Muhammad Asad (d. 1992) and Suleyman Ates state that our Prophet's aim in this marriage was to put into practice the new ruling on the divorced wives of adopted children in addition to fulfilling a moral obligation through honoring Zaynab, who had been unwillingly forced to marry Zayd. Furthermore, Ates, speaking on this marriage, noted that another purpose of the marriage was to prove that the notion, which claimed the incompatibility of the the noble and the poor with one another, had to be abolished. With this move by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the fact that all Muslims are equal was emphasized.
The verses which deal with Zaynab's marriage are Surah al-Ahzab verses 36 and 37. The following verses, 38, 39 and 40 are viewed as a continuation and completion of thoughts of the previous verses and being in the same fold. The first verse, number 36, is believed to be revealed due to the Prophet's desire to wed Zaynab with Zayd, and Zaynab's consequent refusal based on her proclamation of her nobility and beauty. The second verse, number 37, covers the relaying of Zaynab's wish to end her marriage with Zayd, following an unhappy union and the Messenger of Allah's marriage to Zaynab. The third verse, number 38, and the continuation stresses the notion that all of these happening under the order and willpower of Allah. It also responds to possible hearsay on the happenings.
The 39th verse of Surah Al-Ahzab brings our attention to one of the most important traits of Prophets that need to be fulfilled impeccably: the conveying of the message. It is noted that when Prophets are performing their duty, they should not refrain from it based on any event or person. It is indirectly requested and expected that the Messenger of Allah, similar to other Prophets, should perform his duty impeccably and not shy away due to any one person. Aisha, regarding verse 37, said; "If Prophet Muhammad were to have withheld anything from the Holy Quran, he would have withheld this verse." (Al-Bukhari, Tawheed, 22; Muslim, Iman, 288; Ahmad bin. Hanbal, 2/5).
The 40th verse of Surah Al-Ahzab sheds light on the matter on which the Messenger of Allah is criticized - a topic which has become the topic of controversy. Our Prophet was being accused of marrying the wife whom his own step child had divorced; he was, in a way, being accused of marrying his own sister-in-law. According to the customs of Jahiliyya, there was no difference between a step child and a biological child and thus the wife of one's step child was forevermore forbidden to one in marriage. The Quran noted that this is a twisted and incorrect understanding in this verse when Allah said: "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men," silencing the gossip that was in place.
If Prophet Muhammad had concealed his love of Zaynab and Zayd's divorcing her, then Allah would have made this matter apparent, as noted in verse 37 of Surah Al-Ahzab. This predicament that is being linked to Prophet Muhammad is neither worthy of the throne of Prophecy, nor is it a reflection of reality. If our Prophet had desired a marriage, he would have married Zaynab, the daughter of his paternal aunt whom he knew personally, when she was single and would not have stepped in as an intermediary to facilitate her marriage to Zayd.
It should be noted that Prophet Muhammad's marriage to Khadija, his first wife, was never a hurdle for a possible marriage with Zaynab. According to a narration, Khadija died in 617 and in 620 according to another. His marriage to Zaynab took place in 627. Considering that Zayd and Zaynab's marriage lasted approximately a year and a half, it would have been possible for Prophet Muhammad to have wed Zaynab in the five years following the death of Khadija; however, he did not.
If Prophet Muhammad had desired to marry Zaynab prior to Zayd's marriage to her, he would have actualized this desire. The Messenger of Allah had opened up to Zaynab about Zayd marrying her during a visit to Zaynab along with his sibling and Zaynab had openly said: "Do you see me as being compatible to your slave?" Despite this, he married Zayd to Zaynab. If he had so desired, Prophet Muhammad, who knew Zaynab so well, would have married her himself instead of marrying her to Zayd and would not have waited for Zaynab to get divorced. Nor would he have told someone else of his desire to marry her.
Islam wanted for an illegal custom to be abolished and chose Prophet Muhammad, who has the most resilience and is an example for mankind in every way, to bring an end to this sensitive and wearisome practice, so that the new ruling could be easily accepted by his followers. Allah the Almighty noted that there is no hardship in anything which Allah has ordained for the Messenger of Allah through the following verses:
"There can be no difficulty to the Prophet in what Allah has indicated to him as a duty: It was the practice (approved) of Allah amongst those of old that have passed away, and the command of Allah is a decree determined. (It is the practice of those) who preach the Messages of Allah, and fear Him, and fear none but Allah. And enough is Allah to call (men) to account. Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and Allah has full knowledge of all things." (Surah Al-Ahzab (33) 38-40.)
As we can see, the Messenger of Allah's marriage to Zaynab did not occur through his own desire, but a divine revelation and it took place to abolish an illegal custom. This verse, along with clearly protecting the Messenger of Allah from any accusation, shows that Allah, through Prophet Muhammad, facilitated a social reform that would have otherwise been very difficult for people to accept. There was no other way to overcome the faulty customs and traditions having to do with adoption relations at the time. Only the Messenger of Allah could have taken the precautions to get rid of these customs. This marriage was the most suitable exemplary case for such a move. Society had been instilled with a new set of principals and some perceptions that had been dragging on from the past had been lifted due to this marriage.
