In the name of Allāh,
the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Peace and Blessings of Allāh on Mohammad.
Allāh–the Glorious and the High,
Lord of the worlds
Mohammad–who brought the world
to our feet and eternity to our arms.
Zainab, a “very beautiful” cousin of the Prophet Mohammad, was married to Zaid, a former slave and adopted son of the Prophet. This marriage was arranged by the Prophet himself. Ibn Warraq wrote in his book Why I am Not a Muslim (pp. 99, 100):
“One day the Prophet set out to visit his adopted son Zaid. …
On the day concerned, Zaid was not at home, but Zaynab, rather lightly clad, and hence revealing a great many of her charms, opened the door to the Prophet, and asked him in. As she hastily prepared to receive him, Muhammad was smitten by her beauty: “Gracious Lord! Good Heavens! How you do turn the hearts of men!” exclaimed the Prophet. He declined to enter and went away in some confusion. However, Zaynab had heard his words and repeated them to Zaid, when he returned home. Zaid went straight to the Prophet and dutifully offered to divorce his wife for him. Muhammad declined, adding, “Keep your wife and fear God.” Zaynab now seemed quite taken with the idea of marrying the Prophet, and Zaid, seeing that Muhammad still yearned for her, divorced her. Still, fear of public opinion made Muhammad hesitate: after all, an adopted son was in every respect equal to a natural son; therefore, such a union would have been seen as incestuous by the Arabs of his time (this is nonsense: the Arabs could not hold such a marriage as being “incestuous” seeing that Allāh already revealed that an adopted son is not your real son–Qur’an 33:4). As always, a revelation came to him in time, enabling him to “cast his scruples to the wind.” …The Muslim sources themselves give the entire story a sexual interpretation: Zaynab’s beauty, her state of undress, her charms revealed by a gust of wind, Muhammad’s remarks and signs of confusion.” (That Muslim sources give the entire story a sexual interpretation does not mean they are right).
Response: Since Zainab being “lightly clad” was already revealing “a GREAT MANY” of her charms” what need is there for a “gust of wind” to reveal “her charms?” So, was Zainab’s charms revealed because she was “lightly clad” or because of this “gust of wind?” (The imaginations the critics of Mohammad and Islam employ to villainize Mohammad are of Oscar proportion).
To respond to this folly, it is necessary to comment on the Qur’anic verses relating to Zainab and Zaid. (The following material is taken from Muhammad Ali’s Qur’anic commentaries on 33:36-37. Emphasis/color added):
“And it behoves not a believing man
or a believing woman, when Allāh
and His Messenger have decided
an affair, to exercise a choice
in their matter”
“All the commentators agree that this verse was revealed on the occasion when the Holy Prophet demanded Zainab, his cousin through his aunt, in marriage for Zaid, his adopted son. Both Zainab and her brother were averse to this match, because Zaid was a freedman, and it was in obedience to this revelation that their scruples were overcome and Zainab accepted Zaid for her hus-band….The verse has no connection with the subsequent events, which brought about the divorce and Zainab’s marriage with the Holy Prophet. It, moreover shows that it was the Prophet himself who had arranged this marriage between Zainab and Zaid, and were it not in deference to his wishes, Zainab would never have consented to the alliance.” (It is doubtful that Mohammad would have insisted that Zainab should marry Zaid if Mohammad had desired Zainab for himself).
“And when thou saidst to him to whom
Allah had shown favour and to whom
thou hadst shown a favour: Keep
thy wife to thyself and keep thy duty
to Allah; and thou concealedst in thy heart
what Allah would bring to light,
and thou fearedst men, and Allah has
a greater right that thou shouldst fear Him.
So when Zaid dissolved her marriage-tie,
We gave her to thee as a wife, so that there
should be no difficulty for the believers
about the wives of their adopted sons,
when they have dissolved their marriage-tie”
(Was it lust for Zainab that Mohammad concealed in his heart, or was it fear of his niece’s marriage dissolving? It is odd that if Mohammad had written the Qur’an as some say, and if he was guilty of lust for Zainab, that he should have entered such a verse into the Qur’an that would cast aspersions upon his character. It is odd that Allāh and Mohammad would consider Mohammad’s “love” –an emotion instilled by Allāh– for a woman as something to be “feared” of Allāh. To say that Allāh would bring to light Mohammad’s desire by having him marry Zainab would be to imply that Allāh would cause the dissolution of this marriage in order to satisfy Mohammad’s carnal desire. This is absurd. Allāh instructs us to seek conciliation rather than dissolution; and the Prophet taught that of all the things Allāh has made, divorce is the most shameful).
