Revisiting Muhammad's Marriage to His Adopted Son's Divorcee, Zaynab Bint Jash:

A Response to a Muslim's Defense of the Moral Ramifications of such a Union

Sam Shamoun

One of the most shocking events in the life of Muhammad, one which has been a major source of embarrassment for Muslims, is his marriage to his adopted son's former wife, Zaynab bint Jash. Zaynab had married Zayd, the freed slave of Muhammad's first wife, Khadijah, whom Muhammad adopted as his son. According to some versions of the story, Muhammad had ventured to see his adopted son, Zayd, at his house. Upon arriving, he found Zaynab unveiled and was enamored by her beauty. As he departed, Muhammad made some comments which she heard and, when her husband returned, told him what had transpired. After Zayd heard that Muhammad had made some comments about his wife's beauty, he went to his adoptive father and told him that he would divorce her so he could marry her if this is what Muhammad desired. Muhammad refused and encouraged his adopted son to remain with his wife. Subsequently, Zayd divorced his wife and Muhammad was commanded by Allah to then marry Zaynab, his adopted son's divorcee.

The Quran refers to this marriage in the following passage:

When thou saidst to him whom God had blessed and thou hadst favoured, 'Keep thy wife to thyself, and fear God,' and thou wast CONCEALING WITHIN THYSELF what God should reveal, FEARING OTHER MEN; and God has better right for thee to fear Him. So when Zaid had accomplished what he would of her, THEN WE GAVE HER IN MARRIAGE TO THEE, so that there should not be any fault in the believers, touching the wives of their adopted sons, when they have accomplished what they would of them; and God's commandment must be performed. S. 33:37

One Muslim who tries to justify this marriage is Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi (MENJ) of the Bismikaallahuma web site. In this article MENJ seeks to refute the charge that Muhammad had adulterous desires for a married woman, which then caused her husband to divorce her, giving Muhammad the opportunity to marry her. He does so by quoting Qadi Iyad ibn Musa al-Yahsubi's comments on Muhammad's marriage to Zaynab. The section in MENJ's article is taken from the book, Ash-Shifa of Qadi ‘Iyad (Muhammad, Messenger of Allh), Madinah Press, Granada (1991), pp. 352-354. The work was translated by Aisha Bewley.

For some strange reason MENJ seems to presume that Qadi Iyad's version of the story will somehow absolve Muhammad of the charges leveled against him, when, in point of fact, they do more damage.

Here, we will quote the story as it appears in MENJ's article and provide a response, in order to highlight how even this version of the events should cause major embarrassment for Muslims. All underline and capital emphasis is ours. The article begins:

The soundest version concerning this matter is in what the commentators have related from ‘Ali ibn Husayn. Allh knew better than His Prophet that Zaynb would be one of his wives. When Zayd complained about her to the Prophet(P), he told him, "Keep your wife and fear Allh." He hid in himself what Allh had intimated to him about his marriage to her but Allh brought it into the open by bringing her marriage to an end through Zayd’s divorcing her.

Al-Qshayr said that saying such a thing is a great audacity on the part of the one who says it and a lack of recognition of what is due to the Prophet(P) and of his supreme excellence. How could it be said that he saw her and admired her when she was his cousin and he had been seeing her since the time when she was born? Women did not veil themselves from him and he himself had married her to Zayd.

ALLAH MADE ZAYD DIVORCE ZAYNAB and marry the Prophet(P) to remove the barrier set up by ties of adoption and invalidating its customs. He says, "Muhammad is not the father of any of your men." (33:40) And He says, "So that there would not be any fault for the believers regarding the wives of their adopted sons." (33:37)

Ab`l-Lyth as-Samarqnd said that if people ask what is the benefit in the Prophet(P) commanding Zayd to keep Zaynb when Allh had informed him that she was to be his wife, it is that the Prophet(P) forbade Zayd to divorce his wife because of the disharmony between Zayd and her while concealing in himself what Allh had informed him about. When Zayd divorced her, her [sic] FEARED THAT PEOPLE WOULD SAY HE WAS MARRYING HIS SON'S WIFE, so Allh commanded him to marry her to make what he was doing lawful for his community as Allh said, "So that there would not be any fault for the believers regarding the wives of their adopted sons." (33:37)

