Zaynab bint Jahsh is the daughter of Umayya bint Abdulmuttalib, the paternal aunt of Rasulallah. Her real name is "Barra" and the name Zaynab was given to her by Rasulallah. Zaynab's father is Jahsh bin Riyab, who moved to Mecca and settled there. Zaynab was born in the year 588 Hijri and she married Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the fifth year of Hijra. Zaynab, who was given the title "Umm-ul Hakam," is among the first female companions of the Prophet to have migrated to Medina.
She is among the first of the Prophet's wives to have seen herself as competition to Sayyidna Aisha. Aisha reciprocated these sentiments toward Zaynab, saying "she saw herself as being my counterpart." Zaynab was not wrong on this matter, because in addition to being the daughter of Rasulallah's aunt, she was a very beautiful and intelligent woman.
Zaynab bint Jahsh's sensitivity and fear of Allah regrinding matters of belief and acts of faith as well as her being one of the first individuals to become Muslim, was noted by everyone including Prophet Muhammad. For this reason, Prophet Muhammad had a great deal of love and respect for her. Our beloved Mother Zaynab was a sincere Muslim and a believer who was very much tied to her beliefs. She had taken it upon herself to lead a life distanced anything which was not pleasing to Allah. Zaynab had given our Prophet the title of "Ewwah." When the companions asked our Prophet, "What is ewwah ya Rasulallah?" he explained the term: "Ewwah is one who is humble in prayer, one who sincerely begs Allah and Allah alone." (Bukhari, Tahajjud, 18).
Aisha said the following about her: "I have never seen a woman more beneficent than Zaynab where religion is concerned. She is a woman who is most respectful to Allah, most truthful, most mindful of relatives and most generous in giving charity." She had testified in favor of Aisha - her rival -- following the incident in which Aisha had been slandered, saying, "I know nothing of Aisha except what is good." She was famed for her generosity, excellence in morality and helpfulness. She worked for her sustenance and would spend her earnings in the way of Allah and on the poor.
Her first marriage was with Zayd Bin Harith, who was a slave freed by our Prophet and whom our Prophet loved as though he was his own child.
•A- Zaynab's marriage to Zayd bin Harith and social life at that time
Zayd bin Harith was a freed slave. Prophet Muhammad personally arranged the marriage of his cousin Zaynab to Zayd. According to Arab traditions, a noble Arab woman could not marry a slave. From very early on in during the Jahiliyya, the period of ignorance in Arabia before Islam, the enslaved were seen as second class citizens; they were looked down up and denigrated. These people, regardless of having acquired freedom, were unable to overcome the inherent class barrier in society due to the wrongful perception that had been etched into people's minds. Arabs placed a great deal of significance on lineage; they classified and evaluated people not on their personal accomplishments and traits, but the lineage which they came . For this reason, the Holy Prophet began with his own family members in abolishing this old tradition and perception. This application would ensure that the old tradition would be erased.
As well known, one of Rasulallah's methods of delivering the message was through his personal application of commands and restrictions ordered by Allah; if he was unable to or did not have to opportunity to apply the commandments himself, we would have his relatives apply the command or restriction. This is because for the Messenger of Allah, no factor should give one exceptionality or privilege, with the exception of the fear of Allah or taqwa. The Quran confirms this, saying, "Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you." (Surah Hujurat (49):13). But the belief of privileged class, which had been continuing since the times of Jahiliyya, needed to be abolished. And this ban needed be realized through one of the most sensitive issues: marriage.
Zaynab, who was the daughter of our Prophet's aunt who migrated to Medina and Abdullah bin Jahsh, was a good candidate for a marriage that would be exemplary. One day, when Zaynab's potential marriage was being discussed, our Prophet ruled that the time had come for an old and bad custom to be abolished and asked for Zaynab's hand in marriage for his adopted son, Zayd. But neither Zaynab nor his brother Abdullah welcomed the idea of a noble and free woman marrying a freed slave. They both asked Prophet Muhammad whether someone like him would be suitable for their family. For them the daughter of a noble man could not marry a freed slave. Zaynab even went a step further and actually said that she will not marry someone like Zayd. So strong were the traditions and customs of that time that Zaynab's family refused the request of even Rasulallah.
Despite the fact that Prophet Muhammad emphasized Zayd's value in Islam and for himself, as well as his noble person both this father's and mother's sides, they didn't want for this marriage to take place. Consequently, the following verse was revealed: "It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger, to have any option about their decision: if anyone disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path." (Surah Al-Ahzab (33);36).
