The Mothers of the Believers
NEW YEAR LECTURE COMPLETES FIRST LADIES OF ISLAM TRILOGY
Delivered at Almadina over consecutive days in 2007 (28 and 29 November) and completed on 22 January 2008, the ‘Mothers of the Believers’ trilogy was initially a response to questions from students outside the College concerning the consorts of the Prophet, on him peace and blessing. The formal request maintained the Islamic tradition of ‘adab‘ or in simple terms, the etiquette of seeking knowledge and, due to the vastness of the subject matter, it turned into a full-blown lecture series.
The Shaykh’s historiography of the subject sketched the social-cultural and political norms of Antiquity; the anti-Islamic polemics of Medieval Europe; the Judaeo-Christian compact of the Orientalist writers of the nineteenth century; and the roles, responsibilities and status of the ‘Mothers of the Believers’ in the eyes of Muslims down the ages.
The Shaykh exposed the flaws and false notes in the canon of anti-Islamic literature with a combination of logic and critical methodology: “The Orientalists persistently alluded to sexual appetite – how else to explain the several marriages? But these same people very conveniently failed to disclose the fact that the Prophet, on him peace and blessings, only had one wife until he himself was past the normal age of virility,” explained Shaykh Faid. “It was only when he was well over 50 years of age, and invested with the office of prophethood that he was impelled to take several wives as part of the overall instruction of the Muslim community, especially its female members. A person given to mere personal desire, especially in the position such as his – a comfortable merchant in Makkah according to the custom of the time – could have easily taken more than one wife in his younger days.
“The other important point to clarify is that all the wives of Prophet, on him peace and blessings, except ‘Aisha, were not conventionally beautiful young ladies but mostly middle-aged women who came into the Prophet’s Household for various reasons. These included the cementing of fragile political alliances that strengthened the Muslim state of Madinah; fulfilment of a Divine Purpose – always with instruction for social cohesion; or as exemplar: marriage to a widow – which was not what your average proud Arab would do before Islam,” he added.
The lectures, however, were not entirely devoted to scholastic criticism from beginning to end. The Shaykh typically drew on his own grounding in the humanities to reveal the rich diversity and complexity of human nature. Thus Muhammad, on him peace and blessings, the Prophet of God was faced with, and had to tackle, the same issues as the common man: “The Prophet, on him the best of salutations, was impeccably just in his dealings. Marrying and keeping happy more than one wife was not an easy thing!” the Shaykh explained. “Far from glossing over, we actually highlight how some of the ‘Mothers’ were in fact unhappy with the idea of a new arrival! There are issues of the heart beyond one’s control, and it’s crucial to realise that the Prophet, on him peace and salutations, knew this. He was a human being after all. The human aspect of the relations between Muhammad, on him peace and blessings, and his wives, is every bit as rich as the religious history is instructive.”