The Muslim source says a little later:

He said that the timidity (khashya) referred to here does not mean fear itself (khawf). It means to be modest or shy, i.e. he was shy before them because they would say, "He has married his son’s wife." The Prophet’s(P) fear of people was because of the lies spread by the hypocrites and Jews when they made controversies for the Muslims by saying, "He has married his son’s wife" after he had forbidden them to marry the wives of their sons. Allh censured him for this and freed him from paying any attention to them concerning what He had made lawful for him as He censured him for his deference to his wives’ pleasure in Sura at-Tahrim when He said, "Why do you make haram what Allah has made halal for you?" (66:1) This is the same as when Allh says to him, "You fear people and it is more fitting to fear Allah." (33:37)

Al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali and `Aish related, "If the Messenger of Allh, may Allh bless him and grant him peace, had concealed anything, he would have concealed this ayat since it contains blame of him and uncovers what he had concealed."


Here, we are asked to believe that Allah, whom Muslims believe is the same God revealed in the Holy Bible, was the one who wanted Muhammad to marry someone else's wife, moving Muhammad to have adulterous desires. Allah even caused the divorce of the married couple so as to bring about Zaynab's marriage with Muhammad!

The above quotes clearly say that Muhammad even tried to conceal his desires since he knew the shame and embarrassment this would cause in the eyes of the people, implying that Muhammad held to a higher moral standard than Allah himself!

The God of the Holy Bible, Yahweh Elohim, has this to say about those who have desires for married women:

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Matthew 5:27-28

The Holy Bible also says that the true God hates divorce:

"'This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. Yet you say, "For what reason?" Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce,' says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'and him who covers his garment with wrong,' says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.'" Malachi 2:13-16

Hence, Allah of the Quran is completely unlike the true God of the Holy Bible who hates adulterous acts and desires, as well as hating divorce, and would not force anyone to forsake their wives so as to allow others to marry them.

This isn't the only time that Allah contradicts the true God Yahweh, as the following passages show:

"When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man's wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance." Deuteronomy 24:1-4

"'If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man's wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?' declares the LORD." Jeremiah 3:1

If he divorces her finally, she shall not be lawful to him after that, until she marries another husband. If he divorces her, then it is no fault in them to return to each other, if they suppose that they will maintain God's bounds. Those are God's bounds; He makes them clear unto a people that have knowledge. S. 2:230

Yahweh classifies as an abomination a practice that Allah says is perfectly fine!

But wait, there is more! There happens to be another major problem with the Quran's reasoning behind Muhammad marrying his adopted son's divorcee. The Quran claims that the purpose for the marriage, the rationale behind Muhammad marrying Zaynab, is so that the believers could see that there is no sin in a person marrying his adopted son's former wife. But the main problem with this line of reasoning is that the Quran prohibits Muslim men from adopting sons altogether!

God has not assigned to any man two hearts within his breast; nor has He made your wives, when you divorce, saying, 'Be as my mother's back,' truly your mothers, neither has He made your adopted sons your sons in fact. That is your own saying, the words of your mouths; but God speaks the truth, and guides on the way. Call them after their true fathers; that is more equitable in the sight of God. If you know not who their fathers were, then they are your brothers in religion, and your clients. There is no fault in you if you make mistakes, but only in what your hearts premeditate. God is All-forgiving, All-compassionate. S. 33:4-5

Regarding this passage, Ibn Kathir says:

<nor has He made your adopted sons your real sons.>

This was revealed concerning Zayd bin Harithah, may Allah be pleased with him, the freed servant of the Prophet. The Prophet had adopted him before prophethood, and he was known as Zayd bin Muhammad. Allah wanted to put an end to this naming and attribution ...

This is a command which abrogates the state of affairs that existed at the beginning of Islam, when it was permitted to call adopted sons after the man who adopted them. Then Allah commanded that they should be given back the names of their real fathers, and states that this was more fair and just. Al-Bukhari (may Allah have mercy on him) narrated that ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar said: "Zayd bin Muhammad, may Allah be pleased with him, the freed servant of the Messenger of Allah was ALWAYS CALLED Zayd bin Muhammad, UNTIL (the words of the) QUR'AN WERE REVEALED ...

