Muhammad's ‘divinely appointed’ marriage(s)

Zaynab's and Aisha's contradictory accounts

Sam Shamoun

The Quran refers to Allah wedding Zaynab bint Jash, the divorcee of Muhammad’s adopted son Zaynab ibn Haritha, to Muhammad:

And call to mind when thou didst say to him on whom ALLAH had bestowed favours and on whom thou also hadst bestowed favours: ‘Keep thy wife to thyself, and fear ALLAH,’ and thou didst conceal in thy heart what ALLAH was going to bring to light, and thou didst fear the people, whereas ALLAH has better right that thou shouldst fear HIM. Then, when Zaid had accomplished his want concerning her, WE joined her in marriage to thee, so that there may be no difficulty for the believers with regard to marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when they have accomplished their wants concerning them. And ALLAH's decree was bound to be fulfilled. S. 33:37 Sher Ali

The Islamic traditions provide some additional info:

Narrated Anas:
Zaid bin Haritha came to the Prophet complaining about his wife. The Prophet kept on saying (to him), "Be afraid of Allah and keep your wife." Aisha said, "If Allah’s Apostle were to conceal anything (of the Quran) he would have concealed this Verse." Zainab used to boast before the wives of the Prophet and used to say, "You were given in marriage by your families, while I was married (to the Prophet) by Allah from over seven Heavens." And Thabit recited, "The Verse:-- ‘But (O Muhammad) you did hide in your heart that which Allah was about to make manifest, you did fear the people,’ (33.37) was revealed in connection with Zainab and Zaid bin Haritha." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 516)

Narrated Anas bin Malik:
The Verse of Al-Hijab (veiling of women) was revealed in connection with Zainab bint Jahsh. (On the day of her marriage with him) the Prophet gave a wedding banquet with bread and meat; and she used to boast before other wives of the Prophet and used to say, "Allah married me (to the Prophet) in the Heavens." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 517)

Anas (Allah be pleased with him) reported: When the ‘Iddah of Zainab was over, Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to Zaid to make a mention to her about him. Zaid went on until he came to her and she was fermenting her flour. He (Zaid) said: As I saw her I felt in my heart an idea of her greatness so much so that I could not see towards her (simply for the fact) that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) had made a mention of her. So I turned my back towards her. And I turned upon my heels, and said: Zainab, Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) has sent (me) with a message to you. She said: I do not do anything until I solicit the will of my Lord. So she stood at her place of worship and the (verse of) the Qur’an (pertaining to her marriage) was revealed, and Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) came to her without permission… (Sahih Muslim, Book 008, Number 3330)

Zaynab’s boast clearly means that no other wife of Muhammad had been married off to the latter by direct revelation, by wahy, from God. Zaynab alone was allegedly given to Muhammad by direct inspiration.

However, Muhammad claims that Gabriel showed Aisha to him in his dreams:

Narrated ‘Aisha:
Allah's Apostle said (to me), "You have been shown to me twice IN (MY) DREAMS. A man was carrying you in a silken cloth and said to me, ‘This is your wife.’ I uncovered it; and behold, it was you. I said to myself, ‘If this dream is from Allah, He will cause it to come true.’" (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 15)

Narrated ‘Aisha:
Allah’s Apostle said (to me), "You were shown to me in a dream. AN ANGEL brought you to me, wrapped in a piece of silken cloth, and said to me, ‘This is your wife.’ I removed the piece of cloth from your face, and there you were. I said to myself. ‘If it is from Allah, then it will surely be.’" (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 57)

According to these traditions, Allah also took the initiative and informed Muhammad that Aisha should be his wife, this time in a dream.

The Quran plainly states that God speaks to prophets and messengers through dreams and visions:

When Allah showed them to you IN YOUR DREAM as few; and if He had shown them to you as many you would certainly have become weak-hearted and you would have disputed about the matter, but Allah saved (you); surely He is the Knower of what is in the breasts. S. 8:43 Shakir

And when he attained to working with him, he [Abraham] said: O my son! surely I have seen IN A DREAM that I should sacrifice you; consider then what you see. He said: O my father! do what you are commanded; if Allah please, you will find me of the patient ones. S. 37:102 Shakir

The hadiths agree that dreams are a form of inspiration, a mode of revelation:

Narrated 'Aisha:
(the mother of the faithful believers) The commencement of the Divine Inspiration to Allah's Apostle was in the form of good dreams which came true like bright day light, and then the love of seclusion was bestowed upon him. He used to go in seclusion in the cave of Hira where he used to worship (Allah alone) continuously for many days before his desire to see his family. He used to take with him the journey food for the stay and then come back to (his wife) Khadija to take his food like-wise again till suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira. The angel came to him and asked him to read. The Prophet replied, "I do not know how to read."… (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 1, Number 3)

Narrated Kuraib:
Ibn ‘Abbas said, "The Prophet slept till he snored and then prayed (or probably lay till his breath sounds were heard and then got up and prayed)." Ibn ‘Abbas added: "I stayed overnight in the house of my aunt, Maimuna, the Prophet slept for a part of the night, (See Fateh-al-Bari page 249, Vol. 1), and late in the night, he got up and performed ablution from a hanging water skin, a light (perfect) ablution and stood up for the prayer. I, too, performed a similar ablution, then I went and stood on his left. He drew me to his right and prayed as much as Allah wished, and again lay and slept till his breath sounds were heard. Later on the Mua'dhdhin (call maker for the prayer) came to him and informed him that it was time for Prayer. The Prophet went with him for the prayer without performing a new ablution." (Sufyan said to ‘Amr that some people said, "The eyes of Allah's Apostle sleep but his heart does not sleep." ‘Amr replied, "I heard ‘Ubaid bin ‘Umar saying that the dreams of Prophets were Divine Inspiration, and then he recited the verse: ‘I (Abraham) see in a dream, (O my son) that I offer you in sacrifice (to Allah).’" (37.102) (See Hadith No. 183). (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 4, Number 140)

Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "The (good) dream of a faithful believer is a part of the forty-six parts of prophetism." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 87, Number 117)

What this means is that Muhammad was supposedly told by revelation, by inspiration, to marry Aisha.

The foregoing leaves us with problems, with several inconsistencies. To begin with, was Zaynab wrong to say that she was the only one of Muhammad’s wives who was married to him by God himself? The traditions clearly state that Aisha was another one for whom God informed Muhammad that he should marry her.

Or did Muhammad simply make up the story of having seen Aisha in a dream in order to justify his marriage with a young, prepubescent child?

Or did he instead make up a verse of the Quran in order to justify marrying his adopted son's wife?

Or could it even be that Aisha made up the story in order to compete with Zaynab out of jealousy towards her?

A Muslim cannot opt for denying that Aisha’s marriage was "divinely" arranged since Muhammad is reported to have seen her in a dream, and both the Quran and traditions view dreams as a form of revelation. Thus, the Muslim is left with one of the four options which we have presented, but no matter what position one adopts the problems still remain.

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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