Az-Zubayr ibn Al-Awam was a companion of Muhammad and a commander in the Rashidun army.
Al-Zubayr was born in Mecca in 594.
His father was Al-Awam ibn Khuwaylid of the Asad clan of the Quraysh tribe, making Al-Zubayr a nephew of Khadijah. His mother was Muhammad’s aunt, Safiyyah bint ‘Abd al-Muttalib, hence Al-Zubayr was Muhammad’s first cousin. He had two brothers, Sa’ib and Abdul Kaaba; a maternal brother, Safi ibn Al-Harith, who was from the Umayya clan; and several paternal siblings, including Hind bint Al-Awwam, a wife of Zayd ibn Haritha.
While he was still a boy, Al-Zubayr fought an adult man and beat him up so fiercely that the man’s hand was broken. Safiya, who was pregnant at the time, had to carry the man home. When the passers-by asked what had happened, she told them, “He fought Al-Zubayr. Did you find Al-Zubayr soft like cheese or dates or full of brass?” That’s when they knew that he would grow up to be strong during war.
Al-Awam died while Al-Zubayr was still young. His mother used to beat him severely. When it was said to her, “You have killed him! You have wrenched his heart. Will you destroy the boy?” she replied, “I beat him so that he will be intelligent and will be bold in the battle.”
Al-Zubayr is described as of medium height, lean, dark-complexioned and hairy, though with a thin beard. His hair hung down to his shoulders, and he did not dye it after it turned white.
Conversion to Islam
Al-Zubayr was one of the first five men to accept Islam under the influence of Abu Bakr, and is said to have been the fourth or fifth adult male convert.
He was one of the first fifteen emigrants to Abyssinia in 615, and he returned there in 616. While he was in Abyssinia, a rebellion against the Negus (King) broke out. The Negus met the rebels on the banks of the Nile. The Muslims, greatly worried about losing their protector, delegated Al-Zubayr to be their news-bearer. Helped by an inflated waterskin, he swam down the Nile until he reached the point where the battle was being fought. He watched until the Negus had defeated the rebels, then swam back to the Muslims. He ran up waving his clothes and announced, “Hurrah, the Negus has conquered and God has destroyed his enemies and established him in his land!” The Muslims rejoiced.
Al-Zubayr was among those who returned to Mecca in 619 because they heard that the Meccans had converted to Islam. “But when they got near to Mecca, they learned that the report was false, so that they entered the town under the protection of a citizen or by stealth.”–168 However, Al-Zubayr did not name his protector.
Al-Zubayr joined the general emigration to Medina in 622. At first he lodged with Al-Mundhir ibn Muhammad. It is disputed who became Al-Zubayr’s “brother” in Islam: variant traditions name Abdullah ibn Masood, Talha ibn Ubaydullah, Kaab ibn Malik and Salama ibn Salama. Muhammad gave him a large plot of land to build his house and a grant of some palm trees. In 625 Al-Zubayr was given more palm trees from the land of the expelled Nadir tribe.
Military Activity under Muhammad
It is said that Al-Zubayr joined all of Muhammad’s military expeditions, typically dressed in a distinctive yellow turban.
At the Battle of Badr he was sent as a scout and he captured a Meccan spy. He then fought in the battle and killed Ubayda ibn Sa’id of the Umayya.
At the Battle of Uhud he volunteered to take up Muhammad’s sword “with its right,” which was to “smite the enemy with it until it bends,” and was “much mortified” when Muhammad rejected his offer. He was standing so close to the fleeing Meccan women that he could see Hind bint Utbah’s anklets. But it was at that point that the battle turned; Al-Zubayr was one of the handful of men who stood beside Muhammad when the Muslims in their turn fled and who accompanied him to the glen. “He was firm with him in the Battle of Uhud and he gave him allegiance to the death.”
During the Battle of the Trench, Al-Zubayr rode a roan horse. He volunteered to bring news of the Qurayza tribe to Muhammad, who responded, “Every Prophet has a disciple, and my disciple is Al-Zubayr.”
In 628 Al-Zubayr joined the expedition to Khaybar and answered Yasir the Jew’s challenge to single combat. His mother Safiya asked Muhammad, “Will he kill my son?” and Muhammad reassured her, “No, your son will kill him, Allah willing.” Al-Zubayr advanced reciting:
“Khaybar, know that I am Zabbar,
chief of a people no cowardly runaways,
the son of those who defend their glory,
the son of princes.
O Yasir let not all the unbelievers deceive you,
for all of them are like a slowly moving mirage.”
They fought, and Al-Zubayr killed Yasir. Afterwards the Muslims commented on how sharp his sword must have been; Al-Zubayr replied that it had not been sharp but he had used it with great force.
After the Muslims had conquered Al-Qamus, the Jewish treasurer, Kinana, was brought to Muhammad, but he refused to reveal where their money was hidden. Muhammad then ordered Al-Zubayr to “torture him until you extract what he has.” Al-Zubayr “kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead.” However, it was Muhammad ibn Maslama who actually decapitated Kinana, in retaliation for his brother Mahmud, who had been killed in the battle a few days earlier.
Al-Zubayr was later made one of the eighteen chiefs who each supervised the division of a block of booty-shares.
