Zaynab bint Jahsh- a name synonymous with several revolutionary changes brought into Islam. Zaynab bint Jahsh- because of who the verses of Hijab were revealed, and several societal norms were blown to smithereens. It was she who was the mother-figure for all the poor and needy of the city of Madinah, and was known for her generosity.
But who is she? What’s her story? And most importantly, what can we internalize from it?
Zaynab bint Jahsh belonged to the noble tribe of Khozayma. Her mother was Umaimah bint Abdul Muttalib, the paternal aunt of the Prophet, thus making her his cousin. She was known for her beauty, intelligence and wisdom, and had many men vying for her hand in marriage.
Her family was a family of sabiqūn, which refers to the early generations of people who strived in the way of Islam, and have been given glad tidings of Jannah in Surah Waqiah.
She came from an extremely affluent family. So affluent, in fact, that her family was the keeper of the keys of Baytullah (Ka’bah), and the Jahsh family was known by all the kings of the Arabian peninsula. However, when the message of Islam spread across the city, no thought was given by the Jahsh family to their wealth and reputation. Her siblings Abdullah bin Jahsh, Hamnah bin Jahsh and Abu Ahmed bin Jahsh were active pioneers of Islam, and were important companions of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم . Zaynab set out in the footsteps of her elder siblings, which marks an important lesson for us. Amongst us readers, those of us who are the eldest siblings must be particularly careful to set a good example for our younger brothers and sisters. You cannot expect your younger siblings to not back-answer your parents when you yourself do it regularly. You cannot expect your siblings to watch Islamic videos on YouTube, when you wouldn’t go near them with a 10-foot pole and would rather watch a movie. We need to be conscious of al-Samee’ and al-Baseer, because in such cases, we are in danger of crossing the extremely thin line of hypocrisy. And as for parents, the concept of being ideal role models for their children goes without even saying.
The concept of caste-ism and tribal pride was very deeply rooted in Arabs, particularly reputed ones. With the advent of Islam, this mindset was abolished to a great degree, but some tiny vestiges of it lingered. When Zaynab (رضي الله عنها) was made the hijrah to Madinah, she was stunned by the atmosphere there. While in Makkah, she was used to the tribalism and living among the oppressors. In Madinah however, the believers lived the true meaning of إخوة (brotherhood). While in Makkah, Zaynab (رضي الله عنها) was one of the most prominent ladies, and was extremely well-known. In Madinah however, the only thing that mattered was your faith. Your Imaan. Not your beauty, your standing in society or your lineage.
In our lives, how many times have encountered racism- either in a very mild manner or a strong form? How many times have we been rejected admission to a university on account of our “nationality”? How many jobs list a particular nationality as a job criterion for a particular position? SubhanAllah, even admission to international schools depends on your nationality- with highest preference given to Western passport-holders, following Africans, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis etc (not necessarily in that order). How many other times have we participated in such racism by making offensive jokes, stereotyping etc.?
Following her hijrah, Prophet Muhammed صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم arranged for her to get married to Zayd bin Harithah- the Prophet’s adopted son and former servant. SubhanAllah. And the two of them literally belonged to the farthest poles of the social spectrum. This stunned and enraged Zaynab, who claimed that she was better than him in her lineage- she belonging to a prominent household, and him being a freed slave. The Prophet said that she should marry him, and before she could reply, Ayah 36 from Surat al-Ahzab was revealed, interpreted as:
“It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disbelieves Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed into a plain error.” (33:36)
Following this, Zaynab and Zayd were married.
There is enormous wisdom behind this decision- every one of us, be it now or later, has to put away our pride, our prejudices and accept something we may not like at all. This can be a considered a test from Allah, wherein we are required to erase our arrogance and our desires, in the face of rewards from Allah alone, and live out the true meaning of an “abd” of Allah i.e. his servitude. This can servitude can manifest in many ways- apologizing when you are in the wrong, accepting advice from someone who we ‘assumed’ to be lower than us (either in status, or education, or age) etc. How confident are we that we will be able to look at the greater good in the heat of the moment and choose the Akhirah as Zaynab (رضي الله عنها) did, rather than this Dunya? Furthermore, the reason the Prophet wanted to get his cousin married to Zayd (رضي الله عنه) because he was extremely knowledgeable. Zaynab was highly intelligent as well, and so, he desired to find a knowledgeable husband for her.
Unfortunately, this marriage was strained and lasted only a year due to their conflicting personalities and incompatibility. Zayd (رضي الله عنه) wasn’t happy since he felt he didn’t get the respect a husband deserves from his life.
Lesson: Both Zayd and Zaynab (رضي الله عنهما) were almost perfect individuals, and had been selected by al-Habib صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم for each other. But their marriage was unsuccessful. This clears away the concept that perfect people can lead to a perfect marriage. Rather, imperfect people work together to create a perfect marriage. Stop waiting for your Prince Charming or Princess, and start working on improving yourself and correcting your flaws.
