As the propaganda war against Islam intensifies, the personality and conduct of our beloved Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم is coming under increasing scrutiny and attack from the kuffar. One area of focus for them is the marriages of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم.
The following discussion is based on a translation of the chapter ‘The Prophet’s Marriages’ from the book ‘The Social System in Islam’ by Sheikh Taqiudeen an-Nabhani. The book can be downloaded in Arabic from here and English from here.
Permission to marry more than four wives
Allah تعالى revealed in the Holy Qur’an:
وَإِنۡ خِفۡتُمۡ أَلَّا تُقۡسِطُواْ فِى ٱلۡيَتَـٰمَىٰ فَٱنكِحُواْ مَا طَابَ لَكُم مِّنَ ٱلنِّسَآءِ مَثۡنَىٰ وَثُلَـٰثَ وَرُبَـٰعَۖ فَإِنۡ خِفۡتُمۡ أَلَّا تَعۡدِلُواْ فَوَٲحِدَةً أَوۡ مَا مَلَكَتۡ أَيۡمَـٰنُكُمۡۚ ذَٲلِكَ أَدۡنَىٰٓ أَلَّا تَعُولُواْ
“If you fear that you will not deal fairly with orphan girls, you may marry whichever [other] women seem good to you, two, three, or four. If you fear that you cannot be equitable [to them], then marry only one, or your slave(s): that is more likely to make you avoid bias.” [TMQ An-Nisa: 3]
At the end of the eighth year of the Hijra, after he had consummated all of his marriages with his wives, the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم was at the time of the revelation of this verse married to more than four wives. However, he did not leave a single one of them but continued to be married to all his wives. This is because marriage to more than four wives is specific to him صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم. It is clear that being married to more than four wives is unique to the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم and so he kept them after the revelation of this verse which limited marriage to four wives.
This is because the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم action does not contradict a statement that he makes. If there is a contradiction then the action is specific to him while the saying is general to the Ummah. It has been established in the foundations of jurisprudence (usul ul-fiqh) that the action of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم does not contradict his speech that is relevant to the Ummah, but actions of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم can be specific to him alone.
This is because his صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم order to the Ummah is more specific than the evidences calling for us to emulate him by following his actions and sayings. Thus, the general order is built on the specific order, and therefore it is not allowed to emulate the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم in an action in which there is a different order to the Ummah.
The Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم marriage to more than four wives, and the allowance for them to offer themselves to him in marriage etc, is confirmed by verses from the Holy Qur'an.
Allah تعالى says:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّبِىُّ إِنَّآ أَحۡلَلۡنَا لَكَ أَزۡوَٲجَكَ ٱلَّـٰتِىٓ ءَاتَيۡتَ أُجُورَهُنَّ وَمَا مَلَكَتۡ يَمِينُكَ مِمَّآ أَفَآءَ ٱللَّهُ عَلَيۡكَ وَبَنَاتِ عَمِّكَ وَبَنَاتِ عَمَّـٰتِكَ وَبَنَاتِ خَالِكَ وَبَنَاتِ خَـٰلَـٰتِكَ ٱلَّـٰتِى هَاجَرۡنَ مَعَكَ وَٱمۡرَأَةً۬ مُّؤۡمِنَةً إِن وَهَبَتۡ نَفۡسَہَا لِلنَّبِىِّ إِنۡ أَرَادَ ٱلنَّبِىُّ أَن يَسۡتَنكِحَہَا خَالِصَةً۬ لَّكَ مِن دُونِ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَۗ قَدۡ عَلِمۡنَا مَا فَرَضۡنَا عَلَيۡهِمۡ فِىٓ أَزۡوَٲجِهِمۡ وَمَا مَلَڪَتۡ أَيۡمَـٰنُهُمۡ لِكَيۡلَا يَكُونَ عَلَيۡكَ حَرَجٌ۬ۗ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ غَفُورً۬ا رَّحِيمً۬ا
“Prophet, We have made lawful for you the wives whose bride gift (mahr) you have paid, and any slaves Allah has assigned to you through war, and the daughters of your uncles and aunts on your father’s and mother’s sides, who migrated with you. Also any believing women who has offered herself to the Prophet and whom the Prophet wishes to wed – this is a dispensation for you only [Prophet] and not the rest of the believers: We know exactly what We have made obligatory for them concerning their wives and slave-girls – so you should not be blamed: Allah is most forgiving, most merciful.” [TMQ Al-Ahzab: 50]
This verse says: “a dispensation for you only [Prophet] and not the rest of the believers.” The word خَالِصَةً۬ Khalisa (dispensation) in the verse is a verbal noun which confirms whatever preceded it i.e. a dispensation has been made for you by permitting what Allah تعالى has made lawful for you specifically.
