Zaynab bint Jahsh (r.anha)

The Prophet eliminated the wrong customs of the Era of Jahiliyya (Ignorance) one by one and showed people the legitimate way. Thus, the wrong and unjust practices were replaced by justice.

One of the wrong customs of the Era of Jahiliyya was that slaves and freed slaves were regarded as "lower class". However, Islam regarded all people equal and stated that superiority could only be attained by taqwa: “Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.”[1] In that case, this wrong custom had to be eliminated too. Therefore, the Prophet asked the noble family of Zaynab, who was the daughter of Umayma b. Abdulmuttalib, to marry her off to his freed slave Zayd. 

Zaynab’s mother and brothers did not want this marriage but they could not say 'no' to the Prophet (pbuh). They accepted his wish. Thereupon, the Prophet married Hz. Zaynab off to Hz. Zayd.[2]

Thus, a wrong custom of the Era of Jahiliyya was eliminated and the principle of equality was introduced.

However, there was not a complete harmony between Hz. Zayd and Zaynab. Marital discord occurred. Zaynab started to break Zayd’s heart. Once, Zayd went to the Prophet and said “O Messenger of Allah! I want to divorce my spouse. She maltreats me.” The Prophet (pbuh) did not want a family that he had asked to be established to break off. He said to Zayd, “Keep your spouse; do not divorce her! Fear Allah.”[3]

However, Zayd divorced Hz. Zaynab due to marital discord. Their marriage lasted only one year.

The Prophet became very sorry when Zayd and Zaynab divorced because he had asked them to marry. It was necessary to settle the issue and to appease Hz. Zaynab and her family.

In fact, when the Prophet said to Hz. Zayd, “Keep your spouse; do not divorce her”, he knew that Zayd would definitely divorce Zaynab and that she would marry him when her iddah (waiting period) ended. God Almighty had informed him about it.[4] Besides, Hz. Zaynab had the characteristics to be a wife of the Prophet.  

However, the Prophet did not ask Hz. Zaynab, who was divorced from Zayd and whose iddah ended, to marry him because he was worried that the hypocrites (munafiqs) would gossip about it. According to the traditions of the Arabs, a person would not marry the wife of his adopted son's wife. However, it was necessary to eliminate this wrong custom of Jahiliyya like the others. For, an adopted son was not regarded as one's biological child.

As a matter of fact, when the Prophet was near Hz. Aisha, he received a revelation. God Almighty stated the following:

“Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favour: 'Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah.' 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 shouldst 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.

There can be no difficulty to the Prophet in what Allah has indicated to him as a duty.”[5]

When the state of revelation finished, our Prophet (pbuh) smiled and said: “Who will tell Zaynab the good news that Allah has joined her in marriage to me?” Then, he appointed Hz. Zayd to ask Zaynab to marry the Prophet. Hz. Zayd went to Zaynab happily and gave her the glad tiding that God Almighty married her off to the Prophet. Hz. Zaynab became very pleased when she heard it and performed a prostration of thanking. She gave the jewel that she was wearing to Hz. Zayd as a present due to this good news.

Thus, Hz. Zaynab married the Prophet in the 5th year of the Migration when she was 35 years old. She was not given anything as mahr since she was married by Allah.

The Prophet always gave a wedding feast whenever he got married and he ordered Muslims to do so. Therefore, it is sunnah to give a wedding feast.

The Prophet gave a wedding feast for Zaynab, too. However, a miracle of the Prophet occurred in this wedding feast unlike the others.   

Anas b. Malik narrates: "My mother, Umm Sulaym, said to me, 'O Anas! The Messenger of Allah is getting married today. I think they do not have any food. Bring me that leather bag of oil.' I took it to my mother. She mixed some Madinah dates with some oil, which will be enough for the Messenger of Allah and his wife. Then, she gave it to me and said, 'O Anas! Take this to the Messenger of Allah. Tell him my mother sent it to you and she greets you and that this is a small present from her.'  

“I took it to the Messenger of Allah and told him what my mother had said. The Messenger of Allah said to me, 'Put it here.' Then he told me, ‘Invite Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali.’ He also mentioned some more Companions' names. I was astonished at the Messenger of Allah’s ordering me to invite several people for a little food. However, I could not behave against his order. I invited all of them. Then, the Messenger of Allah said to me: 'Look and invite whoever there is in the mosque.' I went to the mosque and said to everyone praying in the mosque I encountered, 'Come to the Messenger of Allah’s wedding feast.' They came. At last, the table was filled. He asked me, 'Is there anybody left in the mosque?' I said, 'No.' Then, he told me: 'Look and invite whoever there is on the road.' I did so. He told me, 'OK! Bring me the bowl.' He put his hand on the bowl and prayed for abundance with the words that Allah wanted him to utter. After that, he said, 'Tell them to make circles of ten and eat from the front of them.' The first ten people came. They ate until they were satisfied. I was gazing at the food in the bowl. It was increasing like spring-water. After everybody ate, he said to me, “O, Anas! Remove it.” I did not know whether there was more food when I brought the bowl or when I removed it. When I went home, I told my mother the incident. My mother said, 'There is no need for you to be astonished! If Allah had desired all people of Madinah to eat from it, they would all have eaten it and would have been satisfied.'”[6]

