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Background to Prophet’s Marriage with Zainab

Waqar Akbar Cheema


 The story of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) allegedly falling in love with his cousin and wife of his adopted son Zaid, Zainab bt. Jahsh, has been a subject of a lot of disputation for centuries. It is generally discussed in connection with Qur’an 33:37. In this paper an effort has been made to exhaustively delineate various aspects of the issue and critically analyse all its content forms on account of both their narrative authenticity and contextual veracity besides assessing their relation to the letter and flow of the relevant Qur’anic passage. Moreover, drawing on earliest sources its possible origin has also been suggested.

 Navigation Tabs

 Versions of Report | Isnad Analysis | Content Analysis | Meanings of Qur’an 33:37Possible Origins | Conclusion

  1. Introduction

The story of Zainab bint Jahsh’s marriage to Zaid, their divorce, and subsequently her marriage to the Prophet (ﷺ) is yet another episode of the Prophet’s life that has been a regular subject of detractors be they the first opponents of the Prophet or those among the orientalists and missionaries who find no other way to raise question about the cause of Islam and the character and demeanor of the Prophet except by picking on baseless narratives that have been preserved in the classical Islamic texts only due to the methodology of the early scholars who sought to collect everything they came across leaving the research and critique to the learned readers contemporary to them and those from the posterity.

A lot has been written on the subject including dedicated treatises and lengthy discussions covering both the narrative authenticity and the textual analysis. In English language, however, there is no cogent and comprehensive piece of writing covering all the aspects of the issue. This article is an attempt at filling this gap.

The story essentially relates to a verse of Qur’an and has been generally discussed and narrated in its connection. We, therefore, begin with the verse and a simple traditional account of the episode before a detailed critical analysis of the reports that appear to give form to the trash talk on this issue involving the blessed personality of the Prophet (ﷺ). Allah says:

وَإِذْ تَقُولُ لِلَّذِي أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْسِكْ عَلَيْكَ زَوْجَكَ وَاتَّقِ اللَّهَ وَتُخْفِي فِي نَفْسِكَ مَا اللَّهُ مُبْدِيهِ وَتَخْشَى النَّاسَ وَاللَّهُ أَحَقُّ أَنْ تَخْشَاهُ فَلَمَّا قَضَى زَيْدٌ مِنْهَا وَطَرًا زَوَّجْنَاكَهَا لِكَيْ لَا يَكُونَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ حَرَجٌ فِي أَزْوَاجِ أَدْعِيَائِهِمْ إِذَا قَضَوْا مِنْهُنَّ وَطَرًا وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ مَفْعُولًا

(Remember) when you (O Prophet,) were saying to the one who was favored by Allah and favored by you, ‘keep your wife to yourself, and fear Allah.’ And you were concealing in your heart what Allah was going to reveal, and you were fearing people, while Allah is more entitled to be feared by you. So, when Zaid finished his desire for her, We gave her into your marriage, so that there may not be a problem for the believers in marrying wives of their adopted sons, when they finish their desire for them; and Allah‘s decree had to be enforced.[1]

Late Pakistani scholar Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ in his commentary to the verse writes:

As ordered by the Prophet (ﷺ), the marriage of Zainab bt. Jahsh was solemnized with Zayd Ibn Haritha. But, their temperaments did not match and merge with each other. Zayd used to complain about the sharpness of her tongue, the airs she assumed because of her inborn lineal nobility and her failure to listen to him. On the other side, the Prophet was informed through revelation that Zayd would divorce her whereafter she would be married to him. On a certain day, Zayd presented these very complaints before the Holy Prophet and showed his intention to divorce her. The Holy Prophet had, though, come to know through Divine revelation that things would transpire in a way that Zayd would divorce her after which she would be married to him … he stopped Zayd from giving a divorce … [because] crossing his blessed heart there was the thought: If Zayd were to give divorce and Zainab were to be married to him consequently, the Arabs would, very much in line with their custom of the Jahiliyyah, throw taunts on him that he had married the wife of his son …

What the Holy Prophet said was correct and sound in its place. But, after having learnt about the event as it would transpire through Divine revelation and after the intention of nikah with Zainab having emerged in his heart, this advice of not divorcing given to Zayd had remained at the level of a sort of formal expression of good wishes – something not appropriate to the station of a messenger of Allah, particularly so because, alongwith it, included therein was the apprehension of taunts from the people. Therefore, the admonition was revealed in the words which mean, ‘you were concealing in your heart what Allah was going to reveal.’ When the information about his marriage with Zainab was conveyed to him from Allah and the intention of marriage had already crossed his heart, then, the act of hiding this intention and indulging in such formal remarks was not appropriate to his station. As for the apprehension of taunts from people, it was said, ‘and you were fearing people, while Allah is more entitled to be feared by you.’ In other words, ‘when you knew that this thing is going to take place as a matter destined by Allah – without there being any apprehension or danger of His displeasure in that case – then, simply because of the apprehension of taunts from people, such remarks were not appropriate.’[2]

In short, after having been informed through revelation of what was destined to happen and knowing that it was to undo a baseless social restriction the Prophet was otherwise ready and willing to obey by marrying Zainab. Yet when Zaid complained to him of issues between them he advised him not to divorce her because he was worried about people taunting him for marrying his son’s wife. The Prophet did not tell Zaid to divorce her when he mentioned the troubles in their relation even though he had been told through revelation that it was thus planned by Allah and was destined to happen anyway. On this account he was reprimanded that as a Prophet (ﷺ) he should have feared Allah more than the people.

This is the simple plain story that perfectly fits the Qur’anic description to the letter. Below we discuss the narrations on the subject discussing the authenticity of each of them and to see if the above account is substantiated and the reality of other narrations.

2. Reported narrations and their respective authenticity

2.1 Report of Anas bin Malik

Anas b. Malik (d. 92/712), a close companion of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) has reported on the issue. His report has come down us as follows.

محمد بن أبي بكر المقدمي، حدثنا حماد بن زيد، عن ثابت، عن أنس، قال: جاء زيد بن حارثة يشكو، فجعل النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول: «اتق الله، وأمسك عليك زوجك»، قال أنس: لو كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم كاتما شيئا لكتم هذه، قال: فكانت زينب تفخر على أزواج النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم [ص:125] تقول: زوجكن أهاليكن، وزوجني الله تعالى من فوق سبع سموات، وعن ثابت: {وتخفي في نفسك ما الله مبديه وتخشى الناس} [الأحزاب: 37]، «نزلت في شأن زينب وزيد بن حارثة»

Muhammad b. Abi Bakr al-Muqaddimi – Hammad b. Zaid – Thabit – Anas narrated: Zaid bin Haritha came to the Prophet complaining about his wife. The Prophet kept on saying (to him), “Be afraid of Allah and keep your wife.” Anas said, “If Allah’s Messenger were to conceal anything (of the Quran) he would have concealed this Verse.” Zainab used to boast before the wives of the Prophet and used to say, “You were given in marriage by your families, while I was married (to the Prophet) by Allah from over seven Heavens.” And Thabit recited, “The Verse:– ‘But (O Muhammad) you did hide in your heart that which Allah was about to make manifest, you did fear the people,’ (33.37) was revealed in connection with Zainab and Zaid bin Haritha.”[3]

Taking into account the above narration as well the following students of Hammad b. Zaid (d. 179/795) have  narrated this hadith via Thabit (d. 127/745) from Anas:

  1. Muhammad b. Abi Bakr al-Muqaddimi (d. 234/848)
  2. Mu’alla b. Mansur (d. 211/826),[4]
  3. Affan Muslim (d. 220/835)[5]
  4. Muhammad b. Al-Fadl, Abu Nu’man ‘Arim (d. 224/839)[6]
  5. ‘Abdullah b. ‘Abdul Wahhab al-Hajbi (d. 228/843) who adds that Zaid wanted to divorce Zainab and had come to consult with the Prophet[7]
  6. Ahmad b. ‘Abdah al-Dhabbi (d. 245/859), who adds that Zaid wanted to divorce Zainab and had come to consult with the Prophet[8]
  7. Muhammad b. Suleman al-Asadi (d. 246/861)[9]
  8. Muhammad b. Musa (d. 248/862)[10]
  9. Mu‘mal b. Isma’il (d. 206/822) who has odd additions in his narration through the same isnad from Anas. Ahmad b, Hanbal records:

