MUHAMMAD'S ATTITUDE TOWARDS WOMEN
A STUDY of the life of Muhammad makes it clear that he had a special weakness for women; and a very large part of the traditions, and no small part of the Qur'an, is occupied with the record of what the prophet of Islam said and did in connexion with the other sex. From a perusal of these records certain outstanding facts emerge. These are so obvious that we propose in this chapter to content ourselves very largely with quoting the Muslim authorities dealing with the subject and letting the reader make his own deductions.
The traditions relating to Muhammad's love of women are considerable in number; but we content ourselves in these pages with quoting two or three by way of illustration. One of the best known is that related by ‘Ayesha, the wife of the prophet, and quoted in the ‘Mishkatu'l-Masabih in the Kitabu'l-Adab. It runs as follows,
وَعَنْ عَائِشَةَ قَالَتْ: كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يُعْجِبُهُ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا ثَلَاثَةٌ: الطَّعَامُ وَالنِّسَاءُ، وَالطِّيبُ، فَأَصَابَ اثْنَيْنِ وَلَمْ يُصِبْ وَاحِدًا، أَصَابَ النِّسَاءَ وَالطِّيبَ، وَلَمْ يُصِبِ الطَّعَامَ.
‘It is related from ‘Ayesha that she said, “Three things of the world pleased the prophet: food and women and perfumes. He obtained two of them, but did not obtain the third. He obtained women and perfumes, but he did not obtain food.”’ In the same chapter there is recorded a tradition from Anas that,
قال رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ حُبِّبَ إليّ الطّيْبَ والنّساءَ.
‘The apostle of God said, “Perfumes and women are beloved by me.”’
Again, in the Mishkat, in the chapter on Jehad, there is another tradition from Anas to the effect that,
عَنْ أَنَسِ قَالَ لَمْ يَكُنْ شَىْءٌ أَحَبَّ إِلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بَعْدَ النِّسَاءِ مِنَ الْخَيْلِ.
‘It is related from Anas that he said, “There was nothing more dear to the prophet, after women, than horses.”’ These testimonies are from the prophet's own family and those who knew him best; and they explain the otherwise inexplicable traits in his character which stand revealed in the course of the present chapter. When Muhammad's own followers spoke of him thus, it is no surprise to find his enemies taunting him with a sensuality unbecoming in a prophet of God. Thus in the Tafsiru'l-Mada'ihil Qur'an, p. 255, it is stated that
بعض یہودی حضرت محمد کو طعنے دیتے تھے کہ یہ نکاح بہت کرتے ہیں اورہمیشہ عورتوں میں مشغول ہیں اگر یہ پیغمبر ہوتے توان کو عورتوں کا خیال نہ ہوتا
‘Certain Jews taunted his majesty saying, “This person contracts numerous marriages, and is continually engaged with women. If he had been a prophet, he would not have given thought to women.”’
Some modern apologists for Muhammad pretend that his many marriages were only a practical form of charity designed to make provision for the elderly widows of his deceased followers! Muhammadan history shows that this defence is worthless and untrue. Muhammad's wives were not all widows, neither were they all old. Some were young virgins, others were the unfortunate widows of those he had slain. Moreover it is an historical fact, attested by Muhammadan writers, that, in addition to his more than a dozen wives, Muhammad kept concubines to minister to his lust. In the Mishkatu'l-Masabih, in the chapter on marriage it is related that
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ تَزَوَّجَهَا وَهِيَ بِنْتُ سَبْعِ سِنِينَ وَزُفَّتْ إِلَيْهِ وَهِيَ بِنْتُ تِسْعِ سِنِينَ وَلُعَبُهَا مَعَهَا.
‘Ayesha said, Verily the prophet married her when she was a girl of seven years of age. And she was taken to him as a bride when she was nine years of age; and her play-things were with her.’
