In Arabic, the phrase Azwaj-i-Tahirat means “the pure wives” and refers to the women to whom Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was married.
Although the Prophet was married to only one woman during the Meccan period, he married others afterwards for a variety of religious, social, economic or moral reasons.
The Quran characterizes the wives of the Prophet as the “Mothers of Believers”: “The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves, and his wives are their mothers” (al-Ahzab 33/6). Moreover, this respected position was reinforced by the prohibition of their marriage to any other believers (even after the death of the Prophet) (al-Ahzab 33/53). Actually, the status of the Prophet’s wives as the mothers of believers is one of respect and veneration. It is for this reason that their marriage to others was prohibited and their reverent treatment is obligatory. On other issues, these women are on equal footing with other Muslim women.
Again in the Quran, the wives of the Prophet were directly addressed and they were reminded of their positions and responsibilities. The verses concerned with this issue are as follows: “O Consorts of the Prophet! If any of you were guilty of evident unseemly conduct, the Punishment would be doubled to her, and that is easy for Allah. But any of you that is devout in the service of Allah and His Messenger, and works righteousness,- to her shall We grant her reward twice: and We have prepared for her a generous Sustenance. O Consorts of the Prophet! Ye are not like any of the (other) women: if ye do fear (Allah), be not too complacent of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak ye a speech (that is) just. And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance; and establish regular Prayer, and give regular Charity; and obey Allah and His Messenger. And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, ye members of the Family, and to make you pure and spotless. And recite what is rehearsed to you in your homes, of the Signs of Allah and His Wisdom: for Allah understands the finest mysteries and is well-acquainted (with them)” (al-Ahzab 33/30-34).
The above verses address the wives of the Prophet, but apply to all Muslim women; at the same time, these verses underline what a special role the Prophet’s wives were to play.
In fact, these distinguished women fulfilled the duty of enlightening the whole of humanity, in particular woman. Actually, many aspects of Islam regarding woman were delivered through the agency of the Prophet’s wives and believers learned matters regarding marital life and the exemplary morality of the Prophet with their help. The care, kindness and respect of Prophet Muhammad for his family set good examples for Muslims. In fact, different matters pertaining to the family which arise when women of different ages, different characters and skills, and from different tribes and origins come together provide a basis for much richer materials for the sunnah (practices of the Prophet).
The Prophet would converse with his wives, sometimes one to one, sometimes all together; each wife would be given a pre-determined night and day; his wives would gather in the room of the one whose turn it was, and he would converse and discuss Islamic matters. It was reported that he would talk to them about different issues, telling them some parables and listening to their problems, even making jokes with them to make them laugh during these conversations. Moreover, it is recorded that Prophet Muhammad asked his wives’ opinions and took advice from them on some matters; this demonstrates the great importance he attached to them.
The distinguished women who were among the Azwaj-i-Tahirat are as follows:
Khadija bint Khuwayled
Khadija, the daughter of Khuwayled ibn Asad the Bani Asad of the Quraysh tribe, was the first wife of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is reported that she was born in Mecca in 556 A.D. She shares the ancestor Qusayy with the Prophet. Khadija, who was called “al-Tahira” (the pure one) due to her virtuous character, was called “Kubra” later, after her death, as she was the eldest wife of the Prophet.
Khadija was involved in commerce and was looking for a trustworthy agent to accompany her caravan to Damascus; on the advice of her acquaintances she made a partnership agreement with Muhammad. On his return, she initiated a marriage proposal; she had been impressed by his success at business, his honesty, reliability and truthful personality. According to most historians, Khadija, who was widowed with two children, was 40, and the Prophet was 25 years old at the time of their marriage. Prophet Muhammad had six children with her: Qasim, Zaynab, Ruqiyyah, Umm Qulsum, Fatima and Abdullah.
Because of her good treatment of and sincere service to Prophet Muhammad, Khadija was a commendable wife both before and after the advent of Islam. Before the prophethood, when Muhammad was away town and, in particular, when he retreated for worship to the cave of Hira’, Khadija always cared for him and when he was late coming home, she used to send servants to meet him.
