From Merchant to Messenger

The Prophet Muhammad's struggle for legitimacy as revealed in the Koran

Wives of Muhammad

and some of the revelations they inspired

From Merchant to Messenger33:6 The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves and his wives are like their mothers. The kinsmen are closer to each other, in Allah’s Book, than the believers or the Emigrants; unless you are doing your friends an honourable deed, that has already been inscribed in the Book.

No story of Muhammad would be complete without a word about his collection of wives and concubines. A readable account—except for the lack of references for the quoted hadiths—that is very much a believer’s homage to the man and the women he sequestered in his household is that of Tamam Kahn. Unless otherwise indicated, materials within double quotes in this section are from her book Untold - A History of the Wives of Prophet Muhammad, Monkfish Book Publishing, 2010. Some of the stories told here you will find echoed in Women and Koran, Boreal Books.


Muhammad owed his success as a merchant to an older woman who hired the good-looking, allegedly illiterate young man to lead her caravans. One of Khadijah’s servants accompanied her hire, not to keep tabs on him, but, according to Tamam Khan, because the future spokesperson for the Almighty needed someone who could “read, write and had a basic understanding of mathematics.” Later she asked her illiterate caravan leader to marry her. For twenty-three years Muhammad was married to Khadijah and only Khadijah. It was her third marriage, his first.

He was twenty-five, she was forty when they tied the knot. It was this same successful businesswoman, now his wife, who (in a story recounted earlier) reassured her husband, when he began having visions, that it was an angel sent by God, not Satan or some other godless creature. She told him to get undressed. She did the same and they embraced. Do you still see him, she asked? No, said Muhammad! Then it must have been an angel, she said, because an angel would not have remained to stare at a naked couple embracing.

Khadijah gave birth to two, maybe three sons (depending on who you read), and four girls. All the couple’s sons would die in infancy. The youngest daughter, Fatima, was the only offspring to have descendants. She was married to Ali, the fourth caliph (the fourth successor to the Prophet). Khadijah died destitute and penniless in a makeshift habitat in a ravine on the outskirts of Mecca. After discovering Islam some fifteen years after they were married, the now forty-something Muhammad would spend all of his and his wife’s wealth on the promotion of his new religion.

The bold, erudite, self-sufficient Khadijah would not live long enough to witness her husband’s triumph over his enemies, a triumph which would not have been possible without her wealth and unquestioning support. She could not have foreseen that, after Islam, the independence and freedom she enjoyed and which made it all possible would be severely curtailed for all members of her sex.


After the death of Khadijah in the year 619, Muhammad—after waiting a respectable amount of time, and after being persuaded by close friends that he needed a wife to help him raise his two unmarried daughters—married the widow Sawda (also spelled Sauda). Middle-aged Sawda was the only woman he married who, it is reported, was neither young nor beautiful. Sawda may have been responsible for one of the more controversial addition to a female’s attire: the veil.

Narrated Aisha:

The wives of the Prophet used to go to Al-Manasi, a vast open place (near Baqia at Medina) to answer the call of nature at night.

Umar used to say to the Prophet "Let your wives be veiled," but Allah's Apostle did not do so.

One night Sauda bint Zam'a the wife of the Prophet went out at Isha' time and she was a tall lady.

Umar addressed her and said, "I have recognized you, O Sauda."

He said so, as he desired eagerly that the verses of Al-Hijab may be revealed. So Allah revealed the verses of "Al-Hijab"

Bukhari 5.148

Umar, the instigator, offered a more self-serving version that did not make him out to be a voyeur.

Narrated Umar:

I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Good and bad persons enter upon you, so I suggest that you order the mothers of the Believers (i.e. your wives) to observe veils."

Then Allah revealed the Verses of Al-Hijab

Bukhari 60.313

“Sawda lived twenty-two years after the death of the Prophet.”


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. Traditional Muslim scholars and clerics maintain that a grateful Abu Bakr offered his nine-year-old daughter, with whom Muhammad had fallen in love, to cement his relationship with the Prophet. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in The Caged Virgin, writes that this was not the case.

