Based on the fact that he was polygamous, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s) is sometimes accused of being a womaniser. To understand this better, one must first define the term polygamy. Polygamy has been defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a “marriage in which a spouse of either sex may have more than one mate at the same time.” The discussion at hand specifically revolves around the idea of a man having multiple wives. This is a type of polygamy known as polygyny (Merriam-Webster).
While it is true that Prophet Muhammad (s) was polygynous, it is important to note that polygamy is a concept that existed long before the time of that Holy Prophet (s). This is evident in both the Bible and Qur’an. The Bible states: “Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth”. Similarly, many prophets before the Holy Prophet (s) were known to have multiple wives, such as Prophet Abraham and Prophet Jacob. Therefore, it is clear that the concept of polygamy was not introduced by Islam and was not unheard of during the time of the Holy Prophet (s).
The Islamic ruling of a man being allowed four wives at a time was a means of reforming a pre-existing system. Not only was a limit put on the number of wives a man could have, but conditions were set for marrying a second wife (Rizvi, 2019). Therefore, Islam does not by endorse the act of womanising – as is often perceived – rather, it prevents people from engaging in it! The Islamic ruling regarding polygyny forced the practice of polygyny to be controlled.
The question still remains: Even if the Prophet (s) followed the Islamic rulings of polygyny, what was the reason for his multiple marriages? Were these marriages based on desire and lust?
We should keep in mind that modern times have seen a huge paradigm shift of marriage and has influenced our thinking of a time when the norms were completely different. Marriage in the past was not for romantic purposes. It was an institution that served a wider function in society, used for alliances, social co-operation etc. Only in the last couple of centuries have love marriages become the norm. Of course, love and affection are an important part of marriage and fall into place when two partners are committed to their marital relationship. However, the social norms of the modern world have changed drastically from historical times.
At the age of 25, the Prophet (s) married Khadija, the daughter of Khuwaylid (Majlisi, 2010). During the subsequent 24 years and 1 month of their marriage, the Holy Prophet (s) was not married to anyone else (Rizvi, 2019). It was only after the death of his first wife that he remarried. If the Prophet (s) was driven by lust and desire, he would have remarried sooner when he was much younger. It is clear that he loved Lady Khadija (a) a great deal and must have had other reasons for marrying his other wives.
As explained by Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi (2019) in his book, The Concept of Polygamy &
The Prophet’s Marriages, the reasons for the Prophet (s)’s marriages after the demise of Lady Khadija (a) can be summarised in the following table.
|Reason for Marriage||Women the Prophet Married for this Reason|
|To free slaves||Lady Juwayriyyah, the daughter of al-Harith: |
The battle of Banu Mustaliq had resulted in Muslims taking 200 families of the Banu Mustaliq as slaves. By the Prophet (s) freeing and marrying Lady Juwayriyyah (who was one of them), the rest of the tribe was now related to the Prophet (s). Out of courtesy to the Holy Prophet (s), the Muslims freed the rest of the tribe, who in turn converted to Islam.
|To create relationships and alliances with the Muslims|| Lady Aisha, the daughter of Abu Bakr:|
To create an alliance with Abu Bakr so that he would support the Muslims in confrontation against enemies of Islam.
Lady Hafsa, the daughter of Umar ibn Khattab:
To create an alliance with Umar ibn Khattab so that he would support the Muslims in confrontation against enemies of Islam.
Lady Umm Habiba, the daughter of Abu Sufyan:
To protect her from her father, Abu Sufyan, who was a great enemy of Islam, as well as to guide Abu Sufyan. Unfortunately, Abu Sufyan was not impacted through this marriage.
Lady Safiyyah, the daughter of Huyaiy ibn Akhtab:
To create ties with the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadhir, the tribe Lady Safiyyah was originally from.
|To break common taboos in the society||Lady Zaynab, the daughter of Jahsh: |
Lady Zaynab was the divorcee of the Prophet (s)’s adopted son, Zayd. In pre-Islamic Arabia, adopted children were considered to be the same as biological children. That is, the wife of an adopted son was the same as the wife of a biological son with whom marriage would be forbidden. To counter this un-Islamic practice, the Prophet (s) married Lady Zaynab. More details on the marriage of the Prophet (s) to Lady Zaynab can be found here.
|To protect and dignify widows||Lady Sawdah, daughter of Zam‘ah* :|
She returned to Makka after her husband died in Abyssinia. Her brother and father, who were in Makka, were enemies of Islam and therefore a danger to her. The Prophet (s) married her to protect her from her family.
Lady Umm Salamah*:
Her husband passed away, leaving her as a single parent of a young child. Her marriage to the Prophet (s) was a source of support and dignity for her.
Lady Zaynab bint Khuzaymah
She was known to be a very generous person. After her husband was killed in the Battle of Uhud, the Prophet (s) married her to preserve her dignity when she faced difficult times herself.
*both of the marriages with Lady Sawdad and Lady Umm Salamah also had the benefit of creating relations with some of the enemies of Islam.
|Honoring the request of those who wished to be a wife of the Prophet (s)||Lady Maymunah, daughter of al-Harith:|
After the death of her husband, she wanted to marry the Prophet (s) because she wanted the honour of being amongst the wives of the Prophet (s). The Prophet (s) accepted this request.
It is important to note that some of these marriages were done for multiples of the aforementioned reasons. It is thus evident that the Prophet (s) remarried for sociopolitical reasons, not out of lust or desire. Lady Khadija was always the Prophet (s)’s most beloved wife and was never forgotten by him. Hence the argument that the Holy Prophet (s) was a womaniser because he was polygynous does not hold true.
Al-Majlisi, M. (2010). Hayat al-Qulub (Vol. 2) (S. Rizvi, Trans.). Qum: Ansariyan Publications.
Rizvi, S. M. (2019). The Concept of Polygamy & the Marriages of the Prophet (2nd ed.). Al-Ma‘ãrif Publication