Muhammad and Zainab

One of the more interesting (and startling) things I came across when reading the Qur’an was the revelation unto Muhammad permitting him to marry his own divorced daughter-in-law. It is important to note that this particular episode dealt with Muhammad’s adopted son, the freedman Zaid bin Muhammad and his wife Zainab (also Muhammad’s first cousin). Up until the revelation of this particular verse (Chapter 33, Verse 37) it was forbidden unto Muslims to marry their sons and daughters-in-laws regardless of them being biological parents or not (as was customary in Arabia at the time):

Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of God and thy favour: “Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear God.” But thou didst hide in thy heart that which God was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear God. Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And God’s command must be fulfilled

Even with Yusuf Ali’s meticulous bracketed polishing of the verse, the account still disgusts me. Not just because a man is being commanded by God Himself to marry his own daughter-in-law but also because of the seemingly self-serving nature of the Qur’an. This theme is repeated in several verses and seem to benefit Muhammad in a variety of ways ranging from being allotted spoils (of war) to prohibiting too much questioning to not bothering him at home.
I found the following comic which graphically (and somewhat irreverently) tells the story and also delves into certain other oddities in the Quranic narration. Devout Muslims should proceed with caution.

Click to read the comicClick to read the entire comic. WARNING: Depictions of Muhammad

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Muhammad and Zainab

  1. aisthu

    That jealous little Aisha was almost onto him:

    Narrated Aisha:
    I used to look down upon those ladies who had given themselves to Allah’s Apostle and I used to say, “Can a lady give herself (to a man)?” But when Allah revealed: “You (O Muhammad) can postpone (the turn of) whom you will of them (your wives), and you may receive any of them whom you will; and there is no blame on you if you invite one whose turn you have set aside (temporarily).” (33.51) I said (to the Prophet), “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Number 311)

    ‘A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported: I felt jealous of the women who offered themselves to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Then when Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, revealed this: “You may defer any one of them you wish, and take to yourself any you wish; and if you desire any you have set aside (no sin is chargeable to you)” (xxxiii. 51), I (‘A’isha.) said: It seems to me that your Lord hastens to satisfy your desire. (Sahih Muslim, Book 008, Number 3453)

    She was so close. So close.

  2. rick

    People who are hell-bent on finding faults will not give up even when they are proven wrong. However, I wish to underline few points you got wrong in this article.
    1. It was not prohibited for Muslims to marry the daughter of their adopted son as you claimed here even before the verse was revealed. The truth is it was only a practice followed by Arabs at that time.
    2. Muhammad did not want to marry Zainab in the first place. Check the facts, please. The truth is when Zainab had wanted to marry Muhammad he himself had asked her to marry his adopted son, Zaid instead.
    3. Islam abolished many irrational, unreasonable Arab customs. Removing the old taboo of a father marrying the daughter of his adopted son was one of them. Although Muhammad did not like it himself, he was asked by God to show it through practice because it was such a serious matter to them.
    4. You have only hand picked the verse which favours Muhammad. Please read more. You will find in it even warning for him if he did not follow the revealed verses. One example is Surat Al-luha where he is warned by God for his conduct when he sidelined a blind man to preach a rich crowd of arabs.

  3. rick

    oops. sorry. not daughter of adopted son, I mean wife of adopted son or father marrying their daughter-in-law of their adopted son.

  4. Leo

    @rick, true. But there are also people who are hell-bent on ignoring faults with scripture that are visible like the midday sun to the rest of us.

    Of course I’ll take your word for what Muhammad wanted to do and didn’t want to do. You knew him so well. And thank you for pointing out a single verse that he couldn’t have possibly written himself, say out of guilt. Here is the account of someone who may have known him or someone else who knew him:
    ““One day Muhammad went out looking for Zaid (Mohammed’s adopted son). Now there was a covering of hair cloth over the doorway, but the wind had lifted the covering so that the doorway was uncovered. Zaynab was in her chamber, undressed, and admiration for her entered the heart of the Prophet”
    – Al Tabari, Book 8, Page 4.

    As for the Quranic sanction of allowing you to marry your own child’s former spouse… now that is clear proof of the scripture’s moral superiority, a point that you have somehow failed to address. A round of applause for the defender of polished turd!

    I do apologize for my ignorance of Arab culture at the time and also prophetic history, the latter I wouldn’t necessarily accept at face value due to the Muslim tradition of embellishing anything to do with Muhammad, but I would still argue that it is wrong to marry your kids’ spouse and it is valid to question the divinity and authenticity of any god who would command so.

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