حدثنا مؤمل بن إسماعيل، حدثنا حماد بن زيد، حدثنا ثابت، عن أنس قال: أتى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم منزل زيد بن حارثة، فرأى امرأته زينب فكأنه دخله – لا أدري من قول حماد، أو في الحديث – فجاء زيد يشكوها إليه، فقال له النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: ” أمسك عليك زوجك، واتق الله ” قال: فنزلت: {واتق الله وتخفي في نفسك ما الله مبديه} [الأحزاب: 37] ، إلى قوله {زوجناكها} [الأحزاب: 37] يعني زينب

Mu‘mal b. Isma’il – Hammad b. Zaid – Thabit – Anas who said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) came to Zaid b. Haritha’s place, and saw his wife Zainab. He almost entered upon him – (Mu‘mal said:) I am not sure if it is Hammad’s comment or part of the hadith itself — Zaid bin Haritha came to him complaining about (his wife). The Prophet said to him, “Keep your wife with you and fear Allah.” He said, the verse: “But (O Muhammad) you did hide in your heart that which Allah was about to make manifest” up to “We gave her into your marriage” (33.37) was revealed about Zainab.[11]

Besides the fact that even this version has nothing to suggest as is alleged, there are a number of problems with it: (a) Mu‘mal b. Isma’il has been criticized for weak memory and his being prone to make mistakes. His reports, therefore, are not relied upon unless corroborated. Shu’aib al-Arna’ut and his team have accordingly graded this report as da’if (weak).[12] (b) Part of the narration that says the Prophet (ﷺ) came to Zaid’s place and nearly entered it is a unique narration of Mu‘mal. Eight (8) other narrators relate the same report on the authority of Hammad b. Zaid without anything to this effect details of which have been mentioned above. (c) Mu‘mal himself mentions his doubt about the said odd part of the report.

2.2 Report of Qatada

‘Abdul Razzaq al-San‘ani reports:

عن معمر , عن قتادة … قال قتادة: جاء زيد النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال: إن زينب اشتد علي لسانها , وأنا أريد أن أطلقها , قال له النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم: {أمسك عليك زوجك واتق الله} [الأحزاب: 37] , والنبي يحب أن يطلقها ويخشى قالة الناس إن أمره أن يطلقها , فأنزل الله تعالى: {وتخفي في نفسك ما الله مبديه وتخشى الناس والله أحق أن تخشاه فلما قضى زيد منها وطرا} [الأحزاب: 37] قال قتادة: لما طلقها زيد {زوجناكها} [الأحزاب: 37]

Ma‘mar – Qatada: … Qatada said: Zaid came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and said:  Zainab’s has been tough on me with her tongue and I wish to divorce her. But the Prophet (ﷺ) told him: ‘keep your wife to yourself, and fear Allah.’  The Prophet (ﷺ), however, wished that he would divorce her but he also feared what people might say if he asked Zaid to divorce her. At this Allah revealed, ‘And you were concealing in your heart what Allah was going to reveal, and you were fearing people, while Allah is more entitled to be feared by you. So, when Zaid finished his desire for her,’ Qatada explained: ‘When Zaid divorced her.’ We gave her into your marriage.’[13]

This short chain is authentic. Moreover, it is supported by another chain of narrators back to Qatada via Yazid b. Zurai‘ and Sa‘id b. Abi ‘Arubah.[14]

Qatada’s mursal reports, however, do not go well with the scholars. Al-Sha‘bi is reported to have dubbed him as one who collects firewood in the dark not knowing if he puts his hand on a piece of wood or a snake and is thus killed by a snake.[15] Moreover, al-Dhahabi has pointed out that many of the mursal reports of people like Qatada are actually from the category of mu‘dal and munqati’ i.e. have two or more links missing.[16]

What is significant about Qatada’s report, however, is that it does not suggest that something moved the heart of the Prophet (ﷺ) when he saw Zainab. All it says is that the Prophet (ﷺ) wished that Zaid divorced her on his own accord and that he may not have to tell him to do it. With the context in mind it simply means having been told by Almighty Allah of what was planned and even when Zaid came to complain and also to consult regarding his wish to divorce Zainab the Prophet did not tell him to go ahead or inform him of what was destined. Fearing that it may be misconstrued as his command he kept what he had been informed to himself.

2.3 Report of al-Sha‘bi

The report has also been related on the authority of ‘Amir b. Shurahbil al-Sha‘bi by his freedslave, Abu Salama Sulaim (al-Hamadhani):

Among his additions to his rendering of al-Sirah of Ibn Ishaq, Yunus b. Bukair mentions the following report.

يونس عن أبي سلمة الهمذاني مولى الشعبي عن الشعبي قال: مرض زيد بن حارثة فدخل عليه رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يعوده، وزينب ابنة جحش امرأته جالسة عند رأس زيد، فقامت زينب لبعض شأنها، فنظر إليها رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، ثم طأطأ رأسه فقال: سبحان اللَّه مقلب القلوب والابصار، فقال زيد: أطلقها لك يا رسول الله؟ فقال: لا، فانزل اللَّه عز وجل: «وَإِذْ تَقُولُ لِلَّذِي أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِ» إلى قوله: «وَكانَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ مَفْعُولًا

Yunus b. Bukair – Abi Salama al-Hamadhani the freedslave of al-Sha‘bi– Sha‘bi said: Zaid was ill. The Prophet (ﷺ) went to visit him. His wife Zainab bt. Jahsh was sitting near his head to nurse him. Just as she left to do something, the Prophet (ﷺ) looked at her, lowered his head and said: Glory be to him who directs the hearts and eyes. Then Zaid said: Shall I divorce her for you O Allah’s Messenger? The Prophet (ﷺ) said: ‘No’. At this Allah revealed: “When you (O Prophet,) were saying to the one who was favored by Allah and favored by you … and Allah‘s decree had to be enforced.”[17]

Ibn ‘Adi mentions this report through the following isnad:

حدثنا الساجي، حدثنا الحسن بن علي الواسطي، قال: حدثنا علي بن نوح، حدثنا محمد بن كثير، حدثنا سليم مولى الشعبي عن الشعبي …

Al-Saji – al-Hasan b. ‘Ali al-Wasiti – ‘Ali b. Nuh – Muhammad b. Kathir – Sulaim the freedslave of al-Sha‘bi– Sha‘bi…[18]

There are a few issues here. Al-Sha‘bi (b. 21/641) is reporting about a setting in which there were only three people: the Prophet (ﷺ) (d. 11/632), Zaid b. Haritha (d. 8/629) and Zainab bt. Jahsh (d. 20/641) all of whom died before his birth. Moreover, in this narrative reported in his name none of three persons is said to be relating the happening rather it is all reported in third person which makes one wonder if his source got it directly from one of the three person involved? There might actually be two if not more links between Sha‘bi and the persons involved should the narrative be accepted. But this is not all. Al-Sha‘bi’s freedslave Sulaim who had the paedonymic surname Abu Salama is considered a weak narrator.[19] He is especially criticized for his mistakes with chains of reports that he did not relate well.[20]

In Ibn ‘Adi’s version ‘Ali b. Nuh is not a well-known narrator and as such his reliability or otherwise cannot be established.[21] As for Muhammad b. Kathir if he is assumed to be from Kufa as was Sulaim then he would be Abu Ishaq Muhammad b. Kathir al-Qurashi who was deemed weak.[22]

Pointing out some of these discrepancies al-Albani has placed this report in his work on weak and rejected reports. His summary grading for the report is “Extremely Reprehensible” (munkar jiddan).[23]

We do not know when Sulaim was born or when he died. What we do, however, know is that Yunus b. Bukair who narrated from him died in 199/815 when he was nearly eighty.[24]

2.4 Report attributed to ‘Ikrimah

Al-Suyuti (d. 911/1505) writes:

وأخرج عبد بن حميد وابن المنذر عن عكرمة رضي الله عنه … أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم دخل يوما بيت زيد فرآها وهي بنت عمته فكأنها وقعت في نفسه

‘Abd b. Humaid and Ibn al-Mundhar relate from ‘Ikrima … one day the Prophet (ﷺ) entered Zaid’s house and saw Zainab – she being his paternal cousin – and it was as if she struck his imagination.[25]

The tafsir works of ‘Abd b. Humaid (d. 249/863) and Ibn al-Mundhar (d. 319/931) are no more extant.[26] Therefore, we have a long disconnection between the two authors and ‘Ikrimah (d. 115/735).[27] Moreover, since ‘Ikrimah was only a tabi‘i his report can at best be mursal. This report, therefore, stands nowhere in terms of narrative authority.

