Maria, The Copt: Prophet Muhammad’s Wife Or Concubine?



Waqar Akbar Cheema


Maria, the Copt, sent to Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) by the Patriarch of Alexandria spent the rest of her life in Madina where she embraced Islam and lived with the Prophet () eventually bearing him a son. Though generally well-known in the Islamic tradition as a concubine of the Prophet (ﷺ) and not a wife, she has in a recently pressed view been raised to the status of a wife of the Prophet (ﷺ) by certain modern-day scholars.  Here we analyze the arguments of this relatively new opinion and analyze their comparative strength against the positive arguments of the traditional position on the issue.

1. Introduction

Among the issues related to the private life of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) the status of Maria the Copt, has been a subject of discussion in recent times. When the Prophet (ﷺ) sent his envoy to the Patriarch of Alexandria soon after the Truce of Hudaibiya in Dhu al-Qa‘da 6/March 628 he besides lending an ear, treated the envoy with honor and sent him back with gifts for the Prophet (ﷺ). Among the gifts was a young Coptic girl Maria whom the Prophet (ﷺ) chose for himself and established conjugal relations with. She eventually bore him a son – Ibrahim – who, however, died only eighteen months later.

That Maria was only the Prophet Muhammad’s concubine [1] (i.e. slave-girl) and not a wife of the Prophet (ﷺ) is generally established in the Muslim tradition. In recent times, however, some Muslims have claimed that she was the wife of the Prophet (ﷺ). In a bid to prove their stance they refer to narrations and facts that were generally considered irrelevant to Maria’s status or were altogether ignored for their frivolity vis-à-vis the reasons for which she has been recognized only as a concubine.

In this paper an attempt is made to make an exhaustive study of the issue. It is imperative for Muslims to stick to the things thoroughly grounded in the broader Islamic tradition and do so with education conviction about the strength of the proofs for the opinions that have thus reached us after passing through the crucible of centuries of scholarship and analysis.

2. Evidence that Maria was a concubine

First up, we see the positive proof for the widely held position that Maria the Copt was a concubine.

2.1 Reports clearly mentioning her as a concubine

The most direct evidence is in the narrations such as;

عن أنس، «أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم كانت له أمة يطؤها فلم تزل به عائشة وحفصة حتى حرمها على نفسه»، فأنزل الله عز وجل: {يا أيها النبي لم تحرم ما أحل الله لك} [التحريم: 1] إلى آخر الآية

Anas said:  The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) had a female-slave (amat) with whom he had intercourse, but ‘Aishah and Hafsah would not leave him alone until he said that she was forbidden for him. Then Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, revealed: “O Prophet! Why do you forbid (for yourself) that which Allah has allowed to you.’ until the end of the Verse.”[2]

The ‘female-slave’ referred to in this narration was Maria, the Copt. In fact, a narration of ‘Umar b. al-Khattab referring to the same episode mentions her as ‘Umm Ibrahim’ (the mother of Ibrahim):

عن عمر قال قال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم لحفصة لا تحدثي أحدا وإن أم إبراهيم علي حرام فقالت أتحرم ما أحل الله لك قال فوالله لا أقربها قال فلم يقربها نفسها حتى أخبرت عائشة فأنزل الله عز وجل قد فرض الله لكم تحلة أيمانكم

Narrated ‘Umar [b. al-Khattab]: The Prophet (ﷺ) said to Hafsa: ‘Do not to mention it to anyone, the mother of Ibrahim (i.e. Maria) is forbidden unto me.’ She said, ‘Do you forbid yourself what Allah has made lawful to you?’ He replied, ‘By Allah I will not be intimate with her.’ ‘Umar said, ‘He did not have intimacy with Maria whereas Hafsa mentioned it to ‘Aisha upon which Allah revealed, ‘Allah has already sanctioned (a way) for you (believers) to absolve yourselves from your oaths’’ (Qur’an 66:2)[3]

In a report from Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Urwah b. al-Zubair in the same context the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said to Hafsa:

أشهدك أن سريتي علي حرام

I make you witness that I my concubine (surriyyati) is now forbidden unto me.[4]

2.2 Birth of her son won her freedom

Another fact proving, she was basically a concubine is that her bearing of a son to the Prophet (ﷺ) was mentioned as a reason for her freedom. Had she been a wife it would have been out of place.

