Dear reader, prefacing this article with clear verses from the Qur’an does n ot in any way mean that I am going to write a full and elaborate exegesis of the following verses, as that is an entirely different field. The aspect of the verses that concerns us here is to understand the marriage of Zaynab to the Prophet (peace be upon him) in an unbiased and clear way. For truly, Allah says the truth and He guides to the correct way.
Allah says: “Allah has not put for any man two hearts inside his body. Neither has he made your wives whom you declare to be like your mothers backs, your real mothers. (Adh-Dhihar is saying of a husband to his wife, ‘You are to me like the back of my mother’ i.e. you are unlawful for me to approach), nor has He made your adopted sons your real sons. That is but your statements with your mouths. But Allah says the truth, and He guides to the (right) way. Call them adopted sons by (the names of) their fathers: that is more just with Allah. But if you know not their fathers (names, call them) your brothers in faith and Mawaaleekum (your freed slaves). And there is no sin on you concerning that in which you made a mistake, except in regard to what your hearts deliberately intend. And Allah is ever oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an 33: 4-5)
Allah also says: “It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and his Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed stayed in a plain error. And (remember) when you said to him (Zayd ibn Haarithah)- the freed slave of the Prophet) on whom Allah has bestowed Grace (by guiding him to Islaam) and you (O Muhammad too) have done favour (by maintaining him), keep your wife to yourself, and fear Allah. But you did hide in yourself (i.e. what Allah has already made known to you and He will give her to you in marriage) that which Allah will make manifest, you did fear the people (i.e., their saying that Muhammad married the divorced wife of his manumitted slave) whereas Allah had a better right that you should fear Him. So when Zayd had accomplished his desire from her (i.e. divorced her), we gave her to you in marriage, so that in future there may be no difficulty to the believers in respect of (the marriage of) the wives of their adopted sons when the latter have no desire to keep them([i.e. they have divorced them). And Allah’s command must be fulfilled. There is no blame on the Prophet in that which has made legal for him. That has been Allah’s way with those who have passed away of (the Prophets of) old. And the command of Allah is a decree determined.” (Qur’an 33: 36-38)
Personalities and events are interwoven with rules and ordainments which are revealed in accordance with mankind needs. Anybody who wishes to write or speak about the Mother of the Faithful, Zaynab Bint Jahsh, should take this into consideration before we proceed.
Zayd Ibn Harithah
The story of Zayd’s life in the house of Khadeejah is well-known and does not need elaborate discussion here. What we are concerned with in this article is the Prophet’s adoption of Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him).
Adoption was a very popular custom during the time of ignorance. Zayd’s father, Haarithah Ibn Shuraheel, came to finally know that his dear son was in Makkah in the house of Muhammad ibn 'Abdullah, the husband of Khadeejah bint Khuwaylid. He quickly rushed towards Makkah with one of his brothers, wanting to take his son back and inturn pay as much ransom as needed to free him from bondage.
From the poems Zayd's father used to repeat in expression of his sorrow regarding Zayd's capture is the following:
“I wept over Zayd for I didn’t know what happened to him,
Is he still alive or he has been seized by death?!
By Allah! I don’t know if I will ever ask him,
"Were you snatched by the even ground or were you snatched by the mountain?"
If only I knew whether you will come back,
For, it is sufficient for me in this world that you return back to me quickly.
Whenever the sun rises it reminds me of him,
And when the rain falls, the memory of him comes to me.
When the wind blows, it again stirs his memory,
How often is my sorrow and fear for him!
I will take the camel over land with great effort
And I shall not relent in roaming about the land (in search of him) until the camel becomes weary and tired,
Or until the death takes over me.
For, every man will die even if he is deluded by hope.”
The above poem shows us how much Haarithah missed and suffered for his son Zayd. Every word, rather every letter of this poem indicates how distressed he was. I take Allah as my witness that each time I read these lines (which are originally in Arabic) I am seized with sadness and I begin to share with Haarithah his feelings...and tears inevitably fall from my eyes.