Content wise it gives the interpretation / elaboration of the statement attributed to the Prophet (ﷺ) in the report of al-Sha‘bi that Zainab had actually struck his imagination and attracted his admiration. Moreover, its form clearly suggests paraphrasing and interpolation by some narrator who mentioned the fact of Zainab and Prophet (ﷺ) being cousins and then guessed the feelings of the Prophet (ﷺ). Naturally, the guesswork about another person’s feelings especially of someone you never have had the opportunity to interact with does not establish anything.

2.5 Report of Abu Bakr b. Suleman b. Abi Hathma

Al-Tabarani relates:

حدثنا محمد بن عبد الله الحضرمي، ثنا الحسن بن علي الحلواني، ثنا محمد بن خالد بن عثمة، حدثني موسى بن يعقوب، عن عبد الرحمن بن المنيب، عن أبي بكر بن سليمان بن أبي حثمة، أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم جاء بيت زيد بن حارثة فاستأذن، فأذنت له زينب ولا خمار عليها، فألقت كم درعها على رأسها، فسألها عن زيد، فقالت: ذهب قريبا يا رسول الله، فقام رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وله همهمة، قالت زينب: فاتبعته فسمعته يقول: «تبارك مصرف القلوب» فما زال يقولها حتى تغيب

Muhammad b. ‘Abdullah al-Hadrami – al-Hasan b. ‘Ali al-Hulwani – Muhammad b. Khalid b. ‘Athma – Musa b. Ya‘qub – ‘Abdul Rahman b. al-Munib – Abu Bakr b. Suleman b. Abi Hathma: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) went to the house of Zaid b. Haritha and asked permission to enter. Zainab asked him to enter while she did not have veil on her so she put sleeve of the coat of mail on her head. The Prophet asked her about Zaid. She said: ‘He has left shortly before O Messenger of Allah!’ The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) stood up to leave while he muttered. Zainab said, ‘I followed him and listened him say, ‘Praise be to the One who turns the hearts.’ He kept saying this until he left.’[28]

Abu Bakr b. Suleman b. Abi Hathma was among the later tabi‘in i.e. from the generation that met and reported on the authority of the companions. Nothing is known about the one narrating from him i.e. ‘Abdul Rahman b. al-Munib (or ‘Abdul Rahman b. ‘Abdullah b. Al-Munib as with Ibn Manda). In fact with regards to the narrator after him, Musa b. Ya’qub, ‘Abdul Rahman b. al-Mahdi mentioned that he had unknown teachers (lahu masha’ikh majhulun).[29] Musa b. Ya’qub himself has been criticized for poor memory.[30]

The report, therefore, is weak not only because of it being mursal but also for the fact of a narrator being unknown and another with poor memory. Al-Haithami pointed out the weakness in it.[31] Al-Albani too graded it as weak.[32]

The content also shows signs of incredulous story making. Whereas, it is well known that veil (hijab) was obligated after Zainab’s marriage with the Prophet (ﷺ), why did Zainab then take the trouble to cover her head with coat of mail when veil had not been an obligation?

2.6 Report of Muhammad b. Yahya b. Habban

Ibn Sa‘d records:

أخبرنا محمد بن عمر، قال: حدثني عبد الله بن عامر الأسلمي، عن محمد بن يحيى بن حبان قال: جاء رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم بيت زيد بن حارثة يطلبه وكان زيد إنما يقال له زيد بن محمد فربما فقده رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم الساعة، فيقول: «أين زيد؟» فجاء منزله يطلبه فلم يجده وتقوم إليه زينب بنت جحش زوجته فضلا فأعرض رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم عنها فقالت: ليس هو هاهنا يا رسول الله فادخل بأبي أنت وأمي فأبى رسول الله أن يدخل وإنما عجلت زينب أن تلبس لما قيل لها رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم على الباب فوثبت عجلى فأعجبت رسول الله فولى وهو يهمهم بشيء لا يكاد يفهم منه إلا ربما أعلن: «سبحان الله العظيم سبحان مصرف القلوب» فجاء زيد إلى منزله فأخبرته امرأته أن رسول الله أتى منزله، فقال زيد: ألا قلت له أن يدخل، قالت: قد عرضت ذلك عليه فأبى، قال: فسمعت شيئا؟ قالت: سمعته حين ولى تكلم بكلام ولا أفهمه وسمعته، يقول: «سبحان الله العظيم سبحان مصرف [ص:102] القلوب» فجاء زيد حتى أتى رسول الله، فقال: يا رسول الله بلغني أنك جئت منزلي فهلا دخلت بأبي أنت وأمي يا رسول الله لعل زينب أعجبتك فأفارقها، فيقول رسول الله: «أمسك عليك زوجك» فما استطاع زيد إليها سبيلا بعد ذلك اليوم فيأتي إلى رسول الله فيخبره فيقول رسول الله: «أمسك عليك زوجك» فيقول: يا رسول الله أفارقها فيقول رسول الله: «احبس عليك زوجك» ففارقها زيد واعتزلها وحلت يعني انقضت عدتها، قال: فبينا رسول الله جالس يتحدث مع عائشة إلى أن أخذت رسول الله غشية فسري عنه وهو يتبسم وهو يقول: «من يذهب إلى زينب يبشرها أن الله قد زوجنيها من السماء؟» …

According to Muhammad b. ‘Umar [al-Waqidi] – ‘Abdallah b. ‘Amir a1-Aslami — Muhammad b. Yahya b. Habban, who said: The Messenger of God came to the house of Zayd b. Harithah. Zayd was always called Zayd b. Muhammad. Perhaps the Messenger of God missed him at that moment, so as to ask, “Where is Zayd?” He came to his residence to look for him but did not find him. Zaynab bt. Jahsh, Zayd’s wife, rose to meet him. Because she was dressed only in a shift, the Messenger of God turned away from her. She said: “He is not here, Messenger of God. Come in, you who are as dear to me as my father and mother!” The Messenger of God refused to enter. Zaynab had dressed in haste when she was told “the Messenger of God is at the door.” She jumped up in haste and excited the admiration of the Messenger of God, so that he turned away murmuring something that could scarcely be understood. However, he did say overtly: “Glory be to God the Almighty! Glory be to God, who causes hearts to turn!” When Zayd came home, his wife told him that the Messenger of God had come to his house. Zayd said, “Why didn’t you ask him to come in?” She replied, “I asked him, but he refused.” “Did you hear him say anything?” he asked. She replied, “As he turned away, I heard him say: ‘Glory be to God the Almighty! Glory be to God, who causes hearts to turn!’” So Zayd left, and, having come to the Messenger of God, he said: “Messenger of God, I have heard that you came to my house. Why didn’t you go in, you who are as dear to me as my father and mother? Messenger of God, perhaps Zaynab has excited your admiration, and so I will separate myself from her.” The Messenger of God said, “Keep your wife to yourself.” Zayd could find no possible way to [approach] her after that day.  He would come to the Messenger of God and tell him so, but the Messenger of God would say to him, “Keep your wife.” Zayd separated from her and left her, and she became free. While the Messenger of God was talking with ‘A’ishah, a fainting overcame him. When he was released from it, he smiled and said, “Who will go to Zaynab to tell her the good news, saying that God has married her to me?” …[33]

The narrative weakness of this account is evident. It has three problems (a) Muhammad b. Yahya b. Habban died in 121/738-739 at the age of seventy-four which means he was born nearly half a century after the Prophet’s marriage with Zainab and over thirty years after the death of Zainab – last among the people in the story to die. (b) ‘Abdullah b. ‘Amir Aslami has been unanimously ranked as a weak narrator.[34] (c) al-Waqidi, as is well-known, has been severely criticized.[35]

The progression in the development of the story is now quite visible. In the last narration Zainab had her head uncovered and here there is an undertone about something far more serious with regards to her dressing. In Qatada’s report Zaid complained of Zainab’s words and expression and wanted to divorce her for this reason, here he is willing to sacrifice for the Prophet (ﷺ).

