Zaynab bint Jahsh

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Zaynab bint Jahsh
"Mother of the Believers"
تخطيط كلمة زينب بنت جحش.png
ام المومنین السیدة زینب بنت جحش
زینب بنت جحش

Known forWife of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad
Titleʾumm al-muʾminīn
Spouse(s)Unknown first husband (had died by 622)
Zayd ibn Harithah (divorced)
Parent(s)Jahsh ibn Riyab
Umama bint Abdul Muttalib
RelativesMuhammad (first cousin)
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 first cousin[1] and wife of Muhammad and therefore considered by Muslims to be a Mother of the Believers.[2] She had previously been married to Muhammad's adopted son Zayd ibn Harithah.

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 Umayma bint Abdulmuttalib, a member of the Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe and a sister of Muhammad's father.[3]:33 Hence Zaynab and her five siblings were the first cousins of Muhammad.

Zaynab was said to be quick to lose her temper but also quick to calm down.[4] 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.[3]:74, 77

The name of her first husband is not known, but he had died by 622.[5]:180 At that time Zaynab, who had become a Muslim, was among those who accompanied her brother Abdullah on the Hijra to Medina.[6]

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.[5]:6–10

Zaynab, supported by her brother Abdullah, at first refused the proposal on the grounds that, "I am the widow of a Quraysh."[5]:180 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."[7]

It has also been suggested that he wanted to establish the legitimacy and right to equal treatment of the adopted.[8] 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."[9]

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,[10]

Zaynab acquiesced and married Zayd.[2][11] 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.[12]

Circumstances of the divorce[edit]

The marriage lasted less than two years.[13]

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.[5]:181[14]:1–4

When Zayd came home, Zaynab told him what had happened. Zayd went to Muhammad, saying: “Prophet I have heard about your visit. Perhaps you admire Zaynab, so I will divorce her.” Muhammad replied, “No, fear Allah and keep your wife.”[14]:2[15] After this there was conflict between the couple, and Zaynab shut Zayd out of the bedroom.[5]:181

However, this story has been rejected by most Muslim scholars[16][17][18] mainly because of its lack of having any chain of narration and its complete absence from any authentic hadith. Some commentators[19] 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.[20]

Zayd divorced Zaynab in December 626.[5]:182

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.[21] 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.[22][23] 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.[24][25] 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".[5]:9

Skeptics have pointed to this surah as an example of a self-serving revelation that reflected Muhammad’s desires rather than the will of God.[26][27][28][29][30] Some Muslim historians have understood the discrepancy between Muhammad's private thoughts and his expressed words to refer, not to a desire to marry Zaynab, but only to a prophetic foreknowledge that the marriage was going to happen.[31][32]

The wedding[edit]

Muhammad married Zaynab as soon as her waiting-period from her divorce was complete, on 27 March 627.[5]:182 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."[33][34]

Muhammad gave Zaynab a dower of 400 dirhams.[2] 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.

Anas narrates: The marriage of Zainab bint Jahash was mentioned in the presence of Anas and he said, "I did not see the Prophet giving a better banquet on marrying any of his wives than the one he gave on marrying Zainab. He then gave a banquet with one sheep."

Anas narrates: "The Prophet offered a wedding banquet on the occasion of his marriage to Zainab, and provided a good meal for the Muslims. Then he went out as was his custom on marrying, he came to the dwelling places of the mothers of the Believers (i.e. his wives) invoking good (on them), and they were invoking good (on him). Then he departed (and came back) and saw two men (still sitting there). So he left again. I do not remember whether I informed him or he was informed (by somebody else) of their departure."[3]:75[35]

As soon as the men had departed, Muhammad announced a new ayat of the Quran.[3]:76–77, 126–127

O you who have believed, do not enter the houses of the Prophet except when you are permitted for a meal, without awaiting its readiness. But when you are invited, then enter; and when you have eaten, disperse without seeking to remain for conversation. Indeed, that was troubling the Prophet, and he is shy of [dismissing] you. But Allah is not shy of the truth. And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts. And it is not for you to harm the Messenger of Allah or to marry his wives after him, ever. Indeed, that would be in the sight of Allah an enormity.[36]

Life in Medina[edit]

Aisha believed that Muhammad's favourite wives, after herself, were Zaynab and Umm Salama.[3]:81 She said: "Zaynab was my equal in beauty and in the Prophet's love for her."[37] Umm Salama said of Zaynab: "The Messenger of Allah liked her and he also used to become vexed with her."[3]:74 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.[3]:138

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."[33][34][38] 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."[39] 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.[3]:90 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.[40]

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."[41] 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."[4]

Zaynab had a reputation for being prayerful.[3]:74 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 stand. When Muhammad discovered the rope, he removed it and told her that when she became tired, she should stop praying and sit down.[42]

Later life[edit]

After Muhammad’s death, Zaynab never left Medina again.[3]:146 She was a widow for nine years, during which time she narrated eleven ahadith.[43]

