Maria al-Qibtiyya

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Māriyya bint Shamʿūn (Arabic: ماریة بنت شمعون), better known as Māriyyah al-Qibṭiyyah or al-Qubṭiyya (Arabic: مارية القبطية), or Mary the Copt, died 637, was an Egyptian woman who, along with her sister Sirin, was sent to the Islamic prophet Muhammad in 628 as a gift by Al-Muqawqis, a Christian governor of Alexandria, during the territory's Persian occupation. She and her sister were slaves.[1][2] She spent the rest of her life in Medina where she converted to Islam and married Muhammad with whom she had a son, Ibrahim. The son would die as an infant and then she died almost five years later.[3]

Al-Maqrizi says that she was a native of p-Manhabin (Coptic: ⲡⲙⲁⲛϩⲁⲃⲓⲛ, Arabic: الخفن, romanizedal-Khafn), a village located near Antinoöpolis.[4]


In the Islamic year 6 AH (627 – 628 CE), Muhammad is said to have had letters written to the great rulers of the Middle East, proclaiming the continuation of the monotheistic faith with its final messages and inviting the rulers to join. The purported texts of some of the letters are found in Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari's History of the Prophets and Kings. Tabari writes that a deputation was sent to an Egyptian governor named as al-Muqawqis. Maria was a slave who was offered as a gift of goodwill to Muhammad in reply to his envoys inviting the governor of Alexandria to Islam.[1][2] Muhammad manumitted her after the birth of her son.

Tabari recounts the story of Maria's arrival from Egypt:

In this year Hātib b. Abi Balta'ah came back from al-Muqawqis bringing Māriyah and her sister Sīrīn, his female mule Duldul, his donkey Ya'fūr, and sets of garments. With the two women al-Muqawqis had sent a eunuch, and the latter stayed with them. Hātib had invited them to become Muslims before he arrived with them, and Māriyah and her sister did so. The Messenger of God, peace and blessings of Allah be upon Him, lodged them with Umm Sulaym bt. Milhān. Māriyah was beautiful. The prophet sent her sister Sīrīn to Hassān b. Thābit and she bore him 'Abd al-Rahmān b. Hassān.[5]

The death of Ibrahim caused Muhammad to weep.[6]

Status as a wife or concubine[edit]

Like Rayhana bint Zayd, there is some debate between historians and scholars as to whether Maria ever became Muhammad's wife or remained a concubine.[7][8][9][10] An indication that she was a concubine is that when she bore her son to Muhammad, she was set free.[11]

Ibn ‘Abbas said: When Maria gave birth to Ibrahim the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, ‘Her son has set her free.’[12]

There is also strong evidence that there was no living quarter for her in the proximity of the Prophet's Mosque.[13] Only the wives of Muhammad had their quarters adjacent to one another in the proximity of his mosque at Medina. Maria was made to reside permanently in an orchard, some three kilometers from the mosque.[13] Evidence that suggests she was a concubine is in the narration:

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.”[14]

The ‘female-slave’ referred to in this narration was Maria, the Copt, as specified in a hadith attributed to Umar and classified as sahih by Ibn Kathir, which names her Umm Ibrahim (the mother of Ibrahim).[15]

In a report from Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Urwah b. al-Zubair concerning the same incident, Muhammad said to Hafsa:

I make you witness that I my concubine (surriyyati) is now forbidden unto me.[16]

Some Islamic scholars point to a different Asbāb al-nuzūl (circumstance of revelation) for the above incident, saying it was only caused by Muhammad drinking honey, as narrated in Sahih al-Bukhari by Muhammed's wife Aisha:[17][18][19]

The Prophet (ﷺ) used to stay (for a period) in the house of Zaynab bint Jahsh (one of the wives of the Prophet ) and he used to drink honey in her house. Hafsa bint Umar and I decided that when the Prophet (ﷺ) entered upon either of us, she would say, "I smell in you the bad smell of Maghafir (a bad smelling raisin). Have you eaten Maghafir?" When he entered upon one of us, she said that to him. He replied (to her), "No, but I have drunk honey in the house of Zaynab bint Jahsh, and I will never drink it again."

However, another narration in Sunan Abu Dawud indicates that drinking honey is a euphemism for sexual intercourse:

The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) was asked about a man who divorced his wife three times, and she married another who entered upon her, but divorced her before having intercourse with her, whether she was lawful for the former husband. She said: The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: She is not lawful for the first (husband) until she tastes the honey of the other husband and he tastes her honey.[20]

Al-Tabari lists Maria as both one of Muhammad's wives and his slave, perhaps using "wife" in the sense of one whom Muhammad slept with and who mothered his child.[21]

Mariyah the Copt was presented to the Messenger of God, given to him by al-Muqawqis, the ruler of Alexandria, and she gave birth to the Messenger of God’s son Ibrahim. These were the Messenger of God's wifes.

