Zaynab bint Jahsh

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Zaynab bint Jahsh
تخطيط كلمة زينب بنت جحش.png
Born c.590
Died 641 (aged 53 lunar years)
Medina, Saudi Arabia
Known for Wife of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, Mother of the Believers
Spouse(s) Unknown first husband (had died by 622)
Zayd ibn Harithah (divorced)
Parent(s) Jahsh ibn Riyab
Umama bint Abdul Muttalib
Relatives Abdullah ibn Jahsh, Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh, Abu Ahmad ibn Jahsh, Habiba bint Jahsh and Hammanah bint Jahsh (siblings)

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.

Zaynab is described as "a perfect-looking woman," fair-skinned and shapely,[4] and of diminutive size.[5] It was said that she was quick to lose her temper but also quick to calm down.[6] She was a skilled tanner and leather-worker. She continued with this line of work throughout her life, even after she no longer needed the money.[7]

The name of her first husband is not known, but he had died by 622.[8] At that time Zaynab, who had become a Muslim, was among those who accompanied her brother Abdullah on the Hijra to Medina.[9]

Second marriage[edit]

Circumstances of the 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.[10]

Zaynab, supported by her brother Abdullah, at first refused the proposal on the grounds that, "I am the widow of a Quraysh."[11] They presumably meant that Zaynab's social status was too high to allow her to marry an ex-slave. It has been asserted 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."[12]

It has also been suggested that he wanted to establish the legitimacy and right to equal treatment of the adopted.[13] 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."[14]

When Muhammad announced a new verse of the Qur'an:

It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decided a matter, that they should [thereafter] have any choice about their affair. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly strayed into clear error,[15]

Zaynab acquiesced and married Zayd.[16][17] Muhammad personally paid the dower of 160 dirhams in cash, a cloak and veil, a coat of armour, 50 mudd of grain and 10 mudd of dates.[18]

Circumstances of the divorce[edit]

The marriage lasted less than two years.[19]

The 9th-century historian al-Tabari gives two independent accounts of a visit that Muhammad paid to Zayd's house. The hairskin curtain that served as Zayd’s front door was blown aside, accidentally revealing Zaynab dressed only in her shift. Zaynab arose to dress herself, advising Muhammad that Zayd was not at home but he was welcome to visit. However, he did not enter. He exclaimed to himself, “Praise be to Allah, who turns hearts around!” and then departed.[20][21] However, this story has been vigorously rejected by most muslim scholars[22][23][24] mainly because of its lack of having any chain of narration and its complete absence from any authentic hadith. Some commentators[25] have found it absurd that Muhammad would suddenly become aware of Zaynab's beauty one day after having known her all her life; if her beauty had been the reason for Muhammad to marry her, he would have married her himself in the first place rather than arranging her marriage to Zayd.[26]

Hadiths record that there were frequent conflicts between the couple. Zayd complained to Muhammad about Zaynab several times and Muhammad always insisted "Be afraid of Allah and keep your wife."[27][28]

Zaynab once insulted Zayd verbally and eventually she shut him out of the bedroom.[29] He divorced her in December 626.[30]

Marriage to Muhammad[edit]

Preparation for the marriage[edit]

Muhammad expected criticism if he married Zaynab. Pre-Islamic custom disapproved of marriage between a man and his son's former wife.[31] 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.[32][33] 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.

After this verse was announced, Muhammad proceeded to reject the existing Arabian norms.[34][35] 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".[36]

The wedding[edit]

Muhammad married Zaynab as soon as her waiting-period from her divorce was complete, on 27 March 627.[30] He went into her house when she did not expect him and without knocking. She asked him: "Is it going to be like this, without any witnesses or trustee (wali) for our union?" Muhammad replied: "Allah is the witness and Gabriel is the trustee."[37][38]

Muhammad gave Zaynab a dower of 400 dirhams.[39] Later he held a wedding banquet for her and slaughtered a sheep. Anas ibn Malik said there were over seventy guests, and that none of Muhammad's other wives was given such a large banquet.[40][41] It was at the close of this wedding feast that Muhammad announced the ayat that ordered his wives to be veiled and to speak to men (other than immediate family) only from behind a screen.[42]

And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts.[43]

Life in Medina[edit]

Aisha believed that Muhammad's favourite wives, after herself, were Zaynab and Umm Salama.[44] She said: "Zaynab was my equal in beauty and in the Prophet's love for her."[45] Umm Salama said of Zaynab: "The Messenger of Allah liked her and he also used to become vexed with her."[46]

Several traditions indicate conflict between Zaynab and her co-wives. She used to boast to them: "You were given in marriage by your families, while I was married (to the Prophet) by Allah from over seven Heavens."[37][38][47] Aisha related that the wives were divided into two factions, one led by herself and the other by Umm Salama. Zaynab was allied to Umm Salama, together with Umm Habiba, Juwayriyya and Maymunah.[48] In one quarrel, Zaynab shouted insults at Aisha while Muhammad was present. Aisha retaliated with "hot words until I made her quiet." Muhammad only commented that Aisha was "really the daughter of Abu Bakr."[49] Another time Zaynab refused to lend her spare camel to Safiyya; Muhammad was so angry that he did not speak to Zaynab for over two months.[50] On two occasions, when Muhammad divided a gift of food among all his wives, Zaynab was displeased with her portion and sent it back to him.[51]

Yet it was Zaynab who defended Aisha when the latter was accused of adultery. Muhammad asked her if she knew anything about it, and Zaynab replied: "O Allah's Messenger! I refrain to claim hearing or seeing what I have not heard or seen. By Allah, I know nothing except goodness about Aisha."[52] Aisha conceded: "I have never seen a woman more advanced in religious piety than Zaynab, more God-conscious, more truthful, more alive to the ties of blood, more generous and having more sense of self-sacrifice in practical life and having more charitable disposition and thus more close to God, the Exalted, than she was."[6]

