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The Prophet's Wives

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The Prophet’s wives (Arabic: أمهات المؤمنين) were those women with whom the Prophet (s) married. There are disagreements among Muslim scholars as to the number of the Prophet’s wives. Some people believe that he had thirteen wives; on another account he had fifteen wives; and there are other views as well. The disagreement goes back to whether the Prophet’s handmaids count as his wives or not. The Prophet’s marriages were along his mission (the propagation of Islam), motivated by the attraction of the support of major Arabian tribes and clans, erasing the wrong ideas of the period of ignorance, reinforcement and encouragement of the social status of vulnerable women, and emancipation of captives.

The Quran refers to the Prophet’s wives as “Ummahat al-muʾminin” (أمهات المؤمنين, mothers of the faithful), being subjected to specific rulings and commands, including the avoidance of flaunting their finery and speaking honorable words. Moreover, Muslims were commanded to talk to the Prophet’s wives from behind a curtain and not marry after the Prophet's demise.

Muslims believe that the Prophet’s wives were chaste. In their view, it is not permissible to insult them. Nevertheless, there have criticisms against Aisha for her practice after the Prophet’s demise, including her role in waging the Battle of Jamal.

Status

The Prophet’s wives were women with whom the Prophet (s) married; that is, those who were called as “mothers of the faithful” in accordance with the Quranic verse “and his wives are their mothers.”[1]

The Forbiddance of Insulting the Prophet’s Wives

All Muslims believe that the Prophet’s wives were chaste. However, some Wahhabis have claimed that the Shias accuse some of the Prophet’s wives of unchastity. While Shia scholars as well as some Sunni scholars criticize the practice of some of the Prophet’s wives in events following the Prophet’s demise, including Aisha’s role in waging the Battle of Jamal and her enmity towards Imam 'Ali (a),[2] they never accused them of unchastity, and indeed, they believe that it is impermissible to insult them.[3] For instance, al-Sayyid al-Murtada, a Shia theologian of the fifth/eleventh century, believes that the unchastity of the Prophet’s wives would not square with the Prophet’s infallibility, since according to the Imamiyya, the prophets are immune from anything that would lead to people’s aversion to them.[4]

Furthermore, Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has issued a fatwa whereby it is forbidden to insult what is deemed sacred by Sunni Muslims, including their symbols and the Prophet’s wives. On this fatwa, it is forbidden to throw accusations against the Prophet’s wives.[5]

Number

امهات المؤمنین.png
Name Date of Marriage
Khadija (27 BH/595)
Sawda (before Hijra/before 622)
Aisha (1,2, or 4/622, 623, or 625)
Hafsa (3/624)
Zaynab (bt. Khuzayma) (3/624)
Umm Salama (4/625)
Zaynab (bt. Jahsh) (5/626)
Juwayriyya (5 or 6/626 or 627)
Umm Habiba (6 or 7/627 or 628)
Mariya (7/628)
Safiyya (7/628)
Maymuna (7/628)

There is a disagreement over the number of the Prophet’s wives: according to Ibn Hisham in his al-Sira al-nabawiyya, the Prophet had thirteen wives:[6] Khadija (a), Sawda, Aisha, Zaynab bt. Khuzayma, Hafsa bt. Umar, Umm Salama, Zaynab bt. Jahsh, Juwayriyya, Umm Habiba, Safiyya, Maymuna, Umra bt. Yazid Kilabiyya, and Asmaʾ bt. Nuʿman al-Kindiyya.[7] When the Prophet (s) passed away, all his wives were alive except Khadija (a) and Zaynab bt. Khuzayma.[8]

According to a hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a), the Prophet (s) had fifteen wives.[9] Moreover, Ali b. al-Husayn al-Mas'udi and Shams al-Din Dhahabi believe that the Prophet’s wives were fifteen.[10] In some hadiths, the number amounts to eighteen.[11] Prophet Muhammad (s) had only one wife for twenty-five years; that is, until Khadija (a) was alive. It was after Khadija’s demise and his migration to Medina that he married other women.[12]

