Zaynab bint Jahsh

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Zaynab bint Jahsh (Arabic: زينب بنت جحش‎) (c. 590 – 641) was a cousin[1] and wife of Muhammad and therefore a Mother of the Believers.[2]

Early life[edit]

Zaynab's father was Jahsh ibn Riyab, an immigrant from the Asad ibn Khuzayma tribe who had settled in Mecca under the protection of the Umayya clan. Her mother was Umama bint Abdulmuttalib, a member of the Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe and a sister of Muhammad's father.[3] Hence Zaynab and her five siblings were the first cousins of Muhammad.

The name of her first husband is not known, but he had died by 622.[4] At that time Zaynab, who had become a Muslim, was among those who accompanied her brother Abdullah on the Hijra to Medina.[5]

Second marriage[edit]

Around 625 Muhammad proposed to Zaynab that she marry his adopted son, Zayd ibn Harithah. Zayd had been born into the Kalb tribe but as a child he had been kidnapped by slave-traders. He had been sold to a nephew of Khadija bint Khuwaylid, who in her turn had given him as a wedding present to her husband Muhammad. After some years, Muhammad had manumitted Zayd and had adopted him as his son.[6]

Zaynab, supported by her brother Abdullah, at first refused the proposal on the grounds that, "I am the widow of a Quraysh."[7] They presumably meant that Zaynab's social status was too high to allow her to marry an ex-slave. Ibn Kathir asserts that these social differences were precisely the reason why Muhammad wanted to arrange the marriage:

"The Prophet was well aware that it is a person’s standing in the eyes of Allah that is important, rather than his or her status in the eyes of the people ... their marriage would demonstrate that it was not who their ancestors were, but rather their standing in the sight of Allah, that mattered."[8]

It has also been suggested that he wanted to establish the legitimacy and right to equal treatment of the adopted.[9] By contrast, Montgomery Watt points out that Zayd was high in Muhammad's esteem.

"She can hardly have thought that he was not good enough. She was an ambitious woman, however, and may already have hoped to marry Muhammad; or she may have wanted to marry someone with whom Muhammad did not want his family to be so closely allied."[10]

When Muhammad announced a new verse of the Qur'an 33:36, Zaynab acquiesced and married Zayd.[11][12]

The marriage lasted less than two years.[13] There was conflict between the couple, and eventually Zaynab shut Zayd out of the bedroom.[14] He divorced her in December 626.[15]

This however, happened after a curious visit by Muhammad to his adopted son Zayd's house. One day, while Zayd was away, Muhammad came to visit. Later when Muhammad leave, he uttered "Praise to Allah who has the ability to change heart". Zaynab was delighted and she told Zayd of Muhammad's visit. Zayd went to meet up with his adopted father, Muhammad and asked if he would like him to divorce Zaynab so that Muhammad can have her. Muhammad said "Continue your relationship with your wife and keep praying to Allah". Yet, what was in Muhammad's heart is very different from what he uttered as he really wanted Zaynab then. This is as recorded by Al-Zamkhashri "Muhammad's outer appearance is different from what is inside him".[16] In summary, although it seemed that Muhammad did not want Zayd, his adopted son to divorce Zaynab, his internal desire is opposite as Muhammad has fallen in love with Zaynab after seeing her.[17]

As soon as Zayd divorced Zaynab, Muhammad went into Zaynab's house when she was not prepared & was without the Muslim veil. Zaynab thus asked Muhammad "Is it going to be like this, without any witnesses or trustee (wali) for our union?" Muhammad answered Zaynab "Allah is the witness and Gabriel is the trustee". As a result of this claim, Zaynab proclaimed herself in a higher status compared to Muhammad's other wives. Zaynab told the other wives "Your father gave you out in this marriage yet for me, it was heaven that gave me to the Allah's prophet".[18]

Marriage to Muhammad[edit]

Muhammad expected criticism if he married Zaynab. Pre-Islamic custom disapproved of marriage between a man and his son's former wife.[19] Arab society would have viewed this union as profoundly wrong; because they considered an adopted son was truly a "son", for a man to marry his adopted son's wife - even if she was divorced - was considered incestuous.[20][21] Therefore he "hid in his heart" the idea that he might marry her. This internal conflict is mentioned in the Qur'an 33:37:

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.

