The Heart's Witness Against Muhammad: Zaynab and Marriage of Convenience
To overcome the four-wife problem without forcing Muhammad to divorce one of his wives so as to allow for his marriage to Zaynab, a further revelation was needed
Four things are troublesome with respect to Muhammad's relationship with his fifth wife, Zaynab bint Jash. First, there is the issue of Muhammad's problematic sexual appetite. Second, there is the issue of facile divorce and remarriage entertained by Muhammad. Third, there is the issue of the unseemly nature of marrying one's daughter-in-law (Zaynab was not only Muhammad's daughter-in-law, she was also his first cousin, being the daughter of his paternal aunt Umayma, but we'll ignore than for now). Fourth, there is the issue of what we may call the convenience and self-justificatory character of Allah's revelations during this period which makes them highly suspect.
Four things are troublesome with respect to Muhammad's relationship with Zaynab bint Jash. First, there is the issue of Muhammad's problematic sexual appetite. Second, there is the issue of facile divorce and remarriage entertained by Muhammad. Third, there is the issue of the unseemly nature of marrying one's daughter-in-law (Zaynab was not only Muhammad's daughter-in-law, she was also his first cousin, being the daughter of his paternal aunt Umayma, but we'll ignore that for now). Fourth, there is the issue of what we may call the convenience and self-justificatory character of Allah's revelations during this period which makes them highly suspect.
To understand the problem with Muhammad's marriage to Zaynab, we should quickly explain family relations as they existed before Muhammad's marriage to her.
Muhammad had no sons that survived infancy. However, Muhammad had an adopted son, a former slave of his whose name was Zayd bin Haritha. After his adoption, Zayd then became known as the son of Muhammad, Zayd bin Muhammad. Zayd bin Muhammad married the young woman who was a first cousin of Muhammad named Zaynab bin Jash and who is the focus of this article.
According to the Muslim historians Ibn Sa'd and at-Tabari, on one occasion Muhammad sought Zayd at Zayd's house, but did not find him there. He surprised Zaynab and happened to come upon her when she was not fully clothed. Muhammad, seeing her scantily clad, formed a strong desire for her. Though he apparently fought against the desire, it appears to have consumed his concupiscent heart and gotten the better of him. "The heart of the Prophet," say the historians, "was filled with admiration for her. He went away muttering something that was hardly understandable but for this sentence: 'Praise be to Allah who disposes the hearts.'"
The comment was overheard by Zaynab who interpreted it as an expression by Muhammad of desire for her. When Zayd returned home, Zaynab told her husband of Muhammad's comments, and Zayd promptly went to Muhammad and this dialogue is said to have ensued:
"'Perhaps you liked Zaynab. I can leave her.'
The Messenger of God said, 'Hold on to your wife.'
Zayd said, 'O Messenger of God, I will leave her.'
The Messenger of God said, 'Keep your wife.'
Muhammad admitted that he desired Zaynab, but feared what others might have thought had he required a divorce and married the former wife of his adopted son. Zayd, however, apparently got the message either that Muhammad desired Zaynab. Either that, or perhaps Zaynab desired to move up socially by becoming the wife of the leader of the Muslims. In any event, Zayd divorced Zaynab and she was therefore made available to Muhammad.
The historians also mention that after this event, Muhammad was with his young wife 'A'isha when "he was taken in a trance, and when it lifted, he smiled and said, 'Who will go to Zaynab to tell her that God wedded her to me from heaven?'" Apparently, in the silence of Muhammad's mind, his Allah had authorized Muhammad's prior lust, Zaynab's divorce from Zayd, and Zaynab's remarriage to Muhammad. This is all very strange behavior for a God who was recorded by a real prophet to have said, "I hate divorce." (Malachi 2:16)
Despite this "divorce and re-marriage made in heaven," Muhammad confronted two problems. First, he had already had a supposed revelation that Muslims were limited to four wives. (Qur'an 4:3) In marrying Zaynab he would have infringed upon the Qur'anic revelation since he already had four wives: Saudah, 'A'isha, Hafsah, and Umm Salamah. Moreover, after he married Zaynab he faced the prospect of the unseeming nature of marrying one's adopted son's former wife and his maternal cousin, something redolent of incest. The former was also clearly against the customary practice of the society in which he lived. (Apparently there was no problem in marrying first cousins in that society, nor in Islam, as shari'ia allow intermarriage among first cousins.)
Not to worry. A triad of new Qur'anic ayats--"revelations"--could solve these problems. If we turn to Qur'an 33, we can find how perceptive and even sarcastic are the words of young 'A'isha, "I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your wishes and desires." (Sahih al-Bukhari, 6.60.311; see also Sahih ...
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