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The Birth of Mohammed (Iran, about 1315 AD, now in Edinburgh)

Medieval Islamic families: The Birth of Mohammed (Iran, about 1315 AD, now in Edinburgh)

Did men have four wives?

According to the QuranMuslim men could have as many as four wives if they were rich enough to take care of them all. But most men in the Islamic world still had only one wife.

Roman families
People in the Sassanian empire
Medieval Islamic people
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In fact, most people in the Islamic empire lived the way people had in the Roman Empire and the Sassanian Empire before them. They lived in families with a dad and a mom and a bunch of kids. Sometimes the dad’s mother and his unmarried brothers and sisters (the kids’ aunts and uncles) lived with them.

An inner courtyard of the Alhambra

An inner courtyard of the Alhambra

Were there gay people then?

Yes, there have always been gay people. In those days, the government didn’t let men marry men, or women to marry women, as they can today. But there were many non-traditional families anyway. There were households where the dad had left, or the mom had died, or where unmarried brothers or friends lived together. And not everyone lived in a family: Lalla Arifa, for example, left her family to live in a Sufi monastery for women. People could get divorced pretty easily, much easier than in Christian Europe.

Slavery and the family

Slave market in Yemen (1300s AD)

Slave market in Yemen (1300s AD)

As in earlier times, other people also lived in the house and counted as part of the family. These were mostly enslaved people or employees. People in the Islamic Empire, like the Sassanians and the Romans before them, still didn’t see much of a difference between their families and their businesses. Some enslaved people got to have their own families; others never got to get married or have children.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about medieval Islamic families? Let us know in the comments!

Learn by doing: Who do we count as family today?
More about women in Medieval Islam

Bibliography and further reading about the Islamic family:

More about Islamic people
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