Haarithah and K'ab entered the house of Muhammed (peace be upon him) and addressed as follows:
"O son of 'Abdul-Muttalib, O son of the leader of his people! You are from the inhabitants of Allah’s Sacred City. You give relief to the sufferer and you feed the captive. We come to you because of our son who is your slave. Grant us a favour and show kindness to us in his ransom.”
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) asked, “Who is this (i.e. who you are asking for)?”
They said, “It is Zayd ibn Haarithah.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Is there anything other than that (i.e do you have any other request)? Call him (Zayd) and let him choose. If he chooses to go with you that is better for you and I will not take any ransom from you. And if he chooses to stay with me, by Allah, I am not going to prefer taking ransom above someone who chooses to stay with me.”
They said, “You have increased us in justice.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) then called Zayd and asked him whether he knew these two men. Zayd said,
“Yes, this is my father and this is my uncle.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) then said, “I am as you know me and you have witnessed my companionship with you. So choose between them and me.”
“I am not going to prefer anyone to you. You are to me like a father and an uncle.”
Zayd’s father and uncle then said, “Are you going to prefer slavery to freedom and are you going to prefer others over your family?”
“Yes, I have seen in this man something which will not make me prefer anyone over him.”
Zayd son of Muhammad!
When the Messenger of Allah saw Zayd's response he took Zayd out to a place near the black stone and said, “I take all of you as witnesses that Zayd is my son. He can inherit me and I can inherit him.” When Zayd’s father and uncle saw this, they became happy and returned.
Let us ponder alittle over Haaritha and his brother’s statement, “You have increased us in justice.”
Fairness is justice. History testifies that Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave both of them more than fairness when he gave Zayd the freedom of choice in whether he preferred to go with his father or stay with him and also in that he refused to take any ransom for freeing him.
In truth, Muhammad (peace be upon him) had shown Zayd the highest level of justice and fairness when he took a group of Qurayshites as witnesses in the precincts of the sacred mosque that he had adopted Zayd as a son and the fact that he then abided by the implications of this adoption in all matters relating to a father and his son is not a small matter, especially in those times. Although, noble people who possessed qualities of justice keenly abided by it and were proud of it, not only in the case of adoption but in many other matters as well. But when the dawn of Islaam appeared and its illuminating light beamed through the minds and hearts of the rightly guided, eliminating the darkness of the age of ignorance, the concept of fairness then became defined by the just divine law.
With the revelation of the aforementioned verses upon the heart of the Noble Messenger (peace be upon him), the system of adoption as a custom and tradition was abrogated. In truth it was only an emotional feeling free of fundamentals.
Zayd then returned to the originality of his lineage and reverted from Zayd ibn Muhammed to Zayd ibn Haarithah. Ater this the most important link, the link of religion and faith remained between the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him).
Zayd's Marriage to Zaynab
The Prophet then chose Zaynab bint Jahsh al-Asadiyyah as a wife for his freed slave Zayd ibn Haarithah.
Zaynab was a Qurayshi girl, beautiful and of noble lineage. A great number of young Qurayshi men wanted to marry her but she rejected all of them out of pride of her origin and high lineage. This was because she was from the highest branch of the clan of Banoo Asad. Her mother was Umaymah, the daughter of 'Abdul-Muttalib, the chief of Quraysh. She therefore only wanted to marry a noble man of social and family prestige. This was the complexity in her life, a remnant from the days of ignorance which lingered in her heart.
When the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) informed her of his intention she became objected angrily. She informed her brother ‘Abdullah of what had happened. 'Abdullah them came to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) in order to present his sister's view, even though the family of Banoo Jahsh had all embraced Islaam and faith had penetrated into their hearts, this was somthing difficult to swallow.