“This verse [Qur’an 33:37, quoted above] consists of two distinct and separate parts, the first dealing with Zaid’s divorce of Zainab, and the second beginning with so when Zaid, etc; with the Holy Prophet’s marriage with Zainab, and therefore a full explanation of the events in connection with this marriage is necessary. Zaid belonged to the tribe of Kalb, and was taken prisoner in childhood and sold as a slave at Makkah, where he was bought by Khadijah’s brother, who gave him over to his sister, and she in her turn presented him to the Holy Prophet, who, as was his wont, liberated him. But Zaid was so much attached to the Holy Prophet, that when the Prophet gave him the option of accompanying his father to his home or of remaining with him, Zaid chose the latter course. On account of his great attachment, Zaid was called the son of Muhammad, and he was one of the early converts to Islam. It is to these events that the opening words of the verse refer, when they speak of Zaid as being one to whom Allah as well as the Prophet had shown favour.
Zainab was the daughter of the Prophet’s own aunt, Umaimah, daughter of ‘Abd al-Muttalib. She was one of the early converts to Islam, and the Holy Prophet proposed to her brother that she should be given in marriage to Zaid. Both brother and sister were averse to this match, and only yielded under pressure from the Holy Prophet, for which see the last note. It is related that they both desired that the Holy Prophet himself should marry Zainab. In fact, when marriage was first proposed to Zainab, she gave her assent under the impression that the Prophet wanted her for himself (Rz), but the Prophet insisted that she should accept Zaid (IJ).
The marriage was, however, not a happy one. Zainab was harsh of temper, and she never liked Zaid on account of the stigma of slavery, which attached to his name. Differences arose, and Zaid expressed a desire to the Holy Prophet of divorcing Zainab. The news was grieving for the Prophet, for it was he who had insisted upon the marriage, and he therefore advised Zaid not to divorce her. He feared that people would object that a marriage which had been arranged by the Prophet was unsuccessful. According to one interpretation, it is to this circumstance that the words refer, and thou fearedst men, and Allah has a greater right that thou shouldst fear Him. According to this interpretation it is also to the same matter that the words and thou concealedst in thy heart what Allah would bring to light refer, for the Prophet did not like that the disagreements between Zainab and Zaid should become generally known. The Prophet’s injunction to Zaid not to divorce his wife is contained in unmistakable terms in the Holy Qur’an. But it was all in vain, and Zaid at last divorced Zainab. According to another interpretation, however, the words and thou concealedst in thy heart to thou shouldst fear Him, are a continuation of the advice which the Prophet gave to Zaid not to divorce Zainab (Rz). This interpreta-tion suits the context even better than the first interpreta-tion, for as we are further told in v. 39, the prophets fear none but God.
After Zainab was divorced the Holy Prophet took her in marriage, that being the wish of the lady and her relatives before her marriage with Zaid, and the Prophet was, now that the marriage arranged by him proved unsuccessful, morally bound to accept their wishes. Moreover, the Qur’an had declared against an adopted son being regarded as if he were a real son, and now there was an opportunity where the Holy Prophet could by his own example deal a death-blow to that custom. This reason is plainly given in the second part of the verse: We gave her to thee as a wife, so that there should be no difficulty for the believers about the wives of their adopted sons. The Qur’an does not give any other reason for the marriage.
This simple story is made the basis of a mean attack on the Holy Prophet. It is stated that the Prophet having seen Zainab by chance through a half-open door, was fascinated by her beauty, and that Zaid, having come to know of this, divorced her, and then she became the Prophet’s wife. That Muir and Arnold, not to mention more prejudiced writers, accept this, only shows how far religious prejudice may carry “criticism.” It is admitted that Zainab was the daughter of the Prophet’s real aunt; it is admitted that she was one of the early believers in Islam who fled to Madinah; it is admitted that the Prophet himself had arranged the marriage between Zaid and Zainab; and finally it is admitted that Zainab desired, as did also her brother, before she was married to Zaid, that she should be taken in marriage by the Holy Prophet. What was it then which prevented the Prophet from marrying her when she was a virgin? Had he not seen her before? He was so closely related to her that on the face of it such a supposition is absurd. Then there was no seclusion of women before Zainab’s marriage with the Prophet, a fact the truth of which is attested by Muir himself. Having not only seen her when she was a virgin, but knowing her fully well on account of her close relationship to him and her early belief in Islam, while both she and her relatives were desirous that the Prophet should take her for a wife, what hindered the Prophet from marrying her? The story is so absurd that any man possessing ordinary common sense would unhesitatingly reject it.” (Comm.1990, 1991).
Significantly, Ibn Warraq conjoins 33:4 which says that Allāh has not given man two hearts –meaning that one cannot obey Allāh and the disbelievers at the same time, as noted from verses 1 to 3– with 33:36-37 which deals with Zainab affair; and he writes: “The most natural and immediate reaction to the preceding account (the Zainab affair) must surely be that of the Prophet’s own wife, Aisha, who is said to have remarked wittily on this occasion, “Truly, your God seems to have been very quick in fulfilling your prayers.” (p. 100).
