The Qur’an is clear on the essential equality of men and women (40:40, 16:97): “Whoso doeth right, whether male of female, and is a believer, all such will enter the Garden.” The Qur’an instructs men to revere women and “live with them on a footing of kindness and equity.” On education the Qur’an mandates equal training for men and women (7:189; 16:97, 33:35). One Muslim scholar told AP, “I have not found anywhere in Islamic teachings where women cannot go out, and education is obligatory.”

But there are also verses that stress a subservient role for women in their relations with men. Sura 4:34 in the Qur’an says that men have “pre-eminence” over women and are “overseers” of women. The Qur’anic verse 33:32-3 and 53-5) that says that women “should stay quietly in your houses” and appear only before male relatives is used as a justification requiring women to stay at home and not interact with men who are not relatives. Many Islamic scholars says that this scripture applies to a specific case involving one of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives and was not intended to be generalized.

An Iranian female activist told the Los Angeles Times, “What I say about women’s rights is based on what I studied of religious law and logic. And I can tell you from knowing the Qur’an and hadith that whatever the clerics are doing is not what is written in the Qur’an. It is only their interpretation---their male and sometimes chauvinistic--- interpretation. “In the Qur’an it is written that men and women are equal before God. And those who are better are better because they are good Muslims not because they are men or women.”

When Muslim clerics get together in Saudi Arabia and other places to discuss women’s issues generally that are few women if any women present. site, When women are allowed to attend sometimes they have to sit in a separate room and monitor the proceedings from a television monitor.

Websites and Resources: Islam Islam.com islam.com ; Islamic City islamicity.com ; Islam 101 islam101.net ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/islam ; BBC article bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam ; Patheos Library – Islam patheos.com/Library/Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts web.archive.org ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam britannica.com ; Islam at Project Gutenberg gutenberg.org ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs web.archive.org ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary pbs.org frontline ; Discover Islam dislam.org

Books: Qu’ran and Women by Amina Wadud, professor of Islamic Studies at Virgina Commonwealth University; Standing Alone in Mecca by Asra Nomani (HarpersSan Francisco); Women and Gender in Islam by Leila Ahmed; Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks was read by U.S. President George Bush.

Sunnah on Women

The Sunnahs are the practices and examples drawn from the Prophet Muhammad's life. Along with the Hadiths they are the most important texts in Islam after the Qur’an. They must adhere to a strict chain of narration that ensures their authenticity, taking into account factors such as the character of people in the chain and continuity in narration. Reports that fail to meet such criteria are disregarded.

Afghan lady in Kabul

The Sunnah reads: “The world and all things in it are valuable, but the most valuable thing in the world is a virtuous woman. I have not left any calamity more hurtful to man than woman. A Muslim can not obtain (after righteousness) anything better than a well-disposed, beautiful wife: such a wife as, when ordered by her husband to do anything, obeys; and if her husband look at her, is happy; and if her husband swear by her to do a thing, she does it to make his oath true; and if he be absent from her, she wishes him well in her own person by guarding herself from inchastity, and taketh care of his property. [Source: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York: Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. VI: Medieval Arabia, pp. 11-32]

“Verily the best of women are those who are content with little. Admonish your wives with kindness; for women were created out of a crooked rib of Adam, therefore if ye wish to straighten it, ye will break it; and if ye let it alone, it will be always crooked. Every woman who dieth, and her husband is pleased with her, shall enter into paradise. That which is lawful but disliked by God is divorce.

“A woman may be married by four qualifications: one, on account of her money; another, on account of the nobility of her pedigree; another, on account of her beauty; a fourth, on account of her faith; therefore look out for religious women, but if ye do it from any other consideration, may your hands be rubbed in dirt. A widow shall not be married until she be consulted; nor shall a virgin be married until her consent be asked, whose consent is by her silence. When the Prophet was informed that the people of Persia had made the daughter of Chosroes their queen, he said The tribe that constitutes a woman its ruler will not find redemption.