In December 629, on the eve of the Conquest of Mecca, Muhammad sent Al-Zubayr and Ali to intercept a spy who was carrying a letter to the Quraysh. When they could not find the letter in her baggage, they realised she must have concealed it on her person, so they threatened to strip her. The spy then produced the letter, which she had hidden in her hair, and Al-Zubayr and Ali brought it back to Muhammad, confident that the Muslims would now take Mecca by surprise.
When Muhammad entered Mecca, Al-Zubayr held one of the three banners of the Emigrants and commanded the left wing of the conquering army. He also fought at the Battle of Hunayn.
Career After Muhammad
In the third week of July 632, the Caliph Abu Bakr scraped together an army mainly from the Banu Hashim (the clan of Muhammad) to defend Medina from an imminent invasion by the apostate forces of Tulayha, a self-proclaimed prophet. The army included stalwarts like Zubayr, and Talha ibn Ubaidullah. Each of them was appointed as commander of one-third of the newly organised force. They had their roles during the Ridda Wars; however, they did not face any combat scenaria.
Al-Zubayr was the most successful field commander during the Muslim conquest of Egypt under Caliph Umar. He commanded a regiment in the decisive Battle of Yarmouk in 636, and in 640 he commanded the reinforcements sent to Amr ibn al-As in Egypt.
When Umar was dying in 644, he selected Al-Zubayr and five other men to elect the next Caliph. They duly elected Uthman, during whose caliphate, Al-Zubayr was not involved in political or military matters. Al-Zubayr was cautious about narrating ahadith about Muhammad even though he had been constantly in his company. As he explained to his son Abdullah, “I heard Allah’s Messenger say, ‘Anyone who tells a lie about me should take a seat in the Fire.'”
Wives and Children
Al-Zubayr married eight times and had twenty children.
1. Asma bint Abi Bakr. They were married before the Hijra of 622 and divorced when Urwa was young, i.e., around 645.
1.5. Khadija the Elder
1.6. Umm Al-Hasan
2. Umm Kulthum bint Uqba of the Umayya clan. They were married in 629, but “she disliked him,” and they were divorced in a matter of months. After their daughter was born, Umm Kulthum married Abdur Rahman bin Awf.
3. Al-Halal bint Qays of the Asad tribe.
3.1. Khadija the Younger
4. Umm Khalid Ama bint Khalid of the Umayya clan. She was one of the emigrants who returned from Abyssinia in 628.
5. Ar-Rabbab bint Unayf of the Kalb tribe.
6. Atiqa bint Zayd of the Adi clan, a widow of Umar.
7. Tumadir bint Al-Asbagh of the Kalb tribe, a widow of Abdur Rahman ibn Awf. Al-Zubayr divorced her only seven days after the wedding. She used to tell other women, “When one of you marries, she should not be deceived by seven days after what Al-Zubayr has done to me.” She did not, however, enlarge on the nature of the “deception”.
8. Umm Jaafar Zaynab bint Marthad of the Thaalaba tribe.
Al-Zubayr’s wives complained that he had “some harshness towards women”. Umm Kulthum asked him directly for a divorce, and when he refused, she tricked him into it by pestering him while he was busy with the ritual washing for prayer. Al-Zubayr complained, “She tricked me, may Allah trick her!” Muhammad advised him to propose to her again, but Al-Zubayr realized that, “She will never come back to me.” Atiqa only agreed to marry him on condition that he would never beat her.
The Battle of the Camel
Uthman was assassinated in 656. Al-Zubayr had reason to hope that he would be elected as the next Caliph, although he knew that his old ally Talha was also a strong contender. But Ali was elected, to the debate of Muhammad’s widow Aisha. Thereupon Al-Zubayr met with Aisha and Talha in Mecca, claiming he had only given allegiance to Ali at swordpoint.
Ali certainly behaved like a man who suspected hostility towards himself, for he soon entered Basra with a professional army of twenty thousand. For several days, there were negotiations, as both sides asserted they wanted only to see justice done. But on 7 December 656 hostilities erupted. Aisha’s warriors killed Ali’s messenger-boy, and Ali responded, “Battle is now justified, so fight them!” So
Al-Zubayr, however, had lost the desire to fight. He said that Ali had talked him out of it during the negotiations on the grounds that they were cousins; but his son accused him of fearing Ali’s army. Al-Zubayr left the battle-field while Aisha continued to direct her troops. A man named Amr ibn Jurmuz decided to track his movements and followed him to a nearby field. It was time for prayer so, after each had asked the other what he was doing there, they agreed to pray. While Al-Zubayr was prostrating, Amr ibn Jurmuz stabbed him in the neck and killed him.
In his will Al-Zubayr had left a house for all of his divorced daughters. He left a third of his property in bequests and instructed his son Abdullah to sell the rest of his property to pay off his debts, invoking Allah if any could not be paid. Abdullah found that the debts amounted to 1,200,000, presumably in dirhams. Although Abdullah went to some trouble to settle all the debts, Al-Zubayr’s four widows eventually inherited 1,100,000 each, leaving over 30,000,000 to be divided among his children.
Al-Zubayr ibn Al-Awam was one of the ten Muslims to whom Muhammad guaranteed Paradise while they were still alive.