The Perfect Wife
Allah made believing women and girls dependent on men for everything from the bare necessities of life to simple luxuries, thereby making them beholden to men, especially older wealthy men and men in positions of power.
The Koran does contain a number of revealed truths which impose some mostly minor restrictions on the beneficiaries of Allah's “carte-blanche” dispensation when it comes to the sexual demands that men can make of the fair and vulnerable sex: revelation 2:223 Your women are a tillage for you. So get to your tillage whenever you like ... Verse 2:222, for example, forbids a man from demanding sex from his wife if she is menstruating.
2:222 And they ask you about menstruation, say: “It is an impurity.” So keep away from women during their menstruation and do not approach them (do not have sexual relations with them) until they are clean. Once they get clean get to them as Allah commanded you. Allah loves the repentant and loves those who purify themselves.
This is not out of consideration for females, god forbid, but because in Allah’s eyes, she is unclean, not only for sex but for prayer.
There are a few other occasions, that have nothing to do with a woman’s reproductive cycle, where Allah prohibits a man, for a precise period of time, from demanding sex from his lawfully wedded spouse. For instance, a husband must wait at least four months before being intimate with his wife if he previously swore that he would never have sex with her again, but changes his mind.
2:226 Those who swear not to approach their wives should wait for four months; then if they change their minds, Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
2:227 If they resolve on divorce, Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
The time penalties and Allah's prohibition against a man having sex with a menstruating spouse notwithstanding, a wife cannot refuse her husband’s request for sex without risking, not only a beating at the hands of her husband, but eternal damnation.
Why would Allah, not only allow, but seemingly encourage a husband to beat his wife for a variety of reasons including, one must assume, refusing him access to her body. Revisiting the relevant portion of verse 4:34 quoted in its entirety in Who Gets What.
4:34 … Hence righteous women are obedient, guarding the unseen which Allah has guarded. And those of them that you fear might rebel, admonish them and abandon them in their beds and beat them. Should they obey you, do not seek a way of harming them; for Allah is Sublime and Great!
Could it be unintended consequences of a man discovering the joys of a varied sex life, especially sex with younger women and girls when he was past his prime? Of course, the Prophet Muhammad's accumulation of wives, concubines and slave-girls when he was well into his middle-age years could also have been attributable to God's Messenger's altruistic nature.
The Prophet, when it came to the believers, was, for the most part, a caring, thoughtful man. The kind of man that would have been pre-disposed to care for those he perceived as the most vulnerable members of Arab society: widows, young women and teenaged girls. The best way to do this, in his time, was to marry them, or make them members of your household. And this was, after all, during a time of war when Muslims were fighting for their very survival.
A Man and His Wives
The Prophet Muhammad had fourteen official wives. For twenty-three years God’s Messenger was married to one woman, Khadijah. It was Khadijah’s third marriage, the Prophet’s first. He was twenty-five, she was forty when they tied the knot.
We are told he was faithful to her and loved her very much. I believe that. He would even have Adam, of Adam and Eve fame, pay her the supreme compliment. From La vie de Mahomet by Virgil Gheorghiu, (my translation):
“One of the things that Allah gave to Muhammad and not to me, was a wife like Khadijah who helped him carry out God’s will, while my own wife, Eve only encouraged me to disobey (God).” Adam
Khadijah gave birth to two, maybe three sons (depending on who you read) and four girls. All of the Prophet’s sons would die in infancy. The youngest daughter, Fatima, was the only offspring of God's Messenger to have descendents. She was wedded to the Prophet's cousin, Ali, the fourth caliph (the fourth successor to the Prophet.)
Shi’as (Shi’a means partisan or faction of Ali) maintain that the proper successor of the Prophet Muhammad was Ali followed by the son of Ali and Fatima; Hussain. Shia’s consider the first three caliphs who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad, and those who followed Ali, usurpers.
The Sunni-Shia division of Islam originated because of this succession dispute shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 A.D. and the murder of Ali and his son Hussain. Every day Sunni and Shia faithful are reminded of their irreconcilable divergence in the simple declaration of faith that is part of their daily prayers, the Shahadah.
The Sunni version:
I declare there is no god except God, and I declare that Muhammad is the Messenger of God
The Shia version:
There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, Alí is the Friend of Allah, the Successor of the Messenger of Allah and his first Caliph.
