Women and the Koran

A Man and His Wives

Women and the KoranPreviously, we talked about how Allah made believing women and girls dependent on men for everything from the bare necessities to life’s simple luxuries, thereby making them especially beholden to older, wealthy men and those in positions of power. We also presented a revelation, Verse 2:223, where Allah informs believing men that “Your women are tillage for you. So get to your tillage whenever you like.”

The Koran does contain a number of verses that impose some mostly minor restrictions on the beneficiaries of this “carte-blanche” dispensation when it comes to the sexual demands they may make of the fair and vulnerable sex. Verse 2:222, for example, forbids a man from demanding sex from his wife when 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 his spouse 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 God 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 then 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 for believing men and God’s prohibition against sex with a menstruating spouse notwithstanding, a believing wife cannot refuse her husband’s request for sex. If she resists, she not only risks a beating at the hands of her husband but also eternal damnation. 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!

Why would God not only allow, but seemingly encourage a husband to beat his wife for a variety of reasons including, in the author’s opinion, refusing access to her body? Could it be an unintended consequence of Muhammad discovering the joys of a varied sex life, especially with younger women and girls, when he was well past his prime?

The Prophet had fourteen official wives. For twenty-three years God’s Messenger was married to one woman, Khadijah. It was Khadijah’s third marriage, Muhammad’s first. He was twenty-five and she was forty when they tied the knot. We are told that he was faithful to her and loved her dearly. He would even have Adam, of the Adam and Eve, 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).


Khadijah gave birth to two, maybe three sons—depending on what you read—and four girls. All of the Prophet’s sons would die in infancy. The youngest daughter, Fatima, was the only offspring of Muhammad to have descendants. She was married to Ali, the fourth caliph (successor to the Prophet).

Shi’ites (meaning partisan or a faction of Ali) maintain that the proper successor of the Prophet was Ali, followed by the son of Ali and Fatima, Hussain. Shi’ites consider the first three caliphs who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad, and those who followed Ali, usurpers.

The Sunni-Shi’ite division of Islam originated because of this succession dispute shortly after the death of the Prophet in 632 A.D. followed by the murder of Ali and his son Hussain. Every day Sunnis and Shi’ites 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 Shi’ite 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, Muhammad did not marry again until he was past fifty. His next wife was 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 was to 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 the Prophet to cement his relationship with God’s Messenger. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in The Caged Virgin, writes that Aisha’s father pleaded with Muhammad 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 Hirsi Ali’s assertion that Aisha’s father was not keen on marrying his 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 her wedding day suggests that the bride was not yet a teenager when she joined Muhammad 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 or praised for what he was about to do and did not want it to become an example for others, which it did.

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 late Ayatollah Khomeini and Islamic law would also appear to support Hirsi Ali’s claim of Aisha’s young age when she lost her virginity to God’s Messenger. Sharia Law is based on the Koran and the Prophet’s Sunnah (the sayings or hadiths and example of Muhammad, including the silent approval of actions done in his presence). For the believer, the Koran is the literal word of God; the divine instructions it contains cannot be questioned and must be rigorously adhered to. The same can be said for the Prophet’s Sunnah, as long as it does not contradict the Koran.

Muhammad, to believers, is the personification of the perfect human being. Like his patron, he cannot be faulted for anything he has said or done. When the Ayatollah Khomeini lowered the age at which a girl could be legally married to nine years old[15], he may simply have been making Iranian law conform to the Prophet’s example. In Islam, there is no higher law than the Koran and the Prophet’s Sunnah, so no Muslim can be faulted for following the law laid down by Allah and His Messenger.

While the claim that Muhammad 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.“

If I dwell at some length on the marriage of the young Aisha to a middle-aged man, it is because this child, this girl was arguably the most significant influence on God and His Messenger’s view of women, a view to which we will return later. As discussed, Muhammad’s conduct as the embodiment of human perfection was beyond reproach. His is a reputation so highly valued that, as demonstrated during the “cartoon protest,” one questions the basis of that reputation at their own risk and peril. Muslims, especially men, are expected to closely follow the Prophet’s example in how they conduct themselves in private and in public. In the opinion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, by Western standards, the believers are following the example of a “perverse man.”

