Will you explain the freedom of thought in Islam and Zaynab’s marriage to Zayd?

The Details of the Question

- Some know-it-alls say, “There is no freedom of thought in the Quran. For example, Zaynab had to marry Zayd.”

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Man is a servant. Allah is the creator of man and the sender of religion. Allah, who created this man, definitely knows better than man what rules he will live by, both in his personal and social life. Therefore, He imposed rules and decrees on fundamental issues, especially on worship. It is man’s duty to act according to those decrees because those decrees and orders are the orders of the creator.

Absolute obedience to religious orders is necessary. Only in this way can a person become a follower of a religion. However, Islam envisages that people should live according to their own mind in many areas, make their own decisions and use their minds. Apart from some basic issues, it refers many issues to the mind. The Prophet of Islam (pbuh) often consulted his Companions related to worldly affairs. He applied to the knowledge of the people who were the experts and said, “You know the worldly affairs better than me.” The existence of different madhhabs, sects, and schools in the religion of Islam and the fact that Islamic scholars once reached the most advanced levels in all sciences are the products of freedom of thought.

Those who claim that there is no freedom of thought in Islam argue that the commands of Allah cannot be objected to. This objection is mentioned in verse 36 of the chapter of al-Ahzab.

“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 any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.”

They oppose the marriage of Zaynab (ra) to Zayd (ra) based on the order of the verse.

They oppose the issue that Zaynab was not given any right to choose related to her marriage with Zayd in the verse. There are several instances of wisdom behind this marriage, which did not last very long. The life of the Prophet (pbuh) and his Companions is a model for the Muslims to come afterwards. Due to this wisdom, several incidents occurred at that time. This marriage, which was ordered by divine revelation, aimed to abolish one of the wrong customs of Jahiliyya. That Zaynab was given the permission to be separated when she wanted to leave Zayd in this marriage, which did not last more than one year, shows that there is no absolute force.

As it is known, one of the most important ways of conveying the divine message by the Messenger of Allah was to practice the divine commands and prohibitions himself if possible or to apply them to his closest relatives if not possible. For, he regarded all people equal. According to him, no factor could cause discrimination among people except fear of Allah and taqwa. As a matter of fact, the Quran states the following regarding the issue:

“Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.” (al-Hujurat, 49/13)

Accordingly, the domination of the privileged class that had continued since the era of Jahiliyya needed to be eliminated. Islamic society needed to be founded on equality and justice. Therefore, it had to be done through marriage, one of the most sensitive issues. Zaynab, who was the daughter of Prophet’s paternal aunt and the sister of Abdullah b. Jahsh, and who migrated to Madinah, was a golden opportunity for it. On a day when Zaynab’s marriage was mentioned, he decided that it was time to abolish the old and bad custom and asked Zaynab to marry his adopted son Zayd. However, neither Zaynab nor her brother Abdullah liked the proposal of the marriage of a noble and free woman with a slave even if he had been freed. They both asked the Messenger of Allah, who was their cousin, whether such a person would be suitable for them. According to them, the daughter of a notable could not marry a freed slave. Zaynab went even further, saying that she would not marry someone like that.

The Messenger of Allah told them about Zayd’s value in Islam and in his eye and that he was a noble person in terms of his free mother and father. However, they did not want this marriage to take place though they acted meticulously despite their deep love and affection for the Messenger of Allah and their obedience to him. Thereupon, the following verse was sent down:

“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 any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.” (al-Ahzab, 33/36)

Thereupon, Zaynab agreed to marry Zayd in order to obey the command of Allah and His Messenger. However, this marriage did not go very well. Therefore, it lasted for only one year. However, the understanding of equality and justice that Islam wanted to establish became settled and an example was shown. Nevertheless, this marriage did not bring happiness to either of them. (For detailed information about the incidents during this marriage and the state of Zayd, see Ziya Kazıcı, Hz. Muhammed’in Eşleri ve Aile Hayatı, İstanbul 1991, 233-235) Zaynab was a religious person who feared Allah but she was proud of her tribe, beauty and nobility; and she hurt her husband’s feelings by uttering sarcastic words because he was a freed slave and looked down on him. She could not tolerate being the wife of a freed slave who entered her close relative’s house as a slave. Therefore, she broke her husband’s heart on every opportunity. Zayd could not stand it anymore. He went to the Prophet (pbuh) and told him that he wanted to divorce his wife. The Messenger of Allah felt very sad about it because he himself wanted them to marry. Therefore, whenever he came, he said, “Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah.” (al-Ahzab, 33/37) However, this marriage did not get on and Zayd had to divorce his wife. Thus, Zaynab bint Jahsh was divorced.