2.7 Narration of Muhammad b. Al-Sa’ib al-Kalbi

Yahya b. Salam notes in his commentary:

وقال الكلبي: إن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أتى زينب زائرا، فأبصرها قائمة فأعجبته، فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم سبحان الله مقلب القلوب، فرأى زيد أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قد هويها فقال: يا رسول الله ائذن لي في طلاقها، فإن فيها كبرا وإنها تؤذيني بلسانها، فقال له رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: اتق الله وأمسك عليك زوجك، فأمسكها زيد ما شاء الله ثم طلقها، فلما انقضت عدتها أنزل الله نكاحها رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم من السماء

[Muhammad b. al-Sa’ib] al-Kalbi said: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) came to visit Zainab and while he saw her standing she attracted his admiration. At this the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘Praise be to Allah who turns the hearts.’ Zaid observed that the Prophet (ﷺ) desired for Zainab and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! Allow me to divorce her for she is arrogant and hurts me with her words.’ The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said to him, ‘Fear Allah and hold on to your wife.’ Zaid kept her for as long as Allah willed and then divorced her. Thereafter, when her ‘iddah ended, Allah sent a revelation from heavens regarding her marriage with the Prophet.[36]

Muhammad b. al-Sa’ib al-Kalbi (d. 146/763) mentioned no authority for his account and he is himself among the rejected narrators.[37] This suggests Zaid divorced Zainab as he observed Prophet’s (ﷺ) feelings for her but outwardly mentioned her behaviour towards him as the reason. This is clear case of inserting an unwarranted suggestion into a summary version and in the process disrupting the flow of the narrative.

2.8 Narration of Maqatil b. Suleman

Without giving any chain of authorities Maqatil b. Suleman mentions a long narrative about the proposal and marriage of Zaid with Zainab. His narration then continues:

فلم يلبث إلا يسيرا حتى شكا إلى النبي- صلّى الله عليه وسلّم- ما يلقى منها فدخل النبي- صلى الله عليه وسلم- فوعظها فلما كلمها أعجبه حسنها وجمالها وظرفها ، وكان أمرا قضاه الله- عز وجل- ثم رجع النبي- صلى الله عليه وسلم- وفي نفسه منها ما شاء الله- عز وجل- فكان النبي- صلى الله عليه وسلم- يسأل زيدا بعد ذلك كيف هي معك؟ فيشكوها إليه فقال له النبي- صلى الله عليه وسلم-: اتق الله وأمسك عليك زوجك وَفِي قلبه غَيْر ذَلِكَ، … ثُمّ إن النَّبِيّ- صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ- أتى زيدا فأبصر زينب قائمة، وكانت حسناء بيضاء من أتم نساء قريش فهويها النبي- صلّى الله عليه وسلّم- فقال: سبحان الله مقلب القلوب. ففطن زيد، فقال: يا رسول الله، ائذن لي في طلاقها فإن فيها كبرا، تعظم علي وتؤذيني بلسانها، فقال النبي- صلى الله عليه وسلم-: أمسك عليك زوجك واتق الله، ثم إن زيدا طلقها بعد ذلك،

Only after some time Zaid complained to the Prophet (ﷺ) regarding what he had suffered with Zainab. The Prophet came to them and admonished here and while he talked to her he developed likeness for her beauty, countenance, and wit. It happened as Allah had decreed. The Prophet (ﷺ) then returned and had in his thought what Allah had willed. Thereafter, the Prophet (ﷺ) asked as to how had she been with her? He against complained to her. The Prophet (ﷺ) said, ‘fear Allah Allah and keep your wife with you’ while he had in his heart something else … Then Prophet (ﷺ) then came to Zaid and saw Zainab as she was standing – she was beautiful, fair complexioned, and among the best women of Quraish – therefore, the Prophet (ﷺ) felt an inclination for her and (while leaving) said: ‘Praise be to Allah who turns the hearts.’ Zaid discerned and said: O Messenger of Allah! Allow me to divorce her for she has haughtiness and is arrogant with me, and her language also hurts me. The Prophet (ﷺ) said, ‘Hold on to your wife, and fear Allah.’ Zaid, however, eventually divorced her.[38]

Maqatil b. Suleman died in the year 150/767 and here he mentioned no chain of authorities. It is, therefore, mu‘dal (truncated). Moreover, despite being recognized for vast knowledge he has been condemned as a narrator. Al-Dhahabi mentions that scholars have agreed on rejecting his narrations.[39]

The content of his narration is also at variance with other reports. Here the Prophet (ﷺ) goes to advise and admonish Zainab and while he talked to her, he was impressed by her looks. Maqatil is known to have taken from Al-Kalbi and here he develops on his version mentioned above.

2.9 Report of ‘Abdul Rahman b. Zaid [b. Aslam]

Al-Tabari records:

حدثني يونس بن عبد الأعلى، قال: أخبرنا ابن وهب، قال: قال ابن زيد: كان النبي ص قد زوج زيد بن حارثة زينب بنت جحش ابنه عمته، فخرج رسول الله ص يوما يريده، وعلى الباب ستر من شعر، فرفعت الريح الستر فانكشف وهي في حجرتها حاسره، فوقع إعجابها في قلب النبي ص، فلما وقع ذلك كرهت إلى الآخر، قال: فجاء فقال: يا رسول الله، إني أريد ان افارق صاحبتي، فقال: مالك! أرابك منها شيء! فقال: لا والله يا رسول الله، ما رابني منها شيء، ولا رأيت إلا خيرا فقال له رسول الله ص: امسك عليك زوجك واتق الله، فذلك قول الله عز وجل: «وإذ تقول للذي أنعم الله عليه وأنعمت عليه أمسك عليك زوجك واتق الله وتخفي في نفسك ما الله مبديه» ، تخفى في نفسك ان فارقها تزوجتها.

According to Yunus b. ‘Abd al-A‘la — Ibn Wahb — Ibn Zayd, who said: The Messenger of God had married Zayd b. Harithah to Zaynab bt. Jahsh, his paternal aunt’s daughter. One day the Messenger of God went out looking for Zayd. Now there was a covering of haircloth 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. After that happened, she was made unattractive to the other man. So he came and said, “Messenger of God, I want to separate myself from my companion.” Muhammad asked: “What is wrong? Has anything on her part disquieted you?” “No, by God,” replied Zayd, “nothing she has done has disquieted me, Messenger of God, nor have I seen anything but good.” The Messenger of God said to him, “Keep your wife to yourself, and fear God.” That is [the meaning of] the Word of God: Is “And when you said unto him on whom God has conferred favor and you have conferred favor, ‘Keep your wife to yourself, and fear God.’ And you did hide in your mind that which God was to bring to light.” You did hide in your mind [the thought] that “if he separates himself from her, I will marry her.”[40]

The narrator Ibn Zaid here is ‘Abdul Rahman b. Zaid b. Aslam al-Adawi. He was from the generation that succeeded the followers of the companions and died in the year 182/798. His report, therefore, is mu‘dal (truncated). Moreover, he was unanimously considered a weak narrator.[41]

In this narration the story develops further on two accounts. Firstly, here Zainab is neither with her head uncovered nor is she in some haste to dress up to open the door for the Prophet (ﷺ) rather she is depicted in a lot more crude manner and is observed as such by the Prophet (ﷺ) when the doorway cloth is moved by the wind. Secondly, we now have Zaid who has no complaint with his wife and is simply looking to divorce her for the Prophet (ﷺ). This is not merely colouring or development of the story, it is also in contradiction to the report of Anas which has Zaid come to the Prophet (ﷺ) complaining about Zainab and consulting him regarding divorce.

3. Critical Analysis

3.1 Analysis of the chains of narrators (isnad)

3.1.1 Comparative Analysis of Isnad

Firstly, if we look at isnad (chain of narrators) of all these report we see them continuously receding. Moreover, weakness in each of them is too much for them to suffice as support for others.

  1. Anas’ report is authentic except the odd additions narrated by Mu‘mal b. Isma’il from Hammad b. Zaid which were not narrated by eight (08) other narrators from Hammad.
  2. Qatada’s narration has the least weakness in that it is mu‘dal. It has two links missing between him and people related to the event he narrated about.
  3. Sha’bi’s narration besides being mursal (though possibility of two missing links and, i.e. its being mu‘dal, cannot be ruled out either) has a weak narrator (Sulaim).
  4. ‘Ikrima’s alleged report besides being mursal in nature has no extant chain of narrators. Accordingly, it signifies nothing.
  5. Abu Bakr b. Suleman b. Abi Hathma’s report besides being mursal has an unknown narrator (Ibn al-Munib) and another narrator Musa b. Ya’qub was also criticized by some.
  6. Muhammad b. Yahya b. Habban’s report, besides being mursal, has ‘Abdallah b. ‘Amir al-Aslami who is unanimously graded as weak and al-Waqidi who being accused of lying has been rejected.
  7. Al-Kalbi himself is a rejected narrator by the agreement of scholars. Moreover, he gives no authority for his narration.
  8. Maqatil, likewise, is undisputedly rejected. He too does not care to mention his authority for the report.
  9. ‘Abdul Rahman b. Zaid’s report is not only mu‘dal (has two or more links missing) it is also severely weak due to him being condemned as a weak narrator by the agreement of scholars.