Ibn Hazm (d. 456/1063) through a complete chain of narrators relates that:

عن ابن عباس قال: «لما ولدت مارية إبراهيم قال رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم -: أعتقها ولدها»

Ibn ‘Abbas said: When Maria gave birth to Ibrahim the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, ‘Her son has set her free.’[5]

2.3 No living quarter for her in the proximity of the mosque

The wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) had their quarters adjacent to one another in the proximity of his mosque at Madina. Ibn Sa‘d has recorded the testimony of ‘Abdullah b. Yazid al-Hudhali (d. 149/766) that he counted the number of quarters as nine[6] when they were about to be demolished for expansion of the mosque in the year 88/707 under ‘Umar b. ‘Abdul ‘Aziz as governor of Madina. [7] He said there were nine quarters which corresponded to number of wives the Prophet (ﷺ) had when he passed away, as per the commonly held opinion. The nine wives were, 1) ‘Aisha, 2) Sawda, 3) Hafsa, 4) Umm Salama, 5) Juwairiya, 6) Zainab bt. Jahsh, 7) Umm Habiba, 8) Safiya, and 9) Maimuna. Likewise, ‘Imran b. Abi Anas (d. 117/735) in his description of the houses of the Prophet’s wives mentioned that they were nine in total.[8]

On the contrary Maria was made to reside permanently in an orchard in ‘Aliya locality of Madina – some three kilometers from the mosque of the Prophet (ﷺ). The place was later named ‘Orchard of Umm Ibrahim.’[9]

Mentioning of birth of Prophet’s (ﷺ) son from Maria, Muhammad Hussein Haykal (d. 1376/1956) observes:

Ever since Maquqas had presented her to the Prophet, Maria had the status of a concubine. For this reason, she did not have a living quarter by the mosque as did the wives of the Prophet, ‘the Mothers of Believers.’ Prophet Muhammad had provided Maria with a second-story residence in one of the outskirts of Madinah, which is now referred to as Orchard of Umm Ibrahim. Her house, which was surrounded with vineyards, was where the Prophet used to visit her regularly as a man would visit his concubine. He had chosen her for himself when Maquqas sent her to him along with her sister Sirin who he had given to Hassan ibn Thabit … When Maria gave birth to Ibrahim, the event brought to the Prophet who was approaching his sixties, great joy and filled his heart with happiness and delight. By giving birth to a child, the status of Maria was raised in the eyes of the Prophet; he now looked upon her as he viewed her wives, indeed, as one enjoying a favored position.[10]

This is a strong proof that Maria, although she enjoyed special favor with the Prophet (ﷺ) after bearing him a son, did not formally become a wife of the Prophet (ﷺ) till the very end of his life.

2.4 Not remembered as Prophet’s first wife to die after him

Whereas the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) died in Rabi-I 11/June 632 and Maria died in Muharram 16/February 637 before any of the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) who survived him, she was never remembered as the first among the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) to meet him in the life hereafter. As indirect as it may seem this fact is of critical importance given the Prophet’s (ﷺ) answer to his wives’ question in this regard.

عن عائشة قالت: قال النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – لأزواجه: يتبعني أطولكن يدا. قالت عائشة: فكنا إذا اجتمعنا في بيت إحدانا بعد النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – نمد أيدينا في الجدار نتطاول. فلم نزل نفعل ذلك حتى توفيت زينب بنت جحش وكانت امرأة قصيرة. يرحمها الله. ولم تكن أطولنا. فعرفنا حينئذ أن النبي – صلى الله عليه وسلم – إنما أراد بطول اليد الصدقة. قالت: وكانت زينب امرأة صناع اليد فكانت تدبغ وتخرز وتتصدق في سبيل الله.

Narrated ‘Aisha: The Prophet (ﷺ) said to his wives, “The first to follow me (in passing away) among you would be the one with longest hands.” She said, ‘After the death of the Prophet (ﷺ) whenever we gathered in house of any of us we would put our hands against the wall comparing the length. We kept doing this till Zainab bt. Jahsh passed away. She had a shorter stature and was not the tallest amongst us. May Allah have mercy on her. It was then we understood that in mentioning the length of hands the Prophet (ﷺ) meant charity.’ ‘Aisha added: Zainab was a skilled lady. She did tanning and beading and used it [all] for charities in the way of Allah.”[11]

It is known that Zainab bt. Jahsh died in the year 20/641.[12] Had Maria (d. 16/637) been a wife of the Prophet (ﷺ) other wives would have settled the issue four years before the death of Zainab bt. Jahsh. The above report, therefore, establishes that the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) had no idea of the Prophet (ﷺ) having married Maria.

3. Critique of the arguments that she was a wife of the Prophet

Some Muslims mistakenly suggest the Prophet (ﷺ) had married her based on weak or altogether flawed arguments. Having established the fact of the matter with positive arguments, let us now analyse the arguments brought forward by those who say Maria was one of the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ).

