By Ishola Balogun
One of the frequent questions by non-Muslims is why the Prophet married Aisha or more than one wife. This question came from one of our readers after reading the last week’s edition. I therefore chose to treat the issue on this column rather than providing a terse answer in the regular ‘Ask Your Imam’.
First, Prophet Muhammad’s marriage relationship with all his wives including Aisha was divine. All of them helped in the establishment and spread of Islam in various ways. For the first 54 years of Prophet Muhammad’s life, he had only one wife, Khadijah who was 15 years older than him. Khadijah was a two time widow, with children from two previous marriages; a rich business woman whose wealth and experience helped in laying the foundation of Islam.
Come to think of it, how many young men will marry a two-time widow who is as old as his mother and be faithful with her for the rest of his life? So, it was not for any other reason, but a fulfilment of that divine plan for the task ahead. It is instructive to note that until the death of Khadijah, he did not take another wife. After two years of mourning his beloved wife, he married Aisha.
Apart from Aisha, all others were widows. Same goes with others who came into the life of the prophet at different times of need to positively affect Islam. These women were carefully selected, not just haphazardly “acquired” for carnal reasons, as suggested by those who find pleasure in destructive criticisms, but for reasons pertaining to the spread of Islam.
Almighty Allah chose Aisha (r.t.a) for him for the manifesting reasons of her intellect and preservation of the hadiths. She was known for great intellectual capacity. She came from a house famous for knowledge; her father was a renowned encyclopedia of Arab tribal pedigrees and poetry. She inherited his ability, and in her young, intelligent, receptive mind, she preserved a precious portion of Islam she learned during seven years of marriage.
For 47 years after the death of the Prophet (s.a.w), she taught thousands of men worldwide what she had learned first hand from the Prophet. Many of her transmissions pertaining to some of the most intimate aspects of personal behaviour which only someone in Aisha’s position as a wife could have learnt. Her knowledge of Hadith was passed on in written form by at least three persons including her nephew Urwah who became one of the greatest scholars among the generation after the Companions.
It is the claim of Scholars in Islam that without her, half of the knowledge of hadith and understanding of Islam would have perished. Arwa Bin Zubair says,”I did not find anyone more proficient [than Aisha (r.a.)] in the knowledge of the Holy Qur’an, the Commandments of halal (lawful) and haram (prohibited) and Arabic poetry. That is why, even senior companions of the Prophet used to consult Aisha (r.t.a.) in resolving intricate issues”. It was these qualities of Aisha (r.t.a.) made possible by divine arrangement that saw the union of the Prophet with Aisha for the service of Islam and not the perverted reasons brought forth by misguided orientalists and anachronists.
Apart from the reason to serve and propagate Islam, the marriage of Hafsa the third wife particularly was to cement relationships with different tribe where Islam will not be perceived as a tribal religion.
In the then tribal society, it was customary to seal treaties through cross tribal marriages. Muhammad’s closest Companions later became the four caliphs who led Islam at the critical stage after his death. Two of them were the fathers of his wives ‘Aisha (daughter of Abu Bakr) and Hafsa (daughter of ‘Umar); the other two married his daughters (‘Uthman married Ruqayyah and Zaynab in succession, and ‘Ali married Fatimah).
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 So, some marriages were with the view to helping the women whose husbands had been killed while they were defending their faith; to build bridges with various tribes who were otherwise at war with the Muslims and to continue to spread Islam. Besides, Hafsa who was known for her writing and oratorial dexterity was able to put into writing most of the revelations before the death of the prophet.
The marriage of Umu Salmo, bint Abu Umayia, 26 (widow) on the other hand was also for these reasons. His wives were eye-witnesses to a number of revelations and had therefore a clear idea of the circumstances in which they were revealed. Salama’s husband, Al Assad Ibn Al Mogherah, died as a poor man leaving behind many children. Abu Bakr and several others asked her to marry them, but she refused the marriage offers. But finally she accepted to marry the Prophet (s.a.w) with her children.
Prophet Muhammad is the only prophet without any privacy, and with a meticulously preserved tradition in speech and actions in all facets of his public and private life. This has helped the Muslim to know in details every aspect of the life of the Messenger of God and to fashion their livestyles along the exemplary leader.
Daily life manual
Preserved in the sharp minds of his wives and his Companions, those narrations comprise the “daily life manual” for Muslims to follow until the end of time. The books of authentic Hadith attribute more than 3,000 narrations and Prophetic traditions to his wives alone. That is a pointer to the fact that it was divinely arranged. Others mentioned in some of the books were not real wives but those widows he sought to protect and gave adequate care.
All the wives were compassionate not just to the young and beautiful maidens, but more so to the weak and destitute widows, divorcees, orphans, and elderly women. Islam teaches that women are to be respected, protected, and cared for by their men folk. They’re not to be treated with ignominy neither should their characteristic weakness be exploited nor they be treated as mere mistresses. These are the teachings of the Prophet relationship with his wives.
Although many believing women often approached Muhammad offering themselves in marriage because he remained a model of equal justice and kindness to them all, but he politely turned down their offers, yet giving them protection they crave for. Apart from A’isha, who was the youngest, all others were widows. He remained a model of equal justice and kindness to them all.
Lastly, it is important to state here also that even as the Prophet married four wives, the life of the prophet notwithstanding, all Muslims can only strive to be like the Prophet because he was controlled and guided by divine inspiration, there are regulations to the practice of polygamy. Islam did not invent polygamy, it only seek to regularise it. Other prophets like Ibrahim, (Abraham), Ya’qub (Jacob), Dawood (David), Sulaiman (Solomon) did practice it. The Qu’ran is the only Holy Book that actually regulates marriage with women.
The regulation can be found in the Quran Chapter 4 : 3-6 “…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. That is more suitable that you may not incline to injustice…..” Polygamy, therefore is only permitted under certain guidelines. This permission is not associated with mere satisfaction of passion. It is, rather, associated with compassion toward these women.
May Almighty Allah guide us to the right path because He knows best.