Such weakness of individual reports where it is not just about missing a link but two or more missing links and narrators unanimously declared weak or altogether unknown or both cannot give credence to one another.

3.1.2 Collective strength or compounded weakness?

Whereas multiple narrations with some weakness do rise up to the level of acceptability for their collective strength this applies only when the weakness of individual reports is slight. Such weakness may be due to a narrator with a weak memory or the one about whom there has been some difference of opinion among critics. But when the weakness in each narration is of serious nature, i.e. narrator(s) being accused of lying, or graded weak by the agreement of critics, mere number does not suffice. In fact scholars say such ‘corroboration’ actually compounds the weakness.

Ahmad Shakir (d. 1377/1957), for instance, mentioned:

إذا كان ضعف الحديث لسوء حفظ الراوي أو نحو ذلك فإنه يرقى إلى درجة الحسن أو الصحة بتعدد طرقه إن كانت كذلك ، وأما إذا كان ضعف الحديث لفسق الراوي أو اتهامه بالكذب ، ثم جاء من طرق أخرى من هذا النوع ، فانه لا يرقى إلى الحسن بل يزداد ضعفاً إلى ضعف ، إذ أن تفرد المتهمين بالكذب أو المجروحين في عدالتهم بحديث لا يرويه غيرهم يرجح عند الباحث المحقق التهمة ويؤيد ضعف رواياتهم

When the weakness of a hadith is due to bad memory of a narrator or a weakness of the similar kind it rises to the degree of hasan or sahih provided there are multiple chains of narrators. When, however, the weakness of hadith is due to a narrator being impugned or accused of lying and it is related though other links of this kind only, it does not rise to the level of hasan; in fact its weakness compounds. Therefore, when something is relayed exclusively by those accused of lying or impugned with regards to their trustworthiness, it only confirms the charge of lying and the weakness of their reports to a critical researcher (regardless of the number of reports).[42]

Accordingly, Al-Albani,[43] and Shu’aib al-Arna’ut[44] in their critical researches have often noted the cases when multiple chains of reports do not raise authenticity level of a hadith, in fact multiplies the weakness.

In the case under study, we can see none of the reports after that of Qatada are even simply mursal for they have other severe weakness in them as well. Moreover, whereas mursal reports are accepted in legal rulings by most of the jurists and criteria regarding reports with biographical data and import in terms of history is less stringent these two facts do not go hand in hand because the very scholars who took care to relate narrations of legal import from the companions alone did not mind narrating other material from their own peers. In fact, in history reports even companions at times narrated from others besides. Accordingly, scholars say that in reports of non-legal nature the mursal reports of even the companions are not necessarily strong.[45]

3.2 Content Analysis of the Reports

3.2.1 Comparative Analysis

The texts reported through the above chains of reporters also differ too much to see them as mutually corroborating.

  1. Anas’s (d. 92/712) report mentions Zaid complaining about behaviour of Zainab and his will to divorce her. It, however, mentions nothing about Prophet’s alleged feelings about her.
  2. Qatada’s (d. 118/737) report mentions Zaid’s complaint and will to divorce and that the Prophet wished Zaid would divorce her on his own without being commanded or suggested to do so. It mentions nothing about his alleged feelings about Zainab.
  3. Sha’bi’s (d. 103/721) alleged report mentions the Prophet went to see Zaid when he was ill and on seeing Zainab made comments that could mean she attracted his admiration.
  4. ‘Ikrima’s (d. 115/735) report though lacking in visual description is the earliest in giving definite meanings to Prophet’s alleged outward reaction.
  5. Abu Bakr b. Suleman b. Abi Hathma’s alleged report has the Prophet go to Zaid’s place where he found Zainab alone and with her head uncovered which she tried to cover with coat of mail.
  6. Muhammad b. Yahya b. Habban’s (d. 121/738-739) alleged report wherein Zainab was not well dressed and seeing her the Prophet’s heart was moved. It makes Zaid look to divorce Zainab as he thought the Prophet had developed liking for her.
  7. Al-Kalbi’s (d. 146/763) version combines (rather blends) Zaid’s understanding of Prophet’s (ﷺ) alleged feelings with his complaint about Zainab’s behavior.
  8. Maqatil’s (d. 150/767) version has the Prophet (ﷺ) instantaneously develop feelings just when he had gone to admonish her for her behavior towards Zaid. Also there are clear interpolations like the mention of Zainab’s looks which amply suggest the careful making up of the story.
  9. ‘Abdul Rahman b. Zaid’s (d. 182/798) report has the Prophet see Zainab undressed when the doorway cloth is moved by wind. Zaid then wanted to divorce Zainab even though he had no complaint about her.

We, therefore, see a progression from Prophet simply seeing Zainab when he had to come to see ailing Zaid, to finding her alone with uncovered head to hastily dressing in a shift to being altogether undressed.

There is another progression in Zaid complaining and looking for advice, to his complaint and Prophet’s desire that he divorces without being asked, to Zaid willing to divorce because he thought Prophet had some liking for Zainab to him willing to do it without having any complaint about his wife.

3.2.2 General observations on the content

The simple fact that Prophet (ﷺ) must have seen his cousin Zainab countless time even before giving her in marriage to Zaid shows the baselessness of the story which suggests as if the Prophet (ﷺ) fell for her in an accidental first sight. Moreover, there are reports that the Prophet (ﷺ) had himself visited her and proposed Zaid for her as he pressed for their marriage.[46]

Furthermore, there is reported evidence that before expressing her initial reluctance to marry Zaid she thought the Prophet (ﷺ) had proposed her for himself and even gave her consent and once she realized it was rather for Zaid she felt dejected.[47]

It is thus evident that being cousins Prophet (ﷺ) had known her well and he even visited her in person when he sought her hand for Zaid. She was also willing to marry the Prophet (ﷺ). In these circumstances the contextual frivolity of infamous story besides its weakness in terms of narrative reliability becomes all the more evident.

4. Establishing the meanings of the Verse – Qur’an 33:37

In the beginning we mentioned the traditional understanding of verse 33:37, let us now see if it is supported by the flow of the Qur’anic narrative and reports of the early Muslim generations.

The critical part of the Qur’anic verse is the mention of what the Prophet hid and Allah made known and that the Prophet feared people on that account. So what did Allah make known or had it become manifest? It was the Prophet’s (ﷺ) marriage with Zainab regarding which it is said that Allah then married her to the Prophet (ﷺ). This is what Allah made known and not something of the alleged feelings of the Prophet (ﷺ). It is thus clear that what the Prophet (ﷺ) hid was the fact that he had been told via revelation of breakup of Zaid and Zainab followed by his own marriage with Zainab. The same has been reported from some of the earliest authorities such as Zain al-‘Abidin ‘Ali b. Hussain (d. 94/712):

حدثنا خلاد بن أسلم، قال: ثنا سفيان بن عيينة، عن علي بن زيد بن جدعان، عن علي بن حسين قال: كان الله تبارك وتعالى أعلم نبيه صلى الله عليه وسلم أن زينب ستكون من أزواجه، فلما أتاه زيد يشكوها، قال: اتق الله وأمسك عليك زوجك، قال الله: (وتخفي في نفسك ما الله مبديه)

Khallad b. Aslam – Sufyan b. ‘Uyainah – ‘Ali b. Zaid b. Jud‘an – ‘Ali b. Hussain who said: Allah, the Almighty, told his Prophet (ﷺ) that Zainab would be among his wives yet when Zaid came to him complaining of Zainab he said, ‘Fear Allah, and keep your wife with you.’ At this Allah said (in the Qur’an): ‘And your concealed in your heard what Allah was about to reveal.’[48]

It was likewise reported from Isma‘il al-Suddi (d. 128/745).[49] Expounding upon this reported interpretation Al-Tha‘labi (d. 437/1035) writes:

وهذا التأويل مطابق للتلاوة وذلك أن الله عز وجل حكم واعلم إبداء ما أخفى، والله لا يخلف الميعاد، ثم لم نجده عز وجل أظهر من شأنه غير التزويج بقوله: زوجناكها. فلو كان أضمر رسول الله صلى الله عليه محبتها، أو أراد طلاقها، لكان لا يجوز على الله تعالى كتمانه مع وعده أن يظهره، فدل ذلك على أنه (عليه السلام) إنما عوتب على قوله: أمسك عليك زوجك مع علمه بأنها ستكون زوجته، وكتمانه ما أخبره الله سبحانه به حيث استحيا أن يقول لزيد: إن التي تحتك ستكون امرأتي والله أعلم.