3.1 ‘The Prophet married her’ – Mus‘ab b. ‘Abdullah’s statement

Their first argument is that in a statement of Mus‘ab b. ‘Abdullah al-Zubairi (d. 236/851) with al-Hakim (d. 405/1015) who records:

حدثني أبو بكر محمد بن أحمد بن بالويه، ثنا إبراهيم بن إسحاق الحربي، ثنا مصعب بن عبد الله الزبيري، قال: ” ثم تزوج رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم مارية بنت شمعون وهي التي أهداها إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم المقوقس صاحب الإسكندرية …

Abu Bakr Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Balawayh related to me: Ibrahim b. Ishaq al-Harabi related to us: Mus‘ab b. ‘Abdullah al-Zubairi related to us and said: Thereafter the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) married Maria bt. Sham‘un. She had been gifted to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) by Maquqas, the chief of Alexandria …[13]

Firstly, Mus‘ab was born in the year 156/773 and, therefore, his report is mu‘dal i.e. has at least two missing links. Moreover, while it is so mentioned in Mus‘ab’s report related by al-Hakim through two intermediary narrators, in the rendering of Mus‘ab’s nephew Zubair b. al-Bakkar (d. 256/870) his report makes no mention of marriage. Zubair al-Bakkar gives us the report as:

حدثني عمي، قال: أهدى المقوقس صاحب الإسكندرية إلى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم مارية ابنة شمعون القبطية، وأختها شيرين، وخصيا يدعى مابورا فاتخذ رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم مارية ابنة شمعون لنفسه، فهي أم إبراهيم، ووهب شيرين حسان بن ثابت …

My uncle related to me saying: The chief of Alexandria Maquqas sent as gifts to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), Maria bt. Sham‘un, the Copt, her sister Shirin, and a eunuch named Mabur. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) took Maria bt. Sham‘un for himself. She was the mother of (Prophet’s son) Ibrahim. He gifted Shirin to Hassan b. Thabit …[14]

Likewise, there is no suggestion of Prophet (ﷺ) having married Maria in Zubair b. al-Bakkar’s dedicated work on Prophet’s (ﷺ) wives.[15]

On the contrary, while explaining the context of Surah al-Tahrim Verse 2 several early scholars mentioned the incident of Maria in the house of Hafsa and in doing so they referred to Maria as a concubine/female-slave.[16] We give the names of some along with the words used for Maria in their respective reports;

  • Masruq (d. 63/682-683) – amatihi,[17]
  • Muhammad b. Jubair b. Mut‘am (d. ca. 100/718-719) – jariyatahu,[18]
  • al-Dahhak b. Mazahim (d. ca 100/718-719) – amatihi,[19] fatah,[20]  jariyatahu,[21]
  • Qasim b. Muhammad (d. 106/725) – jariyatahu[22]

All these authorities lived closer to the era of the Prophet (ﷺ) compared to Mus‘ab b. ‘Abdullah and, therefore, their statements have greater significance.

3.2 Meaning of the word ‘jariyah’

As for the claim that the word ‘jariyah’ used for her in certain reports does not necessarily mean a slave-girl and it is used also for any young girl regardless of her social status, while true fails to serve the point for two reasons; (a) it does not positively prove that she was wife of the Prophet (ﷺ) for undisputedly the word is used for a female-slave as well,[23] and (b) once used in the construction ‘jariyatahu’ (i.e. his jariyah) it certainly implies concubine (slave-girl) status.[24] To mention the father-daughter relation more regular word bint is used regardless of age of the daughter.

Further, all ambiguity is removed if we consider other words used to refer to Maria’s concubine status; amat (feminine of ‘abd),[25] fatah,[26] and surriy.[27]

3.3 Maquqas’s word about her status among Copts

Another argument alluded by those who suggest Maria was a wife of the Prophet (ﷺ) is based on the statement of Maquqas in his letter to the Prophet (ﷺ) i.e.

وبعثت إليك بجاريتين لهما مكان في القبط عظيم

 I am sending to you ‘two girls’ who are well regarded among the Copts.[28]

It, however, does not mean they were free girls of high social status rather it only refers to their beauty and charms.[29]

Similarly, there is a report suggesting about her lineage;

عن عائشة، رضي الله عنها قالت: أهدى ملك من بطارقة الروم يقال له: المقوقس جارية قبطية من بنات الملوك تسمى مارية

Narrated ‘Aisha: One of the Roman patriarchs who was known as Maquqas gifted a Coptic (slave-)girl of royal descent whose name was Maria.[30]

Firstly, the report is weak as its chain of narrators includes an altogether unknown person. Secondly, some historians have mentioned that Maria’s mother was of Roman (European) descent (kanat ummuha rumiya) which is why she was notably fair complexioned and had curly hair.[31] This could explain the words regarding Maria’s lineage as they have come down only in ‘Aisha’s report and one could surmise that the suggestion originated in Maria’s own explanation of her lineage referring to the Roman grandeur of the past. After all, royal ladies are not presented as gifts.

Whatever the case, even an authentically related definite suggestion about Maria’s lineage or her social status back in Egypt cannot define her status with the Prophet (ﷺ) in contravention to what is known of the latter vide overwhelming evidence discussed above.

