Why did the Prophet (peace be upon him) have multiple marriages?
Assalamu Alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh
Thank you for your question.
All Prophets (peace and blessings upon them) remain of high status, ethics, and exemplary character, even though people spread hate against them. Our responsibility is to constantly practice and portray the best example of the Prophetic teachings. It is always best to busy oneself with the positive rather than the negative. That being said, some of the answers the scholars have presented to your question, are listed below:
• Marrying multiple wives was a common custom during that era. This is why no Christian, Jew, idolater, agnostic or atheist etc. living at his time, ever objected to his polygamous marriages. In fact most males of all faiths had multiple wives.
• Islam introduced limits. Men of the time have been recorded to have hundreds of wives. Islam restricted the number to four.
• All marriages of Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) were commanded by Allah Almighty. Hence he was obeying the command of God.
• First marriage of Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) was at the age of 25. All marriages apart from the first were after the age of 50.
• Most of his wives were alive for only two to three years, in marriage with him, as they were aged women.
• All his wives apart from one were widows. He married the widows to support and help them. During his time, marrying a widow, especially with children, would be looked upon as a curse. Hence the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) broke this inappropriate custom demonstrating that there is no curse by marrying widows.
• By being in polygamous marriages, the wives were able to transfer the Prophetic teachings of domestic life. Many matters of religion are only known to us from the wives. A’isha (may Allah be pleased with her) is amongst those who narrate the most hadiths from the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him).
• The numerous marriages of the Prophet Muḥammad (peace and blessings upon him) were a means to establish close ties with the tribes, the wives originated from. These marriage bonds resulted in the tribes becoming extended family. The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) was able to reach out to them to convey the message of God to them.
Mufti Shafi (may Allah’s mercy be upon him) writes the following concerning this topic:
Polygamy and its currency before Islam, that one man could have more than one wife was something considered permissible in all religions of the world even before the advent of Islam. The custom prevailed in Arabia, India, Iran, Egypt, Babylon and among peoples elsewhere. Its natural validity cannot be denied even to this day. The Europeans of the present age tried to break away from the practice of their predecessors and made multiplicity of marriage impermissible. It resulted in the multiplicity of concubines and girl-friends retained out of wedlock. It was the validity of the natural that there has been a consistent opinion bank in the West (though not so effective) which recognizes the efficacy of plurality of marriage.
Davenport, the well-known Christian writer has deduced from the Bible that plurality of wives is not only favourable but is a source of blessing from God. Others such as Father Nixon, John Milton and Isac Taylor have supported this view strongly. Similarly, Vedic teachings permit unlimited number of wives, even in tens and thirteens and twenty sevens, at one time. Shri Krishna, a highly respected deity among Hindus, had hundreds of wives.
The truth of the matter is that a religion or law which aims to establish an infra-structure of chastity and modesty and considers the eradication of adultery as necessary has no way out except that it permits plurality of wives. Apart from being a preventive measure against adultery, it serves as a remedial approach to the problem of comparatively larger female population in some areas as compared to that of men. If such permission was not granted, mistresses and prostitutes will proliferate. This is why nations which do not permit plurality of wives must live in rampant adultery (calling it ‘free sex’ hardly changes the reality).
Even in our own time, if we look at the state of nations in Europe and America, we will see that they look down on what they call polygamy and put a ban on plurality of wives, but they permit a man to practice adultery with as many women as he can get under the cover of ‘friendship’, (and unlimited are the euphimisms invented to give it other names, such as, ‘relationship’, ‘affair’, ‘consenting adults’, ‘union’, ‘partner’ to get around the ban). Saying no to marriage and yes to adultery is certainly very strange! To be short, we can say that the custom of taking a large number of wives was prevailing before Islam without any imposition of limits.
The history of nations and beliefs shows that no religion or law had drawn a line in this matter, neither the Jews and Christians, nor the Hindus and Aryans or the Zoarastrians.
During the early period of Islam, this custom continued without being limited. As a result, people initially took too many wives to satisfy their greed. Later on they could not do justice to all of them and these wives of theirs lived like prisoners bound in the chains of marriage. Under such conditions, the idea of an equitable treatment of wives was practically non-existant. It was all a matter of personal choice or whim which could make the darling of the day a history of tomorrow. The concern for standing rights was a far cry.
It was the Holy Qur’an which stopped this great injustice prevailing in the human society at large. It restricted the plurality or multiplicity of wives by declaring that keeping more than four women under the bond of marriage was forbidden (haram). In addition to that, stern warning was given against any contravention of the Divine command which emphatically demanded that equality in fulfilling the rights of women taken into the bond of marriage at the same time must be maintained faithfully.” (Ma’arif al Qur’an)
And Allah knows best.
Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Badat
Hadith of the Day Imam
Imam of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto and Director of Mathabah Institute