After the first revelation, she was the first person to believe in Prophet Muhammad and she supported and assisted him with her wealth. She never left the Prophet alone to the persecution and oppression of the idolaters. When the Meccan idolaters surrounded the Muslims, she too was under siege with the Prophet for two or three years, and she never hesitated to spend all her wealth for the sake of delivering his message.
After 25 years of happy marriage, three years before the emigration, Khadija passed away at the age of 65. This year is recorded as “the year of sorrow” in the sources, as the Prophet lost two of his most loyal supporters against the polytheists in a space of three days: his uncle Abu Talib and his beloved wife Khadija.
On all occasions Prophet Muhammad would mention the altruism and friendship of Khadija; she received the glad tidings of a palace made of pearls awaiting her in Paradise. Whenever a goat was slaughtered in his house, he would never forget to send portions of it to Khadija’s friends.
Aisha bint Abu Bakr
Aisha was the daughter of Abu Bakr, the most intimate friend of the Prophet, his traveling companion during the emigration and the first caliph after him. She was born in Mecca in the 4th year of the prophethood.
Her first marriage ceremony with the Prophet (pbuh) was held in Mecca before the emigration. However, because of her young age at this time, the actual conjugal life of Aisha and the Prophet began after the emigration (Shawwal, 2 A.H). Aisha was the only woman among the Azwaj al-Tahirat to be married just once. Muhammad called this beloved wife different names as an expression of his love, such as “Aisha,” “Aish” and “Uaish”; he also called her “Humayra” because of her fair complexion.
The bond between Aisha and the Prophet was based on mutual love, understanding and respect. We know of some aspects of their relationship, for example they had a foot-race for fun, he would show care and love for her; putting her head on his shoulder, she watched the Abyssinians give a display of their skills with spears in the Masjid al-Nabawi. The Prophet enjoyed being with her, especially talking with her during their night journeys, and answering her questions. Due to her qualities, such as intelligence, understanding, good memory and eloquence, as well as her efforts to understand the Quran and the sunnah clearly, Aisha held a distinguished position.
Aisha accompanied the Prophet on several battles. Once she was accidentally left behind by the army, as she had stayed back to search for a lost necklace when they were returning from the campaign against the Bani Mustaliq. Safwan ibn Al-Muattal took her to join the caravan, which was located at the rear of the army. However, the hypocrites began to gossip about Aisha and spread slanderous lies about her on this occasion, raising doubts in the minds of Muslims. Recorded as the “the incident of Ifq (slander)” in the sources, this matter was cleared up by the revelation of the 11th to the 21st verses of Surat al-Noor, which declared the falsehood of the rumors, and Allah declared that Aisha was innocent.
During Prophet Muhammad’s last illness, in the month of Safar 11 A.H, he asked permission from his other wives and went to Aisha’s room, where he died.
Aisha, who did not participate in any political activities during the caliphate of Abu Bakr or Umar, took some actions to seek justice and peace during the last years of Uthman’s caliphate and Ali’s caliphate. However, when the situation deteriorated, she did not participate in any more political action and her sorrow about the ensuing tragic events lasted until the end of her life.
Aisha was a distinguished woman in the Islamic sciences. Thanks to her intelligence, understanding, desire for learning, good memory and faith, she was educated well in her father’s house, and she reached a position that was close to that of the Prophet in religious sciences. After the death of the Prophet, a large number of companions and successors visited her and sought her advice, particularly in the fields of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and hadith (sayings of the Prophet). Aisha was one of the companions to issue the highest number of fatwa. Moreover, thanks to the 2,210 hadiths that she reported, she became one of the seven companions to transmit the greatest number of hadiths.
She lived for another 47 years after the death of the Prophet, and died in 57 or 58 A.H, when she was 66. She was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi’ Cemetery. Her funeral prayer was offered by Abu Hurairah at her request.
Sawda bint Zam’a
Sawda bint Zam’a was the second wife of the Prophet (pbuh); he married her in Mecca after the death of Khadija.
Previously, Sawda had been married to As-Sakran bin ‘Amr. She converted to Islam with her husband a short time after the Prophet began to call people to Islam. She and her husband migrated to Abyssinia due to the oppression of the polytheists, and returned to Mecca after spending some time in Abyssinia. However, Sawda’s husband passed away in Mecca.