3.4 Maria was made to observe veil

There are some reports that Prophet (ﷺ) instructed Maria to observe veil. ‘Abdullah b. ‘Abdul Rahman b. Abi Sa‘sa‘a’s report says:

فأنزلها رسول الله في العالية في المال الذي يقال له اليوم مشربة أم إبراهيم. وكان رسول الله يختلف إليها هناك وضرب عليها الحجاب. وكان يطأها بملك اليمين. فلما حملت وضعت هناك …

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) lodged her in a property in the ‘Aliya locality of Madina which is now known as Orchard of Umm Ibrahim. The Messenger of Allah used to visit her there. He put veil upon her and used to have intimacy with her on the basis that she was his slave. When she became pregnant, she gave birth there …[32]

It is likewise reported from some other, though unnamed, scholars,[33] and also in a report attributed to Abu Ja‘far Muhammad b. ‘Ali al-Baqir.[34]

The suggestion taken from such reports to imply the wife status of Maria is that the Prophet (ﷺ) had made her to observe veil while it was not a custom to require concubines/female-slaves to do it. The basis of the suggestion is a report about Prophet’s (ﷺ) marriage with Safiyya bt. Hayy wherein Anas related the confusion of some Muslims whether the Prophet (ﷺ) had married her or taken her as concubine;

فقال المسلمون: إحدى أمهات المؤمنين، أو مما ملكت يمينه، فقالوا: إن حجبها فهي من أمهات المؤمنين، وإن لم يحجبها فهي مما ملكت يمينه «فلما ارتحل وطى لها خلفه، ومد الحجاب بينها وبين الناس»

The Muslims asked whether Safiyya would be considered as his wife or as a slave girl. Then they said, “If the Prophet (ﷺ) veils her from the people, then she is the Prophet’s wife but if he does not veil her, then she is a slave girl.” When the Prophet (ﷺ) proceeded, he made a place for her (on the camel) behind him and screened her from people.[35]

Firstly, we note that veil or otherwise implying wife or concubine status was not stated by the Prophet (ﷺ) rather it was conjecture of certain early Muslims. Accordingly, it cannot be taken in absolute terms especially when there are multiple suggestions against it.

It is reported regarding Raihana bt. Sham‘un;

كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم عرض عليها أن يتزوجها، ويضرب عليها الحجاب، فقالت: يا رسول الله، بل تتركني في ملكك، فهو أخف علي وعليك، فتركها

The Messenger of Allah had proposed to marry her and put the veil on her, but she said: ‘Nay, leave me in your power for that will be easier for me and for you.’ So he left her.[36]

Here we see the Prophet (ﷺ) made Raihana to observe veil while proposing her in marriage i.e. he did it without having settled the issue of marriage. Raihana turned down the marriage proposal and chose to remain a concubine, yet she is reported to have observed veil even after the death of the Prophet.[37] This proves the veil-concubine inverse relation is not absolute.

The very reports about Maria being veiled mention that the Prophet (ﷺ) had intimacy with her as a concubine. The narrators – including some noted critical observers – did not see any essential incongruity between the two facts. In fact, with some the report has come with the mention of the two facts in wording suggestive of it being against the norm.[38] This suggests the Prophet’s (ﷺ) concubines were made to conduct in a special way. It can, therefore, safely be concluded that being veiled does not establish the wife status.

3.5 The Prophet (ﷺ) referred to ‘marriage-relation’ with Copts

Yet another argument put forward is the while referring to Egyptians/Copts the Prophet (ﷺ) mentioned of his ‘marriage-relation’ with them. Reports on this account have come to us through three companions 1) Ka‘b b. Malik, 2) Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, 3) ‘Umar b. al-Khattab and a narrator from the subsequent generation i.e. 4) ‘Umar the freed-slave of Ghafra.

3.5.1 Report of Ka‘b b. Malik

The report on the authority of Ka‘b b. Malik has come down to us in the following words;

عن ابن لكعب بن مالك، عن أبيه أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: ” إن دخلتم مصر فاستوصوا بقبط مصر خيرا، فإن لهم ذمة ورحما “

Ka ‘b b. Malik narrated that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: I advise you that when you conquer Egypt treat the Copts well for they have responsibility of blood relation upon you.[39]

No version of report on the authority of Ka‘b b. Malik or his descendants has any mention of marriage-relation (ṣihr). Moreover, it is important to note that whereas this report has been related through Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, at least three important sub-narrator scholars asked him of the meaning of ‘blood-relationship.’

‘Abdul Razzaq’s notes:

قال معمر: قلت للزهري: يعني أم إبراهيم ابن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم؟ قال: «لا، بل أم إسماعيل»

Ma‘mar said: I asked al-Zuhri if it was said with reference to Mother of Prophet’s Son [i.e. Maria]? He said, ‘No, rather it was with reference to Isma‘il’s mother [i.e. Hajira][40]

Al-Zuhri was asked the same by Ibn Ishaq[41] and Laith b. Sa‘d and he replied likewise.[42]

3.5.2 Report of Abu Dharr

Abu Dharr’s report has come to us through two different chains of narrators;

One is on the authority of ‘Abdul Rahman b. Shimasa al-Mahri hearing directly from Abu Dharr;

عن عبد الرحمن بن شماسة المهري، قال: سمعت أبا ذر، يقول: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: «إنكم ستفتحون أرضا يذكر فيها القيراط، فاستوصوا بأهلها خيرا، فإن لهم ذمة ورحما، فإذا رأيتم رجلين يقتتلان في موضع لبنة، فاخرج منها

Narrated Abu Dharr: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “You would soon conquer Egypt and that is a land in which currency is Qirat. When you conquer it, treat its inhabitants well for they have responsibility of blood-tie (upon you). But if you see two men fighting over a space size of a brick, then leave it.”[43]

The other is on the authority of ‘Abdul Rahman b. Shimasa [al-Mahri], on the authority of Abi Basra, on the authority of Abu Dharr.