“Do not prevent your women from coming to the mosque; but their homes are better for them. O assembly of women, give alms, although it be of your gold and silver ornaments; for verily ye are mostly of hell on the day of resurrection. When ye return from a journey and enter your town at night, go not to your houses, so that your wives may have time to comb their disheveled hair.

Qur’an: "The Women"

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful: “4.1: O people! be careful of (your duty to) your Lord, Who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same (kind) and spread from these two, many men and women; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, by Whom you demand one of another (your rights), and (to) the ties of relationship; surely Allah ever watches over you.

“4.3: And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.

“4.4: And give women their dowries as a free gift, but if they of themselves be pleased to give up to you a portion of it, then eat it with enjoyment and with wholesome result.

9th century Koran

“4.7: Men shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, and women shall have a portion of what the parents and the near relatives leave, whether there is little or much of it; a stated portion.

“4.12: And you shall have half of what your wives leave if they have no child, but if they have a child, then you shall have a fourth of what they leave after (payment of) any bequest they may have bequeathed or a debt; and they shall have the fourth of what you leave if you have no child, but if you have a child then they shall have the eighth of what you leave after (payment of) a bequest you may have bequeathed or a debt; and if a man or a woman leaves property to be inherited by neither parents nor offspring, and he (or she) has a brother or a sister, then each of them two shall have the sixth, but if they are more than that, they shall be sharers in the third after (payment of) any bequest that may have been bequeathed or a debt that does not harm (others); this is an ordinance from Allah: and Allah is Knowing, Forbearing.

“4.15: And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them.

“4.23: Forbidden to you are your mothers and your daughters and your sisters and your paternal aunts and your maternal aunts and brothers' daughters and sisters' daughters and your mothers that have suckled you and your foster-sisters and mothers of your wives and your step-daughters who are in your guardianship, (born) of your wives to whom you have gone in, but if you have not gone in to them, there is no blame on you (in marrying them), and the wives of your sons who are of your own loins and that you should have two sisters together, except what has already passed; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

“4.25: And whoever among you has not within his power ampleness of means to marry free believing women, then (he may marry) of those whom your right hands possess from among your believing maidens; and Allah knows best your faith: you are (sprung) the one from the other; so marry them with the permission of their masters, and give them their dowries justly, they being chaste, not fornicating, nor receiving paramours; and when they are taken in marriage, then if they are guilty of indecency, they shall suffer half the punishment which is (inflicted) upon free women. This is for him among you who fears falling into evil; and that you abstain is better for you, and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

“4.32: And do not covet that by which Allah has made some of you excel others; men shall have the benefit of what they earn and women shall have the benefit of what they earn; and ask Allah of His grace; surely Allah knows all things.

“4.34: Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.

“4.124: And whoever does good deeds whether male or female and he (or she) is a believer -- these shall enter the garden, and they shall not be dealt with a jot unjustly.

“4.128: And if a woman fears ill usage or desertion on the part of her husband, there is no blame on them, if they effect a reconciliation between them, and reconciliation is better, and avarice has been made to be present in the (people's) minds; and if you do good (to others) and guard (against evil), then surely Allah is aware of what you do.

“4.130: And if they separate, Allah will render them both free from want out of His ampleness, and Allah is Ample-giving, Wise.

Qur’an on What Is Expected of Women

Muhammad and His Family
“2.222: And they ask you about menstruation. Say: It is a discomfort; therefore keep aloof from the women during the menstrual discharge and do not go near them until they have become clean; then when they have cleansed themselves, go in to them as Allah has commanded you; surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him), and He loves those who purify themselves.

“2.223: Your wives are a tilth for you, so go into your tilth when you like, and do good beforehand for yourselves, and be careful (of your duty) to Allah, and know that you will meet Him, and give good news to the believers.

“2.228: And the divorced women should keep themselves in waiting for three courses; and it is not lawful for them that they should conceal what Allah has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allah and the last day; and their husbands have a better right to take them back in the meanwhile if they wish for reconciliation; and they have rights similar to those against them in a just manner, and the men are a degree above them, and Allah is Mighty, Wise.