After the death of his first wife Khadijah, the Prophet Muhammad did not marry again until he was past fifty. His next wife was again a widow. He then married Aisha the daughter of his good friend and close collaborator Abu Bakr. Aisha was the first child born to parents who were believers. The progeny of believers are born Muslim.
The founder of Islam would marry the first child born a Muslim.
Scholars and clerics maintain that a grateful Abu Bakr offered his nine-year-old daughter, with whom the Prophet Muhammad had fallen in love, to cement his relationship with God’s Messenger. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in The Caged Virgin, writes that Aisha’s father pleaded with his fifty-something friend to wait until his daughter reached adulthood before marrying her.
... he fell in love with Aisha, his best friend's nine-year-old daughter. Her father said: "Please wait until she has reached adulthood." But Muhammad would not wait... In other words, Muhammad teaches us that it is fine to take away your best friend's child. By our Western standards Muhammad is a perverse man.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The Caged Virgin, p. 81
A hadith recorded by Bukhari would appear to support Ali’s assertion that Aisha’s father was not keen on marrying his daughter to a man of his generation:
The Prophet asked Abu Bakr for Aisha's hand in marriage.
Abu Bakr said "But I am your brother."
The Prophet said, "You are my brother in Allah's religion and His Book, but she (Aisha) is lawful for me to marry."
Aisha’s recollection of her wedding day would suggest that the bride was not yet a teenager when she joined the Prophet on the matrimonial mat. The fact that Aisha's wedding was not celebrated, the meaning of "Neither a camel nor a sheep was slaughtered on behalf of me" in the following account by Tabari, may be an indication that God's Messenger was not proud of what he was about to do and did not want it to be an example for others or, that his people did not approve of their 50+ tribesman marrying and having sex with a child.
“My mother came to me while I was being swung on a swing between two branches and got me down. My nurse took over and wiped my face with some water and started leading me. When I was at the door she stopped so I could catch my breath. I was brought in while Muhammad was sitting on a bed in our house. My mother made me sit on his lap. The other men and women got up and left. The Prophet consummated his marriage with me in my house when I was nine years old. Neither a camel nor a sheep was slaughtered on behalf of me.”
The late Ayatollah Khomeini and Islamic law would also appear to support Hirsi Ali’s claim of Aisha’s age when she lost her virginity to God’s Messenger.
While the claim that God’s Messenger had sexual intercourse with a nine year old girl can never be conclusively proven, it is reasonable to assume that Aisha moved into the Prophet’s house when the engagement was announced, or after her wedding, based on a previously quoted observation by Khomeini that “it was better in the eyes of God if a girl started menstruating in the home of her husband instead of that of her father… “
When the Ayatollah Khomeini lowered the age at which a girl could be legally married to nine years of age, he may simply have been making Iranian law conform to the Prophet Muhammad’s example. In Islam, there is no higher law than the Koran and the Prophet’s Sunnah and for following the law laid down by Allah and His Messenger no Muslim can be faulted.
In May 2006, the Iranian Guardian Council of the Constitution, which is responsible for ensuring that any laws passed by Parliament are compatible with Islam, quashed a vote of Parliament that would have made it compulsory for girls under the age of 15, and boys under 18, to have court approval to get married. The clerics on the Council ruled that such a move would break Islamic law (Sharia law) which sets the minimum marriage age at 9 for girls based on the example of the Prophet, and 14 for boys.
The Prophet Muhammad, for the believers, is the personification of the perfect human being whose every action is to be imitated as closely as possible so as to live an exemplary god-fearing life. A flawless reputation so highly valued that, as demonstrated during the “cartoon protest”, you question the basis of that reputation at your risk and peril.
Being perfect, like his patron, God’s Messenger cannot be faulted for anything he has said or done.
If I dwell at some length on the marriage of the young Aisha to a middle-age man it is because this child, this girl, was probably the most significant influence on Allah and His Messenger’s view of women. A view to which we will return later.
After Aisha, God’s Messenger would marry many, many times over. The official number is fourteen wives not counting slave-girls and concubines. Some marriages were entered into to cement alliances, others may have been the Prophet's way of taking care of the widows and orphans of men who had died for Islam.