عن عبد الرحمن بن شماسة، عن أبي بصرة، عن أبي ذر،، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: «إنكم ستفتحون مصر وهي أرض يسمى فيها القيراط، فإذا فتحتموها فأحسنوا إلى أهلها، فإن لهم ذمة ورحما» أو قال «ذمة وصهرا»، فإذا رأيت رجلين يختصمان فيها في موضع لبنة، فاخرج منها»

Narrated Abu Dharr: Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “You would soon conquer Egypt and that is a land in which currency is Qirat. When you conquer it, treat its inhabitants well for they have responsibility of blood-tie (upon you).”  Or he said, “responsibility by the way of relationship of marriage.” But if you see two men fighting over a space size of a brick, then leave it.”[44]

Clearly ‘relationship of marriage’ thing came in when ‘Abdul Rahman b. Shimasa quoted on the authority of Abu Basra as against his own direct report from Abu Dharr. Further, Abu Basra was himself not sure of the actual words of the Prophet (ﷺ). The two factors together make the mention of ‘marriage-relation’ in this hadith dubious.

3.5.3 Report of ‘Umar b. al-Khattab

A similar report is attributed to ‘Umar b. al-Khattab as well. Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam (d. 257/871) relates:

حدثنا سعيد بن ميسرة، عن إسحاق بن الفرات، عن ابن لهيعة، عن الأسود بن مالك الحميرى، عن بحير بن ذاخر المعافرى، عن عمرو بن العاص، عن عمر بن الخطّاب رضى الله عنهما، أن رسول الله صلّى الله عليه وسلم قال: «إن الله عزّ وجلّ سيفتح عليكم بعدى مصر، فاستوصوا بقبطها خيرا؛ فإن لكم منهم صهرا وذمة»

Sa‘id b. Maysara related to us, on the authority of Ishaq b. al-Furat, on the authority of Ibn Lihi‘ah, on the authority of al-Aswad b. Malik al-Hamiri, on the authority of Bahir b. Dhakhir al-Ma‘afiri, on the authority of ‘Amr b. al-‘As, on the authority of ‘Umar b. al-Khattab that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: After my death Allah will make you conquer Egypt, therefore, I advise you to be kind to the Copts, for you have with them marriage-tie and responsibility [in that connection].[45]

This version comes through a much impugned chain of narrators for it involves Sa‘id b. Maysara who has been accused of fabrication and lying.[46]

On the hand, there is information that ‘Umar b. al-Khattab in his official correspondence with the governor of Egypt ‘Amr b. al-‘As advised him to be mindful of the rights of Copts but he made no mention of marriage-relation with them;

عن موسى بن جبير عن شيوخ من أهل المدينة قالوا: كتب عمر بن الخطاب إلى عمرو بن العاص … وأن معك أهل ذمة وعهد وقد أوصى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم بهم وأوصى بالقبط فقال: استوصوا بالقبط خيرا فإن لهم ذمة ورحما ورحمهم أن أم إسماعيل منهم …

Musa b. Jubair narrated on the authority of some of his teachers from Madina who said: ‘Umar b. al-Khattab wrote a letter to ‘Amr b. al-‘As [advising him on different issues] … There are with you people of protection and covenant as well. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) has advised to be mindful of their rights and he has advised about the Copts (specifically as well). He said, ‘I advise you to be good to the Copts for they have the right of blood-tie upon you as the mother of Isma‘il was from amongst them …[47]

As evident it also involves some unknown narrators from Madina. This version, however, seems more probable for it is supported by another report wherein ‘Umar’s addressee ‘Amr b. al-‘As actually had a discourse on this point with the Copts. ‘Amr said to a couple of Coptic priests;

فاسمعا، إن الله عز وجل بعث محمدا ص بالحق وامره به، وامرنا به محمد ص، وأدى إلينا كل الذي أمر به، … وقد أعلمنا أنا مفتتحوكم، وأوصانا بكم حفظا لرحمنا فيكم، وإن لكم إن أجبتمونا بذلك ذمة إلى ذمة ومما عهد إلينا أميرنا: استوصوا بالقبطيين خيرا، [فإن رسول الله ص أوصانا بالقبطين خيرا، لأن لهم رحما وذمة،] فقالوا: قرابة بعيدة لا يصل مثلها إلا الأنبياء، معروفة شريفة، كانت ابنة ملكنا …