“2.233: And the mothers should suckle their children for two whole years for him who desires to make complete the time of suckling; and their maintenance and their clothing must be -- borne by the father according to usage; no soul shall have imposed upon it a duty but to the extent of its capacity; neither shall a mother be made to suffer harm on account of her child, nor a father on account of his child, and a similar duty (devolves) on the (father's) heir, but if both desire weaning by mutual consent and counsel, there is no blame on them, and if you wish to engage a wet-nurse for your children, there is no blame on you so long as you pay what you promised for according to usage; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah and know that Allah sees what you do.

“2.234: And (as for) those of you who die and leave wives behind, they should keep themselves in waiting for four months and ten days; then when they have fully attained their term, there is no blame on you for what they do for themselves in a lawful manner; and Allah is aware of what you do.

“2.236: There is no blame on you if you divorce women when you have not touched them or appointed for them a portion, and make provision for them, the wealthy according to his means and the straitened in circumstances according to his means, a provision according to usage; (this is) a duty on the doers of good (to others).

“2.240: And those of you who die and leave wives behind, (make) a bequest in favor of their wives of maintenance for a year without turning (them) out, then if they themselves go away, there is no blame on you for what they do of lawful deeds by themselves, and Allah is Mighty, Wise.

“2.241: And for the divorced women (too) provision (must be made) according to usage; (this is) a duty on those who guard (against evil).

Muhammad’s Wives, Women and Children

tomb of Khadija, Muhammad's first wife

Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, was a wealthy, twice widowed, businesswoman who proposed to him after she had hired him to help her with a business deal in Syria. He was 25 and she was 40 when they were married. They were married 25 years and had six children. She appears to have been the boss in the family. She hired him to run caravans for her business.

Muhammad liked the company of women, sought their advise and helped with household chores. There are stories in the Qur’an of him competing against his wives in archery, horseback riding and swimming. Muhammad decreed sexual fulfillment was a woman’s right. The women associated with him were often strong and independent and stood up to him. While Khadija was alive Muhammad did not marry again. When he was banished to Medina he married again, mostly for political reasons, to forge ties with tribal leaders. His second wife Sawdah was a widow who had just returned from Ethiopia.

Muhammad’s third and favorite wife, Aisha, was the daughter of his friend Abu Bakr. She was six when she married Muhammad and was nine when the marriage was consummated. As a child she was allowed to play with dolls as long as they did not resemble people. As a young adult she was a warrior who once directed troops in a battle from the back of a camel. Muhammad died with his head on her lap.

Muhammad married eight other women, including the daughter of Omar, and had 11 total wives. The later wives tended to be older. None bore Muhammad any children. They became known as “the mother of the believers,” and played a role in spreading the teachings of Islam. His other wives and concubines included an imam and a leatherworker. His daughter Fatima was a skilled political leader. His beautiful and talented granddaughter Sukayna married several times and once insisted in writing that her husband be forbidden from disagreeing with her about anything.

Muhammad’s Birth, Mother and Step Mother (Nurse)

Maxime Rodinson, (1915-2004) a French Marxist historian, sociologist and orientalist, wrote in “Muhammad”: “No one knows exactly when Muhammad, who was to become the Prophet of Allah, was born. It was believed to have been during the reign of Khusro Anosharwan, that is before 579, which seems probable. It was said to have been in the Year of the Elephant - the year, that is, in which the birds of the air routed the army of Abraha before Mecca - but that is certainly untrue. The precise date, arrived at by means of some highly dubious calculations, varies between 567 and 573. The most commonly accepted year is 57I. [Source: Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004), “Muhammad,” Pantheon Books, 1980, Beginning with pp. 38 ^\^]

