Prophet Muhammad’s first marriage, By Martin Lings

Muhammad had now passed his twentieth year, and as time went on he received more and more invitations to join one or another of his kinsmen on their travels abroad. Finally the day came when he was asked to take charge of the goods of a merchant who was unable to travel himself, and his success in this capacity led to other similar engagements. He was thus able to earn a better livelihood, and marriage became a possibility.

His uncle and guardian Abu-Talib had at that time three sons: the eldest, Talib, was about the same age as Muhammad himself; Aqil was thirteen or fourteen; and Jafar was a boy of four. Muhammad was fond of children and liked to play with them; and he grew especially attached to Jafar who was a beautiful and intelligent child, and who responded to his cousin’s love with a devotion that proved to be lasting.

Abu-Talib also had daughters, and one of these was already of marriageable age. Her name was Fakhitah, but later she was called Umm Hani’, and it is by that name that she is always known. A great affection had grown up between her and Muhammad, who now asked his uncle to let him marry her. But Abu-Talib had other plans for his daughter: his cousin Hubayrah, the son of his mother’s brother, of the clan of Makhziim, had likewise asked for the hand of Umm Hani; and Hubayrah was not only a man of some substance but he was also, like Abu-Talib himself, a gifted poet. Moreover the ,Power of Makhziim in Mecca was as much on the increase as that of Hashim was on the wane; and it was to Hubayrah that Abu-Talib married Umm Hani’. When his nephew mildly reproached him, he simply replied:

“They have given us their daughters in marriage” – no doubt referring to his own mother- “and a generous man must requite generosity.” The answer was unconvincing inasmuch as Abd-Almuttalib had already more than repaid the debt in question by marrying two of his daughters, Atikah and Barrah, to men of Makhziim. Muhammad no doubt took his uncle’s words as a courteous and kindly substitute for telling him plainly that he was not yet in a position to marry. That, at any rate, is what he now decided for himself; but unexpected circumstances were soon to induce him to change his mind.

One of the richer merchants of Mecca was a woman – Khadijah, daughter of Khuwaylid, of the clan of Asad. She was first cousin to Waraqah, the Christian, and his sister Qutaylah, and like them she was a distant cousin to the sons of Hashim. She had already been married twice, and since the death of her second husband it had been her custom to hire men to trade on her behalf. Now Muhammad had come to be known throughout Mecca as al-Arnin, the Reliable, the Trustworthy, the Honest, and this was initially owing to the reports of those who had entrusted their merchandise to him on various occasions. Khadijah had also heard much good of him from family sources; and one day she sent word to him, asking him to take some of her merchandise to Syria.

His fee would be the double of the highest she had ever paid to a man of Quraysh; and she offered him, for the journey, the services of a lad of hers named Maysarah. He accepted what she proposed and accompanied by the lad he set off with her goods for the north.

When they reached Bosra in the South of Syria, Muhammad took shelter beneath the shadow of a tree not far from the cell of a monk named Nestor. Since travellers’ halts often remain unchanged, it could have been the selfsame tree under which he had sheltered some fifteen years previously on his way through Bosra with his uncle. Perhaps Buhaira had died and been replaced by Nestor. However that may be – for we only know what Maysarah reported – the monk came out of his cell and asked the lad: “Who is the man beneath that tree?” “He is a man of Quraysh,” said Maysarah, adding by way of explanation: “of the people who have guardianship of the Sanctuary.” “None other than a Prophet is sitting beneath that tree,” said Nestor.’

As they went on further into Syria, the words of Nestor sank deep into the soul of Maysarah, but they did not greatly surprise him, for he had become aware throughout the journey that he was in the company of a man unlike any other he had ever met. This was still further confirmed by something he saw on his way home: he had often noticed that the heat was strangely unoppressive, and one day towards noon it was given to him to have a brief but clear vision of two Angels shading Muhammad from the sun’s rays.

On reaching Mecca they went to Khadijah’s house with the goods they had bought in the markets of Syria for the price of what they had sold. Khadijah sat listening to Muhammad as he described the journey and told her of the transactions he had made. These proved to be very profitable, for she was able to sell her newly acquired assets for almost the double of what had been paid for them. But such considerations were far from her thoughts, for all her attention was concentrated on the speaker himself.