Another incident mentioned in both Qur'an and traditions relates to a woman named Zainab bint Jahsh, and shows even more clearly the absurdity of the contention that Muhammad's polygamy was inspired only by motives of generosity and kindness. Zainab was the wife of Zaid, the adopted son of Muhammad. The latter was known as ‘Zaid the son of Muhammad’. One day, the Muslim chronicler informs us, Muhammad suddenly visited the house of Zaid and beheld his daughter-in-law in a costume which ill concealed her beauty. The passions of the prophet were excited, and he cried out in an ecstasy
سبحان الله مقلت القلوب.
‘Praise be to God Who turneth the hearts (of men).’ Zainab overheard the remark, and forthwith acquainted her husband with the fact. The latter divorced Zainab, who was then married by the prophet. The latter, to still the murmurs of his astonished disciples, immediately produced a ‘revelation’ sanctioning this extraordinary procedure; and for all time the pages of the Qur'an stand disfigured with this parody of inspiration:
فَلَمَّا قَضَى زَيْدٌ مِّنْهَا وَطَراً زَوَّجْنَاكَهَا لِكَيْ لاَ يَكُونَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ حَرَجٌ فِي أَزْوَاجِ أَدْعِيَائِهِمْ إِذَا قَضَوْا مِنْهُنَّ وَطَراً.
‘And when Zaid had settled concerning her to divorce her, we married her to thee, that it might not be a crime in the faithful to marry the wives of their adopted sons, when they have settled the affair concerning them’ Qur'an Al-Ahzab 33:37.
The real reason for this new marriage of the prophet is clearly stated by the Jalalain in their commentary on the passage. They there state definitely that
فزوجها النبي لزيد ثم وقع بصره عليها بعد حين فوقع في نفسه حبها وفي نفس زيد كراهتها.
‘The prophet married her (Zainab) to Zaid. Afterwards, some days later, his gaze fell upon her, and there fell into his heart love of her; but in the heart of Zaid there arose aversion to her.’ 26 This story needs no comment. It shows the prophet of Islam in a most unlovely light, and gives the lie to those who affirm that his marriages were only a form of benevolence intended for the benefit of indigent widows.
Another matter, referred to in the Qur'an, which throws a lurid light upon the character of Muhammad, is that mentioned in the first two verses of Qur’an At-Tahrim 66:1-2, where we read,
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ لِمَ تُحَرِّمُ مَا أَحَلَّ اللَّهُ لَكَ تَبْتَغِي مَرْضَاتَ أَزْوَاجِكَ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ. قَدْ فَرَضَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ تَحِلَّةَ أَيْمَانِكُمْ.
‘Why, O prophet, dost thou hold that to be forbidden which God hath made lawful to thee, from a desire to please thy wives, since God is lenient, merciful? God hath allowed you release from your oaths.’ With regard to this passage the commentators tell us that Muhammad became so attached to his Coptic concubine Mary that his wives became justly indignant at the prophet's neglect of them in favour of the menial foreigner. Their anger became so pronounced that, in order to please them, the prophet took an oath that he would in future abstain from the company of the Coptic slave-girl. At length, however, finding the self-imposed prohibition irksome, and being resolved to once again seek the embraces of Mary, he announced the divine pleasure in the words from the Qur'an quoted above, and proceeded forthwith to resume his visits to that lady. In the Tafsiru'l-Baidawi, p. 745, it is stated that the incident which brought the opposition of the prophet's wives to a head was the following:
رُوي أنه عليه السلام خلا بمارية في يوم عائشة أو حفصة فأطلعت على ذلك حفصة فعاتبته فيه فحرّم مارية فنزّلت.
‘It is said that he (the prophet) was alone with Mary on the day of ‘Ayesha or Hafsa. But Hafsa, becoming aware of the fact, scolded him. Therefore he proclaimed Mary as forbidden to him; and after that this verse (allowing him the dissolution of his oaths) came down.’ ‘Abbas, in his comment on the same passage, says of Hafsa,
شق عليها كون ذلك في بيتها وعلى فراشها.
‘The matter became grievous to her from the fact that it happened in her house, and on her bed,’ and so ‘to please his wives’ Muhammad vowed abstinence from the embraces of the slave-girl Mary. And for this the world is asked to believe that God addressed Muhammad in the words quoted above, in which he is allowed the breaking of his oath and the resumption of his illicit relations with a slave-girl!!
