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Introduction

The concept of adoption in Islam is a “distorted” concept indeed. There is no adoption in Islam. Muslims try to market a specific concept of adoption because Muhammad, through a sequence of immoral actions, canceled “adoption” as we know it in Islam and, subsequently, in Muslim societies. The sum of it is that Muhammad married his daughter in law and justified such immortality by Allah’s Qur’anic verses. I will start this article with a section on Zayd; Muhammad’s adopted son, followed by a section on the wedding events. and Muhammad’s desire to “sleep” with Zaynab. The last section will deal with the issue of Muhammad’s morality regarding the adoption events.

Who is Zayd bin Haritha (c.581-629)

He is the first Muslim. He was Muhammad’s adopted son. He was born into the Udhra branch of the Kalb in Najd (central Saudi Arabia). While visiting his mother’s tribe, he was kidnapped by attacking horsemen and then sold as a slave at Ukkaz market. His family searched for him with no success. He was sold to a Meccan merchant by the name Hakim bin Hizam. Hakim gave the boy as a present to his aunt Khadija bint Khuwayled who was destined to be the first of Muhammad’s wives. When she married Muhammad, she gave the boy as a gift to Muhammad. There was about 10 years difference between Muhammad’s age and Zayd’s age. The two grew closer in friendship. Muhammad became fond of Zayd, and in fact took him with him many a time to his cave Hira place. There is no doubt that Muhammad loved Zayd as his own son. In fact he declared Zayd his son in front of the Quraysh with all the rights that a blood son has. This love of Muhammad to Zayd was also met with great love of Zaid to Muhammad. In fact, history tells us that when Zayd’s family knew about him and came to buy him back, Zayd chose to stay with Muhammad than to go with his blood parents and relatives. On this matter, the late Anwar Shaikh writes:

It is an extraordinary event that an eight-year-old child chooses his master in preference to his parents. One is led to believe that there had developed a strong bond of affection between the two, and it must have grown stronger with the passage of time because all Muhammad's real sons had died during their earlier years. This is confirmed by the fact that Muhammad took Zaid to the Place of Hajar, and presenting him to a gathering, declared: "O people, witness the fact that I have adopted Zaid as my own son. From now on, he inherits me and I inherit him."
(Mishkat, Volume 3, p. 340)

Source: Islam: The Arab Imperialism, Ch.2

Martin Ling speaks of the incident in detail:

Harithah at once set off to Mecca with his brother, Ka‘b; and going to Muhammad they begged him to allow them to ransom Zayd, for as high a price as he might ask. "Let him choose," said Muhammad, "and if he choose you, he is yours without ransom; and if he choose me, I am not a man to set any other above him who chooseth me." Then he called Zayd and asked him if he knew the two men. "This is my father," said the youth, "and this is mine uncle." "Me thou knowest," said Muhammad, "and thou hast seen my companionship unto thee, so choose thou between me and them." But Zayd’s choice was already made and he said at once: "I would not choose any man in preference to thee. Thou art unto me as my father and my mother." "Out upon thee, O Zayd!" exclaimed the men of Kalb. "Wilt thou choose slavery above freedom, and above thy father and thine uncle and thy family?" "It is even so," said Zayd, "for I have seen from this man such things that I could never choose another above him."

All further talk was cut short by Muhammad who now bade them come with him to the Ka‘bah; and, standing in the Hijr, he said in a loud voice: "All ye who are present, bear witness that Zayd is my son; I am his heir and he is mine."

The father and the uncle had thus to return with their purpose unachieved. But the tale they had to tell their tribe, of the deep mutual love which had brought this adoption, was not an inglorious one; and when they saw Zayd was free, and established in honour, with what promised to be a high standing amongst the people of the Sanctuary such as might benefit his brothers and other kinsmen in years to come, they were reconciled and went their way without bitterness. From that day the new Hashimite was known in Mecca as Zayd ibn Muhammad. (Lings, Muhammad: His Life based on the earliest Sources [Inner Traditions International, Ltd., Rochester, Vermont 1983], p. 38)

When Zayd came of age, Arabs knew him as Zayd the son of Muhammad (Zayd bin Muhammad). This is indicative of the fine adoption heritage of Arab culture before Islam. An adopted son was considered like a blood son with all rights and privileges. The writer of this article is an adoptive parent himself, and I can assure the reader that this is how it should be. However, Muhammad’s lust after his own daughter-in-law and cousin Zaynab bint Jahsh changed this sacred concept forever.

