Muhammad, Zaid and Zaynab Revisited

Examining the Circumstances Surrounding Muhammad’s Marriage to His Adopted Son’s former Spouse

Sam Shamoun

Even though we have written quite extensively on the issue of Muhammad’s marriage to Zaynab bint Jash, the problem is that this information is scattered throughout several different papers. We have therefore decided to take some of the key elements from this material and combine them together in one article for the readers’ convenience. We will post links at the end to where the material can be found.

According to the Quran itself Allah caused Muhammad to have desires for another man’s wife, namely his adopted son Zaid ibn Haritha’s spouse Zaynab bint Jash. This led to his adopted son divorcing her so that Muhammad could marry her. The alleged reason why Allah commanded this to happen was so that Muhammad could set the example for others to emulate, making it permissible for adoptive fathers to marry their adopted children’s divorcees:

And when you said to him to whom Allah had shown favor and to whom you had shown a favor: Keep your wife to yourself and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; and you concealed in your soul what Allah would bring to light, and you feared men, and Allah had a greater right that you should fear Him. But when Zaid had accomplished his want of her, We gave her to you as a wife, so that there should be no difficulty for the believers in respect of the wives of their adopted sons, when they have accomplished their want of them; and Allah's command shall be performed. There is no harm in the Prophet doing that which Allah has ordained for him; such has been the course of Allah with respect to those who have gone before; and the command of Allah is a decree that is made absolute: S. 33:37-38 Shakir

Note carefully what these references are actually saying. Muhammad was hiding within himself what Allah supposedly was to bring to light, namely that Muhammad was to marry his adopted son’s wife. This means that even before the divorce occurred Allah had already caused Muhammad to desire a married woman and that it was Allah who caused Zaid to divorce his wife so that Muhammad could then marry her! No wonder Muhammad feared men!

There are several problems with this set up, not the least of which are the moral ramifications of this episode. The God of the Holy Bible, Yahweh Elohim, has this to say about those who have desires for married women:

"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Matthew 5:27-28

The Holy Bible also says that the true God hates divorce:

"‘This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.’" Malachi 2:13-16

Thus, from a Biblical perspective Muhammad was guilty of committing adultery both in his heart and by his actions.

The other problem with this marriage is that shortly after it took place Allah abolished the practice of adoption completely:

God has not assigned to any man two hearts within his breast; nor has He made your wives, when you divorce, saying, 'Be as my mother's back,' truly your mothers, neither has He made your adopted sons your sons in fact. That is your own saying, the words of your mouths; but God speaks the truth, and guides on the way. Call them after their true fathers; that is more equitable in the sight of God. If you know not who their fathers were, then they are your brothers in religion, and your clients. There is no fault in you if you make mistakes, but only in what your hearts premeditate. God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. S. 33:4-5

Ibn Kathir says regarding these verses that:

<nor has He made your adopted sons your real sons.>

This was revealed concerning Zayd bin Harithah, may Allah be pleased with him, the freed servant of the Prophet. The Prophet had adopted him before prophethood, and he was known as Zayd bin Muhammad. Allah wanted to put an end to this naming and attribution…

This is a command which abrogates the state of affairs that existed at the beginning of Islam, when it was permitted to call adopted sons after the man who adopted them. Then Allah commanded that they should be given back the names of their real fathers, and states that this was more fair and just. Al-Bukhari (may Allah have mercy on him) narrated that ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar said: "Zayd bin Muhammad, may Allah be pleased with him, the freed servant of the Messenger of Allah was ALWAYS CALLED Zayd bin Muhammad, UNTIL (the words of the) QUR'AN WERE REVEALED

<Call them (adopted sons) by (the names of) their fathers, that is more just with Allah.>"

This was also narrated by Muslim, At-Tirmidhi and An-Nasa’i. They used to deal with them as sons in every respect, including being alone with them as Mahrams and so on. Hence, Sahlah bint Suhaly, the wife of Abu Hudhayfah, may Allah be pleased with them both, said: "O Messenger of Allah! We used to call Salim our son, but Allah has revealed what He has revealed. He used to enter upon me, but I feel that Abu Hudhayfah does not like that." The Prophet said ...

