There is so little mentioned about Lady Zaynab bint Khuzaimah. Her marriage to Prophet Muhammad was such a short one — less than a year— before she passed away.
Zaynab was the only wife of the Prophet besides Khadijah bint Khuwaylid who passed on before her beloved husband.
She was honored as a Mother of the Believers, as his other wives were. Zaynab was the “lucky” wife who had her husband lead the Funeral Prayer over her body when she returned to Allah.
The Mother of the Believers, Zaynab, earned such a privilege when she met her grave at the tender age of 30.
Lady Zaynab was given an additional title alongside being a Mother of the Believers. This title was “Mother of the Poor”. The title was given to her even before the advent of Islam as she would spend her time helping the poor and extending her wealth in their aid. Thus, her persona shone through the following saying of Prophet Muhammad:
“People are like mines of gold and silver; those who were excellent in the jahiliyah (the pre-Islamic time of ignorance), are excellent in Islam when they have an understanding.” (Muslim)
Prophet Muhammad always spoke of the poor as his next of kin. He championed their rights and equity by virtue of the Quran.
““Love the poor, for I heard the Messenger of Allah say in his supplication: ‘O Allah, cause me to live poor and cause me to die poor, and gather me among the poor (on the Day of Resurrection).” (Ibn Majah)
This was certainly true for Zaynab. She “was given the title Mother of the Poor “because of her mercy, pity and benevolence towards the indigent.” (Ibn Hisham, 296).
Zaynab is remembered as someone who played a fundamental role in developing Islam’s strong societal landscape. It was through her work that social values were strengthened through supporting the poor. Through her example, many other Muslims followed suit.
It’s only befitting, then, that Prophet Muhammad would later wed Zaynab, the “Mother of the Poor”. Prophet Muhammad, through Allah’s guidance, was instructed to take Zaynab as a wife and consultant.
Much like the other wives, except for Lady Aishah, Zaynab was a widow when she married the Prophet. Her deceased husband, Ubaidah ibn Al-Harith, was the first martyr during the Battle of Badr. Ubaidah was then carried back to the troops by his two comrades Hamzah ibn Abd Al-Muttallib and Ali ibn Abi Talib.
Zainab, was widowed for a year before Prophet Muhammad was provided the decree to wed her. Her marriage was therefore in equity, as her status was elevated to the Mother of the Believers.
Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to Zainab can be seen as a reward for her steadfastness to her faith. And the exemplary virtues she upheld as a young Muslim woman who also had to endure the painful emigration.
His marriage to her was out of compassion. Zainab had lost her beloved husband during a very emotional battle, yet remained patient and accepting of fate. It was due to her trust in the Divine that she accepted her own fate with pride and confidence. But despite her loss, her charity persisted. She never looked back on her misfortune, but continued to support those in need.
When Zainab married Prophet Muhammad, she became his fifth wife — fourth after the death of Lady Khadijah.
Her marriage also bore meaningful lines in history, and runs deeper than the average union between husband and wife.
Zaynab’s father, Khuzaimah, was from a Bedouin tribe called Amir. This marked an important alliance with another clan that was just beginning to come to terms with the new religion.
The chief of the Amir tribe was an elderly gentleman by the name of Abu Bara. Though it had been reported that he never embraced Islam, he declared that he would not oppose the religion. His open mindedness and his acceptance of Zaynab’s marriage to Muhammad opened doors for Muslims to venture out of Madinah.
Abu Bara promised that as long as he was the chief of his tribe, the Muslim community would fall under his protection. This led the Prophet to deploy 40 Muslims to spread the message of Islam to the whole tribe.
Although it turned out that there were a few bad apples who lingered under Abu Bara’s rule, the majority of the Amir tribe supported his call for Muslim integration. It was through this union that political ties were strengthened between communities.
Lady Zaynab’s marriage continues to dispel the false allegations that Prophet Muhammad married his younger wives out of lust. Rather, all of his marriages were legal and dignified.
A few short months rolled by, and Lady Zainab passed away. Her departure was bittersweet as it was reportedly the same year that Al-Husain ibn Ali was born. Prophet Muhammad buried Zainab in Al-Baqi with the respect and love she deserved.
Until today, she continues to be revered as one of the Mothers of Believers and the Mother of the Poor, sending out a strong message to Muslims around the globe that adversities come with blessings, especially when one is close to Allah.
Zainab’s life teaches us that although a woman might not bear children, she can still achieve the high status of a mother by taking care of, working with, and supporting the vulnerable and the needy.
Ibn Hisham, Abd al-Malik. Seerat Ibn Hisham. Vol. 1. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1998.
(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)