The Prophet’s Wives – The Sad Story of Princess Asma of the Banu Kindah
by Sr Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood.
(Material adapted from her ‘Life of the Prophet Muhammad )
In the Year of the Deputations (9-10 AH), the Banu Kindah, or al-Jawn, were amongst the many influential tribes that sent a deputation to meet the Prophet (pbuh). They had played a decisive role in Arab history before the coming of Islam, a south Arabian tribal group that had spread all over Arabia, especially Najran, Hadhramaut and eastern Yemen, and had their capitals at Alfaw in the south and Anbar on the Euphrates in the north. Their subtribes included the Banu Ghatafan, Kinanah, Bakr and Asad.
Their deputation included an escort of eighty horsemen accompanying four of the greatest of the Kindah chiefs – Amr b. Madikarib (or Scarface, also known as Abu Thawr), his nephew Ashath b. Qays b. Madikarib (‘the Dishevelled One’, son of Scarface), Numan b. Aswad (Abu Jawn), and Wa’il b. Hujr a prince of the Hadhramawt.
These were very proud chiefs, (some said they had overweening pride) used to being treated with enormous respect and deference. They made a very dramatic appearance, wearing elegant striped robes bordered with silk, and with their eyes and faces painted, as was their custom. Their elaborate facial makeup may have given them an effeminate look, but they were very tough warriors.
When the Prophet (pbuh) made a comment on their finery, they promptly tore up their robes and apologized for them. This act, however, was in some ways a gesture of pride rather than humility – that they should not be thought of as reluctant to sacrifice their fine garments.
Ashath and Wa’il had both been claiming rights to a certain valley, and when they asked the Prophet (pbuh) for a ruling he gave his decision in favour of Wa’il.
Ashath’s uncle Amr b. Madikarib was a famous warrior who boasted that he had never known fear. He had recently suffered the loss of his father, who had been killed by a Khathami tribesman. The Prophet (pbuh) told him that if he accepted Islam, Allah would protect him from the greatest terror.
‘What is the greatest terror?’ he asked.
‘It is not as you think,’ replied the Prophet (pbuh). ‘There will be one great cry, and there will not be a living person who does not die, except as Allah wishes. Then will come another great cry, and the dead will assemble in ranks. The skies will split open and the earth be crushed. The mountains will be cut asunder, and the fire will hurl mountains like sparks. No-one who has a soul will remain except his heart be stripped bare while he remembers his sins and is occupied with his soul, except as Allah wills. Then, O Amr, where will you be?’
Numan b. Aswad (Abu Jawn) had a daughter Asma, no longer a virgin girl, but a rich heiress amongst the al-Kindah. She had been married to her cousin, but was now the ‘most beautiful among the Arab widows’. She was a pious lady, with many who sought her hand, but she had heard much about the Prophet (pbuh), and the fact that he had taken several ladies who were widows into his household. She told her father that if it was possible, she would be delighted if a marriage alliance could be arranged with him for herself. Numan approached the Prophet (pbuh) on her behalf.
Numan also had a daughter Umaymah who lived in a fortress in the gardens of Shawt, close to Madinah.
In view of Asma’s high rank and position, and the important link this would make between the Muslim ruler and the Banu Kindah, Numan had every hope that the Prophet (pbuh) would agree to the proposal. However, to his surprise, the Prophet (pbuh) put him to the test by agreeing to accept the princess Asma, but only if she was willing to accept the extremely paltry (in their eyes) mahr (dowry) of a mere 400 dirhams. Numan was somewhat offended, and concerned at what his people might think of that. He urged the Prophet (pbuh) not to show contempt for her with this very modest gift.
However, when he was assured that this was the usual sum Prophet (pbuh) paid for his wives or gave for his daughters’ dowries, Numan accepted on her behalf.
Amr ibn Madikarib and the others swore their oaths of allegiance to the Prophet (pbuh) and accepted Islam, but their arrogant pride was hard to shift – when Sheikh Abu Sufyan’s son Mu’awiyyah (a high-ranking Arab himself) volunteered to accompany them on their return journey, Wa’il churlishly refused to let him to share his camel by riding up behind him, but obliged him to walk. Soon after, Mu’awiyyah’s sandals broke, and he found his feet being burned by the scorching sand. He asked Wa’il to lend him a replacement pair of sandals, but the wealthy chief refused, deigning instead to let him walk in the shadow of his camel!
‘What good will that do?’ cried Mu’awiyyah. ‘Won’t you let me ride up behind you?’
‘Be silent!’ Wa’il said. ‘You are not such as to ride behind kings!’ (Neither knew that in years to come Wa’il would bow before Mu’awiyyah, who was destined to become Caliph of all Islam).
Shortly after this Ibn Madikarib captured Ubayy al-Khathami, the man who had killed his father. He had the right to kill him in reprisal, and would have done so without hesitation – but he discovered that Ubayy had also now accepted Islam. Instead of slaying him, he brought him before the Prophet (pbuh) for judgement. He expected the Prophet (pbuh) to have him executed, but to his surprise, the Prophet (pbuh) allowed the man to be released on the grounds that he had committed the killing before he became a Muslim.