“Muhammad, or Mahomet as we sometimes call him, was born in Mecca of a father called 'Abdallah and a mother whose name was Amina. He belonged on his father's side to the clan of Hashim of the tribe of Quraysh. These traditional statements, while not wholly incontestable, may reasonably be regarded as sure. ^\^

birth of Muhammad

In his biography of Muhammad, Ibn Ishaq wrote: “It is alleged in popular stories (and only God knows the truth) that Amina d. Wahb, the mother of God's apostle [Muhammad], used to say when she was pregnant with God's apostle that a voice said to her, "You are pregnant with the lord of this people and when he is born say, 'I put him in the care of the One from the evil of every envier; then call him Muhammad.'" As she was pregnant with him she saw a light come forth from her by which she could see the castles of Busra in Syria.” [Source: Juniata Middle Ages Online Reader, juniata.edu ***]

“Halima the apostle's foster mother used to say that she went forth from her country with her husband and little son whom she was nursing, among the women of her tribe, in search of other babies to nurse. This was a year of famine when they were destitute.... They could not sleep the whole night because of the weeping of her hungry child. She had no milk to give him, not could their she-camel provide a morning draught, but we were hoping for rain and relief. 'I rode upon my donkey which had kept back the other riders through its weakness and emaciation so that it was a nuisance to them. When we reached Mecca, we looked out for foster children, and the apostle of God was offered to everyone of us, and each woman refused him when she was told he was an orphan, because we hoped to get payment from the child's father. We said, "An orphan! and what will his mother and grandfather do?" and so we spurned him because of that. Every woman who came with me got a suckling except me, and when we decided to depart I said to my husband: "By God, I do not like the idea of returning with my friends without a suckling; I will go and take that orphan." He replied, "Do as you please; perhaps God will bless us on his account." So I went and took him for the sole reason that I could not find anyone else. I took him back to my baggage, and as soon as I put him in my bosom, my breasts overflowed with milk which he drank until he was satisfied, as also did his foster-brother.... When we used to have him with us my flock used to yield milk in abundance. We milked them and drank while other people had not a drop, nor could they find anything in their animals' udders. ***

“[A learned man] told me that some of the apostle's companions asked him to tell them about himself. He said: "I am what Abraham my father prayed for and the good news of [my brother] Jesus. When my mother was carrying me she saw a light proceeding from her which showed her the castles of Syria. I was suckled among the B. Sa'd b. Bakr, and while I was with a brother of mine behind our tents shepherding the lambs, two men in white raiment came to me with a gold basin full of snow. Then they seized me and opened up my belly, extracted my heart and split it; then they extracted a black drop from it and threw it away; then they washed my heart and my belly with that snow until they had thoroughly cleansed them. Then one said to the other, weigh him against ten of his people; they did so and I outweighed them. Then they weighed me against a hundred and then a thousand, and I outweighed them. He said, 'Leave him alone, for by God, if you weighed him against all his people he would outweigh them.'" ***

Muhammad’s Family

Maxime Rodinson wrote in “Muhammad”: “'Abd al-Muttalib may have owed his position to the fact that he was at the head of one of the coalitions formed by the Meccan clans in their struggle for power. Two of these groups were in a state of constant rivalry, while a third remained neutral. 'Abd al-Muttalib traded with Syria and the Yemen and had obtained certain profitable privileges at the shrine of Mecca. It was he who supplied the pilgrims with food and water. He is said to have entered into negotiations with Abraha when the army with its elephants appeared outside Mecca. There may be some reference here to an attempt on the part of one group of clans to win support from outside. He had a number of wives from different tribes who gave him ten sons, Muhammad's father and uncles, as well as six daughters. Some of these we shall meet again. [Source: Maxime Rodinson, “Muhammad,” Pantheon Books, 1980, Beginning with pp. 38 ^\^]

Mulla Mumin, Biography of the Prophet Muhammad

“One of these children was 'Abdallah, his son by Fatima bint 'Amr of the Qurayshite clan of the Banu Makhzum. We are told that 'Abdallah was a handsome fellow. His father, no doubt seeking an alliance with the clan of the Banu Zuhra, asked for the young Amina bint Wahb as a bride for his son, and at the same time for her cousin, Hala bint Wuhayb, of the same tribe, for himself. ^\^