Muhammad was twenty-five years old. He was of medium stature, inclined to slimness, with a large head, broad shoulders and the rest of his body perfectly proportioned. His hair and beard were thick and black, not altogether straight but slightly curled. His hair reached midway between the lobes of his ears and his shoulders, and his beard was of a length to match.

He had a noble breadth of forehead and the ovals of his large eyes were wide, with exceptionally long lashes and extensive brows, slightly arched but not joined. In most of the earliest descriptions his eyes are said to have been black, but according to one or two of these they were brown, or even light brown. His nose was aquiline and his mouth was wide and finely shaped – a comeliness always visible for although he let his beard grow, he never allowed the hair of his moustache to protrude over his upper lip. His skin was white, but tanned by the sun.

In addition to his natural beauty there was a light on his face – the same which had shone from his father, but in the son it was more powerful- and this light was especially apparent on his broad forehead, and in his eyes, which were remarkably luminous. Khadijah knew that she herself was still beautiful, but she was fifteen years his elder. Would he none the less be prepared to marry her?

As soon as he had gone, she consulted a woman friend of hers named Nufaysah, who offered to approach him on her behalf and, if possible, to arrange a marriage between them. Maysarah now came to his mistress and told her about the two Angels, and what the monk had said, whereupon she went to her cousin Waraqah and repeated these things to him. “If this be true, Khadijah,” he said, “then is Muhammad the prophet of our people. Long have I known that a prophet is to be expected, and his time hath now come.”!

Meanwhile Nufaysah came to Muhammad and asked him why he did not marry. “I have not the means to marry,” he answered. “But if thou wert given the means,” she said, “and if thou wert bidden to an alliance where there is beauty and property and nobility and abundance, wouldst thou not consent?” “Who is she?” he said. “Khadijah,” said Nufaysah. “And how could such a marriage be mine?” he said. “Leave that to me!” was her answer. “For my part,” he said, “I am willing.”?

Nufaysah returned with these tidings to Khadijah, who then sent word to Muhammad asking him to come to her; and when he came she said to him: “Son of mine uncle, I love thee for thy kinship with me, and for that thou art ever in the centre, not being a partisan amongst the people for this or for that; and I love thee for thy trustworthiness and for the beauty of thy character and the truth of thy speech.”? Then she offered herself in marriage to him, and they agreed that he should speak to his uncles and she would speak to her uncle Amr, the son of Asad, for Khuwaylid her father had died. It was Hamzah, despite his relative youth, whom the Hashimites delegated to represent them on this occasion, no doubt because he was the most closely connected of them with the clan of Asad, for his full sister Safiyyah had recently married Khadijah’s brother Awwarn, So Hamzah went with his nephew to Amr and asked for the hand of Khadijah; and it was agreed between them that Muhammad should give her twenty she-camels as dowry.

The household
The bridegroom left his uncle’s house and went to live in the house of his bride. As well as being a wife, Khadijah was also a friend to her husband, the sharer of his inclinations and ideals to a remarkable degree. Their marriage was wondrously blessed, and fraught with great happiness, though not without sorrows of bereavement. She bore him six children, two sons and four daughters. Their eldest child was a son named Qasim, and Muhammad came to be known as Abulqasim, the father of Qasim; but the boy died before his second birthday. The next child was a daughter whom they named Zaynab; and she was followed by three other daughters, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthiim, and Fatimah, and finally by another short-lived son.

On the day of his marriage, Muhammad set free Barakah, the faithful slave he had inherited from his father; and on the same day Khadijah made him a gift of one of her own slaves, a youth of fifteen named Zayd. As to Barakah, they married her to a man of Yathrib to whom she bore a son, after whom she came to be known as Umm Ayman, the mother of Ayman. As to Zayd, he and some other youths had recently been bought at the great fair of Ukaz by Khadijah’s nephew Hakim, the son of her brother Hizam, and the next time his aunt visited him Hakim had sent for his newly acquired slaves and invited her to choose one of them for herself. It was Zayd that she had chosen.

Zayd was proud of his ancestry: his father Harithah was of the great northern tribe of Kalb whose territory lay on the plains between Syria and Iraq: his mother was a woman of the no less illustrious neighbouring tribe of Tayy, one of whose chieftains at that time was the poet-knight Hatim, famous throughout Arabia for his chivalry and his fabulous generosity.