She continued to work at tanning and leather-crafts, and she gave away all her profits in charity.[3]:74, 77 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.[3]:78–79 At her death, her heirs did not find a single coin in her house.[3]:81


Zaynab died during the caliphate of Umar in the summer of 641, being the first of Muhammad's widows to die after him.[3]:79–81 She was 53 (lunar) years old.[5]:182

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gwynne, Paul (2013). Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad: A Comparative Study. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1118465493.
  2. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Muhammad ibn Saad, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir. Translated by Bewley, A. (1995). Volume 8: The Women of Madina. London: Ta-Ha Publishers.
  4. ^ a b Muslim 31:5984.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari. Tarikh al-Rusul wa'l-Muluk. Translated by Landau-Tasseron, E. (1998). Volume 39: Biographies of the Prophet's Companions and Their Successors. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  6. ^ Muhammad ibn Ishaq. Sirat Rasul Allah. Translated by Guillaume, A. (1955). Life of Muhammad, p. 215. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ Thomson, A. (2012). The Wives of the Prophet Muhammad, pp. 61-62. London: Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd.
  8. ^ Caesar E. Farah, Islam: Beliefs and Observances, p.69
  9. ^ Watt, W. M. (1956). Muhammad at Medina, p. 331. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
  10. ^ 33:36
  11. ^ Al-Jalalayn, Tafsir on Q33:36-38.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Maududi (1967), vol. 4, p. 112-3
  14. ^ a b Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari. Tarikh al-Rasul wa’l-Muluk. Translated by Fishbein, M. (1997). Volume 8: The Victory of Islam. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  15. ^ See also Bukhari 9:93:516.
  16. ^ Ibn Al-’Arabi, Ahkam Al-Quran (3/1543)
  17. ^ Sirat-Un-Nabi, by Allama Shibli Nu'Mani
  18. ^ Qadhi, Yasir, Seerah of Prophet Muhammad 69 - The Prophet's Marriage to Zaynab, retrieved 2 May 2020
  19. ^ For example Qadi Iyad ibn Musa al-Yahsubi
  20. ^ "The Prophet's Marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh". Islam Today. Archived from the original on 6 April 2015. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
  21. ^ "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.
  22. ^ "...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.
  23. ^ "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.
  24. ^ Lecker, M (2002). "Zayd B. Haritha". Encyclopaedia of Islam. 11 (2nd ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. p. 475. ISBN 9004127569.
  25. ^ Watt, W. M. (1956). Muhammad at Medina, pp. 330-331. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.
  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. ^ Le Gassick/Ibn Kathir vol. 3 p. 198. "God stated, 'You hide within yourself what God makes evident.' Regarding this, 'Ali b. al-Husayn Zayn b. al-Abidin and al-Suddi said, 'He (the Messenger of God (SAAS)) knew that she was to be one of his wives and it is he who hid (this) within himself.' Many early authorities discussed this matter in various strange ways. Some of these are controversial and so we are omitting them."
  32. ^ Haykal, M. H. (1933). Hayat Muhammad. Translated by al-Faruqi, I. R. A. (2005). The Life of Muhammad (pbuh), p. 340. Baltimore: American Trust Publications. "Muhammad … found himself disinclined to implement this judgment by marrying Zaynab after Zayd had divorced her. Indeed, the criticisms of the commonplace and the vituperations with which he was indicted in the public eye for breaking down such well established custom did, for a time, influence Muhammad's judgment and affected his decision. It was at this stage that the following divine criticism was addressed to Muhammad: 'Would you hide, O Muhammad, within yourself that which God was going to bring to light anyway? Would you fear the gossip of the people? Isn't God more worthy of being feared?' [Qur'an, 33:37] The truth is, however, that Muhammad was the exemplar of obedience to God; his life was the implementation of that which he was entrusted to convey to mankind. The outcome, therefore, was that Muhammad would not give any weight at all to the gossip of the people if he were to marry the ex-wife of his adopted son, since the fear of social condemnation is nothing comparable to that of condemnation by God, of disobedience to divine commandment. Thus, Muhammad married Zaynab in order to provide a good example of what the All-Wise Legislator was seeking to establish by way of rights and privileges for adoption."
  33. ^ a b Sa'id Ashur. Jurisprudence from Muhammad's life, p. 126.
  34. ^ a b Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. Al-Isaba fi tamyiz al-Sahaba, vol. IV, p. 307.
  35. ^ Bukhari 7:62:84. Bukhari 7:62:97.
  36. ^ Quran 33:53 (Sahih International)
  37. ^ Bukhari 5:59:462.
  38. ^ Bukhari 9:93:516.
  39. ^ Bukhari 3:47:755. Muslim 31:5984. Abu Dawud 42:4880.
  40. ^ Bukhari 3:47:755. Muslim 31:5984. Abu Dawud 41:4880.
  41. ^ Bukhari 3:48:829.
  42. ^ Bukhari 2:21:251.
  43. ^ Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Dhahabi. Siyar Aalam al-Nubala vol. 2 #112.