The Incompleteness of the Quran:

Muhammad’s Multiple Marriages

Sam Shamoun

In a previous article we discussed how Muhammad’s multiple marriages violates his own teachings regarding the number of wives a man can have at any given time, provided that he can be fair with them.

Here, we want to analyze his multiple marriages in light of the Quran’s assertion that it is fully detailed, complete, and that it is a perspicuous scripture.

As we stated in our article the Quran expressly limits the number of wives a Muslim can have to four:

And if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphangirls, then marry (other) women of your choice, two or three, or four but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one or (the captives and the slaves) that your right hands possess. That is nearer to prevent you from doing injustice. 4:3

Yet the so-called sound narrations state that Muhammad had a total of nine wives during the time of his death:

Narrated Anas bin Malik:
The Prophet used to pass by (have sexual relation with) all his wives in one night, and at that time he had NINE wives. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 142)

Muslims assert that Allah in Sura 33:50 exempted Muhammad from this restriction. However, the text nowhere says that Muhammad was given the right to take more than four wives:

O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom God has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her; - this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess; - in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Y. Ali

The reader should be able to see that the privilege given to Muhammad wasn’t that he could have more than four wives, but rather that he could take any woman who willingly offered herself to him. The ahadith solidify that this is the meaning of the passage:

Narrated Aisha:
I used to look down upon those ladies who had given themselves to Allah’s Apostle and I used to say, "Can a lady give herself (to a man)?" But when Allah revealed: "You (O Muhammad) can postpone (the turn of) whom you will of them (your wives), and you may receive any of them whom you will; and there is no blame on you if you invite one whose turn you have set aside (temporarily)." (33.51) I said (to the Prophet), "I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 311)

'A'isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: I felt jealous of the women who offered themselves to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Then when Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, revealed this: "You may defer any one of them you wish, and take to yourself any you wish; and if you desire any you have set aside (no sin is chargeable to you)" (xxxiii. 51), I ('A'isha.) said: It seems to me that your Lord hastens to satisfy your desire. (Sahih Muslim, Book 008, Number 3453)

Some commentators have understood this to mean that Muhammad could marry any woman who willingly forfeited the bridal price or dowry (mahr), something not permitted to any other Muslim:

The relevant clause reads, literally, "if she offered herself as a gift (in wahabat nafsaha) to the Prophet". Most of the classical commentators take this to mean "without demanding or expecting a dower (mahr)", which, as far as ordinary Muslims are concerned, is an essential item in the marriage agreement (cf. 4:4 and {24}, and corresponding notes; also surah {2}, note [224]). (The Message of the Quran translated and explained by Muhammad Asad [The Book Foundation, England 2003], fn. 60, p. 728) (1)

This explains why the late Muslim Rashad Khalifa translated Q. 33:50 in the following manner:

O prophet, we made lawful for you your wives to whom you have paid their due dowry, or what you already have, as granted to you by GOD. Also lawful for you in marriage are the daughters of your father's brothers, the daughters of your father's sisters, the daughters of your mother's brothers, the daughters of your mother's sisters, who have emigrated with you. Also, if a believing woman gave herself to the prophet - by forfeiting the dowry - the prophet may marry her without a dowry, if he so wishes. However, her forfeiting of the dowry applies only to the prophet, and not to the other believers. We have already decreed their rights in regard to their spouses or what they already have. This is to spare you any embarrassment. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.

Furthermore, Q. 33:50 alludes to what has been appointed for the rest of the Muslim men regarding marriage, a topic which is discussed in Q. 4:3 as well as in the following texts:

Do not marry unbelieving women (idolaters), until they believe: A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though she allures you. Nor marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe: A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though he allures you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the Fire. But God beckons by His Grace to the Garden (of bliss) and forgiveness, and makes His Signs clear to mankind: That they may celebrate His praise. S. 2:221 Y. Ali

And give to the women (whom you marry) their Mahr (obligatory bridal money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage) with a good heart, but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it, and enjoy it without fear of any harm (as Allah has made it lawful). S. 4:4 Hilali-Khan

