From Merchant to Messenger
Wives of the Messenger
and revelations they inspired
On or about the time of the signing of the treaty of Hudaibiyah, the Prophet felt confident enough of an impending overwhelming victory to send to the various rulers of the kingdoms which bordered Arabia a letter inviting them, and their subjects to become Muslims or else.
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 God’s Messenger, sent a tribute to the Prophet 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.
Mariya would join the Prophet in 629 dating the letter to Muqawqis before Mecca’s surrender not after, as stated elsewhere.
Unlike the Prophet’s letter to Muqawqis which is preserved under glass in the Holy Treasury within the third courtyard of Istanbul’s old Topkapi Palace, which is now a museum, there is no record, of which I am aware, of Muqawqis’ letter. This may explain the disagreement among scholars, except for the sisters, as to what the tribute actually contained. Tamam Khan writes that:
In it were "Mariya, her sister Shirin (sic), a thousand gold coins, twenty fine robes, the mule Duldul and the donkey ‘Ufar, or Ya`fur as well as a very old eunuch called Mabur" ... When the caravan reached Medina, Allah’s Messenger chose Mariya and presented her sister Shirin to Hasan b. Thabit (the Prophet’s ‘official’ poet).
Again, while Tamam lists Mariya as a wife of the Prophet, she writes “Mariya’s relationship to Muhammad is described by most sources as his concubine or slave.” This concubine or slave was provided with her own house which included a garden.
The now nearly sixty year old Messenger spent a lot time with his new slave-girl/concubine which made his legitimate 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.’
Allah had already made it halal for His Messenger to nullify a promise to abstain from what He had made lawful to him.
63 - At-Tahrim
In the Name of Allah,
the Compassionate, the Merciful
66:1 O Prophet, why do you prohibit what Allah has made lawful to you, 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 the Prophet his second son, Ibrahim. He too would die in infancy at eighteen months, two months before his father. Mariya died five years later.
629 was not only a busy matrimonial year for God’s Messenger with three marriages and the arrival of Mariya, but the Prophet’s victories over the Jews and the unbelievers had made him and many of his followers wealthy beyond their wildest expectations. “Prosperity”, notes Tamam Khan, which brought “jealousy, envy and greed” to the Prophet’s household prompting God’s Messenger to withdraw for a month to reflect.
Rumours began circulating that God’s Messenger was preparing to divorce all of his wives. Allah told His Messenger to threaten such an eventuality and this, it would appear, was sufficient to restore domestic harmony.
33:28 O Prophet, say to your wives: “If you desire the present life and its finery, so come along that I might provide for you and set you free kindly.
With jealousy, envy and greed banished from the Prophet’s household, thanks to another timely intervention by Allah, God’s Messenger agreed to two more marriages before joining his Benefactor in the Hereafter.
Another reason for the turmoil in the Prophet's household may have had to do with the practice of sending gifts for God's Messenger to the lodging of the wife whose turn it was to be with him:
Narrated Urwa from Aisha:
The wives of Allah's Apostle were in two groups. One group consisted of Aisha, Hafsa, Safiyya and Sauda; and the other group consisted of Um Salama and the other wives of Allah's Apostle.
The Muslims knew that Allah's Apostle loved Aisha, so if any of them had a gift and wished to give to Allah's Apostle, he would delay it, till Allah's Apostle had come to 'Aisha's home and then he would send his gift to Allah's Apostle in her home.
The group of Um Salama discussed the matter together and decided that Um Salama should request Allah's Apostle to tell the people to send their gifts to him in whatever wife's house he was.
Um Salama told Allah's Apostle of what they had said, but he did not reply.
Then they (those wives) asked Um Salama about it. She said, "He did not say anything to me."
They asked her to talk to him again.
She talked to him again when she met him on her day, but he gave no reply. When they asked her, she replied that he had given no reply.
They said to her, "Talk to him till he gives you a reply."
When it was her turn, she talked to him again. He then said to her, "Do not hurt me regarding Aisha, as the Divine Inspirations do not come to me on any of the beds except that of Aisha."
On that Um Salama said, "I repent to Allah for hurting you."
Then the group of Um Salama called Fatima, the daughter of Allah's Apostle and sent her to Allah's Apostle to say to him, "Your wives request to treat them and the daughter of Abu Bakr on equal terms." Then Fatima conveyed the message to him.
The Prophet said, "O my daughter! Don't you love whom I love?"
She replied in the affirmative and returned and told them of the situation. They requested her to go to him again but she refused.
They then sent Zainab bint Jahsh who went to him and used harsh words saying, "Your wives request you to treat them and the daughter of Ibn Abu Quhafa on equal terms." On that she raised her voice and abused 'Aisha to her face so much so that Allah's Apostle looked at 'Aisha to see whether she would retort.
Aisha started replying to Zainab till she silenced her.
The Prophet then looked at Aisha and said, "She is really the daughter of Abu Bakr."