Muhammad's wives: Background you need to know
Parvez Ahmed, December 4, 2002

When the Nigerian journalist Isioma Daniel wrote that Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, would want to take one of the body-flaunting beauties in the Miss World pageant as his wife, Isioma was, besides exhibiting insensitivity, factually incorrect.

Muhammad's 12 wives, although not all married to him at the same time, were modest, courageous, independent, outspoken, righteous, patient and loyal. They were not known for their physical beauty --certainly not the kind that is flaunted in public.

All of Muhammad's wives chose to remain devoted to him out of their own free will. The Quran recounts this choice: "O Prophet, tell your wives: 'If you want the worldly life and its attraction, then come on! I'll let you enjoy them and dismiss you in a handsome fashion.' "[33:28].

For this noble choice, they were afforded the generous title of mother of the believers, exemplars of Muslim womanhood.

Why did Muhammad marry 12 women? John Esposito, in Islam: The Straight Path , writes, "As was customary for Arab chiefs, many were political marriages to cement alliances. Others were marriages to the widows of his companions who had fallen in combat and were in need of protection."

Muhammad was far ahead of his time by marrying Khadija, a widow and an independent business owner 15 years older than he was, as his first wife. This monogamous relationship, which lasted nearly 25 years, until Khadija's death, was contrary to the then-Jewish, Christian and Arab traditions that allowed for unlimited wives.

Perhaps even more eye-opening was the fact that Muhammad took Sawda as his second wife when she was a 65-year-old widow. This marriage came as a great surprise to Muhammad's contemporaries, who usually took wives for their wealth or beauty, rarely out of compassion and affording security to women.

In fact, all but one of Muhammad's wives were widows, and many of them were over the age of 40 when they married him.

Two of Muhammad's marriages have come under particular attack from those who never lose an opportunity to promote Islamophobia, much like the idolaters of Muhammad's time. Even in their enmity, the Meccans of Muhammad's time never accused him of moral ineptitude.


The current charge that Muhammad took his third wife, Aisha, when she was a minor is based on apocryphal traditions. The preponderance of evidence suggests that Aisha was between 16 and 19 years old when she married Muhammad.

Another marriage that has raised current scrutiny is his seventh wife, Zaynab. This marriage, as with most of Muhammad's actions, was done to instruct the nascent Muslim community by setting personal examples. At issue was the relationship of an adopted child to his new parents.

Modern Westerners may disagree, but Islam's position is that adopted children are not equivalent in legal or biological status to children out of natural birth. To illustrate this, God commanded Muhammad to marry the wife of his adopted son following their divorce.


While Muhammad was Caesar and pope in one, he had none of their worldly possessions. In fact a mini-revolt erupted among Muhammad's wives not due to jealousy (as one might have expected) but complaints about their lack of worldly possessions.

Muhammad's daytime was spent fulfilling his prophetic mission of teaching. His nights were spent in long solitary prayers. This lifestyle was scarcely conducive to sexual perversion as suggested in many misinformed quarters.

Authentic traditions tell us that Muhammad used to stand in prayer during much of each night. In the process, his feet would swell up. Aisha asked him about his extreme efforts to please God even though God had given him the good news of admittance into Paradise. Muhammad's answer was befitting a prophet:"Shouldn't I be a grateful servant?"

To avoid the kind of excesses that we saw in Nigeria, both Muslims and non-Muslims need to know the traditions of the other more thoroughly. Perhaps one place to start is with the figure of Muhammad.

Karen Armstrong, in an upcoming PBS documentary titled Muhammad (to be aired Dec. 18), says, "Muhammad was a man who faced an absolutely hopeless situation. . . .Single-handedly in a space of 23 years he brought peace and a new hope to Arabia and a new beacon for the world."


Parvez Ahmed is communications director for the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim advocacy group.

Source: Orlando Sentinel