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.

A hadith recorded by Bukhari would appear to support Ali’s assertion that Aisha’s father was not keen on marrying his pre-pubescent daughter to a man of his generation:

Narrated Ursa:

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."

Bukhari 62.18

Aisha’s recollection of when she first joined her husband on the matrimonial mat.

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.

Tabari IX:131

The fact that Aisha's wedding was not celebrated—the meaning of, "Neither a camel nor a sheep was slaughtered on behalf of me"—may be an indication that God's spokesman was not proud of what he was about to do and did not want it to become an example for others, which it unfortunately did. Muhammad, for the believers, is the personification of the perfect human being. Being perfect, like his patron, he cannot be faulted for anything he has said or done—and that includes marrying and having intercourse with a nine-year- old—and no Muslim man can be faulted for emulating perfection.

Aisha was probably the greatest single reason for many of Allah’s most restrictive and harshest revelations pertaining to women. She was still a teenager when she was accused of adultery after getting lost in the desert and having been found and returned to Muhammad the next day by a young man, triggering an outpouring of revelations that continue to have an impact on women to this day. Tamam Khan writes that “A’isha wept until her head covering was wet” when her husband recited Revelation 33:33, one of the more punitive of Allah’s decrees of which she was undoubtedly the cause:

33:32 O wives of the Prophet, you are not like any other women. If you are God-fearing, do not be abject in speech, so that he in whose heart is a sickness may covet you, but speak in an honourable way.

33:33 Stay in your homes and do not display your finery as the pagans of old did: perform the prayer, give the alms and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah only wishes to turn away abomination from you and purify you fully. O People of the House.

For more on how, through no fault of her own, Aisha caused God to severely curtail women’s freedom, I invite you to read Women and the Koran: "A Child Bride’s Indiscretion," Boreal Books. Muhammad’s child bride may also have been responsible for awakening in her husband a preference for young women and girls. A hadith by Bukhari to that effect:

Narrated Jabir bin Abdullah:

While we were returning from a Ghazwa (Holy Battle) with the Prophet, I started driving my camel fast, as it was a lazy camel A rider came behind me and pricked my camel with a spear he had with him, and then my camel started running as fast as the best camel you may see.

Behold! The rider was the Prophet himself.

He said, "What makes you in such a hurry?"

I replied, "I am newly married."

He said, "Did you marry a virgin or a matron?"

I replied, "A matron."

He said, "Why didn't you marry a young girl so that you may play with her and she with you?"

When we were about to enter (Medina), the Prophet said, "Wait so that you may enter (Medina) at night so that the lady of unkempt hair may comb her hair and the one whose husband has been absent may shave her pubic region.

Bukhari 62.16

Muhammad was buried in a shallow grave in Aisha’s bedroom, later to be joined by his father-in-law and successor as leader of the believers, Abu Bakr, and still later by his close collaborator Umar, who succeeded Bakr.

Aisha’s quarters were a kind of cemetery. This seems the strangest part of her story. Muhammad was buried there as well as Abu Bakr (her father and first caliph i.e. leader of the faithful) and Umar the second caliph. She created a partition between her bed and the burial area, in a small room. The original burial site is today a marble rectangle more than fifty-three thousand square feet.

Tamam Khan

Aisha “died July 13, 678 at age sixty-four. She asked to be buried with the other wives in the Baqi` cemetery of Medina, not in her apartment with her husband.” Al-Baqi` cemetery in Medina was founded by Muhammad. Its size and number of graves are a state secret. To avoid people making pilgrimages to the cemetery where most of Muhammad’s wives are buried the Saudi’s bulldozed all grave markers.

Aisha seems to have enjoyed her eight years with Muhammad, which makes her death-bed admission all the more puzzling. Did she regret a lost childhood and the type of life she might have had, had she married a man of her generation?

Narrated Ibn Abu Mulaika:

Ibn 'Abbas asked permission to visit Aisha before her death, and at that time she was in a state of agony.

She then said. "I am afraid that he will praise me too much."

And then it was said to her, "He is the cousin of Allah's Apostle and one of the prominent Muslims."