Muhammad Hamidullah says the following about the reform implemented by Islam: "Despite the fact that Zayd and Zaynab's marriage lasted a very short time, its effects on Muslims have been extensive. It is such that following this event, freed slaves were no longer looked down upon by society and they went on to established dynasties and kingdoms throughout the Islamic world."
As can be witnessed, Zaynab and Zayd's marriage was exemplary in that it made understood that superiority is based on the level of piety and fear of Allah. Nobody can be superior to another based on their lineage; the first criteria that should be sought when assessing compatibility should be Islam.
It needs to be noted that in order to understand Zaynab's marriage to the Messenger of Allah, one needs to have firm knowledge of historical and sociological realities. Otherwise, one will have made an incorrect assessment. Actually this is the case for all historical events. However it is in this context that it becomes even more important. There is no possibility of understanding the marriage between Prophet Muhammad and Zaynab bint Jahsh, which served the destruction of a Jahiliyya custom, as the Orientalists do, through distortion and trusting unfounded narrations that exist in some Islamic sources. The narrations that exist regarding this topic need to be examined in light of Prophet Muhammad's adjective as "'Isma" meaning virtuous.
The death of Sayyidna Zaynab
The funeral prayer of Zaynab, who died during the Caliphate of Umar in the 20th year of Hijra, was lead by Umar. She was the first wife of Prophet Muhammad to follow him into the afterlife following his departure from this world. Her body was carried on top of the couch of the Prophet. Despite the fact that Umar wanted to personally lower her body into the grave, the Prophet's other wives objected to this, stating that it would only be permissible for her close relatives to do so. Consequently, her close relatives, Muhammed bin Abdullah bin Jahsh and Abdullah bin Abi Ahmad bin Jahsh lowered her into her grave at the Jannat-ul- Baqi cemetery. She was 53 years of age when she passed away.
Her death occurred on a hot summer day. Her grave at the Jannat-ul Baqi cemetery became a haven for her from the scorching heat. Umar ordered for a large canopy to be built over the area of her grave.
Another mother of the believers, Ummu Salama, said the following about Zaynab: "Zaynab was a good woman. She would fast, wake up for tahajjud (night) prayer and spend all of her earnings on the needy and poor." Aisha praised Zaynab, saying : " May Allah the almighty preserve Zaynab bint Jahsh. She attained an honor in this world what no other person could. Allah the Almighty made her the wife of his Prophet and this was mentioned in the Quran. I have never seen a woman more beneficial, more fearful of Allah, more honest, more mindful of the rights of relatives and more eager to disburse charities to bring one closer to Allah."
According to narrations, Rasulallah, in the days close to his death, said: "The one amongst you whom will be the first to meet me will be the one who has the longest arms." On this matter, Aisha said: "After the passing away of our Prophet, we [the Prophet's wives] would measure the length of our arms each time we gathered at one another's homes. This practice continued until the passing away of Zaynab bint Jahsh. Zaynab was a short woman. May Allah have mercy on her, she was not the tallest amongst us. With her death we came to understand that when the Prophet said "the one who has the longest arms" he actually meant "the one who gives most in charity."
Again, in "Tabaqat" by Ibn-i Said, he reports Aisha to have said the following about Zaynab: "When Zaynab died, the poor and orphaned of Medina became very sad and concerned. I heard the people of Medina, following her death, say "The lady worthy of praise, the protector of the orphaned and widows has departed." "She was by nature was very content and generous. She earned with her hands and spent all of it in the way of Allah."
Zaynab bint Jahsh's income was 12,000 dirham; however, she would disperse this among the poor and orphaned as soon as she received it. Furthermore, it is reported that she, upon receiving this money, said, "Oh Allah! Do not have this money reach me next year. Because it is fitna (a cause of mischief)." Once Umar had sent her annual payment and Zaynab dispersed this entirely on her relatives and the orphaned. When Umar found out about this, he called Zaynab and said: "I hear that you distributed what I sent you earlier. I am sending you 1000 more dirham; keep this amount by your side." Our mother Zaynab dispersed this money as well. All she had prepared for was her shroud before she died. When Umar sent her a shroud following her death, the shroud which Zaynab had prepared for herself was given to her sister Hamna as charity.
In a narration by Ibn Sa'd it is reported that Zaynab did not leave behind a single dirham or dinar when she died and all of hear earnings were given in charity during her life. Furthermore, it states that Zaynab was the haven of the poor and widowed. Zaynab is narrator of many hadeeth, following Aisha and Ummu Salama. There are 11 hadith related through her. Two of these are in Bukhari and Muslim while the other nine are in the other four hadith booklets.
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