‘Abdullah asked the Prophet (peace be upon him),
“Are you pleased that Zaynab should marry Zayd?”
The Messenger of Allah said, “Yes.”
‘Abdullah then said,
“We are pleased with what pleases you O Messenger of Allah and we shall not disobey your command.”
Zaynab was also satisfied... albeit reluctantly.
She acceded in response to the command of Allah: “It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed in a plain error.” (30:36)
Thus did the marriage of Zaynab to Zayd take place and a dark chapter in the journey of history was closed and a new and bright page was opened. This new page spoke the truth as the saying of Allah Almighty: “O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa (i.e. the Muttaqoon). Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” (49:13)
And the inspired words of the Prophet (peace be upon him), “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab or for a non-Arab over an Arab except in piety.”
The boat of life was to take them through a fathomless sea...
Zayd was one of the favourites of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) and the dearest of all people to him. He was always in the Prophet's company and followed him about like a shadow. He was the one who was his companion during his difficult mission to Taa’if. And it was he whom the Prophet (peace be upon him) had entrusted to bring his family from Makkah to Madeenah during the migration. The Prophet (peace be upon him) also made Zayd the commander for a number of contingents in missions against the polytheists. Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said:
“Had Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him) been alive (i.e. present) on the day the Prophet's (peace be upon him) death he would have assigned him a responsibility.”
Zayd undoubtedly had great energy of faith. This is why he was able to endure the difficulties provoked by the violent winds of Zaynab, and he tried as much as he could to bring peace and tranquility to their marriage. But Zaynab was a perpetual and unquiet storm. Many a time she had hurt Zayd's heart by constantly reminding him of her higher nobility.
When Zayd could no longer bear it he went to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and complained by opening his heart to him and asking for a way out from this sticky situation. The Prophet (peace be upon him) sincerely persuaded him to keep Zaynab. The complaint was made repeatedly, to which the answer was the same. The Qur'aan relates this incident to us. Allah says in clear verses: “And (remember) when you said to him (Zayd ibn Haarithah- the freed slave of the Prophet) on whom Allah has bestowed Grace (by guiding him to Islaam) and you (O Muhammad too) have done favour (by manumitting him), keep your wife to yourself, and fear Allah.’ But you did hide in yourself (i.e. what Allah has already made known to you and He will give her to you in marriage) that which Allah will make manifest, you did fear the people (i.e., their saying that Muhammad married the divorced wife of his manumitted slave) whereas Allah had a better right that you should fear Him...” (Qur'aan: 33:37)
"So when Zayd had accomplished his desire from her (i.e. divorced her), we gave her to you in marriage, so that in future there may be no difficulty to the believers in respect of (the marriage of) the wives of their adopted sons when the latter has no desire to keep them (i.e. they have divorced them). And Allah’s command must be fulfilled.” (Qur’aan 33:37)
Since adoption was then the order of the day and a trend of pre-Islamic culture which infact opposed reality, marrying the divorced wife of one's adopted son was regarded as a taboo since it was regarded as marrying the wife of one’s son, even though it wasn't really ones blood son.
In order to understand this properly, as it should be understood, we turn to the one who has the greatest right to establish the truth and put it into its rightful place, the one who removes all difficulty (in legislation), the one to whom the Message was sent and who has the greatest right to be followed.
Allah Almighty says, “Indeed in the Messenger of Allah you have a good example to follow...” (Qur’an 33:21)
Before we continue, we must bear in mind that the Arabs in the time of ignorance were governed by false deities of all colours and forms:
- False deities of idols and statues
- False deities of casting lots and divination by arrows
- False deities of masters and slaves and disregarding the humanity of manFalse deities of money and usury
- False deities of intoxicants, adultery, burying female newborns alive
- False deities of fortune-telling and sorcery
- False deities of tribalism, war and looting.