Then she said, "Allow him to enter."

(When he entered) he said, "How are you?"

She replied, "I am alright if I fear (Allah)."

Ibn Abbas said, "Allah willing, you are alright as you are the wife of Allah's Apostle and he did not marry any virgin except you and proof of your innocence was revealed from the Heaven."

Later on Ibn Az-Zubair entered after him and 'Aisha said to him, "Ibn 'Abbas came to me and praised me greatly, but I wish that I was a thing forgotten and out of sight."

Bukhari 60.277


Hafsa was the daughter of another close collaborator of Muhammad, Umar, who would follow Abu Bakr as Caliph. The Prophet married the nineteen-year-old Hafsa after her husband was killed at the famous battle of Badr (see Jihad in the Koran: "Battle of Badr," Boreal Books), which ignited a war against unbelievers that continues to this day in one form or another.

Hafsa is probably most famous for being the custodian of the first copy of the Koran, which she kept under her bed. A written Koran was commissioned by Abu Bakr, with the first draft completed during the reign of Umar, his successor (see Shared Prophets: "How the Koran Came to Be – The First Koran," Boreal Books) and given to Hafsa for safekeeping. Caliph Uthman, who succeeded Umar as leader of the believers, asked her to retrieve it to be reviewed and revised by a committee of three before becoming the official and only version of the book allowed.

Hafsa and Aisha used to play pranks on their aged husband-in-common, the most infamous and consequential, which the Koran addresses at length, is divulging their husband’s surreptitious eating of honey (see: Women and the Koran: "A Taste of Honey," Boreal Books). Hafsa died in 665 or 666, almost thirty-four years after her husband.

Zaynab b. Khuzayma

Zaynab b. Khuzayma was another widow of Badr whom Muhammad made part of his household. Little is known about her as she died only eight months later and was buried in Baqi cemetery.

Umm Salama

Umm Salama or Hind, her name before she gave birth to a son during her first marriage, whom they named Salama, took the name Umm Salama, meaning ‘Mother of Salama’. Umm Salama was thirty when she accepted an offer of marriage from Muhammad after her husband died from wounds sustained in the battle of Uhud (see Jihad in the Koran: "Battle of Uhud," Boreal Books). ). It is reported that it she who asked her husband about the “revelations' lack of reference to women,” which prompted Muhammad to deliver the first revelation in which women are mentioned.

33:35 Men and women who have submitted, believed, obeyed, are truthful, steadfast, reverend, giving in charity, fasting, guarding their private parts and remembering Allah often, Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward.

Muhammad went to Aisha’s room to take a bath after the Battle of the Ditch—also referred to as the Battle of the Trench (see Jihad in the Koran: "Battle for Medina," Boreal Books)—but it was Umm Salama, Tamam Khan writes, who, “during the clash stayed in the tent set up for the Prophet near the battle. She took care of her husband while the sounds of swords and axes rattled her bones. [Umm Salama] died at the age of eighty-six.” Before she died, “Muhammad appeared to her in a dream and was very upset. He told her that his last grandson Husayn had been murdered”; and he had, at Karbala.

Zaynab b. Jahsh

Muhammad walked in on his daughter-in-law Zaynab, who was then married to his adopted son Zayd, when she was almost naked and “was troubled by her beauty” or in the words of Tamam Khan, “something happened between them.” Zaynab was a cousin of Muhammad, the daughter of his paternal aunt Omayma.

It was the Prophet himself who insisted she be given in marriage to Zayd. Barnaby Rogerson, author of The Prophet Muhammad – A Biography, writes that “Zayd soon divined that Muhammad had become entranced by Zaynab’s beauty and at once offered to divorce his wife … Zayd would do anything to please his adopted father whom he revered above all else on earth.”

Marrying your son’s former wife was taboo. It did not matter if he was adopted; the same ethical and moral restrictions applied as to a natural-born son. Zayd’s father-in-law refused his offer until he received Revelation 33:5, which changed the status of adopted sons from sons to ‘brothers in religion’.

