The Composition of the Quran in Stages
And How the Wives of Muhammad Helped Shape the Muslim Scripture

Sam Shamoun

The Quran asserts that it was given in stages over an unspecified period of time in order to facilitate better understanding of its message as well as to assist Muhammad in its recital:

(It is) a Qur'an which We have divided (into parts from time to time), in order that thou mightest recite it to men at intervals: We have revealed it by stages. S. 17:106

The commentators explained that:

And [it is] a Qur'an (qur'anan is in the accusative because of the verb governing it [which is the following]) that We have divided, that We have revealed in portions over 20 or 23 years, that you may recite it to mankind at intervals, gradually and with deliberateness so that they [are able to] comprehend it, and We have revealed it by [successive] revelation, one part after another, according to what is best [for mankind]. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source; underline emphasis ours)

This also served the purpose of strengthening Muhammad’s faith:

Those who reject Faith say: "Why is not the Qur'an revealed to him all at once? Thus (is it revealed), that We may strengthen thy heart thereby, and We have rehearsed it to thee in slow, well-arranged stages, gradually. S. 25:32

Again, here is the explanation of the expositors:

(And those who disbelieve) Abu Jahl and his host (say: Why is the Qur'an not revealed unto him all at once) just like the Torah was revealed all at once to Moses, and the Gospel to Jesus and the Psalms to David? ((It is revealed) thus) He says: We have sent Gabriel with the Qur'an in installments (that We may strengthen thy heart therewith) that We may gladden your heart and preserve your heart; (and We have arranged it in right order) We exposited it by detailing the commands and prohibitions; it is also said that this means: We have sent Gabriel with the Qur'an in installments verse after verse. (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source)

And those who disbelieve say, 'Why has the Qur'an not been revealed to him all at once?', as the Torah, the Gospel and the Book of Psalms [were]. God, exalted be He, says: We have revealed it, thus, in parts, [it is], that We may strengthen your inner-heart with it, and We have arranged it in a specific order, that is to say, We produce it in stages one part after another, gradually and deliberately, in order to facilitate its comprehension and its memorisation. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source)

Yet when we dig into the Islamic sources to examine the historical background behind the composition of specific Quranic verses we soon discover that the real reason why the Quran was composed over time is because this assisted Muhammad in correcting some of his mistakes and helped him address specific situations that he found himself in.

The unbelievers suspected as much since the Quran records them accusing Muhammad of changing his scriptures to fit his agenda:

When We substitute one revelation for another, - and God knows best what He reveals (in stages), - they say, "Thou art but a forger": but most of them understand not. S. 16:101

Even those closest to Muhammad could see that certain verses were deliberately composed to suit their prophet’s purposes. For instance, here is what Muhammad’s child bride said after noticing that her husband’s deity was all too happy to send down convenient "revelations" to justify and satisfy his messenger’s desires and lusts:

Hisham reported on the authority of his father that 'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) used to say: Does the woman not feel shy of offering herself to a man? Then Allah the Exalted and Glorious revealed this verse: "You may defer any of them you wish and take to yourself any you wish." I ('A'isha said): It seems to me that your Lord hastens to satisfy your desire. (Sahih Muslim, Book 008, Number 3454)

The above narrative implies that Q. 33:51 was given in response to Aisha’s complaint to her husband, which further implies that Muhammad’s wives were instrumental in causing "revelations" to descend upon Muhammad. And this wouldn’t be the only time that the spouses helped with the inspiration.

For example, one subject that Muhammad neglected to mention earlier in his career was the issue of believing women and their rewards since most, if not all, of the verses he composed dealt specifically with men’s rewards. It took the complaint of his wives to correct this blatant oversight.

According to Muslim expositors, the following verses which address women’s rights and rewards were all "inspired" by the help of his wives:

Q. 2:228

Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what God Hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in God and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And God is Exalted in Power, Wise.

One Muslim commentator wrote:

The second consideration, perhaps implied here as well, may be that satr (concealment) is better even when there is a discussion about masturat (women: the concealed ones). But, when women realized that the noble Qur'an does not address them directly at various places like it does address men, the venerated mother of the faithful, Umm Salmah pointed this out to the Prophet and thereupon the following verse of Surah Al-Ahzab was revealed.

Submitting men and submitting women, believing men and believing women, obedient men and obedient women. (This appears in details in Nasa'i, Musnad Ahmad, and Tafsir Ibn Jarir etc.)

where women were clearly and expressly identified along with men which implies that the status of women is no less than men in obedience to Allah and in His worship, in being near Him and His approval, and in the ranks of Paradise.