The evidence to say that it includes all that precedes it and that it is specific to the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم is that it came after the four permissible matters of marrying wives, captives directly from the Fey’, daughters of his relations who have been mentioned amongst those that migrated with him, and a woman that directly offers herself for marriage. This is in addition to being stated in an emphatic manner as mentioned previously.
This is supported by the fact that at the completion of Allah’s تعالى saying: “not the rest of the believers,” His تعالى saying came: “We know exactly what We have made obligatory for them concerning their wives and slave-girls.” So this means this is not what Allah تعالى has enjoined on them. That is why after all of this Allah تعالى said: “so you should not be blamed.” i.e. so that there is no hardship for you.
Therefore, the marriages of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم should not be taken as an example to emulate, nor as a subject of legislative discussion because they are unique to him صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم alone. Not to mention that the reality of the Messenger’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم marriages indicates that they were marriages of a Prophet and not the marriages of a man marrying for sex and satisfaction of the procreation instinct, in terms of the male-female aspect.
Marriage to Khadija (ra)
By returning to the historical reality we find that he صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم married Khadija (ra) while he was twenty-three years of age. Khadija (ra) remained as his صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم wife for twenty-eight years. She died in the eleventh year of the Prophethood, two years before the Hijra, a few months after the rescission of the boycott document and shortly before his visit to Taif in the year 620CE. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم was aged fifty when she died.
He صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم did not contemplate since the time he married Khadija (ra) until her death, the prospect of marrying more than one wife, and this was at a time when polygyny was a widespread practise amongst the Arabs.
Before the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم was sent with the Message, he spent seventeen years with Khadija (ra) sharing a quiet and tranquil life. He صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم lived with her for approximately eleven years after the Prophethood (Bi'tha), in a life of da’wa and struggle against the kufr thoughts. In spite of this he did not consider marrying again.
It was not known of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم during his life with Khadija (ra) or before his marriage to her that he was one of those tempted by the alluring charms of women in an age of ignorance (Jahiliyya) where these charms were used to tempt people.
It is not natural for us to take the view that after passing the age of fifty a sudden change took place in the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم where he wasn’t content with only one wife but rather continued marrying until he had taken ten wives. Within five years in the sixth decade of the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم life he gathered more than seven wives, and in the remaining seven years of the sixth decade and beginning of the seventh the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم gathered nine wives.
At such an age can these marriages be attributed to a desire for women and sexual intercourse? Or were there other motives, which were required by the reality of life that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم was engaged in? i.e. the life of the Message, which he had been ordered to convey to the people. In order to understand this issue, let us examine the incidents surrounding the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم marriages in further detail.
Contracting the marriage to A’isha (ra)
In the eleventh year of the Prophethood, the year in which Khadija (ra) died, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم considered getting married. He was fifty, and proposed to A’isha (ra), the daughter of Abu Bakr (ra), his friend and the first one who believed in his Prophethood from the men. When she was just a child of six he contracted a marriage with her but did not consummate it for a period of three years until she was nine and fully mature having reached puberty, which happened after the Hijra.
Marriage to Sawda bint Zam’a (ra)
However, at the time in which the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم contracted the marriage with A’isha (ra) he married Sawda bint Zam’a (ra). Sawda (ra) was a widow of al-Sukran b. ‘Amr b. ‘Abd Shams (ra), who was one of the Muslims who had migrated to Abyssinia but died on his return to Makkah. Sawda (ra) had embraced Islam with her husband and she had migrated with him. She had suffered the same difficulties and hardships he suffered and faced the same harm he had faced.
After the death of Sawda’s husband the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم married her. It has not been reported that Sawda (ra) was beautiful, or that she possessed wealth or standing, that would make any of the worldly aspects influence the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم marriage to her. Since the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم had married her after the death of her husband, the only thing we can deduce from this is that he married her to support her and raise her to the position of the mother of the believers. When he migrated he made the house of Sawda (ra) close to the Mosque. This was the first house the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم built for any of his wives.
