Love is a powerful theme that features throughout history, with the power to launch a thousand ships or destroy a country. Zainab bint Muhammad (radhiAllahu anha) 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 Sahabiyaat such as her mother, Khadijah, or her step-mother Aishah, she experienced one of the most difficult struggles faced by Muslim women: the battle between true love and spiritual conviction.
Zainab bint RasulAllah (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) was the eldest daughter of RasulAllah
(Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) and his wife Khadijah (radhiAllahu anha) . She married her maternal cousin Abu’l ‘Aas ibn Rabee’ before the onset of her father’s prophet-hood. They loved each other dearly, and their marriage was one of the happiest in all of Makkah. They had two children, Ali and Umamah.
The first year of RasulAllah’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. Citing the anger of Quraysh as an excuse, Abu’l ‘Aas continued to love and protect his wife, but did not choose to share her faith.
When RasulAllah made his hijrah to Madinah, Zainab requested that she be allowed to stay with her husband, who was still a non-Muslim. In the months that followed, she was the only believer left within the boundaries of Makkah.
Parted from her family, isolated from other Muslims, Zainab found comfort in the love that she shared with Abu’l ‘Aas.
However, after the Battle of Badr, during which Abu’l ‘Aas was taken prisoner by the Muslims, the command came from Allah that no Muslim woman was allowed to stay with her non-Muslim husband. RasulAllah accepted Abu’l ‘Aas’ ransom payment and released him, but he also instructed him to send Zainab to Madinah.
As much as this second parting with her husband made her heart ache even more, Zainab’s commitment to Allah’s Pleasure over her own demanded that she obey His Command.
Her arduous journey to Madinah, which involved her being ambushed and suffering a miscarriage, reminded her every moment that she was sacrificing the safety and solace of her husband’s love for a life of difficulty. Instead of turning back, instead of using her husband’s protection for her practice of Islam as an excuse to defy the direct order of Allah, she drew upon the strength of her emaan to overcome the pain of losing the love of her life.
Zainab remained in Madinah, refusing to remarry, while Abu’l ‘Aas continued to live in Makkah, anguished at the separation from his wife. Eventually, a sequence of events resulted in his recapture by the Muslims, who brought him to Madinah. Overwhelmed to know that her beloved was near, Zainab publicly announced that she was providing sanctuary to Abu’l ‘Aas.
The Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said,
“Oh people did you hear what I have just heard?” They answered yes.
“I swear by Him in Whose Hand is my life, I knew nothing of this matter until I heard what you have also heard now. The Muslims are like one hand against those who are outside their community, and the lowest of Muslims is entitled to give protection on behalf of the rest of his fellow Muslims. So we give protection to the one to whom she gives protection.”
Then the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) went to his daughter’s home and said, ”Be hospitable towards him but do not be alone with him since you are not lawful to him. ”
Zainab, (may Allah be pleased with her), asked her father to give Abu’l ‘Aas his property back.
Accordingly the Prophet, peace be upon him, went to his companions and said, “You know this man, whose property you took, I would like to give back his property. But if you don’t like to do that it will be your booty given to by Allah.”
They all replied, “We would like to give it back messenger of Allah.”
Abu’l ‘Aas was already impressed by Islam. He had seen the ethics of how Muslims treat their captives and their ethics during war . He was impressed by his father-in-law’s fair decisions and his strong love for Zainab made him realize that he wanted to be part of this religion. However, his strong Arab pride made him not want anyone to think that he was only doing it just to please his wife.
He decided to announce his allegiance to Islam in Makkah in front of the assemblies. He also wanted to do it in Makkah because he still had the possessions of people that were in the caravan and he wanted to return it to them so they wouldn’t think that he was using Islam as a way out. So he returned to Makkah, gave the people back their possessions and proclaimed his allegiance to Islam for all to hear. Then he migrated back to Madinah to be with the love of his life. The Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) made them a new marriage contract and their reunion was complete.
A year later Zainab (may Allah be pleased with her) passed away. Abu’l ‘Aas was completely heartbroken, as was the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) , who was immediately reminded of Khadijah’s (radhiAllahu anha) death. Abu’l ‘Aas became so sad he caused the people at her funeral to weep.
Today, many Muslim women try to justify their choice to marry non-Muslim men by saying that these men love them for who they are and respect their faith. But if the daughter of the Messenger of Allah was commanded to leave her non-Muslim husband, who loved her passionately and never prevented her from practicing Islam, how can we make the excuse that our transient, mortal love is worth defying Allah?
It is sincere sacrifice, out of true love for Allah, that will grant us both the sweetness of mortal love as well as that of the Divine. It is the decision to choose our love for the Divine over the transience of worldly love, that will truly determine the strength of our spiritual courage and make us worthy of Allah’s Divine Love in return.