An analysis of Zaynab’s divine marriage to Mohammed
“Your marriages were arranged for you by your fathers, but my marriage was arranged for me by Allah from above the seven heavens”
Zaynab to Mohammed’s other wives
The above assertion was Zaynab’s claim to fame, which no other woman had been able to match. Indeed, no other woman was privileged to have her marriage and family life planned for her by Allah, and carefully documented in the preserved tablet and the Quran. Zaynab’s ‘divine’ marriage was not a private matter because its implications still affect the Muslims’ lives today. As a corollary to satisfying Mohammed’s sexual desires, Allah had to ban the highly moral practice of adoption and introduce instead a morally corrupt legislation that allows women to breast feed adult men. Another upshot of this saga is that the Muslims today are still perplexed and divided regarding the wisdom of the ‘barrier (=hijab) verse’ that in effect locks women behind the dark shields of Islam. The historical events mentioned in this article are well documented in the Quran and the reputed sira books and no Muslim can question their authenticity. The analysis, however, is mine and is an attempt to read the small prints to understand that famous Islamic love, or rather lust, story.
Zaynab Bintu Jahsh was related to Mohammed from her mother’s side. Being twenty three years younger than Mohammed, he must had seen her many times as a young girl in Mecca, and must had noticed her good looks, which explains why he had chosen her as a wife for Zayd, his adopted son.
Zayd Ibn Haritha was an Arab slave who was given as a gift to Khadija, Mohammed’s first wife. Mohammed inherited Zayd after Khadija’s death and because he liked him so much he adopted him. The adoption traditions in Arabia, which were highly respected by all the Arabs, ruled that the adopted children enjoy the same rights as the natural children. Zayd demonstrated exemplary obedience and loyalty to his master and served him with extraordinary devotion. In return Mohammed treated Zayd well; indeed so well that he eventually adopted him.
The marriage of Zaynab and Zayd took place in Medina around the year 626 AD when Mohammed was a renowned political leader in Arabia. Some Muslims claim that Zaynab and her brother objected to the marriage on the grounds of the superiority of her class in comparison to that of Zayd. Those Muslims also claim that Zaynab really wished Mohammed to marry her, not Zayd. While it is understandable that Zaynab may have wished to marry Mohammed, who was the most important figure in Medina, there are doubts about the class issues because Zayd, once adopted, had automatically acquired the social class of his adopting father. Besides Zayd was not an African slave but an Arab who was captured in war.
The marriage was agreed and the couple lived in a house of their own in Medina. One day, while Zayd was out, Mohammed paid an unexpected visit to the couple. While waiting at the door, a gentle wind blew a light woven curtain revealing a nearly naked figure of Zaynab inside the house. Mohammed was struck by the attractive rounded figure of Zaynab, and went away saying “praise be to Allah who can change how the heart feels”. The meaning of this ‘prayer’ is that Mohammed’s feelings towards Zaynab are now different from what they used to be when he asked her to marry Zayd. In other words, he wasn’t attracted to her before, but now he is. What has changed in Zaynab that made Mohammed feel attracted to her? Obviously, when Mohammed peeped at Zaynab, he did not ‘see’ a change in her personality, but a nearly naked woman with a sexy figure.
Zaynab told her husband of what happened and told him what Mohammed was saying as he left.
Accidents involving male and female members of the same family seeing each other in embarrassing positions or situations tend to happen in most households. The persons involved try to ignore the recollection or forget it completely without allowing it to have any negative consequences on their lives. What happened at the door of Zaynab shouldn’t have had any far reaching consequences, had the person at the door been a man other than Mohammed.
The culture of strict sexual segregation practiced in the Gulf States, and some other Muslim countries, make some Muslims behave like wild sexual beasts. In Saudi Arabia, as an example, the mere sight of a woman’s leg can be considered by some Arabs as an erotic experience. Women without total coverings were described by an Australian Imam as an uncovered meat, in other words, mouth watering meals to would be predators. However, I never came across a man in his fifties, with dozens of wives and slaves at his disposal, who becomes a sexual monster at the sight of his daughter in law.
There is nothing unusual for a man to accidentally see his daughter in law in underwear and Zayd shouldn’t have panicked at all because it was nobody’s fault. But Zayd knew something the others didn’t know. He spent a life time with Mohammed and watched him grow from an insignificant person in Mecca to become a formidable leader in Arabia who claims to have links with Allah. Zayd was not a psychoanalyst and had no clue why Allah had chosen his master to become a prophet. Mohammed’s success must have overwhelmed Zayd who didn’t know how to make the connection between all those odd characters of Mohammed. Probably he thought it was all part of the package of being chosen by Allah. Having served Mohammed for years as a slave and then as a son, Zayd had a fairly good knowledge of Mohammed’s characters. He knew what his master liked and how he thought and knew of the sex monster imbedded in his personality. Zayd knew that once Mohammed had a glimpse of Zaynab’s naked figure, no power on earth could stop him from having sex with her. To Zayd, the situation was a battle he was unable and unwilling to fight.