O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will, and you should not treat them with harshness, that you may take away part of the Mahr you have given them, unless they commit open illegal sexual intercourse. And live with them honourably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good. But if you intend to replace a wife by another and you have given one of them a Cantar (of gold i.e. a great amount) as Mahr, take not the least bit of it back; would you take it wrongfully without a right and (with) a manifest sin? And how could you take it (back) while you have gone in unto each other, and they have taken from you a firm and strong covenant? And marry not women whom your fathers married, except what has already passed; indeed it was shameful and most hateful, and an evil way. Forbidden to you (for marriage) are: your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your father's sisters, your mother's sisters, your brother's daughters, your sister's daughters, your foster mother who gave you suck, your foster milk suckling sisters, your wives' mothers, your step daughters under your guardianship, born of your wives to whom you have gone in - but there is no sin on you if you have not gone in them (to marry their daughters), - the wives of your sons who (spring) from your own loins, and two sisters in wedlock at the same time, except for what has already passed; verily, Allah is OftForgiving, Most Merciful. Also (forbidden are) women already married, except those (captives and slaves) whom your right hands possess. Thus has Allah ordained for you. All others are lawful, provided you seek (them in marriage) with Mahr (bridal money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage) from your property, desiring chastity, not committing illegal sexual intercourse, so with those of whom you have enjoyed sexual relations, give them their Mahr as prescribed; but if after a Mahr is prescribed, you agree mutually (to give more), there is no sin on you. Surely, Allah is Ever AllKnowing, AllWise. And whoever of you have not the means wherewith to wed free, believing women, they may wed believing girls from among those (captives and slaves) whom your right hands possess, and Allah has full knowledge about your Faith, you are one from another. Wed them with the permission of their own folk (guardians, Auliya' or masters) and give them their Mahr according to what is reasonable; they (the above said captive and slave-girls) should be chaste, not adulterous, nor taking boy-friends. And after they have been taken in wedlock, if they commit illegal sexual intercourse, their punishment is half that for free (unmarried) women. This is for him among you who is afraid of being harmed in his religion or in his body; but it is better for you that you practise self-restraint, and Allah is OftForgiving, Most Merciful. Allah wishes to make clear (what is lawful and what is unlawful) to you, and to show you the ways of those before you, and accept your repentance, and Allah is AllKnower, AllWise. Allah wishes to accept your repentance, but those who follow their lusts, wish that you (believers) should deviate tremendously away from the Right Path. Allah wishes to lighten (the burden) for you; and man was created weak (cannot be patient to leave sexual intercourse with woman). S. 4:19-28 Hilali-Khan

Today the good things are permitted you, and the food of those who were given the Book is permitted to you, and permitted to them is your food; Likewise believing women in wedlock, and in wedlock women of them who were given the Book before you if you give them their wages, in wedlock and not in licence, or as taking lovers. Whoso disbelieves in the faith, his work has failed, and in the world to come he shall be among the losers. S. 5:5 Arberry

When we analyze Q. 33:50 in light of the foregoing passages than the meaning becomes pretty clear: Muhammad could not marry women who had not migrated with him to Medina whereas the other believers could, and yet he was permitted to wed women without having to pay a dowry whereas the rest could not.

But this fact bears repeating: the Quran never gave Muhammad the sanction to exceed four wives, and yet narrations deemed to be authentic by Sunni Muslims say that he transgressed the limits imposed by Allah by taking a total of nine wives! Hence, if the hadiths are correct then this simply provides more evidence that Muhammad was a sinner who expressly violated the very laws he claimed were given by Allah.

And this despite the fact that Muhammad forced some of his followers to divorce any wives that exceeded the number of four after S. 4:3 was revealed.

Moreover, as a result of its lack of clarity and intelligibility, the Quran goes on to contradict itself in a matter of two verses:

It is not lawful for you (to marry other) women after this, nor to change them for other wives even though their beauty attracts you, except those (captives or slaves) whom your right hand possesses. And Allah is Ever a Watcher over all things. S. 33:52

The above reference says that it wasn’t lawful for Muhammad to wed more women; yet two verses before this Muhammad is told that he indeed could have more wives provided that they were not taken from among those prohibited to him!

Therefore, how could Muhammad marry the daughters of his paternal and maternal uncles and aunts, women who migrated with him and those whom he paid their dowries, especially women who freely give themselves to him, if he was expressly forbidden from marrying other women besides his current wives?