The beautiful twenty years old widow Hafsah would become wife number four. God’s Messenger was fifty-four. All of the Prophet’s young wives were reputed to be women of exceptional beauty.
Over the next ten years he would marry again ten times. His last wife was, depending again on who you believe, between thirty and thirty-nine years his junior; his second to last wife was forty-seven years younger.
The Prophet also took a number of concubines from among his slave-girls, including the beautiful Rayhanah, the widow of the leader of the Beni Qurayzah Jewish clan of Medina whose men and teenaged boys the Prophet had beheaded for tactical reasons.
A middle-age man, even in the best of emotional and physical condition, would have difficulties controlling this ménage of post and pre-pubescent girls and young women in the prime of their sexual life. As the Messenger of God he could not depend on soldiers or others to keep his collection of females from wandering or being tempted by young men of their generation. He had to solve his female management difficulties some other way.
The solution was obvious. He was God’s Messenger after all and he not only listened to God, God listened to him. In revelation 4:3 Allah put a limit of four wives per husband. The Prophet wanted to exceed this god-ordained matrimonial limit. Not a problem. Allah provided a revelation making the whole thing legal … for His Messenger, and His Messenger only.
33:50 O Prophet, we have made lawful, for you, your wives, whose dowry you have paid, what your right hand owns (slave-girls) out of the spoils of war that Allah gave you, the daughters of your paternal uncles, the daughters of your paternal aunts, the daughters of your maternal uncles, the daughters of your maternal aunts who emigrated with you, and any believing woman who gives herself freely to the Prophet, if the Prophet desires to marry her, granted exclusively to you, but not the believers. We know what We have prescribed for them, regarding their wives and what their right hands own, so that you may not be at fault. Allah is All-Forgiving, Merciful.
For the women who gave themselves “freely” (which I interpret as allowing the Prophet to break one of Allah’s most strict prohibition i.e. sex outside marriage) having shared the Prophet’s bed should be reward enough if His Messenger decided to send them on their way with little or no compensation.
33:51 You may defer any of them you wish, and take in any of them that you wish or any that you may have cut off. So you are not liable to reproach. For thus it is more likely that they will be delighted and will not grieve, but be content with what you have given each one of them. Allah knows what is within your hearts; and Allah is All-Knowing, Clement.
Allah, it is clear, was extremely concerned that His Messenger be sexually fulfilled, so it should come as no surprise when He raised the matrimonial limit for His favourite human being. For the Prophet who, as we mentioned earlier, was already pre-disposed to care for widows, young women and girls which he perceived as the most vulnerable members of society, this was perhaps too much of an indulgence.
The Prophet's child-bride Aisha wondered about Allah's readiness to indulge His Messenger in everything sexual. In a Bukhari hadith she offers, after revelation 33:51 was communicated, a rather wry comment about Allah hastily fulfilling her husband’s wishes when it came to the ladies.
I used to look down upon those ladies who had given themselves to Allah's Apostle and I used to say, "Can a lady give herself (to a man)?" But when Allah revealed: "You (O Muhammad) can postpone (the turn of) whom you will of them (your wives), and you may receive any of them whom you will; and there is no blame on you if you invite one whose turn you have set aside (temporarily).' (33:51) I said (to the Prophet), "I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires."
This act of kindness for His Messenger would lead to the wife management problem mentioned previously and would compel Allah, on numerous occasions, to intervene to help His Prophet with his wives, slave-girls and concubines. The only problem; God’s solutions for His Messenger became every Muslim man’s solution when it came to “managing” their household.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the Prophet did not heed Allah’s warning that you should only take as many wives as you can handle, or that Allah did not force His Messenger to stay within the prescribed limit like everybody else. After all, the Prophet, like every believing man, could still have as many slave-girls as he could handle.
If Allah had tempered His Messenger’s altruistic endeavors when it came to helping the weaker sex, Muslim women would probably be much better off today.
When it came to sex there would be one law for the believers and another law for God’s Messenger.
Is it Allah or is it His Messenger who realises that He may have gone too far? Is the following verse meant to reassure the believers that no further exceptions will be granted the Prophet when it comes to the females that he can bring into his household or with whom he can have intimate relations?
33:52 Thereafter, other women are not lawful to you, nor is substituting other wives for them, even if you admire their beauty, except for what your right hand owns. Allah is Watchful over everything.