It is said that the disagreement over the number of the Prophet’s wives is because some historians count as the Prophet’s wives his handmaids as well as women who did not actually live with the Prophet (s) for one reason or another.[13] In some sources, Mariya al-Qibtiyya and Rayhana bt. Zayd are mentioned among the Prophet’s wives.[14]

Children

Of the Prophet’s wives, only Khadija (a) and Mariya al-Qibtiyya gave birth to children.[15] Mariya gave birth to Ibrahim.[16] According to the majority view, Khadija (a) gave birth to four daughters: Fatima (a), Zaynab, Umm Kulthum, and Ruqayya, and two sons: ʿAbd Allah and al-Qasim.[17] Some Shia scholars believe that Zaynab, Umm Kulthum, and Ruqayya were not the daughters of Khadija (a) and the Prophet (s). Indeed, they were Khadija’s daughters who were raised in their house.[18]

The Reason behind the Prophet’s Numerous Marriages

Polygamy was common in the Prophet’s time.[19] All the same, it is said that the Prophet (s) had multiple wives as part of his prophetic mission (propagation of Islam).[20] The following are some of the reasons provided for the Prophet’s polygamy:

Seeking the support of great Arabian tribes and clans and reinforcement of his political and social influence through establishing affinities. A case in point is his marriage with Aisha.

Enforcing divine rulings and erasing the wrong beliefs of the period of ignorance (jahiliyya), as in his marriage with Zaynab bt. Jahsh. Zaynab was the ex-wife of Zayd b. Haritha, the Prophet’s adopted son, and according to pre-Islamic traditions, an adopted child was treated just like one’s own child, and hence, when one’s adopted child died or divorced his wife, they would not marry their wives.

  • Reinforcing the social status of vulnerable women, such as widows and captives (most of the Prophet’s wives were widows).
  • Compensating the damages imposed on women after their conversion to Islam, as in the marriage with Umm Habiba.
  • Exhibiting the greatness and power of Islam and Muslims, as in the marriage with Safiyya.
  • Protecting women from threats to their lives, as in the marriage with Sawda.

However, some authors believe that the Prophet (s) married all these women just out of his desires. In reply, Allama Tabataba'i points out that the Prophet’s practice proves otherwise. Indeed, the Prophet (s) lived only with Khadija (a) for twenty years (about one-third of his life), and it was only toward the end of his life that he married with other women.[22] Moreover, if the Prophet’s marriages were out of desire, then he would marry young women, instead of widows and old women.[23]

An image of al-Baqi', the number four, shows the tomb of the wives of the Prophet (s)

Moreover, according to Allama Tabataba'i, the Prophet’s treatment of women is evidence that he never saw women as means for the satisfaction of men’s lust. Instead, he tried to save women from humility and slavery.[24] Kashif al-Ghita' is quoted as saying that the Prophet (s) tried to display a prime example of restraint, persistence, and observance of equality and justice through his polygamy.[25]

Quranic Commands to the Prophet’s Wives

There are Quranic verses revealed about the Prophet’s wives, in which certain commands are directed at them:

  • The rewards and punishments of the Prophet’s wives are doubled

According to the Quranic verse, “O wives of the Prophet! Whoever of you commits a gross indecency, her punishment shall be doubled, and that is easy for Allah. But whoever of you is obedient to Allah and His Apostle and acts righteously, We shall give her a twofold reward, and We will have in store for her a noble provision”[26]. Thus, if the Prophet’s wives acted righteously, their rewards would be doubled, and if they committed an indecent act, their punishments would be doubled,[27] because they serve as role-models for other women on account of their relation with the Prophet.[28] Furthermore, Quranic exegetes appeal to the Quranic verse, “O wives of the Prophet! You are not like other women: if you are wary [of Allah]” [29] to show that their obligation is more taxing than other people, since it is not rational for obligations to be the same, while rewards are different.[30]