In light of this contradiction, it comes as no surprise that some commentators claimed that Q. 33:50 abrogated or canceled out 33:52! Sunni scholar Ibn Kathir noted:

More than one of the scholars, such as Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, Ad-Dahhak, Qatadah, Ibn Zayd, Ibn Jarir and others stated that this Ayah was revealed as a reward to the wives of the Prophet expressing Allah's pleasure with them for their excellent decision in choosing Allah and His Messenger and the Home of the Hereafter, when the Messenger of Allah gave them the choice, as we have stated above. When they chose the Messenger of Allah their reward was that Allah restricted him to these wives, and forbade him to marry anyone else or to change them for other wives, even if he was attracted to their beauty - apart from slave-girls and prisoners of war, with regard to whom there was no sin on him. THEN ALLAH LIFTED THE RESTRICTION STATED IN THIS AYAH AND PERMITTED HIM TO MARRY MORE WOMEN, but he did not marry anyone else, so that the favor of the Messenger of Allah towards them would be clear.

Imam Ahmad recorded that ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, said: ‘The Messenger of Allah did not die until Allah permitted (marriage to other) women for him.’ It was also recorded by At-Tirmidhi and An-Nasa’i in their Sunans. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) (Surat Al-Ahzab, Verse 51 to the end of Surat Ad-Dukhan), abridged under a group of scholars by Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; First Edition: September 2000], Volume 8, p. 21; bold and capital emphasis ours)

Ibn Kathir’s comments presuppose that there is a contradiction, i.e. that the passages directly conflict with one another. After all, there would be no need for Muslims to argue that one of the passages had been abrogated if these texts were not contradicting!

Interestingly, Q. 33:52 provides additional attestation that Muhammad couldn't have more than four wives or divorce any of them for others. The text implies that Muhammad had reached the limit of the wives he could have, a number which could not exceed four per Q. 4:3, and that is why he was forbidden from taking additional spouses. In fact, this passage placed an additional restriction on Muhammad: Muhammad couldn't divorce his wives whereas other Muslims could. Thus, according to the Quran Muhammad would have to marry no more than four wives whom he could never divorce!

To summarize the inconsistencies,

So much for the Quran’s claim of being a fully detailed and clear book, one that is free from discrepancies!


(1) It is not at all clear whether the statement, "a believing woman if she offers herself to the Prophet, and the Prophet wishes to marry her (in arada al-nabiyyu an yastankihaha)," actually means that Muhammad could marry any woman without paying her a dowry. The text may actually be suggesting that Allah permitted Muhammad to have intercourse with any woman who gave herself to him without having to marry her! This is due to the word yastankihaha which the renowned commentary al-Qurtubi defined as:

"Yas-tan-kih" comes from the word "Yan’kah." For it is said in different forms "Nakaha" and "Istan-kaha" just as it is said "Ajab" and "Ista-jab"… It is permissible to use the word, "Istan-kaha," to mean one whom requests marriage or one who requests sexual intercourse. (Al-Qurtubi on Q. 33:50, translated from the Arabic by brother Dimitrius; Arabic source; bold and italic emphasis ours)

The following Muslim source candidly acknowledges that the word literally means to have sexual intercourse:

a. Nikah linguistically means (to unite and to bring together). The REAL LITERAL meaning of Nikah is ‘to have sexual intercourse’; and the METAPHORICAL meaning of Nikah is ‘the bond of marriage’. (English Translation of Sunan Ibn Majah - Compiled by Imam Muhammad Bin Yazeed Ibn Majah Al-Qazwini, From Hadith No. 1783 to 2718, Ahadith edited and referenced by Hafiz Abu Tahir Zubair 'Ali Za'i, translated by Nasiruddin al-Khattab (Canada), final review by Abu Khaliyl (USA) [Darussalam Publications and Distributors, First Edition: June 2007], Volume 3, Chapter 9. Chapters On Marriage, p. 57; capital emphasis ours)

Interestingly, one Muslim "apologist" admits that it is possible that the word here means sex:

Surah 33:50

O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom God has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her (yastankihaha);- this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess;- in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Over here it seems most LIKELY to mean sexual intercourse, however it could mean both. (Bassam Zawadi, The Meaning Of The Word "Nikah" In The Quran; source; capital emphasis ours)

Thus, if the word does refer to mere intercourse, as opposed to marriage, then the meaning would be that Muhammad could sleep with a woman who gave herself to him without having to first marry her! This would be similar to Allah permitting men to have sex with their slave girls without being required to marry them, even if these slave women happened to have husbands at the time (cf. Q. 4:3, 24)!

For more on the meaning of the word Nikah, from which yastankihaha originates, we recommend the following article:

The Incoherence of the Qur'an
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