33:4 Allah did not create two hearts within the breast of any man; and He did not make your wives, whom you compare to your mothers’ backs; and He did not make your [adopted] sons your sons in fact. That is your own claim, by your words of mouth. Allah speaks the truth and He guides to the Right Path.

33:5 Assign them to their own fathers. That is more equitable in the sight of Allah; but if you do not know their real fathers, then they are your brothers in religion, your adopted fellow Muslims. You are not at fault if you err therein; but only in what your hearts intend. Allah is ever All-Forgiving, All-Merciful.

Before Revelation 33:5, Arab fathers made no distinction between adopted sons and those they had fathered. Demoting adopted sons to “brothers in religion” made their wives, upon divorce, eligible to be taken in marriage by the adoptive father.

The revelation changing the relationship between adopted sons and their surrogate parent, so that Muhammad could add his cousin and former daughter-in-law to his collection of wives, concubines, and slave-girls has been interpreted to mean that Islam is against Western style adoption, resulting in an untold number of children in the Islamic world who have no one living they can call father. God followed up these revelations with one in which He commands Muhammad to marry Zaynab (underlining mine):

33:37 Then, when Zayd had satisfied his desire for her, We gave her to you in marriage; so that the believers should not be at fault, regarding the wives of their adopted sons, once they have satisfied their desire for them. For Allah’s Command must be accomplished.

Orphaned boys were almost unknown in the Arab world until God changed their status. This could explain Allah’s newfound concern for orphans whom He made destitute when He changed the rules to accommodate the apple of His Eye. Demoting adopted sons to “brothers in religion” in Revelation 6:152 and “your brethren” in Revelation 2:220 not only made their wives, upon divorce, eligible to be taken in marriage by their “adoptive” father, but also disinherited them.

6:152 Do not approach the property of the orphan, except in the fairest manner, until he comes of age; and give full measure and weight equitably. We do not charge any soul except with what is within its power. And if you speak, be just even if it is against a relative, and fulfill Allah’s Covenant. Thus He commands you, so that you may take heed.

6:153 This is indeed My Path, the straight path; follow it and do not follow [other] paths, lest they divert you from His Path. Thus He commands you, that perchance you may fear God.


2:220 Upon this world and the Hereafter. And they ask you about the orphans, say: “To improve their condition is better for them. And if you associate with them, they are your brethren.” Allah knows the dishonest and the honest. And if Allah wills, He would overburden you with restrictions. Allah is Mighty, Wise.

Narrated Aisha:

Abu Hudhaifa, one of those who fought the battle of Badr with Allah's Apostle, adopted Salim as his son and married his niece Hind bint Al-Wahd bin Utba to him and Salim was a freed slave of an Ansari woman.

Allah's Apostle also adopted Zaid as his son. In the Pre-Islamic period of ignorance the custom was that, if one adopted a son, the people would call him by the name of the adopted-father [from] whom he would inherit as well, till Allah revealed: "Call them (adopted sons) By (the names of) their fathers." (33:5)

Bukhari 59.335

Another not insignificant consequence of Muhammad’s marriage to his cousin and former daughter-in-law, in this instance for women, is referred to as the Verse of the Curtain, which was revealed after a celebratory banquet where some overstayed their welcome.

Narrated Anas bin Malik:

I of all the people know best this verse of Al-Hijab. When Allah's Apostle married Zainab bint jahsh she was with him in the house and he prepared a meal and invited the people (to it). They sat down (after finishing their meal) and started chatting. So the Prophet went out and then returned several times while they were still sitting and talking. So Allah revealed the Verse: 'O you who believe! Enter not the Prophet's houses until leave is given to you for a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation .....ask them from behind a screen.' (33.53) So the screen was set up and the people went away.

Bukhari 60.315

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.

The niqab, the face-covering veil, is a believing woman’s portable curtain when she is compelled to leave the home in which she has been confined to go out in public. Zaynab b. Jahsh died in 642, ten years after husband’s passing.