“In accordance with the Arab custom, Amina seems to have remained with her own people and been visited there by Abdallah. Muhammad was the first and only child of this marriage. While it can obviously have no historical value, it may perhaps be of interest here to cite one of the stories which circulated about Muhammad's conception. This is in striking contrast to the Christian concern at making the birth of Christ as nearly as possible unconnected with any sexual relations whatever. ^\^

“'Abdallah went to the house of another wife he had besides Amina bint Wahb. He had been working in the clay on some land he possessed, and he still had some splashes of clay left on him. He made some advances to her, but she put him off on account of the clay that was on him. He left her and washed himself, and cleaned off the clay. Then he went out again, to go to Amina. He again passed by the other woman, who called to him; but he put her off and went to Amina. He went in to her and possessed her. She then conceived Muhammad, may God's blessing and peace be upon him. Then he went back to the other woman and asked her if she were willing; she said: 'No. When you passed by me there was a white light between your eyes. I called to you and you rejected me. You went to Amina and she has taken away the light.'

“Another version of the story makes this woman not another of 'Abdallah's wives but a sister of the hanif Waraqa ibn Nawfal, or another woman who, like Waraqa, was versed in the scriptures. Seeing the light of prophecy upon 'Abdallah, she offered him a hundred camels to gain his favours. He refused her and, when he came away from Amina, the light had gone. ^\^

“'Abdallah died, either during his wife's pregnancy or shortly after her delivery, while on a business trip to Medina on his way home from Gaza. He left his wife very little, only one slave, five camels and a few sheep. Amina cared for her son; but before long, when the child was only six years old, she too was dead.” ^\^

Muhammad and His Nurse (Step Mother)

Maxime Rodinson wrote in “Muhammad”: “According to the Qurayshites' custom, the young Muhammad had a nurse from a nomadic clan. In this way, it was thought, the children of Quraysh would be filled with the pure air of the desert and grow strong. It was also a way of maintaining contact with the nomads- no small consideration, when we remember that foster-brotherhood was regarded as a powerful bond between two men. Muhammad's nurse was a woman called Hallma, of the clan of the Banu Sa'd, a branch of the great tribe of Hawazin. She may have been the one mentioned in a traditional story, which I will quote here simply as a typical example of the amazing liveliness of these tales, which is however no guarantee of authenticity. It is recorded in the history of the Prophet and his Companions set down in writing by Ibn Sa 'd at the beginning of the second century of the hegira (the ninth century A.D.). [Source: Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004), “Muhammad,” Pantheon Books, 1980, Beginning with pp. 38 ^\^]

Muhammad and his wet nurse

“We have it from 'Abdallah ibn Numayr al-Hamdani who had it from Yahya ibn Sa'id al-Ansari, that Muhammad ibn alMunkadir used to tell how a woman knocked on the door of the Prophet whose nurse she had been. When she went in he cried out, ' Mother, Mother ! ' and, fetching his cloak, spread it before her, and she sat on it. ^\^

“There is another tale about how the nurse came to choose the child. Ten women of the Banu Sa'd came to Mecca to look for infants to nurse. All found them, except for HIalima bint 'Abdallah, who had with her her husband al-Harith ibn 'Abd al- 'Uzza who was called Abu Dhu 'ayb and their child 'Abdallah ibn al-Harith whom she was suckling and [their daughters] Anisa and Judama, she of the beauty spot who [later] carried Muhammad with her mother and bore him on her hip. The Envoy of Allah was shown to her, but she said: ' An orphan ! And with no money! And what can his mother do?' And the women departed and left her behind. Then Halima said to her husband: 'What do you think? My companions have gone and there is no boy left in Mecca to nurse except this orphan. Shall we take him? I should not like to return home with nothing.' Her husband said to her: ' Take him! Perhaps Allah will make him a blessing to us.' So she returned to the mother and took the child and set him on her lap and gave him her breast until milk trickled down from it. And the Envoy of Allah drank until he was satisfied. And his [foster]-brother also drank. Now this brother was not asleep because he was hungry [because his mother had little milk before this]. And the mother [Amina] said: 'Nurse, question me about your [foster]-son, because he will be great.' And she told her what she had seen and what had been said at the time of his birth.... Halima was happy and rejoiced at all she heard. Then she departed to her own place with the babe. They saddled their she-ass, and Halima mounted, holding the Envoy of Allah before her. Al-Harith rode on their aged camel. They caught up with their companions at Wadi Sirar.... 'Halima,' they said, 'what have you done?' And she answered: ' By God, I have taken the fairest babe that ever I saw, and he with the greatest baraka [a "blessed virtue", a mysterious, wonder-working force coming from God].' The women said, ' Is not that the child of 'Abd al-Mutalib ? ' She answered, ' Yes. ' ' Before we left that place,' Halima added, ' I saw envy in [the faces of] several of our women.'