Several years had now passed since Zayd had been taken by his mother to visit her family, and the village where they were staying had been raided by some horsemen of the Bani Qayn, who had carried the boy off and sold him into slavery. Harithah, his father, had searched for him in vain; nor had Zayd seen any travellers from Kalb who could take a message from him to his parents. But the Ka’bah drew pilgrims from all parts of Arabia, and one day during the holy season, several months after he had become Muhammad’s slave, he saw some men and women of his own tribe and clan in the streets of Mecca.

If he had seen them the previous year, his feelings would have been very different. He had yearned for such an encounter; yet now that it had at last come it placed him in a quandary. He could not deliberately leave his family in ignorance of his whereabouts. But what message could he send them? Whatever its gist, he knew, as a son of the desert, that nothing less than a poem would be adequate for such an occasion. He composed some verses which expressed something of his mind, but implied more than they expressed. Then he accosted the Kalbite pilgrims and, having told them who he was, he said: “Speak unto my family these lines, for well I know that they have sorrowed for me: Though I myself be far, yet take my words Unto my people: at the Holy House I dwell, amidst the places God hath hallowed. Set then aside the sorrows ye have grieved, Weary not camels, scouring the earth for me, For I, praise be to God, am in the best Of noble families, great in all its line.”

When the pilgrims returned home with their tidings, Harithah at once set off for Mecca with his brother, Kab; and going to Muhammad they begged him to allow them to ransom Zayd, for as high a price as he might ask. “Let him choose,” said Muhammad, “and if he choose you, he is yours without ransom; and if he choose me, I am not the man to set any other above him who chooseth me.” Then he called Zayd and asked him if he knew the two men.

“This is my father,” said the youth, “and this is mine uncle.” “Me thou knowest,” said Muhammad, “and thou hast seen my companionship unto thee, so choose thou between me and them.” But Zayd’s choice was already made and he said at once: “I would not choose any man in preference to thee. Thou art unto me as my father and my mother.” “Out upon thee, a Zayd!” exclaimed the men of Kalb. “Wilt thou choose slavery above freedom, and above thy father and thine uncle and thy family?” “It is even so,” said Zayd, “for I have seen from this man such things that I could never choose another above him.”

All further talk was cut short by Muhammad, who now bade them come with him to the Ka’bah; and, standing in the Hijr, he said in a loud voice: “All ye who are present, bear witness that Zayd is my son; I am his heir and he is mine.”!

The father and the uncle had thus to return with their purpose un­ achieved. But the tale they had to tell their tribe, of the deep mutual love which had brought about this adoption, was not an inglorious one; and when they saw that Zayd was free, and established in honour, with what promised to be a high standing amongst the people of the Sanctuary such as might benefit his brothers and other kinsmen in years to come, they were reconciled and went their way without bitterness. From that day the new Hashimite was known in Mecca as Zayd ibn Muhammad.

Among the most frequent visitors to the house was Safiyyah, now Khadljah’s sister-in-law, the youngest of Muhammad’s aunts, younger even than himself; and with her she would bring her little son Zubayr, whom she had named after her elder brother. Zubayr was thus well acquainted with his cousins, the daughters of Muhammad, from his earliest years. With Safiyyah came also her faithful retainer Salmi, who had delivered Khadijah of all her children, and who considered herself to be one of the household.

As the years passed there were occasional visits from Halimah, Muhammad’s foster-mother, and Khadijah was always generous to her. One of these visits was at a time of severe and widespread drought through which Halimah’s flocks had been seriously depleted, and Khadijah made her a gift of forty sheep and a howdah camel.’ This same drought, which produced something like a famine in the Hijaz, was the cause of a very important addition to the household.

Abu-Talib had more children than he could easily support, and the famine weighed heavily upon him. Muhammad noticed this and felt that something should be done. The wealthiest of his uncles was Abu-Lahab but he was somewhat remote from the rest of the family, partly no doubt because he had never had any full brothers or sisters amongst them, being the only child of his mother.

Muhammad preferred to ask for the help of ‘Abbas, who could well afford it, being a successful merchant, and who was close to him because they had been brought up together. Equally close, or even closer, was ‘Abbas’s wife, Um-albadl, who loved him dearly and who always made him welcome at their house. So he went to them now.. and suggested that each of their two households should take charge of one of Abu-Talib’s sons until his circumstances improved.