The Qur'an enacts that a man having more than one wife must spend his time equally with each in turn. Muhammad himself at first carried out this enactment, and visited in regular succession the houses of his various wives. But, in the course of time, finding special delight in the company of ‘Ayesha he solved the difficulty by producing another ‘revelation’ granting him a dispensation from the irksome rule; and allowing him to choose those of his wives whom he would and when he would. This astonishing piece of ‘revelation’, which Muslims are bound to believe as the very word of God, is found in Qur'an Al-Ahzab 33:51 and runs as follows:
تُرْجِي مَن تَشَاءُ مِنْهُنَّ وَتُؤوي إِلَيْكَ مَن تَشَاءُ وَمَنِ ابْتَغَيْتَ مِمَّنْ عَزَلْتَ فَلاَ جُنَاحَ عَلَيْكَ.
‘Thou mayest decline for the present whom thou wilt of them, and thou mayest take to thy bed her whom thou wilt, and whomsoever thou shalt long for of those thou shalt have before neglected; and this shall not be a crime in thee.’
We make no comment on the facts related above, but we ask the reader to ponder the comment of ‘Ayesha, the favourite wife of the prophet, when first this ‘revelation’ was rehearsed to her. It is recorded in the Mishkatu'l-Masabih, in the Kitabu'n-Nikah, that she exclaimed
ما أرى ربك إلى يسارع في هواك.
‘I do not see thy Lord, except that He hastens in (the fulfilment) of thy amorous longings’!!
That Muhammad's estimate of woman was of the lowest description cannot be doubted. His many utterances with regard to the weaker sex make it clear that he looked upon woman as a necessary evil, and as a species of being far inferior to man. As is well-known, he gave the latter the right to beat their wives in these words,
وَاللاَّتِي تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَاهْجُرُوهُنّ َ فِي الْمَضَاجِعِ وَاضْرِبُوهُنَّ.
‘But chide those (wives) for whose refractoriness ye have cause to fear; remove them into beds apart, and scourge them’ Qur’an An-Nisa' 4:34. Women, we are told in the Mishkat, used in times of war to both fight as well as administer help to the wounded; but it is recorded that Muhammad forbade them receiving any share of the plunder. His opinion of them may be gathered from the following description of them recorded in the Mishkatu'l-Masabih, in the Kitabu’l-Riqaq, namely, that,
النساء حبائل الشيطان.
‘Women are the nets of Satan.’ Bukhari records a statement of the prophet to the effect that he said
قمت على باب النار فإذا عامّة من دخلها النساء.
‘I will stand against the door of hell, and behold the majority of those who will enter will be women.’
Another tradition to the same effect, quoted by both Bukhari and Muslim, records that the prophet said,
رأيت النار فلم أرَ كاليوم منظراً قطّ أفظع ورأيت أكثر أهلها النساء.
‘I saw (in a vision) hell-fire; and I never saw, as I saw to-day, such an absolutely repulsive sight. And I saw that the majority of its inhabitants were women.’
The same recognised inferiority of the woman is seen in the legislation which provides that the testimony of a man is equal to that of two women. Thus in the Qur'an it is enacted that in the case of debt ‘Call two witnesses of your people; but if there be not two men, let there be a man and two women of those whom he shall judge fit for witnesses’ Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2:282). The Mishkat also quotes the prophet as saying that
شهادة المرأة مثل نصف شهادة الرجل.
‘The testimony of a woman is equal to half the testimony of a man.’ 27
Muhammad not only legalised polygamy upon earth: he promised it in heaven. Many of the sayings on the subject, attributed to him in the traditions, are so coarse and indecent that we dare not quote them here. One of the less vulgar must suffice as an illustration before we bring this unpleasant subject to an end. It is found in the Mishkatu'l-Masabih in the chapter describing Paradise and runs thus,
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إن أدنى أهل الجنة منزلة الذي له ثمانون ألف خادم واثنتان وسبعون زوجة.
‘The apostle of God said, “The most insignificant of the people of Paradise is he who has seventy thousand servants and seventy-two wives.”’