Zainab bint Muhammad (598—629 AD) is regarded as the eldest daughter of the Islamic prophet Muhammad by his first wife Khadijah.
She married her maternal cousin, Abu al-As ibn al-Rabi’, before August 610, and Khadija gave her a wedding present of an onyx necklace. They had two children, Ali, who died in childhood, and Umama.
Zainab became a Muslim soon after Muhammad first declared himself a prophet. The Quraysh pressured Abu al-As to divorce Zainab, saying they would give him any woman he liked in exchange, but Abu al-As said that he did not want any other woman, a stance for which Muhammad commended him. Muhammad had no jurisdiction over Mecca and therefore could not force them to separate, so they continued to live together despite Abu al-As’s refusal to convert to Islam. Zainab remained in Mecca when the other Muslims emigrated to Medina.
Emigration to Medina
Abu al-As was one of the polytheists who was captured at the Battle of Badr. Zainab sent the money for his ransom, including the onyx necklace. When Muhammad saw the necklace, he refused to accept any cash ransom for his son-in-law. He sent Abu al-As home, and Abu al-As promised to send Zainab to Medina.
Zainab accepted this instruction. About a month after the battle, Zainab’s adopted brother, Zayd, arrived in Mecca to escort her to Medina. She entered a howdah and her brother-in-law, Kinana, led the camel to Zayd in broad daylight. The Quraysh perceived this as an unnecessary flaunting of Muhammad’s triumph at Badr. A group of them pursued Zainab and overtook her at Dhu Tuwa. A man named Habbar ibn Al-Aswad threatened her with his lance and pushed her. She fell out of the howdah onto a rock. Kinana showed the arrows in his quiver and threatened to kill anyone who came any closer. Then Abu Sufyan arrived, telling Kinana to put away his bow so that they could discuss it rationally. He said that they had no intention of keeping a woman from her father in revenge for Badr, but that it was wrong of Kinana to humiliate the Quraysh further by parading her removal in public; he must do it quietly, when the “chatter” had died down. Kinana took Zainab home again. There she suffered a miscarriage, losing a great deal of blood, which she attributed to having been assaulted by Habbar.
A few nights later, Kinana took her quietly to meet Zayd, and he escorted her to Medina. Anas ibn Malik recalled seeing Zainab in Medina wearing a striped silk cloak.
Reunion with Abu al-As
Zainab did not see her husband again until September or October 627, when he entered her house in Medina by night, asking for protection. Muslim raiders had stolen some merchandise that he was keeping in trust for other Quraysh, and he wanted to try to recover it. The next morning, Zaynab sat among the women at dawn prayers and shouted: “I have given protection to Abu al-As ibn al-Rabi!” As soon as prayers were over, Muhammad confirmed that he had not known anything about it, but “the meanest Muslim can give protection. We protect whomever she protects.”He told Zainab to treat Abu al-As like a guest but not to touch him like a husband. Then he arranged for the Quraysh merchandise to be returned, and Abu al-As took it to its owners in Mecca.
Abu al-As then converted to Islam and returned to Medina. Muhammad restored his marriage to Zainab, and they resumed their married life.
Their reconciliation was short-lived, for Zainab died in May or June 629. Her death was attributed to complications from the miscarriage that she had suffered in 624. The women who washed her corpse included Baraka, Sawda and Umm Salama.