Listen. God sent Muhammad with the truth and He ordered him to hold to it. Muhammad transferred to us every command he was given, … Our Prophet informed us that we would conquer your lands and he has determined that we keep you from harm because of our family ties among you. If you accept our proposition, we will give you constant protection. Among the orders we received from our Commander (i.e., in Medina) was the order, “Take the interest of the Copts to heart, for the Messenger of God enjoined their best interests upon us, because they have ties of kinship with us and are therefore entitled to our protection.”‘ “It is truly a distant relationship,” the prelates answered, “one that only prophets can establish. (Hagar) was a well-known and noble woman who was the daughter of our king. …[48]

Here we see even ‘Amr in direct talk to the Copt prelates mentioned only the blood-tie through Hajira/Hagar, the mother of Isma‘il. Had he heard from ‘Umar the saying of the Prophet (ﷺ) regarding the ‘marriage-relation’ due to Maria he would have mentioned that as well.

3.5.4 Report of ‘Umar the freed-slave of Ghafra

Ibn Hisham (d. 213/828) relates:

عن عمر مولى غفرة أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم، قال: الله الله في أهل الذمة، أهل المدرة السوداء السحم الجعاد، فإن لهم نسبا وصهرا. قال عمر مولى غفرة: نسبهم، أن أم إسماعيل النبي- صلى الله عليه وسلم- منهم. وصهرهم، أن رسول الله- صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم- تسرر فيهم.

Narrated ‘Umar the freed-slave of Ghafra that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: Fear Allah concerning the people of covenant especially those from Madrah with dark complexion and curly hair as they have blood-tie and marriage-relation with us. ‘Umar the freed-slave of Ghafra said: they have blood-tie through the mother of Prophet Isma‘il, and marriage-relation because the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) took a woman from them as concubine.[49]

Ranked weak by a few scholars and deemed reliable/acceptable by Ibn Sa‘d and Ahmad b. Hanbal, ‘Umar the feed-slave of Ghafra never listened anything from any companion and is accordingly known for narrating directly from the Prophet.[50]

Of all the reports mentioning ‘marriage-relation’ with Egyptians this one alone can be deemed reliable. And here we see the narrator, ‘Umar – freed-slave of Ghafra – himself explaining the ‘marriage-tie’ through Maria i.e. it was by the way of Prophet (ﷺ) taking a woman from amongst the Copts as concubine. In other words, the ‘marriage-tie’ mentioned in the hadith does not necessarily imply that the relation was established through a formal marriage. One can relate it to the fact that in the Islamic tradition a man’s relation with his concubine is considered akin to marriage in terms of several rights and implications except the formal recognition as such.[51] This renders the very basis of the argument redundant.

4. Conclusion

In view of the positive arguments for the status of Maria, the Copt, with the Prophet (ﷺ) and critique of the arguments of those who seek to break with the tradition it is evident that Maria was indeed a concubine of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and not a wife. May Allah be pleased with her.


References and Notes:

[1] We choose to use the word ‘concubine’ even though it appears archaic in our day. The hyphenated construction ‘slave-girl’ or ‘female-slave’ lately in vogue does not really part with immediate impressions created by the word ‘slave’ no matter the pains one may take to explain the social and legal revolution Islam brought about in the lives of those recognized as such. Nevertheless, the said construction will be used wherever indispensable for rhetoric and clarity.

[2] al-Nasa’i, al-Sunan, (Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers, 2007) Hadith 3959; classified as sahih by Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani in Fath al-Bari, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifa, 1379) Vol.9, 376.

[3] al-Maqdisi, Dia Uddin, al-Ahadith al-Mukhtara, (Beirut: Dar al-Kidr, 2000) Vol.1, 299-300, Hadith 189; quoted and classified as sahih by Ibn Kathir in his tafsir under Qur’an 66:2

[4] Reported by Ibn ‘Abbas: Al-Tabari, Ibn Jarir, Jami‘ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 2000) Vol.23, 477-478; al-Baihaqi, Abu Bakr, al-Sunan al-Kubra, (Beirut: DKI, 2003) Hadith 15075; Ibn al-Jawzi, Abu al-Farj, al-Tahqiq fi Ahadith al-Khilaf, (Beirut: DKI, 1415 AH) Vol.2, 379; It comes through an isnad involving ‘Atiyah al-‘Awfi and his descendants. Though criticized otherwise, the tafsir reports through this isnad are accepted since they are known to have been transmitted in writing. See, al-Turifi, ‘Abdul ‘Aziz, al-Taqrir fi Asanid al-Tafsir, (Riyadh: Dar al-Minhaj, 2011) 67-68

Reported by ‘Urwah b. al-Zubair: Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, (Beirut: DKI, 1990) Vol.8, 151