((Breastfeed him and he will become your Mahram.))

Hence when this ruling was abrogated, Allah made it permissible for a man to marry the ex-wife of his adopted son, and the Messenger of Allah married Zaynab bint Jash, the divorced wife of Zayd bin Harithah, may Allah be pleased with him, Allah said ...

<So that (in the future) there may be no difficulty to the believers in respect of the wives of their adopted sons when the latter have no desire to keep them> (33:37)

And Allah says in Ayat At-Tahrim ...

<The wives of your sons from your own loins> (4:23).

The wife of an adopted son is not included because he was not born from the man's loins. A "foster" son through breastfeeding is the same as a son born from one's own loins, from the point of view of the Shari‘ah, because the Prophet said in the Two Sahihs ...

((Suckling makes unlawful as lineage does.)) ...

<Call them by their fathers.> This is concerning Zayd bin Harithah, may Allah be pleased with him. He was killed in 8 AH at the battle of Mu’tah. In Sahih Muslim it is reported that Anas bin Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, said: "The Messenger of Allah said …

((O my son.))" It was also reported by Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi …

<But if you know not their father's (sic) then they are your brothers in the religion and Mawalikum (your freed servants).>

Here Allah commands that adopted sons should be given back their fathers’ names, if they are known; if they are not known, then they should be called brothers in faith or freed servants, to compensate for not knowing what their real lineage is. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) Volume 7 (Surat An-Nur to Surat Al-Ahzab, Verse 50), abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, London, Lahore; First Edition: August 2000], pp. 634-637; bold and capital emphasis ours)

And in reference to Sura 33:40 Ibn Kathir writes:

<Muhammad is not the father of any of your men,>

After this it was not permitted to say Zayd bin Muhammad, i.e., he was not his father even though he had adopted him ... (Ibid., p. 701; bold emphasis ours)

Al-Jalalayn wrote:

God has not placed two hearts inside any man: [this was revealed] in order to refute those disbelievers who said that they each had two hearts with which they could reason better than Muhammad's single mind; nor has He made your wives whom (read as alla'i, or alla') you repudiate by zihar (read tazzahharuna, or tuzahiruna; the original ta' [of tatazaharuna] has been assimilated with the za') - a man would say to his wife for example, 'You are for me as [untouchable as] my mother's back - your mothers, in other words, [He has not made you wives] like [your] mothers, so that they are illicit [for conjugality] in that respect, [a practice] which in pre-Islamic times was considered a [valid form of] divorce. An atonement with [necessary] conditions is necessary in such a case, as mentioned in surat al-Mujadila [Q. 58:2-3]. Nor has He made those whom you claim as [adopted] sons (ad'iya', the plural of da'iyy, which is one claimed as the son of one who is not his [biological] father) your sons, in reality. That is a mere utterance of your mouths, namely, [of] the Jews and the hypocrites. When the Prophet (s) married Zaynab bt. Jahsh, who had been Zayd b. Haritha's wife, the adopted son of the Prophet (s), they said, 'Muhammad married his son's wife!', and so God proved them liars in this. But God speaks the truth, in this [matter], and He guides to the way, the way of truth. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; online edition; bold and underline emphasis ours)

A tafsir of Ibn Abbas says:

(Proclaim their real parentage) name them in relation to their real fathers. (That will be more equitable) better, more correct and fairer (in the sight of Allah) in relation to lineage. (And if ye know not their fathers) if you do not know the lineage of their fathers, (then (they are) your brethren in the faith) name them with names showing brotherhood in faith: ‘Abdullah, ‘Abd al-Rahman, ‘Abd al-Rahim and ‘Abd al-Raziq, (and your clients) and name them as your clients. (And there is no sin for you in the mistakes that ye make unintentionally) regarding the identification of one’s parentage, (but what your hearts purpose (that will be a sin for you)) what is a sin for you is to attribute intentionally someone to other than his real father. (Allah is Forgiving) of what was done in the past, (Merciful) in relation to what will happen in the future. This verse was revealed about Zayd Ibn Harithah who was adopted by the Prophet (pbuh). People used to call him Zayd Ibn Muhammad, but Allah forbade them from calling him so and guided them to what is proper. (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; online edition; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Muslim jurist Imam Malik noted:

