Women at the time of the Prophet Series - Zainab bint Muhammad

Posted on May 17, 2014
Melanie Elturk



I'm so excited to share with you all this new series on women at the time of the Prophet (S)! In the midst of all the fun fashion and how-to posts I wanted to do something truly educational for our deen and for the past year I've been taking an online class called "Companions of the Prophet (S)" that has been absolutely amazing. One of the best parts of the class is learning the back stories behind some of the lesser known companions. I also loved learning about the strong, passionate and inspiring women at the time of the Prophet (S), many of whom sacrificed their lives for Islam that many of us know next to nothing about. I'm starting the series off with the daughter of the Prophet (S), Zainab bint Muhammad.

Zainab, the eldest daughter of Muhammad (S) and Khadijah (RA), was born many years before Prophethood. Zainab grew up in a pure home with high morals and an abhorrence to paganism free from the worship of idols. Zainab became engaged to her cousin, a wealthy Meccan merchant, Abu al 'Aas ibn al Rabi'. He came from a line of noble descent and was known as, "the honest one."  They lived a happy life together until the day news of the revelation of the final Messenger (S) shook Mecca.

When the day came it was revealed that Zainab's own father, Muhammad (S) was the final Messenger of Allah, Zainab was quick to believe in her noble father - how could she not believe her trustworthy and honest father? Unfortunately, it was not easy for her husband to leave the religion of his ancestors and follow the religion of his wife. Zainab did everything in her power to persuade her husband to worship the One and Only Allah (S) and to follow in the footsteps of his cousin 'Uthman ibn 'Affan and others who rushed to be among the first to embrace Islam. Despite her efforts, the light of Islam did not penetrate his heart. He would say, "Your father is not to be accused, and there is nothing dearer to me than to believe in him; but on the other hand, there is nothing more hateful to me than to be said that I have abandoned my people to please my wife."

Zainab continued to remain a loving wife to her husband who had always been good to her and prayed Allah (S) would guide him to the truth. Years passed and the torture of the Quraysh increased until the eighth year of revelation when Quraysh imposed an economic and social boycott against the Muslims. It was during these three years of the boycott that Zainab's beloved mother Khadijah (RA), now in her mid-sixties, grew very ill and eventually passed, leaving behind Zainab and her sisters Ruqaya, Umm Kulthoom and Fatima.

The thirteenth year after revelation marked the emigration to Medina and Zainab was left behind in Mecca as she saw her father and sisters embark upon the emigration to a new city and new home. Zainab was stricken with grief and her only relief was to pray to Allah (S) asking Him for patience and strength. In the year 2 AH her husband Abu al 'Aas was taken captive in the Battle of Badr. In the hopes of his release, Zainab sent something so beloved to her - a necklace gifted to her by her mother Khadijah (RA) in exchange for her husband. When the Prophet (S) saw the necklace before him, he was overcome by emotion and addressed the Muslims, "If you see your way to set her captive free and return her necklace to her, then do so." Her husband was freed and the necklace was returned to Zainab.

Amazed by the kind treatment he received from the Companions of the Prophet (S) while taken captive, he took an oath that when he returned to Mecca he would send Zainab to join her father (S) and family in Medina. This was a direct result of the newly received verses that forbade marriage between a Muslim woman and polytheist man. Despite their intense love for one another, Zainab's love for Allah (S) and the Prophet (S) was greater. She set out to join her family in Medina accompanied by her brother in law in broad daylight for all of Quraysh to see.

A group of men from Quraysh were infuriated that the daughter of their worst enemy was allowed to leave and join her father (S) so easily. They set out and followed her tracks until they reached her and threatened her with a spear while she was in her howdah. The surprise attack caused her to miscarry and her brother in law cried out, "If any of you get closer to her, I will put this arrow into him!" The men withdrew after they heard this and Abu Sufyan approached him replying, "Put away your arrows so we can talk." He continued, "You did not do the right thing. You took the woman publicly before the eyes of the people and you know our problems and the humiliation that has been caused by her father, Muhammad. Take her back to Mecca until the people calm down and see that she has been returned. Then you may take her secretly to join her father in Medina." After some time, Zainab was finally reunited with her father (S) and sisters in Medina and the Prophet (S) said of her, "She was the best among my daughters; she suffered for my sake."

Years later, after an incident in which Abu al 'Aas was on a trade journey in Shaam and encountered a group of Muslims who took all his money, he fled to Medina, went to Zainab's house and pled asylum. The Prophet (S) gave his consent to the asylum and declared to the Muslims, "If you did not already know, this man is kin to us and you have his money. It would be a good gesture from you and I would be pleased with you, if you were to return his money. If you are unwilling to do so, it is your right. For this money is from the spoils that God offered you."

The money was returned to Abu al 'Aas and when he returned to Mecca he gave the money back to the rightful owners and exclaimed, "O Quraysh, have you taken all your money?" "Yes, we have." They replied. "Then listen to what I am about to say; I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, I witness that Muhammad (S) is His servant and messenger. I swear by God that what stopped me from announcing my Islam in Medina was the fact that you might think that I took your money. Now, since I have returned your money, I stand before you and proclaim my new faith."

The day Zainab had been waiting for finally arrived. God opened the heart of Abu al 'Aas to the love of Islam. He returned to Medina in the month of Muharram in the year 7 AH and reunited with his wife under the shade of Islam and the love and devotion to Allah (S). Unfortunately, the life Zainab yearned for did not last for long. Shortly after the return of her husband, Zainab fell ill and died early in the year 8 AH.

Sad and disheartened, the Prophet (S) walked in her funeral procession and entered her grave and prayed to Allah (S) for his beloved daughter. When he came out, he said, "I was reminded of the narrowness and anguish of the grave, and the weakness of Zainab; such was difficult for me. So I asked Allah to make it easier for her; and He did."

There are so many lessons and observations to reflect upon this beautiful love story between Zainab and her husband Abu al 'Aas. Despite his reluctance to embrace Islam, Zainab's love and devotion for her husband never diminished and her sincere prayers were eventually answered. Take a moment to truly think about the reality of Zainab and her situation - being told that your father is now a Prophet who receives revelation from God; having this news come between you and your husband eventually causing you to separate; and then being alone in your faith when your entire family leaves for a new city. Zainab sacrificed so much for her father (S) and her faith and in the end it must have been such a sweet sweet moment when she finally reunited with her husband in the name of Islam in the city she shared with her beloved father (S) and sisters. Let us also take a moment to reflect upon the intense grief our beloved Prophet Muhammad (S) endured as he once again, had to bury one of his own children. Let us display the patience Zainab displayed when she spent endless nights praying her husband would join her in her faith, put forth the strength it took for Zainab to be left behind in Mecca as her beloved father (S) and sisters emigrated to Medina, and demonstrate the perseverance she exhibited as she continued to be strong in her faith and devoted to Allah (S) despite the difficulties she faced.

Reference: Tabaa, Asma. Stars in the Prophet’s Orbit, Hussen Obiadi Bookbinding Est., 2003.