Hafsa Scandal (& Mary)

In the name of Allāh,
the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Peace and Blessings of Allāh on Mohammad.
Allāh–the Glorious and the High,
Lord of the worlds
Mohammad–who brought the world
to our feet and eternity to our arms

                          HAFSA SCANDAL
Regarding Hafsa and Mary the Coptic, wives of the Prophet Mohammad, Ibn Warraq writes in his book Why I am Not a Muslim (pp.99-100): “Another sexual scandal threatened to disturb the domestic bliss of the Prophet’s harem. To prevent jealousy among his wives, Muhammad used to divide his time equally among them, spending one night with each of them in turn. On a day when it was his wife Hafsa’s turn, she was out visiting her father. Returning unexpectedly, she surprised Muhammad in her bed with Mary the Coptic maid, his legal concubine. Hafsa was furious and reproached him bitterly; what is more, she threatened to expose him to others in the harem. Muhammad begged her to keep quiet and promised to stay clear of the hated Mary. Hafsa was unable to keep the news to herself and told Aisha, who also hated Mary. The scandal spread throughout the harem, and soon Muhammad found himself ostracized by his own wives. As in the Zaynab affair, a divine revelation interposed to sort out his domestic problems.… Harmony returned again to the harem. The sura concerned is 66:15).”
   It is absurd, in the least, to label the Prophet’s relations with Mary as an “affair” when Allāh expressly forbids fornication and adultery. Mary was a wife of the Prophet, not a concubine. What is a “legal concubine”? There is no such allowance in Islam: any carnal relations outside of marriage is forbidden.

   The verses of the Qur’an which relates to this alleged “sexual scandal” are 66:1-5:

“O Prophet, why dost thou forbid (thyself) that which Allah has made lawful for thee? Seekest thou to please thy wives?” (1)

     “Allah indeed has sanctioned for you the expiation of your oaths” (2)

     “And when the Prophet confided an information to one of his wives –but when she informed (others) of it, and Allah informed him of it, he made known part of it and passed over part.” (3)

   “If you both (‘Aisha and Hafsa) turn to Allah… and if you back up one another against him, then surely Allah is his Patron” (4)

   “Maybe, his Lord, if he divorce you will give him in your place wives better than you, submissive, faithful, obedient, penitent, adorers, fasters, widows, and virgins” (5)

   Mary was not a “concubine.” She was a wife of Mohammad. It is hardly credible that Mohammad would have intimate relations with Mary out of wedlock –which would be adultery. Islam (as well as the Torah) forbids this and the penalty for this is a hundred lashes, (and Mary, a Christian, would have been subjected to stoning to death). As Muhammad Ali says, “It is a fact that the Prophet never kept a slave”–(Comm. # 2517).

   If Mary was Mohammad’s “legal concubine” why then should Hafsa make such a stink if Mohammad was with Mary when Hafsa was not home (even if it was Hafsa’s turn to be with him)? How could this relation be of such bitterness to Hafsa for her to tell ‘Aisha, and for Mohammad to be “ostracized” for it? How could ‘Aisha “expose” Mohammad if he was with his “legal concubine”? Further, Mary, as a wife of the Prophet, is ranked equally with the other wives of the Prophet. Why then should the Prophet’s intimate relations with her be viewed with an evil eye?

   66:3 above speaks of “an information” the Prophet had given to one of his wives. Hafsa surprising Mohammad in bed with Mary could not be “an information” the Prophet gave to one of his wives. 66:4 speaks of the wives ‘backing up one another;’ Hafsa surprising Mohammad and Mary could not be something that the wives were ‘backing up one another’ in. How could ‘Aisha back up Hafsa in a matter when she (‘Aisha) was not present at the time of the Prophet and Mary were in bed? ‘Aisha would have been found to be a liar. What is it then that the wives were ‘backing up one another’ in against the Prophet?

   The verses quoted above (66:1-5) has nothing to do with Mary the Coptic. Verses one and three are dealing with two separate matters as careful reading of these verses and as the reports of the Tradition show. Verse one recounts the Prophet’s taking oath to keep away from his wives on account of their demands for material wants, which is in reference to Qur’an 33:28 which says: “O Prophet say to thy wives, if you desire this world’s life and its adornments…” This verse clearly is in answer to the demands of the wives of the Prophet for worldly glamour. And “The Holy Prophet,” as Malik Ghulam Farid points out “had severely taken to heart his wives’ demand for amenities of life, and in order to show his extreme displeasure had sworn to keep away from them for one month”–(comm. # 3072).