Yahya related to me from Malik from Ibn Shihab that he was asked about the suckling of an older person. He said, ''Urwa ibn az-Zubayr informed me that Abu Hudhayfa ibn Utba ibn Rabia, one of the companions of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, who was present at Badr, adopted Salim (who is called Salim, the mawla of Abu Hudhayfa) as the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, adopted Zayd ibn Haritha. He thought of him as his son, and Abu Hudhayfa married him to his brother's sister, Fatima bint al-Walid ibn Utba ibn Rabia, who was at that time among the first emigrants. She was one of the best unmarried women of the Quraysh. When Allah the Exalted sent down in His Book what He sent down about Zayd ibn Haritha, 'Call them after their true fathers. That is more equitable in the sight of Allah. If you do not know who their fathers were then they are your brothers in the deen and your mawali,' (Sura 33 ayat 5) people in this position were traced back to their fathers. When the father was not known, they were traced to their mawla… (Malik's Muwatta, Book 30, Number 30.2.12)

In light of the foregoing, how could Muhammad set the example for adoptive fathers to marry their adopted sons’ former spouses when Allah went on to forbid the practice of adoption? Does this make any sense whatsoever? Is it not obvious that Muhammad needed to find justification for marrying Zaynab so he came up with this excuse and after people continued taunting him for marrying his son’s divorcee he then decided to do away with adoption altogether?

Another problem with this episode is that Muhammad didn’t need to marry Zaynab in order to set precedence for others to imitate. All Muhammad had to do was claim that Allah had made it lawful for adoptive fathers to marry the former wives of their adopted children and his followers would have accepted this decree. As one keen Christian writer stated in response to the common excuses given to justify Muhammad’s marriage to a minor:

Second, it isn’t necessary for a lawgiver to institute laws by performing actions that create a precedent. In other words, Muhammad didn’t need to marry a young girl in order establish a law about marrying girls who had reached puberty. Muhammad, as Islam’s lawgiver, could have simply issued a decree. For instance, Muhammad allowed husbands to beat their wives. Was it necessary for Muhammad to beat his wives in order to establish this as a law? Certainly not. Similarly, when an American lawmaker says that killing someone in self-defense is acceptable, no one argues that the lawmaker must go out and kill someone in self-defense if his law is to stand. Hence, the argument that Muhammad needed to marry a young girl to establish puberty as the appropriate age for marriage completely fails. (Was Muhammad a Pedophile? An Examination of Muhammad's Relationship with a Nine-Year-Old Girl; Source)

We couldn’t have stated it any better.

It is time to look at a few Islamic hadiths to see their take on this situation.


Imam al-Bukhari recorded the following narration:

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 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." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 516)

We shall see shortly that the reason Zaid complained about his wife is because she started to despise him after hearing Muhammad praise her beauty. This next narration is rather interesting:

Anas (Allah be pleased with him) reported: When the ‘Iddah of Zainab was over, Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to Zaid to make a mention to her about him. Zaid went on until he came to her and she was fermenting her flour. He (Zaid) said: As I saw her I felt in my heart an idea of her greatness so much so that I could not see towards her (simply for the fact) that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) had made a mention of her. So I turned my back towards her, and I turned upon my heels, and said: Zainab, Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) has sent (me) with a message to you. She said: I do not do anything until I solicit the will of my Lord. So she stood at her place of worship and the (verse of) the Qur’an (pertaining to her marriage) was revealed, and Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) came to her without permission… (Sahih Muslim, Book 008, Number 3330)

According to this text the Quran’s injunction regarding Muhammad and Zaynab wasn’t composed until after he had offered to marry her. This supports our position that Muhammad sought justification for marrying his son’s divorced spouse and needed to convince Zaynab that she was doing what was pleasing to Allah in accepting Muhammad’s marriage proposal. At the very least this hadith proves that Muhammad wanted to marry her even before the verse of the Quran was composed!

