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The marriage of the Messenger of Allah with Zainab bint Jahsh and abolishing the custom of adoption

The marriage of the Messenger of Allah with Zainab bint Jahsh and abolishing the custom of adoption

In the month of Thul Qadah of this year, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) married Zainab bint Jahsh [Ibn Saad’s At-Tabaqat Al-Kubra], following an order from Allah. The aim of the marriage was to remove the restrictions resulting from the pre-Islamic custom of considering an adopted child as one’s natural child, having all the same prohibitions and rights of a natural child.

They used to believe that it was prohibited to marry any wife with whom the adopted son had consummated the marriage. This belief is not in agreement with many of the basic rules in Islam with regard to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other dealings. Consequently, Allah abolished this idea of adoption through the Messenger of Allah’s marriage to his cousin on his father’s side, Zainab bint Jahsh.   

Zainab (may Allah be pleased with her) was married to Zaid ibn Harithah (may Allah be pleased with him), but they did not get along with each other. When Zaid had decided to divorce her, he mentioned the matter to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) ordered him to keep Zainab and not divorce her. This could be because he knew that he would be ordered to marry her after she had finished her waiting period, and feared that the hypocrites would exploit this point to make a smear campaign against him, saying that he had married his son’s wife.

But Allah was not pleased with the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) being hesitant or worried about this. He (Glorified and Exalted be He) even reproved the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) in His saying, {O Prophet, remember the time when you said to the man whom Allah has blessed and you yourself have favored,"Keep your wife and fear Allah." At that time you kept hidden in your heart that which Allah intended to reveal; you feared the people, whereas Allah has a greater right that you should fear Him} [Surah Al-Ahzab: 37].

When Zaianb’s waiting period had finished, Allah ordered the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) to marry her. Allah even made Himself the guardian in the contract for the marriage between the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and Zainab. Allah (Glorified be He) says, {Then, when Zaid divorced her, We married her to you so that there remains no restriction for the believers in regard to the wives of their adopted sons when they have divorced them} [Surah Al-Ahzab: 37].

Consequently, the marriage of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) to Zainab was formalized for a Shariah (Islamic legislation) reason: removal of any limitations on the Muslims if they wished to marry any wife their adopted sons had divorced. On the revelation of this verse, adoption became prohibited. Zaid was then referred to as Zaid ibn Harithah, following Allah’s order in His saying, {Call them (your adopted sons) after their fathers' names: this is more just in the sight of Allah} [Surah Al-Ahzab: 5].

Many people attended the celebration of Messenger of Allah’s marriage to Zainab. Anas reported about this wedding reception, saying, “I did not see the Messenger of Allah have a wedding reception for any of his wives like he had for Zainab; he slaughtered a sheep for this wedding reception” [related by Muslim]. In another narration in Muslim, he said, “The Messenger of Allah did not hold a larger or better wedding reception for any of his wives than the wedding reception he held for Zainab; he kept feeding the people bread and meat until they left.”

Zainab used to boast about her marriage to the Messenger of Allah’s wives, saying, “Your families married you [to the Messenger of Allah], but Allah married me [to him] above the seven heavens” [related by Al-Bukhari].