In order to marry Zainab, Muhammad abolished adoption and all the goodness that came from it. Adopted children were now seen as strangers living in the home with no rights to take the family name or inherit as a regular child would. As well, the rules of marahim (blood relation) made it difficult to be alone with this child. The end result is that Muslims hardly ever adopt kids. Allah wanted to ensure that everyone knows that they can marry their adopted-son’s ex-wife so he made Muhammad marry Zainab (or maybe Muhammad liked her).
Ancient cultures and Adoption
Looking at history, Adoption was a common practice in antiquity that continued into preislamic arabia, but was eventually ended with Islam. Elite Roman families who adopted, it was the adopted son who mattered, because he was chosen for who he was – for his characteristics. An adopted child in the Roman world was given a higher status than the natural one! The adopted son adopted all their father’s wealth, property, status, dependents and clients, in other words all of the adopted father’s power and prestige. For example Julius Caesar and Cleopatra had a son. And the had an adopted son. Guess who became the next leader? Their adopted Son, who became Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire. This is because he was adopted by Julius. And the natural son of Julius? I bet you never even heard of him
The same with PreIslamic Arabia. An adopted child would become like your own.
In accordance with the Arabic custom of adoption at the time, Zaid was thereafter known as “Zaid ibn Muhammad” and was a freedman, regarded socially and legally as Muhammad’s son. (Tabari, Wikipedia)
Islam blocked all that when Muhammad decided to marry Zainab…….
Difficulties with adoption in Islam
Yusra Gomaa in an article titled Why adoption and fostering must be our Muslim duty (April 2016) wrote
When I asked whether Muslim children frequently came into the “system,” she explained that they did, but were amongst the most difficult children to match into homes because of their unique religious and cultural needs. I made similar inquiries in Michigan, Washington, Indiana and Wisconsin only to hear the same response. My inquiries did reveal that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services attempted a work-around for this problem: publishing guidelines on its website to educate non-Muslim foster parents on the cultural norms and religious traditions of Muslim foster children.
How do you live with someone that’s “not related” to you? That means the mom can’t touch the adopted son or be alone with him, and has to observe the rules of hijab around him. A person I know to work around this rule had to take some drugs in order to try to get breastmilk to come. And when that didnt work, they got their sister to breastfeed the child for a time, in order to become “mahrem” (related) to the child.
Adopted son doesn’t take name:
You must call them by their father’s name. This is very important. So important that you can go to hell for this!
It was narrated from Abu Dharr (may Allaah be pleased with him) that he heard the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: “There is no man who knowingly calls himself after someone other than his father but he has committed kufr. Whoever claims to belong to people to whom he has no ties of blood, let him take his place in Hell.”
(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 3317; Muslim, 61)
Adopted son doesn’t get inheritance:
Inheritance rules in Islam are rigid. Everything is predetermined. Only one third you are allowed to decide for yourself. So unless an exception made for your adopted son from this share, he would get zero. Compare this to the PreIslamic method where an adopted son was treated like an actual son.
How did this happen? Many Muslims are not aware that all of this happened because of the issue with Zaid and Zainab.
Why did Prophet Muhammad marry his daughter-in-law?
This was considered taboo in pre-Islamic Arab society. So much so that Muhammad was scared to tell people that he was to marry Zainab.
.. And you feared the people, while Allah has more right that you fear Him. (33:37)
Zaid was like Muhammad’s son. He was married to Zainab less than 2 years. She was an attractive young lady of good lineage (Quraish).
Aisha said, From amongst the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) Zainab was my peer (in beauty and in the love she received from the Prophet) (Bukhari)
Infact the law of hijab was revealed the night of the wedding of Zainab to Muhammad. [ref]See Tafsir Asbab ul Nuzul by Waqidi for 33:53.[/ref]
Zainab was like his daughter in law. She was married to Muhammad around the age of 35.
It was narrated that Anas said:
“When the ‘Iddah of Zainab was over, the Messenger of Allah said to Zaid: ‘Propose marriage to her on my behalf.’ Zaid went and said: ‘O Zainab, rejoice, for the Messenger of Allah has sent me to you to propose marriage on his behalf.’ She said: ‘I will not do anything until I consult my Lord.’ She went to her prayer place and Qur’an was revealed, then the Messenger of Allah came and entered upon her without any formalities.” (Muslim 1428b)
Why the need for Muhammad to “demonstrate” this rule?