“It is to these years spent in the desert that a marvellous experience, assigned by other authors to different points in the Prophet's life, has been said to relate. Two angels came and, opening his breast, drew out the heart which they cleaned scrupulously before returning it to its place. Then they weighed him, putting in the other side of the scales first one man, then ten, then a hundred and then a thousand. Then one said to the other: 'Let be. Even if you were to set his whole community (umma) in the scale, he would still outweigh it.'

Muhammad Marries Khadija, His Widowed First Wife

Muhammad married a rich widow when he was 25 years old and managed her affairs. Maxime Rodinson wrote in “Muhammad”: “Muhammad seems to have remained a bachelor for longer than was usual among his people. The reason for this was probably poverty. He asked, it is said, Abu Talib for the hand of his cousin Umm Hani. Marriages between cousins were approved of in Beduin society; but the suitor was rejected, probably in favour of a more illustrious rival. Long afterwards Umm Hani, then widowed, would have been glad to have her cousin renew his offer, but Muhammad was no longer inclined; they remained, however, on good terms. He was sleeping in Umm Hani's house the night he made his nocturnal voyage to heaven. [Source: Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004), “Muhammad,” Pantheon Books, 1980, Beginning with pp. 38 ^\^]


“Fortune soon favoured him. Without falling into the traditional exaggerations which make him as early as this period a model of physical, intellectual and moral perfection, the qualities he displayed later are enough to show that he must have made a favourable impression on those with whom he came in contact. Even at this stage, people must have been struck by his intelligence, and his calm, confident and balanced manner of conducting himself both in his own affairs and in his dealing with others. It was probably this quality which led Khadija bint Khuwaylid, a widow no longer in her first youth, who had already been twice married and had several children, to engage him in her employ. She was rich, and equipped caravans to travel into Syria to bring back Byzantine merchandise for sale on the Mecca market. ^/^

“Khadija seems to have sent her new employee with the caravans to deal with purchasing. If this was so, Muhammad must have revisited Syria; and this has provided an opportunity for the traditions to introduce more monks, who comment once again on the miracles attending the young Qurayshite's passage and predict a brilliant future for him. What is quite certain is that Muhammad's exertions on Khadija's behalf aroused in her the wish to marry him. She may already have been aware of Muhammad's charm when she engaged him. In any event the lot of unmarried women among the Arabs was not an enviable one. Her father, if he were still alive, could act as her protector, but she had every reason to regard the future with apprehension. Khadija is said to have been forty, but she had no lack of suitors. Muhammad would then have been twenty-five. The inevitable go-between, Nafisa bint Munya, is credited with saying:

“Khadija sent me to Muhammad to sound out his feelings after he came back from Syria with his caravan. I said to him: 'Muhammad, is there any reason why you should not marry?' He told me: 'I possess nothing to marry on.' I answered him: ' And suppose there was someone who had enough for two ? And suppose you were summoned to beauty, wealth, and to a position of honour and ease, would you not accept ?' Who is the woman?' 'Khadija.' 'What must I do?' 'I will attend to all.' 'And I too will do my part.'

