1. Khadijah Bint Khuwailid: In Makkah — prior to Hijra — the Prophet’s household comprised him (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his wife Khadijah bint Khuwailid. He was twenty-five and she was forty when they got married. She was the first woman he married. She was the only wife he had till she died. He had sons and daughters with her. None of their sons lived long. They all died. Their daughters were Zainab, Ruqaiya, Umm Kulthum and Fatimah.
Zainab was married to her maternal cousin Abu Al-‘As bin Al-Rabi‘ and that was before Al-Hijra. Ruqaiya and Umm Kulthum were both married to ‘Uthman bin ‘Affan (May Allah be pleased with him) successively (i.e. he married one after the death of her sister). Fatimah was married to ‘Ali bin Abi Talib; and that was in the period between Badr and Uhud battles. The sons and daughters that Fatimah and ‘Ali had were Al-Hasan, Al-Husain, Zainab and Umm Kulthum.
It is well-known that the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was exceptionally authorized to have more than four wives for various reasons. The wives he married were thirteen. Nine of them outlived him. Two died in his lifetime: Khadijah and the Mother of the poor (Umm Al-Masakeen) — Zainab bint Khuzaima, besides two others with whom he did not consummate his marriage.
2. Sawdah bint Zam‘a: He married her in Shawwal, in the tenth year of Prophethood, a few days after the death of Khadijah. Prior to that, she was married to a paternal cousin of hers called As-Sakran bin ‘Amr.
3. ‘Aishah bint Abu Bakr: He married her in the eleventh year of Prophethood, a year after his marriage to Sawdah, and two years and five months before Al-Hijra. She was six years old when he married her. However, he did not consummate the marriage with her till Shawwal seven months after Al-Hijra, and that was in Madinah. She was nine then. She was the only virgin he married, and the most beloved creature to him. As a woman she was the most learnčd woman in jurisprudence.
4. Hafsah bint ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab: She was Aiyim (i.e. husbandless). Her ex-husband was Khunais bin Hudhafa As-Sahmi in the period between Badr and Uhud battles. The Messenger of Allâh married her in the third year of Al-Hijra.
5. Zainab bint Khuzaimah: She was from Bani Hilal bin ‘Amir bin Sa‘sa‘a. Was nicknamed Umm Al-Masakeen, because of her kindness and care towards them. She used to be the wife of ‘Abdullah bin Jahsh, who was martyred at Uhud, was married to the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in the fourth year of Al-Hijra, but she died two or three months after her marriage to the Messenger of Allâh.
6. Umm Salamah Hind bint Abi Omaiyah: She used to be the wife of Abu Salamah, who died in Jumada Al-Akhir, in the fourth year of Al-Hijra. The Messenger of Allâh married her in Shawwal of the same year.
7. Zainab bint Jahsh bin Riyab: She was from Bani Asad bin Khuzaimah and was the Messenger’s paternal cousin. She was married to Zaid bin Haritha — who was then considered son of the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). However, Zaid divorced her. Allâh sent down some Qur’ânic verses with this respect:
“So when Zaid had accomplished his desire from her (i.e.,
divorced her), We gave her to you in marriage.” [33:37]
About her, Allâh has sent down some verses of Al-Ahzab Chapter that discussed the adoption of children in detail — anyway we will discuss this later. The Messenger of Allâh married her in Dhul-Qa‘dah, the fifth year of Al-Hijra.
8. Juwairiyah bint Al-Harith: Al-Harith was the head of Bani Al-Mustaliq of Khuza‘ah. Juwairiyah was among the booty that fell to the Muslims from Bani Al-Mustaliq. She was a portion of Thabit bin Qais bin Shammas’ share. He made her a covenant to set her free at a certain time. The Messenger of Allâh accomplished the covenant and married her in Sha‘ban in the sixth year of Al-Hijra.
