy ransom, and marry thee myself!’ She immediately expressed her consent; the ransom was paid. As soon as the marriage was noised abroad, the people said that the Bani Mustaliq had now become their relatives so the rest of the prisoners of her tribe were go free. Ayesha said that no woman was ever a greater blessing to her people than Juwairiyah.

Hafsa – Muhammad’s fifth wife

Hafsa was the daughter of ‘Umar and for this reason had a considerable influence on Muhammad. She was the widow of Khunais, an early convert to Islam who died at the battle of Badr and married Muhammad about six months after her former husband’s death. She was about twenty years old and Muhammad was fifty-six. Her marriage to him was childless.

She was involved in domestic tensions in Muhammad’s harem taking the side of ‘Ayesha against the prophet and her father ‘Umar had to intervene as the following tradition relates: “O my daughter! Do you argue with Allah’s Apostle so that he remains angry the whole day?” Hafsa said, “By Allah, we argue with him.” ‘Umar said, “Know that I warn you of Allah’s punishment and the anger of Allah’s Apostle . . . O my daughter! Don’t be betrayed by the one who is proud of her beauty because of the love of Allah’s Apostle for her (i.e. ‘Aisha).” (Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 435)

Like the other wives she received her share of the booty at Khaibar and on Muhammad’s death received an annual revenue. She outlived Muhammad by several years and died when she was about 60. A number of traditions are said to have come from her.

Zainab – Muhammad’s sixth wife

She was the daughter of Khuzimah and the widow of his cousin Obeida, who was an early convert to islam. He was killed at Battle of Badr. She was called ‘the Mother of the Poor,’ for her care of the destitute converts. Zainab lived but a year and a half after the marriage, and was the only one of the Prophet ‘s wives (excepting always Khadijah) who died before him. (His concubine Rihana, the Jewess, died a year before him).

Umm Salamah – Muhammad’s seventh wife

She was the daughter of Abi Umayyah ibn al-Mughira and she and her husband were thought to be one of the earliest Muslims. She migrated to Abyssinia with her husband but returned to Mecca. Her husband was killed in the battle of Uhud and she was left alone with two children. After her marriage with Muhammad she went to stay in the house of Zainab bint Khuzaimah.

She is said to have narrated 378 ahadith and was one of the last of the wives of Muhammad to die. She died at the age of eighty four in the year 63 A.H., and was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi.

Zainab bint Jahash – Muhammad’s eighth wife

Zainab bint Jahash was unmarried when she along with the first group of emigrants moved to Medina but soon after Muhammad gave her to his freed servant and adopted son Zaid. He was an early convert and had chosen to remain with Muhammad rather than return to his own tribe with his father. Muhammad adopted him as his son and heir before the Qurraish chiefs so that he was called Zaid, the son of Muhammad. When Zaid became of age to be married he chose this high ranking beautiful Hashemite woman Zainab to be his wife.

One day Muhammad visited Zaid, but he was absent. Zeinab invited him to enter, but being dressed in a loose and scanty dress she made haste to array herself for his reception. But the beauties of her figure through the half-opened door had already unveiled themselves freely before the licentious gaze of Muhammad. He was smitten by the sight: ‘Gracious God Almighty!’ he exclaimed; ‘Gracious God! how Thou, turnest the hearts of mankind !’ These rapturous words were repeated, as he turned to depart, in a low voice; but they were uttered distinctly enough to be heard by Zainab, who perceived the flame she had kindled, and, proud of her conquest, was not loathe to tell her husband of it.

Following a conversation between Muhammad and Zaid, Zaid felt that he should divorce Zainab for Muhammad to marry but she was officially his daughter-in-law. So he said to Zaid ‘Retain her as your wife.’ But Zaid saw that the Prophet had still a longing eye for Zeinab and he did not care to keep her when he found that she desired to leave him, and was ambitious of the new and distinguished alliance. The divorce was then acted upon.

Yet, Muhammad still hesitated. There might be little scandal according to Arab morals in seeking the hand of a married woman whose husband had no wish to retain her; but the husband in the present case was Muhammad’s adopted son, and even in Arabia such a union was unlawful Still the passion for Zainab could not smothered; it continued to burn within the heart of Muhammad, and at last, bursting forth, scattered his scruples to the winds Sitting one day with ‘Ayesha, the prophetic ecstasy appeared to come over him: “Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favour: “Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah.” But thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear Allah. Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them.” (Al Azhab 33:37)

As he recovered from his revelation, he smiled joyfully and said: “Who will go and congratulate Zainab, and say that the Lord hath joined her unto me in marriage?’ His maid Solma made haste to carry the glad news to Zainab, who showed her delight by bestowing on the messenger all the jewels she had upon her person Muhammad delayed not to fulfil the divine behest, and, having made a great feast in the court of the mosque, took Zainab to be his wife.