‘Islam leaves unavenged any acts committed in the jahiliyyah,’ he said.
This did not please Ibn Madikarib. He was so aggrieved that washed his hands of the faith he had just accepted, and turned his back on it in disgust.
Numan, however, remained within the fold. In June/July 630/Rabi al-Awwal 9, the Prophet’s (pbuh) companion Usayd was entrusted with the task of escorting his daughter, the princess Asma, safely to Madinah, and set off with Numan to fetch her.
When they arrived, they found Asma fully prepared, sitting awaiting them graciously in her tent. They gave greeting, and she gave them permission to come in, but Usayd politely refused to enter. He explained that the Prophet’s (pbuh) wives were not be seen by other men, and since she was now to be considered one of their number, her father might go in, but he would remain outside. Asma asked for the correct procedure to be explained to her, so Usayd told her she would be expected to keep a veil between herself and any men she spoke to, except those who were her relatives. She agreed to this condition, a veil was put up between them, and she was then able to receive him.
Usayd stayed with her family for three days while she made ready and took leave of her family. She was accompanied on her journey away from her home and tribe by her milk-mother, her nanny who had breast-fed her when she was a baby and had cared for her ever since. Usayd escorted them both by camel and lodged them with her sister Umaymah in the fortress in the gardens of Shawt, while he went to inform the Prophet (pbuh) of her arrival.
Numan’s other female relatives and contacts in the vicinity naturally went to visit her, and came out talking of her outstanding beauty. It did not take long for this information to reach the Prophet’s (pbuh) wives, who were somewhat disturbed that the Prophet (pbuh) was seeking a marriage with this ‘foreign’ Arab princess. Most of his wives were relatives or widows of relatives or friends he had known for years, of the Banu Quraysh. This lady was of very high rank, and came from outside the Banu Quraysh.
Aishah and Hafsah went to visit her, Hafsah offering to decorate her with henna, and Aishah to prepare her hair and give her advice. When Aishah saw how beautiful she really was she became seriously worried, and anxious that she would soon gain precedence with the Prophet (pbuh), so she decided to trick her.
‘You are of royal blood,’ she said. ‘If you wish to gain favour with the Prophet (pbuh), he will admire and desire you all the more if you show shyness and reticence.’ She also told her she could ‘seek refuge with Allah’ from him,’ but Asma may not have realized that this was the method others had utilised in order to be freed of their contracts.
Usayd soon escorted the Prophet (pbuh) to the walls of the garden. He remained outside while the Prophet (pbuh) went into the house. Asma was waiting, chaperoned by her milk-mother. The Prophet (pbuh) knelt to kiss her, and asked her if she would give herself in marriage to him as a gift.
‘Can a princess give herself in marriage to a common man?’ she protested, words which did not express modesty, but pride.
He stretched out his hand to her.
‘I seek refuge with Allah from you,’ she cried as rehearsed. He instantly covered his face from her with his sleeve, so that she was placed as it were behind a veil, and he no longer saw her. This indicated that she was not lawful to him, not his wife after all.
‘Have you sought refuge from me with the Refuge?’ he asked, and she nodded. He repeated this three times for her to be quite certain this was her intention, then he stood up and went out. He was so disturbed by what had happened that people could see it in his face.
Usayd was ordered to give her suitable gifts and escort her back safely to her family. (The same narrative was also given for the marriage to the Prophet (pbuh) of her sister (or cousin) Umaymah bint Numan b. Sharahil. I am not certain if this lady was the sister aforementioned, taking Numan’s father Aswad as being ibn Sharahil and Aswad’s name simply being omitted from his genealogical line, or if Sharahiul also had a son called Numan as well as Aswad, and Umaymah was his daughter).
Determined to keep an alliance between the Prophet (pbuh) and the Banu Kindah, the chief Ashath b. Qays promptly offered him an alternative, his own sister Qutaylah. The Prophet (pbuh) accepted the proposal and agreed to marry Qutaylah, all the more pleased because he had ruled against Ashath in the property dispute between him and Wa’il, and wished to be reconciled to him.
Meanwhile, Numan was astonished and angered by the behaviour of his daughter Asma. What had come over her? She had rejected a blessing, and made them a laughing-stock among the Arab tribes. Desperately she explained that although it was true she had refused the Prophet (pbuh), she had been tricked into doing it.
She begged Usayd to advise her as to what she should do next, but all he could suggest was that if she kept herself screened from all but relatives, and did not marry anyone else, perhaps the Prophet (pbuh) would approach her again.
The Prophet (pbuh) was duly informed of the explanation of why she had reacted towards him as she did.
‘My wives are like the ‘brothers of Yusuf (Joseph pbuh),’ he grated. ‘Their deviousness is immense!’