Consummation of the marriage to A’isha (ra)
Then, in the first year of the Hijra after the brotherhood between the Ansar and the Muhajireen had been instituted, the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم consummated his marriage with A’isha (ra) and he housed her next to the house of Sawda (ra), close to the Mosque. He allowed his first Wazir (assistant) and friend Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (ra) to come and see him in his house at his daughter's home.
Marriage to Hafsa (ra)
In the second year of the Hijra, after the battle of Badr and before Uhud, he married Hafsa (ra) the daughter of Umar b. al-Khattab (ra). Hafsa (ra), before being married to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم, was the wife of Hanish (ra) who was one of the early converts to Islam. Seven months after Hanish (ra) died the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم married her. By marrying Hafsa (ra) he صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم enabled his second Wazir, his companion Umar b. al-Khattab (ra) to come to see him in his house at Hafsa’s home.
So the marriages to A’isha (ra) and Hafsa (ra) were marriages to the daughters of his two Wazirs (assistants), the daughters of two companions who persevered with him in Da'wah, ruling and fighting. Therefore such marriages were not only for the purpose of marriage. Although A’isha (ra) was beautiful and the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم found her attractive this was not the case with Hafsa (ra), which indicates that his marriage to both of them was for a purpose other than sexual gratification.
Marriage to Juwayriyya bint al-Harith ibn Abi Dirar (ra)
During the battle of Banu Mustaliq, in the fifth year of the Hijra, he صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم married Juwayriyya bint al-Harith ibn Abi Dirar (ra). The reason behind his marriage to her was for the purpose of drawing her father closer to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم and raising her position. Juwayriyya (ra) was from the captives of Banu Mustaliq, and had fallen into the hands of one of the Ansar. She was the daughter of the leader of Banu Mustaliq, so she wanted to free herself from her master to whom she had become a slave-girl. Her master increased the ransom money knowing that she was the daughter of the leader of Banu Mustaliq. So her father approached the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم with the ransom required to free her, which he did. Then after believing in the Message of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم he became a Muslim, and he took his daughter Juwayriyya (ra) to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم and she too embraced Islam, so the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم asked her father for her hand in marriage. He married her to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم himself so the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم marriage to her was in fact a marriage to the daughter of a leader of a tribe which he had subjugated. His صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم objective was to win the friendship of its leader through marrying his daughter.
Marriage to Safiyya (ra)
In the seventh year of the Hijra after the victory of Khaybar he صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم married Safiyya (ra) daughter of Huyai ibn al-Akhtab who was one of the leaders of the Jews. The story of his marriage to her began when she was taken along with other captives which the Muslims seized from the fortress of Khaybar. Some of the Muslims advised the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم: “Safiyya is a noble lady of Banu Qurayza and Banu Nadhir. She is not suitable for anyone other than you”, so the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم freed her and married her. This was therefore done for her protection and to free her from the bondage of slavery, as well to raise her status. It has been narrated that Abu Ayyub Khalid al-Ansari feared that Safiyya (ra) harboured hatred against the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم who had killed her father, husband and people. For this reason he spent the night, girded with his sword, around the tent in which the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم consummated the marriage with Safiyya (ra) on the way back from Khaybar. When the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم woke up in the morning he noticed him outside the tent and asked him: “What is the matter?” He replied: “I feared for you from this woman. You have killed her father, husband and her people and she has just recently come out of kufr.” So the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم set Abu Ayyub’s mind at rest, and Safiyya (ra) remained loyal to the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم until Allah تعالى took his soul.
Marriage to Maymuna (ra)
Later, in the eighth year of Hijra he صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم married Maymuna (ra) the sister of Umm al-Fadhl, the wife of al-‘Abbas b. Abd ul-Muttalib. He married her in Makkah at the end of the postponed pilgrimage (Umra al-qada) that the Muslims agreed to delay in the treaty of Hudaybiyah. The account of his marriage to her began when Maymuna (ra) was twenty six years of age and that she had delegated her sister Umm al-Fadhl to find a suitor for her, but when she saw the predicament of the Muslims at the umra she herself yearned for Islam.