We now take a look at what some of Islam’s renowned exegetes and authors have said about this incident. All bold, capital and/or underline emphasis in this next section will be ours.


The authoritative Muslim historian and commentator al-Tabari provides the alleged historical background for these verses:

The Messenger of God came to the house of Zayd b. Harithah. (Zayd was always called Zayd b. Muhammad.) Perhaps the Messenger of God missed him at that moment, so as to ask, "Where is Zayd?" He came to his residence to look for him but did not find him. Zaynab bt. Jash, Zayd’s wife, rose to meet him. Because she was dressed only in a shift, the Messenger of God turned away from her. She said: "He is not here, Messenger of God. Come in, you who are as dear to me as my father and mother!" The Messenger of God refused to enter. Zaynab had dressed in haste when she was told "the Messenger of God is at the door." She jumped up in haste and excited the admiration of the Messenger of God, so that he turned away murmuring something that could scarcely be understood. However, he did say overtly: "Glory be to God the Almighty! Glory be to God, who causes the hearts to turn!"

When Zayd came home, his wife told him that the Messenger of God had come to his house. Zayd said, "Why didn't you ask him to come in?" He replied, "I asked him, but he refused." "Did you hear him say anything?" he asked. She replied, "As he turned away, I heard him say: ‘Glory be to God the Almighty! Glory be to God, who causes hearts to turn!’"

So Zayd left, and having come to the Messenger of God, he said: "Messenger of God, I have heard that you came to my house. Why didn’t you go in, you who are as dear to me as my father and mother? Messenger of God, perhaps Zaynab has excited your admiration, and so I will separate myself from her." Zayd could find no possible way to [approach] her after that day. He would come to the Messenger of God and tell him so, but the Messenger of God would say to him, "Keep your wife." Zayd separated from her and left her, and she became free.

While the Messenger of God was talking with 'A'isha, a fainting overcame him. When he was released from it, he smiled and said, "Who will go to Zaynab to tell her the good news, saying that God has married her to me?" Then the Messenger of God recited: "And when you said unto him on whom God has conferred favor and you have conferred favor, ‘Keep your wife to yourself .’"- and the entire passage.

According to 'A'isha, who said: "I became very uneasy because of what we heard about her beauty and another thing, the greatest and loftiest of matters - what God had done for her by giving her in marriage. I said she would boast of it over us." (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)

Al-Tabari also mentioned what happened after Zayd refused to be manumitted by his father and uncle, but instead chose to remain with Muhammad:

... The Prophet having witnessed this, took Zayd out to the Hijr and said, "O all those who are present, witness that Zayd [hereby] becomes my [adopted] son, with mutual rights of inheritance." When Zayd's father and paternal uncle saw this, they were satisfied and went away.

[Zayd b. Harithah] was thus called Zayd b. Muhammad until God revealed Islam. I was told all this by al-Harith [b. Muhammad] - Ibn Sa'd - Hisham b. Muhammad [al-Kalbi] - his father [Muhammad al-Kalbi], Jamil b. Marthad al-Ta'i, and others.

[Hisham] related part of the story on the authority of his father - [Badham] Abu Salih - ['Abdallah] Ibn 'Abbas. Through the chain of transmission going back to Ibn 'Abbas, [Hisham] related [the following]: The prophet gave to [Zayd] in marriage Zaynab bt. Jash b. Ri'ab al-Asadiyyah, whose mother was Umaymah bt. 'Abd al-Muttalib b. Hashim. Zayd later divorced her, and the Prophet married her. The Munafiqun made this a topic of their conversation and reviled the Prophet, saying, "Muhammad prohibits [marriage] with [the former] wives of one's own son, but he married the [former] wife of his son Zayd." As a result of this God revealed the following verse: "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, nay, he is the messenger of God and the seal of the prophets ...", etc. God also revealed this verse, "Call them by their fathers' names," so from that day onward [Zayd] was called Zayd b. Harithah, and [other] adopted sons were named after their [real] fathers. (The History of al-Tabari: Biographies of the Prophet's Companions and Their Successors, translated by Ella Landau-Tasseron [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1998], Volume XXXIX (39), pp. 9-10)