This explanation goes with the recited text of the Qur’an because Allah pronounced that he would make known what had been concealed. And whereas Allah does not go against his promise, we do not see Allah revealing anything about the Prophet except his marriage with Zainab saying, ‘We gave her into your marriage’ Had the Messenger of Allah concealed his love for Zainab and desired for her divorce with Zaid, Allah would not have concealed after having promised to make known what was in his heart. This establishes that the Prophet was admonished for his advice to Zaid, ‘Hold on to your wife’ while he knew that she would become his wife. He thus concealed what he had been informed by Allah as he shied away from telling Zaid that, ‘Your wife would soon be mine.’[50]

A number of scholars have likewise considered this the most apt interpretation of the verse. The opinion is attributed to al-Zuhri (d. 124/742) and Bakr b. ‘Ala’ al-Qushairi (d. 344/955) as well.[51] Among others Hakim al-Tirmidhi (d. circa 320/932),[52] Qadi Ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 543/1148),[53] Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi (d. 745/1344),[54] Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751/1350),[55] Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1373),[56] Ibn Hajar (d. 852/1449),[57] al-Baqa‘i (d. 885/1480),[58] and al-Alusi (d. 1270/1854)[59] viewed this opinion as the valid one.

The above not only serves as another and decisive proof against the weak reports mentioned above it also helps make better sense of the report of Qatada which says the Prophet (ﷺ) actually desired that Zaid divorced Zainab. Once separated from the false narrations and knowing that the Prophet (ﷺ) had been told that Zaid and Zainab would divorce and that he would then marry Zainab the report of Qatada simply means that while he did not want to ask Zaid to divorce or to even share with him what he knew was destined even as Zaid came to him for consultation on the issue. He rather desired that Zaid would part with Zainab without him involving in the matter in any degree. Accordingly Yahya b. Salam (d. 200/815) writes:

كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يعجبه أن يطلقها زيد من غير أن يأمره بطلاقها

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) wished that Zaid would divorce Zainab without being asked to do so.[60]

Subsequently, Abu al-Hasan al-Wahidi (d. 468/1076),[61] Ibn ‘Atiya (d. 542/1142),[62] adopted the same interpretation.

It is thus clear that from the earliest times scholars did have an understanding of the verse that was free from any suggestions on the lines of the dubious reports that started to appear from second quarter of the second century onwards and continued to develop until they were recorded in written commentaries.[63]

5. The probable origins of the story

Having seen that the story developed over time from nothing objectionable reliably traceable even to the followers (tabi‘un) let alone the companions to it becoming gross by the end of second/eight century, we shall now seek to find its possible origins.

5.1 John of Damascus Connection

John of Damascus who was known to the Muslims as Yuhanna b. Mansur b. Sarjun al-Damishqi, was son of a secretary of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham b. ‘Abdul Malik. He devoted himself to theological studies and commented on Islam as a heresy. Mentioning Islam among the heresies that had emerged till his time he remarked about the Prophet (ﷺ) and his teachings:

Mohammed had a friend named Zeid. This man had a beautiful wife with whom Mohammed fell in love. Once, when they were sitting together, Mohammed said: ‘Oh, by the way, God has commanded me to take your wife. The other answered: You are an apostle. Do as God has told you and take my wife.’ Rather to tell the story over from the beginning he said to him: ‘God has given me the command that you put away your wife.’ And he put her away. Then several days later: ‘Now,’ he said, ‘God has commanded me to take her.’ Then, after he had taken her and committed adultery with her, he made this law: ‘Let him who will put away his wife. And if, after having put her away, he should return to her, let another marry her. For it is not lawful to take her unless she have been married by another. Furthermore, if a brother puts away his wife, let his brother marry her, should he so wish.’[64]

John of Damascus lived from 675 to 749 which broadly corresponds with era in which the story developed as we have seen above.[65]

5.2 The story with other early polemicists against Islam

Byzantine ruler Leo-III the Isaurian (d. 741) is also said to have referred to the alleged account in his correspondence with Caliph ‘Umar b. ‘Abdul ‘Aziz (d. 101/720). David S. Powers mentions:

By the end of the first century a.h., reports about Muhammad’s marriage to Zaynab had become grist for the mill of Christian anti-Muslim polemic. In an exchange of letters between Leo III (r. 717–41) and ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (r. 99–101/717–20), the Byzantine emperor referred to the Prophet’s “seduction” of a woman named Zeda [sic] as evidence of his “unchasteness” and duplicity. This was the worst of all the “abominations” that Leo attributed to Muhammad because, as he knew, the Qur’an represents the Prophet’s marriage to this woman as a product of divine intervention (“of all these abominations the worst is that of accusing God of being the originator of all these filthy acts”).[66]

Adel Theodore Khoury mentions that the story was picked up by other Byzantine polemicists too.[67] He mentions of discussions and debates among early Muslims and the Christians of the Levant in general as well.[68] We can, therefore, surmise that it developed during the early polemical disputations between Muslims and Christians. Thereafter, as John V. Tolan mentions, a number of Christian polemicists over the centuries and across the regions used this story to despise the Prophet of Islam.[69]

5.3 Comparison with story of David and Bathsheba

What lends support to the idea that the story must have originated and developed during the course of Christian-Muslim polemical disputations is its comparison with the story of David and Bathsheba in Bible, 2-Samuel, chapter 11.

Accordingly we find ‘Abdul Malik. ‘Abdul ‘Aziz ibn Juraij (d. 150/767) relating the subsequent verse 38 of the surah with the Biblical story of Dawud/David. Al-Tabarani records:

عن ابن جريج، في قوله: {وكان أمر الله قدرا مقدورا} [الأحزاب: 38] «كذلك من سنته في داود والمرأة، والنبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وزينب»

Ibn Juraij said regarding the verse, “[There is no problem for the prophet in (doing) what Allah has prescribed for him, a customary practice of Allah in the case of those who have gone before] – and Allah‘s command is pre-determined by destiny” This has been the practice of Allah in relation to Dawud and the woman (i.e. Bathsheba), and in relation to the Prophet (ﷺ) and Zainab.”[70]

‘Abdul Malik ibn Juraij, though highly regarded in terms of his reliability, piety, and knowledge was especially known to have drawn from and related Judeo-Christian legends (isra’iliyat). In fact he hailed from family with Roman Christian roots.[71] Maqatil b. Suleman, also known for his interest in isra’iliyat made the same connection.[72]

Despite there being clear difference between the two stories they were incredulously related by the people contemporary to first Christian polemicists writing about Islam– a fact which alludes to our suggested background in which such comparisons were drawn.

6. Conclusion

The numerous chains of reporters through which the story has been related are all signally weak not only due to the duo of disconnection and involvement of unreliable or unknown narrators they also reflect clear signs of fabrication by the way of unscrupulous development over time. The multiplicity of links, therefore, only signifies compounded weakness.

 As to the reports authentically traceable back to Anas and Qatada they contain nothing that may coincide or confirm the narratives that suggest the Prophet (ﷺ) hid his instantaneously developed longing for Zainab.

Instead the three points; (i) development of the story on the lines of David-Bathsheba account of 2 Samuel 11, (ii) early Muslim authorities known for quoting from Judeo-Christian (Isra’iliyat) legends relating the two, and (iii) Christian polemicists of the first century and a half passionately taking up the issue if connected in reverse order provide a strong basis for theorizing that the story developed during the course of Christian-Muslim polemics in the first and second / seventh and eighth centuries.