Going back to the story of Zayd: when he became an adult suitable for marriage, Muhammad’s aunt had a daughter, Zaynab bint Jahsh, suitable for marriage. Muhammad approached his aunt asking for her daughter to be the wife of his son Zayd. History tells us that the marriage took place for about one year. However, an incident between Muhammad and Zaynab draws a chain of events that end up in Zayd divorcing his wife and Muhammad marrying her.

According to the Muslim historians Ibn Sa'd and at-Tabari, Muhammad went seeking Zayd in his house. Zayd was not at home, but was surprised  to see Zaynab not fully clothed. Muhammad desired her and murmured some words expressing his feelings:

“Praise be to Allah who disposes the hearts.”

Zaynab mentions something to Zayd about the incident. Zayd went to Muhammad and told him he would divorce Zaynab if Muhammad wanted her. Muhammad responds with the negative and asks Zayd to “Fear Allah”. The Qur’an speaks of the incident:

Qur’an 33:37
YUSUFALI: Behold! Thou didst say to one who had received the grace of Allah and thy favour: "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. Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And Allah's command must be fulfilled.

Analyzing the above verse – it seems clear that Zaid did talk to Muhammad about that and offered divorcing his wife. Muhammad told him to keep his wife. Allah, also, knew Muhammad desired her, but hid that for concern of what other men may (no kidding!). Zaid did divorce her. The union between Muhammad and Zaynab was ordained in heaven according to the Qur’an, but was quick on earth. Muhammad takes the talk away from his selfish carnal desires to say that this event took place as a lesson to the believers, so that future generations can do the same with no difficulty.

Allah, in his great wisdom regarding the Zaynab incident, ends up cancelling the concept of adoption  as we know it:

Quran 33:40 (Sahih International)

Muhammad is not the father of [any] one of your men, but [he is] the Messenger of Allah and last of the prophets. And ever is Allah , of all things, Knowing.

Muhammad’s morality regarding marrying Zaynab

Even in our own days, it is not appropriate for a man to lust after his daughter in law, be it a wife of an adopted son or a blood-related son. It is just wrong. When Muhammad lusted after, and married Zaynab, the Arabs knew that this was an immoral behavior. Muhammad resorted to Allah to defend his position and not allow anyone to criticize him. This is indicative of the fact that Allah was Muhammad’s tool to silence others who criticized him.

In the process of eliminating any criticism against him, Muhammad tried to make the Arabs more accepting of his behavior because Zayd was not his blood son, but an adopted one. Allah had to decide that adopted sons are not actual sons. Did that make it easier for the Arabs to accept his behavior? I am not sure as there is no written text on the opinions of Muhammad’s contemporaries on his marriage to Zaynab. Canceling adoption was a grave error on Muhammad’s side as it changed a great tradition to one where the adopted son or daughter are not part of the family with all rights and privileges. Arabs had a great human tradition of including adoptees in all of the family’s affairs. To satisfy his carnal skewed desires, Muhammad canceled a great adoption tradition in the Arabian peninsula forever. What a shame.

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Related References

Bukhari

Narrated Abdullah bin Umar: We used not to call zaid bin haritha the freed slave of Allah's Apostle except zaid bin Muhammad till the Qu'anic Verse was revealed: "Call them (adopted sons) by (the names of) their fathers. That is more than just in the Sight of Allah." (33.5)  (Book #60, Hadith #305)

Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Verse: 'But you did hide in your mind that which Allah was about to make manifest.' (33.37) was revealed concerning Zainab bint Jahsh and zaid bin haritha.  (Book #60, Hadith #310)

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."  (Book #93, Hadith #516)

Narrated Anas bin Malik: The Verse: 'But you did hide in your mind that which Allah was about to make manifest.' (33.37) was revealed concerning Zainab bint jahsh and Zaid bin Haritha.  (Book #60, Hadith #310)

Muslim

Salim b. 'Abdullah reported on the authority of his father: We were in the habit of calling zaid b. harith as zaid b. Muhammad until it was revealed in the Qur'an:" Call them by the names of their fathers. This is more equitable with Allah" (This hadith has been transmitted on the authority of Qutaiba b. Sa'd)  (Book #031, Hadith #5956)