After a while, it was time to remove another bad custom. This was that the practice that the wives of the adopted sons were regarded as the wives of one’s own biological sons. Meanwhile, Islam fundamentally changed the institution of adoption in terms of law and introduced the principle that a person could be attributed only to his own biological father. As a matter of fact, the following is stated in the Quran:

“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.” (al-Ahzab, 33/5)

Thereupon, Zayd, who was the adopted son of the Prophet (pbuh), started to be called Zayd b. Haritha from then on (Ahmad b. Abdullah at-Tabari, es-Simtuth-Thamin, 106). Zayd was the adopted son of the Prophet (pbuh). Accordingly, Zaynab, Zayd’s wife, was not the real daughter-in-law of the Messenger of Allah. After the abolition of adoption by the command of the Quran, the understanding that “men cannot marry the wives of their adopted sons” which was a remnant of the institution of adoption had to be eliminated. According to the principle in practice, the most appropriate person for the abolition of this custom was the Prophet. The Prophet knew this too. However, the mischief and rumors that would emerge frightened him. Nevertheless, this principle introduced by Islam would definitely be applied on him. As a matter of fact, this issue is expressed as follows in the Quran:

“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.” (al-Ahzab, 38/37)

According to what Anas (r.a) reports, when Zaynab divorced and her iddah ended, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) went to Zayd b. Haritha and told him to ask for Zaynab’s hand for him. This task, which was difficult and heavy for Zayd at the beginning, was fulfilled by Zayd. However, Zaynab said that she was waiting for Allah’s command for it. Thereupon, the verse mentioned above was sent down. According to a narration, Zaynab’s first name was “Barra”. The Prophet (pbuh) changed her name by saying that her name was Zaynab from then on. After that, she was always called Zaynab (Ibn Abdil-Barr, al-Istiab, IV / 306-307).

This marriage, which took place based on the verse of the Quran, eliminated another bad custom of the Era of Jahiliyya. Thus, the Prophet (pbuh) married Zaynab in line with the first wishes of both Zaynab and her relatives.

When the Prophet (pbuh) married Zaynab, the hypocrites started to gossip. They went too far to say, “Muhammad married his son’s wife even though he knew that one’s son’s wife was forbidden to the father.” Thereupon, Allah sent down verse 40 of the chapter of al-Ahzab:

“Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets.” (al-Ahzab, 33/40)

The reform that the Quran wanted to make was the custom that regarded an adopted the child same as a biological child related to marriage prohibitions. It was impossible for a man to marry the wife of his adopted son who died or who divorced his wife. This custom was so deeply rooted that nobody, even Muslims, could think of such a marriage.

Indeed, this marriage, which was so simple and which aimed at making some reforms, was criticized by especially the enemies of Islam and the bigoted writers of the West and various scenarios were prepared about it. Accordingly, the Prophet (pbuh) came to look for Zayd when he was not at home, saw Zaynab there and admired her. Thereupon, Zayd divorced his wife. There are some important points that all those who think like that overlook. It seems that they try to hide these points deliberately, not unknowingly. They accept that Zaynab was a close relative of the Prophet (pbuh), that she was among the first Muslims who migrated to Madinah, and that she wanted to marry the Prophet before marrying Zayd. Then, they do not hesitate to slander just like the first hypocrites did.

If the Prophet (pbuh) had wanted to marry Zaynab when she was a virgin, who could have prevented him from marrying her? Had the Prophet not seen Zaynab, the daughter of his aunt, before? Is it possible to say so? Before the marriage of the Prophet with Zaynab, women did not wear hijab and cover their bodies because the command regarding hijab had not been sent yet at that time. Zaynab married Zayd and the Prophet before the verses of hijab (tasattur) were sent down. Bukhari and other sound hadith sources contain information about the revelation of the verse of hijab. Accordingly, they were sent down after the marriage of the Prophet (pbuh) with Zaynab [For more information regarding the issue, see Bukhari, Tafsirul-Quran (33) 8; Kazıcı, ibid, 239-241].

