Patriarchal Distortions: The Wives of the Prophet

No one, in neither books nor sermons, dares disagree that the Prophet’s wives were great women, of great intelligence, great generosity, and great accomplishments. But as it is the nature of patriarchy to belittle those women it has failed to completely erase, rarely is there an occasion in which the memory of the wives is retrieved without a criticizing and patronizing mention of–of all things–their jealousy of one another. Never mind that eloquent stubborn A’isha wrote Islamic law, that fiery Umm Salama argued unapologetically against powerful men and outwitted each, that strong resilient Safiyya sacrificed her heart and health for her beloved husband and coldly faced those who wrongfully tormented her with her ancestry.

Stay for a traditional sermon, and you will hear not of A’isha’s sharp tongue and quick wit and remarkable eloquence, but of her virginity. And you will hear the speaker who is supposedly a righteous and knowledgeable man lie, “Because of this, A’isha was the Prophet’s favorite wife.” And you will hear the speaker who is supposedly a righteous and knowledgeable man gossip, “The Prophet’s wives used to insult each other frequently, as women do, and were very troubling for him.”

We know for a fact that not only did the Prophet never state a favorite, to suggest that he would think to have a favorite is to slander him and insult his character. As human and imperfect as the Prophet was, we know he took great care to never play favorites, that he spent an even amount of time with each of his wives, that he tirelessly defended the honor of each equally and pleaded with them to be kind with one another regardless of which wife was in question. But to judge between women as though they are commodities and possessions, that one must be “the highest prize,” and to make a mockery of each woman’s struggle for love over all others when over half of them lost family to horrific war events, is an unsurprisingly disgusting tactic of patriarchy to suppress women through desperate attempts to ridicule. As it is inarguable that these were great women, sexist religious leaders look for any way possible, however superficial, to reinforce gender stereotypes and the artificial importance of virginity.

You may demand, “Tell me about A’isha!” And you will not be answered, “She healed the wounded during wars, and many commented that she was impressively graceful and eloquent and argumentative, and after the Prophet’s death her accomplishments were immense and included leading troops to battle and winning and writing law.” Instead you will hear, “She was playful and virginal, and therefore must have been the Prophet’s favorite.”

You may demand, “Tell me about Hafsa!” And you will not be answered, “She argued frequently with the Prophet, who loved her with more and more intensity, and when her father heard and came to admonish her, the Prophet forbade him to touch her or even raise his voice against her, for it is in her right to argue against her husband and against whomever would disagree with her.” Instead you’ll be told, “Once she plotted with A’isha to embarrass Zaynab; she lied to the Prophet and told him there was something wrong with the honey that Zaynab had served him.”

On a similar note, you may demand, “Tell me about the women who fought in wars!” And you won’t hear, “They were mothers and teachers and passionate lovers and fearlessly loyal warriors. And once, a woman stood beside the Prophet to protect him on the battlefield, and she took up a dagger–while she was pregnant!” You’ll hear, “Yes, there were a few of them.”

There will be numerous tales of jealousy among the women, but none of remarkable friendship. No mention of, “Sawda took care of A’isha until she died.” No “Hafsa and A’isha shared everything.” No “A’isha spoke affectionately of Zaynab’s endless generosity.”

The Prophet’s wives were jealous and sharp-tongued. Some of them were sweet and altruistic. All of their personalities incorporated pain and compassion in varying degrees, because they were complete women, after all, and not the stereotypical cookie-cutter frames of tropes that religious leaders with their passive-aggressive statements will have you believe. And every characteristic is glorious and admirable, including jealousy. They were exceptional women, most of whom had been unexpectedly widowed by war and whom the Prophet had married to relieve the hardships of the circumstances. And to belittle this, and smirk at the women scrambling for love and use this to exert upon Muslim women guilt and shame, is an offense for which I pray God would smite the oppressors. And it is further proof that polygamy was meant to be strictly limited to the good-hearted Prophet in an era of war and widows, as men make games of the lives of women and degrade them to only a part of a person and would never manage the level of kindness and equality as demanded in the Qur’an were the required conditions of permissibility (aiding those with children in poverty) met.