Zaynab agreed to this marriage in order to follow the orders of Allah and Rasulallah. However, she was just not able warm up to Zayd, and therefore in a continual state of unease. And at times she didn't hesitate to put into words her superiority over Zayd. In reality, neither side seemed happy in this marriage. Because this marriage took place in the absence of emotions, a true did not take place and about a year later Zayd consulted with Prophet Muhammad, stating that he could no longer continue with this marriage. Our Prophet was pained to hear this and he said, ""Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah." (Surah Al-Ahzab (33):37,) meaning think about how serious a matter divorcing a woman is in addition being an issue which requires responsibility in the eyes of Allah. This is because "The most despised thing in the eyes of Allah is divorce." (Abu Dawud, Talaq, 3).
Despite the advice given to them by Rasulallah, Zayd and Zaynab could not make it work. Despite Zayd's upstanding qualities that could have made him a commander, his past a slave always belittled him when juxtaposed with Zaynab, who was one of Mecca's noblest families. Consequently, Zayd made a final decision to divorce his wife whom he did not wish to be with, thereby making Zaynab bin Jahsh available.
After some time had elapsed, it became time for yet another bad custom to be abolished. This particular custom was the treatment of adopted children as though they were biological children and their wives to be treated like actual daughter-in-laws.
B-The lifting of adoption
During the Jahiliyya, one of customs was that children who were adopted were perceived as biological children. Consequently, on matters of lineage, marriage, inheritance and intimacy, they were treated no differently than biological children. During that time, if a man wanted to adopt a child, he would announce this in public, and the child would thereby be considered his own; the child would be called with the name of the father, essentially becoming his father's successor. Similar to rules of adoption during the times of Hittites, Greeks and Romans, the person adopting a child could not marry the wife of their adopted child in any way. A breech of this custom would be considered a social scandal.
Prior to Islam there was a custom of adopting male children, and our Prophet, prior to the Islamic ruling on the matter, adopted his slave Zayd bin Harith. Because an adopted child received the same treatment as one's biological child, Zayd was initially referred to as Zayd bin Muhammad (Zayd the son of Muhammad). From this point of view, it was required that whichever treatment a biological child receives, is the same treatment an adopted child should receive and the laws of the time reflected this. Consequently the wife of an adopted child would be viewed the same as one's own sister-in-law.
However, this custom of adoption, which was preserved into the first few years of Islam, was banned with the revelation of these Medinan verses: "Allah has not made for any man two hearts in his (one) body: nor has He made your wives whom ye divorce by Zihar your mothers: nor has He made your adopted sons your sons. Such is (only) your (manner of) speech by your mouths. But Allah tells (you) the Truth, and He shows the (right) Way. Call them by (the names of) their fathers: that is juster in the sight of Allah. But if ye know not their father's (names, call them) your Brothers in Faith, or your Maulas. But there is no blame on ye if ye make a mistake therein: (what counts is) the intention of your hearts: and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Surah Al-Ahzab (33): 4-5).
Along with these verses and the revelation that Allah does not accept adopted children as biological children, Zayd began to be called Zayd bin Harith, after his own father Harith. Prophet Muhammad's implementation of this verse would cause him to take Zayd, whom he was emotionally attached to, out of his adoption. Consequently his wife Zaynab was no longer considered our Prophet's daughter-in-law.
Along with the Quranic command regarding adoption, the wide-spread understanding that "the wives of adopted children could not be wed by the adopter," needed to be abolished. According to the principles of application, the person most suitable for the application of this command would have been our Prophet Muhammad and he was aware of this.
C-Zaynab's marriage to Prophet Muhammad
After Zayd and Zaynab were divorced, Prophet Muhammad was faced with two realities. One was that his cousin was a divorced woman following an unsuccessful marriage. The second was that according the Jahiliyya beliefs, Zaynab could now only marry a slave. Consequently, Rasulallah, felt obliged, particularly towards his relatives, to mend these wounds.
In the end, this principal brought on by Islam, would in certainty become put into practice through him. As a matter of fact, the Quran states the following: "But thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou should fear Allah. Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And Allah's command must be fulfilled." (Surah Al-Ahzab (33: 37).
Despite the order to marry Zaynab was one which was very difficult for the Prophet, it was impossible for him to dismiss since it was Allah the Almighty's command. The marriage had taken place in the eyes of Allah, with the angels acting as witnesses. When the verses regarding our Prophet's marriage to Zaynab were revealed, our Prophet was asked to go to Zaynab and tell her that Allah had wed her to him in the heavens, and Rasulallah then proceeded to repeat the revealed verses. Our mother, Sayyidnah Aisha, upon hearing these verses would say, "The grandest and the most virtuous of occurrences has been granted to Zaynab and Allah has wed her to his Messenger in the heavens. Zaynab will take pride in this matter in her dealings with us."