Why would God, in a book meant to be a moral guide for mankind for centuries to come, spend so much time on the sex life of just one man? If that sex life was to be held up as an example to the faithful then perhaps it would have its place in such as book; but as an exception to Allah’s rules for the ordinary believer, it invites disbelief!
A Taste of Honey
Allah’s revelations to His Messenger when it came to helping him control his wives and concubines give us a view into the mind of the Almighty when it comes to women. Here is what most would consider a trivial case of wife management in which the Almighty feels compelled to intervene.
The situation is this: God's Messenger has told one of his wives, in secrecy, that he has eaten some honey. This wife in which the Prophet confided in then tells another wife that their husband has eaten some honey.
Allah, who sees and hears all, decides to tell His Messenger part of what he saw and heard.
66:3 And when the Prophet confided to one of his wives a certain matter (his eating of honey); and she divulged it, and Allah disclosed it to him too, He made known part of it, but withheld the other part. Then, when he told her about it, she said: “Who told you this?” He said: “The All-Knowing, All-Informed told me.”
Allah suspects a conspiracy against His Messenger. To put an end to the gossip about the honey, He informs the two women, via the following revelation, of the formidable force allied against them: God himself, most of the believers and all the angels, including the mighty Gabriel support the Prophet.
66:4 If you two (the two wives of the Prophet) repent onto Allah, then your hearts will have certainly inclined; but if you band together against him, then Allah is his Master. Gabriel, the righteous among the believers and the angels thereupon are his supporters, too.
This has to be about more than divulging that someone has eaten some honey for Allah to put His own prestige on the line, and to throw in everything but the kitchen sink to force the two women to keep quiet.
Then comes the really big threat, especially in the Prophet’s time: divorce. Allah will grant His Messenger a divorce so that He may give him in exchange “the perfect wife” which He proceeds to describe.
66:5 Perhaps, his Lord will, if he divorces you, give him in exchange wives better than you, submissive, believing, obedient, penitent, devout, fasting, either previously married or virgins.
Do you measure up?
Allah follows his instructions about how wives should behave with the usual threat about burning you to a crisp if His instructions are not followed.
66:6 O believers, guard yourselves and your families against a Fire whose fuel is people and stones; its overseers are harsh, terrible angels who do not disobey what Allah commands, but will do what they are commanded.
In the Prophet's House and Celibate Widows
In verse 24:27 Allah warned the believers not to “enter houses other than your own before you ask leave and greet their occupants.” In what is referred to as the verse of the curtain, a revealed truth communicated by means unknown on the night of the Prophet's wedding to Zaynab b. Jahsh when uninvited guest kept showing up after the wedding feast, or overstayed their welcome, God's Messenger placed additional restrictions as to when you can enter his house and how you should behaved once inside and what type of interaction is permitted, if any, with his wives.
33:53 O believers, do not enter the houses of the Prophet, unless you are invited to a meal, without awaiting the hour; but if you are invited, then enter; but when you have eaten, disperse, without lingering for idle talk. That is vexing to the Prophet who might be wary of you, but Allah is not wary of the truth. If you ask them (the wives of the Prophet) for an object, ask them from behind a curtain. That is purer for your hearts and theirs. You should never hurt the Messenger of Allah, nor take his wives in marriage after him. That is truly abominable in the sight of Allah.
33:54 Whether you reveal a thing or conceal it, Allah has knowledge of everything.
Allah ends this curious revelation, verse 33:53 with an admonishment for the men, warning them to keep their distance from His Messenger’s wives after His Messenger has left this world on route to a better one.
Why would Allah, in a book meant to guide humanity till the end of time, include a prohibition which disappeared with the passing of the Prophet’s last wife. It only serves to make His Messenger out to be a jealous, obsessive man, a man who would seek to control the lives of his widows from beyond the grave
For Muslim women, having sex with a man other than their husband is flirting with a gruesome death and risking spending an eternity on fire in the depth of Allah’s Hell. The interdiction against taking “his wives in marriage after him” is equivalent to condemning the Prophet’s young wives to never enjoying being intimate with a man again after his passing.
Making matters worst, the Prophet’s widows were deprived of most of their inheritance by his immediate successor Abu Bakr.