According to a report in Tafsir Ibn Kathir, some Muslim women came to the blessed wives of the Holy Prophet and asked about the general absence of any mention of Muslim women in the Holy Qur'an, while it does mention men at several places, and also refers to the blessed wives of the Holy Prophet from among women. Thereupon, the verse referred to above was revealed. (Mufti Shafi Uthmani, Maariful Quran, Volume 1, pp. 569-570; source; underline emphasis ours)

Q. 3:195

And their Lord hath accepted of them, and answered them: "Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: Ye are members, one of another: Those who have left their homes, or been driven out therefrom, or suffered harm in My Cause, or fought or been slain, - verily, I will blot out from them their iniquities, and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing beneath; - A reward from the presence of God, and from His presence is the best of rewards."

Renowned Sunni exegete Ibn Kathir stated that:

<So their Lord accepted of them>, answered their invocation. Sa`id bin Mansur recorded that Salamah, a man from the family of Umm Salamah said, "Umm Salamah said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! Allah does not mention women in connection with Hijrah (Migration).’ Allah sent down the Ayah, …

<So their Lord accepted of them (their supplication and answered them), "Never will I allow to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female.> (Tafsir Ibn Kathir; source; bold emphasis ours)

Two other famous Sunni commentators known as al-Jalalayn said:

And their Lord answers them, their supplication, by saying that 'I do not let the labour of any labourer among you go to waste, be you male or female - the one of you is as the other (this statement is a reaffirmation of the previous one): that is, they are both equal when it comes to recompensing them for their deeds and for not neglecting them. When Umm Salama asked, 'O Messenger of God, why is there no mention of women when it comes to the Emigration (hijra)?', the following was revealed: and those who emigrated, from Mecca to Medina, and were expelled from their habitations, those who suffered hurt in My way, for My religion, and fought, the disbelievers, and were slain (read qutilu or quttilu) - them I shall surely absolve of their evil deeds, concealing these with forgiveness, and I shall admit them to Gardens underneath which river flow'. A reward (thawaban is a verbal noun reaffirming the import of la-ukaffiranna) from God! (there is a shift of person here). And God - with Him is the fairest reward, [the fairest] requital. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source; underline emphasis ours)

Q. 4:32

And in no wise covet those things in which God Hath bestowed His gifts More freely on some of you than on others: To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn: But ask God of His bounty. For God hath full knowledge of all things.

Ibn Kathir writes:

Do Not Wish for the Things Which Allah has Made Some Others to Excel In

Imam Ahmad recorded that Umm Salamah said, "O Messenger of Allah! Men go to battle, but we do not go to battle, and we earn one-half of the inheritance (that men get)." Allah sent down…

<And wish not for the things in which Allah has made some of you to excel others>. At-Tirmidhi also recorded this Hadith. Allah's statement…

<For men there is reward for what they have earned, (and likewise) for women there is reward for what they have earned,> indicates, according to Ibn Jarir, that each person will earn his wages for his works, a reward if his deeds are good, and punishment if his deeds are evil. It was also reported that this Ayah is talking about inheritance, indicating the fact that each person will get his due share of the inheritance, as Al-Walibi reported from Ibn `Abbas… (Tafsir Ibn Kathir; source)

The two Jalals noted:

Do not covet that in which God has preferred some of you above others, in the way of worldly affairs or religion, lest it lead to mutual envy and hatred. To men a share from, a reward for, what they have earned, for their acts in the struggle and so on, and to women a share from what they have earned, by way of being obedient to their spouses and guarding their private parts: this was revealed when Umm Salama said: 'Would that we were men, so that we could join the struggle and receive the reward they receive!' And ask (read wa-s'alu or wa-salu) God of His bounty, what you need and He will give it to you; God is ever Knower of all things, including where merit is deserved and that for which you ask. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

A commentary attributed to Ibn Abbas says:

(And covet not the thing in which Allah hath made some of you excel others) Allah says: a man should not covet the wealth, mount or wife of his brother nor, in fact, anything that his brother may possess. Rather you should ask of Allah abundant bounty and say: "O Allah provide us with the like of, or better than, what you have provided him with", while consigning the matter to Allah. It is also said that this verse was revealed about Umm Salamah, the wife of the Prophet (pbuh) because she said to him: "if only it is prescribed unto us as it is prescribed unto men so that we get rewarded as men do". Allah prohibited such talk, saying: covet not the thing in which Allah has made a group of you excel over others, such as praying in congregation, attending the Friday Prayer, participating in military expeditions, Jihad, enjoining good and forbidding evil. In this verse (some of you) and (others) refers to men and women. Allah then explained the reward that men and women earn for their works, saying: (Unto men a fortune) a reward (from that which they have earned) of works of goodness, (and unto women a fortune) a reward (from that which they have earned) of works of goodness in their homes. (But ask Allah of His bounty) Ask Allah to give you success and protection. (Lo! Allah is ever Knower of all things) good and bad, reward and punishment, success and otherwise. (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

And now the final text:

Q. 33:35

For Muslim men and women, - for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God's praise, - for them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward.

Here, again, are the comments of Ibn Kathir and Ibn Abbas:

The Reason for Revelation

Imam Ahmad recorded that Umm Salamah, may Allah be pleased with her, the wife of the Prophet said, "I said to the Prophet, ‘Why is it that we are not mentioned in the Qur'an as men are.’ Then one day without my realizing it, he was calling from the Minbar and I was combing my hair, so I tied my hair back then I went out to my chamber in my house, and I started listening out, and he was saying from the Minbar: ...

<O people! Verily Allah says: (Verily, the Muslims: men and women, the believers: men and women...)> to the end of the Ayah."

This was also recorded by An-Nasa'i and Ibn Jarir. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir; source; bold and underline emphasis)

Then it was revealed about Umm Salamah, the wife of the Prophet (pbuh) and Nusaybah Bint Ka'b al-Ansariyyah who said: "O Messenger of Allah! Allah does not mention women with anything good; it is all about men": (Lo! men who surrender unto Allah) the men who profess Allah's divine Oneness, (and women who surrender) and women who profess Allah's divine Oneness, (and men who believe) truly (and women who believe) truly, (and men who obey and women who obey, and men who speak the Truth) and men who are true in their faith (and women who speak the Truth) and women who are true in their faith, (and men who persevere) in fulfilling the commands of Allah and endure misfortunes (and women who persevere) in fulfilling the commands of Allah and endure misfortunes, (and men who are humble and women who are humble, and men who give alms) from their wealth (and women who give alms) from their wealth, (and men who fast and women who fast, and men who guard their modesty and women who guard (their modesty), and men who remember Allah much and women who remember Allah hath prepared for them forgiveness) of their sins (and a vast reward) and an abundant reward in Paradise. (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source)

One modern Muslim scholar refers to two other exegetes who confirmed that the foregoing passages were composed in response to Umm Salama’s objection:

Several Revelations and One Sabab

A well-known example for several revelations, which are connected with one particular circumstance, are three verses which according to reliable reports, came down in response to the question of Umm Salama, WHETHER OR WHY ONLY THE MEN HAD BEEN REFERRED TO IN THE QUR'AN, as being rewarded. According to Al-Hakim and Tirmidhi the verses 3:195, 4: 32 and 33:35 were revealed in response to this question:

'And their Lord has accepted of them and answered them: Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you be he male or female: Ye are members, one of another: those who have left their homes, or have been driven out therefrom, or suffered harm in My cause, or fought or been slain - verily I will blot out from them their iniquities and admit them into gardens with rivers flowing beneath; a reward from the presence of God and from His presence is the best of rewards' (3: 195).

'And in no wise covet those things in which God has bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on others; to men is allotted what they earn and to women what they earn: but ask God of His bounty for God has full knowledge of all things' (4: 32).

'For Muslim men and women - for believing men and women - for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in God's praise - for them has God prepared forgiveness and great reward' (33:35). [Salih, op cit., p. 148] (Ahmad Von Denffer, Ulum al Qur'an; source; underline and capital emphasis ours)

Another time where Muhammad’s wives influenced the "revelation" is when Aisha was accused of committing adultery. We will let al-Bukhari explain the situation:

Narrated Aisha (the wife of the Prophet):

