Islamic Sociology Muhammad and Polygamy

QUESTION: Islamic Sociology – Muhammad and Polygamy

ANSWER:

While the Qur’an limits the number of wives to four (provided that the husband can treat each woman equally), Muhammad had at least nine wives. This discrepancy is difficult to resolve, although Muhammad offered revelations that permitted him this excess. Non-Muslims, however, have a difficult time not seeing this as self-serving pretense on the part of Muhammad.
    O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom God has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Mecca) with thee; and any believing women who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her—this is only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed to them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess—in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (33:50)


Islamic Sociology – Muhammad and His Wives
Muslim traditions often record Muhammad’s dealings with his wives, slaves, and captive women. In fact, his sex life is legendary among Muslims. As recorded in one Hadith, “’The Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number.’ I asked Anas, ‘Had the Prophet the strength for it?’ Anas replied, ‘We used to say that the Prophet was given the strength of thirty (men).’ And Sa’id said on the authority of Qatada that Anas had told him about nine wives only (not eleven) (Bukhari 1:268).”

Muhammad’s youngest wife, Aisha, was also his favored wife. She reported “that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old, and then she remained with him for nine years (i.e., “till his death” (Al-Bukhari 7:64). Various traditions in the Hadith record that Muhammad showed favoritism to Aisha above his other wives (though the Qur’an speaks against such unequal treatment).
    He then said to her, “Do not hurt me regarding Aisha, as the Divine Inspirations do not come to me on any of the beds except that of Aisha.” On that Um Salama said, “I repent to Allah for hurting you.” Then the group of Um Salama called Fatima, the daughter of Allah’s Apostle and sent her to Allah’s Apostle to say to him, “Your wives request to treat them and the daughter of Abu Bakr on equal terms.” Then Fatima conveyed the message to him. The Prophet said, “O my daughter! Don’t you love whom I love?” She replied in the affirmative and returned and told them of the situation. They requested her to go to him again but she refused. They then sent Zainab bin Jahsh who went to him and used harsh words saying, “Your wives request you to treat them and the daughter of Ibn Abu Quhafa on equal terms.” On that she raised her voice and abused Aisha to her face so much so that Allah’s Apostle looked at Aisha to see whether she would retort. Aisha started replying to Zainab till she silenced her. The Prophet then looked at Aisha and said, “She is really the daughter of Abu Bakr.”1
Thus, instead of attempting to treat his wives equally, he told them that he loved Aisha and that revelations came to him only when he was in bed with her.

Notes:

Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Al-Bukhari, Vol. 1, Book 6, 3:755. See http://www.islamonline.com/cgi-bin/news_service/profile_story.asp?service_id=838

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