Zayd was so confident of his knowledge of the true nature of Mohammed that he had the courage to say to him what would otherwise be unthinkable to say even to an ordinary Arab. Zayd panicked and went out looking for Mohammed until he found him, still preoccupied by his sexual fantasies about Zaynab. Zayd openly said to his adopting father: “perhaps you liked Zaynab, in which case I leave her for you” to which Mohammed responded: “Keep your wife for you”. Of course, Zayd did not mean that Mohammed liked Zaynab as a person but as a sex object.
What makes a man to panic and offer his wife to his superior just because he happened to see her in her underwear? It strikes me the enormous amount of fear that generates that courage for a down to earth man like Zayd to say something so improper and so immoral to any man, never mind a prophet of Allah and the chief of Medina! Mohammed’s response is no less decadent. One would expect him to be outraged at the morally offensive offer, but he responded as he would have to a person offering him something to eat: ‘You may keep her!’
It is not that Zayd had guessed that Mohammed liked Zaynab’s figure, he was sure of it because otherwise he wouldn’t dare mentioning it.
And it is not that Zayd guessed that Mohammed must be feeling so much lust towards Zaynab, he was sure of it otherwise he wouldn’t dare suggesting to pave the way for Mohammed to have sex with her, by divorcing her.
And it is not that Zayd gussed that Mohammed may destroy any person who stands in his way to have sex with Zaynab, he was sure of it otherwise he wouldn’t dare to announce his willingness to hand over his wife, whom he was supposed to protect.
And it is not that Zayd guessed that Mohammed will eventually get his way, he was sure of it otherwise he wouldn’t dare to suggest to do something against the adoption laws which Mohammed, until then, recognized. From that moment, Zayd knew that Mohammed would manipulate the laws, or cancel them, in order for him to have sex with Zaynab.
After years with him, Zayd developed his own psychological analysis of Mohammed’s personality. Mohammed’s generosity and kindness where always for a purpose, and in Zayd’s case they were because of his extraordinary commitment and total obedience. Zayd knew that he shouldn’t read too much in the fact that he was Mohammed’s adopted son, because even that bondage wouldn’t tame the sex monster Mohammed is.
Mohammed’s sexual desires towards Zaynab were not the product of the heat of the moment; weeks later he was still in his world of fantasy about her. He became thoroughly convinced that Zaynab was too endowed to be given to Zayd. As with all other problems Mohammed had ever faced, he had to use Allah to help him out.
One afternoon, while relaxing in Aysha’s house, closing his eyes and thinking of that beautiful figure of Zaynab, he came up with an ingenious solution. He opened his eyes with a big smile on his face and said: “who can go to Zaynab and give her the good news? Allah ordered me to marry her”.
This is what Allah had to say:
وَإِذْ تَقُولُ لِلَّذِي أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْسِكْ عَلَيْكَ زَوْجَكَ وَاتَّقِ اللَّهَ وَتُخْفِي فِي نَفْسِكَ مَا اللَّهُ مُبْدِيهِ وَتَخْشَى النَّاسَ وَاللَّهُ أَحَقُّ أَن تَخْشَاهُ فَلَمَّا قَضَى زَيْدٌ مِّنْهَا وَطَرًا زَوَّجْنَاكَهَا لِكَيْ لَا يَكُونَ عَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ حَرَجٌ فِي أَزْوَاجِ أَدْعِيَائِهِمْ إِذَا قَضَوْا مِنْهُنَّ وَطَرًا وَكَانَ أَمْرُ اللَّهِ مَفْعُولًا
Q.33:37 Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favour: "Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah." But thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear Allah. Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that there may be no difficulty to the Believers in marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And Allah's command must be fulfilled.
As usual with translated Quran, the above translation contains serious and deliberate errors, this time, to conceal the rudeness of the original Arabic text. Yusuf Ali, Pikthal and other translators were stuck in the Arabic word ‘watara’ (coloured red) which means desire, want or need. I couldn’t help laughing when I read things like ‘dissolving the marriage’ and ‘divorce formalities’! What formalities were known at the time of Mohammed?
A more accurate translation would be: “when Zayd had finished what he wanted from her”. A man’s need for his wife is a lifelong need; there is no time in a successful marriage when a man can say to his wife: “now I had accomplished my want from you” unless that man is speaking about sex. In simple language the above verse says: “as Zayd had finished from Zaynab, now it is your turn”.
In a remarkable insensitivity to the suffering of Zayd, who was the main victim of this whole saga, the above verse starts rather impolitely by reminding him with Mohammed’s past favours. There is also a perceptible disrespect to women in general in this verse as evident from the way it referred to Zaynab and relegating the purpose of her marriage to mere sexual activity. Verse 33:37 mirrored what was in Mohammed’s mind about Zaynab, and exposed his lack of integrity and his failure to recognize that Zaynab was a wife to Zayd and not a sex object as he wanted her for himself.