"Whenever Allah’s Apostle intended to go on a journey, he would draw lots amongst his wives and would take with him the one upon whom the lot fell. During a Ghazwa of his, he drew lots amongst us and the lot fell upon me, and I proceeded with him after Allah had decreed the use of the veil by women. I was carried in a Howdah (on the camel) and dismounted while still in it. When Allah's Apostle was through with his Ghazwa and returned home, and we approached the city of Medina, Allah's Apostle ordered us to proceed at night. When the order of setting off was given, I walked till I was past the army to answer the call of nature. After finishing I returned (to the camp) to depart (with the others) and suddenly realized that my necklace over my chest was missing. So I returned to look for it and was delayed because of that. The people who used to carry me on the camel, came to my Howdah and put it on the back of the camel, thinking that I was in it, as, at that time, women were light in weight, and thin and lean, and did not use to eat much. So those people did not feel the difference in the heaviness of the Howdah while lifting it, and they put it over the camel. At that time I was a young lady. They set the camel moving and proceeded on. I found my necklace after the army had gone, and came to their camp to find nobody. So I went to the place where I used to stay, thinking that they would discover my absence and come back in my search. While in that state, I felt sleepy and slept.

Safwan bin Mu'attal As-Sulami Adh-Dhakwani was behind the army and reached my abode in the morning. When he saw a sleeping person, he came to me, and he used to see me before veiling. So I got up when I heard him saying, "Inna lil-lah-wa inn a ilaihi rajiun (We are for Allah, and we will return to Him)." He made his camel kneel down. He got down from his camel, and put his leg on the front legs of the camel and then I rode and sat over it. Safwan set out walking, leading the camel by the rope till we reached the army who had halted to take rest at midday. Then whoever was meant for destruction, fell into destruction, (some people accused me falsely) and the leader of the false accusers was ‘Abdullah bin Ubai bin Salul. After that we returned to Medina, and I became ill for one month while the people were spreading the forged statements of the false accusers. I was feeling during my ailment as if I were not receiving the usual kindness from the Prophet which I used to receive from him when I got sick. But he would come, greet and say, ‘How is that (girl)?’ I did not know anything of what was going on till I recovered from my ailment and went out with Um Mistah to the Manasi where we used to answer the call of nature, and we used not to go to answer the call of nature except from night to night and that was before we had lavatories near to our houses. And this habit of ours was similar to the habit of the old Arabs in the open country (or away from houses). So I and Um Mistah bint Ruhm went out walking. Um Mistah stumbled because of her long dress and on that she said, ‘Let Mistah be ruined.’ I said, ‘You are saying a bad word. Why are you abusing a man who took part in (the battle of) Badr?’ She said, ‘O Hanata (you there)! Didn't you hear what they said?’ Then she told me the rumors of the false accusers.

My sickness was aggravated, and when I returned home, Allah's Apostle came to me, and after greeting he said, ‘How is that (girl)?’ I requested him to allow me to go to my parents. I wanted then to be sure of the news through them. Allah's Apostle allowed me, and I went to my parents and asked my mother, ‘What are the people talking about?’ She said, ‘O my daughter! Don't worry much about this matter. By Allah, never is there a charming woman loved by her husband who has other wives, but the women would forge false news about her.’ I said, ‘Glorified be Allah! Are the people really taking of this matter?’ That night I kept on weeping and could not sleep till morning. In the morning Allah's Apostle called Ali bin Abu Talib and Usama bin Zaid when he saw the Divine Inspiration delayed, to consul them about divorcing his wife (i.e. ‘Aisha). Usama bin Zaid said what he knew of the good reputation of his wives and added, ‘O Allah's Apostle! Keep your wife, for, by Allah, we know nothing about her but good.’ ‘Ali bin Abu Talib said, ‘O Allah's Apostle! Allah has not imposed restrictions on you, and there are many women other than she, yet you may ask the woman-servant who will tell you the truth.’ On that Allah's Apostle called Buraira and said, ‘O Buraira. Did you ever see anything which roused your suspicions about her?’ Buraira said, ‘No, by Allah Who has sent you with the Truth, I have never seen in her anything faulty except that she is a girl of immature age, who sometimes sleeps and leaves the dough for the goats to eat.’ On that day Allah's Apostle ascended the pulpit and requested that somebody support him in punishing ‘Abdullah bin Ubai bin Salul. Allah's Apostle said, ‘Who will support me to punish that person ('Abdullah bin Ubai bin Salul) who has hurt me by slandering the reputation of my family? By Allah, I know nothing about my family but good, and they have accused a person about whom I know nothing except good, and he never entered my house except in my company.’

