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The prophet Mohammed’s marriage to Khadija: Deleted pages from the 'official narrative’

The prophet Mohammed’s marriage to Khadija: Deleted pages from the 'official narrative’

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Culture Women’s Rights Religious Discourse

Thursday 15 June 202304:47 pm
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زواج النبي وخديجة... الصفحة المحذوفة من "المنهج الرسمي"


The heritage of hadith holds a central position in formulating judgments and rulings, as well as in popular religious discourse, which is often heavily derived from hadith. This is accompanied by the construction of a new image of "manhood" or masculinity that suggests that the more control a man exerts over women in his family, the higher his level of faith is, even if he is corrupt, unjust, or exploitative.

As a result, we hear expressions such as "This house has no man in it" or "This neighborhood lacks men", which negatively refer to a man who does not exert full control (the way society sees fit) over the clothing and actions of his wife, sister, daughter, or all the women in his neighborhood.

Does this perception of "manhood" or masculinity rely on authentic hadiths? And does it align with the exemplary behavior displayed by Prophet Muhammad, as conveyed in his noble teachings?

This is the subject of an entire section of the book "Justice and Beauty in Muslim Marriage: Towards Egalitarian Ethics and Laws", recently published by Dar al-Kutub Khan. It covers the verbal and practical traditions of the Prophet and how we can deal with them to achieve a formula for marriage characterized by justice and goodness towards both parties.

Does the perception of "manhood" that suggests the more control a man exerts over women, the higher his level of faith is, actually rely on authentic hadiths? Does it align with the exemplary behavior displayed by Prophet Muhammad and his noble teachings?


Why hasn't the Prophet's marriage to Khadijah become a model that others follow?

The lecture by Sarah Ababneh, a lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sheffield, and Dr Shadaab Rahemtulla, a lecturer in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, who co-wrote the fourth chapter of the book, explains that the Prophet had a marital relationship with Sayyida Khadijah that lasted 25 years, a marriage that presents us with an exceptional participatory marital experience. They then question why Muslims do not consider this marriage as one of the forms of the prophetic approach that informs us about the ideal marriage, especially in light of the harmony that characterized the relationship between the two parties.

"The Prophet's marriage to Khadijah has always been close to my heart, perhaps because I saw a great resemblance between it and my own marriage with Shadaab," explains Ababneh to Raseef22. She clarifies, "I am three and a half years older than him, and at the beginning of our marriage, I was working while he was still working on his doctoral thesis. This greatly differs from the prevailing vision of marriage in Jordan and other Muslim societies, where the man is usually older and the main breadwinner."

The two authors try to present a broader concept of the Prophet's masculinity or manhood by discussing his marriage, which was not characterized by dominance and control, and by illustrating how the Prophet dealt with Khadijah with a great deal of trust, confidence and ease, as we have no evidence that the Prophet ever felt threatened at any stage of this marriage. On the contrary, the non-dominant prophetic image presents a different pattern of masculinity than the prevailing image of masculinity in the 21st century.

Consequently, they call for a revision of the cognitive historical Islamic heritage, particularly in family systems since the relationship between the Prophet and Sayyida Khadijah does not only challenge the prevalent norms of the spending husband and the housewife, but also presents an alternative model of marital relationships based on mutual care, support, and love. It reflects a different mental image through an experience where the wife is older and economically stronger.

Ababneh, in her interview with Raseef22, believes that change will come when we break the taboos we have created around divorce, widowhood, and marrying someone who is younger/older or from a different social class. If we are serious about following the Sunnah (traditions and practices) of the Prophet, we should recognize that these taboos are not inherent to Islam but are more related to modernity. So why do we cling to them when we have an alternative in the biography of the Prophet?

The authors question why Muslims do not consider the Prophet's marriage with Khadijah as one of the forms of the prophetic approach that informs us about the ideal marriage, especially in light of the harmony that characterized the relationship between them


A more mature view of the heritage of hadith

There is no doubt that the heritage of the hadith has taken up a central position in the Sunnah in conjunction with the emergence of schools of jurisprudence, as the role it played in formulating judgments and rulings has grown. However, Muslim male and female researchers still face challenges in dealing with it and its use to justify the oppression of women.

In continuation of the research and discussion on this topic, lecturer Yasmin Amin at the "Centre for Islamic Theology" at the University of Münster in Germany, provides in another chapter of the book a model for marriage derived from the Prophetic sunnah (hadith), reflecting ethical and moral teachings from the Quran and supporting marital relationship with no hierarchy.

Amin conducts a comprehensive reading of hadiths that address various aspects of marriage, including financial support, resolving marital disputes, and intimacy. She cites the hadith that states, "All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for his flock", highlighting the emphasis on shared responsibility between spouses rather than hierarchy, as seen in some juristic and jurisprudential discourses.