She was about thirty when she married Muhammad and on the occasion of their marriage Zainab received a dowry of 400 dirhams. Because of this she used to say proudly to the other wives of Muhammad that they had been given to Muhammad by their fathers and brothers but her union with Muhammad was brought about by a divine revelation.

Zainab was a friend of ‘Ayesha and next to her was Muhammad’s favourite wife. She is commended for her concern for the poor and while ‘Umar gave her 12,000 dirhams in 20 A.H. she died penniless having given all her money away (c/f Sahih Muslim number 5984). She survived Muhammad by ten or eleven years.

Safiyah Muhammad’s ninth wife

Safiyah was the daughter of Huyaiy b. Akhtab and was born in Medina belonging to the Jewish tribe al-Nadir; her father and uncle were bitter enemies of Muhammad. When her tribe were expelled her father settled in Kheibar along with Safiyah, who was at this time about 17 and her husband Kinana b. al-Rabi. When Kheibar fell Safiyah was captured in a fortress together with her two cousins and in the division of the spoils she was assigned to Dihya. When Muhammad saw her he chose to marry her and Dihya was compensated with two of her cousins (Bukhari Volume 1, Book 8, Number 367 & Volume 3, Book 34, Number 431)). Muhammad redeemed her from Dihya for seven cattle and induced her to embrace Islam. Her husband was condemned to death for not disclosing where the treasures of the Al-Nadir tribe. At the time of their marriage Safiyah was 17 and Muhammad was 60. Some Muslims claim that Safiyah enthusiastically married Muhammad because having a Jewish background she recognised that Muhammad was the coming prophet of the Old Testament.

The other wives in the harem were jealous of Safiyah and slighted her about her Jewish ancestry although Muhammad’s daughter Fatima was warm towards her.

After Muhammad’s death, she became involved in the power politics of the early Muslim community and supported ‘Uthman against ‘Ali, Ayesha and Zubeir. While ‘Uthman was being besieged in his house Safiyah made an unsuccessful attempt to reach him, and she used to bring him food and water by means of a plank placed between his dwelling and hers.

Safiyah lived with Muhammad for about four years and then lived as a widow for the next thirty-nine years, dying in 50 AH, at the age of sixty during Mu’awiyya’s caliphate. She left a fortune of one hundred thousand dirhams in land and goods of which one third she left to her nephew who still followed the Jewish faith. Her home in Medina was bought by Mu’awiyyah for one hundred and eighty thousand dirhams.

Umm Habiba – Muhammad’s tenth wife
She was the daughter of Abu Sufyan, the most powerful opponent of Muhammad during the period 624-630. She was an early convert to Islam and was included, along with her husband, Ubaid-Allah, in those who emigrated to Abyssinia. Her husband became a Christian but she remained a Muslim and this led to their separation.
While she was in Abyssinia Muhammad sent her a proposal of marriage and the marriage ceremony took place in Abyssinia even though Muhammad was not present. She received the largest dowry of any of his wives. According to some sources, she she did not live with Muhammad until six years later, when Muhammad was sixty years old and she was thirty-five. She was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi cemetery next to other wives of Muhammad.

Maimuna – Muhammad’s last wife

Maimuna was the daughter of al-Harith of the Hawazin tribe and a sister-in-law of Ibn ‘Abbas. She lived as a widow in Mecca (she had divorced her first husband and her second had died) and was probably charmed by Muhammad for political reasons.

Conflicting traditions fail to answer the question of whether or not the marriage took place while Muhammad was still in a state of ihram when he performed ‘Umra in AH.7. (c/f Bukhari Volume 5, Book 59, Number 559, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 49 compare with Muslim Book 8, Number 3285).

Uncertainty also remains as to the age of Maimuna when she married Muhammad; some say she was 30 years old others say 51 while Muhammad was 53.

He wanted to marry her in Mecca but this was opposed by the Meccans so he married her in Sarif, a village north of Mecca. She is said to have been buried in the same place as she was married. She survived the other wives of Muhammad and died in A.H. 61/681 being aged 80 or 81. Her funeral details are mentioned in the hadith Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 5.

Muhammad’s concubines

Maria the Copt was a gift from the Roman governor in Egypt. She was the mother of Ibrahim, who died before he was 2 years old.

Rihana was a Jewess of great beauty, her husband was one of the 800 Jewish men who had been beheaded in the massacre of Banu Quraizah. The Prophet offered to marry her but she would not give up her Jewish faith so she had no choice but to become his concubine.