[5] Al-Andalusi, Ibn Hazm, al-Muhalla bil Athar, (Beirut: Dar al-Fekr, n.d.) Vol.7, 505; Vol.8, 215; Ibn Hazm termed it ‘sahih al-sanad’ and ‘jayyid al-sanad.’ Ibn Hazm has the report with an isnad different from that with Ibn Majah etc. Some scholars have differed with Ibn Hazm and pointed out hidden defects in its isnad – see, al-Fasi, Ibn al-Qattan, Bayan al-Wahm wa Iham fi Kitab al-Ahkam, (Riyadh: Dar al-Tayba, 1997) Vol.2, 84-86 –  it is, however, supported by a statement of ‘Ubaidullah b. Abi Ja‘far al-Kinani that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said to Maria, the mother of Ibrahim, ‘Your son has set you free.’ See, al-Baihaqi, Abu Bakr, al-Sunan al-Kubra, (Beirut: DKI, 2003) Hadith 21788

[6] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.1, 387, Vol.8, 133

[7] al-Tabari, Ibn Jarir, Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Maluk, (Beirut: Dar al-Turath, 1387 AH) Vol.6, 435

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.8, 171

[10] Haykal, Muhammad Hussain, Hayat Muhammad, (Cairo: Dar al-Ma’arif, n.d.) 446-447

[11] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.8, 85-86; al-Tahawi, Abu Ja‘far, Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 1994) Vol.1, 201-202 Hadith 210; classified as ‘sahih on the conditions of Muslim’ by Shu‘aib al-Arna’ut

[12] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.8, 91

[13] al-Hakim, Abu ‘Abdullah, al-Mustadrak, (Beirut: DKI, 1990) No. 6819

[14] Zubair b. al-Bakkar, al-Muwaffaqiyat (Beirut: ‘Alam al-Kitab, 1996) No. 147

[15] Zubair b. al-Bakkar, al-Muntakhab min Kitab Azwaj al-Nabi, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 1403  AH) 55-62; while Zubair did make a mention of Maria, the Copt in his work he made no suggestion that she was also a wife of the Prophet (ﷺ), rather his reports clearly reflect her concubine status.

[16] Background to Qur’an 66:2: Incident of Honey or Maria? It is pertinent to mention that whereas other authentic reports mention the incident of honey as the backdrop of the revelation of Qur’an 66:2 they do not contradict reports mentioning the incident related to Maria as background to the said verse. Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani has recorded a report from now extinct Tafsir of Ibn Mardawayh (d. 410/1019-1020) which gives the two incidents together as the context of Qur’an 66:2 suggesting that the two happened in quick succession. See, Fath al-Bari, Vol.9, 289

[17] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.8, 150, 172

[18] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.8, 150;

[19] Sa‘id b. Mansur, al-Sunan, (India: Dar al-Salafiya, 1982) Hadith 1707

[20] Al-Tabari, Ibn Jarir, Jami‘ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, Vol.23, 478

[21] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.8, 150

[22] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.8, 151

[23] As in the famous saying of the Prophet (ﷺ); “Whoever manumitted his female-slave (jariyatahu) and married her will get a two-fold reward.” See, Al-Sijistani, Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, (Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers, 2007) Hadith 2053. See also Lane, Edward William, Arabic-English Lexicon, (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1968)  Book I, 416

[24] For examples of such usage regarding Maria, see; al-Bazzar, Abu Bakr, al-Musnad, (Madina: Maktaba al-‘Ulum wa al-Hikam, 2005) Vol.13, Hadith 6331; and al-Tabarani, Abu al-Qasim Mu‘jam al-Awsat, (Cairo: Dar al-Haramain, n.d.) Hadith 3627

[25] As in the report of Anas b. Malik with al-Nasa’i quoted above in section 2.1

[26] As in one of the reports from al-Dahhak b. Mazahim referred above

[27] As in the report from Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Urwah b. al-Zubair quoted in section 2.1 above

[28] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.1, 200

[29] al-Zurqani, Sharh ‘ala Mawahib al-Laduniya, (Beirut: DKI, 1996) Vol.5, 32

[30] Ibn Abi ‘Asim, Abu Bakr, al-Ahad wa al-Mathani, (Riyadh: Dar al-Rayah, 1991) Vol.5, 447 Hadith 3124

[31] Al-Maqrizi, Ahmad bin ‘Ali, Imta’ al-Asma’, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiya, 1999) Vol.6, 130

[32] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.8, 171

[33] Zubair b. al-Bakkar, al-Muntakhab min Kitab Azwaj al-Nabi, 58

[34] Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.1, 108; the report, however, is signally weak for the chain of reporters does not include an eye-witness. Moreover, its chain also involves Abu Bakr b. ‘Abdullah b. Abi Sabra and Ishaq b. ‘Abdullah b. Abi Farwa who have both been rejected as narrators. See, Al-Mizzi, Yusuf b. ‘Abdul Rahman, Tahdhib al-Kamal fi Asma’ al-Rijal, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 1980) Vol.2, 446-454 (No. 367) & Vol.33, 102-108 (No. 7240)

[35] Al-Bukhari, Muhammad b. Isma‘il, al-Sahih, Translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan (Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers, 1997) Hadith 5159, 5085, 4213