The above is not the Islamic interpretation of this verse of the Holy Quran. All prophets are doing the work of God & in this regard are carrying out God's command. The questioning of the great Prophet Muhammad is simply a lack of understanding of the Holy Quran. Muhsin Khan is an authentic English translator of the Holy Quran & translates the aforementioned verse (33:37) as follows.

And (remember) when you said to him (Zaid bin Harithah, the freedslave of the Prophet SAW) on whom Allah has bestowed Grace (by guiding him to Islam) and you (O Muhammad SAW 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 that He will give her to you in marriage) that which Allah will make manifest, you did fear the people (i.e., Muhammad SAW married the divorced wife of his manumitted slave) whereas Allah had a better right that you should fear Him. So when Zaid 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.

Therefore he "hid in his heart" what Allah had already revealed to him, in that Zaid ibn Harithah would give her to the Prophet in marriage.

After this verse was revealed, Muhammad proceeded to reject the existing Arabian norms.[22][23] He married Zaynab as soon as her waiting-period from her divorce was complete, on 27 March 627.[24] Thereafter the legal status of adoption was not recognised under Islam. Zayd reverted to being known by his original name of "Zayd ibn Harithah" instead of "Zayd ibn Muhammad".[25]

Orientalists and Christian missionaries have pointed to this Sura as an example of a self-serving revelation that reflected the Prophet's desires rather than the will of God.[26][27][28][29][30]


