Most Westerners regard polygamy as intrinsically evil and
its practice as immoral. In contradiction, they realize and purport that every
age and society has its own standards, but then themselves judge this by the
standards of their particular society and time.
For a Muslim, the standards of morality are set by
divine revelation, the Quran and the Sunnah, and not by prevalent modern perspective.
Furthermore, the great Hebrew patriarchs equally revered by Judaism,
Christianity, and Islam - Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David, and Solomon, to name a
few – were undisputedly polygamous. The
example of Jesus, who never-the-less overlooked polygamy, is irrelevant, as he
did not marry at all during his earthly ministry. It is unclear why the Hebrew
prophets took multiple wives, for their life stories are mostly unknown. However,
a careful study of the Prophet Muhammad’s biography - preserved in minute
detail - reveals the reasons for his plural marriages.
1. A Perfect Model
Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him,
is the last prophet, a mercy to all humanity, and a perfect model for all times.
He gave the world an ideal example of a chaste life up to the age of
twenty-five, then a monogamous life with a noble widow, and a polygamous life
after the age of fifty. He married the young and the old, the widow and the
divorcee, the pleasant and the emotional, the daughters of tribal chiefs and freed
slaves. He was an example of perfection in all the diversity life had to offer.
2. Religious Education and Preservation of the Prophet’s
The ‘Mothers of the Faithful’, a title given to honor
the wives of the Prophet, were scholars of the religion and spiritual mentors
who guided the faithful, especially women, during and after the Prophet’s
lifetime. Islam has many special regulations unique to women regarding cleanliness,
menses, bathing, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, breastfeeding, and testimony to
name a few. The laws specific to women had to be conveyed. Naturally, women
felt more comfortable talking to the wives of the Prophet regarding these
matters. In addition, the household of the Prophet instructed women in the
etiquette of marital life, raising families, and issues of women’s spirituality.
After the death of the Prophet, men and women resorted to his wives to find out
the prophetic ideal of family life.
By marrying from different tribes, the Prophet opened
the door to the spread of Islamic knowledge among them. The wives of the
Prophet spread the knowledge of Islam within their tribes. For example, the
knowledge of Aisha was absorbed by her sister, Umm Kulthum, her foster brother,
Auf ibn Harith, her nephews, Qasim and Abdullah, and her nieces, Hafsah and Asma,
among others. The knowledge of Hafsah was transmitted by her brother Abdullah
ibn Umar, his son Hamza and his wife Safiyah. Maimoonah’s students included
her nephews, the most famous of whom is Abdullah ibn Abbas, an authority in the
interpretation of the Quran. Umm Habeeba taught her knowledge to her brothers,
Mu’awiyah and Utbah, and her nephews and nieces. Therefore, we see that the ‘Mothers
of the Faithful’ became conduits of knowledge to their tribes.