The Prophet admired Umm Ibrahim ["Mother of Ibrahim," Mariyah’s title], who was fair-skinned and beautiful. He lodged her in al-‘Aliyah, at the property nowadays called of Umm Ibrahim. He used to visit her there and ordered her to veil herself, [but] he had intercourse with her by virtue of her being his property...[22]

One hadith attributed to Mus‘ab b. ‘Abdullah al-Zubairi states that the two were married,[23] though another rendering of the hadith by Mus‘ab's nephew Zubair b. al-Bakkar makes no mention of marriage.[24]

Due to the lack of clarity and authenticity of traditional reports, it is difficult for one to find out which report is historically authentic. From an academic point of view, to know whether Maria was Muhammad's concubine or wife may not be possible because many western scholars have questioned the historical reliability of traditional reports on various grounds.[25][26] (see: Criticism of hadith)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b al-Tabari, Abu Jafar. The History of al-Tabari, Volume 9: The Last Years of the Prophet. Translated by Ismail K. Poonawala. SUNY Press. p. 141.
  2. ^ a b Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, p. 499.
  3. ^ Ibn Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, p. 653.
  4. ^ Al-Maqrīzī. Book of Exhortations and Useful Lessons in Dealing with Topography and Historical Remains. Translated by Stowasser, Karl. Hans A. Stowasser. pp. 330–331.
  5. ^ Tabari, p. 131.
  6. ^ "Sahih Bukhari". Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  7. ^ Bennett, Clinton, ed. (1998). In Search of Muhammad. A&C Black. p. 251. ISBN 9780304704019.
  8. ^ Fred James Hill; Nicholas Awde (2003). A History of the Islamic World. Hippocrene Books. p. 24. ISBN 9780781810159.
  9. ^ David S. Powers (2011). Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 8. ISBN 9780812205572.
  10. ^ Akbar, Waqar (2018-08-10). "Maria, the Copt: Prophet Muhammad's Wife or Concubine?". ICRAA. Retrieved 2019-12-02.
  11. ^ Schacht, J.; al-Andalusi, Ibn Hazm; Haqqi, Mamduh (1957-12-31). "Haccat al-wada'". Oriens. 10 (2): 400. doi:10.2307/1579716. ISSN 0078-6527. JSTOR 1579716.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ a b Juzjani, Uthman ibn Siraj al Din (2010-12-31). Lees, W. Nassau (ed.). Tabaqat-I Nasiri. doi:10.31826/9781463229207. ISBN 9781463229207.
  14. ^ "Sunan an-Nasa'i 3959 - The Book of the Kind Treatment of Women - كتاب عشرة النساء - - Sayings and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)". Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  15. ^ al-Maqdisi, Dia Uddin (2000). al-Ahadith al-Mukhtara. Vol. 1. Dar al-Kidr. p. 299-300. The Prophet said to Hafsa: 'Do not 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)
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ al-Buchari: Sahih al Buchari. In: Book 86. Volume 9, Nr. 102.
  18. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari 6691 In-book reference: Book 83, Hadith 68, Vol. 8, Book 78, Hadith 682.
  19. ^ George Sale - Muhammed, The Quran, vol. 4 [1896]. This passage have been occasioned by Muhammad's protesting never to eat honey any more, because, having once eaten some in the apartment of Hafsa bint Umar or of Zaynab bint Jahsh, three other of his wives, namely, Aisha, Sawda bint Zamʿa, and Safiyya bint Huyayy, all told him they smelt he had been eating of the juice which distils from certain shrubs in those parts, and resembles honey in taste and consistence, but is of a very strong savour, and which the Prophet had a great aversion to.
  20. ^ "Sunan Abi Dawud 2309 - Divorce (Kitab Al-Talaq) - كتاب الطلاق - - Sayings and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)". Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  21. ^ at-Tabari. History of al-Tabari: The Last Years of the Prophet. p. 137. God granted Rayhanah bt. Zayd of the Banu Qurayzah to his Messenger. Mariyah the Copt was presented to the Messenger of God, given to him by al-Muqawqis, the ruler of Alexandria, and she gave birth to the Messenger of God's son Ibrahim. These were the messenger of god's wifes, six of them were from the Quraysh.
  22. ^ Al-Tabari. History of Tabari - Volume 39 - Biographies of the Prophet's Companions and Their Successors. pp. 193–194.
  23. ^ al-Hakim, Abu; 'Abdullah, al-Mustadrak (1990). hadith nr. 6819. Beirut. Abdullah al-Zubairi related to us and said: Thereafter the Messenger of Allah married Maria bt. Sham'un. She had been gifted to the Messenger of Allah by Maquqas, the chief of Alexandria.
  24. ^ Zubair b. al-Bakkar (1996). al-Muwaffaqiyat'. Vol. 147. ‘Alam al-Kitab. 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
  25. ^ Nigosian, Solomon A. (2004-01-29). Islam: Its History, Teaching, and Practices. Indiana University Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-253-11074-9.
  26. ^ Lewis, Bernard (1950). Arabs in history. pp. 36–7.


Further reading[edit]