Sad bin Mu'adh got up and said, ‘O Allah's Apostle! By Allah, I will relieve you from him. If that man is from the tribe of the Aus, then we will chop his head off, and if he is from our brothers, the Khazraj, then order us, and we will fulfill your order.’ On that Sad bin ‘Ubada, the chief of the Khazraj and before this incident, he had been a pious man, got up, motivated by his zeal for his tribe and said, ‘By Allah, you have told a lie; you cannot kill him, and you will never be able to kill him.’ On that Usaid bin Al-Hadir got up and said (to Sad bin 'Ubada), ‘By Allah! You are a liar. By Allah, we will kill him; and you are a hypocrite, defending the hypocrites.’ On this the two tribes of Aus and Khazraj got excited and were about to fight each other, while Allah’s Apostle was standing on the pulpit. He got down and quieted them till they became silent and he kept quiet. On that day I kept on weeping so much so that neither did my tears stop, nor could I sleep.

In the morning my parents were with me and I had wept for two nights and a day, till I thought my liver would burst from weeping. While they were sitting with me and I was weeping, an Ansari woman asked my permission to enter, and I allowed her to come in. She sat down and started weeping with me. While we were in this state, Allah’s Apostle came and sat down and he had never sat with me since the day they forged the accusation. No revelation regarding my case came to him for a month. He recited Tashahhud (i.e. None has the right to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad is His Apostle) and then said, ‘O 'Aisha! I have been informed such-and-such about you; IF you are innocent, then Allah will soon reveal your innocence, and IF you have committed a sin, then repent to Allah and ask Him to forgive you, for when a person confesses his sin and asks Allah for forgiveness, Allah accepts his repentance.’ When Allah's Apostle finished his speech my tears ceased completely and there remained not even a single drop of it. I requested my father to reply to Allah's Apostle on my behalf. My father said, ‘By Allah, I do not know what to say to Allah's Apostle.’ I said to my mother, ‘Talk to Allah's Apostle on my behalf.’ She said, ‘By Allah, I do not know what to say to Allah's Apostle.’

I was a young girl and did not have much knowledge of the Quran. I said. ‘I know, by Allah, that you have listened to what people are saying and that has been planted in your minds AND YOU HAVE TAKEN IT AS A TRUTH. Now, if I told you that I am innocent and Allah knows that I am innocent, YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE ME and if I confessed to you falsely that I am guilty, and Allah knows that I am innocent YOU WOULD BELIEVE ME. By Allah, I don’t compare my situation with you except to the situation of Joseph’s father (i.e. Jacob) who said, "So (for me) patience is most fitting against that which you assert and it is Allah (Alone) whose help can be sought."’ Then I turned to the other side of my bed hoping that Allah would prove my innocence. By Allah I never thought that Allah would reveal Divine Inspiration in my case, as I considered myself too inferior to be talked of in the Holy Qur'an. I had hoped that Allah’s Apostle might have a dream in which Allah would prove my innocence. By Allah, Allah’s Apostle had not got up and nobody had left the house before the Divine Inspiration came to Allah’s Apostle. So there overtook him the same state which used to overtake him, (when he used to have, on being inspired divinely). He was sweating so much so that the drops of the sweat were dropping like pearls though it was a (cold) wintry day. When that state of Allah’s Apostle was over, he was smiling and the first word he said, ‘Aisha! Thank Allah, for Allah has declared your innocence.’ My mother told me to go to Allah’s Apostle. I replied, ‘By Allah I will not go to him and will not thank but Allah.’ So Allah revealed: ‘Verily! They who spread the slander are a gang among you …’ (24.11)

When Allah gave the declaration of my innocence, Abu Bakr, who used to provide for Mistah bin Uthatha for he was his relative, said, ‘By Allah, I will never provide Mistah with anything because of what he said about Aisha.’ But Allah later revealed: --

‘And let not those who are good and wealthy among you swear not to help their kinsmen, those in need and those who left their homes in Allah’s Cause. Let them forgive and overlook. Do you not wish that Allah should forgive you? Verily! Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.’ (24.22) After that Abu Bakr said, ‘Yes! By Allah! I like that Allah should forgive me,’ and resumed helping Mistah whom he used to help before.

Allah’s Apostle also asked Zainab bint Jahsh (i.e. the Prophet's wife about me saying, ‘What do you know and what did you see?’ She replied, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! I refrain to claim hearing or seeing what I have not heard or seen. By Allah, I know nothing except goodness about Aisha.’" Aisha further added, "Zainab was competing with me (in her beauty and the Prophet's love), yet Allah protected her (from being malicious), for she had piety." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 48, Number 829)

So according to the above report Q. 24:1-22 was "revealed" to acquit Aisha of the slander of the people who accused her of committing adultery. This means that Aisha’s unfortunate circumstances helped to shape Islamic law concerning slander and the number of witnesses needed to confirm a case of adultery. This narrative also indicates that Muhammad had great doubts whether the accusations against Aisha weren’t true and that he seriously questioned whether she had remained faithful to him. More on this later.