As we have mentioned before, in the Era of Jahiliyya, an adopted son was not regarded as one's biological child; so, it was regarded haram for a person to marry the woman that was divorced by his adopted son. Since the Prophet married the woman that was divorced by his adopted son Zayd, the hypocrites used this incident as a means of gossiping. They said, “Muhammad forbade marrying the wife of one's son but he himself married his son Zayd's wife, whom he divorced.” This gossip started to disturb the Prophet and the Muslims.[7]

Thereupon, verses 4 and 5 of the chapter of al-Ahzab were sent down. The verses stated the following: 

“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 Mawlas. But there is no blame on you if ye make a mistake therein: (what counts is) the intention of your hearts: and Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.”

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, an interpreter of the last century, interprets the verse above as follows in summary: 

Also, rulers looking to their subjects and prophets looking to their communities and addressing them in fatherly fashion, is due to the function of prophethood. A great ruler looks on his subjects with paternal compassion. If he is a spiritual king holding both outward and inward rule, since his compassion is a hundred times greater than that of a father, his subjects look on him as his father, as though they were his real sons. With the purpose of repelling such a doubt, the Quran says: “On account of Divine mercy the Prophet has compassion for you, he deals with you in fatherly fashion, and in the name of prophethood you are like his children. But in regard to his human personality he is not your father so that it should be inappropriate for him to take a wife from among you! And if he calls you “Son,” in respect of the rulings of the Shari’a, you cannot be his children.[8]

Then, it can be said in conclusion that this marriage took place due to the order of Allah; God Almighty found Hz. Zaynab appropriate for the Prophet and married her off to him. Thus, the decree that an adopted child would not prevent marriage like one's biological child was imposed and it was shown that the decree regarded as haram (forbidden) was actually halal (permissible).  

Hz. Zaynab was a pious and righteous person. She performed prayers and fasting frequently. Once, the Prophet went to the mosque. He saw a rope tied between two poles. He asked, “What is this rope for?” They said it was Zaynab’s rope. They said, “Zaynab held that rope when she felt tired while performing prayers.” Thereupon, the Prophet said,

“No, such difficulty is not preferred in worshipping. Untie this rope. Perform prayers standing as long as you are strong.”[9]

Zaynab was very generous and abstinent; she did not give importance to worldly things. She gave away the money that she earned by sewing and weaving to the poor and helpless people for Allah's sake.

Once, Hz.Umar sent her the annual money he allocated to her. When Hz. Zaynab saw so much money, she said, “May Allah forgive Umar! Are the shares of my other brothers and sisters in it?" When she found out that all of the money belonged to her, she covered it with her scarf saying, “Subhanallah!” She said to her maid,

“Put your hand in the money and take one handful of money to such and such a person and another handful to such and such a person.”

Thus, the maid distributed the money that Hz. Umar had sent as Zaynab wished. When there was nothing left to take with the hand under the scarf, the maid said to Hz. Zaynab, “O mother of believers! May Allah forgive you! I swear by Allah that we also have the right to get some.” Zaynab told her to get what was left under the scarf. There were five dirhams left. The maid got them. Hz. Zaynab did not get even one dirham from it. Then, she opened her hands and prayed as follows:

“O Allah! Do not make me get Umar's grant again. For, the worldly properties are mischief.”[10]

God Almighty accepted her prayer. Hz. Zaynab died before she received the allocation next year. She was the first among the wives of the Prophet to rejoin the Prophet after his death. Thus, another miracle of the Prophet occurred. Once, he said, “The one among you who will rejoin me first is the one who had the longest arm.” The wives of the Prophet did not get what he meant by it and started to measure their arms. When Hz. Zaynab was the first one to die after him, they understood that he meant generosity by the long arm. For, none of them could catch up with Zaynab in terms of generosity.[11]

Hz. Aisha, who always praised Hz. Zaynab, stated the following about her generosity:

“I have never seen a woman better than Zaynab in religion, fearing Allah more than her, more honest than her, caring for her relatives more than her and giving away money (sadaqah) to attain the consent of Allah more than her.”

Hz. Zaynab died in the 20th year of the Migration when she was 53 years old. Her janazah prayer was led by Hz. Umar.

May Allah be pleased with them!


[1] al-Hujurat, 13.
[2] Tabaqat, 6: 101.
[3] Hilya, 2: 52; Tabaqat, 8: 102; al-Isaba, 4: 313; Nasafi, 3: 304.
[4] Nasafi, 3: 304; Tafsiru’l-Kabir, 25: 212.
[5] al-Ahzab, 37-38.
[6] Muslim, Nikah, 94; Tabaqat, 104-105.
[7] Nasafi, 3: 392.
[8] Mektubat, p. 26.
[9] Bukhari, Kusuf: 68.
[10] Hilya, 2: 54; Usdu'l-Ghaba, 5: 465.
[11] Muslim, Fadailu’s-Sahaba: 101; Tabaqat, 8: 108; al-Isaba, 4: 313; Hilya, 2: 54.

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