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The Muslim spiritual leader Muhammad had a Christian wife who bore him a child

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Updated: 2008/03/23 PM 10:18:00   Comment

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Maria the Copt

Maria al-Qibtiyya (Arabic: مارية القبطية) (alternatively, "Maria Qupthiya"), or Maria the Copt, (died 637) was a Coptic Christian slave who was sent as a gift from Muqawqis, a Byzantine official, to the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 628.[1] According to some Islamic accounts, she was Muhammad's wife, and therefore a "Mother of the Believers" (Arabic: Umm-al-Momineen), other sources like Ibnul Qayyim talk about her being only a concubine. She was the mother of Muhammad's son Ibrahim, who died in infancy. Her sister, Sirin, was also sent to Muhammad; Muhammad gave her to be married to his follower Hassan ibn Thabit.[2] Maria never remarried after Muhammad's death in 632, and died five years later. Her birthdate is unknown, though she was probably young when she was presented. No primary source mentions her age.

Maria's arrival from Egypt

In the Islamic year 6 AH (627 – 628 CE), Muhammad is said to have written letters to the great rulers of the Middle East, proclaiming the new faith and warning the rulers to submit. What purport to be texts of some of the letters are found in Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari's History of the Prophets and Kings, which was written some 250 years after the events it chronicled.[3] 

Tabari recounts the story of Maria's arrival from Egypt:

In this year Hātib b. Abi Balta'ah came back from al-Muqawqis bringing Māriyah and her sister Sīrīn, his female mule Duldul, his donkey Ya'fūr, and sets of garments. With the two women al-Muqawqis had sent a eununch, and the latter stayed with them. Hātib had invited them to become Muslims before he arrived with them, and Māriyah and her sister did so. The Messenger of God lodged them with Umm Sulaym bt. Milhān. Māriyah was beautiful. The Prophet sent her sister Sīrīn to Hassān b. Thābit and she bore him 'Abd al-Rahmān b. Hassān.

Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings.[2]

Maria in Muhammad's household

Many Muslim sources say that Muhammad later freed and married Maria, but it is not clear if this is historical fact or historical apology. To further complicate matters, slaves were to be automatically freed upon conversion to Islam, so it is not clear why Maria would have to be explicitly freed if she had already converted.

The fact that Maria was not housed with Muhammad's other wives argues that she was a concubine. Muhammad lived in a mud-brick dwelling next to the Medina mosque, and each of his wives had her own mud-brick room, built in a line next to his. Maria, however, was lodged in a house on the edge of Medina. Maria is also not listed as a wife in some of the earliest sources, such as Ibn Hisham's notes on Ibn Ishaq's Sira.[4] Muslim sources are unanimous in saying that she was accorded the same honor and respect given Muhammad's wives, pointing out that she was given the same title as Muhammad's wives – "Mother of the Believers."

Maria bore Muhammad a son, Ibrahim ibn Muhammad. Only one other of Muhammad's wives, the deceased Khadijah, had borne him children. Ibrahim died in infancy, but as long as he lived. Muhammad's attentions to Maria certainly caused dissension among his other wives. What is not so clear is whether or not the sixty-sixth chapter of the Qur'an, surahAt-Tahrim, was revealed on account of Maria. The sura reads, in part:

O Prophet, why do you make prohibited that which God has made lawful for you just to please your wives? God is forgiving and merciful. God has given absolution from such oaths. He is your master. He is all-knowing and wise. The Prophet made a story secret to one of his wives and she repeated it, but God revealed it to him. If he divorces you, perhaps his Lord will give him instead better wives than yourselves.

Qur'an, 66:1–5

Some Western writers, such as Gilchrist and Rodinson, feel that the "story of the honey" is an expurgated version of the story of Maria.[5][6]

Wife or Concubine? [8]

Ibn Kathir wrote: Maria al-Qibtiyya (may Allah be pleased with her) is said to have married the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and certainly everyone gave her the same title of respect as the Prophet's wives, 'Umm al Muminin' 'Mother of the Believers'. Maria was born in upper Egypt of a Coptic father and Greek mother and moved to the court of the Muqawqis when she was still very young. She arrived in Medina to join the Prophet's household just after the Prophet returned from the treaty with Quraish which was contracted at al-Hudaybiyya.[7]
 
On the same subject Maulana Maududi says about the Prophet:
 
The former three he set free and took them into wedlock while he lived with Hazrat Mariya on account of possessing her by the right hand.  It has not been established (historically) that he set her free and took her into wedlock" (Tafhim-ul-Quran, vol. iv under verse 33:50, pp. 113-114).

"It is reported from 'Abdullah al-Zubairi who said: that after this the Noble Prophet married (tazawwaju)  Mariah daughter of Sham'un.  This is the same Mariyah who was sent by Maqauqis, the ruler of Alexandria to the Prophet as a gift" (Sahih al-Mustadarak Hakim Vol. iv, as quoted in Namus, p. 86).

It must be borne in mind that in Maulana Maududi's view the word azwaj (wives) according to the common usage in the Arabic language and in the Qur'anic terminology is only used for women who have been properly married (Tafhim-ul-Qur'an, Vol. iii, under verses 23: 5-7).   In the above report a derivative of zwj  (tazawwaju - he married) has been used.

The Qur'an also forbade the "wives" (azwaj) of the Prophet to marry again after this death (33:53) because they were considered to be the mothers of the believers (33:6).  Mary the Coptic never married after the death of the Prophet.

The Prophet once remarked: " A person who has a slave-girl  and trains her in the best manner and gives her the best education, then sets her free and marries her, he will have a double reward (in the next life) Mishkat-ul-Masabih Kitab-ul-Iman Ch.1; Bukhari 3:31; as quoted in Namus, p. 31). How could the Prophet himself go against his own preachings - supposing for a moment that Mary the Coptic was sent to him as a slave girl?

Sources:

  1. Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, p. 653.
  2. Tabari, p. 131.
  3. Tabari, p. 98.
  4.  Ibn Ishaq, pp. 691 – 798
  5.  Gilchrist, Muhammad and the Religion of Islam.
  6.  Rodinson, Maxime, Muhammad.
  7. islam.wikia.com/wiki/Maria_al-Qibtiyya
  8. http://answering-islam.org.uk/Shamoun/mary_concubine.htm

References

Maria al-Qibtiyya. (2008, February 5). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:23, February 9, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Maria_al-Qibtiyya&oldid=189354543



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