Juwayriyyah (born Barra) was another prize of war. As daughter of the chief of the tribe Muhammad had just defeated and taken into captivity, she demanded and got an audience with the victor. “Muhammad was taken with her. He offered to ransom, rename and marry her [and] release the people of her tribe, the Banu al-Mustaliq from captivity.” The twenty-year-old married the nearly sixty-year-old Muhammad who made good on his promise to free the men and women in his custody.

Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin:

Juwayriyyah, daughter of al-Harith ibn al-mustaliq, fell to the lot of Thabit ibn Qays ibn Shammas, or to her cousin. She entered into an agreement to purchase her freedom. She was a very beautiful woman, most attractive to the eye.

Aisha said: She then came to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) asking him for the purchase of her freedom.

When she was standing at the door, I looked at her with disapproval. I realised that the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) would look at her in the same way that I had looked.

She said: Apostle of Allah, I am Juwayriyyah, daughter of al-Harith, and something has happened to me, which is not hidden from you. I have fallen to the lot of Thabit ibn Qays ibn Shammas, and I have entered into an agreement to purchase of my freedom. I have come to you to seek assistance for the purchase of my freedom.

The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Are you inclined to that which is better?

She asked: What is that, Apostle of Allah?

He replied: I shall pay the price of your freedom on your behalf, and I shall marry you.

She said: I shall do this.

She (Aisha) said: The people then heard that the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) had married Juwayriyyah. They released the captives in their possession and set them free, and said: They are the relatives of the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) by marriage.

We did not see any woman greater than Juwayriyyah who brought blessings to her people. One hundred families of Banu al-mustaliq were set free on account of her.

Abu Dawud 29.3920

Juwayriyyah lived for another forty-five years after her husband’s passing.

Rayhanah (also spelt Rayhana)

Tamam Kahn admits, in what is very much a panegyric to Muhammad and his wives, that Rayhanah is “not usually listed as a wife.” Gheorghiu writes that Rayhanah only agreed to become Muhammad’s concubine, seeing it as unseemly to accept his marriage proposal after he had just ordered the beheading of all the men and boys (males with traces of pubic hair) of her tribe, including her husband and father (see Jihad in the Koran: "Massacre of the Jews of Medina," Boreal Books).

After the battle of the Trench [Rayhanah was] marched into the courtyard with the several hundred other women and their children to be claimed as a reward by the Muslim soldiers, while the Qurayzah man were led away to be executed.

Tamam Kahn

Rayhanah was more than just a beautiful young woman. “Rayhanah’s name means ‘extremely flagrant’ and Muhammad loved perfumes,” making her even more irresistible. Perfume was one of the three things God's spokesman loved the most.

The Holy Prophet said: "From the things of the world, I regard women and perfume highly, but prayer is the light of my eyes."


You might call it an obsession:

The Most Noble Messenger was so fond of applying perfume that he would skip his supper so as to procure his needed perfume. If perfume was not at his disposal, he would soak the perfumed scarf of his wife and rub his face with it so as to be perfumed. Likewise, before going out he would always look at himself in the mirror or water, and groom himself to such an extent as to always be an embodiment of adornment and dressing well. He would apply so much perfume that his beard had turned white as a result.


Rayhanah’s life with the Prophet was short and tumultuous: some say she converted to Islam, others that she died as a slave, and still others that she was allowed to rejoin her Jewish community, which is somewhat unlikely as she is buried, along with the other wives of Muhammad, in Baqi.

She died a short two years after the massacre of the men and boys of her tribe. Her age and how she died remain a mystery. All we know is that the beautiful, tragic Rayhanah died young. I would not exclude suicide. It must have been difficult to be intimate with the man who was responsible for the death of your father, your husband, your male relatives, and the enslavement of your female kin.

Umm Habiba

Umm Habiba, (born Ramla), Muhammad married by proxy. Umm Habiba and her husband were two of the Muslims who fled to Ethiopia, i.e., Abyssinia, on the Prophet’s orders after the Meccans had become hostile to the Muslims, suspecting that their kin’s demand to abandon the gods of their ancestors and acclaim him as God’s intermediary to the Arabs was a ploy to make himself their absolute ruler.