9. Umm Habibah: Ramlah, the daughter of Abu Sufyan. She was married to ‘Ubaidullah bin Jahsh. She migrated with him to Abyssinia (Ethiopia). When ‘Ubaidullah apostatized and became a Christian, she stood fast to her religion and refused to convert. However ‘Ubaidullah died there in Abyssinia (Ethiopia). The Messenger of Allâh dispatched ‘Amr bin Omaiyah Ad-Damri with a letter to Negus, the king, asking him for Umm Habibah’s hand — that was in Muharram, in the seventh year of Al-Hijra. Negus agreed and sent her to the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in the company of Sharhabeel bin Hasnah.
10. Safiyah bint Huyal bin Akhtab: From the Children of Israel, she was among the booty takne at Khaibar battle. The Messenger of Allâh took for himself. He set her free and married her after that conquest in the seventh year of Al-Hijra.
11. Maimunah bint Al-Harith: The daughter of Al-Harith, and the sister of Umm Al-Fadl Lubabah bint Al-Harith. The Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) married her after the Compensatory ‘Umrah (Lesser Pilgrimage). That was in Dhul-Qa‘dah in the seventh year of Al-Hijra.
Those were the eleven women that the Messenger of Allâh had married and consummated marriage with them. He outlived two of them — Khadijah and Zainab, the Umm Al-Masakeen. Whereas the other nine wives outlived him.
The two wives that he did not consummate marriage with were, one from Bani Kilab and the other from Kindah and this was the one called Al-Jauniyah.
Besides these, he had two concubines. The first was Mariyah, the Coptic (an Egyptian Christian), a present gift from Al-Muqauqis, vicegerent of Egypt — she gave birth to his son Ibrâhim, who died in Madinah while still a little child, on the 28th or 29th of Shawwal in the year 10 A.H., i.e. 27th January, 632 A.D. The second one was Raihanah bint Zaid An-Nadriyah or Quraziyah, a captive from Bani Quraiza. Some people say she was one of his wives. However, Ibn Al-Qaiyim gave more weight to the first version. Abu ‘Ubaidah spoke of two more concubines, Jameelah, a captive, and another one, a bondwoman granted to him by Zainab bint Jahsh.
Whosoever meditates on the life of the Messenger of Allâh, will conceive that his marriage to this great number of women in the late years of his lifetime, after he had almost spent thirty years of his best days of youth sufficing himself to one old wife — Khadijah and later on to Sawdah, was in no way an overwhelming lustful desire to be satisfied through such a number of wives. These marriages were in fact motivated by aims and purposes much more glorious and greater than what normal marriages usually aim at.
The tendency of the Messenger of Allâh towards establishing a relationship by marriage with both Abu Bakr and ‘Umar and his marriage to ‘Aishah and Hafsah — and getting his daughter Fatimah married to ‘Ali bin Abi Talib, and the marriage of his two daughters, Ruqaiyah and Umm Kulthum to ‘Uthman — indicate clearly that he aimed at confirming the relationship among the four men — whose sacrifices and great achievements in the cause of Islam are well-known.
Besides this, there was that tradition of the Arabs to honour the in-law relations. For them a son or a daughter-in-law was a means by which they sought the consolidation of relationship and affection with various parties. Hostility and fights against alliances and affinities would bring an unforgettable shame, disgrace and degradation to them.
By marrying the Mothers of believers, the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) wanted to demolish or break down the Arab tribes’ enmity to Islam and extinguish their intense hatred. Umm Salamah was from Bani Makhzum — the clan of Abu Jahl and Khalid bin Al-Waleed. Her marriage to the Messenger of Allâh produced good results. Khalid’s deliberately undecisive attitude at Uhud — for instance — was due to the Messenger’s marriage to Umm Salamah. Khalid went even further than that, in a short time he willingly became a keen obedient Muslim.
After the Messenger of Allâh’s marriage to Umm Habibah, Abu Sufyan, her father, did not encounter him with any sort of hostility. Similarly his marriage to Juwairiyah and Safiyah made the two tribes stop all sorts of provocation, aggression or hostility against Islam. Better still, Juwairiyah, herself, was one of the greatest sources of blessing to her own people. On the occasion of her marriage to the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), his Companions set a hundred families of her people free. They said: “It is for their affinity with the Messenger of Allâh.” No need to say what great good impression this gratitude had on everybody’s soul. One of the greatest motives of all is Allâh’s bidding his Prophet to educate and purify the souls of people who had known nothing whatsoever about courtesy, education and culture. He had to teach them to comply with the necessities of civilization and to contribute to the solidification and the establishment of a new Islamic society.