Due to the mischief that was completely imaginary and that spread out because of the gossip of hypocrites, orientalists and missionaries dealt with this marriage a lot. One of those who wrote a play on this subject is Voltaire. He received a compliment from the Pope when he wrote the play, which is completely contrary to historical facts. Voltaire had been excommunicated before but he was complimented by the Pope with a letter starting with, “My son Voltaire ...” thanks to this theater play he wrote. (For more detailed information about this play, see. Zekai Konrapa, Peygamberimiz, İslâm Dini ve Aşere-i Mübeşere, İstanbul 1963, 485-487)

Voltaire, who is stated to have accepted irreligion, was not only forgiven by the Pope for attacking Islam, but he was also addressed by the Pope as “my son”. This marriage, which is actually a normal marriage, has always been tried to be kept on the agenda, especially by the enemies of Islam. The reason for it must be religious bigotry.

The Messenger of Allah gave a great feast at the wedding of Zaynab bint Jahsh, who was thirty-five years old when she married the Prophet (pbuh). Although some scholars say that this marriage, which occurred in the fifth year of the Migration, occurred in the third year of the Migration, this view is not generally considered correct because the verse of hijab was sent down after this marriage.

Zaynab praised herself when she was with the other wives of the Messenger of Allah by saying, “Your families married you off to the Prophet. However, Allah married me off from over seven layers of the sky.” According to a narration reported by Ibn Kathir, Zaynab said that to the Prophet, “I can act coyly toward you for three things that your other wives cannot:

1. Your grandfather and my grandfather are the same person (Abdulmuttalib).
2. It is Allah who married me off to you.
3. The messenger between us was Jibril (Gabriel) (Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wan Nihaya, IV, 148).

Zaynab had the right to boast like that because she was both beautiful and a relative of the Prophet; in addition, her marriage was performed by Allah. Therefore, Aisha (ra) could not help being jealous of her. In fact, she said before her marriage, “She will put on airs in our presence because of Allah’s grant to her.  Aisha turned out to be right about her view. (Ibn Hajar, al-Isaba, IV / 307). For, Zaynab herself said in the presence of the Prophet, “O Messenger of Allah! I swear by Allah that I am not like one of your other wives. Their fathers, brothers or their families married them off to you. Is there anyone other than me that Allah married off to you in the heavens?” (Ibn Sa’d at-Tabaqat, VIII / 102-103; Ibn Hajar, al-Isaba, IV / 307).

Likewise, according to another narration in Ibn Sa’d, Zaynab, the daughter of Umm Salama, said that when her mother mentioned Zaynab bint Jahsh, she would pray for her and talk about some incidents that occurred between Aisha and her:

Zaynab said: By Allah, I am not like the other wives of the Prophet. They married with mahr. Their relatives married them off. Allah Himself married me off to His messenger. Allah sent down a verse about me. Muslims read it; it will not change forever.Umm Salama said: “The Prophet loved her. She was a righteous woman who prayed a lot, fasted and gave alms.” (Ibn Sa’d, at-Tabaqat, VIII/103).

Question: Why was a practical example necessary to show that one could marry the wife of his adopted son after she was divorced?

- This issue was a very common thought in the era of Jahiliyya. It is very difficult to eradicate a belief that has existed in society for a long time. The fact that the prohibition of intoxicants took place in four stages is an indication of it. It was the shortest way and the most convincing practice that the Prophet (pbuh) was chosen in order to show that such a belief was wrong.

- By the way, it was a very difficult test for the Prophet (pbuh). He also underwent a test and though he was very afraid of such a practice, he had to submit to Allah’s command. The following saying probably is for such tests: “The test of great people is also great.”

- Allah knows it best but with this practice, a new decree was imposed on the one hand, and the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh) was reinforced on the other hand. As a matter of fact, this state was immediately noticed at that time and Aisha (ra) said,

“If the Prophet (pbuh) had concealed something from the Quran, he would have concealed this verse (the verse in question).”

Anas and some other Companions also attracted attention to this issue. The scholars who came later regarded this issue as a clear evidence of the prophethood of Muhammad (pbuh).

For more information, please click on the link given below;

How did the Prophet (pbuh) marry Hz. Zaynab bint Jahsh upon the order of Allah? What is the wisdom behind this marriage?

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