   Regarding the revelation of this verse (66:1) in which the Prophet took an oath to separate from his wives, Bokhari notes a long narration in which ‘Umar says that ‘Aisha and Hafsa were the ones who backed up one another against the Prophet. And that his wife told him that his daughter, Hafsa, argues with the Prophet till he becomes displeased. Whereupon ‘Umar went to Hafsa who admitted, “we argue with him.” To which her father advised her “Don’t be betrayed by the one who is proud of her beauty because of the love of Allah’s Apostle (peace be on him) for her (i.e. ‘Aisha).” Soon afterwards the Prophet separated himself temporarily from all his wives. (Bokhari, Vol. 6, # 435).

   Verse 3 (of ch. 66) which says, “And when the Prophet con-fided an information to one of his wives –but when she informed (others) of it, and Allah informed him of it, he made known part of it and passed over part,” recounts the intrigue of ‘Aisha and Hafsa to tell the Prophet, who used to drink honey at the house of Zainab, his wife, that he smelled of maghafir, “a kind of bad-smelling resin.” To which the Prophet promised “I shall never take it (honey) again. I have taken an oath as to that, and you should not tell anybody about it”–(Bokhari Vol. 6, # 434).    

(It is to be noted, whereas this plot to tell the Prophet that he smelled of maghafir was hatched by ‘Aisha and Hafsa, the Prophet confided only to ‘Aisha about this “oath” not to take honey anymore, the words “you should not tell anybody about it” confirms this. However, it is obvious that ‘Aisha passed on this information of the success of their scheme to Hafsa. And this is what is referred to in verse 3 (of ch. 66) which says: “And when the Prophet confided an information to one of his wives –but when she informed [others] of it”).  

   In summary, 66:1 and 66:3 recounts, respectively, the Prophet taking oath to separate himself from his wives on account of their demand for worldly comforts, and the intrigue of ‘Aisha and Hafsa in the maghafir affair. Being wives of the Prophet these women were to live simple and modest lives so as to serve as a model for the community. Verses 4 and 5 offer them the high road of repentance, or replacement. As Muhammad Ali says:

“The story therefore that Hafsah’s discovery of the Prophet having conjugal relations with her (Mary) upset the Prophet to such a degree that he swore not to have anything more to do with her is a pure invention, and the known facts not only nullify the calumny, but brand it as another of those fables invented by Christian writers who seek to vilify Islam”–(Qur’anic comm; 2517).

   It is doubtful that a man who was himself publicly sunk in sexual degradation could lead others to sexual purity. It is not presumptuous to say that the three most notable passions of men are power, wealth, and glamorous women; (and in the case of women, comfort and pleasure). The wives of the Prophet are here told–(66:4) that if they consider themselves as women of sophistication and above a life of simplicity and strictures, which as wives of the Prophet they are to observe, then Allah will replace them with wives who are devout from both categories of women –matrons and virgins. As the Qur’an is a guidance for Muslims to be modest and moderate, Allah has related this verse to be a red flag to Muslims of all times, who may be tempted to put desire before duty.  

   Regarding this Qur’anic revelation (66:1-5), Ibn Warraq quotes Muir as saying: “there is surely no grotesque utterance than this in the “Sacred Books of the East”; and yet it has been gravely read all these ages, and is still read, by the Moslem, both in pub-lic and private, as part of the eternal Coran.”” (Wonder to which “Sacred Books of the East” Muir is comparing the Qur’an).  

   Seems that the mention of the word “virgins” in verse 5–that Allāh would replace the wives of the Prophet with virgins also–is the reason for Muir’s statement. “Virgin” is a natural state of birth, and represents purity: the state created by Allāh, God. There is no impiety is using this word. Only the vulgar would view this word with disdain.  

As noted above the Qur’an is a guidance for Muslims to be modest and moderate. The Qur’an which requires its followers to be conservative in wear, modest in deportment, and purity of speech and carnality could not be a Book of “grotesque utter-ance.”

(Regarding the Qur’an 33:50-51, where the Prophet is allowed multiple wives, ‘Aisha, as already noted, may have remarked to the Prophet that “your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires” (which some may want to interpret to mean that ‘Aisha was doubtful of the Prophet’s truthfulness, when in fact it could merely have been an observation on her part)–(Bokhari Vol. 6, # 311). But ‘Aisha also eloquently said about the Prophet that “Whoever tell you that he concealed (some of Allah’s orders), is a liar”–Bokhari Vol. 6. # 378.  Notably, Allah ’hastened’ to the aid of ‘Aisha also, when she was slandered–Qur’an 24:11-20; Bokhari Vol. 6 #274).

   The punishment to the Prophet’s wives for committing sin is double. This is so because, as wives of the Leader, they were better guided, and are to be role models for the Muslim women.