Zaynab was the eldest daughter of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and Khadeejah (May Allah be pleased with her). She was born 10 years before the prophethood. Like other children of noble Arabs, she was given to a wet nurse. And when she had had her share of that, the house of her parents embraced her with great love and affection. Being the eldest, she was a great help to her mother and younger siblings.
When she was old enough for marriage, Abu al-Aas, who was the son of Khadeejah’s sister Hala bint Khuwaylid, asked for her hand in marriage. He was a prosperous merchant and was considered an important person in Makkah. Zaynab and Abu al-Aas got married and had two children: a boy named ‘Ali (who died in childhood) and a girl named Umamah.
As a trader, Abu al-Aas travelled a lot. When he was on one such journey, his father-in-law, Muhammad ﷺ was commissioned as a Prophet. Zaynab followed her father and embraced Islam. When her husband came back from his journey, she told him of what had happened while he was away.
Abu al-Aas knew the Prophet’s household very well. He used to visit them often before his marriage to Zaynab. He was very close to his aunt Khadeejah who treated him like her own son. But he refused to embrace Islam fearing that his people may claim that he gave up their ancestral deities to please his wife.
When Prophet Muhammad started preaching Islam openly, Abu Lahab ordered his sons to divorce their wives Umm Kulthum and Ruqayyah (the daughters of the Prophet ﷺ) as a means to persecute the Prophet ﷺ. Similarly, the Quraysh pressured Abu al-Aas to divorce Zaynab, saying they would give him any woman he liked in exchange. However, though Abu al-Aas didn’t become a Muslim, he replied that he did not want any other woman and remained with Zaynab.
When the Prophet ﷺ was given the order to migrate to Madinah, Zaynab stayed with her husband in Makkah.
Two years after the hijrah, the Muslims fought the Quraysh in the Battle of Badr. Zaynab was in an unenviable position in Makkah. Her husband was going on a war against her father. Despite being few in number, the Muslims were victorious. Abu al-Aas was among the captives of war.
Zaynab did not own anything of much value that she could send as ransom for her husband. So she sent the necklace her mother Khadeejah gave her on her wedding day as a ransom. As soon as the Prophet ﷺ saw his beloved wife’s necklace, he could not hold back his tears. He ﷺ sent Abu al-Aas back to Makkah without taking any ransom on the condition that he send Zaynab to Madinah.
Abu al Aas kept his promise and prepared to send Zaynab to Madinah. But the Quraysh stopped her on her way and returned her back to Makkah. During this time, she suffered a miscarriage. Abu al Aas took care of her until she regained her strength and secretly sent her to Madinah in the company of his brother.
A couple of years later, a group of Muslims led by Zaid bin Harith accosted a caravan coming from Syria and took some captives. Abu al-Aas was in the caravan; however he was able to escape and reach the house of his wife Zaynab in Madinah at night.
As dawn approached and the Muslims finished the Fajr prayer, Zaynab openly announced in the mosque that she had granted protection to Abu al-Aas. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ respected her decision and ensured protection of his son-in-law.
During his time in Madinah, Abu al-Aas was overwhelmed by the magnanimity and truthfulness of Islam and realized that the blind state of ignorance in which he was living had misled him for a long time. He realized he wanted to enter the fold of Islam willingly, without any coercion. But he did not do so yet. His Arab gallantry and tribal pride swirled up in him.
He did not want his proclamation of Islam to be attributed to any influence or pressure. He would not want anyone in Makkah to claim that he accepted Islam for the love of this life and fear of death. Also, he had properties of people in his trust. If he remained in Madinah and announced his Islam there, people would say that he wanted to escape from giving the trusts to whom they were due.
Therefore, he returned to Makkah, returned the trusts to whom they were due and then finally proclaimed Islam in the assembly of Quraysh. After that he migrated to Madinah as a Muslim.
Upon his arrival, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ reunited him with Zaynab and they lived happily for a year. Zaynab bint Muhammad died in the beginning of 5th year of hijra.
May Allah be pleased with Zaynab, the Prophet’s daughter! May He reward her with Paradise for her patience, endurance and struggle!