On the occasion of the death of his first wife, Khadija, the Prophet married Sawda. Sawda, who was 50 years old when she married the Prophet, treated his children as if she were their mother. Until the Prophet married Aisha, Sawda was the sole wife of the Prophet.
Sawda lived with the Prophet for 13 years and she accompanied him on some campaigns. She passed away during the last years of the caliphate of Umar. It is also reported in some sources that she passed away in 54 A.H (after the emigration). Sawda narrated five hadiths from Prophet Muhammad.
Hafsa bint Umar
Hafsa, the daughter of the Prophet’s (pbuh) sincere friend and second caliph, Umar, married the Prophet in the 3rd year after the Hijrah (emigration).
Hafsa was born in Mecca in 605. Previously she had been married to Khunais bin Hudhafa. However, her husband became ill on the return journey from the Battle of Badr, and passed away a little later in Medina. In accordance with the tradition of giving one’s daughter or sister to a virtuous person in marriage, Umar offered her to Uthman, who had lost his wife (Ruqiyyah, the daughter of the Prophet) a short time before. When Uthman stated that he had no intention to marry, Umar went with the same offer to Abu Bakr. When Abu Bakr remained silent, Umar was hurt and he shared his feelings with the Prophet. Prophet Muhammad told him,“Hafsa will marry one better than Uthman and Uthman will marry one better than Hafsa.” Prophet Muhammad married Hafsa in Sha’aban of the 3rd year after the emigration. Uthman married the daughter of the Prophet, Umm Qulsum.
Aisha was the closest friend of Hafsa among the wives; it is even reported that the other wives were sometimes jealous of them. Hafsa, one of the few literate women of her time, had a distinguished place before Prophet Muhammad.
Hafsa passed away when she was 60, in 41 A.H, and she was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi Cemetery.
Zaynab bint Khuzaimah
Zaynab was the daughter of Khuzaimah ibn Abdullah from the Sa’sa’a tribe. A short while after marrying Hafsa, the Prophet (pbuh) married Zaynab bint Khuzaimah, whose husband had been martyred in the Battle of Uhud.
Because of the tension between Zaynab’s tribe and the Muslims after some events in the 3rd year after the emigration, this marriage had the role of relieving the tension and improving relations.
Zaynab bint Khuzaimah, known as the “Mother of the Poor” (Umm Al-Masakeen), passed away after two or three months (eight, according to a narration). Her funeral prayer was led by the Prophet and she was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi Cemetery.
Umm Salama Hind bint Abi Umayya
Umm Salama was the daughter of Abu Umayyah ibn Mughirah ibn Abdullah. Her real name was Hind. She had been the wife of Abd ibn Abdul Asad. This couple, who had converted to Islam in the early days of the prophethood, migrated to Abyssinia due to the oppression and persecution of the polytheists. After living in Abyssinia for many years, they returned to Mecca when they learned that the polytheists of Mecca had converted to Islam.
Again they were exposed to the persecution of polytheists in Mecca. Finally, they departed to Medina during the emigration. However, some polytheists stopped them, not allowing Umm Salama to leave. Later she had a chance to migrate to Medina, but her husband had passed away from the wounds he had received while fighting in the Battle of Uhud.
After the death of her husband, she politely turned down marriage proposals. She did not want to accept the proposal of Prophet Muhammad either, because of her old age and jealous character, but finally she agreed.
Umm Salama was known as an intelligent, patient, dominant, influential, confident and humble woman. Many people turned to her for advice about their problems.
Umm Salama, the reporter of 378 hadiths of the Prophet (pbuh), died at the age of 84, in 61 A.H. Her funeral prayer was led by Abu Hurairah at the Jannat al-Baqi Cemetery, where she was buried.
Zaynab bint Jahsh
Zaynab was the daughter of Jahsh ibn Rabab, an immigrant from Mecca. Her mother, Umayma, was the paternal aunt of the Prophet (pbuh) and daughter of Abdul Muttalib.
