31.7 Zaynab and Islamic Legislation
Zaynab, daughter of Jahsh, was Mohamed's cousin, her mother Umayrna being the daughter of Abdul-Muttalib, the head of Quraysh and Mohamed's grandfather, who had been very good to him as a child. She came from one of the noblest houses of Quraysh. The Arabs were very proud of their lineage and very careful to marry their daughters to men of the same social status. That the daughter of a great house should marry an unknown was a rare exception, that she should marry an ex-slave, a creature bought and sold, was shocking beyond belief. Islam decrees that it is not who a man's ancestors were that mattered, but how he stands in the sight of Allah.
"To Allah the most honored among you is the most devout,"
as the holy verses state. Mohamed found it hard to make the Arabs, who studied their genealogy most carefully through generation after generation and made verses in praise of their ancestors and their deeds, realize this truth. The only way to make them realize it was by acts not words.
Zaynab was his little cousin, brought up under his care. He had watched her grow and thought that she and Zayd, the little boy whom Khadija had given him as a present and whom he had liberated and brought up as a son, would make a fine couple and be a good example that it was not who a manís ancestors were, but who he was in the sight of Allah that mattered. When he asked for her hand for his client, Zaynab and her people were shocked, and at first both she and her brother refused. Then these holy verses were revealed:
It is not for a man or woman who believes,
when Allah and His Messenger have made a decision,
to have the choice in their affairs.
He who disobeys Allah and His Messenger has clearly gone astray. (33:36)
When Zaynab and her brother who were good Muslims realized that this was the decree of Allah, they submitted. Mohamed gave Zayd a handsome dowry for the bride according to the customs of the Arabs.
The marriage was not a happy one. A class barrier can be a formidable obstacle, particularly in a society based on such distinctions. Zayd had to complain more than once to Mohamed about Zaynab, and Mohamed who was trying to prove that such a marriage was practicable charged him to be patient, saying,
"Fear Allah and hold on to your wife."
In the end Zayd could endure it no longer and divorced his wife.
Another custom of the Arabs was to buy slaves, set them free and make them inherit their name and wealth as their own sons. They tended to go to extremes-either they treated their slaves and clients as inferiors with no status or they adopted them and gave them the rights and privileges that would normally have belonged to the sons of their own blood. While Islam decrees that they are not to be treated as inferiors, it decrees that such rights belong to a son, and he should not be deprived of them for the sake of an outsider.
Before Islam, Mohamed himself had adopted Zayd as a son. It was an old Arab custom, and when Islam made the above decrees, the Arabs still had these customs. They needed an example like the marriage of Zaynab to Zayd, to shatter this custom once and for all. An adopted son was not the same as a natural son in the sight of Allah, and should not be given the rights that belong to the sons or daughters of one's blood. The Arabs considered the wife or ex-wife of an adopted son forbidden to them in marriage in the way that the wife of a natural son would be.
After Zayd divorced Zaynab, Mohamed was ordered by Allah to ask for her hand. Mohamed had looked upon Zayd as a son and upon Zaynab, the little girl brought up under his care, as a daughter. It seems he was loathing following this command. It had no precedent in Arab history and it would shatter the notion that adopted sons could be as natural sons in the way that the marriage of Zaynab to Zayd had shattered the Arab's notions about class. This was exactly the reason Mohamed was ordered to marry her. He had seven wives already, among them those with many children and the old, and also Aisha who had grown to be very attractive. He obeyed as he always did; yet it was a heavy duty and he feared people would not understand, nevertheless he obeyed.
The Koran says:
When you told him whom Allah has been gracious to,
and whom you have been gracious to,
Hold on to your wife, and fear Allah,
hiding in your heart what Allah was revealing,
you feared men, when it is Allah you should fear .
After Zayd no longer cared for her,
We let you marry her,
so that believers may find no sin in marrying the women,
who were their clients' wives,
when the latter no longer care for them.
The will of Allah is ever executed. (33: 37)
The marriage of Mohamed to Zaynab put an end to adopting clients and allowing them to inherit to the detriment of the rightful heir.
Zaynab was a very good young woman, clever with her hands, and she used this gift to make clothes and distribute them among the poor. Mohamed used to tell his wives,
"She is the most charitable among you."
Such a remark cannot be truly appreciated except when we recall that all Mohamed's wives were very generous. To be the most generous of the generous was very high charity indeed, for among them was the lady known as
"Mother of the Poor",
and also Aisha who had been brought up by both father and husband to be exceedingly charitable.