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Another Man’s Daughter

Zainab Bint Younus looks at the decision of Muhammad (SAW) to raise Zaynab Bint Abi Salamah (RA) when he married her mother.

There is a huge stigma in the Muslim community regarding the remarriage of widows and divorcees, especially those with children. Many Muslim men, whether they themselves are divorced/widowed or not, will shy away from considering remarriage with a woman who has been previously married, and more so when there are children involved. There is a sense that these women aren’t ‘good enough’ and that marrying them is somehow inferior to marrying a woman who has never been married before.


When Abu Salamah (RA) passed away, Umm Salamah (RA) already had several children – Salamah and ‘Umar, and was pregnant with yet another. For most Muslim men today, considering a previously married woman with one child for marriage is seen as alarming, never mind three or more! There appears to be some sort of revulsion at the idea of caring for “another man’s children.” However, neither Rasool Allah (SAW) nor his Sahabah ever expressed this type of attitude.


When Umm Salamah’s ‘iddah ended by giving birth to her daughter, Zaynab bint Abi Salamah, Rasool Allah (SAW) – fully aware of her situation – proposed to her. When Umm Salamah pointed out that she had several children to take care of, Rasool Allah (SAW) reassured her with the simple words: “Your children are my children.” (Narrated by an-Nasa’i)


Those words were not spoken meaninglessly. While Zaynab bint Abi Salamah never grew up with her biological father, she was raised by a man who was her father in every other way – Rasool Allah (SAW). It is narrated that whenever Rasool Allah (SAW) came to visit Umm Salamah, one of the first things he would do is ask, “Where is our Zinaab?” (‘Zinaab’ was an endearment for the name ‘Zaynab’).

One narration states that when she was young, her mother asked her to attend to Rasool Allah (SAW) while he was making wudhu. When she entered, Rasool Allah sprinkled her face with the water from his ablutions, and for the rest of her life, she remained looking youthful, barely revealing any signs of aging.


Zaynab’s bond with Rasool Allah (SAW) was evident to others as well. Her uncle ‘Ammar used to pick her in his arms and say: “She is the one who has come between the Prophet (SAW) and his family.” (i.e. She was distracting him and keeping him busy as he used to give her a lot of attention.)


Imagine growing up in an environment knowing not only that your mother was the wife of the Messenger of Allah (SAW), but to have him in your life as a father-figure, someone who was there literally from the first moments of your life, someone who cared for you as his own child, of whom your first memory is the endearing nickname he gave you? Rasool Allah (SAW) was much more than just a stepfather to Zaynab bint Abi Salamah – In the true sense of the word, he was her father.


The effect that Rasool Allah (SAW) had on Zaynab bint Abi Salamah was an incredible one. Not only did he impact her emotionally by being a loving father-figure and providing a stable family environment, but she was also affected spiritually. How could she not when she grew up witnessing the Wahy (revelation) being revealed, when he would wake up his entire household to pray Qiyaam al-Layl in Ramadhan, when she heard his Divinely inspired words straight from his lips?

Zaynab bint Abi Salamah grew up to be a direct reflection of the environment she grew up in. She narrated seven ahadith directly from Rasool Allah (SAW), and she also narrated from others amongst the sahabah, in particular, her stepmothers, the other wives of Rasool Allah, such as ‘Aishah (RA), Umm Habibah (RA) and others.


Zaynab quickly grew to become known as an incredible scholar of Madinah, particularly in the field of fiqh. The famous Imam among the Tabi’un, Abu Rafi’ al-Sa’igh, referred to her as the most knowledgeable woman of her time on many occasions. Amongst her students were her son Abu ‘Ubaydah, Muhammad bin ‘Amr bin ‘Ata, ‘Irak bin Malik, Humaid bin Nafi’, her foster-brother ‘Urwah bin al-Zubayr, Imam Zain-ul-‘Abidin ‘Ali bin al-Hussain, ‘Amr bin Shu’ayb, al-Qasim bin Muhammad, Abu Qilabah, Salamah bin Abdur Rahman and others.


One particular incident demonstrated the true breadth of her patience as well as her wisdom. During the Hurrah (a rebellion against the governor of Madinah) in the reign of Yazid bin Mu’awiyah, she lost two of her sons in battle. On hearing the news, she proved herself to be a mountain in sabr as well as a true faqihah (scholar of fiqh). Holding her dead son before her, Zainab said: “To God we belong and to Him we return! As for the first, he didn’t fight anyone but was ambushed and killed in his home. For him I am hopeful of Jannah. But the other one fought, and I am not aware what his intention was in fighting, and so the travesty for me is even greater in his loss (as I don’t know in what condition he met His Lord).”


Truly, Zaynab bint Abi Salamah was a heroine not only in her time, but for all time.


SubhanAllah, all of this was because Rasool Allah (SAW) chose to marry Umm Salamah (RA), a widow with several young children.


Nor was Rasool Allah (SAW) alone in his practice of welcoming the children of previously married women into his family and raising them with as much love and affection as his own children. When Ja’far ibn Abi Talib (RA) was martyred, he had a number of young children with his wife, Asmaa’ bint ‘Umays (RA). Rasool Allah (SAW) himself assured Asmaa’ of her children’s safety and security. As an answer to the promise of Rasool Allah, Abu Bakr (RA) proposed to Asmaa’, and the sons of Ja’far ibn Abi Talib were thus raised in the household of Abu Bakr.


Not only was Abu Bakr willing to care for them as his own children, but he was also in fact honoured to do so. The children of Ja’far were granted the double blessing of not only having a martyr, beloved to Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (SAW), as their biological father, but to also have the greatest of the sahabah as their stepfather.


While blended families are becoming more and more common in society in general, they are still relatively rare and even taboo in Muslim communities. Even if both a man and woman agree to such a marriage, the family pressure and community scepticism can be overwhelming.


The idea of a man raising another man’s children is looked down upon and criticised, yet it is precisely those men who had the courage to do so, men such as Rasool Allah (SAW) and Abu Bakr (RA), who were responsible for raising these children to become some of the greatest heroes and heroines of Islamic history.


It is high time that we embrace this Sunnah, not only acknowledging the challenges that inevitably accompany it, but the incredible rewards and payoff for doing so, in both this world and the Hereafter. Who knows? It could likely be the children raised in such a way are the very thing to bring us to the gates of Jannah.


Usud al-Ghabah fi Ma’rifat as-Sahabah
Tabaqat Ibn Sa’d


(With special thanks to brother Saif Ul-Hadi for translating the original biographies.)


Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyaat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com