Zaynab bint Jahsh belonged to the noble family of the Banu Asad tribe and was the sister of the famous poet Abdullah bin Jahsh. Once the Jahsh clan came under the fold of Islam, they migrated twice – first to Abyssinia and then to Madina – to escape the atrocities caused by the Quraish.
Prior to becoming the wife of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), Zaynab (RA) was married to Zayd bin Harsa who was a slave, freed by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and also his adopted son. Zaynab was unhappy with the proposal of Zayd bin Harsa and did not want to marry him initially, which is why Allah revealed this verse from the Quran:
“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” (Quran 33:36).
When she realized that her verdict of not marrying Zayd bin Harsa would make Allah Almighty unhappy, she decided to change her decision and marry the free man. Unfortunately, their union proved unsuccessful and since it was becoming increasingly difficult to stay together, Zayd bin Harsa decided to give Zaynab bint Jahsh a divorce. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was reluctant about Zayd’s decision because he feared that it might anger Alla, but Allah Almighty had other plans for Zaynab bint Jahsh.
Allah Almighty ordered the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to marry Zaynab bint Jahsh. Although the Prophet (PBUH) wanted to accept Allah’s command, he was worried about what his community would think of him if he married the divorcee of his adopted son. This was because in the olden times your biological son and adopted son were legally on the same level. Hence for the Prophet (PBUH) to marry his ex-daughter in law was likely to raise questions on his character.
Allah Almighty was aware of this situation and revealed the following verses to clarify the position of the Holy Prophet (PBUH):
“Muhammad is not the father of [any] one of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And ever is Allah, of all things, Knowing” (Quran 33:40).
And to remove the fear of people from the heart of the Prophet (PBUH) Allah Almighty gave Zaynab bint Jahsh’s hand in marriage to him with the following verse from the Holy Quran:“And [remember, O Muhammad], when you said to the one on whom Allah bestowed favor and you bestowed favor, ‘Keep your wife and fear Allah,’ while you concealed within yourself that which Allah is to disclose. And you feared the people, while Allah has more right that you fear Him. So when Zayd had no longer any need for her, We married her to you in order that there not be upon the believers any discomfort concerning the wives of their adopted sons when they no longer have need of them. And ever is the command of Allah accomplished” (Quran 33:37).
Hence Zaynab bint Jahsh completed the time period of Iddah and was a little reluctant before saying yes to the Prophet’s (PBUH) proposal and wanted to make sure it was the right decision. She prayed to the Allah Almighty and this verse was revealed giving her the reassurance that she was looking for. How could she have said no to a union that Allah Almighty Himself was in favor of? Zaynab was ecstatic to hear that her match to the Prophet (PBUH) was indeed a match made in heaven and so she agreed.
The union of the Prophet (PBUH) and Zaynab bint Jahsh is therefore rather unique. It ended the long time tradition of giving equal status to adopted sons as well as biological sons and established that adopted sons are like “Brothers in Faith” who should be called upon by their father’s names:
“Call them by [the names of] their fathers; it is more just in the sight of Allah . But if you do not know their fathers - then they are [still] your brothers in religion and those entrusted to you. And there is no blame upon you for that in which you have erred but [only for] what your hearts intended. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful” (Quran 33:5).
Hence the union of Zaynab to the Prophet (PBUH) was exemplary for times to come.
Zaynab bint Jahsh was distinguished from other wives of the Prophet (PBUH) as her marriage was decided in the heavens. She used to talk about this to the Prophet (PBUH) and the other wives of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and used to say:
“Your families arranged your marriages but Allah arranged my marriage from above the seven heavens” (Bukhari 6984).
However, she also made sure to live up to the status that was bestowed upon her. Like all “Mothers of the Faithful”, Zaynab bint Jahsh was a pious and noble woman who took her duties towards her community as seriously as she took her duties towards her religion and her Lord Almighty. She was most charitable and God fearing in her actions. She spent most of her time in prayer and meditation in a little mosque that she had made in the corner of her house. Before making any important decision, she used to seek counsel from Allah through prayer and supplication, just like she did in the case of her marriage to the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
Zaynab bint Jahsh died at the age of fifty-three during the caliphate of Umar Farooq (RA) who also led the funeral prayer. Her burial, like all other wives, took place in Jannat-ul-Baqi.