References & Notes:

[1] Qur’an 33:37

[2] Shafi’, Muhammad, Ma’arif al-Qur’an, translated by Muhammad Shamim (Karachi: Maktaba-e-Darul’Uloom, n.d.) Vol.7, 161-163

[3] Al-Bukhari, Muhammad b. Isma’il, al-Sahih, (Riyadh: Maktabat Darussalam, 2007) Hadith 7420

[4] Al-Bukhari, al-Sahih, Hadith 4787

[5] Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat al-Kubra, (Beirut: DKI, 1990) Vol.8, 82; Abu ‘Awana, al-Musnad al-Mustakhraj, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1998) Hadith 4177; Ibn Hibban, al-Sahih, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 1988) Hadith 7045; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, (Beirut: DKI, 1990) Hadith 3563; al-Baihaqi, Dala’il al-Nabuwwah, (Beirut: DKI, 1405) Vol.3, 466

[6] Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol.8, 82; Al-Tirmidhi, al-Jami‘ al-Kabir, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 2009) Hadith 3213; ‘Abd b. Humaid, al-Muntakhab min al-Musnad, (Riyadh: Dar al-Bilnisiya, 2002) Hadith 1205; Abu ‘Awana, al-Musnad al-Mustakhraj, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1998) Hadith 418; al-Tabarani, Abu al-Qasim, Mu’jam al-Kabir, (Cairo: Maktaba Ibn Taimiya, n.d.) Vol.24, 43 Hadith 116

[7] Al-Baihaqi, Sunan al-Kubra, (Beirut: DKI, 2003) Hadith 13915

[8] Al-Tirmidhi, al-Jami‘ al-Kabir, Hadith 3212; al-Bazzar, al-Musnad, (Madina: Maktaba al-‘Ulum wa al-Hikam, 2005) Vol.13, 287 Hadith 6860

[9] Al-Nasa’i, Sunan al-Kubra, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 2001) Hadith 11343

[10] al-Bazzar, al-Musnad, Vol.13, 287 Hadith 6860

[11] Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 2001) Edited by Shu‘aib al-Arna’ut et al. Hadith 12511

[12] Ibid.

[13] Al-San‘ani, ‘Abdul Razzaq, al-Tafsir, Editor Mahmud Muhammad ‘Abduh, (Beirut: DKI, 1419AH) Vol.3, 40 No. 2346

[14] Al-Tabari, Ibn Jarir, Jami‘ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 2000) Vol.20, 273; al-Tabarani, Mu’jam al-Kabir, Vol.24, 42 No. 114

[15] Al-Mizzi, Abu al-Hajjaj, Tahdhib al-Kamal, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 2000) Vol.23, 510

[16] Al-Dhahabi, al-Mu’qiza fi ‘Ilm al-Mustalah al-Hadith, (Aleppo: Matbu’at al-Islamiya, 1412 AH) 40

[17] Ibn Ishaq, al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah, (Beirut: DKI, 2004) 283

[18] Ibn ‘Adi, al-Kamil fi al-Du‘afa, (Beirut: DKI, 1997)  Vol.4, 333

[19] Abu Zur‘ah, al-Duafa, (Madina: Islamic University: 1982) Vol.2, 432; Ibn ‘Adi, al-Kamil fi al- al-Duafa, Vol.4, 333 No. 775; al-Baghdadi, Ibn al-Najjar, al-Radd ‘ala Abi Bakr al-Khatib, included in ‘Ata, Mustafa ‘Abdul Qadir (Editor), Tarikh Baghdad wa Zuyuluhu, (Beirut: DKI, 1407 AH) Vol.22, 110; Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Du’afa wa al-Matrukin, (Beirut: DKI, 1406 AH) Vol.2, 12 No. 1493; al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Lisan al-Mizan, (Beirut: Mo’assasa al-A‘lami, 1971) Vol.3, 112

[20] Ibn ‘Adi, al-Kamil fi al- al-Duafa, Vol.4, 333 No. 775; al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Lisan al-Mizan, Vol.3, 112

[21] Al-Albani, Nasir al-Din, Silsala Ahadith al-Da‘ifa wa Mawdu‘a, (Riyadh: Dar al-Ma’arif, 1992) Vol.14, 799 No. 6848

[22] Al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, (Hyderabad: Da’ira Ma’arif, 1326 AH) Vol.9, 418

[23] Al-Albani, Nasir al-Din, Silsala Ahadith al-Da‘ifa, No. 6848

[24] Al-Dhahabi, Siyar al-A‘lam al-Nubala, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 1985) Vol.9, 248

[25] Al-Suyuti, Jalal al-Din, al-Durr al-Manthur fi al-Tafsir al-Ma’thur, (Cairo: Marakaz al-Hijr, 2003) Vol.12, 61-62

[26] Actually a part of each of these two works has been published. In case of Tafsir ‘Abd b. Humaid the published section covers surah 3 & 4. See, al-‘Urf, Mukhlif Banih (editor), Qit‘ah min Tafsir ‘Abd b. Humaid, (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2004). As regards Tafsir Ibn al-Mundhar, the published section starts at Verse 272 of al-Baqarah and ends at Verse 92 of al-Nisa. See al-Sa‘d, Muhammad b. Sa‘d (editor), Kitab Tafsir al-Qur’an li Ibn al-Mundhar, (Madina: Dar al-Ma’thir, 2002)

[27] There are variant reports about his age (84 or 88) and year of death (104, 105, 106, 107 or 115). Haitham bin ‘Adi, Abu al-Hasan al-Mada’ini, and Yahya bin Ma‘in said he died in the year 115 AH, see al-Mizzi, , Tahdhib al-Kamal fi Asma’ al-Rijal, Vol.20, 292

[28] Al-Tabarani, Abu al-Qasim, Mu’jam al-Kabir, Vol.24, 44 No. 121

[29] Al-Mizzi, Tahdhib al-Kamal, Vol.29, 172

[30] Al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Taqrib al-Tahdhib, Editor Muhammad ‘Awwama (Damascus: Dar al-Rashid, 1986) 554, No. 7026

[31] Al-Haithami, Nur al-Din, Majm‘ al-Zawa’id, (Cairo: Maktaba al-Qudsi, 1994) Vol.9, 247 No. 15348

[32] Al-Albani, Nasir al-Din, Silsala Ahadith al-Da‘ifa, No. 3390

[33] Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol.8, 80-81; see also, al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Maluk, (Beirut: Dar al-Turath, 1387 AH) Vol. 2, 562-563; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, Vol.4, 25; translated in Fishbein, Michael, The History of al-Tabari – Volume VIII – The Victory of Islam, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997) 2-3

[34] Al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, Vol.5, 275-276 No. 471

[35] Al-Barzinji, Muhammad b. Tahir & Hallaq, Subhi Hasan, Sahih wa Da‘if Tarikh al-Tabari, (Beirut: Dar Ibn Kathir, 2007) Vol.7, 143-144

[36] Yahya b. Salam, al-Tafsir, (Beirut: DKI, 2004) Vol.2, 721-722

[37] Al-Dhahabi, Siyar al-A‘lam al-Nubala, Vol.6, 248-249

[38] Maqatil b. Suleman, al-Tafsir, (Beirut: Dar ‘Ihya’ al-Turath, 1423 AH) Vol.3, 492-494

[39] Al-Dhahabi, Siyar al-A‘lam al-Nubala, Vol.7, 202

[40] Al-Tabari, Jami‘ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an,  Vol.20, 274; al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Maluk, Vol. 2, 563; translated in Fishbein, Michael, The History of al-Tabari – Volume VIII – The Victory of Islam) 4

[41] Al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib, Vol.6, 177-179 No. 362

[42] Shakir, Ahmad, Alfiyyah al-Suyuti fi ‘Ilm al-Hadith, (Beirut: Maktaba al-‘Ilmiyyah, n.d) 10

[43] See for instance, al-Albani, Silsala al-Ahadith al-Da‘ifa, Vol.3, 618 No. 1427, See also, Silsala Da’ifa, Nos. 578, 1288, 1446, 3319, 5549; al-Irwa’, No. 563, 1406, 1961, 2586

[44] See Ahmad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, No. 327, 1444, 8945, 16283, Ibn Hibban, al-Sahih, No. 4586; Abu Dawud, al-Sunan, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 2009) No. 3588, 4295, 4869; Ibn Majah, al-Sunan, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 2009) No. 1081, 1116, 2099, 4101

[45] ‘Uthmani, Muhammad Taqi, In‘am al-Bari, (Karachi: Maktaba al-Hira, 2007) Vol.2, 61

[46] Al-Tabari, Jami‘ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, Vol.20, 271; reported from Ibn ‘Abbas through an isnad involving ‘Atiyah al-‘Awfi and his descendants. Though criticized otherwise, the tafsir reports through this isnad are accepted since they are known to have been transmitted in writing. See, al-Turifi, ‘Abdul ‘Aziz, al-Taqrir fi Asanid al-Tafsir, (Riyadh: Dar al-Minhaj, 2011 ) 67-68

[47] Al-Tabari, Jami‘ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, Vol.20, 271-272; al-Tabarani, Mu’jam al-Kabir, Vol.24, 45 No. 123-124; reported from Qatadah. see also, Al-Haithami, Majm‘ al-Zawa’id, Vol.7, 91-92 No. 11275

