Fictional Stories about Prophet Muhammad #2: Zaid, Zanyab Bint Jash and Prophet Muhammad

  Ehteshaam Gulam

This paper aims to clarify myths about Prophet Muhamamd’s marriage to Zanyab bint Jash. Zaniab bint Jash was the wife of Prophet Muhamamd’s adopted son, Zaid. Bascially the accusation from anti-Islamic circles and Oreintalists is that Prophet Muhammad saw Zanyab bint Jash chaning her clothes and saw her body uncovered. He desired her because she was very beautiful and desired her. Finally he got a revelation from Allah (God in Islam) and was married to her. They quote this story from Ibn Ishaq, Al-Waqidi, Ibn Sa’d and Al-Tabari.

Muhammad Husayn Haykal, in his Life of Muhammad, Explains the Orientalists and Christian critcs who use the story of Zaynab to besmirch Prophet Muhammad:

“Western Orientalists and missionaries pause in order to give full vent to their resentment and imagination. In this chapter of Muhammad's biography, some of them take inordinate pain to paint a sensual portrait of Zaynab. They relate that when Muhammad saw her, she was half-naked, that her fine black hair was covering half her body, and that every curve of her body was full of desire and passion. Others relate that when Muhammad opened the door of the house of Zayd the breeze played with the curtains of the room of Zaynab, thus permitting Muhammad to catch a glimpse of her stretched out on her mattress in a nightgown. They then tell their readers that this view of her stormed the heart of Muhammad who was extremely passionate in his love and desire for women. They
relate that Muhammad had hidden his secret desire, though he could hardly bear to conceal it for long!”(Source)

However the story of Prophet Muhammad seeing Zaynab Bint Jash half naked beautiful body, falling in love with her and desiring her until he got a revelation from Allah to marry her is completely false. Although this story is found in Ibn Ishaq, Ibn Sad and Al-Tabari there are several problems with this story:


1.)Problems with the sources for the story
2.)Contradictions in the story
3.)Where the story probably originated from/was influenced by
4.)The Reality behind the marriage

1.Problems with the sources for the story 

First narration:

It was mentioned by Ibn Saad in his Tabaqat (8/101), and also Ibn Jarir (Al Tabari) in his Tarikh (3/161). They said:

“Muhammad Ibn ‘Umar said: ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr Al-Aslami said: Muhammad Ibn Yahya Ibn Habban said: the Prophet(P) came to Zayd Ibn Haritha?s house asking for him – when Zayd was called Muhammad’s son. When the Prophet(P) wanted him he asked: where is Zayd? Then he went seeking him at his house. But he didn’t find him at home, accordingly, Zaynab came out to receive him, wearing her nightgown. The Prophet(P) turned his face, and she said: He isn’t here O Prophet of Allah, but I beg of you to come in. but the Prophet(P) refused to. She came out in her nightgown for she hurried when she was told that the Prophet(P) was at the door. She fell into the Prophet’s heart, then he left murmuring incomprehensible words, except for: Grace be to Him Who directs the heart. When Zayd came home, Zaynab told him that the Prophet(P) had been at their house. Zayd asked her: Did you not tell him to come in?! Zaynab said: I have but he refused. Zayd asked: did he not say anything? Zaynab said: he left murmuring something I couldn?t understand, but I heard him say “Grace be to Him Who directs the heart?. Afterwards, Zayd went to the Prophet(P) and said: O Prophet of Allah, I have been told that you have been to my house, and that you have refused to come in. if it had been that you like Zaynab, I shall leave her for your sake. But the Prophet(P) said: Hold on to you wife. But Zayd couldn’t live on with Zaynab from that day. He would come to the Prophet(P) and ask him again, but the Prophet(P) would say: Hold on to your wife. And Zayd asked him again, and the Prophet(P) would still say: Hold on to your wife. But Zayd divorced Zaynab and her period was over. Meanwhile, the Prophet(P) was talking to ?Aisha when all of the sudden he was addressed by the Holy Spirit. He was relieved, and said smiling: who shall go to Zaynab and tell her that Allah has make her my wife? Then he recited the verse “Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grades of Allah and thy favour…” to the end of it.”

The problems with the sources is that they are known to be liars. Both Muhammad Ibn Umar and Abdullah ibn ‘Amr Al-Aslami were known back in the early days of Islam to be liars and dishonest when it came to narrating stories about Prophet Muhammad.  Muhammad Ibn Umar is known to be Al-Waqidi. Al-Waqidi was known to be a liar and many Islamic scholars have disregared his narrations. [1]

Al Waqidi has been condemned by many Islamic scholars. Abd Allah Ibn Ali al Madini and his father said: "Al-Waqidi has 20,000 Hadith I never heard of." And then he said: "His narration shouldn't be used" and considered it weak. Yahya Ibn Muaen said: "Al-Waqidi said 20,000 false hadith about the prophet."

So this story is false because of the narrators.