They readily agreed, and the two men went to Abu-Talib, who said when he heard their proposal: “Do what ye will, but leave me Aqil and Talib.” Jafar was now about fifteen, and he was no longer the youngest of the family. His mother Fatimah had borne yet another son to Abu-Talib, some ten years younger, and they had named him Ali. ‘Abbas said he would take charge of Jafar, whereupon Muhammad agreed to do the same for Ali.

It was about this time that Khadijah had borne her last child, a son named ‘Abd Allah, but the babe had died at an even earlier age than Qasim. In a sense he was replaced by Ali, who was brought up as a brother to his four girl cousins, being about the same age as Ruqayyah and Umm Kulthum, somewhat younger than Zaynab and somewhat older than Fatimah. These five, together with Zayd, formed the immediate family of Muhammad and Khadijah. But there were many other relatives for whom he felt a deep attachment, and who have a part to play, large or small, in the history which here is chronicled.

Muhammad’s eldest uncle, Harith, who was now dead, had left many children, and one of the sons, his cousin Abu Sufyan, was also his foster-brother, having been nursed by Halimah amongst the Bani Sa’d a few years after himself. People would say that Abu-Sufyan was of those who bore the closest family likeness to Muhammad; and amongst the characteristics they had in common was eloquence. But Abu-Sufyan was a gifted poet – perhaps more gifted than his uncles Zubayr and Abu-Talib­ whereas Muhammad had never shown any inclination to compose a poem, though he was unsurpassed in his mastery of Arabic, and in the beauty of his speech.

In Abu-Sufyan, who was more or less his own age, he had something of a friend and a companion. A little closer by blood kinship were the numerous children of his father’s full sisters, that is, of Abd-Almuttalib’s five eldest daughters. Amongst the eldest of these cousins were the children of his aunt Umaymah who had married a man named Jahsh, of the North Arabian tribe of Asad.’ He had a house in Mecca, and it was possible for a man who lived amongst a tribe other than his own to become, by mutual alliance, the confederate of a member of that tribe, into which he thus became partly integrated, sharing up to a point its responsibilities and its privileges. Harb, now chief of the Umayyad’ branch of the clan of Abdu Shams, had made Jahsh his confederate, so that by marrying him Umaymah could almost be said to have married a Shamsite.

Their eldest son, named after her brother Abdullah, was some twelve years younger than Muhammad, and the two cousins had a great affection for each other. Umaymah’s daughter Zaynab, several years younger than her brother, a girl of outstanding beauty, was included in this bond. Muhammad had known and loved them both from their earliest childhood; and the same was true of others, in particular of Abu Salamah, the son of his aunt Barrah.

The powerful attraction which centred on al-Amin – as he was so often called – went far beyond his own family; and Khadijah was with him at that centre, loved and honoured by all who came within the wide circle of their radiance, a circle which also included many of her own relations. Particularly close to her was her sister Halah whose son, Abu-Alas, was a frequent visitor to the house. Khadijah loved this nephew as if he had been her own son; and in due course – for she was continually sought after for help and advice – Halah asked her to find a wife for him. When Khadijah consulted her husband, he suggested their daughter Zaynab, who would soon be of marriageable age; and when the time came they were married.

The hopes of Hashim and Muttalib – the two clans counted politically as one – were set upon Muhammad for the recovery of their waning influence. But beyond all question of clan, he had come to be considered by the chiefs of Quraysh as one of the most capable men of the generation which would succeed them and which would have, after them, the task of maintaining the honour and the power of the tribe throughout Arabia. The praise of al-Amin was continually upon men’s lips; and it was perhaps because of this that Abu Lahab now came to his nephew with the proposal that Ruqayyah and Umm Kulthoom should be betrothed to his sons Utbah and Utaybah. Muhammad agreed, for he thought well of these two cousins, and the betrothals took place.

It was about this time that Om-Ayman became once more a member of the household. It is not recorded whether she returned as a widow, or whether her husband had divorced her. But she had no doubt that her place was there, and for his part Muhammad would sometimes address her as “mother”, and would say of her to others: “She is all that is left me of the people of my house.”