Later in this same volume al-Tabari again recounts the story of Muhammad's marriage to Zaynab:

According to Ibn 'Umar [al-Waqidi] - 'Abdallah b. 'Amir al-Aslami - Muhammad b. Yahya b. Habban: The Prophet came to Zayd b. Harithah's house looking for him. Zayd was [at that time] called Zayd b. Muhammad, and the Prophet sometimes would miss him [after] a time and would say "Where is Zayd?" [Once] he went to Zayd's house but did not find him [there]. Zaynab rose toward him and said "Come here, O Messenger of God," but he turned away, muttering something unintelligible, except the words "Praised be God the Great, praised be God, who turns the hearts." When Zayd came home his wife told him that the Prophet had come to his house. Zayd asked "Didn't you ask him to come in?" She said "I proposed it to him but he declined." Zayd asked "Did you hear him say anything?" She said: "When he turned away I heard him say something I did not understand, and I heard him say 'Praised be God the Great, praised be God who turns the hearts.'" Zayd left [his house] and went to the Prophet. He said: "O Messenger of God, I heard that you came to my house. Why didn't you come in? O Messenger of God, may my father and mother be your ransom! Perhaps [the problem is] that you like Zaynab? In that case, I shall divorce her." The Prophet said "Keep your wife." [But] Zayd could not touch her [after that]. He would come to the Prophet and tell him [about it], and the latter would say "Keep your wife," and Zayd would say "O Messenger of God, I shall divorce her," and the Prophet would say "Keep your wife." Zayd divorced her [all the same] and abstained from her, and she became lawful [for marriage]. [One day], while talking to 'A'ishah, the Prophet fainted. On regaining consciousness he smiled and said "Who will go to Zaynab to bring her the glad tidings that God from above gave her to me in marriage?" The Prophet [then] recited "Recall when thou wert saying to him upon whom Allah bestowed favor and upon whom thou didst bestow favor." 'A'ishah narrated: I was upset by both near and remote troubles, having heard of Zaynab's beauty. What was more, the greatest and noblest of all things happened to her, as God from heaven gave her in marriage. I said [to myself] "She is going to boast of it to us." ... (Ibid., pp. 180-181; bold emphasis ours)

The following is an English translation of al-Tabari's Arabic commentary on Sura 33:37:

When the exalted Allah said, "Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favor: ‘Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah.’ But thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest: thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear Allah" this was said by Allah as chastisement to His prophet. For when He said, "one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favor" this was in reference to Zaid son of Haritha who had been set free by the apostle of Allah – prayers and peace be upon him.

When the Exalted Allah said, "Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah" this was concerning Zainab the daughter of Jash whom the prophet – pbuh – had seen in her robes and was enamored by her. Thus when Allah saw what was stirring in His prophet’s soul, he placed hatred in the heart of Zaid towards Zainab that he may depart from her. When Zaid mentioned his intention to separate from Zainab to the prophet, the prophet told him, "Retain thou thy wife" even THOUGH THE PROPHET DESIRED THAT THEY SEPARATE SO THAT HE COULD MARRY HER...

When Allah said, "Thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest," means that the prophet hid in his heart his desire for Zaid to depart from Zainab so that he may marry her, and Allah will reveal what you are concealing in your heart concerning this.

The Almighty said, "Thou didst fear the people, but it is more fitting that thou shouldst fear Allah," because Allah was telling the prophet who feared people might say, "He ordered a man to divorce his wife so that he himself may marry her after she is divorced," and Allah aught to be feared more than people.