Therefore, al-‘Abbas proposed to his nephew our Master Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم at her behest and the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم agreed to marry her. The three day time limit on staying Makkah, stipulated by the treaty of Hudaybiyah had expired. But the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم wished to use his marriage to Maymuna (ra) as a means to increase the understanding between himself and the Quraish.
When Suhayl b. ‘Amr and Huwayteb b. ‘Abd ul-‘Uzza came to him representing Quraish they said to Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم: “Your time in Makkah has expired, so leave us.” He صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم said to them: “What is the matter with you? Why do you not leave me? I will hold a wedding feast amongst you. We will prepare food for you so why not attend it?” Their response to him was “we have no need of your food so depart from us.” The Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم did not hesitate and left Makkah along with the rest of the Muslims.
Marriages to Zaynab bint Khuzayma and Umm Salama (ra)
As for his صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم marriage to Zaynab bint Khuzayma (ra) and Umm Salama (ra), they were marriages to the two wives of his companions who had been martyred on the battlefield.
Zaynab (ra) was the wife of 'Ubayda b. al-Harith b. al-Muttalib (ra) who was martyred on the day of Badr, she was not of marked beauty, but she was known for her good nature and kindness to the extent that she became nicknamed as the ‘mother of the needy.’ She had passed her youth, but the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم married her in the second year of the Hijra, after the battle of Badr and after the martyrdom of her husband. She stayed with him for only two years until Allah تعالى took her soul. After Khadija (ra), Zaynab (ra) was the only one who died before the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم.
As for Umm Salama (ra), she was the wife of Abu Salama (ra), who had a number of sons with her. Abu Salama (ra) was injured in Uhud then recovered from it, so the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم agreed to let him fight Banu Asad. He defeated them and returned to Madinah victorious with the booty that had been captured, but the injury he sustained at Uhud worsened and he remained ill until his death shortly afterwards. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم was present while he was on his deathbed, and he remained by his side, praying for his wellbeing until he died. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم then closed Abu Salama’s eyes.
Four months after Abu Salama’s death, the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم proposed to Umm Salama (ra) herself, but she made excuses that she had a big family and that she had passed her youth. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم however persisted until he married her and he himself saw to her children’s upbringing.
Therefore it is clear that the Messenger married those two wives to care for the family of two of his companions after their death.
Marriage to Umm Habiba bint Abu Sufyan (ra)
As for his marriage to Umm Habiba bint Abu Sufyan (ra), this was a marriage to a believing woman who had migrated to Abyssinia fleeing with her deen intact. She had remained patient in the path of Islam after her husband had apostatised.
Umm Habiba (ra) was Ramla the daughter of Abu Sufyan, the leader of Makkah and head of the Mushrikin. She was the wife of a cousin (son of a paternal aunt) of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم, 'Ubayd Allah b. Jahsh al-Asadi. 'Ubayd Allah embraced Islam with his wife Ramla whilst her father Abu Sufyan was still upon kufr. She was afraid of hurting her father so she migrated, encumbered by her pregnancy, with her husband to Abbysinia. There in the place of refuge, Ramla gave birth to her daughter Habiba bint 'Ubayd Allah by whom she was named. So she came to be called Umm Habiba although her husband 'Ubayd Allah b. Jahsh did not take long before he left the fold of Islam and professed his belief in Christianity, the religion of the Abyssinians. He tried to take his wife Ramla away from Islam, but she patiently persevered in her deen.
Then the messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم sent for the Negus delegating him to perform the marriage of Umm Habiba (ra) to the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم. The Negus informed Umm Habiba (ra) of this, so she delegated Khalid b. Sa'id b. al-'As (ra) to give her in marriage, and her marriage contract with the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم took place. Khalid undertook the marriage contract on her behalf and the Negus for the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم. When the Muhajirin of Abbysinia returned to Madinah after the battle of Khaybar, Umm Habiba returned with them and entered the house of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم. Madinah celebrated the wedding of the Messenger to Umm Habiba (ra) and she remained in his house.
Marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh (ra)
As for his صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh (ra) this marriage explained the legislation for a number of customs and traditions of Jahiliyah that contradicted Islam.
Firstly, it was legislation to demolish what was called equivalence or matching between the man and the woman. In marrying a cousin (daughter of his paternal aunt) who was from the leaders of the Quraish, to a former slave that had been freed Zayd (ra).