  • Lead a frugal, simple life if you want the Prophet and the Hereafter

According to the Quranic verse, “O Prophet! Say to your wives, ‘If you desire the life of the world and its glitter, come, I will provide for you and release you in a graceful manner. But if you desire Allah and His Apostle and the abode of the Hereafter, then Allah has indeed prepared a great reward for the virtuous among you’”[31]. Accordingly, if the Prophet’s wives wanted the Prophet (s) and the Hereafter, then they had to adopt a simple way of life; and if they wanted life in this world, then the Prophet had to divorce them and pay their mahrs.[32] As suggested in Tafsir-i nimuna, the verse was revealed when some of the Prophet’s wives express complaints about their life conditions. When they saw the booties acquired by Muslims in battles, they asked for a share of those booties. The Prophet (s) refused to meet their demands and withdrew from them for one month until the above verses were revealed.[33]

  • Do not be soft in speech

According to the Quranic verse, “do not be complaisant in your speech, lest he in whose heart is a sickness should aspire”[34], the Prophet’s wives were not allowed to soften their voice, lest that might have aroused lustful men.[35]

  • Speak honorable words

According to the Quranic verse, “speak honorable words”[36], the Prophet’s wives had the obligation to speak in ways that were satisfactory to God and the Prophet (s)—in right and just manners.[37]

  • Stay in your houses and do no display your adornments

The Quranic verse, “Stay in your houses and do not flaunt your finery like the former [days of pagan] ignorance”[38], asks the Prophet’s wives to stay in their houses and not display their bodies or adornments to others, as was customary in the period of ignorance.[39] According to Quranic exegetes, this is a general ruling, extending to all Muslim women. It was addressed to the Prophet’s wives because the ruling is more emphatic in their case.[40]

  • Maintain the prayer and pay the zakat

According to the verse, “Maintain the prayer and pay the zakat, and obey Allah and His Apostle”[41], the Prophet’s wives should say prayers, pay the zakat, and obey God and the Prophet (s). According to Quranic exegetes, these commands are not restricted to the Prophet’s wives, although they are more emphatic in their case.[42] 'Allama Tabataba'i says that, of all rulings, this verse picks out the prayer and the zakat, which is because they constitute the tenets of all worships and transactions, respectively, other commands being included in the obedience of God and the Prophet (s).[43]

  • Seize the opportunity of the Prophet’s company

According to ʿAllama Tabataba'i, the verse “And remember what is recited in your homes of the signs of Allah and wisdom”[44] says that the Prophet’s wives should memorize and remember those Quranic verses that they hear in their houses, and they should not go beyond the path determined by God.[45] Some Quranic exegetes say that the verse says that the Prophet’s wives should be thankful for the blessing that they are in houses where the Quran and hadiths are recited.[46]

Quranic Commands to Muslims in their Treatment of the Prophet’s Wives

The Quran has issued rulings concerning how Muslims should treat the Prophet’s wives:

Speaking from behind a curtain

According to the verse, “When you ask [his] womenfolk for something, do so from behind a curtain. That is more chaste for your hearts and theirs”[47], when Muslim men had to talk the Prophet’s wives, they should do so from behind a curtain. The term “hijab” here is not just the ordinary hijab that Muslim women should wear. It is an additional rulings, specific to the Prophet’s wives:[48] there had to be a curtain between them and men, to prevent faultfinding about them[49] and to protect their honor.[50]

Forbiddance of Marriage with the Prophet’s Wives

According to the Quranic verse, “nor may you ever marry his wives after him”[51], Muslims were not allowed to marry the Prophet’s wife after his demise, since they were the spiritual mothers of the faithful.[52] There are possible accounts of why such marriage was forbidden, including the following:

  • Prevention of any disgrace for the Prophet (s): some people had decided to marry the Prophet’s wives after his death, so as to humiliate him.
  • Prevention of any abuse of power: if marriage with the Prophet’s wives was allowed, some people could gain a social advantage through such marriage, or they could distort Islamic doctrines under the pretext that they had a special access to his ideas.[53]
  • Marriage with the Prophet’s wives was banned because they would be the Prophet’s wives in the Heaven.[54]

