Saturday, April 23, 2011

VBV - Ch. 2

This chapter was surprisingly not as bad as it could have been. The author was a former muslimah, so maybe that had something to do with the lack of specific vitriol toward Mohammed's wives?

The author takes a very simple approach. She lists each wife, in the order that they married Mohammed and tells a little bit about them and about how long they were married to Mohammed. Of course, each marriage ends either with the wife's death or at Mohammed's death.

We actually start with Aminah, Mohammed's mother. It's a brief, four paragraph section mentioning the name of Mohammed's father and the facts of his becoming an orphan.

Khadijah, of course, is Mohammed's first wife. I admit to having a little bit of a romantic notion about Mohammed and Khadijah. I like to think that they really did love one another. In a time and place where he was more than within his rights to marry multiple women, he stayed married only to Khadijah her entire life. I've heard the argument that she controlled the money. Well...not really. She only retained control of the business of one of her first two husbands because there was no one else. Once she married Mohammed, it was all his, technically. So he *could* have married someone else. He chose not to.

After Khadijah's death, Mohammed married Sawdah bint Zam'ah. She was a widow and it seems a very practical sort of thing. She needed a husband and he needed someone to take care of his four daughters. I'm not saying that they didn't love each other - we really don't know. Merely that it was a very good idea from both sides of the equation. Things back then weren't like modern times. People did not, in the main, marry for love. They married because of arrangements by the family, for position, for money, for power. To secure treaties and end blood shed.

Mohammed's next wife (and the most controversial) was Aisha bint Abu Bakr. Again, I think this was a very practical kind of marriage. Abu Bakr was Mohammed's closest companion. On one hand, how better to secure the friendship than to become members of the same family? In that same vein, most people in power are toppled by those next in line. People that they view as close friends. One thinks, though, that they might hesitate if that meant hurting their own child as well. (Historically, this is not always true. But it's a possibility.) One thing that annoyed me in this section was the author's automatic assumption that Abu Bakr would have killed Aisha at birth if not for Mohammed's orders. We have no way of knowing what he would have done, so why are we attributing the worst motive? There is also the assumption that Abu Bakr cared nothing for Aisha in the way the author says that he 'just gave her away'. Again, it was a different time and the marriage, from Abu Bakr's perspective, was a good one.

Mohammed's fourth wife was Hafsah bint Umar ibn-Khattab. Again, I see the reasoning as similar to that of his marriage to Aisha. Cementing a close tie with Umar would have been even more critical since Umar had been one of the greatest and most violent opponents of Mohammed and Islam.

Zainab bint Khuzaimah was known as Umm ul-Masakeen, 'mother of the poor and the needy'. She cared for people who had very little, giving them food and shelter as she could. She was a widow of the Battle of Uhud, and Mohammed married her. Perhaps seeing one of the virtues he wanted to instill in the ummah personified in her?

Hind bint abi Umaya was another widow of the Battle of Uhud. Hind, like Hafsah, was a well educated woman.

Zainab bint Jahsh is the woman who was a cousin of Mohammed. She was married to his adopted son, Zayd. Neither one of them seem to have wanted to marry one another, but Mohammed insisted that it was the will of Allah. Later on, Zayd and Zainab would divorce and Zainab would marry Mohammed. This is the incident that is taken to prove that adoption in Islam is not the same thing as being a natural child.

Juwairiyah bint Al-Harith was a captive of war who went before Mohammed to plead for her release. Instead, he offered her a deal. Marry him and he would set all the captives from her tribe free. One could look at it and say that Mohammed was just really smitten with her beauty, but that doesn't make a lot of sense. Whatever else you might want to say about Mohammed, he wasn't an idiot. I assume that there was some political advantage to this move.

Ramlah bint Abu Sufyan is an odd case. She was the daughter of Abu Sufyan, someone who was a huge villain early on in Islamic history, but who later converted to Islam. There's some question over whether his conversion was sincere or just to save his own butt, but that's neither here nor there. Ramlah was either divorced or widowed (no one's quite clear on whether she divorced her husband because he converted to Christianity or if she remained married to him until his death.) Either way, Mohammed heard that she was alone in Abyssinia and sent someone to propose on his behalf. She agreed and they were married by proxy. They only got to be together six years after their wedding. Again, I see practical, political reasoning behind this marriage.

