12 – Questions of Marriage

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 Ja’far was a boy of four. Muhammad was fond of children and liked to play with them; and he grew especially attached to Ja’far 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 Makhzum, 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 Makhzum 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.”[1] The answer was unconvincing inasmuch as ‘Abd al-Muttalib had already more than repaid this debt in question by marrying two of his daughters, ‘Atikah and Barrah, to men of Makhzum. 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-Amin, 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 Bostra 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 travelers’ halts often remain unchanged, it could have been the selfsame tree under which he had sheltered some fifteen years previously no his way through Bostra with his uncle. Perhaps Bahira 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.[2]

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 transaction 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 mustache 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.”[3]

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.”[4] 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 center, 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.”[5] 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 ‘Awwam. 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.


[1] I.S. VIII : 108
[2]  I.S. I/1 : 83 According to Islamic tradition Muhammad is none other than the mysterious Shiloh, to whom would be transferred, “in the latter days”, the spiritual authority which  until then had remained the prerogative of the Jews, Jesus himself having been the last Prophet of the line of Judah. The prophecy in question was made by Jacob immediately before his death: And Jacob called unto his sons and said, Gather yourself together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days … The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. (Genesis 49 : 1 – 10)
[3] I.I. 121
[4] I.S. I/1 : 84
[5] I.I. 120

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s