Second Narration:

It is mentioned in Al-Tabari’s Book Al Tarikh. (22/13), he said:

“Yunis told me: Ibn Wahab said: Ibn Zayd said: The Prophet(P) wedded Zayd bin Haritha to his cousin Zaynab bint Jahsh. On the day the Prophet (pbuh) went out in search of him (Zayd), the door of his house was but a piece of fabric, therefore the wind blew it open and revealed Zaynab (with her legs uncovered). And she fell into the Prophet’s(P) heart, and since then she hated the other (Zayd). Then Zayd came to the Prophet(P) and said: O Prophet of Allah, I want to leave my wife. He said: Why? Do you have any suspicion about her? He answered: No! by Allah I have no suspicion about her and I have seen but goodness from her. Then the Prophet(P) said: Hold on to your wife, and fear Allah in her. For that is what Allah said: “Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grades 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” i.e., hide in thy heart that if you leave her I will marry her. “ [2]

It is mu’dil (i.e., more than two reporters are missing), for ibn Zayd (who is Abdur-Rahman ibn Zayd ibn Aslam), is neither a Companion nor a Successor, and accordingly two or more narrators are absent. Again same problem with the first narration, the narrators are not reliable and there are missing sources for this story. In other words there is no sources for this story as I have shown here and therefore this story also must be thrown away as fiction.

Third Narration:

Ibn Ishaq said:

“Zayd was ill, therefore the Prophet (pbuh) went to visit him. Zaynab ?Zayd?s wife – was at his head nursing him. Just as she left to do something, the Prophet (pbuh) looked at her, lowered his head and said: Glory be to him ho directs hearts and eyes. Then Zayd said: shall I divorce her for you O Allah?s Messenger? But the Prophet (pbuh) said: NO. Then the verse?Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grades of Allah and thy favour: ?Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear allah? was revealed.” [3]

This report’s chain of narrators was not mentioned and we did not find it in Sirat Ibn Hisham. Again there are no sources for this story so this story should be thrown out.

Other Narrations

Al-Qurtubi mentioned in his Tafsir that Zanaib Bint Jash was white and one of the finest women in Quraish. When Prophet Muhammad went to Zaniab’s house he saw her and fell in love with her. Again this story is false because it is missing narrators and its chain of transmission (isnad) is also known to have fabrications in it. [4]

2.Contradictions in the story

There are contradictions and problems in the story. The contradictions these narrations hold. In some of them it was said that the Prophet(P) came to visit Zayd, but Zayd was not home before the Prophet(P) was received by Zaynab. While other narrations state that Zayd was ill, therefore the Prophet(P) went to see him. So, Zayd, Zaynab and the Prophet(P) were all at the same room. How could Zayd be away and ill in bed at the same time? The narrators differ in narrating the state and the way in which the Prophet(P) saw Zaynab; some said he was at the door, others say she came out, while others say he saw her when the wind blew the fabric barrier.

Moreover Prophet Muhammad knew Zanaib Bint Jash. She was his his cousin. If Prophet Muhammad was fasinated by her beauty then why didn’t he get married to her, first? Why did he marry Zaniab bint Jash to his adopted son Zaid first?

3. Where the story probably originated from/was influenced by

This story was probably influenced by The Story of Daivd and Bathsheba. The story of David and Bathsheba is mentioned in the Bible, 2 Samuel 11. Some Muslims probably read that story and told a similar story about Prophet Muhammad and Zaniab Bint Jash. Either way, the story is false.

4. The Reality Behind the Marriage

Prophet Muhammad got Zaid and Zanyab Bint Jash married. The Reality behind the marriage is that Zaid and Zanyab’s marriage was not working out. It is said that Zanyab would use harsh language to Zaid. Prophet Muhammad however kept warning Zaid to keep his wife. However a revelation came down and told Prophet Muhammad to marry Zanyab after Zaid divorced her. Prophet Muhammad did not want to marry Zanyab and tried to avoid it but he had to as this hadith states:

Narrated Anas: 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." Aisha said, "If Allah's Apostle (Prophet Muhammad) 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." (Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 516)

So the marriage between Prophet Muhammad and Zaniab was divinely ordained in the Quran and is in no way did Prophet Muhammad steal someone’s wife. Zaniab being a divorcee was to be married to Prophet Muhammad whether he liked it or not because of commandment of Allah by the Quran. Zaniab divorced Zaid because the marriage was not working out, and Prophet Muhammad offered to marry her. This was backed by a divine commandment by Allah (God) in the Quran. So all what happened is that Prophet Muhammad married a divorcee. That’s it. 

5 Conclusions

So the story or stories of Prophet Muhammad seeing Zanyab bint Jash in a nightgown or her half naked beautiful body and falling in love with her, because of her beauty is false. Rather all that happened is tha Zaid divorced Zanyab and Allah (God) told Prophet Muhammad to get married to Zanyab (even though he didn't want to). We’ve seen that all these stories have known liars narrating them or they have missing sources to them. Islamic scholars have thrown Sheikh Muhammah Rashid Reda said: Storyteller has — regarding this event — some sayings that should not be accepted and we should keep the Prophet (P) away from such nonsense falsely attributed to him. [5] So there are problems with the chain of transmission (isnad) and content (matn) of these narrations, therefore rendering them fictional and false.

Notes and References

[1] For more on the unrealibity of Ibn Ishaq, Al-Waqadi, Ibn Sa’d and Al-Tabari see here.

[2] The History of Al-Tabari: The Victory of Islam, translated by Michael Fishbein [State University of New York Press, Albany, 1997], Volume VIII, pp. 2-3

[3] General Ahmad Abdul-Wahhab, Ta’adud Nisa’ Al-Anbiyaa wa Makanat Al-Mar’ah fi Al-Yahodiyyah wa Al-Masihiyyah wa Al-Islam, p. 68.

[4] Cf. At-Tahzib (10/274-275)

[5] Cf. Rashid Reda, Muhammad Rasoul Allah, p. 275