Zainab was born into a happy home. She was the daughter of the most noble man, Mohammed ﷺ, and his noble wife, Khadejah (RA) and the oldest girl of seven children. When Zainab reached the age of marriage, her cousin Abu al As ibn Rabee, a wise, well known merchant whose conversations and jokes Zainab really enjoyed, asked for her hand. He himself was fascinated by her and never failed to notice her when he would visit his aunt Khadejah (RA). The Prophet ﷺ listened attentively to Abu al As but told him the decision was not his to make. He went to Zainab and asked what her opinion was and if she was interested too. She nodded shyly. The Prophet ﷺ smiled and understood her.
Zainab and Abu al As were married and live a happy life together. They had two children, Ali and Umamah, the Prophet’s ﷺ first grandchildren. As a merchant, Abu al As would travel a lot, often being gone for days on end, which was always difficult for Zainab.
During one of Abu al As’s long journeys, something happened back home that would shake the stability of Zainab and Abu al As’s marriage. Mohammed ﷺ was called to prophethood and Zainab, her mother and sisters were among the first to follow him. When Zainab’s husband came home, she told him about what happened, which he had also heard from other people on the road. However, Abu al As did not immediately pledge allegiance to Islam, like Zainab thought he would. “I have nothing against your father, and nothing would be dearer to me than following the same path with you, my dear. But I would hate for people to say that I have disappointed my clan by disbelieving in the deities of my ancestors in order to please my wife. Can you please excuse me?” Zainab did, but that night neither of them could sleep or any of the nights following. The bliss that filled their household was replaced by anxiety, tension and sorrow.
Years passed and the Muslims suffered through the years of boycott and endured the migration. Zainab didn’t migrate with her sisters but stayed at home with her husband and children because she was awaiting Allah’s decision on her situation. Later at the time of the Battle of Badr, Abu al As fought with Quraysh against the Muslims and was taken captive at the end of the battle. When the Prophet ﷺ saw that his son in law was one of the captives, he took him to the side and told all the guards to treat the captives well. Zainab back home was in such an emotional state. She wanted to ransom out her husband and was thinking about her father’s concerns as well. She decided to use a necklace her mother gave her on her wedding day as a ransom (bail) and had her brother in law take it over to where the captives where.
When the Prophet ﷺ saw the necklace he started to weep because it reminded him of Khadejah (RA). He asked the Muslims if they wouldn’t mind if they released Abu al As and also returned the necklace to Zainab. They agreed. He then turned to Abu al As and asked him to bring Zainab to him. When Abu al As returned home, Zainab was overjoyed to see him. But their reunion was bittersweet as Abu al As told her that he promised her father he would send her to him. Zaynab reluctantly left to go to Madinah. As he was saying goodbye to her, Abu al As told her, “Zainab, whatever happens, I shall always love you as long as I live. Your spirit shall forever fill this house that has witnessed the sweetest and the most pleasant days of our life together.”
On the way to Madinah, she was captured by Quraysh and returned forcefully back to Mecca. She was pregnant and terrified and ended up having a miscarriage from the trauma. Abu al As took care of her at home until she regained her strength and was emotionally ready to leave again. He waited for the right moment where no one would notice she left and had his brother escort her to Madinah. When she arrived Zainab was very happy to see her father and sisters but missed her husband.
While Zainab was in Madinah, Abu al As left to another business trip to Syria on a Quraysh caravan. The caravan met with a group of 170 Muslims let by Zayd ibn Harithah and was disabled. Abu al As was able to escape and went at night to Zainab’s house for safety. In the morning, after fajr prayer, Zainab called out in the mosque, “I have given protection to Abu al As ibn Rabee!”
The Prophet ﷺ said, “Oh people did you hear what I have just heard?” They answered yes. “I swear by Him in Whose Hand is my life, I knew nothing of this matter until I heard what you have also heard now. The Muslims are like one hand against those who are outside their community, and the lowest of Muslims is entitled to give protection on behalf of the rest of his fellow Muslims. So we give protection to the one to whom she gives protection.” When the Prophet ﷺ went home, Zainab asked him to snure that Abu al As get back his possessions. He agreed, but told her that she could not have conjugal relations with him because she was not lawful for him. (This was after the verse came that said that a Muslim women could not be married to a disbelieving man).
That night, Abu al As was released and allowed to go home. However, in the middle of the night he tried to come back to Madinah and hid out in some trees. He wanted to be with Zainab, the only person with whom he had happiness and a peace of mind. He moved quietly in the night and knocked on her door. Zainab woke up startled at who was at her door and night but was relieved that it was Abu al As. They could not embrace but she let him in and made him food and made him as comfortable as he could be. He was worried about how he would be received from her family and the other Muslims. She told him that she would always intercede on his behalf.
At this point, Abu al As was already impressed by Islam. He had seen the ethics of how Muslims treat their captives and their ethics during war. He was impressed by his father in laws fair decisions and his strong love for Zainab made him realize that he wanted to be part of this religion. However, his strong Arab pride made him not want anyone to think that he was only doing it just to please his wife. He decided to announce his allegiance to Islam in Mecca in front of the assemblies. He also wanted to do it in Mecca because he still had the possessions of people that were in the caravan and he wanted to return it to them so they wouldn’t think that he was using Islam as a way out. So he returned to Mecca, gave the people back their possessions and proclaimed his allegiance to Islam for all to hear. Then he migrated back to Madinah to be with the love of his life and the Prophet ﷺ made them a new marriage contract.
The year that followed was such a happy year for Abu al As and Zainab and their two children. It was after that year, in the 5th year of Hijrah, that Zainab passed away. Abu al As was completely heartbroken, as was the Prophet ﷺ who was immediately reminded of Khadejah’s (RA) death.
May Allah bless Zainab and please and be pleased with her.