Why Do We Question Desires of the Prophets?

I was young, but deeply moved, when I first read about Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh. I remember thinking how beautiful it was that the Prophet (pbuh) was able to put Allah before anything else, even in his inclination to marry Zaynab bint Jahsh.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned the authenticity of the account was disputed amongst Muslim scholars. In it, the Prophet felt a personal inclination to marry Zaynab after Zaid ibn Haritha divorced her.

The scholars explained that because the marriage of the Prophet to Zaynab was a command from Allah, it is incorrect to assert that the Prophet had any feelings for Zaynab whatsoever prior to marriage. Some scholars even state that this version of the story was fabricated by non-Muslim Orientalists. They wished to destroy the honor and integrity of the Prophet by attributing to him any physical attraction to Zaynab.

‘It is blasphemous to accuse the Prophet of desiring Zaynab!’ they said. ‘He was just worried about what people would think if he married the divorced wife of his adopted son. Because that was against Arab custom.’

Yes, undoubtedly, the Prophet’s marriage to Zaynab was a command from Allah. This command was meant to clarify that adopted sons should not be viewed as blood sons. So a man could marry an adopted son’s former wife. Naturally, due to Arab custom regarding adopted sons at the time, the Prophet was concerned about how people would react.

Is Desire Unbecoming of Prophets?

But, I remember being utterly confused. I couldn’t fathom why it would be considered blasphemy to believe that the Prophet was attracted to Zaynab. Especially after Zaid divorced her. And why was obeying the command of Allah mutually exclusive to natural human attraction?

It appeared to me that the underlying issue was the alleged blasphemy in believing that prophets experienced physical desire prior to marriage. This baffled me.

Allah says to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him:

“Not lawful to you, [O Muhammad], are [any additional] women after [this],nor [is it] for you to exchange them for [other] wives even if their beauty were to please you…”

Qur’an 33:52

Furthermore, regarding the famous story of Prophet Yusuf and the plot of the women, Allah says:

“He said, ‘My Lord, prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me. And if You do not avert from me their plan, I might incline toward them and [thus] be of the ignorant.’”

Qur’an 12:33

If desire itself is unbecoming of prophets, why did Allah mention to the Prophet that the prohibition on marrying more wives remains “even if their beauty were to please you”? And what was the severe struggle that Prophet Yusuf is referring to that inspired him to desire prison lest he ‘fall victim to it’? And that he feared he ‘might incline toward’?

By removing even the possibility of natural human desire from prophets’ existence, we have inadvertently lowered their status. And we raise ours to a level higher than theirs! After all, it is well known that the one who must overcome difficulty is of a much higher status than the one who doesn’t experience it in the first place.

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