During their time in Abyssinia, her husband, Ubaydullah, converted to Christianity and drank so much wine that he died. “Four months or so after her husband’s death in 628, when she had been in Abyssinia for twelve long years, a servant from the Negus came with a message: ‘The King says to you that the Messenger of Allah has written to him to marry you to him.’” The king obliged and Umm Habiba was married to Muhammad. Six years later, the now thirty-five-year-old bride joined her sexagenarian husband in Medina. She died in the year 666. She, too, is buried in Baqi cemetery.

Safiyya b. Huyayy

In 628, after signing a short-lived ten-year “non-aggression” pact with the Meccans, the treaty of Hudaibiyah (see Jihad in the Koran: "Treaty of Hudaibiyah," Boreal Books), Muhammad attacked the Jewish settlement of Khaybar (see Jihad in the Koran: "Battle of Khaybar," Boreal Books) about 153 km to the north of Medina. Khaybar fell to the Muslims in just ten days.

The taking of a town or village was as straightforward as it was pitiless: prayers, then an assault on the unbelievers' position. Then came the plunder and apportioning of the property of those killed including wives, daughters, and sons who were taken into slavery. It was at Khaibar that Muhammad took for his troubles the seventeen-year-old Safiya (also spelled Safiyya) after initially giving her to a fellow by the name of Dihya Al-Kalbi. She would become his eleventh wife. He first made her his slave, then freed her and decreed that her freedom was her dowry.

Narrated Anas bin Malik:

Allah's Apostle (p.b.u.h) offered the Fajr prayer when it was still dark, then he rode and said, “Allah Akbar! Khaibar is ruined. When we approach near to a nation, the most unfortunate is the morning of those who have been warned."

The people came out into the streets saying, "Muhammad and his army."

Allah's Apostle vanquished them by force and their warriors were killed; the children and women were taken as captives.

Safiya was taken by Dihya Al-Kalbi and later she belonged to Allah's Apostle who married her and her Mahr (dowry) was her manumission.

Bukhari 14.68

Safiyya was the second Jewish woman after Rayhanah to join Muhammad’s collection of wives, concubines, and slave-girls. The seventeen-year-old is said to have been the wife of an abusive general so was happy to become the Prophet’s wife and convert to Islam. She allegedly came to Muhammad’s attention because of a dream where she was leaving her husband for him.

He (Muhammad) had her brought to him and asked her [about] the dream and her willingness to embrace Islam. She answered that she chose Allah and His Messenger over freedom and returning to her people.

Tamam Kahn

Muhammad “married the small, lovely-looking girl” on his way back from Khaybar. A hadith on how believers ascertained if he had taken a wife or a slave-girl:

Narrated Anas:

The Prophet stayed for three days between Khaibar and Medina, and there he consummated his marriage to Safiyya bint Huyai.

I invited the Muslims to the wedding banquet in which neither meat nor bread was offered. He ordered for leather dining-sheets to be spread, and dates, dried yoghurt and butter were laid on it, and that was the Prophet's wedding banquet.

The Muslims wondered, "Is she (Saffiyya) considered as his wife or his slave girl?" Then they said, "If he orders her to veil herself, she will be one of the mothers of the Believers; but if he does not order her to veil herself, she will be a slave girl." So when the Prophet proceeded from there, he spared her a space behind him (on his she-camel) and put a screening veil between her and the people.

Bukhari 62.22

Safiyya outlived her husband by perhaps 40 years. She died in 670 or 672 and was buried with the other wives at Baqi cemetery.

Mariya (also spelt Maria)

Once the Muslim conquest of the peninsula was assured, Muhammad sent a letter to the various rulers of the kingdoms that bordered Arabia inviting them and their subjects to become Muslims or else.

From Muhammad the servant and Prophet of Allah, to Muqawqis, the leader of the Coptic tribe. There is safety and security for those believers who follow the correct path. Therefore I invite you to accept Islam. If you accept it, you shall find security, save your throne, and gain twice as much reward for having introduced Islam to your followers. If you refuse this invitation, let the sin of calamity which awaits your followers be upon you. You too are People of the Book; therefore let us come to a word common between us that we worship none but Allah and shall equalise anything with him. Let us not abandon Allah and take others for lords other than him. If you do not consent to this invitation, bear witness that we are Muslims.