Secondly, it showed the legislation for the destruction of what had become established amongst them in Jahiliyah, in that adopting a son is like one’s own son, so one cannot marry his wife. Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم married the wife of his freedman Zayd (ra), after he divorced Zaynab in order to destroy those non-Islamic customs.
The account of the Messenger’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh (ra) was that Zaynab bint Jahsh (ra) was the daughter of Umayma bint 'Abd al-Muttalib the paternal aunt of the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم. She was raised under the Messenger’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم care and attention and because of this, she was to him like a daughter or younger sister. He صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم used to know her and knew whether she was attractive or not before she had married Zayd, and he had seen her from the time she was an infant crawling, until her childhood and through to her adolescent years. She was not a stranger to the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم, but rather she was similar in position to his daughter.
He صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم proposed to her on behalf of his freed slave Zayd (ra). However, her brother 'Abd Allah b. Jahsh refused the proposal, because Zaynab (ra) was from Quraish and a Hashimite in addition to being a daughter of the aunt of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم. Whereas Zayd (ra) was a slave bought by Khadija (ra) and later freed by Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم. Zaynab’s brother felt that this was a great shame for Zaynab (ra) as it used to be a great dishonour for the Arabs, as daughters of the nobility did not marry slaves even if they were given their freedom. But Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم wanted these considerations which existed within people solely on the basis of tribalism to be erased and for them to comprehend that there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab except in Taqwa and to understand Allah’s تعال saying:
إِنَّ أَڪۡرَمَكُمۡ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتۡقَٮٰكُمۡۚ
“In Allah’s eyes, the most honoured of you are the ones most mindful of Him (taqwa).” [TMQ Al-Hujurat: 13]
The Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم did not consider it right that a woman from other than his own family should be pushed to do this. So Zaynab bint Jahsh (ra), daughter of his aunt, became the one to depart from the traditions of the Arabs and to destroy their customs, paying no attention to what people may say about her
He صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم let Zayd (ra), his slave whom he had adopted and who due to the customs and traditions of the Arabs gained the right of inheritance from him, to be the one who would marry Zaynab (ra). The Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم insisted that Zaynab (ra) and her brother 'Abdullah accept Zayd (ra), his freed slave, as her husband. However, Zaynab (ra) persisted in her refusal as did her brother 'Abdullah. As a result Allah تعال revealed the verse:
وَمَا كَانَ لِمُؤۡمِنٍ۬ وَلَا مُؤۡمِنَةٍ إِذَا قَضَى ٱللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ ۥۤ أَمۡرًا أَن يَكُونَ لَهُمُ ٱلۡخِيَرَةُ مِنۡ أَمۡرِهِمۡۗ وَمَن يَعۡصِ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۥ فَقَدۡ ضَلَّ ضَلَـٰلاً۬ مُّبِينً۬ا
“When Allah and His messenger have decided on a matter that concerns them, it is not fitting for any believing man or women to claim freedom of choice in that matter: whoever disobeys Allah and His messenger is far astray.” [TMQ Al-Ahzab: 36]
Therefore 'Abdullah and Zaynab had no choice but to submit to Allah’s تعال will, so they said: “We consent O Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم.”
Zayd (ra) consummated his marriage with Zaynab (ra) after the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم had sent her the bride gift (mahr).
However, married life between Zayd (ra) and Zaynab (ra) was not good. On the contrary, from the start it was unsettled and embittered and continued to be unsettled and embittered. Zaynab (ra) was not happy with this marriage after it had taken place even though it was a command from Allah تعال and His Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم. She did not obey her husband, and she did not soften in her approach towards him. Rather, she boasted to Zayd (ra) that the bondage of slavery had not befallen her and she made life difficult for him.
Zayd (ra) complained to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم on numerous occasions and explained to him about Zaynab’s (ra) bad treatment of him. He sought permission from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم a number of times to divorce her. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم used to reply: “Hold on to your wife.”
Then Allah تعال revealed to the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم that Zaynab (ra) will be one of his wives. This was distressing for the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم who feared that people will say that Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم has married his son’s wife and will censure him for that since he صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم had adopted Zayd (ra) as a son. Therefore, the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم did not want Zayd (ra) to divorce Zaynab (ra), but Zayd (ra) urged the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم to allow him to divorce her.