<Call them (adopted sons) by (the names of) their fathers, that is more just with Allah.>"

This was also narrated by Muslim, At-Tirmidhi and An-Nasa’i. They used to deal with them as sons in every respect, including being alone with them as Mahrams and so on. Hence, Sahlah bint Suhaly, the wife of Abu Hudhayfah, may Allah be pleased with them both, said: "O Messenger of Allah! We used to call Salim our son, but Allah has revealed what He has revealed. He used to enter upon me, but I feel that Abu Hudhayfah does not like that." The Prophet said ...

((Breastfeed him and he will become your Mahram.))

Hence when this ruling was abrogated, Allah made it permissible for a man to marry the ex-wife of his adopted son, and the Messenger of Allah married Zaynab bint Jash, the divorced wife of Zayd bin Harithah, may Allah be pleased with him, Allah said ...

<So that (in the future) there may be no difficulty to the believers in respect of the wives of their adopted sons when the latter have no desire to keep them> (33:37)

And Allah says in Ayat At-Tahrim ...

<The wives of your sons from your own loins> (4:23).

The wife of an adopted son is not included because he was not born from the man's loins. A "foster" son through breastfeeding is the same as a son born from one's own loins, from the point of view of the Shari‘ah, because the Prophet said in the Two Sahihs ...

((Suckling makes unlawful as lineage does.)) ...

<Call them by their fathers.> This is concerning Zayd bin Harithah, may Allah be pleased with him. He was killed in 8 AH at the battle of Mu’tah. In Sahih Muslim it is reported that Anas bin Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, said: "The Messenger of Allah said ...

((O my son.))" It was also reported by Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi ...

<But if you know not their father's (sic) then they are your brothers in the religion and Mawalikum (your freed servants).>

Here Allah commands that adopted sons should be given back their fathers' names, if they are known; if they are not known, then they should be called brothers in faith or freed servants, to compensate for not knowing what their real lineage is. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) Volume 7 (Surat An-Nur to Surat Al-Ahzab, Verse 50), abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, London, Lahore; First Edition: August 2000], pp. 634-637; bold and capital emphasis ours)

And, in reference to surah 33:40, Ibn Kathir writes:

<Muhammad is not the father of any of your men,>

After this it was not permitted to say Zayd bin Muhammad, i.e., he was not his father even though he had adopted him ... (Ibid., p. 701; bold emphasis ours)

Muslim jurist, Imam Malik, recorded:

Yahya related to me from Malik from Ibn Shihab that he was asked about the suckling of an older person. He said, ''Urwa ibn az-Zubayr informed me that Abu Hudhayfa ibn Utba ibn Rabia, one of the companions of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, who was present at Badr, adopted Salim (who is called Salim, the mawla of Abu Hudhayfa) as the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, adopted Zayd ibn Haritha. He thought of him as his son, and Abu Hudhayfa married him to his brother's sister, Fatima bint al-Walid ibn Utba ibn Rabia, who was at that time among the first emigrants. She was one of the best unmarried women of the Quraysh. When Allah the Exalted sent down in His Book what He sent down about Zayd ibn Haritha, 'Call them after their true fathers. That is more equitable in the sight of Allah. If you do not know who their fathers were then they are your brothers in the deen and your mawali,' (Sura 33 ayat 5) people in this position were traced back to their fathers. When the father was not known, they were traced to their mawla... (Malik's Muwatta, Book 30, Number 30.2.12)

In light of the foregoing, we must ask how could Muhammad be an example for others to emulate regarding the permissibility of marrying one's adopted son's divorcee when Allah went on to forbid the practice of adoption? Does this make any sense whatsoever?

The Qadi continues:

It is said that the Prophet’s(P) command to Zayd to keep Zaynb was to restrain the appetite which comes to the self from its desire. If we allow this, it must be that he saw her and suddenly thought her beautiful. Things like this are unobjectionable since it is the nature of the Banu Adam[2] to find beauty beautiful. The sudden glance is forgiven. Then he restrained himself from her and told Zayd to keep her.