The foregoing makes it rather apparent that once he became convinced that he had no way of proving Aisha’s fidelity in the eyes of the people Muhammad was forced to rely upon his god to send down verses to silence the slander and vindicate his wife’s innocence. Yet doesn’t this make it blatantly obvious that Muhammad did not hesitate to use his god to bail him out of trouble? Doesn’t this provide clear proof that anytime Muhammad found himself in a predicament from which he couldn’t get out he would then resort to concocting "revelations" which conveniently solved his problems?

As one Christian apologist put it:

Can’t a rational thinker see that Muhammad filled his Qur’an with his own as well as his wives’ personal affairs? If ‘Aisha were really innocent, why didn’t Muhammad acquit her immediately? Why did the revelation linger for so long, leaving her in her father’s house while Muhammad suspected her loyalty to him? (‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi, Is the Qur’an Infallible? [Light of Life, P.O. Box 13, A-9503 Villach, Austria], p. 354)

Aisha wasn’t the only wife whose fidelity was questioned. Muhammad also entertained doubts regarding Mariyah, his Coptic concubine, who gave birth to his son Ibrahim:

The Messenger of God also had a eunuch called Mabur, who was presented to him by al-Muqawqis with two slave girls; one of them was called Mariyah, whom he took as a concubine, and the other [was called] Sirin, whom he gave to Hassan b. Thabit after Safwan b. al-Mu‘attal had committed an offense against him. Sirin gave birth to a son called ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Hassan. Al-Muqawqis had sent this eunuch with the two slave girls in order to escort them and guard them on the way [to Medina]. He presented them to the Messenger of God when they arrived. It is said that he was the one [with whom] Mariyah was accused of [wrongdoing], and that the Messenger of God sent ‘Ali to kill him. When he saw ‘Ali and what he intended to do with him, he uncovered himself until it became evident to ‘Ali that he was completely castrated, not having anything left at all of what men [normally] have, so [‘Ali] refrained from killing him. (The History of Al-Tabari: The Last Years of the Prophet, translated and annotated by Ismail K. Poonawala [State University of New York Press (SUNY) Albany 1990], Volume IX, p. 147)

It is no secret that Muhammad’s wives resented Mariyah both for her beauty and for giving birth to Muhammad’s son in his old age. The jealousy was such that Aisha told her husband that she saw no resemblance between father and son:

The Birth of Ibrahim, Muhammad's Son

Soon, Muhammad's loss was to be compensated. Mariyah, his Coptic wife, gave birth to a son whom Muhammad called Ibrahim after the ancestor father of the Arabs as well as of hanifism and Islam. Until that day, and since the Archbishop of Alexandria had presented her to the Prophet, Mariyah had the status of a slave. She did not enjoy the benefits of a living quarter by the mosque as did the other wives of the Prophet, "the Mothers of Believers." Muhammad had provided Mariyah with a second-story residence in one of the outskirts of Madinah, called today Mashrabat Umm Ibrahim. Her house, which was surrounded with vineyards, was where Muhammad used to visit her every now and then. He had chosen her for himself and gave her sister Sirin to Hassan ibn Thabit. Muhammad did not expect to have any more children as none of his wives except the late Khadijah had ever conceived, though some of them were quite young and capable of bearing children. When Mariyah gave birth to Ibrahim, the event brought to Muhammad, a man past sixty years of age, great joy and filled his heart with reassurance and jubilation. By giving birth to a child, the status of Mariyah was raised in the Prophet's esteem; he now looked upon her as a free wife, indeed, as one enjoying a most favored position.

Jealousy of the Prophet's Wives

It was natural that this change would incite no little jealousy among his other wives who continued to be barren. It was also natural that the Prophet's esteem and affection for the newborn child and his mother increased that jealousy. Moreover, Muhammad had liberally, rewarded Salma, the wife of Abu Rafi`, for her role as midwife. He celebrated the birth by giving away a measure of grain to all the destitute of Madinah. He assigned the newborn to the care of Umm Sayf, a wet nurse, who owned seven goats whose milk she was to put at the disposal of the newborn. Every day Muhammad would visit the house of Mariyah in order to take another look at his son's radiant face and to reassure himself of the newborn's continued health and growth. All this incited the strongest jealousy among the barren wives. The question was, how far would these wives be able to bear the constant challenge?

