Neither Jesus nor Paul — the two biggest characters in the New Testament — had wives.  Thus, the topic of Muhammad’s wives taken up in the later part of this surah is something I have never thought about.

Had Jesus or Paul been married those would have been some special women.  Those women, though, would also have had the ability to get them off track if their focus had been less spiritual than their husbands.  And it would have been very important that those women conduct themselves with the highly level of decorum and that other men treat them with the utmost of respect.  The faults of the wife reflect on the reputation of the husband.  Considering this, I see why this topic is taken up in the way it is here.

Much has been written about the wives of Muhammad, unfortunately much of it unnecessarily derogatory and mean-spirited (so for that reason I am not going to include a lot of links here; they are out there if you feel the need to look for them).  Yes, Muhammad had multiple wives, eleven or thirteen depending on your source, at one point many at once.  That was the cultural norm, remember.  Muhammad’s wives were as follows:

  1. Khadijah bint Khuwaylid
  2. Sawda bint Zamʿa
  3. Aisha bint Abi Bakr
  4. Hafsa bint Umar
  5. Zaynab bint Khuzayma
  6. Hind bint Abi Umayya
  7. Zaynab bint Jahsh
  8. Juwayriya bint al-Harith
  9. Ramlah bint Abi Sufyan
  10. Rayhana bint Zayd
  11. Safiyya bint Huyayy
  12. Maymuna bint al-Harith
  13. Maria al-Qibtiyya

Khadijah

Khadijah was the wife of Muhammad’s youth.  She was his first wife and during her lifetime he was a one-woman man, unusual in that time.  Theirs must have been a strong love.  It is generally thought that they had a noble, upstanding relationship.  She was 15 years his senior, and originally was Muhammad’s wealthy employer.

After Khadijah’s death, Islam was now growing and developing as a religion.  Several campaigns of war had left many war-widows and families in which male-leadership was lacking.  Poverty was a real possibility for many early Muslim families.  This context has to be remembered when we consider that Muhammad then took on several women as wives.  It seems many if not all of these later marriages were driven more by compassion than desire.  Zaynab, the subject of 33:37 and the abandoned wife of Muhammad’s adopted son Zayd, was certainly one of these.

Muhammad’s wives worked closely with the Muslim poor.  They became known as spiritual “mothers” to the people, hence a life of luxury and ease was not congruous with their calling (33:28).  These women were not to be like any other woman (33:32).  They were held to higher moral standards (33:30).  Therefore, they were also due extra honor as well, especially by men who would have to take every effort to respect their purity (33:53).  This is also which the wearing of “screens,” or the hijab, and long cloaks was required by the wives of the Prophet (33:53, 59).  Muhammad was allowed conjugal relations with each of his wives (33:51), though the degree to which he took advantage of this is unknown.

The Grave of Muhammad's Wives

There is controversy about Muhammad’s third wife, Aisha.  She was nine years old when she was married off to Muhammad by her father, Abu Bakr, Muhammad’s closest friend.  Muhammad was fifty at the time.  Some Muslim scholars question the veracity of her age; they say she was more like 13 or 14, standard marrying age at that time.  By all accounts she was beautiful and smart.  Did they have sexual relations?  It seems so.  Did she object to the marriage?  That’s a minefield.  It does not seem that she did, at least to the degree that a nine-year-old girl could have at that time.  They were married for a decade before Muhammad passed away and then she went on to aid greatly in the advance of Islam and the collection of revelations that would become the written Qur’an. This does not seem like the behavior of a woman forced into marriage and abused by the lecherous desires of a dirty old man, as some depictions describe the marriage.  Well, these are the facts sans inflammatory rhetoric.

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