Narrated by Yunis, narrated by Ibn Wahab, narrated by Ibn Zaid who said, "The prophet –pbuh– had married Zaid son of Haritha to his cousin Zainab daughter of Jahsh. One day the prophet –pbuh– went seeking Zaid in his house, whose door had a curtain made of hair. The wind blew the curtain and the prophet saw Zainab in her room unclothed and he admired her in his heart. When Zainab realized that the prophet desired her SHE BEGAN TO HATE ZAID.

Zaid then came to the prophet –pbuh– and said, "O apostle of Allah, I wish to separate from my mate." The prophet responded, "Why? Has anything evil come from her?" Zaid responded, "No, by Allah! I haven’t seen anything evil from her only good."

The prophet said, "Hold unto your wife and fear Allah." That is what Allah said in the Quran, "Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favor: ‘Retain thou (in wedlock) thy wife, and fear Allah.’ But thou didst hide in thy heart that which Allah was about to make manifest." For the prophet was concealing the fact that he would marry Zainab when Zaid had divorced her. (Source; translated by Dimitrius)

Here, also, are the comments of renowned Muslim commentator al-Qurtubi which are translated directly from the Arabic:

Muqatil narrated that the prophet married Zainab daughter of Jahsh to Zaid and she stayed with him for a while. Then one day the prophet –pbuh– came seeking Zaid but he saw Zainab standing; she was white skinned with a beautiful figure and one of the most perfect women in Quraish. So HE DESIRED HER and said, "Wondrous is Allah who changes the heart." When Zaynab heard the prophet’s exaltation of her, she relayed it to Zaid who then understood (what he had to do). Zaid said to the prophet, "O prophet of Allah, allow me to divorce her, for she has become arrogant; seeing herself superior to me and she insults me with her tongue."

The prophet replied, "Hold onto your wife and fear Allah."

It was said that Allah had sent a wind which lifted the curtain to reveal Zainab in her room. When the prophet saw her HE DESIRED HER and it delighted Zainab to be desired by the prophet – pbuh. When Zaid returned home, she informed him of what had happened and Zaid was thus determined to divorce her. (Source; translated by Dimitrius)

Al-Qurtubi also lists the "blessings" and privileges given to Muhammad, including the right to take another man’s wife if he so desired:

And any believing woman who dedicates herself to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed (Nikah) her; this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large).

As for what was granted and made lawful (by Allah) to the prophet –pbuh– they are 16 issues:-

"Yas-tan-kih" comes from the word "Yan’kah." For it is said in different forms "Nakaha" and "Istan-kaha" just as it is said "Ajab" and "Ista-jab"… It is permissible to use the word, "Istan-kaha," to mean one whom requests marriage or one who requests sexual intercourse. (Source; translation ours)

Another Arabic source, Al-Sira al-Halabiyya, agrees with al-Qurtubi that Muhammad could have caused a man to divorce his wife if he so desired to have her:

"If Muhammad lusted after a married woman, it became a must for her husband to divorce her for him." (Al-Halabi, Al-Sira al-Halabiyya, Volume III, p. 377; as quoted by Mohammad Al Ghazoli in Christ, Muhammad and I, p. 45; source)

The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says of Sura 33:36-37 that:

And it is not [fitting] for any believing man or believing woman, when God and His Messenger have decided on a matter, to have (read takuna or yakuna) a choice in their matter, in contravention of the decision of God and His Messenger. This [verse] was revealed regarding 'Abd Allah b. Jahsh and his sister Zaynab, whose hand the Prophet had asked for in marriage, but meaning on behalf of Zayd b. Haritha. They were loathe to this [proposal] when they found out [that it was on the latter's behalf], for they had thought that the Prophet (s) wanted to marry her himself. But afterwards they consented because of the [following part of the] verse: And whoever disobeys God and His Messenger has certainly strayed into manifest error. Thus the Prophet (s) gave her in marriage to Zayd. Then on one occasion he [the Prophet] caught sight of her and felt love for her, whereafter [when he realised that] Zayd lost his affection for her and so said to the Prophet (s), 'I want to part with her'. But the Prophet said to him, 'Retain your wife for yourself', as God, exalted be He, says: (Source)