Muqawqis (also known as Cyrus of Alexandria), the de-facto governor of Egypt and head of the Coptic Church, upon receiving the letter, and as a sign of respect for whom he took to be a prophet of God, sent a tribute to Muhammad which included two sisters, Sirin (also spelt Shirin) and Mariya:

From Muqawqis I read your letter and understood what you have written. I know that the coming of a Prophet is still due. But I thought, he would be born in Syria – I have treated your messenger with respect and honor. I am sending two maids (Maria al-Qibtiyya and her sister Sirin) for you as presents. These maids belong to a very respectable family amongst us. In addition I send for you clothes and a Duldul (steed) for riding. May God bestow security on you.

“When the caravan reached Medina, Muhammad chose Mariya and presented her sister Shirin to Hasan b. Thabit, his ‘official’ poet.” Mariya was provided with her own house, which included a garden. The Prophet spent a lot time with Mariya which made his other wives jealous. Tamam writes:

Relations between Mariya and the wives reached a theatrical pitch as we see from the following hadith. Hadith tells us: “The Messenger of Allah was alone with his slave girl Mariya in Hafsa’s room. The Prophet came out and she (Hafsa) was sitting at the door. She said: ‘Messenger of Allah! In my room and on my day!’ She said: ‘I will not accept it without you swearing an oath to me.” So he said, ‘By Allah I will never touch her.’

God promptly sent a revelation, Verse 66:2, nullifying the promise Muhammad had made to Hafsa.

66:1 O Prophet, why do you prohibit what Allah has made lawful to you[31] , seeking thereby the good pleasure of your wives? Allah is All-Forgiving, Merciful.

66:2 Allah has prescribed to you the absolution of your oaths. Allah is your Master and He is the All-Knowing, the Wise.

Maria, the Christian Copt, would give Muhammad his second son, Ibrahim. He too would die in infancy at eighteen months, two months before his father. Mariya died five years later.


Maymuna (also born Barra) was given to Muhammad by his uncle Abbas on the occasion of the first pilgrimage to Mecca since the migration to Medina. The pilgrimage had been negotiated under the short-lived treaty of Hudaibiyah. Maymuna was thirty years old when she joined the Prophet’s household. She was the last of his wives to pass away. She died in 681 at the age of 81. Unlike the other wives, she is buried in Sarif, a town near the southern tip of the Peninsula.


Asma b. an-Nu`man could be considered the half-married wife of Muhammad. Her impending marriage was part of a negotiated alliance with her tribe. She would have been the Prophet’s last wife, with her husband passing away the following year. Asma was a naïve young girl frequently pranked by Aisha and Hafsa, who convinced her that repeating the formula for divorce when she was with Muhammad “would make the Prophet love her more. He, of course, heard the formula as powerful repudiation and sent her away.”

Is it conceivable that anyone, even the densest of girls, would mistake a formula for divorce as a turn-on for her husband unless the story about Asma being pranked is simply someone’s way of preserving Muhammad’s perfect, if somewhat contrived marriage record? God’s spokesman may have sent her away, but the people considered her still married.

Allah, in Revelation 33:53, decreed that “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.” This revelation given to a man who may have sought to control the sex life of his widows from beyond the grave may explain why some sources claim that “No one sought to marry her and she was not seen by anyone except relatives until her death… she died desolate.”

Tamam Khan, in concluding her homage to “the Complete Man” and his wives, writes that Muhammad’s marriages “serve as an example to countless Muslims and to humanity.” Except for Khadijah and the love he may have developed for his child bride, Muhammad marriages were driven by lust and strategic alliances (the exception being the widow Sawda and perhaps Umm Habiba). In the end, he condemned his still-young widows to the care of relatives and to never again knowing the joy of being intimate with another man, the fate of the young Asma being the most pathetic.


[31] 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.