Dr. Hammudah `Abdul-`Ati in his book Islam in Focus, states that: “As far as the issue of the Prophet’s marriages is concerned (peace and blessings be upon him) it is not problem for a Muslim who understands the ideal character of the Prophet and the circumstances under which his marriages were contracted. Quite often they stand as a stumbling block for non-Muslims to understand the personality of the Prophet, causing one to reach the wrong conclusion, which is not to the credit of Islam or the Prophet.
We will not give any conclusions of our own or denounce the conclusions of others. We shall present certain facts and allow the readers to see for themselves.
1. The institution of marriage enjoys a very high status in Islam. It is highly commendable and essential for the sound survival of society.
2. Prophet Muhammad never said that he was immortal or divine. Time and time again, he emphasized that he was a mortal being chosen by Allah to deliver His message to mankind. Although unique and distinguished in his life, he lived like a man and died as a man. Marriage, therefore, was natural for him, and not a heresy or anathema.
3. He lived in an extremely hot climate where the physical desires press hard on men, where people develop physical maturity at an early age, and where easy satisfaction was a common thing among people of all classes. Nevertheless, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) had never touched a woman until he was 25 years of age when he married for the first time. In the whole of Arabia he was known by his upright character and was called Al-Amin (the trustworthy), a title which signified the highest standard of moral life.
4. His first marriage at this unusually late age was to Khadeejah, who was twice widowed and 15 years his senior. It was her who initiated the contract, and he accepted the proposal in spite of her age and marital status. At the time he could have quite easily found more beautiful women to be much younger wives, if he was inclined towards his physical desires.
5. He lived with Khadijah as her husband until he was over 50 years of age, and by her he had all his children with the exception of Ibrahim. She remained his wife until her death when she was over 65 years, and throughout her marriage the Prophet never took another wife or had any other intimacy.
6. Persecutions and perils were continually inflicted on him and the believers, particularly at the end of Khadijah’s life. It was during this time that his wife died and after her death, he stayed without re-marrying for some time. Sawdah, who had emigrated with her husband to Abyssinia in the early years of persecutions, sought shelter on her way back after her husband died. The natural course for her was to turn to the Prophet himself for whose mission her husband had died. The Prophet extended his shelter and married her. She was not particularly young or beautiful. She was an ordinary widow with a quick temper. Later in the same year, the Prophet proposed to `A’ishah who was seven years old and the daughter of his beloved Companion, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him). The marriage was not consummated until sometime after the emigration to Madinah and when she had reached maturity. The motives of these two marriages can be understood to be anything except passion and physical attraction. However, he lived with the two wives for five to six years, when he was 56 years of age, without taking any other wife.
7. From the age of 56 to 60, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) contracted nine marriages in quick succession. In the last three years of his life he contracted no marriages at all. Most of his marriages were contracted in a period of about five years when he was passing the most difficult and trying stage in his mission. At that time the Muslims were engaged in decisive battles and entangled in an endless circle of external and internal problems. It was at that time that the Islamic legislation was in the making, and the foundations of an Islamic society were being laid down. The fact that Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was the most dominant figure in these events and the center around which they revolved, and that most of his marriages took place during this particular period is an extremely interesting phenomenon. It invites the serious attention of historians, sociologists, legislators, psychologists, etc. It cannot be interpreted simply in terms of physical attraction and lust.
8. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) lived a simple and modest life. During the day he was the busiest man of his era as he was Head of State, Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, instructor, etc. At night he was spiritually devoted to Allah as he used to stay one to two-thirds of every night vigilant in prayer and meditation (Qur’an, 73: 20). His furniture consisted of mats, jugs, blankets and other simple things, although he was the king and sovereign of Arabia. His life was so severe and austere that his wives once pressed him for worldly comforts, but they never had any (cf. Qur’an, 33: 48). Obviously, that was not the life of a lustful and passionate man.
9. The wives he took were all widows or divorced with the exception of `A’ishah. None of these widowed and divorced wives was particularly known for physical charms or beauties. Some of them were senior to him in age, and practically all of them sought his hand and shelter, or were presented to him as gifts, but he accepted them as legal wives.
This is the general background of the Prophet’s marriages, and it cannot give any impression that these marriages were in response to physical needs or biological pressures. It is inconceivable to think that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) maintained so large a number of wives because of personal designs or physical wants. Anyone, friend or foe, who doubts the moral integrity or the spiritual excellence of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) on account of his marriages has to find satisfactory explanations of questions like these. Why did he first marry at the age of 25 after having had no association with any female? Why did he choose a twice-widowed woman, 15 years his senior? Why did he remain with her until her death when he was over fifty without having another wife? Why did he accept all those helpless widows and divorcees who possessed no particular appealing qualities? Why did he lead such an austere and hard life, when he could have had an easy and comfortable one? Why did he contract most of his marriages in the busiest five years in his life when his mission and career were at stake? How could he manage to be what he was, if the harem life or passions overtook him? There are many other points that can be raised and the whole subject cannot be simply interpreted in terms of masculine love and desire for women. It calls for serious and honest consideration.