And when (idh is dependent because of [an implied preceding] udhkur, 'mention [when]') you said to him to whom God had shown favour, by [guiding him to] Islam, and to whom you [too] had shown favour: by manumitting him - this was Zayd b. Haritha, who had been a prisoner of war before [the coming of] Islam (al-jahiliyya). The Messenger of God (s) purchased him before his call to prophethood, and then manumitted him and adopted him as his son - 'Retain your wife for yourself and fear God', before divorcing her. But you had hidden in your heart what God was to disclose, [what] He was to manifest of your love for her and of [the fact] that should Zayd part with her you would marry her, and you feared people, would say, ‘He has married his son’s wife!’, though God is worthier that you should fear Him, in all things, so take her in marriage and do not be concerned with what people say. Zayd subsequently divorced her and her [obligatory] waiting period was completed. God, exalted be He, says: So when Zayd had fulfilled whatever need he had of her, We joined her in marriage to you - the Prophet consummated his marriage with her without [the customary] permission [from her legal guardian] and gratified the Muslims with [a feast of] bread and meat - so that there may not be any restriction for the believers in respect of the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have fulfilled whatever wish they have of them. And God's commandment, that which He has decreed, is bound to be realised. (Source)

A commentary attributed to Ibn Abbas says:

(And when thou saidst unto him on whom Allah hath conferred favour) through Islam, i.e. Zayd (and thou hast conferred favour) on him by emancipating him: (Keep thy wife to thyself) and do not divorce her, (and fear Allah) and fear Allah and do not let her go. (And thou didst hide in your mind) her love and the desire to marry her (that which Allah was to bring to light) in the Qur’an, (and thou didst fear mankind) and you feel ashamed of people because of this (whereas Allah had a better right that thou shouldst fear Him) whereas you should be ashamed of Allah. (So when Zayd had performed the necessary formality (of divorce) from her) when she has finished her waiting period after her divorce from Zayd, (We gave her unto thee in marriage, so that (henceforth)) after you (there may be no sin for believers about wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have performed the necessary formality (of release) from them) when they had finished their waiting period after they are divorced or after the death of their husband. (The commandment of Allah) marrying Zayd to Muhammad (pbuh) (must be fulfilled) must take place. (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; online edition; bold and underline emphasis ours)

We also provide Al-Zamakhshari's commentary on this subject:

Keep thy wife to thyself: that is, Zainab bint Jahsh. After having given her to Zaid ibn Haritha as a wife, the Messenger of God once caught sight of her, and she made an impression of him. At this sight he said: ‘Praise be to God who changes the heart!’ Previously his soul had turned away from her so that he had not desired her (as a wife). If he had desired her at that time, he would have asked her for her hand in marriage. Now Zainab heard of this praise and mentioned it to (her husband) Zaid, who understood and to whom God gave antipathy against her and aversion to intimacy with her. So Zaid said to the Messenger of God: ‘I might divorce my wife’; to which the latter replied: ‘What is it? Has something filled you with mistrust against her?’ Zaid answered: ‘By God, no! I have observed only good in her; yet her noble rank places her too high above me and causes me to feel hurt.’ Thereupon the Messenger of God said: ‘Keep thy wife to thyself and fear God.’ But Zaid (nevertheless) separated from her, and as soon as the waiting period (during which the wife may enter into no new marriage) had elapsed, the Messenger of God had said (to Zaid): ‘I have no one whom I trust more than you; therefore, seek the hand of Zainab for me!’

Zaid reported: I went forth and there I suddenly found her just as she was leavening some dough. As soon as I saw her she made such an impression on me, since I knew that the Messenger of God had been speaking of her

One may ask what the Prophet kept secret within himself. To this I answer: the fact that he was devoted to her in his heart. Others say: the wish that Zaid might separate from her. Still others say: his knowledge that Zaid would separate from her and that he would marry her, for God had already given this knowledge to him