First Zaynab was married to the former slave of Prophet Muhammad, Zayd ibn Haritha (who was even known as his adopted son before a verse forbidding adoption was revealed). When Prophet Muhammad asked for her hand on behalf of Zayd, her family did not consent to this marriage, because of Zayd’s status as a freed slave. However, after the revelation of the 36th verse of Surat al-Ahzab, they approved of this marriage. The marriage between Zaynab and Zayd put an end to the tradition of noble and wealthy women of higher class not marrying the poor or former slaves. The fact that this was first practiced by people close to the Prophet set a precedent.
However, the marriage of Zaynab and Zayd lasted for only one year. Due to increasing incompatibility between the couple, Zayd and Zaynab divorced, although Prophet Muhammad tried to encourage them to stay married.
To demonstrate beyond a doubt that in Islam an adopted son is not regarded in the same light as a natural son, and therefore, his wife is not regarded as the wife of a natural son, the 37th verse of Surat al-Ahzab was revealed a short while after the divorce, declaring that Zaynab had been joined in marriage to the Prophet by Allah. Actually, when Zayd divorced Zaynab, the Prophet understood that this judgment would be given, but he was worried about possible rumors and instigation by hypocrites. However, the judgment was exercised in the revelation of the above-mentioned verse.
Unfortunately, the rumors and fabricated stories of the hypocrites about the Prophet’s marriage to Zaynab are still used today by various groups for different purposes. It must be born in mind that not only do these marriages demonstrate that people are only better in accordance with their piety, not their family, in the sight of God, and that some former prohibitions and beliefs were eliminated by Islam, but these marriages also reminded people that marriage is a means of testing one’s faith.
Zaynab was known as a generous and content woman, who was fond of worship and who was pious. It was also reported that she had other virtues, such as being hard-working, and giving away what she earned to the poor and orphans.
Zaynab was the first of Prophet Muhammad’s wives who died after him. She passed away at the age of 53, in 20 A.H. The funeral prayer of Zaynab bint Jashs, reporter of 11 hadiths, was led by Umar.
Juwayriya bint al Harith
Juwayriya was the daughter of al-Hārith ibn Abi Dirar, the chief of the Banu Mustaliq. Her name was Barra before converting to Islam. (With the idea that taking a name that has a positive connotation helps to purify someone, the Prophet gave her the name Juwayriya.) She was taken as a captive after the successful campaign against the Banu Mustaliq in 5 A.H.
Although there are different narrations regarding the marriage of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and Juwayriya, who was taken prisoner along with several other members of her tribe during the campaign, the sources agree that this marriage was the means to freeing all the captives taken from the Bani Mustaliq. The companions set them all free, saying, “How can we take the relatives of the Prophet as slaves?”
It is understood that this marriage ceased the hostility between the Muslims and the tribe of Banu Mustaliq, and the main intention behind the marriage of the Prophet to Juwayriya was to bring this tribe closer to Islam. The fact that members of Banu Mustaliq converted to Islam after this marriage supports this argument.
Juwayriya was a woman fond of praying, remembering God and fasting. Juwayriyah, who was described as “the most beneficial and generous woman of her tribe,” passed away in 50 or 56 A.H. She narrated 7 hadiths from the Prophet.
Safiyya bint Huyayy
Safiyya was the daughter of Huyayy ibn Ahtab, the chief of the Jewish tribe Bani Nadir. She was a descendent of Harun, an earlier prophet.
Safiyya had been married twice before marrying the Prophet (pbuh). Her first husband died and she was taken as prisoner by the Muslims in the Battle of Khaybar in 7 A.H. Prophet Muhammad wanted to relieve the tension that existed by establishing family ties between the Muslims and the members of this tribe, drawing them closer to Islam.
Safiyya, the daughter of the chief of Bani Nadir, was assigned to Dihya ibn Khalifa in the aftermath of the war; the Prophet told her that he would marry her if she converted to Islam, but if she did not become Muslim he would free her and send her back to her people. Safiyya replied that she had always longed for Islam, and Allah and His Messenger were sweeter to her than returning to her tribe, and she accepted his proposal. Another slave was given to Dihya ibn Khalifa in her place.
Safiyya, a virtuous and pleasant woman, expressed her love for the Prophet by saying, "I wish it was I who was suffering instead of you," when he was on his deathbed.
Safiyya was also known as a very courageous companion, and she sided with Uthman when his home was under siege. It is even reported that she secretly supplied him with food and water.