Zaynab had a reputation for being prayerful.[46] She prayed so much by night that she hung a rope between two pillars in the mosque and held onto it when she became too tired to prostrate. When Muhammad discovered the rope, he removed it and told her that when she became tired, she should stop praying and sit down.[53]

Later life[edit]

After Muhammad’s death, Zaynab never left Medina again.[54] She was a widow for nine years, during which time she narrated eleven ahadith.[55]

She continued to work at tanning and leather-crafts, and she gave away all her profits in charity.[56] Even when Caliph Umar sent her the pension of 12,000 dirhams that he allowed to all of Muhammad's widows, Zaynab gave it all away to various poor families in Medina.[57] At her death, her heirs did not find a single coin in her house.[44]


Zaynab died during the caliphate of Umar in the summer of 641, being the first of Muhammad's widows to die after him.[58] She was 53 (lunar) years old.[30]

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. Translated by Guillaume, A. (1955). The Life of Muhammad, p. 793. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ Muhammad ibn Saad, Tabaqat vol. 8. Translated by Bewley, A. (1995). The Women of Madina, p. 33. London: Ta-Ha Publishers.
  4. ^ Al-Qurtubi, Tafsir on Q33:37.
  5. ^ Bewley/Saad, vol. 8, p. 77.
  6. ^ a b Muslim 31:5984.
  7. ^ Bewley/Saad, vol. 8, pp. 74, 77.
  8. ^ Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari. Tarikh al-Rusul wa'l-Muluk vol. 39. Translated by Landau-Tasseron, E. (1998). Biographies of the Prophet's Companions and Their Successors, p. 180. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  9. ^ Muhammad ibn Ishaq. Sirat Rasul Allah. Translated by Guillaume, A. (1955). Life of Muhammad, p. 215. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  10. ^ Landau-Tasseron/Tabari, pp. 6-10.
  11. ^ Landau-Tasseron/Tabari, p. 180.
  12. ^ Thomson, A. (2012). The Wives of the Prophet Muhammad, pp. 61-62. London: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd.
  13. ^ Caesar E. Farah, Islam: Beliefs and Observances, p.69
  14. ^ Watt, W. M. (1956). Muhammad at Medina, p. 331. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
  15. ^ 33:36
  16. ^ Al-Jalalayn, Tafsir on Q33:36-38.
  17. ^ Guillaume/Hisham, p. 793.
  18. ^ Ismail ibn Umar ibn Kathir. Al-Sira al-Nabawiya. Translated by Le Gassick, T. (2000). The Life of the Prophet Muhammad, vol. 3 p. 198. Reading, U.K.: Garnet Publishing.
  19. ^ Maududi (1967), vol. 4, p. 112-3
  20. ^ Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari. Tarikh al-Rasul wa’l-Muluk. Translated by Fishbein, M. (1997). Volume 8: The Victory of Islam, pp. 1-4. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  21. ^ Landau-Tasseron/Tabari, vol. 39 p. 181.
  22. ^ Ibn Al-’Arabi, Ahkam Al-Quran (3/1543)
  23. ^ Sirat-Un-Nabi, by Allama Shibli Nu'Mani
  24. ^ Dr. Yasir Qadhi
  25. ^ For example Qadi Iyad ibn Musa al-Yahsubi
  26. ^
  27. ^ Fishbein/Tabari, vol. 8 p. 3.
  28. ^ See also Bukhari 9:93:516.
  29. ^ Landau-Tasseron/Tabari, p. 181.
  30. ^ a b c Landau-Tasseron/Tabari, p. 182.
  31. ^ "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.
  32. ^ "...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.
  33. ^ "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.
  34. ^ Lecker, M (2002). "Zayd B. Haritha". Encyclopaedia of Islam 11 (2nd ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. p. 475. ISBN 9004127569. 
  35. ^ Watt, W. M. (1956). Muhammad at Medina, pp. 330-331. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
  36. ^ Landau-Tasseron/Tabari, p. 9.
  37. ^ a b Sa'id Ashur. Jurisprudence from Muhammad's life, p. 126.
  38. ^ a b Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. Al-Isaba fi tamyiz al-Sahaba, vol. IV, p. 307.
  39. ^ Guillaume/Hisham p. 793.
  40. ^ Bewley/Saad vol. 8 p. 75.
  41. ^ Bukhari 7:62:84. Bukhari 7:62:97.
  42. ^ Bewley/Saad vol. 8 pp. 76-77, 126-127.
  43. ^ Qur'an 33:53 (Sahih International).
  44. ^ a b Bewley/Saad vol. 8 p. 81.
  45. ^ Bukhari 5:59:462.
  46. ^ a b Bewley/Saad vol. 8 p. 74.
  47. ^ Bukhari 9:93:516.
  48. ^ Bukhari 3:47:755. Muslim 31:5984. Abu Dawud 41:4880.
  49. ^ Bukhari 3:47:755. Muslim 31:5984. Abu Dawud 42:4880.
  50. ^ Bewley/Saad vol. 8 p. 90.
  51. ^ Bewley/Saad vol. 8 p. 138.
  52. ^ Bukhari 3:48:829.
  53. ^ Bukhari 2:21:251.
  54. ^ Bewley/Saad vol. 8 p. 146.
  55. ^ Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Dhahabi. Siyar Aalam al-Nubala vol. 2 #112.
  56. ^ Bewley/Saad vol. 8 pp. 74, 77.
  57. ^ Bewley/Saad vol. 8 pp. 78-79.
  58. ^ Bewley/Saad, pp. 79-81.