As we continue our journey through the lives of great men and women, we pause to reflect on the life of Sayyidah Zainab bint Muhammad radiya Llahu ‘anha and the immense sacrifices she bore in assisting Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. One who studies her life will be left amazed at her spirit to opt for a life of sacrifice over one of peace and ease with her husband. She gave up her life of comfort and determined to help the cause of Islam bearing much difficulty in doing so, emigrating and lending her assistance in the path of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala. Let us start from the beginning.
Abu al ‘As ibn Rabi’ the maternal cousin of Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha [the son of Halah bint Khuwaylid, sister of Khadijah] comes with a marriage proposal for her which is accepted by Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The marriage takes place, an animal slaughtered and the walimah meal laid out. A time of joy and happiness. Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha lived a blissful life beside her husband and was the model wife to her husband. Pious and noble. He too was a gem, showering her with his love and safety. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala had decreed for them two beautiful children from this union, ‘Ali ibn Abi al ‘As who was saddled with Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam on the day of the Conquest of Makkah. Sadly, he passed away in his childhood. And secondly Umamah bint Abi al ‘As whom ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu married after the demise of his wife Fatimah radiya Llahu ‘anha.
It was not long after the marriage that revelation descended upon Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, upon which Khadijah and her four daughters, Sayyidah Zainab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum, and Fatimah radiya Llahu ‘anhunna accepted Islam, professing the shahadah. After accepting the creed, they stood by their father firm and unwavering, their faith strong knowing full well the truthfulness of their father. Even the disbelievers knew him as Al Amin (the trustworthy). There were not many men who believed in the early stages, with the likes of Abu Bakr, ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, and Zubair ibn al ‘Awwam radiya Llahu ‘anhum helping the cause and bearing the brunt of the Quraysh with Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
At the advent of Islam her husband Abu al ‘As had been out of Makkah with a trading caravan, upon his return he was soon informed of the new faith towards which Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam calls to. Perturbed he goes to his wife Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha and recounts the statements of the polytheists regarding her father and his faith. In that moment Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha held her ground, brave and unwavering, a stance of the greats and informs her husband of her acceptance of Islam. She professes her conviction in all that which Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam has brought, not stopping there she then lays out the beauty of Islam before him calling him to accept the faith. He however, persisted on his disbelief and polytheistic ideologies for fear of disrepute saying:
اكره ان يقال : ان زوجك خذل قومه و كفر بدين آبائه ارضاء لامرأته
I dislike people to say that I have brought shame to my people and disregarded the faith of my forefathers to please my wife.
At the call for the Battle of Badr, he leaves his wife and two children behind in Makkah coming out with the Quraysh to fight against the Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam not heeding the pleas of Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha to remain behind in Makkah and not join the ranks of the polytheists. Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala wished that the Muslims overcome in this decisive battle and Abu al ‘As is taken as a prisoner. When the people of Makkah came to know of the ransom of the prisoners, Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha sent wealth which included a necklace as ransom for her husband. The necklace held great sentimental value in the eyes of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam as it belonged to his wife Khadijah radiya Llahu ‘anha which was given to Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha on the occasion of her marriage.
As soon as the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam saw the necklace, he was engulfed in a moment of extreme sadness and his heart filled with overwhelming emotion at the memories which flooded his mind and the moment. The Companions who were present there gazed in amazement having been captivated by the magnitude of such an emotional situation. After what seemed to be a long silence, the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam stood up and said:
ان رأيتم ان تطلقوا لها اسيرها و تردوا لها مالها فافعلوا
O my people, if you deem fit to release her prisoner and return her wealth then do so.
Being a part of the intense moment, they all answered in unison, “Yes,” and agreed to the suggestion and let him go on the condition that he will allow Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha to come to Madinah, which he complied with sending her to Madinah to her father salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
Before the Conquest of Makkah Abu al ‘As was travelling in a caravan from Makkah to Syria, carrying with him the wealth of the Quraysh which was entrusted to him. During the journey, he was intercepted by a raiding party headed by Zaid ibn Harithah radiya Llahu ‘anhu who captured the wealth. He managed to escape and sought out Zainab’s home taking respite there as a fugitive. She extended her protection to him and when the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam came to know of this he advised her to treat him kindly however not to have relations with him as she would not be permissible for him so long as he is a polytheist.
Subhan Allah! The character of greatness shines through this incident. This is the character of the Prophets.
Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam gathered the Companions to discuss the matter of the wealth that the raiding party had brought with them. He said, “O people, I declare that this man was a very good son-in-law, he never broke his promise, and neither did he tell lies. So, if you accept, I will return his money back to him and let him go. If you refuse, it’s your decision your right.” The Companions themselves, as kind hearted as their Prophet, agreed, “We will give him his money and grant him his freedom.”
Abu al ‘As then took his money and returned to Makkah returning to the Quraysh their trust after being satisfied that he owed no one and he loudly proclaimed, “I testify that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammed is His Messenger. I swear by Allah! Nothing prevented me from accepting Islam before this except that you would slander me with wanting to eat your wealth. Now that I have returned it to you I proclaim my Islam.”
Abu al ‘As gathered his things and returned to Madinah, heading to the Masjid of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam where he found the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and his Companions seated. They were overjoyed by his return and the joy was complete upon hearing of his acceptance of Islam. Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam then returned Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha to him in marriage by renewing their nikah according to some, whilst according to others without renewing their nikah. Living together as a newly married couple after many years of separation.
As the days passed so too did their lives, happy and content with their children ‘Ali and Umamah in a pure Islamic society. Not long after, Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha fell ill and her health continued to deteriorate after she had become bed ridden. In the eighth year of the hijrah this pure soul left the struggles of this world behind. Abu al ‘As radiya Llahu ‘anhu was overtaken by grief and shed hot tears on her death. His excessive grief drove those who were around him to tears. The Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam himself was overcome with grief, his eyes full of tears and his heart full of sorrow. Not long after he too left this world to join his beloved wife in the next.
Dear reader, the lessons from the life of Sayyidah Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anhu are many just as they are profound. She placed the happiness of her Lord before that of her husband and sacrificed their love for the love of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and her faith. However, though her husband a disbeliever, she came to his aid in his time of need not forgetting the tie of kinship between them which led him to accept Islam.
Are we prepared to build the courage to place the happiness of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala and his Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam ahead of the pleasure of the creation? Perhaps many of us will fail. The great ones of this ummah however, were great in the true sense. They had no qualms in letting the pleasure of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala reign supreme in their lives.
 I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Messenger.
 Abu Dawood, 2692; Ibn al Jarud, 1090; Ibn Ishaq in his Sirah, vol. 2 pg. 307/308.
 Al Mustadrak lil Hakim, 5038; al Tabarani in al Kabir, 1050; al Bayhaqi fi al Sunan al Kubra, 17957.
 Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah, vol. 3 pg. 332.Back to top