An essential fundamental rule of the Muslim society is to prohibit mixing of men and women. Providing direct education for women, though highly compelling, is impossible in the light of this Islamic norm. Therefore, the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had to select some women of different ages and talents, and indoctrinate them systematically in order to educate she-Bedouins and townswomen, old and young, and thus furnish them with the instruments of propagating the true faith. The Mothers of believers [i.e. wives of the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)] were in such a convenient position that they could convey the state of the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his affairs to people (men and women). Being educated and taught the teachings and rules of Islam, his wives, especially those who outlived him, played a very important role in conveying Prophetic traditions Ahadith to the Muslims. ‘Aishah, for instance, related a large number of the Prophet’s deeds and statements.
His marriage to his paternal cousin Zainab bint Jahsh was a peculiar case which aimed at eradicating a deeply rooted pre-Islamic tradition — i.e. the adoption of children. In Al-Jahiliyah the Arabs used to consider an adopted person exactly like a real son or daughter as far as rights and sanctities are concerned. That Jahiliyah tradition had been so deeply rooted in their hearts that it was not easy to remove or uproot it. This tradition in fact affronts the basic principles of Islam; especially those concerned with marriage, divorce and inheritance and some other cases, and brought about lots of corruptions and indecencies. Naturally Islam stands against such deeds, and attempts to remove them from the Islamic society.
For the eradication of this tradition, Allâh, the Exalted, bid His Messenger (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to marry his cousin Zainab bint Jahsh, who was an ex-wife to Zaid. She was at variance with Zaid to an extent that he intended to divorce her — that was at the time when the Confederates (Al-Ahzab) were making an evil alliance against the Messenger of Allâh and against the Muslims. The Messenger of Allâh feared that the hypocrites, the idolaters, and the Jews would make a propaganda out of it and try to influence some Muslims of weak hearts. That was why he urged Zaid not to divorce her, in order not to get involved into that trial.
Undoubtedly this hesitation and partiality were alien to the character of the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). They did not apply to the power of determination and will with which he had been sent. Allâh, the Exalted, blamed him for that by saying:
“And (remember) when you said to him [Zaid bin Haritha (May Allah be pleased with him) — the freed slave of the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ] on whom Allâh has bestowed grace (by guiding him to Islam) and you [O Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ] have done favour (by manumitting him), ‘Keep your wife to yourself, and fear Allâh.’ But you did hide in yourself (i.e. what Allâh has already made known to you that He will give her to you in marriage) that which Allâh will make manifest, you did fear the people [i.e. Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ] married the divorced wife of his manumitted slave] whereas Allâh had a better right that you should fear him.” [33:37]
Finally Zaid divorced Zainab and the Messenger of Allâh married her at the time he laid siege to Bani Quraiza. That was after she had finished her Iddat (i.e. period during which a widow or a divorcee may not remarry). Allâh Himself had already ordained it, and so gave him no other alternative. Allâh had even started the marriage Himself by saying:
“So when Zaid had accomplished his desire from her (i.e. divorced her), We gave her to you in marriage, so that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the believers in respect of (the marriage of) the wives of their adopted sons when the latter have no desire to keep them (i.e. they have divorced them).” [33:37]
And that was in order to break down the tradition of child adoption in practice after He had done it in words:
“Call them (adopted sons) by (the names of) their fathers, that is more just near Allâh.” [33:5]
“Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ] is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Messenger of Allâh, and the last (end) of the Prophets.” [33:40]
Lots of deeply-rooted traditions cannot be uprooted or demolished or even adjusted by mere words. They must be matched and associated with the action of the advocate of the Message himself.