(It is intriguing that this remark of ‘Aisha is interpreted to mean that she was doubtful (or cynical) of the Prophet’s truthfulness, when in fact it could merely have been an observation on her part–(Bokhari Vol. 6, #311). But ‘Aisha also eloquently said about the Prophet that “Whoever tell you that he concealed (some of Allāh’s orders), is a liar”–(Bokhari Vol. 6. # 378). Notably, Allah ’hastened’ to the aid of ‘Aisha also, when she was slandered–Qur’an 24:11-20; Bokhari Vol. 6 # 274).
But this remark of Aisha was not made on the occasion of the Zainab affair as Ibn Warraq claims. This remark was made on another occasion permitting the Prophet to temporarily postpone company with a wife that he was supposed to be with–(Qur’an 33:50-51; Bokhari Vol. 6, # 311-312. See Hafsa Scandal)).
In the foregoing Muhammad Ali has shown the lunacy of the critics’ charges against the Prophet from a theological and historical perspective. Let us also assess this story from a literal angle. (Notably there are differnt versions of this story and Mohammad's exclamation depending on who you read).
To restate Ibn Warraq: “Zaynab, rather lightly clad, and hence revealing a great many of her charms, opened the door to the Prophet, and asked him in. As she hastily prepared to receive him, Muhammad was smitten by her beauty,” and that “her charms (were) revealed by a gust of wind.” “Gracious Lord! Good Heavens! How you do turn the hearts of men!” exclaimed the Prophet.” (pp. 99-100).
As already shown, being family members, Mohammad was already cognizant of Zainab’s beauty for him to now be “smitten” by it.
The magical “gust of wind”: Mohammad was invited in. Whether Mohammad actually came inside or was standing in the open doorway is irrelevant; either way this “gust of wind” would have had to knock Mohammad over in order for its full blast to tell on Zainab to ‘reveal’ a “GREAT MANY” of her “charms” (must have been a barn-size door; and she must have been wearing frills for this “gust of wind” to be able to expose a “GREAT MANY” of her charms).
Even if this “gust of wind” had come through an open window –assuming that there was a window, and it was opened and not closed to keep out the dust and desert heat brought by “gust(y) wind”– it would have had to be quite a tempestuous “gust of wind” so as to reveal a “GREAT MANY” of Zainab’s charms.
Mohammad’s exclamation: “Gracious Lord! Good Heavens! How you do turn the hearts of men!”
Mohammad, as an ordinary man, from youth to aged, and in the midst of drunkenness and profligacy, lived a life of sobriety, chastity and decorum. Would he now, as Messenger of God and as an example to men utter words of eroticism, and to his cousin, and to the wife of his adopted son? (Go figure). And if Mohammad did utter those words, why is it necessary that they be interpreted as an expression of carnal desire? It could very well be an expression of praise or a compliment.
Zainab relating to her husband: Zainab must have told Zaid about Mohammad’s words in such an insinuating manner as to suggest to him that she was desirous of becoming the wife of the Prophet for Zaid to offer to divorce her for him to marry; also it would have been Zainab’s desire, not the Prophet’s. (Unless he was incredibly stupid, it is doubtful a man would divorce his wife for another man who desired her so that this man could marry her). Even if there was no such insinuation on the part of Zainab, and Zaid made this offer to the Prophet out of love for him, it would take the presumption on Zaid’s part that Zainab would agree to marry the Prophet without obtaining her consent in the matter. (A woman cannot be taken/given in marriage without her consent, see Islam-women).
Allāh saying to Mohammad: “and thou concealedst in thy heart what Allāh would bring to light.” What did Mohammad conceal in his heart that he feared Allāh would to bring to light –a desire to marry Zainab or the dissolution of her marriage to Zaid? A marriage he had arranged and which "failed" marriage he probably "feared" would be a poor reflection on him. Notably, this was while Zainab was yet the wife of Zaid.
As stated, to say that Allāh would bring to light Mohammad’s desire by having him marry Zainab would be to imply that Allāh would cause the dissolution of this marriage in order to satisfy Mohammad’s carnal desire. This is absurd. Allāh instructs us to seek conciliation rather than dissolution; and the Prophet taught that of all the things Allāh has made, divorce is the most shameful.
The entire Zainab affair –her marriage to Zaid, a former slave, her divorce and her remarriage to the Prophet– is a guidance for Muslims; in that it shows that a freed-man could marry a free woman and that a man could marry the wife of his adopted son.
“The Muslim sources” that “give the entire story a sexual interpretation” need to reason the Qur’an and Islamic history carefully.
For a comment on Ibn Warraq’s book see Why I am Not a Muslim).