[36] Ibn Hisham, ‘Abd al-Malik, Sirah al-Nabawiyya, Edited Mustafa Saqa, (Cairo: Mustafa Babi, 1955) Vol.2, 245; translated in Guillaume, Alfred, The Life of Muhammad – Translation of [Ibn] Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) 466; see also, al-Baihaqi, Abu Bakr, Dala’il al-Nubuwwah, (Beirut: DKI, 1405 AH)  Vol.4, 24; al-Asbahani, Abu Nu‘aim, Ma‘rifa al-Sahaba, (Riyadh: Dar al-Watan, 1998) Vol.6, 3248-3249 No. 7492; Al-Jazri, Ibn Athir, Usud Al-Ghāba, (Beirut: Dar Al-Fekr, 1989) Vol.6, 120-121

[37] Al-Tabarani, Abu Al-Qasim, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, (Cairo: Maktaba Ibn Taymiya, 1994) Vol.6, 85 Hadith 5588; Vol.22, 445 Hadith 1087; Ibn Kathir, al-Sirah al-Nabawiyya, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifa, 1976) Vol.4, 579

[38] al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, al-Isabha fi Tamyiz al-Sahaba, (Beirut: DKI, 1415) Vol.8, 311 where he quotes the report of Ibn Sa‘d with the words,

كان يطؤها بملك اليمين، وضرب عليها مع ذلك الحجاب

He used to have intimacy with her on the basis that she was his slave, and yet he ordained veil upon her.

[39] al-Tahawi, Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, Hadith 2364; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, Hadith 4032; Al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Kabir, Vol.19, 61 Hadith 111-113; see also reported as mursal from ‘Abdul Rahman b. ‘Abdullah b. Ka‘b b. Malik in Ibn Hisham, al-Sira al-Nabawiyya, Vol.1, 7;  al-San‘ani, ‘Abdul Razzaq, al-Musannaf, (Al-San’ani, ‘Abdul Razzaq, al-Musannaf, (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1403) Hadith 9996-9998, 19375; Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqat a-Kubra, Vol.8, 172; Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Abu al-Qasim, Futuh Misr wa al-Maghrib, Vol.1, 19-20; al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Maluk, Vol.1, 247; al-Baihaqi, Dala’il al-Nabuwwah, Vol.6, 322

[40] al-San‘ani, ‘Abdul Razzaq, al-Musannaf, Hadith 9996, 19375

[41] Ibn Hisham, al-Sira al-Nabawiyya, Vol.1, 7

[42] Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Futuh Misr wa al-Maghrib, Vol.1, 20

[43] Muslim b. Hajjaj, al-Sahih, (Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers, 2007) Hadith 2543-226/6493; Ibn Shabbah, Abu Zaid, Tarikh al-Madina, (Jeddah: Syed Ahmad Mahmud, 1399 AH) Vol.3, 117; al-Tahawi, Sharh Mushkil al-Athar, Hadith 1256, 2363; al-Isfarayini, Abu ‘Awana, al-Mustakhraj, (Madina: al-Jami‘a al-Islamiya, 2014) Hadith 11087; Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Abu al-Qasim, Futuh Misr wa al-Maghrib, (Cairo: Maktaba al-Thaqafa al-Diniya, 1415 AH) Vol.1, 20; al-Busti, Ibn Hibban, al-Sahih, (Beirut: Al-Resala Publishers, 1988) Hadith 6676; al-Tabarani, Mu‘jam al-Awsat, Hadith 8701; al-Baihaqi, al-Sunan al-Kubra, Hadith 18739; al-Baihaqi, Abu Bakr, Dala’il al-Nabuwwah, (Beirut: DKI, 1988) Vol.6, 321;

[44] Muslim b. Hajjaj, al-Sahih, Hadith 2543-227/6494; Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, (Beirut: Al-Resalah Publishers, 2001) Hadith 21520; al-Isfarayini, Abu ‘Awana, al-Mustakhraj, Hadith 11088;

[45] Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Futuh Misr wa al-Maghrib, Vol.1, 20, 167

[46] Al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Lisan al-Mizan, (Beirut: Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiya, 2002) Vol.4, 78 No. 3490

[47] Al-Hindi, ‘Ali Muttaqi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 1981) Hadith 14304; al-Hindi cites Ibn Sa‘d as the source, however, it is not found in the published edition of Ibn Sa‘d’s work.

[48] al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Maluk, Vol.4, 104 translated in Juynboll, Gautier A.H., The History of al-Tabari Volume XIII- The Conquest of Iraq, Southwestern Persia, and Egypt, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989) 167-168

[49] Ibn Hisham, al-Sira al-Nabawiyya, Vol.1, 6

[50] Al-Mizzi, Tahdhib al-Kamal fi Asma’ al-Rijal, Vol.21, 420-422 No. 4271

[51] Al Mawsu‘ah Al Fiqhiyyah Al Kuwaitiyah, (Kuwait: Dar al-Salasil, 1408 AH) Vol.11, 300

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Waqar Akbar Cheema

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