The Mahr of the Prophet’s Wives

Main article: Mahr al-Sunna

According to hadiths, the Prophet’s wives had a mahr of 500 dirhams. The mahr determined by the Prophet (s) for his wives, and according to al-Shaykh al-Saduq, for his daughters, is called "mahr al-sunna" (the mahr of the tradition). There is, nevertheless, a hadith quoted by al-Shaykh al-Saduq from Imam al-Baqir (a) to the effect that Umm Habiba’s mahr was 4,000 dirhams. It is said that Imam al-Baqir (a) referred to this mahr as an exception case, which was paid by al-Najashi, the ruler of Abyssinia who served as the Prophet’s representative in asking Umm Habiba for marriage, although the Prophet did not object to that mahr.[55]

The Prophet’s Treatment of His Wives

According to Muhammad Husayn Haykal (d. 1376/1956), an Egyptian author, the Prophet’s special treatment of his wives was unknown to Arabs at the time.[56] There are verses in the Quran to the effect that he deprived himself of certain permissible things in order to please his wives. For example, the occasion of the revelation of the verse “O Prophet! Why do you disallow [yourself] what Allah has made lawful for you, seeking to please your wives?” [57] was that the Prophet refused to drink a honey syrup prepared for him by Zaynab bt. Jahsh in order to please his other wife Hafsa.[58]

Moreover, the Prophet (s) treated his wives with justice. There are accounts of how he equally divided his possessions among his wives. For instance, Muhammad b. ʿUmar al-Waqidi says that, after the Battle of Khaybar, the Prophet (s) gave eighty cups (wasaq) of palm dates and twenty cups (wasaq) of barley.[59] Furthermore, he equally divided his night stays among them, and when he went on a battle or a journey, he chose one of them to accompany him based on a lottery, although verse 51 of Quran 33 had permitted him to postpone the shares of any of his wives.[60]

Bibliography

There are many books about the Prophet’s wives in Arabic and Persian by Shia and Sunni scholars, including:

  • Al-Muntakhab min kitab azwaj al-nabi salla Allah ʿalayh wa-sallam (Selection from the book the Prophet’s wives, peace be upon him and his household) by Zubayr b. Bakkar (d. 256/869). The book is published in 1403/1982 by Muʾassasat al-Risala in Beirut, as edited by Sakina Shahabi.
  • Zawjat al-nabi (The Prophet’s wives) by Saʿid Ayyub (b. 1984), an Egyptian convert to Shiism.[61]
  • Sabk zindigi rasul khuda ba hamsaranash (The Prophet’s lifestyle towards his wives) by Farzana Hakimzada. The book is written to introduce a model based on the Prophet’s treatment of his wives.[62]
  • Azwaj al-nabi salla Allah ʿalayh wa-sallam (The Prophet’s wives, peace be upon him and his household) by Muhammad b. Yusuf Salihi Dimashqi.
  • Zawjat al-nabi wa-awladuh (The Prophet’s wives and children) by Amir Mahya al-Khayyami (1411/1990).
  • Hamsaran payambar (The Prophet’s wives) by ʿAqiqi Bakhshayishi (1973).