One day, with the pride characteristic of new parents, the Prophet carried his son on his arm and walked into `A'ishah's quarters in order to show him to her. He pointed out to her his great resemblance to his offspring. `A'ishah looked at the baby and said that she saw no resemblance at all. When the Prophet observed how much the child was growing, `A'ishah responded waspishly that any child given the amount of milk which Ibrahim was getting would grow just as big and strong as he. Indeed, the birth of Ibrahim brought such disaffection to the wives of the Prophet as would go beyond these and similar unfriendly answers. It reached such proportions that revelation itself voiced a special condemnation. Undoubtedly, the whole affair had left its imprint on the life of Muhammad as well as on the history of Islam.

(pp. 432-435; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Aisha’s comments that the child did not resemble the father are rather ironic in light of the fact that Mariyah was accused of committing adultery with the eunuch who had accompanied her to Medina. It seems quite possible that the wives themselves spread this rumor in order to separate Muhammad from Mariyah. As one modern Muslim writer stated regarding the reaction of Muhammad’s wives at the news of Mariyah’s pregnancy:

Soon the good news spread through Madina that the Prophet of God was expecting a child from the Egyptian Maria. There is no need for us to explain to the reader here the painful impact of this news upon the wives of the Prophet. Why should this stranger bear a child whilst she had been but a year in Madina, when some of them had been in the house of the Prophet for many years without bearing a child? Why should God favour her with this great blessing while the Mothers of the Faithful, among them the daughters of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, bint Zad al-Rakab and the grand daughter of Abu Talib, were denied this favour? They were consumed with jealousy, not knowing what to do or say, and a whisper spread accusing Maria of the same thing which was charged against ‘A’isha. But ‘A’isha was justified by Heaven. Would then Maria aspire to justification by Heaven too? God did not forsake her in her predicament, but gave her a decisive proof against the false accusations… One day he carried the child in his arms to ‘A’isha and asked her tenderly to see what signs of the father appeared in this infant. She was about to cry, but held back her tears, saying, "I see no similarity between you and him." Instantly he perceived her torment and left with the boy, feeling pity for her… (Bint al-Shati', The Wives of the Prophet, Translated from Arabic with introduction by Matti Moosa in collaboration with D. Nicholas Ranson [Gorgias Press, First Gorgias Press Edition 2006], pp. 210, 212; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Yet Muhammad is mostly to blame for the jealousy and hatred the spouses felt towards Mariyah. His preferential and partial treatment, seen in the fact that he spent considerable more time with his concubine, didn’t help to diffuse the situation but only contributed to the strife and pain of the harem:

Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Zuhri related the following from Anas ibn Malik, who said that Maria, the bonds-woman of the Prophet, was in her quarters and a Coptic man used to bring her water and firewood. When the people saw this, they said knowingly, "A foreigner goes to see a foreigner." The Prophet heard this and sent our Lord ‘Ali ibn Abu-Talib there, who saw the Copt resting in a palm tree. When our Lord ‘Ali pulled his sword the man was frightened and threw off his robe in fright to reveal his nakedness; and ‘Ali saw that his member was cut off. ‘Ali returned to the Prophet and related what he saw. Then Gabriel, the entrusted Angel of Revelation, followed and said, "Peace be unto you, O Father of Ibrahim." When the Prophet heard this greeting, his mind became at peace.

The Prophet, anxious for Maria, removed her to al-‘Alia’ in the suburbs of Madina, for her safety and comfort and to take care of her health and her burden. ‘A’ishah said, "I have never felt so jealous of a woman as I did of Maria, because she was beautiful with curled hair. The Prophet admired her and accommodated her at the beginning in the house of Harith ibn al-Nu‘man and she became our neighbour. He was with her most of the day and night. She became unhappy, so he moved her to al-‘Alia’, but he saw her continuously there which became EVEN HARDER for us to bear. Then God blessed him with a son from her while denying us this blessing." (Ibid., pp. 210-211; bold, capital and underline emphasis ours)

These accounts also raise another serious problem with Muhammad’s character as a husband. The Islamic sources expose Muhammad as being a very insecure man who didn’t have complete trust in his wives’ fidelity. What kind of husband is this who doubts his wives’ marital commitment and exposes them to such public shame? How could Muhammad even entertain such doubts about women whom the Quran describes as the mothers of the faithful and of those whom Allah had purified?