According to Anas, Rasulallah went to Zayd after Zaynab's period of waiting following their divorce was over and asked Zayd to help him in asking for Zaynab's hand in marriage. Despite the fact that his was a very difficult and hard to bear task for Zayd, he complied. When Prophet Muhammad's proposal was relayed to Zaynab, she indicated that she would not answer until she completed an istihkara (a supplication asking for Allah to show one the best choice). She then prostrated to Allah and according to some narrations, prayed two rakahs and made the following supplication: "Oh Allah, wed me to him if I am worthy of him." It is said that following this supplication, the verses above were then revealed to the Prophet and news went to her that her marriage to Allah had taken place in the heavens. Upon hearing this news, Zaynab gave her jewelry to the messenger of glad tidings, Salama; she then proceeded to prostrate and devoted to the next two months to fasting.
It was said Prophet Muhammad gave an incredible Walima (wedding feast) which he had not given for any of his other wives on the day of his marriage to Zaynab. A goat was slaughtered. There were about 300 people invited and it was on this occasion that the verses regarding the veil were revealed. Some individuals stayed at our Prophet's house unnecessarily until very late hours. This become troubling for our Prophet and his family as their home only had one room. The Quran speaks of this incident, saying: " O ye who believe! enter not the Prophet's houses, - until leave is given you - for a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation: but when ye are invited, enter; and when ye have taken your meal, disperse, without seeking familiar talk. Such (behavior) annoys the Prophet: he is ashamed to dismiss you, but Allah is not ashamed (to tell you) the Truth..." (Surah Al-Ahzab (33):53).
Sayyidnah Zaynab, who was married to Zayd just in order to fulfill the command of Allah and his Messenger, was rewarded for her compliance by being married to Prophet Muhammad by Allah, following her divorce Zayd. Undoubtedly this was the most beautiful and sacred of marriages to have ever taken place because it was implemented by Allah through the delegation of the angel Jibreel. For this reason, Zaynab would take pride in her position against the other wives of the Prophet, saying, "Your families married you to our Prophet. But I was married to him through Allah on top of the seven heavens." She would also take pride in three points, and set herself apart the rest of our Prophet's wives with these three facts:
- Being a close relative of the Prophet.
- Her marriage being completed by Allah the Almighty.
- The delegate of her marriage to Rasulallah being the angel Jibreel.
Zaynab really made the other wives of the prophet envious with her beauty and grace in addition to her other qualities. In the ning Sayyidna Aisha would openly state her jealousy. She would say: "I think that after myself, the most beloved of his wives were Zaynab and Umm Salamah." Later on Zaynab became the lone target of envy. Sayyidna Aisha showed signs of jealousy and frustration when Prophet Muhammad would spend an extended period of time with Zaynab. This rivalry brought on by jealousy would sometimes become apparent even in the presence of Prophet Muhammad. He would not intervene in their actions indicating envy. However, this rivalry never caused either side to sway righteousness.
There were many verses that were revealed regarding Prophet Muhammad's marriage to Zaynab. This meant that this was made everlasting. This is because believers would read the verses on this until the Day of Judgment and perform their prayers while uttering these verses. This in itself was the greatest source of pride and honor. For this reason, Sayyidna Aisha could not prevent herself being envious. Zaynab, whose real name was Barra, was henceforth referred to as Zaynab.
One of the most striking qualities of Prophet Muhammad's marriage to Zaynab was the issue of their compatibility. It is difficult to expect a positive outcome a marriage that takes place between a husband and wife wherein certain components of compatibility - such as piety, goodness of character, nobility, wealth, physical beauty, lineage etc. - are not sought.
Sayyidna Zaynab was almost fully compatible with Prophet Muhammad. She was not fully compatible with Zayd. This demonstrated the significance of compatibility between spouses in marriages is a matter which should not be taken lightly.
The esteem of Zaynab, which had suffered a blow with her marriage to Zayd, was being returned to her with marriage to Prophet Muhammad. For Rasulallah, knew about the sense of belittlement that Zaynab felt with married to a former slave. With her new marriage, Zaynab, who was one of the most noble of Arab families, would be able to salvage her damaged dignity.
Zaynab married Prophet Muhammad (after his marriage to Umm Salamah) in the fifth year of Hijra. Books on the life of Prophet Muhammad and historic documents indicate that she was 35 years of age when she married Rasulallah, who was 57 or 58 at the time..
