From Merchant to Messenger
Wives of the Messenger
and revelations they inspired
The man who would become famous as the Prophet 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 her servants accompanied her future husband, perhaps, because, as Tamam Khan* readily admits, the work would have required being able “to read, write and have a basic understanding of mathematics”. Later she asked her illiterate caravan leader to marry her.
During his lifetime, God’s Last and Greatest Messenger would officially marry between twelve and fourteen women depending on who you read. This is not counting concubines and slave-girls.
For twenty-three years Muhammad was married to Khadijah (also spelt Khadija) and only Khadijah. It was her third marriage, the Prophet’s first. He was twenty-five, she was forty when they tied the knot.
The young Muhammad celebrated his marriage to the twice widowed Khadijah “by giving Barakak (the slave girl he had inherited from his father) her freedom. For her part, Khadijah gave her new husband as a wedding gift a fifteen-year-old male slave named Zayd.”
It was this same successful businesswoman, now his wife, who reassured her husband when he began having visions that it was God talking to him, not Satan or some other godless creature. This was before the Prophet became aware that the devil took the form of a woman:
Jabir reported that Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) saw a woman, and so he came to his wife, Zaynab, as she was tanning a leather and had sexual intercourse with her. He then went to his Companions and told them: The woman advances and retires in the shape of a devil, so when one of you sees a woman, he should come to his wife, for that will repel what he feels in his heart. Sahih Muslim
Khadijah proved to her husband that it was an angel. She told him to get undressed; she did the same and they embraced. Do you still see him, she asked? No, said God’s Messenger! Then it must have been an angel, she said, because an angel would not have remained to stare at a naked couple embracing.
The Prophet would even have Adam, of Adam and Eve fame, pay Khadijah the supreme compliment. From La vie de Mahomet by Virgil Gheorghiu, page 79, 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 descendants. She was married to Ali, the fourth caliph (the fourth successor to the Prophet). Two other girls, Rukaya (also spelt Ruqayya) and Umm Kulthum, he gave in marriage to his companion Uthman of the Umayyan clan, and later married a Umayyan by the name of Umm Habida. Zaynab, the eldest, was given to her maternal cousin Abu al-Aas ibn al-Rabee.
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.
She would not live long enough to witness her husband triumph over his enemies; a triumph which would not have been possible if Muhammad's first wife had been any other than the wise, wealthy, supportive, self-sufficient, erudite Khadijah. She could not have foreseen that after Islam, the right to learn, the independence and the freedom she enjoyed and which made it all possible would be severely curtailed, even denied her sister co-religionists.
* Tamam Kahn is the author of Untold - A History of the Wives of Prophet Muhammad, Monkfish Book Publishing, 2010. Unless indicated otherwise, materials within double quotes about the wives of the Prophet are from her book
After the death of Khadijah in 619, the Prophet, 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 Sauda.
Middle-aged Sauda was the only woman God’s Messenger married who, it is reported, was neither young nor beautiful.
Sauda asked the permission of the Prophet to leave earlier at the night of Jam, and she was a fat and very slow woman.
The Prophet gave her permission.
Sauda, knowing she could not compete with the younger and more beautiful wives, gave up her turn to be with her husband thereby avoided the risk of the Prophet divorcing her to spend more time with his child-bride Aisha, for instance.
Whenever Allah's Apostle wanted to go on a journey, he would draw lots as to which of his wives would accompany him. He would take her whose name came out. He used to fix for each of them a day and a night. But Sauda bint Zam'a gave up her (turn) day and night to 'Aisha, the wife of the Prophet in order to seek the pleasure of Allah's Apostle (by that action).
“Sauda lived twenty-two years after the death of the Prophet.”