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) relentlessly lived his Prophetic life striving to destroy all these false deities. Infact he provided a practical example in himself and his close relatives in order that the balance of truth be erected without prejudice and partiality. The purpose of Zayd’s marriage to Zaynab was therefore to destroy the false deity of racial discrimination and for the abolition of the racial segregation, which was fully ingrained within the Arab culture at that time.
The divorce then took place between Zayd and Zaynab and the Prophet (peace be upon him) married her, “And Allah’s command must be fulfilled”.
Revelation came from the heaven that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) should marry Zaynab, to complete the legislation pertaining to the obliteration of such a custom and in order to remove this heavy burden that had been placed on the people.
The event, from beginning to end, is resplendent with laws and verses which are recited until this very hour, nay every second in time. No other companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is mentioned by his name in the book of Allah – in spite of many rules being revealed due to them – except Zayd alone and there is no mention of Zaynab's name therein.
It was reported that Ibn 'Abbaas said,
“When Zaynab heard the news of her divorce from Zayd and her engagement to the Prophet (peace be upon him) she prostrated to Allah (out of gratitude).”
Zaynab as a Mother of the Believers
Zaynab then happily lived in the house of the Prophet as a mother of the faithful to the believers. She was a pious worshipper, fasting much and praying during the night. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) would visit her frequently. SubhaanAllah, often she would mention her superiority over the other wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him) without intending to hurt them.
She once said to the Prophet (peace be upon him), “O Allah’s Messenger! By Allah, I am not like your other wives, whose father, brother or family had married her off to you. For it is Allah from above the heaven who married me to you.”
Whenever 'Aa'ishah (radhiallahu 'anha) remembered her, she would invoke Allah’s mercy on her and especially mention her for the stance she took when 'Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) was being slandered,
“Allah protected her by (her) abstention (i.e she abstained from indulging in the slander).”
'Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) also mentioned that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, "The most immediate of you to join me is the one with longest hand.”
She then mentioned how the Prophet’s wives began to stretch their hands up onto a wall in order to know which of them had the longest hand.
It would be noted that Zaynab was not tall but she was the first of the Prophet’s wives to die after him. It was then understood what the Prophet (peace be upon him) had meant by "long hand", indeed it referred to the characteristics charity and generosity.
'Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) also said:
"Zaynab was very proud of Allah’s Messenger. The Prophet (peace be upon him) would frequently visit her. She performing much fasting and prayer. She was a skilled craftswoman and would give charity with the proceeds of her own hand.”
Ibn Sa’ad reported on the authority of al-Qaasim ibn Muhammed that Zaynab (may Allah be pleased with her) stated on her death bed,
“I have prepared my own shroud, though 'Umar is going to send a shroud for me. Give one of them in charity and if you are can also give (away) my loin cloth in charity - if you can do so.”
'Amrah bint 'Abdur-Rahmaan al-Ansaariyyah reported the following:
“Umar sent five Harranee cloths, each one of them was incensed with which she was shrouded. Her sister, Hamnah gave in charity the shroud which she (Zaynab) had prepared for her own burial.”
'Amrah (rahimahallah) narrated that she heard 'Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) saying,
“The praisworthy woman, the devoted worshipper and the refuge of the orphans and the widow has now gone (i.e. passed away).”
Muhammed ibn K'ab al-Quradhi said:
“Zaynab bin Jahsh’s annual grant was twelve thousand, which she took only once, (after which) she began saying,
“O Allah! Do not let this money be with me next year because it is a trial!”
She then distributed among both her kith and kin, aswell as the needy. When 'Umar heard of this he said of her, ‘This is a blessed woman.’ He then sent greetings to her and the message of, ‘The news regarding what you have done has reached me.’ He then sent her one thousand dirhams that would be sufficient for her needs. She treated the money in the same way as she had done previously.”
Zaynab died in the year 20 AH at the age of 53. 'Umar (radhi Allahu 'anhu) performed her funeral prayer.
May Allah be pleased with her and she with her Lord.