At he beginning of the “Stand to Reason” podcast “Islam and Prolife” (13 August 2013), Greg Koukl points out that there is no adoption in Islam. He was informed that this was based on Islamic theology but did not know why there was no adoption in Islam. The reason is Zaynab. Here is James White’s riveting and disturbing account of “The Story of Zaynab” in his “What every Christian needs to know about the Qur’an.” Let us see why he concludes:
“Whether or not for political purposes (so that there would be none to take Muhammad’s place, as Zayd would have), the culture-enriching humanity-raising, love-engendering institution of adoption was mortally wounded in Islamic society. And upon what authority? That of the Qur’an.” Is not this episode, asks White, “a clear example of the problem with the orthodox view of the Qur’an’s nature?
I scanned the story from James White’s Kindle edition on my ipad. Any scanning typos are mine.
The Story of Zaynab bint Jash
There is no other account in the Qur’an that, to me as a Christian reader of the Qur’an, the hadith, and the tafsir literature, is more indicative of the fundamental problem with Muhammad’s claimed prophethood than that of his relationshig with Zaynab bint Jash. When one takes into consideration not only the situation itself but also its results in the lives of countless millions down through the centuries, the importance of following the biblical pattern for the recognition of prophethood is readily seen.
Zaynab bint Jash was by all accounts a strikingly beautiful Woman. She also was a married woman, to a young man named Zayd bin Muhammad, the Prophet’s own adopted son, a freed former slave. He was an early convert to the Islamic faith, and the two men were close. Up to that time, the Arab tribes, like the Jews, Romans, and so many others, had practiced – and honored – the concept of adoption. For to marry the divorced wife of his adopted son was a fundamental violation of morality and custom, tantamount to incest. The relationships that arose through adoption were held to be truly valid.
With this background in mind, consider these texts from Surah Al-Ahzub: Allah has not made for any man two hearts within him, nor has he made your wives whom you declare to be like your mothers your mothers, nor has he made those whom you claim to be your sons your sons. This is but what you say with your mouths. And Allah says the truth and He guides to the path. Attribute them to their fathers. That is more equitable in the sight of Allah. And if you know not their fathers, then they are your brothers in religion and your clients.
And there is no sin for you in the mistakes that you make unintentionally but what your hearts purpose [that will be a sin for you]. Allah is forgiving, compassionate. And when you said to him on whom Allah has conferred favor and you have conferred favor “Keep your wife to yourself and fear Allah.” And you hide within yourself that which Allah was to bring to light, and you fear the people Whereas Allah had a better right that you should fear Him. So when Zayd had accomplished of her what he would, we gave her to you in marriage so that [henceforth] there may be no sin for believers in respect of wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have accomplished of them what they would. The commandment of Allah must be fulfilled. There is no reproach for the Prophet in what Allah has made his due. That was Allah’s Way with those who passed away of old, and the Wish of Allah is certain to be fulfilled. (33:37-38). Now, according to Islamic orthodoxy, these words were inscribed on the heavenly tablet in eternity past. They are as eternal as Allah is. And yet here are two sections that both deal with the same awkward situation that arose in history regarding Muhammad, Zayd, and Zaynab.
The first verses cited give Allah’s command relating to adoption. No longer would Zayd be known as Zayd bin Muhammad: now he would be known as Zayd bin Haritha. Adoption as a stabilizing and gracious societal element would be forever damaged due to this change. Why do this? As the second verses show, there was a major problem among the people - one highlighted by Allah having commanded Muhammad to marry the divorced wife of his adopted son. To let the Muslim sources explain, we start with Al-Tabari’s massive history, which places the story’s backdrop in its all-too-human setting:
The Messenger of God came to the house of Zayd b. Harithah. (Zayd was always called Zayd b. Muhammad). Perhaps the Messenger of God missed him at that moment, so as to ask, “Where is Zayd‘?” He came to his residence to look for him but did not find him. Zaynab bint Jash, Zayd’s wife, rose to meet him. Because she was dressed only in a shift, the Messenger of God turned away from her. She said: “He is not here, Messenger of God. Come in, you who are as dear to me as my father and mother!” The Messenger of God refused to enter. Zaynab had dressed in haste when she was told “the Messenger of God is at the door.” She jumped up in haste and excited the admiration of the Messenger of God, so that he tuned away murmuring something that could scarcely be understood. However, he did say overtly: “Glory be to God the Almighty! Glory be to God, who causes the hearts to turn!”
When Zayd came home, his wife told him that the Messenger of God had come to his house. Zayd said, “Why didn’t you ask him to come in‘?” She replied, “I asked him, but he refused.” “Did you hear him say anything‘?” he asked. She replied, “As he turned away, I heard him say: ‘Glory be to God the Almighty! Glory be to God, who causes hearts to turn! ”’ So Zayd left, and having come to the Messenger of God, he said: “Messenger of God, I have heard that you came to my house. Why didn’t you go in, you who are as dear to me as my father and mother? Messenger of God, perhaps Zaynab has excited your admiration, and so I will separate myself from her.” Zayd could find no possible way to [approach] her after that day. He would come to the Messenger of God and tell him so, but the Messenger of God Would say to him, “Keep your Wife.”