“Nothing remained but to complete the necessary formalities. Some accounts added that this was not easy and that Khadija had to get her father drunk in order to obtain his consent; but most traditions say that by this time her father was long dead and it was her uncle who represented her family in the marriage. ^\^

Muhammad and Khadija’s Relationship

Khadija's house before it was demolished by Saudi authorities

Maxime Rodinson wrote in “Muhammad”: “Maxime Rodinson wrote in “Muhammad”: “His marriage to Khadija was the saving of Muhammad and opened the door to a brilliant future. He had no further material anxieties. From the poor relation of a great family, earning his living in the service of others, he became a person of importance. He must have seen God's hand at work in this; and, one day, he heard Allah say to him: ‘Your Lord has not taken leave of you, nor despised you . . . Did he not find you an orphan and give [you] shelter? He found you erring and guided you. He found you poor and enriched you. — Qur’an xciii [Source: Maxime Rodinson (1915-2004), “Muhammad,” Pantheon Books, 1980, Beginning with pp. 38 ^\^]

“It is unlikely that he felt for Khadija the physical passion which was later to procure him, in his old age, the young and lovely women of his future harem. But he always had a great respect for her and a firm affection and gratitude which never wavered. A psychoanalyst has suggested that the frustrations of an orphan, deprived of his mother's warmth at an early age, may have strengthened this attachment to an older woman. Muhammad used to say that she was the best of all the women of her time, and that he would live with her in paradise in a house built of reeds, in peace and tranquillity. He spoke of her often after her death, much to the fury of his beloved Aisha. 'Aisha described her jealousy of the dead woman, whom she had never met, as beyond what she felt for anyone in the world. One day Khadija's sister Hala came to the Prophet's door, and asked to be let in. He recognized her voice and was thrilled. He cried out: ' My God, it's Hala ! ' ' Then', said 'Aisha, ' I was seized with jealousy and screamed: “Why do you have to be always remembering that toothless old Qurayshite with her red mouth? Fate made her die and God has replaced her with a better! "

“Khadija gave Muhammad several children. There were four daughters of whom we shall have more to say, Zaynab, Ruqayya, Fatima and Umm Kulthum. But what for an Arab was then, and still is, a great misfortune, all her sons died at an early age. Tradition lists them variously. One was al-Qasim, who is said to have died when he was two and from whom his father took the kunya of Abu l-Qasim, which he was to retain. There also seems to have been an 'Abdallah, who may in fact have been named 'Abd Manaf, in token of respect to the deity Manaf whom his parents were soon to reject. At about this time Muhammad adopted his young cousin 'Ali, whose father, Muhammad's uncle Abu Talib, was experiencing some business difficulties. Khadija also made Muhammad a present of a slave whom her nephew had bought in Syria - a young manfrom the tribe of Kalb, of strong Christian affiliations, whose name was Zayd. Muhammad gave him his freedom and adopted him as a son. ^\^

Muhammad: A Treacherous Womanizer?

Muhammad and his forth wife Aisha

W. Montgomery Watt, Professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Edinburgh, wrote in “Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman”:“The other main allegations of moral defect in Muhammad are that he was treacherous and lustful. These are supported be reference to events like the violation of the sacred month on the expedition of Nakhlah (624) and his marriage to Zaynab bint-Jahsh, the divorced wife of his adopted son. About the bare facts there is no dispute, but it is not so clear that the facts justify the allegations. Was the violation of the sacred month an act of treachery or a justified breach with a piece of pagan religion ? Was the marriage with Zaynab a yielding to sexual desire or a mainly political act in which an undesirable practice of ' adoption ' belonging to a lower moral level was ended ? Sufficient has been said above about the interpretation of these events to show that the case against Muhammad is much weaker than is sometimes thought. [Source: W. Montgomery Watt (1909-2006), “Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman,” Oxford University Press, 1961. from pg. 229. \~\]