Reviewing the marriages of Prophet Muhammad individually one does not fail to find the actual reasons behind these marriages. They may be classified as follows:
1. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) came to the world as an ideal model for mankind, and he was in all aspects of his life. Marriage in particular is a striking illustration. He was the kindest, most loving and charitable husband. He had to undertake all stages of human experience and moral tests. He lived with one wife and with more than one, with the old and the young, with the widow and the divorcee, with the pleasant and the temperamental, and with the renowned and the humble. But, in all cases be was the epitome of kindness and consolation, and so designated to experience all the different aspects of human behavior and situations. This could not have been a physical pleasure; it was a moral trial as well as a human task, and a hard one too.
2. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) came to establish morality and assure every Muslim of security, protection, moral integrity and a decent life. His mission was put to the test in his life and it did not stay in the stationary form of theory. As usual, he took the hardest part and did his share in the most inconvenient manner. Wars and persecution burdened the Muslims with many widows, orphans and divorcees. They had to be protected and maintained by the surviving Muslim men. It was his practice to help these women become resettled by marriage to his Companions. The Companions rejected some women and so some of those women sought his personal patronage and protection. Realizing fully their conditions and sacrifices for the cause of Islam, he had to do something to relieve them. One course of relief was to take them as his own wives and accept the challenge of heavy liabilities. So he did so and maintained more than one wife at a time when it was no fun or easy course. He had to take part in the rehabilitation of those widows, orphans and divorcees because he could not ask his Companions to do things that he himself was not prepared to do or participate in. These women were trusts of the Muslims and they had to be looked after jointly. What he did, then, was his share of responsibility, and as always his share was the largest and heaviest. That is why he had more than one wife and more than any of his Companions.
3. There were many prisoners of war captured by the Muslims who were entitled to security and protection. They were not killed or denied their rights: human or physical. On the contrary, they were helped to settle down through legal marriages to Muslims instead of being taken as concubines and common mistresses. That also was another moral burden on the Muslims, which had to be shouldered jointly as a common responsibility. Here, again, Muhammad carried his share and took some responsibilities by marrying two of those captives.
4. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) contracted some of his marriages for sociopolitical reasons. His principal concern was the future of Islam. He was interested in strengthening the Muslims by all bonds. That is why he married the young daughter of Abu Bakr, his First Successor, and the daughter of `Umar, his Second Successor. It was by his marriage to Juwayriyyah that he gained the support for Islam of the whole clan of Bani Al-Mustaliq and their allied tribes. It was through marriage to Safiyyah that he neutralized a great section of the hostile Jews of Arabia. By accepting Mariyah, the Copt from Egypt, as his wife, he formed a political alliance with a king of great magnitude. It was also a gesture of friendship with a neighboring king that Muhammad married Zaynab who was presented to him by the Negus of Abyssinia in whose territory the early Muslims found safe refuge.
5. By contracting most of these marriages, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) meant to eliminate the caste or class system, racial and national pride and superiority, and religious prejudices. He married some of the humblest and poorest women. There was his marriage to Mariyah from Egypt, a Jewish woman of a different religion and race, and a Negro girl from Abyssinia. He was not satisfied with merely teaching brotherhood and equality: actions speak louder than words.
6. Some of the Prophet’s marriages were for legislative reasons and to abolish certain corrupt traditions. Such was his marriage to Zaynab, divorcee of the freed slave Zayd. Before Islam, the Arabs did not allow divorcees to remarry. Zayd was adopted by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and called his son as was the custom among the Arabs before Islam. But Islam abrogated this custom and disapproved of its practice. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was the first man to express this disapproval in a practical way. So he married the divorcee of his “adopted” son to show that adoption does not really make the adopted child a real son of the adopting father and also to show that marriage is lawful for divorcees. Incidentally, this very Zaynab was Muhammad’s cousin, and had been offered to him in marriage before she married Zayd. He refused her then, but after she was divorced he accepted her for the two legislative purposes: the lawful marriage of divorcees and the real status of adopted children. The story of this Zaynab has been associated in some minds with ridiculous fabrications regarding the moral integrity of Muhammad. These vicious fabrications are not even worth considering here (see Qur’an, 33: 36, 37, 40).
These are the circumstances accompanying the Prophet’s marriages. For the Muslims there is no doubt whatsoever that Muhammad had the highest standards of morality and was the perfect model for mankind under all circumstances. To non-Muslims we appeal for a serious discussion of the matter. Then, they may be able to reach sound conclusions”