Slaves in the History of Islam 3

Slaves in the History of Islam 2

2. Zayd bin Harithah

Zayd bin Harithah bin Sharahil al-Kalbi, an Arab boy, was abducted in his childhood and sold as a slave. This happened before Islam. Hakim bin Hizam bin Khuwaylid purchased him in the market of 'Ukaz, and presented him to his aunt, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, who gave him to the Holy Prophet.(1)

Zayd's father was searching for him. After a long time he came to know that Zayd was in Mecca. He came to Mecca and offered to pay ransom so that Zayd might be set free. The Prophet said that if Zayd wanted to be united with his family, then there was no need of any ransom. He was free to go. But Zayd declined to go with his father and preferred to remain with Muhammad. Harithah, Zayd's father, was extremely grieved and said, O son, do you prefer to remain a slave rather than a free man?

And do you prefer to leave your own father and mother for Muhammad? Zayd said, What I have seen of the life of Muhammad is compelling me that I should not leave him for any person. Such was the loving attitude of the Holy Prophet that it had captured the hearts of all those who came to know him. And it was this unique characteristic of his generosity which made almost the whole Arabia accept Islam within a short period of twenty three years.

Anyhow, Harithah was shocked and announced in Ka'bah that from then on neither he was father of Zayd nor Zayd was his son. It was then that Prophet Muhammad announced in the hijr Isma'il (besides the Ka'bah) that I declare that from now on Zayd is my son. Harithah, hearing this, returned to his home but in a less gloomy mood.(2) Zayd bin Harithah was now called Zayd bin Muhammad. This continued till 5 AH when the following verse was revealed:

God had not made for any man two hearts in his (one) body; nor has He made your wives whom you divorce by zihar your mothers; nor has He made your adopted sons your sons. Such is (only) your (manner of) speech by your mouths. But God tells you the truth, and He shows the (right) way. Call them by (the names of) their fathers, that is better in the sight of God. (3)

Then Zayd was again called Zayd bin Harithah.(4) The Prophet had married Zayd to his cousin Zaynab bin Jahash, who was the daughter of his aunt, Umaymah.(5) When the couple started quarrelling and Zayd divorced Zaynab, the Prophet, on the command of Allah, married Zaynab himself. (She at that time was more than fifty years old. This fact alone is enough to clear away the thick cobweb of the malicious stories which the Prophet's enemies have woven around this holy marriage.)

Allah says in the Quran:

Then, when Zayd had dissolved (his marriage), He joined her in marriage to you in order that there may be no difficulty for the believers in the matter of marriage with the wives of their adopted sons when the latter had dissolved (their marriage) with the necessary (formality) with them, and God's command must be fulfilled. (7)

By these two marriages of Zaynab bin Jahash, two pagan taboos were abolished: By the first marriage, the idea of racial supremacy or the belief that being a slave or freed slave was a stigma on the dignity of the person was destroyed.(8) When a cousin of the Prophet could be married to a freed slave who could frown in future on marriage of slaves with free women?(9)

And by the second marriage, the belief that an adopted son was a real son was destroyed. When the Prophet himself did marry the divorced wife of his adopted son, then how could it be claimed that an adopted son was a real son? Thus the custom of Arabia which recognized an adopted son as a real son was most effectively abolished. (10)

Zayd is the only person among the companions of the Prophet to be mentioned by name in the Quran. He was the third person to accept Islam after Khadijah bint Khuwaylid and 'Ali bin Abi Talib. Zayd was the commander of the Muslim army sent to fight against the Christian forces at Muta. After the martyrdom of Zayd, Ja'far, the cousin of the Prophet, took over the command and he also was martyred. The Prophet was much grieved on these two deaths.(11)

Zayd had a son, Usamah, from his first wife, Umm Ayman. Usamah was 19 years old when he was appointed the commander of the army which consisted of all the well-known companions of the Prophet, including Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman. When some of the companions frowned upon this appointments, the Prophet delivered a lecture in which he said, Zayd was better than you, and his son Usamah also is better than you all. Usamah was ordered by the Prophet to go with the army to avenge the death of his father at Muta.(12)

Continue in the next article: ( Slaves in the History of Islam 4 )



1. Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 45.

2. al-Majlisi, op. cit., vol. 22, pp. 314, 318; Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol.III:1, p. 28; Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 45-6.

3. (The Quran 33:4-5)

4. al-Majlisi, op. cit.; Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. III, p. 29; Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 7, p. 600.

5. Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. 8, p. 31; Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 46, vol. 7, p. 600.

6. al-Tabataba'i, al-Mizan, 3rd ed., vol. 4 (Beirut: 1974), p. 195.

7. (The Quran 33:37)

8. al-'Amili, op. cit., vol. 14, p. 43; Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. VIII:1, p. 71.

9. (The Qur'an 2:221)

10. al-Majlisi, op. cit., vol. 22, p. 187; Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 7, p. 600.

11. Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. III: 1, p. 32; Ibn Hajar, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 47.

12. Ibn Sa'd, op. cit., vol. II:2, pp. 41-2; vol. IV:1, pp.46-7.