9 thoughts on “Patriarchal Distortions: The Wives of the Prophet

  1. Masha'Allah, Masha'Allah! Men and women have some great role models in the wives of the Prophet (saw). These are exactly the kind of accounts I like to hear. Sure, there may have been some jealousy amongst them, but it certainly should not define them. Insha'Allah, I really hope that stories that emphasize their humanity rather than stuff like their virginity and demureness (is that a word?) will become more prevalent and taught to Muslim girls.

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  2. Curious though that when Aisha lost her necklace and stayed back to find it…and then taken into town with a nonmahrem…the peoples tongues flapped widly, assuming the worst about her character (not his of course, just hers) and what did the prophet do? he did not immediately assumer her innocent…he took time to think about it and wait for an answer from god…thankfully ayats came down exonerating her and establishing her innocence…but when Aisha was told to go back to her husband as he had "forgiven" her as now she was free and clear of guilt…she did not immediately do that as she KNEW she was guilt free all along and did not need god to proclaim that in order to get back into the good graces of her husband and the community. She rebelled and put her foot down and said basically…let him come to me and apologize for not trusting in me and thinking the worst right along with the rest of the town. Yes, she was a woman to be reckoned with…and he was not the perfect husband all the time.

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  3. I'm a revert and I've been looking for books about the Prophet's wives…with REAL info, not just "They were his wives and so they were good." Do you have any recommendations?

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  4. Untold: A History of the Wives of Prophet Muhammad will give you more detailed stories of his wives, especially of those who are not as well known as Khadijah or A'isha.

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  5. I posted this as a comment to your article on a social networking website where it was posted. I thought posting it here would be more beneficial as to you could clarify your position, statements which I might have misread or not understood properly, and me mine, and I guess it’ll be a good opportunity to learn for me especially inshaAllah –

    Sometimes I wonder whether these feminists write such articles blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs.

    I don’t question their apparently noble intentions and the deep rooted superiority complex in some men (I don’t use the term patriarchy). I wonder how many ‘traditional’ sermons has she heard. And whether such a big generalization is apt. Because rather than fighting the complex of those men, it is infact inserting a victim mentality among the Muslimas. I doubt how useful would that be.

    Statements like these – And it is further proof that polygamy was meant to be strictly limited to the good-hearted Prophet in an era of war and widows, such crude and gross extrapolations and that too unsubstantiated by something of weight make me question the knowledge of the author. It’s more of an emotional rant. I sympathize with that. And yes everyone knows that it was Khadijah RAA who was Prophet Muhammad’s favourite. Although he may have not mentioned that specifically (not a smart thing for any polygamous man to do ) but it is self evident. And infact it was Ayesha RAA who used to boast about her virginity and purity, forget the sexist scholars the author is referring to.

    ‘A’isha reported: Never did I feel jealous of the wives of Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) but in case of khadija, although I did no, (have the privilege to) see her. She further added that whenever Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) slaughtered a sheep, he said: Send it to the companions of khadija I annoyed him one day and said: (It is) khadija only who always prevails upon your mind. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Her love had been nurtured in my heart by ALLAH HIMSELF. (Sahih Muslim, Book #031, Hadith #5972)

    and one time Ayesha RAA replied, …Why do you remember one of those OLD women of the Quraish with gums red and who is long dead-while Allah has given you a better one in her stead?” (Sahih Muslim, Book #031, Hadith #5976)

    And like these feminists accuse Muslim scholars of being sexist and preaching a particular image of women, the same can be argued against these feminists of trying to preach a particular image of men.

    I maybe wrong, but in my understanding Islam is patriarchal when Allah made man the ‘qawwam’. Debate upon the extent of the word, it’s shades of meanings etc but one thing is sure it has something to do with men. Infact, I’m tempted to think that there is NO feminism without men.

    I wonder why do feminists think that patriarchy means no education for women, no rights to organize and protest and strive for a better quality of life, no protests against domestic violence, and a woman is only good as her unquestioned compliance of her father and husband! I guess it’s because the various shades which this word has acquired during the times.

    Anyhow, I’m not giving a fatwa, just saying what I felt about reading the article. I don’t deny most of the issues which it has tried to highlight, it’s just some of the conclusions and methodology which I felt uncomfortable with. Also, I know even my logic here could be terribly flawed; this is a topic which needs more researched – Women Vs Men – the epic war of human history!

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  6. Pingback: You may call me “feminist”, if you like. – THIS CURSORY LIFE

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