[48] Al-Tabari, Jami‘ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an, Vol.20, 274; with a little wording and chain of narrators after Sufyan b. ‘Uyainah the report has been related by Ibn Abi Hatim as well, see Ibn Abi Hatim, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim, (Riyadh: Mustafa al-Baz, 11997 AH) Vol.9. 3135, 3137 No. 17691, 17695; al-Baihaqi, Abu Bakr, Dala’il al-Nabuwwah, (Beirut: DKI, 1405 AH) Vol.3, 466; ‘Ali b. Zaid b. Jud‘an though criticized by many was not someone whose reports cannot be accepted. In fact a number of scholars have stated that his reports are hasan. For a detailed discussion about him see, Al-‘Awni, Hatim, al-Mursal al-Khafi wa ‘Ilaqatahu bi al-Tadlis, (Riyadh: Dar al-Hijra, 1997) 306-322 ; see also Ahadith Shuyukh al-Thiqat – Mashaikha Qadi Maristan, Edited by Hatim al-‘Awni (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 1422 AH) Vol.2, 469

[49] Ibn Abi Hatim, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim, Vol.9, 3137 No. 17696; referring to criticism that ‘Ali b. Zaid b. Jud’an had been subject to, Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani termed al-Suddi’s report stronger in terms of isnad. See, al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifa, 1379 AH) Vol.8, 523

[50] Al-Tha‘labi, Abu Ishaq, al-Kashaf wa al-Bayan ‘an Tafsir al-Qur’an, (Beirut: Dar Ihya’ al-Turath, 2002) Vol.8, 48

[51] Al-Qurtubi, Shams al-Din, al-Jami‘ li-Ahkam al-Qur’an, (Cairo: Dar al-Kutab al-Misriya, 1964) vol.14, 190-191

[52] Al-Tirmidhi, Hakim, Nawadir al-Usul fi Ahadith al-Rasul, (Cairo: Maktaba al-Imam al-Bukhari, 2008) Vol.1, 597

[53] Ibn al-‘Arabi, Ahkam al-Qur’an, (Beirut: DKI, 2003) Vol.3, 578

[54] Al-Andalusi, Abu Hayyan, al-Bahr al-Muhit fi al-Tafsir, (Beirut: Dar al-Fekr, 1420) Vol.8, 482

[55] Al-Jawziyya, Ibn al-Qayyim, Za’ad al-Ma’ad fi Hadyi Khair al-‘Ibad, (Beirut: al-Resalah Publishers, 1992) Ed. 26 Vol.4, 266-267

[56] Al-Damishqi, Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim, (Riyadh: Dar al-Taiba, 1999) Vol.6, 425

[57] , al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari, Vol.8, 523-524

[58] Al-Baqa‘i, Abu Bakr, Nazam al-Durar fi Tanasub al-Ayat wa al-Suwar, (Cairo: Dar al-Kitab al-Islami, n.d.) Vol.15, 358

[59] Al-Alusi, Shahab al-Din Mahmud, Ruh al-Ma’ani Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim wa Sab‘a al-Mathani , (Beirut: DKI, 1415 AH) Vol.11, 204

[60] Yahya b. Salam, al-Tafsir, Vol.2, 721

[61] Al-Wahidi, Abu al-Hasan, al-Wajiz fi Tafsir al-Kitab al-Aziz, (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 1415 AH) Vol.1, 866

[62] Al-Maharibi, Ibn ‘Atiya, al-Muharrar al-Wajiz fi Tafsir al-Kitab al-Aziz, (Beirut: DKI, 1422) Vol.4, 386

[63] Comments on Dr. Yasir Qadi’s treatment of the issue

It is perhaps beneficial to briefly comment here on Dr. Yasir Qadi’s treatment of the issue in an episode of his series on the Sirah of the Prophet (ﷺ);

  1. Categorization: He refers to the narrations that mention some feelings of the Prophet (ﷺ) for Zainab as Version A and the tafsir opinion of ‘Ali b. Hussain and those who followed him as Version B. He clubs Qatada’s report with Version A because it suggests the Prophet (ﷺ) had feelings for Zainab and wanted her to be divorced. While Dr. Qadi has precedent for this reading of Qatada’s view it is perhaps better to see Qatada’s view in line with what he called Version B. Yahya b. Salam’s quoted statement tells us that though the Prophet (ﷺ) knew that Zaid was to divorce Zainab and she would then be his wife, he did not want to ask Zaid to divorce Zainab. This makes Qatada’s report more in line with opinion of ‘Ali b. Hussain (Version B).
  2. Suggestion on the Prophet fighting Allah’s decree (qadr): Reviewing the categorization as above also answers Dr. Qadi’s suggestion the Version B had a serious implication that the Prophet (ﷺ) sought to fight qadr (destiny). He knew and readily accepted what he had been told was forgone but he just did not actively pursued that end. Mark also that the verse 37 ends with the words, “and Allah‘s decree had to be enforced.”
  3. Chronology on the basis of first reporters or published sources? Given the unchallenged authority of oral reports in Islamic educational tradition, it is odd that Dr. Qadi signally ignores the comparison of how far back the origins of the various reports go. Accordingly, first one to take exception to Version A narrative was not Baghawi (d. 510/1117) rather he was ‘Ali b. Hussain (d. 94/712). Even if we go by the authors ‘Ali’s report was preserved by Ibn ‘Abi Hatim (d. 327/938) and Baihaqi (d. 458/1066) as well. Other early authorities for Version B have also been mentioned above. It is, therefore, plainly wrong to suggest that outright critique for Version A and upholding of Version B was only a later trend.
  4. Disregard for Isnad Analysis: Dr. Qadi altogether omits isnad analysis except a passing remark suggesting that isnad of only some reports could be weak. This is far from truth as shown above. It is pertinent to note that in the above analysis the highlighted issues with isnad are not of insignificant nature.
  5. Narrations of Ibn ‘Abbas? Since Dr. Qadi overlooks the whole isnad scheme he goes on to quote reports related in the name of Ibn ‘Abbas but without any isnad whatsoever. In this connection he refers to a long narration from Abu Laith al-Samarqandi (d. 373/985) who never cared to record full isnad in his commentary. Accordingly, in our analysis above, unlike the report attributed to ‘Ikrimah we have omitted his report for it is not even attributed to a source with isnad. Likewise, Dr. Qadi refers to a report with al-Tha‘labi and al-Baghawi that makes Ibn ‘Abbas say that what the Prophet (ﷺ) hid was his love for Zainab. This too has no isnad.
  6. The Prophet – Human or Superhuman? Towards the end of his talk and also in reply to a question Dr. Qadi’s says that the Version B has been preferred in the later centuries as Version A was increasingly considered incommensurate with the stature of the Prophet (ﷺ) which he thinks is related to tendencies to see the Prophet (ﷺ) as superhuman. Whereas such tendencies might have existed for long it is not justified to tone down the effect of every criticism of narratives showing ‘human’ characteristic of the Prophet (ﷺ). The plain fact that the Version A does not go with the clear meanings of the Qur’an and has not a single authentic isnad require for it to be discarded regardless of the image of the Prophet (ﷺ) it paints.

[64] Deffrrari, Roy Joseph, The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, Vol. 37 (Saint John Of Damascus – Writings), translated by Frederic H. Chase, Jr. (New York: Fathers of The Church, Inc., 1958) 157

[65] Sahas, Daniel J., John of Damascus on Islam – the “Heresies of the Ishmaelites”, (Leiden: Brill, 1972) 38-39, 47-48

[66] Powers, David S., Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009) 29

[67] Khoury, Adel Theodore, Polémique Byzantine contre l’islam; VIIIe-XIIIe siècles, (Leiden: Brill, 1972) 91-93, 263-266

[68] Khoury, Adel Theodore, Apologetique Byzantine Contre L’Islam (VIIIe-XIIIe siècles), (Altenberge: Christlich-Islamisches Institut, 1982) 8ff

[69] Tolan, John V., Saracens – Islam in the Medieval European Imagination, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002) 54, 61, 92, 149, 152, 210

[70] al-Tabarani, Mu’jam al-Kabir, Vol.24, 42-43 No. 119, 120

[71] Na‘na‘ah, Ramzi, Isra’iliyat fi Kutab al-Tafsir wa Athruha, (Damascus: Dar al-Qalam, 1970)  193

[72] Maqatil b. Suleman, al-Tafsir, Vol.3, 496

Published : May 1, 2018                 Last modified : June 29th, 2018

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