Love is a powerful theme that features throughout history, with the power to launch a thousand ships or destroy a country. Zainab, daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is an example of the strength of love and a Muslim woman’s patience and courage.
Although her story does not feature as prominently in Islamic history as some other companions such as her mother, Khadijah, or her step-mother A’ishah, she experienced one of the most difficult struggles faced by Muslim women: the battle between true love and spiritual conviction.
Zainab bint Muhammad (PBUH) was the oldest child of Muhammad ibn Abdullah (PBUH) and Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (may Allah be pleased with her), born ten years before her father’s prophethood. Raised by the man known as as-Saadiq al-Ameen (the truthful and the trustworthy), and the woman famed throughout Makkah for her integrity of character and business acumen, Zainab grew to be a young woman who internalized the best of her parents’ qualities.
Zainab (may Allah be pleased with her) married her maternal cousin Abu’l ‘Aas ibn Rabee’ before the onset of her father’s prophethood. They loved each other dearly, and their marriage was one of the happiest in all of Makkah.
The first year of Muhammad’s Prophethood was a difficult one for Zainab. She instantly believed in her father’s Divine Message, but unfortunately, Abu’l ‘Aas refused to accept Islam.
“How can you not believe in him?” Zainab asked, confused. “You know that he is as-Saadiq al-Ameen, the most honest and trustworthy!”
Abu’l ‘Aas admitted that it was fear of the people of Makkah that held him back from believing in the Messenger of Allah. “What will the people say about me? They will say, ‘he betrayed his tribe and his forefathers to please his wife!’”
For Zainab, whose love for her husband was matched only by the love for her father, this was a terrible blow.
Abu’l ‘Aas, wracked with guilt but unwilling to fight the collective anger of Quraysh, begged his wife, “Will you not excuse me and understand my situation?” Her heart aching with longing that her husband would understand and accept the spiritual purity of Islam, Zainab answered, “Who will excuse you and understand you if I don’t? I will remain at your side until you understand the truth.”
Years passed, and as the intensity of opposition towards Islam grew, so did Zainab’s grief at how her father and the early Muslims were treated. Her husband protected her from the punishment that the rest of her family faced, but it could not assuage the emotional pain.
Eventually, the command came from above the seven heavens that it was time for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to make hijrah to Madinah. Zainab was faced with the first, and one of the most difficult tests that she would have to go through. How could she choose between her father, the Messenger of Allah, and her husband, her one true love?
When she received permission from her father to stay in Makkah, her relief that she would not have to abandon her husband was coupled with the sorrow of having to part with her father, her sisters, and the remaining Muslims. Once again, despite being sheltered by her husband, Zainab felt the painful isolation of being the only Muslim living in Makkah.
To be continued…