Nevertheless, he never did ask for Asma again. It was said that the unfortunate princess was devastated. She clung to the status of being ‘married’ to the Prophet (pbuh), and never gave herself to any other man, but kept Usayd’s advice and remained veiled from all except her relatives. (Tabari 39 p.190). She was said to have died of grief in the caliphate of Uthman.
Ashath’s sister Qutaylah was to be escorted from the Yemen in due course. But this marriage was never consummated either, for the Prophet (pbuh) died before she arrived from the Yemen, while she was actually on the way, and Ashath took her back home.
Both Ashath and Qutaylah then left Islam. Qutaylah married Qays b. Makshuh al-Muradi. (Ibn Umar, however, recorded that Qutaylah subsequently married Ikrimah b. Abu Jahl during the Riddah Wars in the caliphate of Abu Bakr. Abu Bakr objected, as she had been a bride of the Prophet (pbuh), but Umar argued that as she had never actually been a wife, and had not been screened or recognised as one of the Mothers of the Faithful, so she should be allowed to marry).
Ashath also contracted a marriage for himself, to Abu Bakr’s sister Umm Farwah. She was not obliged to pack up in a hurry and leave with Ashath, however, but was allowed to remain with Abu Bakr for the time being, Ashath promising to collect her the next time he came to Madinah.
Muhammad b. Umar al-Waqidi related that princess Asma did marry again, firstly to Ikrimah b. Abu Jahl in the caliphate of Abu Bakr (but this was also said of Ashath’s sister Qutaylah – but he may have married them both?).
Ibn Abbas reported that Asma married Umm Salamah’s brother Muhajir b. Abu Umayyah during the caliphate of Umar. It was said that Umar was angry that she should have sought to do this, but she protested that the partition had not been ordered for her and she was not a Mother of the Believers, so she was allowed the marriage.
Ashath b. Qays was one of those who rebelled against Abu Bakr in his caliphate. He was defeated in January 633/Dhu’l Qidah 11 AH, and was sent to Madinah in chains. He then re-converted, and went on to become a prominent Muslim warrior, resulting in his ex-wife Umm Farwah, Abu Bakr’s sister, being restored to him. They had several children – Muhammad, Ishaq, Isma’il, Hubabah and Quraybah, and Umm Farwah was stepmother to Ashath’s daughter Judah.
Ashath fought with distinction in Syria, Iraq and Persia, and in the caliphate of Uthman was made Governor of Azerbaijan.
His daughter Judah became a wife of the Prophet’s (pbuh) grandson Hasan, (the second Shi’ite Imam). However, she was later believed to be responsible for Hasan’s death. Shi’ite tradition suggested that Mu’awiyyah gave her a huge bribe and offered her his son Yazid in marriage if she would poison Hasan; she did so, but did not marry Yazid (Kitab al-Irshad p.287, Ibn Qutayba p.212; Mas’udi, Muruj 3.5). Instead, she married Abdullah b. Abbas, and had the children Muhammad and Quraybah.
 Ashath was his nickname – it meant ‘dishevelled’ and referred to his hair. Qays’ nickname was al-Ashajj – ‘scarface’. He was a remarkable and talented man, but he could not be trusted. His family was a ‘record-breaker’ in that it produced four breakers of pacts in an unbroken line – Ashath, his father, his son and his grandson.
 The rulers of Kindah and Hamdan (‘kings’ or muluk), and the princes of Himyar (aqyal, pl. of qayl) may have been a separate caste. They usually had a title beginning with Dhu or Lord.
 Asma bint Numan b. Aswad (Abu Jawn) b. Sharahil b. Jawn b. Hujr b. Mu’awiyyah al-Kindi. Abdullah b. Jafar named her as Umayyah bint Numan.
 Umm Habibah’s dowry (paid by the Negus) was far higher – 5,000 dirhams. Ibn Kathir 3.195.
 Ibn Sa’d 1.410-412, Ibn Kathir 4.108. Wa’il went to see Mu’awiyyah when he had become Caliph, and reminded him of the conversation. Wa’il commented: ‘I wish I had borne him in front of myself!’ Mu’awiyyah offered Wa’il a gift, but he refused and asked him to give it to someone more needy than himself.
 The jahiliyyah was the time of unbelief before the advent of Islam.
 Ibn Ishaq commented that he stayed with his people while Farwah b. Musayk ruled them, but when the Prophet (pbuh) died he rebelled against Islam. Ibn Ishaq p.641.
 Tabari 39 p.189, ‘Women of Madina’ from Ibn Sa’d vol 8 pp101-102.
 Bukhari 7.182. See also 541. Ibn Kathir 4.422
 The brothers of Yusuf (Joseph pbuh) were a byword for plots and devious schemes.
 Ibn Sa’d 8.105-6, Ibn Kathir 4.424. (For details see Appendix One).
 ‘Women of Madina’ p.105 from Ibn Sa’d vol 8.
source : ruqaiyyah.karoo.net