Watts wrote: “The discussions of these allegations, however, raises a fundamental question. How are we to judge Muhammad ? By the standards of his own time and country ? Or by those of the most enlightened opinion in the West today ? When the sources are closely scrutinized, it is clear that those of Muhammad's actions which are disapproved by the modern West were not the object of the moral criticism of his contemporaries. They criticized some of his acts, but their motives were superstitious prejudice or fear of the consequences. If they criticized the events at Nakhlah, it was because they feared some punishment from the offended pagan gods or the worldly vengeance of the Meccans. If they were amazed at the mass execution of the Jews of the clan of Qurayzah, it was at the number and danger of the blood-feuds incurred. The marriage with Zaynab seemed incestuous, but this conception of incest was bound up with old practices belonging to a lower, communalistic level of familial institutions where a child's paternity was not definitely known; and this lower level was in process being eliminated by Islam. \~\

“From the standpoint of Muhammad's time, then, the allegations of treachery and sensuality cannot be maintained. His contemporaries did not find him morally defective in any way. On the contrary, some of the acts criticized by the modern Westerner show that Muhammad's standards werehigher than those of his time. In his day and generation he was a social reformer, even a reformer in the sphere of morals. He created a new system of social security and a new family structure, both of which were a vast improvement on what went before. By taking what was best in the morality of the nomad and adapting it for settled communities, he established a religious and social framework for the life of many races of men. That is not the work of a traitor or ' an old lecher'. \~\

Muhammad and Aisha

Aisha battling Ali at the Battle of the Camel

Muhammad fell for the wife of his adopted adult son and took her as his fifth wife, something that many Christian theologians have found shocking. Karen Armstrong wrote: “This story has shocked some of Muhammad’s Western critics who are used to more ascetic, Christian heroes, but the Muslim sources seem to find nothing untoward in this demonstration of their prophet’s virility. Nor are they disturbed that Muhammad had more than four wives: why should God not give his prophet a few privileges?”

Aisha was the Prophet Muhammad’s child bride. According to the New York Times: “There is controversial tradition, which portrays Aisha as disappearing into the desert with a young swain who was not her husband. Rumors circulated until Allah sent Muhammad divine confirmation his favourite wife hadn't committed any sins. Sunnis greatly revere Aisha and find even hints of betrayal on her part as deeply offensive.

Women in Early Muslim History

In the early days of Islam, from the best that can be ascertained, women were secluded and repressed. They were not involved much in the economy except as servants, entertainers and helpers to their husbands. Poor women were reasonably active and visible while upper class women were likely secluded or members of harems. The only women with any real influence were the mothers of powerful male heirs.

A 14th Egyptian jurist wrote women should not go to markets lest they be corrupted by shopkeepers. “Some of the pious elders,” he wrote, “have said a woman should only her house on three occasions: when she is conducted to the house of her bridegroom, on the death of parents, and when sh goes to her grave.”

Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter, is the revered mother figure of Shiite Islam. Some Shiites regard her as “Our Lady of Compassion.” Her daughter Zainab is like a classical figure of high moral protest, a Muslim Antigone shaking her fist at a corrupt caliph who killed her brother. Her tomb has been visited by millions.

See Women and Education

Women Before Islam

Pre-Islamic Arab goddess
In Muhammad’s time it was common for people to bury alive unwanted female infants, women were regarded as the possession of their husbands and women had no right to own property or receive an education. Islamic law prohibited all these practices.

Some have argued that repression of women associated with Islam actually predates Islam, and is rooted in Greco-Roman traditions. That seems to be the case with the veil anyway (See Veil). Female Saudi scholar Hatoon al-Fassi, said, “Most of the practices related to women status are based in some local traditional practices that are not necessarily Islamic. Nor are they essentially Arabian.”

Some have argued that before Islam women enjoyed more rights than they did before it. In her 2006 book Women in Pre-Islamic Arabia ,female Saudi scholar Hatoon al-Fassi said that women enjoyed considerable rights in the Nabataean state, which was centered in modern Jordan and embraced the famous stone city of Petra. Al-Fassi said women in Nabataea were free to conduct legal contracts in their own name with no male guardian. Under Greek and Roman law women were not able to do this.

The word harem was coined to describe the confinement of women. It comes from the Arabic word harim , meaning forbidden.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong; A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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