Following the completion of Zaynab’s (رضي الله عنها) ‘iddah, Allah revealed the following ayah, as interpreted:
“And when you said to him (Zayd bin Harithah) on whom Allah has bestowed grace and you have done favor: ‘Keep your wife to yourself, and fear Allah”. But you hid in yourself that which Allah will make manifest, you did fear the people 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 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. And Allah’s command must be fulfilled.” (33:37)
After Zaynab completed her ‘iddah, it was revealed to the Prophet that the marriage between him and Zaynab had already been performed in the Heavens by Allah Himself. This point became a source of great pleasure and honor for Zaynab, since she was the only wife of the Prophet whose marriage had been performed by not just her family but by the Lord of the Worlds Himself. To which Aisha (رضي الله عنها) would respond that her innocence was proven by Allah Himself from above seven heavens. SubhanAllah. This teaches us an important lesson. How proud are we when we are associated with Allah? Let me frame this again. How confident are we to call ourselves Muslims? Particularly in the face of the growing Islamophobia? Why do we apologize for our Islam? “I’m sorry, I don’t listen to music. My religion doesn’t allow it.” “I’m sorry, I don’t drink. I would if I could.” Isn’t it high time we stopped feeling sorry for ourselves, and proclaim our religion and our faith confidently? Isn’t it time that we stand up for ourselves, rather than apologizing and especially condemning the acts of terrorists, who have nothing to do whatsoever with true Islam? Isn’t it time we start consciously studying our Deen, and what makes it beautiful, and spreading that beauty and light around us?
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم was extremely distressed over what the Arabs would say about his marriage to the ex-wife of his adopted son, since it was considered unacceptable. He could not escape their taunts and their slandering, but Allah sent the following ayaat for his defense and clarification; as interpreted below:
“There is no blame on the Prophet in that which Allah has made legal for him. That has been Allah’s way with those who have passed away of (the Prophets of) old. And the Command of Allah is a decree determined. Those who convey the Message of Allah and fear Him, and fear none save Allah. And Sufficient is Allah as a Reckoner.” (33:38-39)
“Muhammed is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the last of the Prophets. And Allah is Ever All-Aware of everything.” (33:40)
“Nor has he made your adopted sons your real sons. That is but your saying with your mouths. But Allah says the truth, and He guides to the (Right) Way. Call them (the adopted sons) by (the names of) their fathers, that is more just with Allah.” (33:4-5)
Lesson: The intent was to free the society from the shackles of unnecessary and senseless traditions, which lead to a considerably narrow mindset. But subhanAllah, are we not engulfed in such petty cultural traditions these days? How many instances have we heard of Islam being mixed with culture, solely due to a lack of education about Islam, or more simply, a lack of incentive to change? Some examples of such traditions that I can list off the top of my head are- not being allowed to marry someone from a different region, tribe or country, disapproval of adoption (throughout the society), marriage of divorcees and widows is a taboo etc. Are these not shackles we’ve bound upon ourselves? Such ‘rules’ should not be considered a part of Islam because Allah clearly states in the Qur’an, as interpreted- “Allah intends ease for you and does not intend (to create) hardship for you.” (2:185)
Previously, Zaynab was named Barra, which means an extremely pious, pure and righteous woman. After her marriage to the Prophet, he changed her name to Zaynab. It is a known fact that the name of a person has some influence on his character. Hence, her name was changed from Barra to Zaynab to avoid the arrogance that would come with the name. This highlights the importance of humility is Islam- it is the deciding factor of your nearness to Allah.
During the Valima (reception) of the Prophet and Zaynab, which was attended by around 300 guests, had batches of 10 people coming to his house at a time, and staying for dinner and talking. The Prophet was driven out of his house to seek some peace in another wife’s house. Following this, the Ayat-ul-Hijab (33:53) was revealed, which not only ordered the guests of Rasulullah to not overstay their welcome, but also commanded the ladies to draw their veils over their faces, while communicating with other men.
Lesson: The Quran encompasses every aspect of life- no matter how minute it may be. One such aspect is visiting someone’s house. When we visit someone, it is an Islamic etiquette to inform them before doing so, and ensuring that they are alright with it. Further, this involves not overdoing your stay there. Most hosts often find it difficult and rather uncomfortable to convey to their guests that they would prefer if they left early. Why give them an opportunity to voice out their difficulties? In order to avoid these awkward situations, we have been commanded to be considerate, especially so when visiting. We don’t want to be considered major nuisances now, do we?
Aisha and Zaynab were rivals- in terms of getting closer to Allah, attaining the love of al-Habib صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم , and in terms of their position. But they never let their rivalry shake their Taqwa and their manners (akhlaaq). The extent of their goodness, inspite of the rivalry was proved at the incident of Ifk (when Aisha was wrongfully accused), when the Prophet صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم asked Zaynab about her opinion. At this instant, she could have very easily defamed and degraded her rival, but she didn’t. She was honest and praised her instead. Allahu Akbar. How do we behave with our rivals? How apparent is our jealousy? How honest are we in their praise in front of others? How often do we backbite about them? Are we among those who let the fire of jealousy consume them and blind them with hatred?
Such was the story of Zaynab bint Jahsh, one of our Mothers of the Believers. The sole purpose of narrating/ writing these rather well-known stories is for the sake of self-improvement- an attempt to emulate their perfection and their praiseworthy characteristics, to a minor degree at the most. May He grant us all the ability to do so. Ameen.