Zaynab bint Jahsh comes from a noble lineage and well known family; her father was Jahsh ibn Rahab and her mother was Umaymah bint AdbulMuttalib. Part of that nobility was due to the fact that Zaynab’s family had been given the honour of keeping the keys of the Kaba. She was born 30 years before hijra and known to be charitable, generous, short and beautiful; she accepted Islam early during the Prophethood in Mekkah – may Allah be pleased with her. She came from an affluent family, yet she encountered great difficulties and faced them with patience when she and her family embraced Islam. She is a narrator of Prophetic narrations and verses of the Qur’an were revealed regarding situations she was involved with – including the verse of hijab and the verse that was revealed after defeating her pride for the sake of Allah.
She migrated from Mekkah to al-Madinah with her brothers and sisters to be with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). When she arrived in al-Madinah she lived the true life of sisterhood in Islam – it was not her lineage, beauty or popularity that honoured her, but it was Islam. Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said about Zaynab (may Allah be pleased with them), "I have never seen a woman so pure as Zaynab, so God-fearing, so truthful, so attentive to family ties, so generous, so self-sacrificing in everyday life, so charitable, and thus so close to Allah, the Exalted." (Bukhari)
She approached the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, to be assisted in marriage, and he suggested Zayd ibn Harithah (may Allah be pleased with them both). At first she was not pleased with this offer because Zayd was a freed slave and she felt this arrangement was not suiting. However, upon further encouragement, reflection and consultation she agreed to this marriage. The community evaluated people for marriage for their Islam, above and beyond the family origins – which is not an easy or simple process to do, as is shown in this case and this was when a verse was revealed about choosing Allah over all other things. Allah said:
"It is not for a believing man or a believing woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger, to have any say in their decision; and whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger has most clearly gone astray." (33:36)This marriage only lasted around one-year. Zayd would approach the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) for permission to divorce – for whatever reason this match did not work out. Thus, they divorced. Following the waiting months Allah revealed that it should be Prophet Muhammad who ought to marry the divorced Zaynab bint Jahsh (may Allah be pleased with her).
When the intention for marriage reached her, she responded that before deciding she first would pray two rak’ah for guidance. After which a verse was revealed to marry them and Zaynab became among the mothers of the believers (may Allah be pleased with her). She was a pious woman, and a woman of salaah – as is shown in her decision to first pray before responding to the request of marriage. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said to Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), "Zaynab bint Jahsh is one who is full of prayer." A man said, "Messenger of Allah, what is that?" He said, "The one who is humble and earnest in prayer." May Allah be pleased with her.
At the wedding there was no meat or fancy foods served, and a crowd of around three-hundred people attended this simple event. The guests stayed late and this is when Allah revealed the verse about entering the home of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), which is also the verse that relates to the wives of the Prophet (may Allah be pleased with them all) in how they are to dress, by covering completely. From this day forward, the wives stayed behind a barrier while they taught or gave religious rulings.
An interesting point that is not well known is that originally her name was Barrah, meaning an extremely pious and righteous woman. The name Zaynab was given by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) himself because the former name was one that could lead to arrogance.
Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) related that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) once said to his wives, "The one who has the longest hands among you will meet me again the soonest." Aisha added, "They measured each other's hands to see whose was longest, and it was the hand of Zaynab that was the longest, because she used to work by hand and give away (what she earned) in charity." When she passed away poor people wept because she gave so much in charity. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, in speaking of her to his other wives, "She is the most generous among you." She was the first of wives to die after the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Upon her death she left nothing, everything had been given away and she had even prepared for herself her shroud and in her will she denoted that anything that came to her after her death is to be given away in the cause of Allah.
May Allah be pleased with Zaynab bint Jahsh.