The verses which were revealed in line with Prophet Muhammad's marriage to Zaynab, clarified and indicated the following rulings in Islamic law:
-Which one of his relatives daughters Prophet Muhammad could marry.
-That Muslim men were only allowed to marry 4 wives; however, Prophet Muhammad could marry more.
-That Rasulallah could marry the women divorced by his adopted children or the adopted children themselves.
-That the Prophet's house could only be visited upon invitation and lingering for extended periods of time was not allowed.
-Adopted children must be called by their biological father's names and not the names of their adoptive fathers.
D- Zaynab's workshop
Sayyidna Zaynab was a crafty woman. She could skin animals that had been butchered, gut them and allow them to dry. She was good at sewing and doing alterations on clothing. She could process animal skin in accordance with the methods of that time and sew clothing leather, spending what she earned this in the way of Allah.
Umm Salamah, when speaking of Zaynab, would say: "Rasulallah appreciated Zaynab bint Jahsh and spoke of her often; she was truly a righteous woman. She would fast much and wake up for night prayers. She was a woman of skills and she would disburse the earnings her work entirely to the needy." In another narration it is said that: "Zaynab was a handcrafts artist; she would process leather, sew and spend in charity in the way of Allah."
From some narrations we understand that she had what would now be considered a workshop for her work. As is known, Prophet Muhammad would have a private unit constructed following each of his marriages. These were single-floored, attached units that would lead to the courtyard of the mosque. Narrations speak of a unique room that was constructed on the upper end of one of these units. This room was a second floor which was accessible through a ladder constructed with date tree branches. This room is referred to as "mashruba." Umar speaks of three leather pieces and material used for adorning leather hanging on the walls, in reference to this room. It is narrated that this is the room in which Zaynab would process leather. It mentioned in multiple narrations that Zaynab continued in this line of work after marrying the Messenger of Allah.
Umm Salamah, one of the wives of the Prophet also processed leather; however, we don't know whether she continued in this line of work after her marriage to the Messenger. There are numerous narrations, on the other hand, about Zaynab continuing in this line of work. Zaynab would spend her entire earnings her own hard work on the needy, divorced and orphaned.
E- Debates surrounding Zaynab's marriage to Prophet Muhammad
Zaynab bint Jahsh is among the most oft spoken of wives of Prophet Muhammad. Throughout history, the enemies of Islam, particularly ill-intentioned Orientalists, would manipulate the facts on Zaynab's first marriage as well as her marriage to Prophet Muhammad, wanting to attack our Prophet Muhammad through these events.
Zaynab's marriage to our Prophet following her divorce Zayd gossip. This marriage was criticized for Zayd being the Prophet's adopted son and back-biting spread among people who said that our Prophet married his own daughter-in-law. Despite this matter being legalized in the Holy Quran, people, through word of mouth, spoke about the issue using made-up narratives, some people even uttering inappropriate words based on these unreliable narratives. These slanders actually went into Islamic literature and became sources for Orientalist scholars.
Narrations old sources are to the effect that Prophet Muhammad was overtaken by Zaynab's beauty and consequently divorced Zayd and Zaynab, facilitating Zaynab's marriage to himself, thus leading to his with her. The narrations, which are outside of the realm of logic, in many ways contain contradictions are not considered to be reliable. Ibn Kathir (death: 774/1373) and Ibn Arabi (543/114), in many of their works, contain criticisms of these sources when recalling these narratives, stating that it is not possible for these narratives to be sahih (reliable and truthful) based on their chain of narration and content; they cautioned on this matter which are considered to be valid for scholastic travelers of today.
Orientalists of today such as Leone Caetani, Emile Dermenghem and Claude-Etienne Savary, attacked Prophet Muhammad, using and distorting this historic and social event as the reason. Some Islamic historians such as Ibn Ishaq (150/768), Ibn Sa'd (203/845) and Tabari (310/922) used these narrations without holding them the science of narration. They put forth these narratives without taking into consideration the custom abolished the Jahiliyya, and the revolution which took place via Islam and without consideration of the Prophet's purpose in doing so. We should note here that certain researchers who possess fairness such as John Davenport, Montgomery Watt and Maxime Rodinson approached the topic in a realistic and just fashion.
One of our modern day scholars Elmalili Hamdi Yazir (1942) does not seem to have a definite take on this topic. Sayyid Qutb (1966) seems to view the matter one of Prophet Muhammad's basic objectives, which is implementing equality among people. Mawdudi (1979), writing on this topic, stresses the fact that Prophet Muhammad married Zaynab not out of his own will, but the will of Allah, and puts this forth as a strong argument.