Zaynab bint Jahsh, may Allah be pleased with her, married the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in 5 AH, when she was thirty-five and the Prophet was fifty-eight, but only after her pervious marriage, which had been arranged by the Prophet himself, had ended in divorce. As with all the marriages of the Prophet Muhammad, there was much for all the Muslims to learn from it. Zaynab bint Jahsh was the Prophet Muhammad's cousin, her mother Umayma being the daughter of Abdul Muttalib, Muhammad's grandfather, who, while he was alive, had ensured the safety of his grandson, thanks to his position as one of the most respected leaders of the Quraish. Thus Zaynab bint Jahsh came from one of the noblest families of the Quraish, and everyone expected her to eventually marry a man with the same high social status.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was well aware that it is a person's standing in the eyes of Allah that is important, rather than his or her status in the eyes of the people. He wanted her to marry a young man called Zayd ibn Harith, whose background was very different to that of Zaynab bint Jahsh. Zayd had been taken prisoner while he was still a child during one of the inter-tribal wars that had been common before the coming of Islam. He had been sold as a slave to a nephew of Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) who had given Zayd to her as a gift. In turn, Khadijah had given him to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in the days before the revelation of the Qur'an had begun, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had given him his freedom and adopted him as his own son, at the age of eight.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had watched both Zayd and Zaynab grow up, and thought they would make a good couple, and that their marriage would demonstrate that it was not who their ancestors were, but rather their standing in the sight of Allah, that mattered. When the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) asked for her hand on behalf of Zayd, Zaynab had her family were shocked at the idea of her marrying a man who in their eyes was only a freed slave. Moreover, Zaynab had wanted to marry the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) himself and in fact he had already been asked by her family whether or not he would like to marry her. At first both she and her brother refused, but then the following ayat was revealed:
It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger, to have any say in their decision; and whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has most clearly gone astray. (Quran 33:36)
When Zayd, who had also had misgivings about the proposed match, and Zaynab realized that there was no difference between what the Prophet wanted and what Allah wanted, they both agreed to the marriage, the Prophet providing a handsome dowry for Zaynab on Zayd's behalf. The marriage, however, was not a success. Although both Zaynab and Zayd were the best of people, who loved Allah and His Messenger, they were very different and in the end they could not overcome their incompatibility. Zayd asked the Prophet's permission to divorce Zaynab more than once, and although he was counseled to hold onto his wife and to fear Allah, in the end the divorce took place. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) then was ordered by Allah to marry Zaynab bint Jahsh, while he did in 5 AH, when he was fifty-eight years old, and she was thirty-five years old. In doing so, he demonstrated beyond doubt that in Islam an adopted son is not regarded in the same light as a natural son, and that although a father may never marry a woman whom his natural son has married and then divorced, the father of an adopted son is permitted to marry a woman who was once, but is no longer, married to that adopted son. Furthermore, by marrying Zaynab, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also confirmed that it is permissible for cousins to marry, and , at the same time, Zaynab was given her heart's desire to be married to the Best of Creation.
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) received the command to marry Zaynab while he was with A'isha. After he had received the revelation, he smiled and said, "Who will go and give Zaynab the good news?" and he recited the ayat that he had received. Some say that it was Zayd himself who told her the good news. When Zaynab heard the news, she stopped what she was doing and prayed to thank Allah. Afterwards, she was fond of pointing out that her marriage had been arranged by Allah. It was at this point that the Prophet changed her name from Barra to Zaynab.
Zaynab's wedding feast was also the occasion for another ayat of Qur'an to be sent down. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) sacrificed a sheep and then commanded his servant, Anas, to invite the people to partake of it. After they had eaten, two men remained there after the meal chatting. The Messenger of Allah went out and said goodnight to his other wives and then came back and the two men were still there chatting. It was very hard on the Prophet who did not like to criticize people directly, and so he waited patiently until they left. Then Allah sent down the following ayat which is known as "The Ayat of Hijab":
O you who believe! Do not go into the Prophet's rooms except after being given permission to come and eat, not waiting for the food to be prepared, However, when you are called, then go in and when you have eaten, then disperse, and do not remain wanting to chat together. If you do that, it causes injury to the Prophet though he is too reticent to tell you. But Allah is not reticent with the truth. When you ask his wives for something, ask them from behind a screen. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts. It is not for you to cause injury to the Messenger of Allah nor ever to marry his wives after him. TO do that would be something dreadful in the sight of Allah. Whether you make something known or conceal it, Allah has knowledge of all things. There is no blame on them regarding their fathers or their sons or their brothers or their brothers' s sons or their sisters' s sons or their women or those their right hands own. Have fear of Allah. Allah is witness over everything. Allah and His angels pray blessings of the Prophet. O you who believe! Pray blessings on him and ask for peace for him. (Quran 33:53-56)
Zaynab was a woman who was constantly immersed in the worship of Allah. It is related by Anas ibn Malik that once the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) entered the mosque and found a rope hanging down between two of the pillars, and so he said, "What is this?" He was told, "It is for Zaynab. She prays, and when she loses concentration or feels tired, she holds onto it." At this time the Prophet said, "Untie it. Pray as long as you feel fresh, but when you lose concentration or become tired, you should stop."
Zaynab bint Jahsh (may Allah be pleased with her) was with the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) for six years, and lived for another nine years after his death, dying at the age of fifty, in 20 AH, and thus fulfilling the Prophet's indication that she would be the first of his wives to die aftehim. Zaynab bint Jahsh, like Zaynab bint Khuzayma before her, was very generous to the poor, and indeed the Prophet said, when speaking of her to his other wives, "She is the most generous among you."
It has been related by A'isha that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) once said to his wives, "The one who has the longest hands among you will meet me again the soonest." A'isha added, "They use to measure each other's hands to see whose as longest, and it was the hand of Zaynab that was the longest, because she used to work by hand and give away (what she earned) in charity." The Messenger of Allah said to Umar, "Zaynab bint Jahsh is one who is full of prayer." A man said, "Messenger of Allah, what is that?" He said, "The one who is humble and earnest in prayer." A'isha also said that Zaynab, "I have never seen a woman so pure as Zaynab, so God-fearing, so truthful, so attentive to family ties, so generous, so self-sacrificing in everyday life, so charitable, and thus so close to Allah, the Exalted."
Several years after the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had died, when Umar was the khalif, great wealth came to the Muslims as a result of their victories in fighting the Persians. The immense treasures of Chosroes, the Persian Emperor, fell into their hands, and when Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) sent Zaynab a pile of gold as her share of the treasure, she called her maid servant and told her to take a handful of it to so-and-so, naming one of the poor people of Medina. One after another, she named all the poor people whom she knew, until they had all received a share of the treasure. Then she told her maidservant to see what was left. All that remained of the large pile of gold was eighty dinars, and this she accepted as her share, thanking Allah for it; but, because she believed so much money was a temptation, she asked Allah that she would never witness such a large distribution of wealth again.
By the time a year had passed, when Umar again came to distribute money amongst those wives of the Prophet who were still alive, her prayer had been granted for she had already passed away, may Allah be pleased with her.