Zaynab bint Jahsh
She was the daughter of Umaimah bint 'Abdul Muttalib bin Hashim, who was the Messenger of Allah's paternal aunt. Her brother was the distinguished general, 'Abdullah bin Jahsh. Another brother was a noted author of religious poetry, Abu Ahmad bin Jahsh. Her sister was another famous women Companion, Hamnah bint Jahsh. Her paternal uncles were the Leader of the Martyrs' Hamzah bin 'Abdul Muttalib, and 'Abbas bin 'Abdul Muttalib, who was renowned for his works of charity. Her paternal aunt was Safiyyah bint 'Abdul Muttalib bin Hashim.
She was born about thirty years before the Hijrah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), She was influenced by the teachings of her brother, 'Abdullah bin Jahsh, to convert to Islam. Beautiful, intelligent, wise and of noble birth she was the envy of many.
The increasing popularity and influence of Islam roused a towering rage among the Quraysh; the new converts faced indescribable tortures. Some were made to lie on beds of coal, while others some were dragged naked across the burning desert sands. Still others were wrapped up in straw mats and strung over smoke, to suffocate them. Everyday saw new methods of the art of torturing these people who had sworn allegiance to the Allah.
The sole purpose was that they should give up the belief and practices of Islam. Makkah became too small to hold both them and the Quraysh. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) exhorted his followers and friends to be patient and brave, but finally he gave them orders to migrate; first to Abyssinia and then to Al-Madinah. Under the leadership of 'Abdullah bin Jahsh, the Jahsh family set out. The caravan included the blind poet Ahmad bin Jahsh, who was admired for his linguistic mastery. He wrote an epic poem depicting in detail the tortures inflicted by the Quraysh, the reasons for migration and the heroic deeds of the Muslims. This poem is considered to be a masterpiece of Arabic literature.
Time passed peacefully in Al-Madinah, and the ties between the immigrants and the Ansar, the original inhabitants created an atmosphere of brotherly love and affection. It seemed they were members of one united family. The best individual in the society was neither master nor slave, neither man nor woman, neither rich nor poor, but a God-fearing person of good character and morals.
In the context of such an ideal society the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) suggested to his cousin Zaynab that he had decided to get her engaged to Zayd bin Harithah, his adopted son and a freed slave. When Zaynab heard this she was stunned; she told him that she was from a noble family and she was neither keen nor willing to marry a freed slave. She was doubtful if they could get along with each other. He answered that he had chosen Zayd for her and she should accept him. Before Zaynab could answer him, an Ayah was revealed to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This was Ayah of Surat At-Ahzab,
"It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disbelieves Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed into a plane error." [Noble Quran 33:36]
Thus Zaynab and Zayd were married, but separated as they were from totally different social backgrounds, and their marital life was far from peaceful.
Zaynab was biased and from the very beginning the relations were always strained. Zayd felt that the respect and importance that a husband should get from his wife was never given to him. Disappointed in his marriage, he went to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and told him that he was very upset as he and Zaynab seemed totally incompatible. The advice that he received from his mentor, Allah has incorporated in the Noble Quran,
"Keep your wife to yourself, and fear Allah." [Noble Quran 33:37]
But in spite of all the best efforts the marriage did not work out, and finally he divorced Zaynab.
Arabs thought it was wrong for a man to marry the widow or divorcee of his adopted son. Allah wanted to abolish this uncivilized custom, so He sent the Angel Jibril to tell the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in secret that Zaynab would one day be his wife. He was very distressed as it was against the accepted norm of behavior. He feared social censure and was very ashamed and embarrassed at the implications. But the decision had been made in the heavens by Allah and soon he received the revelation,
"And (remember) when you said to him (Zayd bin Harithah) on whom Allah has bestowed grace (by guiding him to Islam) and you have done favour (by manumitting him): "Keep your wife to yourself, and fear Allah." But you hid in yourself that which Allah will make manifest, you did fear the people (i.e., their saying that Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) married the divorced wife of his manumitted slave) whereas Allah had a better right that you should fear Him. So when Zayd had accomplished his desire from her (i.e. divorced her), We gave her to you in marriage, so that there may be no difficulty to the believers in respect of (the marriage of) the wives of their adopted sons when the latter have no desire to keep them. And Allah's Command must be fulfilled." [Noble Quran 33:37]
When Zaynab completed her period of waiting, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) sent her a proposal through Zayd bin Harithah. When he went to her, she was kneading dough; keeping his back turned to her, he gave her the Prophet's message, that he wanted her to join the select group of the Mothers of the believers. She said she could not answer immediately, but would have to consult her Maker. She began praying to Allah for guidance. She was still in the middle of her prayer, when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) received a revelation that the marriage had already been performed in the Heavens by Allah Himself. After this Heavenly order, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) immediately went to Zaynab without observing any of the formalities that were observed with acquaintances and friends. He did not inform her in advance nor did ask for permission. There are some exceptional points to be noted regarding this marriage.
Only the order of the Quran was based as a guardian or a witness.
It abolished a barbaric custom that equated a blood relationship with an adoptive one; in which the father could not marry an adopted son's ex-wife or widow.
Zaynab used to say very proudly to the other Mother of the Believers that her marriage had been performed not by her family but by Allah above the Heavens with His beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
When the hypocrites criticized the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) for this marriage, Allah replied,
"There is no blame on the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in that which Allah has made legal for him. That has been Allah's way with those who have passed away of (the Prophets of) old. And the Command of Allah is a decree determined. Those who convey the Message of Allah and fear Him, and fear none save Allah. And Sufficient is Allah as a Reckoner." [Noble Quran 33:38-39]