This could be perceived through the deeds practised by the Muslims at Al-Hudaibiyah ‘Umrah (Lesser Pilgrimage) during which ‘Urwah bin Mas‘ud Al-Thaqafi saw certain Muslims tend to pick up any expectoration that fell down from the Prophet . He also saw them race to the water of his ablution and they almost quarrelled for it. There were others who competed to pledge allegiance to death and some others pledged not to flee from (the battlefield). Among those people, were eminent Companions like ‘Umar and Abu Bak, who although dedicated all their lives to the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and to the cause of Islam, but refused to carry out the Messenger’s orders with respect to slaughtering sacrificial animals after the ratification of Al-Hudaibiyah Peace Treaty, the thing that perturbed and caused the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) to feel anxious. However, when Umm Salamah (May Allah be pleased with her) advised that he take the initiative and sacrifice his animals, his followers raced to follow his example; a clear evidence in support of the saying: Actions speak louder than words, in the process of exterminating a deeply-established tradition.
Hypocrites aroused a lot of suspicions and made a broad false propaganda against that marriage. Their acts and talks about that marriage had ill-effects on those Muslims whose Faith was still weak, particularly that Zainab was the fifth wife — and the Noble Qur’ân limited the number up to four only; Zaid was traditionally his son, and so a father marrying his son’s divorcee was a heinous sin in the eyes of the Arabians.
Al-Ahzab Surah was revealed to shed full light on the two issues, i.e. Islam does not recognize adoption of children, and the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is given (by Allâh) more freedom as regards the number of wives he can hold than other Muslims in order to achieve noble and honourable purposes.
However, the treatment of the Messenger of Allâh to his wives was of honourable, noble, and superb nature. His wives were on tops in respect of honour, satisfaction, patience, modesty, and service (that is to say the performance of housework and marriage duties). Although the Messenger’s house-life was hard and unbearable, none of his wives complained. Anas said about the Prophet’s life: “According to my knowledge, the Messenger of Allâh has never tasted a thin flattened loaf in all his lifetime, nor has he ever seen with his own eyes roasted mutton.”
‘Aishah said: “Over two months have elapsed — during which we have seen three crescents — and yet no fire has been kindled in the houses of the Messenger of Allâh (i.e. they did not cook food).” “What did you eat to sustain yourselves?” ‘Urwah asked. She said “The two blacks: dates and water”. Lots of information about the hard life of the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) were told.
In spite of these hardships, straits and adversity of life in the house of the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), none of his wives uttered a word of complaint worthy of reproach — but once. This exception was required by human instinctive inclinations. However, it was not so important and consequently it did not require the decree of a legislative rule. Allâh has given them an opportunity to choose between two things, as clearly stated in the following verses:
“O Prophet [Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) ]! Say to your wives: ‘If you desire the life of this world, and its glitter, — then come! I will make a provision for you and set you free in a handsome manner (divorce). But if you desire Allâh and His Messenger, and the Home of the Hereafter, then verily, Allâh has prepared for Al-Muhsinat (good doers) amongst you an enormous reward.’” [33:28,29]
They were so noble and honest that none of them preferred ‘the life of this world and its glitter’ to the abode in the Hereafter.
Although they were many in number, nothing of the dispute occurrences that normally happen among co-wives, took place in their houses. Very few cases could be the only exception; but they were quite normal. Allâh reproached them for that, so they ceased to do such a thing. This incident is mentioned in At-Tahreem Chapter:
“O Prophet! Why do you ban (for yourself) that which Allâh has made lawful to you …” [66:1] (to the end of the fifth verse).
Discussing polygamy — in my opinion — is not a necessity; since a person who is familiar with the Europeans, and indecent practices, sufferings, wickedness, their sorrows and distresses, the horrible crimes they commit in this respect as well as the trials, the disasters that they are involved in, and which emanate directly from their disregard of the principle of polygamy form a good reason (to justify the soundness of polygamy). The distorted picture of life in Europe with the ill-practices featuring it, could truthfully justify the existence and practice of polygamy. In this, there are Divine signs for all people possessed of lucid mind.
Also read "Wisdom Behind Prophet's Plural Marriages".