Notes

  1. Quran 33:6.
  2. Ḥusaynī Fīrūz Ābādī, Sabʿat min al-salaf, p. 258-269.
  3. Mīlān Nūrī, Analysing the views of Shiite scholars about the Prophet's wives (persian), p. 56-58.
  4. Sayyid Murtaḍā, Amālī al-Murtaḍā, vol. 1, p.503.
  5. The Islamic world welcomes Ayatollah Khamenei's new Istiftāʾ(persian)
  6. Ibn Hishām, al-Sīra al-nabawīyya, vol. 2, p. 643.
  7. Ibn Hishām, al-Sīra al-nabawīyya, vol. 2, p. 647.
  8. Ibn Hishām, al-Sīra al-nabawīyya, vol. 2, p. 647.
  9. Ṣadūq, al-Khiṣāl, vol. 2, p. 419.
  10. Masʿūdī, Murūj al-dhahab, vol. 3, p. 23; Dhahabī, Tārīkh al-Islām, vol. 1, p. 592.
  11. Ḥākim al-Nayshābūrī, al-Mustadrak ʿala l-ṣaḥīḥayn, vol. 4, p. 4.
  12. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 4, p. 195.
  13. Abū l-Qāsim Zādih, Research on the causes of Multiplicity of the Prophet's wives (persian), p. 84.
  14. Dhahabī, Tārīkh al-Islām, vol. 1, p. 598.
  15. Haykal, Ḥayāt-i Muḥammad(a), p. 205.
  16. Haykal, Ḥayāt-i Muḥammad(a), p. 205.
  17. Miqrīzī, Imtāʿ al-asmāʾ, vol. 5, p. 334.
  18. ʿĀmilī, al-Ṣaḥīḥ min sīrat al-nabīyy al-aʿẓam, vol. 2, p. 212.
  19. Haykal, Ḥayāt-i Muḥammad(a), p. 205.
  20. Abū l-Qāsim Zādih, Research on the causes of Multiplicity of the Prophet's wives (persian), p. 84.
  21. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 4, p. 196-197.
  22. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 4, p. 195.
  23. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 4, p. 195.
  24. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 4, p. 196-197.
  25. Abū l-Qāsim Zādih, Research on the causes of Multiplicity of the Prophet's wives (persian), p. 84.
  26. Quran 33:30-31.
  27. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 16, p. 307.
  28. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 288.
  29. Quran 33:32
  30. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 16, p. 308.
  31. Quran 33:28-29
  32. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 16, p. 307.
  33. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 278-279.
  34. Quran 33:32
  35. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 289.
  36. Quran 33:32
  37. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 289.
  38. Quran 33:33
  39. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 290.
  40. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 290; Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 16, p. 308.
  41. Quran 33:33
  42. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 291.
  43. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 16, p. 309.
  44. Quran 33:34
  45. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 16, p. 313.
  46. Mughnīya, Tafsīr al-Kāshif, vol. 6, p. 217.
  47. Quran 33:53.
  48. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 401.
  49. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 403.
  50. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 398.
  51. Quran 33:53
  52. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 204.
  53. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 17, p. 404.
  54. Qurṭubī, al-Jāmiʿ li-aḥkām al-Qurʾān, vol. 14, p. 229.
  55. Masʿūdī, Research on Mahr al-Sunnah (persian), p. 113.
  56. Haykal, Ḥayāt-i Muḥammad(a), p. 279.
  57. Quran 66:1.
  58. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 24, p. 271-274.
  59. Wāqidī, al-Maghāzī, vol. 2, p. 693.
  60. ʿĀbidīnī, The method of Prophet dealing with his wives (persian), p. 172.
  61. Convert's: Saʿīd Ayyūb (persian).
  62. The way that Prophet(a) treated his wives is a model for modern mankin (persian)

References

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  • Haykal, Muḥammad Ḥusayn.Ḥayāt-i Muḥammad(a). Cairo: Dār al-Kutub, [n.d].
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  • Istiqbāl-i Jahān-i Islām Az Istiftā-yi Jadīd Āyat allāh Khamenei.(The Islamic world welcomes Ayatollah Khamenei's new Istiftāʾ(persian)). Accessed: 2022/05/19.
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  • Masʿūdī, ʿAbd al-Hādī. Pazhūhishī Darbāra-yi mahr al-sunna (mahr- Muḥammadī).(Research on Mahr al-Sunnah (persian)). In Taḥkīm Khaniwāda Az Nighāh-i Qurān wa Ḥadīth. Accessed: 2022/05/19.
  • Mīlān Nūrī, Muḥammad Jaʿfar. Barrasī-i dīdghāh-i ʿUlamāy-i shiʿa dar murid-i hamsarān-i payāmbar(a).(Analysing the views of Shiite scholars about the Prophet's wives (persian)). Sirāj-i munīr 35 (Autumn 1398 sh). Accessed: 2022/05/19.
  • Mughnīya, Muḥammad Jawād al-. Tafsīr al-Kāshif, Qom: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmiyya, 1424 AH.
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  • Naḥwa-yi barkhurd-i payāmbar bā hamsarānash ulghū barāy-i bashar-i dawra-yi muʿāsir ast. (The way that Prophet(a) treated his wives is a model for modern mankin (persian)). Accessed: 2022/05/19.
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