Despite the fact that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم knew that Zaynab (ra) would be one of his wives as Allah تعال had informed him of this through revelation, he صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم still said to Zayd (ra): “Keep your wife to yourself, and fear Allah.” As a result of this Allah تعال mildly reproached the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم since Allah تعال told him that he صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم would marry Zaynab (ra) and that he صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم was concealing within himself that which Allah تعال wanted made known. This is the meaning of Allah’s تعال saying:
وَتُخۡفِى فِى نَفۡسِكَ مَا ٱللَّهُ مُبۡدِيهِ
“You hid in your heart what Allah would later reveal.” [TMQ Al-Ahzab: 37]
The matter that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم concealed was the knowledge that Zaynab (ra) will be his wife even though she was the wife of someone he had adopted. This is what Allah would make manifest afterwards, which was his marriage to a divorcee of someone he had adopted as his son.
The reason for the Messenger’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم concealment of this marriage, which Allah تعال later made manifest, is that it was the custom of the Arabs to keep their adopted sons and daughters in their houses and ensure links with their relations. They used to give the ‘da’iyy’ (the person who is adopted, all the rights of a son.) All the rules of a son were applied to them even in inheritance and the esteem of lineage. So when Allah informed the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم that Zaynab (ra), the wife of his freed slave whom he had adopted will be his wife he hid this knowledge and strictly insisted that Zayd (ra) hold on to his wife and not divorce her. This is despite Zayd’s (ra) insistence, his complaints about her, and the lack of harmony between them in their marital life ever since he married her. Zayd (ra) insisted on divorcing her so the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم gave him permission, and he eventually divorced her without any knowledge that the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم would marry her and without Zaynab (ra) herself knowing that the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم would take her as his wife.
This is illustrated by what Ahmad, Muslim and an-Nisa’i have reported from Sulayman b. al-Mughira on the authority of Thabit that Anas who said: When the 'Iddah (divorce period) of Zaynab was over, Allah’s Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم said to Zayd to mention him to her. So I (Zayd) went to her and said: ‘O Zaynab rejoice! Allah’s Messenger sent me to propose to you on his behalf.’ She said: ‘I do not do anything until I see my Lord order me.’ So she stood at her place of worship and Allah’s Messenger came to her without permission when the verses of the Qur’an (pertaining to her marriage) were revealed:
فَلَمَّا قَضَىٰ زَيۡدٌ۬ مِّنۡہَا وَطَرً۬ا زَوَّجۡنَـٰكَهَا لِكَىۡ لَا يَكُونَ عَلَى ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ حَرَجٌ۬ فِىٓ أَزۡوَٲجِ أَدۡعِيَآٮِٕهِمۡ إِذَا قَضَوۡاْ مِنۡہُنَّ وَطَرً۬اۚ
“When Zayd no longer wanted her, We gave her to you in marriage so that there might be no fault in believers marrying the wives of their adopted sons after they no longer wanted them.” [TMQ Al-Ahzab: 37]
If either Zaynab (ra) or Zayd (ra) had known that Allah تعال had ordered the Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم to marry Zaynab then Zayd would not have said to her ‘rejoice,’ nor she said ‘until I see my Lord order me.’ i.e. she left the matter to Allah to guide her in this marriage. The 'Illa (legal reason) of this marriage is so that there is no sin on the believer in marrying the wife of someone they had adopted.
This is the account of the Messenger’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم marriages to his wives. It is clear that each one was for an objective other than the mere aim of marrying. The intent of the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم marriage to more than four wives and why this number is unique to him compared to the rest of his Ummah is now clear.
The fact that the objective was not the agitation of the procreation instinct of a man who had passed the age of fifty is quite evident, since he was a man who was busy with the Da’wa, engaged in conveying the Message of his Lord to the world so that he may revive a people and mould them into an Ummah whose only aim in life was to carry the Message of Allah to the world.
His صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم aim was to build the society anew after he had demolished the previous structures, and establish a state pushing ahead the world before it, in order to carry the Call of Islam to the people. Anyone whose mind is occupied with the revival of an Ummah, the establishment of a state, the building of a society, and the carrying of the Message to the world cannot be preoccupied by women devoting himself to them and marrying one every year. Rather, he carried his Da'wah and he enjoyed a normal married life like any other human.
TMQ – Translated Meaning of the Qur’an.
The English translation of the Qur'an by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem has been used.