Why would you even want to marry your daughter in law? Isn’t that just weird? It would be similar to my dad marrying my wife. He used to call my wife his daughter, and treated her just like his own. Not to mention the age difference.
Did Muhammad fall in love with Zainab?
The earliest tafsir, Ibn Ishaq says hardly anything about the wives of Prophet Muhammad. Ibn Saad (died 230AH) mentions the story as follows:
Prophet Muhammad went to visit Zaid (before the rule of hijab was made) and Zainab answered the door saying that Zaid wasn’t there, and inviting him in. Prophet Muhammad turned away, muttered something and left. When Zaid came back, Zainab told him what happened. She said that Prophet Muhammad left saying “subhnalahil adheem subhana musariful quloob (Glory to Allah The Great, The one who changes the hearts).” Zaid understood this to mean that Prophet Muhammad liked her. Apparently they had some issues in their marriage even before this, and after this, he could no longer bear to be married to her. He asked Muhammad several times if he could divorce her, but Muhammad told him no, as Muhammad was scared to marry her because of what the people would say.
.. And you feared the people, while Allah has more right that you fear Him. (33:37)
According to this version, what did Muhammad hide in his heart? That he desired Zainab
Muqatil ibn Sulayman who is the earliest tafsir (died 150AH) but is not considered reliable also mentions this story.
Tabari (died 310AH), who is considered the greatest scholar of tafsir, most orthodox, most authentic , the encyclopedia of tafsirs, the bastion of sunni tafsirs mentions this story as well. He mentions this narrated from Ibn Zaid, and Qatada who is a student of Ibn Abbas.
Also Tafsir Samarqandi, Thalabi, Zamakhshari and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi all mention the same story.
These points from Seerah of Prophet Muhammad Part 69 by Yasir Qadhi.
Why is this such a big problem? Because if he wanted her, and then he came up with a verse of the Quran saying he married her, this is problematic as the verses seem to be coming for his personal benefits.
The other interpretation, that Muhammad hid the fact that “Allah wanted him to marry Zainab” is also mentioned in Ibn Saad, and seems to become more prominent starting with Bayhaqi (450AH) because it paints Muhammad in a better light. Ibn Kathir (774 AH), said “some of the earlier books have reports we would rather not mention.” Ibn Hajr (852 AH) never mentions it. Then, later modern scholars who are not experts in hadith or tafsir started saying that the earliest versions are fabrications made by “evil orientalists”!
How adoption became forbidden with Zaid and Zainab
It was very important in the final revelation to make sure that everyone knew that they could marry their adopted son’s exwife. Because your son’s wife might be pretty, and he might divorce her one day. Just incase this ever happens, Allah wanted to make sure we know that we can marry her. What would be the best way to make this happen? To use Muhammad himself to be the first one to implement this wonderful rule. Scholars say that Muhammad did not fall in love with Zainab, but rather it was Allah’s decision for him to marry her. For the following reason:
The reason for revelation of these verses was that Allaah wanted to a prescribe a law for all believers, that adopted sons did not come under the same rulings as real sons, in any way, and that there was nothing wrong with those who had adopted them marrying their wives (after divorce). (IslamQA)
The Quran says,
And [remember, O Muhammad], when you said to the one on whom Allah bestowed favor and you bestowed favor (ie Zaid), “Keep your wife and fear Allah,” while you concealed within yourself that which Allah is to disclose. And you feared the people, while Allah has more right that you fear Him. So when Zayd had no longer any need for her (divorced her), We married her to you in order that there not be upon the believers any discomfort concerning the wives of their adopted sons when they no longer have need of them. And ever is the command of Allah accomplished. (al-Ahzaab 33:37)
So why adoption became forbidden at the same time, I can only guess. Can you guess? Can you imagine people saying “Oh Muhammad married Zainab the ex-wife of Zaid ibn Muhammad”. This would have been a very good time to abolish adoption. Otherwise, why now?
So if adoption is now forbidden, why the need to demonstrate that its okay to marry your adopted son’s exwife?
.. We married her to you in order that there not be upon the believers any discomfort concerning the wives of their adopted sons when they no longer have need of them. (33:37)
Why the need to demonstrate this? Doesn’t that make demonstrating the marriage pointless? Nobody can ever adopt now.