It may be the case that a sudden glance can be forgiven, but when the glance causes a divorce then this becomes a major sin. It is the sin of adultery, a sin which God doesn't take lightly. The admission that Muhammad saw Zaynab and thought she was beautiful means that Muhammad had committed adultery in his heart. The fact that he went ahead and married the divorcee, instead of curtailing his adulterous desires, means that Muhammad and Zaynab were adulterers in the eyes of the true God:

"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." Matthew 5:31-32

According to the Lord Jesus, Zayd had no grounds for divorcing Zaynab, since neither party committed adultery, and their marriage was still binding when Muhammad married her. Thus, no matter what reason Muslims come up with, the moral problem still remains.

We now turn to the final point of our response:

Abu Bakr ibn Frak said that the Prophet(P) was free from hypocrisy and manifesting the opposite of what was inside him. Allh freed him of that when he said, "There is no fault in the Prophet in what Allah has decreed for him." (33:38) Whoever thinks that about the Prophet(P) has lied.


Let us see if, whether, the Muslim sources agree that Muhammad was free from hypocrisy:

Narrated 'Aisha:
A man asked permission to enter upon the Prophet. When the Prophet saw him, he said, "What an evil brother of his tribe! And what an evil son of his tribe!" When that man sat down, the Prophet behaved with him in a nice and polite manner and was completely at ease with him. When that person had left, 'Aisha said (to the Prophet). "O Allah's Apostle! When you saw that man, you said so-and-so about him, then you showed him a kind and polite behavior, and you enjoyed his company?" Allah's Apostle said, "O 'Aisha! Have you ever seen me speaking a bad and dirty language? (Remember that) the worst people in Allah's sight on the Day of Resurrection will be those whom the people leave (undisturbed) to be away from their evil (deeds)." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 59o)

The above hadith shows Muhammad acting hypocritically towards a person who he had just slandered behind his back! Thus, it is not at all evident that Muhammad was free of hypocrisy or of manifesting the opposite of what was inside him.

To summarize the data from the very Muslim source which MENJ cites approvingly, we learned that:

  1. Allah caused Muhammad to have desires for a married woman, for his adopted son's wife.
  2. Allah even caused Muhammad's son to divorce his wife so that Muhammad could then marry her.
  3. The reason why Allah did this was to show others that it was permissible for them to marry their adopted sons' former wives.
  4. Yet, later on, Allah forbids the adoption of children and does not allow any one to be called the child of someone other than his/her biological father.
  5. Therefore, Muhammad's marriage to Zaynab was unnecessary since Muslims have no chance of ever marrying the former wives of their adopted children, seeing that there is no more adoption in Islam!
  6. Furthermore, Muslims believe that Allah knows all things, which means that he knew beforehand that he was going to abolish the practice of adoption. Why, then, did he commission the divorce between Zayd and Zaynab, so as to allow Muhammad to marry the latter as a way of showing other Muslims that this practice is ok, when he already knew in advance that he would prohibit adoption altogether?

In light of the preceding, is it not rather obvious that Muhammad needed justification for marrying his adopted son's wife, his daughter-in-law, after having caused a rift in the marriage due to his desires for Zaynab which then led to the couple divorcing? Are we really supposed to believe that the true God not only put it in Muhammad's heart to desire a married woman, but also caused Zayd to divorce his wife in order that Muhammad could marry her? Does God really cause people to lust, to have adulterous desires?

Surprisingly, according to Islamic theology, he actually does:

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas:
I did not see anything so resembling minor sins as what Abu Huraira said from the Prophet, who said, "Allah has written for the son of Adam his inevitable share of adultery whether he is aware of it or not: The adultery of the eye is the looking (at something which is sinful to look at), and the adultery of the tongue is to utter (what it is unlawful to utter), and the innerself wishes and longs for (adultery) and the private parts turn that into reality or refrain from submitting to the temptation." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 77, Number 609)

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) as saying: Verily Allah has fixed the very portion of adultery which a man will indulge in, and which he of necessity must commit. The adultery of the eye is the lustful look, and the adultery of the tongue is the licentious speech, the heart desires and yearns, which the parts may or may not put into effect. (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6421, see also Number 6422)

How, then, can the Allah of Islam be the same God revealed in the Holy Bible? The answer is, he can't be, simple as that.

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