After Aisha, Muhammad would marry many, many times over. The official number is fourteen wives not counting slave-girls[16] and concubines. The beautiful twenty-year-old widow Hafsah would become wife number four. God’s Messenger was fifty-four at the time. All of the Prophet’s young wives were reputed to be women of exceptional beauty. Over the next ten years he would marry ten more times. His last wife was, depending again on who you read, between thirty and thirty-nine years his junior; his second-to-last wife was forty-seven years younger. This may not be that surprising. After Aisha, Muhammad, in a hadith recorded by Bukhari, did express a preference for younger women—girls, actually.

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 also took a number of concubines from among his slave-girls, including the beautiful Rayhanah, the widow of the Beni Qurayzah Jewish clan of Medina whose men and teenaged boys were beheaded for strategic reasons.

A middle-aged 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 lives. The Messenger of God could not depend upon soldiers or others to keep his collection of females from wandering or being tempted by young men of their generation. That would have been embarrassing, to say the least. 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 had set a limit of four wives per husband. Muhammad 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. Here is the verse that granted God’s Messenger an unlimited number of wives and concubines.

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.

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[17].

In a Bukhari hadith, Aisha offers a rather wry comment about Allah hastily fulfilling her husband’s wishes when it came to sex after this new revelation was received.

Narrated Aisha:

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."

Bukhari 60.675

God, 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 exclusively for His Messenger. This was perhaps too much of an indulgence that inevitably led to a wife management problem, which would compel Allah, on numerous occasions, to intervene and help His Messenger with his wives. The only problem: God’s solutions for His Messenger became every Muslim man’s solution when it comes to “managing” their wives.

It is perhaps unfortunate that Muhammad did not heed Allah’s warning to take only as many wives as you can handle, or that Allah did not compel him to stay within the prescribed limit like everybody else. After all, God’s Messenger, like every believing man, could still have as many slave-girls and concubines as he could handle. If Allah had tempered His Messenger’s lust for young women and girls, Muslim women would probably be much better off today.

When it came to sex there would be one law for the believers and another for God’s Messenger. Is it Allah or His Messenger who realises that He may have gone too far? Is the following verse meant to reassure believers that no further exceptions will be granted to Muhammad when it comes to the females 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…?

In the Prophet’s House

In Verse 24:27, Allah warns believers not to “enter houses other than your own before you ask leave and greet their occupants.” There are additional restrictions as to when you could enter the Prophet’s houses, how to behave once inside, and what types of interaction are 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, 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 if they were to divorce (they never did) or he 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 that disappeared with the passing of the Prophet’s last wife? It only served to make His Messenger out to be a jealously obsessive man, one who would seek to control the lives of his widows from beyond the grave[18].

For Muslim women, sex with a man other than their husband is flirting with a gruesome death and risking an eternity burning in the depths of Allah’s Hell. The interdiction against taking “his wives in marriage after him” condemned the Prophet’s young wives to never enjoying intimacy again after his passing.

[15] In May 2006, the Iranian Parliament voted to make it compulsory for girls under the age of 15 and boys under 18 to have court approval to get married. This vote was quashed by the Guardian Council, which is responsible for ensuring that any laws passed by Parliament are compatible with Islam. The clerics on the Council ruled that such a move would break Islamic law, which sets the minimum marriage age at 9 for girls and 14 for boys.

[16] A hadith on how believers decided if the Prophet had taken a wife or a slave:

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

[17] Perhaps not surprisingly, of the few people for whom the Prophet could ask forgiveness were the women who paid him homage.

60:12 O Prophet, if believing women come to you to pay you homage, pledging not to associate anything with Allah, steal, commit adultery, kill their children, come up with a lie they invent between their hands and feet (allege that an illegitimate child is their husband’s) or disobey you in any honourable matter, then accept their homage and ask Allah’s Forgiveness for them. Allah indeed is All-Forgiving, All-Merciful.

[18] Making matters worse, the Prophet’s widows were deprived of most of their inheritance by his immediate successor Abu Bakr, who claimed Muhammad had told him that after his death, if they were in need, they should 'accept alms'.

A Taste of Honey