Poignant and beautiful, would be the words chosen by many to describe the love story of Zainab binte Muhammad and Abu al-‘Aas ibn Rabee’ RA. Who was Zainab? She was the beautiful, beloved and eldest daughter of the Noble Prophet Muhammad SAW. Who was Abu al-‘Aas? He was her cousin, the nephew of her mother Khadeeja RA. He was one of the nobles of the Quraish, and a young family member whom the Prophet SAW loved very much.
Before the Prophet SAW had received his mission of Prophethood, Abu Al Aas one day came to him. He had a request and with an earnest and hopeful voice, he said:
“I wish to marry your eldest daughter.”
The Noble Prophet Muhammad SAW graciously replied: “I must ask her first.”
So he went to sit with his dear daughter Zainab and casually broached the subject, “Your cousin came to see me today and he wishes to marry you. How do you feel about this? And would you accept him as your husband?”
So similar in nature and disposition to her father, Zainab remained silent and her beautiful young face turned red out of bashfulness but… she smiled. A smile indicating her acceptance.
Zainab was married to Abu al-‘Aas and so began the tale of a great love story. Their union was blessed with two children, Ali and Umaymah.
During the period of time when Muhammad became a Prophet, his son in law Abu al-‘Aas was away from Makkah on business. After his business trip, Abu al-‘Aas returned to find that his beloved wife was now a Muslim. Not long after he had returned, Zainab, unable to contain her excitement of being a Muslim, said to him,
“I have great news for you”.
Perhaps sensing that it would be something difficult to deal with, Abu al-‘Aas stood up and walked away from her. Zainab was surprised but she followed him as she said,
“My father became a Prophet and I have become a Muslim.”
His reply was one of incomprehension and incredulity , “Why didn’t you tell me first?”
For the first time in their marriage, there ensued a big problem and difference between the two; a problem of religion and belief.
She told him firmly, “I wasn’t going to disbelieve in my father and his message. You know he is not a liar, he is “As Sideeq and Al Ameen/The Honest and Trustworthy”.” Trying to convince him that her decison had being the right one, she continued, “I’m not the only believer. My mother and my sisters became Muslims too. My cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib became a Muslim, your cousin Uthman ibn Affan became a Muslim, and your friend, Abu Bakr, has also become a Muslim.”
Overwhelmed by all that she was saying, he replied, “Well, as for me, I don’t want people to say, ‘he let his people and his forefathers down, just to please his wife’.
But because he loved his wife Zainab, as well as his father in law, Muhammad SAW, he continued softly, “And I am not accusing your father of anything. So will you excuse me and understand?”
Zainab could only respond as her heart dictated her too, “Who will excuse and understand you if I don’t? I will stay beside you and help you until you reach the truth.”
And she kept her word for 20 years.
Abu al-‘Aas remained an unbeliever, and then came the mandatory migration from Makkah to Madinah. Zainab RA unsure of what she needed to do, went to her father and sought his permission to stay behind and remain with her husband. The Prophet Muhammad SAW, understanding the plight of his daughter responded,
” Yes, you may remain with your husband and children”.
So Zainab continued to live in Makkah, as a Muslim, with her non Muslim husband until the time drew nearer for the battle of Badr. Abu al-‘Aas was to fight in the army of the Quraish against the Muslims. For Zainab, it meant that her husband would be fighting against her father. Undoubtedly a time Zainab had always feared. In prayer she kept crying out:
“O Allah, I fear that day the sun will rise and my children will become orphans or the day I will lose my father and become an orphan”.
The battle of Badr began and ended in victory for the Muslims. Abu Al-Aas was one of those captured by the Muslims, and news of this reached Makkah. Zainab hesitantly asked,
“How is my father? What has happened to him?”
She was told, ” He is unharmed and the Muslims won”.
Then she asked again hesitantly: “How is my husband? What has happened to him?”
To this she was told: “He was captured.” So she prayed to Allah expressing deep gratitude to Him for protecting them both and answering her prayers and said, “I’ll send something in payment to release him.”
She didn’t own anything of much value, except the necklace that had once belonged to her mother Khadija RA. So she took it off and sent it with Abu al-‘Aas brother to purchase the freedom of her husband.
While the Prophet SAW was sitting, taking payments and releasing captives, his eyes fell on his beloved late wife’s necklace. He held it up and asked:
“Whose payment is this?”
It was said: ” Abu al-‘Aas ibn Rabee.”
At this the Prophet Muhammad SAW cried out, his voice heavy with emotion “This is Khadeeja’s necklace.”
As soon as the Messenger of Allah SAW saw the necklace, he was engulfed in a moment of extreme sadness and his heart filled with overwhelming emotion at the memories which flooded his mind and the moment. The Companions who were present there gazed in amazement having being captivated by the magnitude of such an emotional situation.
After what seemed to be a long silence, the Messenger of Allah SAW stood up and said,
“O my people, this man is my son in-law. Should I release him? And would you accept the return of this necklace to my daughter?”
Being a part of the intense moment, they all answered in unison “Yes, O Messenger of Allah!”
The Prophet SAW then gave the necklace to Abu al-‘Aas and said to him,
“Tell Zainab not to give away Khadeeja’s necklace.”
Thereafter he SAW quietly added,
“Abu al-‘Aas, Can we speak privately?”
He took him aside and softly spoke, “Allah has ordered me to separate a Muslim and a disbeliever, so could you please return my daughter to me?”