(Further) one may ask what the Prophet should have said when Zaid informed him that he wanted to separate from Zainab, since it would have been objectionable if he had said: ‘Do it, for I want to marry her!’ To this I reply: It may perhaps be God's will that in this case he keep silent or say to Zaid: ‘You know your situation best.’ In this manner he would not have contradicted his secret which he (later) indicated had been revealed ... (Helmut Gtje, The Qur'an and its Exegesis [Routledge and Keagan Paul, London UK 1976], pp. 83-85)

The final author from which we quote is the late Martin Lings:

Such demands as these upon the Prophet's time were not to be avoided; but there was a growing need that he should be protected in other ways, and the protection that now came was not unconnected with the following altogether unexpected event which served to emphasize his uniquely privileged position. It happened one day that he wanted to speak to Zayd about something and went to his house. Zaynab opened the door, and as she stood in the doorway telling him that Zayd was out but inviting him none the less to enter, a look passed between the two cousins which made each one conscious of a deep and lasting bond of love between them. In a moment the Prophet knew that Zaynab loved him and that he loved her and that she knew he loved her. But what could this mean? Surprised at the strength of his feeling, and as he turned to go she heard him say: "Glory to God the Infinite! Glory be to Him who disposeth men's hearts!" When Zayd returned she told him of the Prophet's visit and of the glorification she had heard him utter. Zayd immediately went to him and said: "I have been told thou camest unto my house. Why didst not enter, thou who art more to me than my father and my mother? Was it that Zaynab hath found favour with thee? If it be so, I will leave her." "Keep thy wife and fear God," said the Prophet with some insistence. He had said on another occasion: "Of all things licit the most hateful unto God is divorce." And when Zayd came again the next day with the same proposal, again the Prophet insisted that he should keep his wife. But the marriage between Zayd and Zaynab had not been a happy one and Zayd found it no longer tolerable, so by mutual agreement with Zaynab he divorced her. This did not, however, make Zaynab eligible as a wife for the Prophet for although the Koran had only specified that men were forbidden to marry the wives of sons sprung from their loins, it was a strong social principle not to make a distinction between sons by birth and sons by adoption. Nor was the Prophet himself eligible, for he had already four wives, the most that the Islamic law allows. (Lings, Muhammad: His Life based on the earliest Sources [Inner Traditions International, Ltd., Rochester, Vermont 1983], pp. 212-213)

These Muslim commentators and writers unashamedly admit that Muhammad started to have lustful desires for his son’s wife and that it was his comments regarding her beauty, which she overheard, that caused a rift between husband and wife. Muhammad’s praise of a married woman’s beauty resulted in the couple getting a divorce which then presented him with the opportunity he had long desired, the chance to marry Zaynab his cousin.

Concluding Remarks

We are aware that many Muslims have rejected some of these Islamic sources, specifically the commentaries of al-Tabari and al-Qurtubi, which is obviously due to how severely embarrassing and humiliating they are to Muhammad’s integrity and prophetic claims. Yet no matter whether a Muslim accepts these sources or not these points are clearly supported from the Quran itself:

  1. Allah caused Muhammad to start lusting for a married woman who happened to be the wife of his adopted son.
  2. Allah even caused Muhammad's son to divorce his wife so that Muhammad could then marry her.
  3. The reason why Allah did this was to show others that it was permissible for them to marry their adopted sons' former wives.
  4. Yet later on Allah forbade the adoption of children and prohibited calling any one the child of someone other than his/her biological father.
  5. Therefore, Muhammad’s marriage to Zaynab was unnecessary since Muslims have no chance of ever marrying the former wives of their adopted children since there is no more adoption in Islam!
  6. Furthermore, Muslims believe that Allah knows all things which means that he knew beforehand that he was going to abolish the practice of adoption. Why did he then commission the divorce between Zayd and Zaynab in order to allow Muhammad to set an example for others to marry their adopted children’s divorcees when he already knew in advance that he would prohibit adoption altogether?

Hence, whether a person consults the Quran alone or seeks to understand it by turning to the hadiths and/or the Islamic commentators, the fact remains that a Muslim must still deal with Muhammad committing adultery by taking another man’s wife.

Further Reading

Articles by Sam Shamoun
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