Zaynab died during the caliphate of Umar bin Khattab in the summer of 641, being the first of Muhammad's widows to die after him.[31] She was 53 (lunar) years old.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bewley/Saad 8:72; Al-Tabari, Vol. 8, p. 4; Al-Tabari, Vol. 39, p. 180; cf Guillaume/Ishaq 3; Maududi (1967), Tafhimul Quran, Chapter Al Ahzab
  2. ^ Abdulmalik ibn Hisham, Notes to Ibn Ishaq's "Life of the Prophet", Note 918.
  3. ^ Muhammad ibn Saad, Tabaqat vol. 8. Translated by Bewley, A. (1995). The Women of Madina, p. 33. London: Ta-Ha Publishers.
  4. ^ Muhammad ibn Jarir Al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusual wa'l-Muluk vol. 39. Translated by Landau-Tasseron, E. (1998). Biographies of the Prophet's Companions and Their Successors, p. 180. New York: State University of New York Press.
  5. ^ Muhammad ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah. Translated by Guillaume, A. (1955). Life of Muhammad, p. 215. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ Landau-Tasseron/Tabari, pp. 6-10.
  7. ^ Landau-Tasseron/Tabari, p. 180.
  8. ^ Ibn Kathir, "Zaynab bint Jahsh" in Wives of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
  9. ^ Caesar E. Farah, Islam: Beliefs and Observances, p.69
  10. ^ Watt, W. M. (1956). Muhammad at Medina, p. 331. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
  11. ^ Al-Jalalayn, Tafsir on Q33:36-38.
  12. ^ Ibn Hisham note 918.
  13. ^ Maududi (1967), vol. 4, p. 112-3
  14. ^ Landau-Tasseron/Tabari, p. 181.
  15. ^ a b Landau-Tasseron/Tabari, p. 182.
  16. ^ Al-Kashaf by Al-Zamkhashri Vol III page 54
  17. ^ The Wives of the Prophet by bint Al-Shati' page 158 & 164
  18. ^ Jurisprudence from Muhammad's life by Sa'id Ashur page 126 & Al-Isaba fi tamyiz al-Sahaba by Ibn Hajar Asqaliani Vol.IV page 307
  19. ^ "For in the time of ignorance they regarded the marriage with an adopted son’s wife as illegal as that with the wife of a natural son." Koelle, S. W. (1889). Mohammed and Mohammedanism Critically Considered (p. 497). London: Rivingtons.
  20. ^ "...the marriage of a man with the wife of his adopted son, even though divorced, was looked upon by the Arabs as a very wrong thing indeed." Sell, E. (1905). The Historical Development of the Quran (pp. 149–150). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
  21. ^ "This liberality did not prevent severe comments from those who regarded adopted sonship as real sonship—for which view Mohammed’s institution of brotherhoods gave some support—and who, therefore, regarded this union as incestuous." Margoliouth, D. S. (1905). Mohammed and the Rise of Islam (Third Edition., p. 321). New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
  22. ^ Lecker, M (2002). "Zayd B. Haritha". Encyclopaedia of Islam 11 (2nd ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. p. 475. ISBN 9004127569. 
  23. ^ Watt, W. M. (1956). Muhammad at Medina, pp. 330-331. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
  24. ^ Muhammad ibn Jarir Al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusual wa'l-Muluk vol. 39. Translated by Landau-Tasseron, E. (1998). Biographies of the Prophet's Companions and Their Successors, p. 182. New York: State University of New York Press.
  25. ^ Landau-Tasseron/Tabari, p. 9.
  26. ^ "Being the wife of an adopted son, she was unlawful to the Prophet, but a pretended revelation (see Qur’ān, Sūrah xxxiii. 37) settled the difficulty, and Muḥammad married her." Hughes, T. P. (1885). A Dictionary of Islam: Being a Cyclopædia of the Doctrines, Rites, Ceremonies, and Customs, together with the Technical and Theological Terms, of the Muhammadan Religion. London: W. H. Allen & Co.
  27. ^ "However, Muhammad did this, and had to justify his action by alleging that he had for it the direct sanction of God. It was first necessary to show that God did not approve of the general objection to marriage with wives of adopted sons, and so the revelation came thus: Nor hath He made your adopted sons to be as your sons.—Súratu’l Ahzáb (33) v. 4. ... Having thus settled the general principle, the way was clear for Muhammad to act in this particular case, and to claim divine sanction for setting at nought the sentiment of the Arab people. So the revelation goes on to say: And remember when thou (i.e. Muhammad) said to him (i.e. Zaid), unto whom God had shown favour and to whom thou also hadst shown favour, ‘Keep thy wife to thyself and fear God;’ and thou didst hide in thy mind what God would bring to light and thou didst fear man; but more right had it been to fear God. And when Zaid had settled to divorce her, we married her to thee, that it might not be a crime in the faithful to marry the wives of their adopted sons when they have settled the affairs concerning them. And the order of God is to be performed. No blame attaches to the Prophet where God hath given him a permission.—Súratu’l Ahzáb (33) vv. 37–8. This relaxation of the moral law for Muhammad’s benefit, because he was a prophet, shows how easy the divorce between religion and morality becomes in Islám." Sell, E. (1905). The Historical Development of the Quran (pp. 150–152). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
  28. ^ "But we learn the same lesson from all such investigations, and that is how completely Muḥammad adapted his pretended revelations to what he believed to be the need of the moment. The same thing is true with regard to what we read in Sûrah Al Aḥzâb regarding the circumstances attending his marriage with Zainab, whom his adopted son Zaid divorced for his sake. The subject is too unsavoury for us to deal with at any length, but a reference to what the Qur’ân itself (Sûrah XXXIII., 37) says about the matter, coupled with the explanations afforded by the Commentators and the Traditions, will prove that Muḥammad’s own character and disposition have left their mark upon the moral law of Islâm and upon the Qur’ân itself." Tisdall, W. S. C. (1911). The Original Sources of the Qur’ân (pp. 278–279). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
  29. ^ "But at Medina he seems to have cast off all shame; and the incidents connected with his marital relations, more especially the story of his marriage with Zainab the wife of his adopted son Zaid, and his connexion with Mary the Coptic slave-girl, are sufficient proof of his unbridled licentiousness and of his daring impiety in venturing to ascribe to GOD Most High the verses which he composed to sanction such conduct." Tisdall, W. S. C. (1895). The Religion of the Crescent, or Islâm: Its Strength, Its Weakness, Its Origin, Its Influence. Non-Christian Religious Systems (p. 177). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
  30. ^ "The scandal of the marriage was removed by this extraordinary revelation, and Zeid was thenceforward called not “the son of Mahomet,” as heretofore, but by his proper name, “Zeid, the son of Hârith.” Our only matter of wonder is, that the Revelations of Mahomet continued after this to be regarded by his people as inspired communications from the Almighty, when they were so palpably formed to secure his own objects, and pander even to his evil desires. We hear of no doubts or questionings; and we can only attribute the confiding and credulous spirit of his followers to the absolute ascendancy of his powerful mind over all who came within its influence." Muir, W. (1861). The Life of Mahomet (Vol. 3, p. 231). London: Smith, Elder and Co.
  31. ^ Bewley/Saad, pp. 79-81.