The lecturer also explores the concept of marital relationships encompassing leisure, enjoyment and fun, while also emphasizing that the heritage of hadith indicates that pleasure and sexual fulfillment are not exclusive to men, as evidenced in narrations such as: "If one of you desires to have intimate relations with his wife, let him not rush her, for women also have needs."

Hala Abdel Kader, the founder and director of the Egyptian Foundation for Family Development (EFFD), states to Raseef22 that many hadiths have been misused in a way the harms women, such as the weak hadith (i.e weak in source) about a woman prostrating to her husband ("If I were to instruct anyone to prostrate to anyone, I would have instructed women to prostrate to their husbands”), which has been used to establish the principle of blind obedience. Similarly, the hadith about angels cursing women ("If a husband calls his wife to his bed and she refuses and causes him to sleep in anger, the angels will curse her till morning") and the accompanying coercion and intimidation directed towards women, to a degree that may prevent women from expressing fatigue or lack of desire.

She adds, "Perhaps these hadiths have not directly influenced rules and legislation, but they have certainly impacted societal norms and affected the culture of some judges."

Abdel Kader believes that the situation can change by following the Prophet's advice regarding women in his Farewell Sermon, as well as hadiths such as "Treat women kindly", “The best of you are those who are best to your women”, and "Women are but sisters (or the other half) of men (shaqa'iq)". However, what we truly need is to follow the example of the Prophet, who openly expressed his love for his wives and daughters, mentioning them by name without considering it shameful or requiring concealment. Rather, he sought their counsel in matters that concerned him.

The authors address the Prophet's masculinity by discussing his marriage, which wasn't defined by dominance or control. This non-dominant prophetic image presents a different pattern of masculinity than the image of masculinity prevalent in the 21st century

From literal interpretation to comprehensive understanding

There are many books that contain interpretations of hadiths full of hostility towards women, where the authors employ a literal approach that leads them to claim, for example, that women are a source of distraction for men. Furthermore, these books often depict men in positions of authority and dominance over women.

The lecturer on the subject of hadith at the State Institute for Islamic Studies in Indonesia, Faqihuddin Abdul Kadir, presents – in a chapter from the same book – a more comprehensive methodology that believes in the reference of the heritage of hadith, but at the same time allows for its reinterpretation in a way that achieves equality. He considers his methodology, which he called "reciprocal reading", capable of reconciling fragmented texts with the basic principles of Islam.

This methodology, inspired by the studies conducted by Abdel Halim Muhammad Abu Shaqqa, makes women and men equal recipients addressed by the hadiths, which necessitates the reinterpretation of hadiths that were commonly understood to address only men or only women, in order to clarify their essential meanings and make them relevant and addressed to everyone.

The author also points out that the Arabic language, by its nature, is a language imprinted with gender considerations (gender-biased language), where most hadith narrations are presented in the masculine form. He also emphasizes the importance of being aware of the context of the time and place in which the hadiths were narrated, which only used to rely on distinguishing between men and women, while ignoring all else.

There are many hadith interpretations full of hostility towards women, and employ a literal approach that leads them to claim, for example, that women are a source of distraction for men, while depicting men in positions of authority and dominance over women

This methodology stems from several starting points, the most important of which is Tawhid (monotheism), a Quranic principle that affirms that Allah created all human beings, men and women, as His viceroy (Khalifah) on Earth. Therefore, relationships between individuals should be based on collaboration and partnership, not hierarchies.

The author provides examples of hadiths where he sees the application of the reciprocity principle, such as the hadith that says: "If a husband calls his wife to his bed and she refuses and causes him to sleep in anger, the angels will curse her till morning".

Scholars obligate women to fulfill the needs and desires of their husbands, but we know that Islam does not impose anything on a person or threaten them simply because they are women. This highlights the need to find a meaning in the hadith that applies to both women and men. Therefore, men must also feel their religious responsibility towards their wives, and must fulfill their sexual desires.

Likewise, the hadiths that address men to treat their wives well also apply to women, such as the hadith: “The best of you are those who are best to your women”.

For decades, the concept of masculinity has been associated with control and domination, amid the claim that it's the prophetic approach. But based on the knowledge we have acquired, perhaps we need to reconsider our interpretation of the heritage of hadith

Broad horizons and realistic solutions

As is evident, for many decades, the concept of manhood and masculinity has been associated with control and domination, with the rumored perception that this is the prophetic approach. But based on the knowledge we have acquired, perhaps we need to reconsider our interpretation of the heritage of hadith, so that it becomes a key to spreading justice and benevolence, rather than a sword hanging over women's heads.

Unlike previous eras that witnessed a monopoly of religious knowledge, we are now witnessing a considerable openness to various sources of knowledge, and the growing awareness of women about themselves and their deep belief in their Creator's fairness towards them, which should motivate ijtihad (legal reasoning) and exerting effort in intellectual and religious knowledge – on the same path that scholars have paved and continued on, and none of them has ever claimed that he is never wrong.



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Religion provides humanity with mercy. Extremists have manipulated this.

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