Safiyya died in 50 or 52 A.H, and she was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi Cemetery. She narrated around 10 hadiths.
Umm Khabiba Ramlah bint Abu Sufyan
Umm Khabiba was the daughter of Ebu Sufyan bin Harb from the Umayyad family. Muawiya was her half brother on her father’s side. Her real name was Ramlah. She was given the name Umm Khabiba (mother of Khabiba) because her daughter from her first marriage was called Khabiba.
Umm Khabiba, a former Hanif, and her husband Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh were among the first people to accept Islam. They migrated to Abyssinia in order to escape the persecution and oppression of the polytheists. However, her husband abandoned Islam there. (It is recorded that he died or they divorced shortly afterwards.) When the Prophet (pbuh) learned about what had happened to Umm Khabiba, and how she had stood fast in her religion and endured oppression for its sake, he sent a messenger to Abyssinia to tell her that he wanted to marry her. She gladly accepted the proposal, and Negus performed the marriage ceremony (with thewakalah (agency) given by the Prophet).
This event occurred in 6 or 7 A.H, and the marriage was regarded as a reward for Umm Khabiba’s adherence to the religion. Moreover, this marriage went a long way to eliminating the hostility felt by Abu Sufyan towards the Prophet, and making him approach Islam in a more positive manner. In fact, Abu Sufyan converted to Islam during the conquest of Mecca.
Umm Khabiba, reporter of 65 hadiths from the Prophet, passed away at the age of 44 in 70 A.H.
Maria bint Sham, recorded as Maria al-Qibtiyya in the sources, was from a village called Hafn in the Egyptian region of Said. It is reported that she was born in this village, the child of a Coptic father and Greek mother.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) sent a letter to Muqawqis, the Byzantine Governor of Alexandria Egypt, in 7 A.H, telling him about Islam and inviting him to become Muslim. After having read the letter, Muqawqis treated the emissary of the Prophet well and in honor of the Prophet he sent two concubines, one eunuch, 1,000 gold pieces, garments, fabric, perfume and some other gifts along with his answer. It is claimed that although Muqawgis admired this faith, he did not convert to Islam due to his fear of the Byzantine Emperor.
These two concubines, named Maria and Serene, were invited by the Prophet to embrace Islam when they were on the way to Medina or when they were in Medina. Maria married the Prophet and bore a baby boy, Abraham, one year later. Although it is disputed at what age Abraham died, it is known that he passed away before turning 3.Maria, passed away in 16 A.H. Umar ibn Khattab led her funeral prayer.
Maymuna bint al-Kharis
Maymuna bint al-Kharis was first called Barra bint Haris, but the Prophet (pbuh) gave her the name Maymuna. She was the sister of Ummu’l Fadl, the wife of Abbas.
Maymuna was married twice before marrying Prophet Muhammad, and was widowed on the occasion of her second husband’s death. While she was in Umrah-al-Qada for three days she told Umm al-Fadl that she longed to marry Prophet Muhammad. When Umm al-Fadl told her husband, Abbas, about this, he conveyed this proposal to the Prophet. The Prophet agreed to the marriage.
After this marriage, a deputation from the tribe of Maymuna, Amir ibn Sa’sa’a, came to Medina and talked to the Prophet; the people of this tribe converted to Islam.
It is reported that Maymuna was the last woman the Prophet married. Maymuna was praised by Aisha in the following words: “Among us, she had the greatest fear of Allah and did the most to maintain ties of kinship.” Maymuna passed away in 51 A.H. 76 hadiths were reported by her.
Rayhana bint Sham
Rayhana bint Sham was a Jewish concubine from the tribe of Bani Nasir, the children of Amr ibn Qurayzah. She was taken as a captive during the battle of Bani Qurayzah.
There are different narrations about how she converted to Islam. According to some narrations, she embraced Islam after hearing about it from the Prophet when she was a captive; Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) freed her and married her. It is also narrated that she had not wanted to convert to Islam at first, but afterwards she embraced Islam of her own accord, and married the Prophet, but she chose to remain as a concubine because she was afraid of shouldering the responsibilities of a free woman.
Rayhana passed away after the Prophet returned from the final pilgrimage. The Prophet led the prayer over her, and she was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi Cemetery.
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