The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers. Blood-relations among each other have closer personal ties, in the Decree of God. Than (the Brotherhood of) Believers and Muhajirs: nevertheless do ye what is just to your closest friends: such is the writing in the Decree (of God). S. 33:6 Y. Ali

And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance; and establish regular Prayer, and give regular Charity; and obey God and His Apostle. And God only wishes to remove all abomination from you, ye members of the Family, and to make you pure and spotless. S. 33:33 Y. Ali

Returning to the issue at hand, this wasn’t the only time that Aisha assisted Muhammad in shaping Islamic law. According to the Islamic narratives she is the reason why the use of dust or sand is allowed in ritual washing:

Narrated 'Urwa's father:

Aisha said, "I borrowed a necklace from Asma and it was lost. So Allah's Apostle sent a man to search for it and he found it. Then the time of the prayer became due and there was no water. They prayed (without ablution) and informed Allah's Apostle about it, so the verse of Tayammum was revealed." Usaid bin Hudair said to 'Aisha, "May Allah reward you. By Allah, whenever anything happened which you did not like, Allah brought good for you and for the Muslims in that."

Al-Jurf and the time for the 'Asr prayer became due while he was at Marbad-AnNa'am (sheep-fold), so he (performed Tayammum) and prayed there and then entered Medina when the sun was still high but he did not repeat that prayer. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 7, Number 332)

Narrated Aisha:

A necklace of mine was lost at Al-Baida' and we were on our way to Medina. The Prophet made his camel kneel down and dismounted and laid his head on my lap and slept. Abu Bakr came to me and hit me violently on the chest and said, "You have detained the people because of a necklace." I kept as motionless as a dead person because of the position of Allah's Apostle (on my lap) although Abu Bakr had hurt me (with the slap). Then the Prophet woke up and it was the time for the morning (prayer). Water was sought, but in vain; so the following Verse was revealed:--

"O you who believe! When you intend to offer prayer…" (5.6) Usaid bin Hudair said, "Allah has blessed the people for your sake, O the family of Abu Bakr. You are but a blessing for them." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 132)

Here is another version of Usaid’s statements:

… Usaid bin Hudair said, "(O 'Aisha!) May Allah bless you with a good reward, for by Allah, never did a difficulty happen in connection with you, but Allah made an escape from it for you, and brought Allah's Blessings for the Muslims." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 93)

Sauda was another wife that greatly aided her husband. It may come as a surprise to some Muslims to discover that one of the reasons Muhammad commissioned the veil was because of Sauda going to the bathroom at night and being recognized by the people!

Narrated Aisha:
Sauda (the wife of the Prophet) went out to answer the call of nature after it was made obligatory (for all the Muslims ladies) to observe the veil. She was a fat huge lady, and everybody who knew her before could recognize her. So 'Umar bin Al-Khattab saw her and said, "O Sauda! By Allah, you cannot hide yourself from us, so think of a way by which you should not be recognized on going out. Sauda returned while Allah's Apostle was in my house taking his supper and a bone covered with meat was in his hand. She entered and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I went out to answer the call of nature and 'Umar said to me so-and-so." Then Allah inspired him (the Prophet) and when the state of inspiration was over and the bone was still in his hand as he had not put in down, he said (to Sauda), "You (women) have been allowed to go out for your needs." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 318)

Narrated 'Aisha (the wife of the Prophet):
'Umar bin Al-Khattab used to say to Allah's Apostle, "Let your wives be veiled." But he did not do so. The wives of the Prophet used to go out to answer the call of nature at night only at Al-Manasi.' Once Sauda, the daughter of Zam'a went out and she was a tall woman. 'Umar bin Al-Khattab saw her while he was in a gathering, and said, "I have recognized you, O Sauda!" He ('Umar) said so as he was anxious for some Divine orders regarding the veil (the veiling of women.) So Allah revealed the Verse of veiling. (Al-Hijab; a complete body cover excluding the eyes). (See Hadith No. 148, Vol. 1) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 74, Number 257)

It is clear from the foregoing that Muhammad’s wives were of immense benefit to him since they were quite instrumental in inspiring the composition of the Quran by making sure that it addressed their various issues and questions.

Hence, the Quran’s gradual development over time worked to Muhammad’s advantage. Not only did it help him correct some of his mistakes and/or negligence in discussing specific issues such as the reward given to women, but it also gave him the opportunity to come up with convenient verses to justify his sexual desires and marital privileges or to find solutions to problems that he was experiencing.


Articles by Sam Shamoun
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