Safiyya bint Huyayy was a Jewish captive who was the daughter of the leader of the tribe Mohammed had just wiped out. She converted and married Mohammed. In spite of some accusations that she remained Jewish in secret, Mohammed remained convinced that Safiyya's conversion was sincere.

Maymuna bint Al-Harith was a distant relative of Mohammed's. She had been married twice. Her first husband divorced her and her second husband died. After this, she requested to marry Mohammed.

The last 'wife' was Maria al-Kibtia. I say 'wife' because there's apparently some debate over whether Mohammed ever married her or if she remained a slave-mistress. She gave Mohammed a son, Ibrahim, who died when he was 18 months old.

My only real quibble with this chapter is that the author insists that the Bible wants men to only have one wife, while the Qur'an, and therefore Allah, wants men to have multiple wives. On the first half, I say that it is clearly open to interpretation. Men in the OT had multiple wives as a matter of course. There is no clear cut injunction anywhere in the Bible for men to only have one wife. There are things that can be read that way, but just ask any Christian who believes in polygamy and they'll show you alternative readings. On the second half, yes, the Qur'an technically allows for up to four wives, and men have gone beyond that and had more than that under the name of Islam. However, it never says that it's a good idea, or that they *should* have more than one wife. As a matter of fact, the instruction is that if the men don't believe that they can treat each wife equally in all things - and that includes affection - then he should only marry one. Since it's actively impossible to be fair in all things to people it's a heavy indication that the men should only have one wife.


  1. Interesting post! I enjoyed the summary of the wives and a bit about each of them. Thanks for taking the time to share. :)

  2. I find the wives really interesting and when you start to think about the political reasoning behind each marriage they make more and more sense and look less like some guy who wanted to have a bunch of women at his beck and call.

  3. yes, true! I think I just have a problem with some of the marriages for other the adoption thing. You said in your post Muhammad urged that couple to marry because it was God's will. So I don't understand why things ended up how they did.

    And even though people will say God gave Muhammad exceptions due to his prophet status, I still balk at the idea of God limiting every other man to 4 wives IF they could be fair with them (big ideal which realistically should have led to very few polygynous marriages in the community) and Muhammad had all these convenient exceptions to make what he did halal. That is more my problem with him, I think. It's too convenient for the messenger to get all these messages to favor his lifestyle.

  4. Supposing that the line is true - meaning we're assuming that Mohammed really was a prophet, getting messages from God, then: If God wanted a practical demonstration of the fact that adopted children are not the same as biological children He needed Zayd and Zaynab to get married *before* Mohammed could marry Zaynab. So it was God's will that they marry, then divorce so that she could marry Mohammed, thus teaching the people the lesson. One would think it might have been enough to just say it, but lots of people learn by seeing, so maybe that was it.

    It's my understanding that the revelation that men could only have at most four wives at one time came *after* Mohammed had married all of his. But I could be wrong on that.

    *nods* But it's very true that the revelations Mohammed got tended to be very convenient for him.

  5. Ahh, good point. A living example re: the adoption thing. Hmmm

    yes, maybe the limit was after Muh had finished marrying. Good point.

    It's cute how you are so good at apologetics! You make me learn. :)

  6. On the other hand, if God hates divorce as much as the Bible declares and Jesus laid down pretty good restriction on it, then why would God now want a couple to marry so He could have them divorce to serve as an object lesson about the awfulness of adoption for the Arab community?

    Just thinking out loud ...\

    Now I'm trying to remember any Biblical stance on adoption...can you think of any?

  7. Susanne,

    It's a skill. I can bullshit with the best of them and finding connections between things seems to be a part of that skill. :D

    Hmmm...but does God hate divorce as much as He seems to in the Bible? Or is that part of what has been corrupted? Islam allows for divorce, and those are the rules we're working with. It's to be avoided, is my understanding, but it's also understood to sometimes be necessary.

    I'm not sure what the Bible says about adoption. I think you could argue that Moses was a case of adoption, as well as Esther. I think Esther is called 'adopted' and that's because she was an orphan, but she was adopted by a close family member, IIRC. And one could argue that Jesus was adopted. Joseph was not his father, though he raised Christ as his own child. I've never heard anyone argue *against* adoption using the Bible as a starting point, though I'm certain they must be out there somewhere. All flavors of lunacy exist somewhere.


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