Zayd separated from her and left her, and she became free. While the Messenger of God was talking with `A’ishah, a fainting overcame him. When he was released from it he smiled and said, “Who will go to Zaynab to tell her the good news, saying that God has married her to me.” Then the Messenger of God recited: “And when you said unto him on whom God has conferred favor and you have conferred favor, ‘Keep your wife to yourself” and the entire passage. According to ’A’ishah, who said: “I became very uneasy because of what we heard about her beauty and another thing, the greatest and loftiest of matters – what God had done for her by giving her in marriage. I said she would boast of it over us.”
Martin Lings narrates the same story in this Way:
It happened one day that he went to speak to his Zayd about something and went to his house. Zayd was out, and Zaynab, not expecting any visitors at that time, was lightly clad. But when she was told that the Prophet had come, she was so eager to greet him that she leapt to her feet and ran to the door, to invite him to stay until Zayd returned. “He is not here, O Messenger of God,” she said, “but comes out in, my father and my mother be thy ransom.” As she stood in the doorway, a radiant figure of joyous welcome, the prophet was amazed at her beauty. Deeply moved, he turned aside, and murmured something which she could not grasp. All she heard clearly were his words of wonderment as he walked away: “Glory be to God the Infinite! Glory be to Him who disposeth men’s hearts!” When Zayd returned she told him of the Prophet’s visit and of the glorification she had heard him utter. Zayd immediately Went to him and said: “I have been told thou camest unto my house.
Why didst not enter, thou who art more to me than my father and my mother? Was it that Zaynab hath found favor with thee? If it be so, I will leave her.” “Keep thy wife and fear God,” said the Prophet with some insistence. He had said on another occasion: “Of all things licit the most hateful unto God is divorce.” And when Zayd came again the next day with the same proposal, again the Prophet insisted that he should keep his wife. But the marriage between Zayd and Zaynab had not been a happy one, and Zayd found it no longer tolerable, so by mutual agreement with Zaynab he divorced her. This did not, however, make Zaynab eligible as a wife for the Prophet, for although the Koran had only specified that men were forbidden to marry the wives of sons sprung from their loins, it was a strong social principle not to make a distinction between sons by birth and sons by adoption. Nor was the Prophet himself eligible, for he had already four wives, the most that the Islamic law allows.
Some months passed and then one day when the Prophet was talking with one of his wives the power of Revelation overwhelmed him; and when he came to himself his first words were: “Who will go unto Zaynab and tell her the good tidings that God hath given her to me in marriage, even from Heaven.” Salma was near and she went in haste to Zaynab’s house. When she heard the wonderful tidings, Zaynab magnified God and threw herself down in prostration toward Mecca. Then she took off her anklets and bracelets of silver, and gave them to Salma.
Zayd is one of the few people to be mentioned by name in the Qur’an, and it is in this very context, of Allah rebuking Muhammad for hiding what Allah had revealed, and that in reference to Muhammad marrying Zayd’s divorced wife. To overcome immediate charges of impropriety even of incest a revelation comes down to solve the great and vexing problem of the marriage of divorced wives of adopted sons. Except, of course, it is more than hard to believe this was a great and vexing problem. We would expect the great and vexing problem to be divorce, let alone even the consideration of marrying your former daughter-in-law. But Allah commands his Prophet to break the customs of his day and marry his first cousin.
Again, in the process, incalculable damage has been done to millions of children and families. In distancing himself from his adopted son, Whether or not for political purposes (so that there would be none to take Muhammad’s place, as Zayd would have), the culture-enriching humanity-raising, love-engendering institution of adoption was mortally wounded in Islamic society. And upon what authority? That of the Qur’an. Is this not a clear example of the problem with the orthodox view of the Qur’an’s nature? Muhammad suddenly goes into some kind of faint and, when he recovers, announces that adoption is undone and Zaynab is his wife. This was inscribed in eternity past upon a tablet in Arabic? lt seems even Aisha, his favorite (but who clearly experienced much jealousy toward his other wives) recognized an issue, for she is recorded to have said. “I feel that your Lord hastens in fulfilling your Wishes and desires.” Certainly this must give one pause in weighing the claims of the Qur’an to status as a divine revelation.
Modern lslamic Orthodoxy identifies Muhammad as the ideal man, the model to which all should seek to conform their behavior and lifestyle. Yet here, plainly the Qur’an displays acute embarrassment and must provide an apologetic, a defense of his actions. Many motives are possible, from the seemingly blatant marriage breakup, and the resultant diminishment of the evil of divorce, to the political tensions that were formative of the early generations of Islam and that led to the formation of its two major branches, Sunni and Shia. Whatever the motivation, the attempt to justify Muhammad’s actions and their wide-ranging results is obvious and forceful.