Abu al-‘Aas still having great respect for his father in law-Muhammad SAW, reluctantly agreed.
In the meanwhile Zainab RA stood at the gates of the outskirts Makkah waiting for the arrival of her beloved husband Abu al-‘Aas When he finally came he simply said,
“I am going away”.
Shocked she asked him, “Where to?”
He replied, ” Rather it is not me who is leaving, it is you. You are to return to your father. It is as he has requested. We must separate because you are a Muslim.”
Anguish, hurt and pain at the thought of being separated from her dear husband, she implored him, “Won'( you become a Muslim and come with me?” But tragically he refused.
So Zainab took her son and daughter and travelled to Madinah. For six years she refused to remarry, hoping that one day Abu al-‘Aas would come.
After these six years had passed, Abu A-‘Aas was travelling in a caravan from Makkah to Syria. During the journey, he was intercepted by some of the Prophet’s companions. He managed to escape and asked for Zainab’s home. He knocked on her door shortly before the dawn prayer. She opened the door and happily exclaimed,
“Have you become a Muslim?”
He shook his head and whispered “No, I have come as a fugitive.”
She implored him once more “Won’t you become a Muslim?”
As it had been before, so was it again. He answered in the negative.
No matter the time and heartbreak, he remained to be her kin, father of her children and still beloved to her heart. She said,”Do not worry. Welcome my cousin, welcome, the father of Ali and Umaymah.”
After the Prophet SAW had prayed the dawn prayer in congregation with the people, a voice was heard a voice from the back of the mosque,
“I have freed Abu al-‘Aas ibn Rabee.”
It was the right and priviledge of those to free kith and kin, if they so wished. And so Zainab had granted Abu al-‘Aas freedom.
The Prophet SAW, addressing the congregation asked, “Have you heard what I have heard?”
They all replied in unison, “Yes, we have Oh Messenger of Allah.”
Zainab RA then continued, “He is my cousin and the father of my children and I have freed him.”
The Prophet SAW stood up and said, “O people, I declare that this man was a very good son-in-law, he never broke his promise, and neither did he tell lies. So if you accept, I will return his money back to him and let him go. If you refuse, it’s your decision and I will not blame you for it.”
The companions themselves, as kind hearted as their Prophet, agreed, “We will give him his money and grant him his freedom.”
So the Prophet SAW said looked towards his daughter Zainab and said, “We have freed the one you have freed, O Zainab.”
Then he SAW walked to where she stood and quietly said to her, “Be generous to him, he is your cousin and the father of your children, but don’t let him get near you as a husband. For he is a disbeliever and that is prohibited for you.”
She replied, “Yes, Oh my father, I will certainly do as you say.”
She returned to her home, where her husband, still thinking that he is a fugitive, was waiting. She addressed him searchingly and said, “O Abu al-‘Aas, didn’t you miss us at all? Won’t you become a Muslim and stay with us?”
But he sadly once again he refused. Abu al-‘Aas then thanked her for her help, took his money and returned to Makkah.
Upon returning to Makkah, he addressed the people and announced,
“O people, here is your money. Is there anything left? Anything else that I was supposed to return to you?”
They replied, “No, Abu al-‘Aas, there is nothing left.” And thanked him for his assistance in carrying out their trade journey to Syria.
Abu al-‘Aas’ honour had been satisfied that he owed no one and he loudly proclaimed, “I testify that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammed is His Messenger.” After all these years as well as separation from his beloved wife, he had finally brought Imaan/ Faith and accepted Islam.
In excitement and anticipation, he hurriedly returned to Madinah and ran to meet the Prophet SAW. Breathless from the excitement of his reversion and journey, he reached the Prophet SAW and said, “Dear Prophet of ALLAH, you freed me yesterday, and today I say to that I have testified that there is no god but Allah and you are His Messenger.”
Without skipping a beat he continued and asked the Prophet SAW, “Will you give me permission to go back to Zainab? For me to be her husband once again?”
The Prophet SAW, with tears in his eyes smiled and responded, “Come with me.”
Together, father and son in law made their way to Zainab’s house and knocked on her door.
The Prophet Muhammad SAW called out to his daughter saying, “O Zainab, your cousin has accepted Islam and he came to me and asked if he can return to you as your husband”.
Just like twenty years before, her face turned red out of bashfulness and modesty and she simply smiled.
But their happiness together was not meant to last. Tragically it was but a year after this incident that Zainab RA passed away.
Abu al-‘Aas was overtaken by grief and shed hot tears because of her death. His excessive grief drove those who were around him to tears. The Messenger of Allah SAW himself was overcome with grief, his eyes full of tears and his heart full of sorrow. Zainab’s death reminded him of the death of his beloved wife, Khadeejah. He then advised the women, who had gathered around Zainab’s lifeless body,
“Wash her three times and use camphor in the third wash.”
Muhammad SAW performed his daughters funeral prayers and placed her in her final resting place.
Abu al-‘Aas returned to his children, Ali and Umaymah. Kissing them and wetting them with his tears, he could not help but remember the face of his departed darling.
It was shared that Abu al-‘Aas RA would cry so profusely that the people would see his tears affect the Prophet himself. Whereby he too would weep profusely while he attempted to calm his son in law down.
Abu al ‘Aas RA would say,
“By Allah, I can’t stand life anymore without my Zainab.
He died a year later, just one year after Zainab RA’s death.
Let His Love Lead the Way, in the Blessings and Obedience of ALLAH…Endeavour to Live Your Day!