The above verse raises another valid and embarrassing question that has no convincing answer. It relates to the part of the verse that says: you feared people and it’s Allah whom you should fear. It is a sin for a Muslim to fear people more than Allah, and in the case of Mohammed that sin contradicted the principle of ‘issma’ or his supposed infallible nature as a prophet. However, the Muslims, who only see miracles in the Quran, come with this explanation: “this verse is a miracle that proves the Quran is from Allah because had Mohammed authored the Quran he wouldn’t write something in it that implicates him”. The Muslims do not grasp the idea that the Quran is Mohammed’s own thoughts spoken loudly. It is normal for people to kick themselves if they feel they made the wrong decision. In the above verse, Mohammed kicked himself because he shouldn’t have let the fear from the public opinion to delay his decision to have Zaynab for himself.
Zaynab’s saga is one of those many Islamic issues that lie behind the red line, which Muslims do not like to discuss or debate very often. In their defence, the Muslims say the moral of the story is that Allah wanted to put an end to the practice that prohibited the marriage of the divorced wives of the adopted sons. The Arabs have an old saying that describes this explanation: “the excuse is worse than the offence”. The Muslims become speechless when they are reminded that Allah could have revealed a verse about the new legislation without having to go into that socially damaging scenario. That is of course if we accept that there was something wrong with the old legislation, which there wasn’t.
Out of all his marriages, Mohammed celebrated this one the most. A large number of guests were invited to enjoy the free food, courtesy of Mohammed, as the celebrations went on for several days. Mohammed may have regretted that generosity because, one day, after everybody had his food and left, three of the guests stayed behind. Mohammed left them briefly to see his wives and when returned they were still engaged in what seemed like an endless conversation. Mohammed was craving for more time to be on his own with Zaynab and those bad mannered guests were wasting that valuable time. While waiting impatiently for them to leave, Mohammed must had recalled that infamous day when he saw Zaynab in her underwear. He remembered that gentle wind which blew that light woven curtain away revealing Zaynab’s beautiful figure. Suddenly, Mohammed became alarmed in case the same happens again, but with somebody else at the door. Mohammed decided to shield Zaynab, and his other wives, with thick windproof curtains for added protection. Full with greed and selfishness, Mohammed asked for divine help, not only to ask those talking men to leave, but also to stop all his followers from peeping at his wives or marrying them after him. Allah was waiting for Mohammed’s call and immediately revealed this handy and important verse:
Q.33:53 “O you who believe! do not enter the houses of the Prophet unless invited for a meal, but not waiting for its cooking being finished, but when you are invited, enter, and when you finished eating then disperse, do not linger for conversation; that would hurt the Prophet, and he would be shy of (asking) you (to go); but Allah is not shy of the truth. And when ye ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it from behind a barrier (a curtain, Arabic for hijab). That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts. And it is not for you to hurt the messenger of Allah, nor that you ever marry his wives after him. That in Allah's sight would be an enormity.”
The above verse is now famously known as the Hijab Verse. As we can see it has nothing to do with the hair or head scarves. How many of those Muslims, who read the Quran every day, noticed that? So far, I met none!
The end of Zayd
Moral principles, ethics and human integrity were all losers in this tale, but Zayd was the main victim because he lost his wife and family life. Unlike Mohammed, Zayd did not consider Zaynab as a sex object, but his only wife and partner and his entire family. He must have struggled with his feelings that it was divine fairness to break down his family, take his only wife and give it to Mohammed, who already had dozens of wives and sexual partners. A blow with that magnitude devastates any man regardless of power or eminence, but just in case it wasn’t harsh enough to dishearten Zayd, Mohammed delivered to him his next shattering blow in the form of this verse: Q.33:4
Q.33: 4 “....nor has He made your adopted sons your sons...”
This verse delivered the final blow to Zayd’s only remaining comfort; that warm adoption bondage that was still connecting him with Mohammed. With this verse, Zayd became an abandoned man who did not only lose his wife and father, but also he lost his future and social status. Totally heartbroken and let down by Allah and his messenger, Zayd had to settle with the lie that he too was a winner because his name was mentioned in the Quran. His only option was to live in the shadow of the man who was behind all this, sing his praise and love him more than he loved himself.
Q.33: 6 “The Prophet is more worthy to the Believers than their own selves...”
As to Mohammed, who got everything he wanted, there remained one tiny blemish that kept spoiling the pleasure of his greed. That was those sad looks from the eyes of Zayd. After his marriage with Zaynab, Mohammed didn’t see in Zayd anything more than a reminder of his insatiable hunger for sex. Zayd, once Mohammed’s favourite slave and adopted son is no longer welcome in the world of Allah’a perfect man. Zayd had to go.
In the year 629 AD, Mohammed decided to send Zayd to his final trip. He sent him with a small unprepared and poorly equipped army of around three thousands men to Muta, in present day Jordan. From the beginning, the mission was doomed to fail because of the superiority of the Roman army in numbers and equipment. Mohammed assigned Zayd to hold the flag which made him the first to be targeted by the enemy. The humiliating defeat was no surprise, neither was the fact that Zayd was one of the first to be killed in that battle.
And Mohammed lived happily ever after!