She was of the noblest of lineages. Her father was a scion of respectability unlike any other; her mother the leader of all the women in the world. She was raised in an environment of love unlike any other. She was chosen by Allah ta’ala to face tests like any other. She was chosen to face the test of love. This is the story of Zainab (R.A.) bint Muhammad ﷺ.
He had seen her whenever he visited the house of his aunt, Khadijah (R.A.), mesmerized by her character, the way she talked, the way she smiled; enchanted by her piety.
She was in turn, comfortable around him, endeared by his presence and loved listening to his speeches and jokes. He was after all, one of the youngest and yet a leading merchant of the Quraysh.
It was therefore no surprise when Abu al ‘Aas bin Rab’eeah asked Prophet Muhammad ﷺ for his beloved daughter Zainab (R.A.)’s hand in marriage. He listened to him attentively, and conveyed the message to Zainab (R.A.), telling her, “Daughter, your cousin, Abu al ‘Aas bin Rab’eeah is interested in you”. Out of shyness, she did not say a word, but the way she was blushing gave her answer away to her father, who went out and congratulated the ever-so-fortunate Abu al ‘Aas.
The two enjoyed life together happily married, with the fruit of their household coming in the form of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ’s first grandchildren, ‘Ali and ‘Umamah. All was blissful in this noble house when the greatest of events took place: Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was conferred with prophethood, with the task of leading the entirety of humanity from darkness towards the light.
Abu al ‘Aas was away on a journey when this happened, and came back to find that his wife, like her sisters and mother had accepted the call of his father-in-law.
She had been seeing the torture her father was facing, and needed the support of her loving husband to endure. But the sky came down shattering upon her when he told her, embracing her, with a battle of emotions raging inside him, “By Allah, I have nothing against your father, and nothing is dearer to me than following the same path with you, my dear. But I hate that people should say that I have disappointed my clan by disbelieving in the deities of my ancestors in order to please my wife. Can you please excuse me?”
Neither of the two could sleep that night, or in the many nights to come. Their bliss had been turned to hell.
Years had passed, with Zainab (R.A.) enduring with severe pain, the hardships of isolation in the Shaib Abi Talib, the passing of her beloved mother, the ever-increasing persecution faced by her father and the believers and the persistent disbelief of her husband. Her father and sisters Umm-e-Kulthoom (R.A.) and Fatimah (R.A.) had by then migrated to Madinah – with her still praying to Allah ta’ala with an extremely heavy heart, tears flowing down her cheeks, to create a way out for her.
The battlefield at Badr saw the Quraysh with all their military might setting out to annihilate Islam from the face of the earth. Yet despite facing a militarily ill-equipped resistance one-third their size, they suffered utter defeat at the hands of the believers. News of the victory of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ’s army and the capture of many disbelievers, including Abu al ‘Aas soon reached Zaynab (R.A.), who couldn’t feel anything but relief knowing he was still alive. She gathered as much as she could to give as ransom for her husband. Knowing she hadn’t gathered enough, fighting off her tears, she took the prized necklace she had always worn and sent it to Madinah, for the freedom of her husband.
When the delegation of the Quraysh reached Madinah and placed all the ransom before Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, he saw the necklace amongst all the gold and he was struck with grief, his eyes welling with tears in memory of his beloved wife Khadijah (R.A.), who had given it to Zainab (R.A.) as a wedding gift. He said to the believers, “If you see fit to release her (Zainab (R.A.)’s) captive and return to her what is hers, then do so.” Eager to relieve the Prophet ﷺ of his pain, Abu al ‘Aas was released by the believers at once, and was asked by his father-in-law to return his daughter to him.
He returned to Makkah, much to her delight, but all was not well, as Zainab (R.A.) could see it from his face. “Zainab, I come here to bid you farewell”, he told her, telling her of the pledge he had made with his father-in-law.
Upon her departure, Abu al ‘Aas told his beloved Zainab (R.A.), “Zainab, whatever happens, I shall always love you as long as I live. Your ghost shall forever continue to fill this house that had witnessed the sweetest and the most pleasant days of our life.” She wiped off her flowing tears and went away.
Out of their senses from the defeat at Badr, a group of cowardly disbelievers did the unthinkable. They attacked the daughter of the Prophet ﷺ, causing her to fall from her camel, bleeding, causing her to miscarry. Abu al ‘Aas sheltered the love of his life, terrified as she was, and sent her to Madinah under the protection of his brother Kinanah, once the storm had settled.
Four years had passed, and Abu al ‘Aas found himself captive again, as a trade caravan of the Quraysh was prevailed upon by a group of believers under Zaid bin Harithah (R.A). He managed to escape and finding nowhere else to go, in the night, found himself at the door and at the mercy of his beloved, Zainab (R.A.). The throbbing of his disturbed heart could be heard louder than his knocking of the door. With her emotions swirling at the sight of her former husband, she calmed Abu al Aas’ panic and granted him sanctuary but she told him to wait quietly till morning.
When her father and the believers had completed the Fajr prayer, she called out,” O’ People, I have granted sanctuary to Abu al ‘Aas bin Rab’eeah!”
The Prophet ﷺ rose and asked, “O’ people! Did you hear what I have just heard?” They all replied in the affirmative. He then continued, “In the Name of the One who holds Muhammad’s soul in His Hand, I knew nothing of this until I heard what you heard. Even the most humble of Muslims may give sanctuary and have it honored by all Muslims.”
He then went to his daughter, telling her to care well for Abu al ‘Aas but to not let him near her, as he was no longer hers and she was no longer his. He also asked for all that was taken from Abu al ‘Aas to be returned to him, and it was.
Seeing the peace, the truthfulness and the security that the religion of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had to offer, and the love and the compassion that the believers had to offer, and a desire greater than ever before to be with Zainab (R.A.) made Abu al ‘Aas realize the mistake he had been making all these years in letting his pride come between him and the love of his life. He knew there was only one solution to his predicament. But he wished to accept Islam of his free will, not under any coercion.
So he returned to Makkah, not having embraced Islam, yet. After returning to his people their belongings, he proclaimed the Shahadah in their midst. It was the beginning of a new life for him, which was missing just one thing – Zainab (R.A.).
The two lovebirds were at last united, in their love and in their submission to Allah ta’ala, with the blessing of the Prophet ﷺ. Abu al Aas made his wife wait for an agonizingly long time, but she endured, trusting Allah ta’ala in whatever He had in store for them. This story reminds the scribe of a couplet by Native Deen:
We look for stories of love,
in places dark and cold
When we have the shining light,
for the whole world to behold
By Furqan Ahmed