Aspects of the Islamic Faith - 116: Habeebah bint Sahla, Applicant For Divorce

Islamic Perspectives - Muslim Journals

Arab News & Information - By Adil Salahi

Habbebah bint Sahl was an Ansari woman who embraced Islam in its early days in Madinah. The Prophet (peace be upon him) had not yet immigrated to Madinah when she and many other men and women declared their belief in him. Many members of her family were also among the early Muslims. When the Prophet arrived in Madinah, Habeebah and her sister Rughaynah were among the women who met the Prophet and pledged their loyalty to him as Muslim women. One report mentioned by Ibn Saad on the authority of Yahya ibn Saeed claims that the Prophet wanted to marry her, but he felt that jealousy was a strong feeling among the Ansar. Therefore, he decided not do so. The jealousy he meant was the rivalry between the different tribes and clans of the Ansar. The report mentions that the Prophet "disliked to disappoint them with regard to their women." This suggests that if he were to marry a woman who belonged to a certain tribe, the other tribe of the Ansar would feel disappointed.

In the event, Habeebah married Thabit ibn Qays, one of the more learned figures among the Prophet's companions. However, her marriage was not a happy one. It appears that there was a strong feeling of incompatibility between them. This need not be due to any ill treatment or to serious failings on the part of either party. It may be simply that the chemistry between them is not right. When Habeebah felt that her marriage would never work, she went to the Prophet with her complaint. She put it in a very delicate way, recognizing that her husband was a good man. She said: "Messenger of God, I do not take anything against Thabit with regard to his manners or strength of faith. However, I hate to be an ungrateful person when I am a Muslim."

We have some reports which suggest that Thabit was far from handsome. When she saw him among other people, he was distinguished by his lack of attractiveness. So, she must have had a feeling of lack of fulfilment.

Here was a case which required a solution within Islamic teachings. Hence, her complaint to the Prophet. The Prophet put the matter to her husband, telling him that she wanted to be released. Thabit told him that he had given her a handsome dowry, an orchard. The Prophet asked her whether she was willing to give the orchard back. She agreed. The Prophet arranged that Thabit take back the orchard and the marriage was dissolved. This was the first case of khul‘ in Islam, which is the termination of marriage at the wife's request for no particular reason other than her desire to end the marriage. It provided guidance for the implementation of the relevant provisions in Islamic law.

Such termination of marriage at the wife's request was unheard of in Arabia before Islam. Indeed, in many Arabian tribes, women were treated like inanimate objects. They were not even consulted about their marriages. It was up to the man to keep his wife or to divorce her, but she had no recourse available to her if her marriage is unhappy.

Habeebah used to visit the Prophet's wives where she learned some Hadiths. On one occasion, the Prophet came in when she was with his wife, Aishah. After he had sat down, he said: "If a Muslim couple lose three of their children before they attain puberty, the children are brought on the Day of Judgment up to the gate of heaven when they are told to enter. They refuse unless their parents are admitted with them. They will be told to enter with their parents." Delighted with what she heard, Aishah said to her: "Have you heard that?" She said: "Indeed, I have."


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