there is so little mentioned about lady zainab bint khuzaimah, as her marriage to prophet muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was such a short one — less than a year, in fact — before she passed away.
she was the only wife of the prophet besides khadijah bint khuwaylid who passed on before her beloved husband. she was honored as a mother of the believers, as his other wives were, and while allah (god) may be pleased with all of them, she was the "lucky" wife who had her husband lead the funeral prayer over her body when she returned to allah.
during the last days of prophet muhammad's life, he expressed his wish that aishah — one of his wives — pass on before he did so that he would be able to ask for forgiveness for her, invoke mercy upon her, shroud her body, bury her, and pray for her. however, zainab bint khuzaimah was the mother of the believers who earned such a privilege when she met her grave at the tender age of 30.
lady zainab was given an additional title alongside being a mother of the believers. this title was "mother of the poor". the title was given to her even before the advent of islam as she would spend her time helping the poor and extending her wealth in their aid. thus, her persona shone through the following saying of prophet muhammad:
"people are like mines of gold and silver; those who were excellent in the jahiliyah (the pre-islamic time of ignorance), are excellent in islam when they have an understanding." (al-bukhari)
prophet muhammad always spoke of the poor as his next of kin. he championed their rights and equity by virtue of the quran, and warned believers that they would lose their statuses as believers if they did not wish the same for the poor as they did for themselves. "o aishah," he would say to his youngest wife, "love the poor and let them come near to you, and allah will draw you near to himself" (al-bukhari).
this was certainly true for zainab who, as reported by one of the leading biographers or prophet muhammad, ibn hisham, was given the title mother of the poor "because of her mercy, pity and benevolence towards the indigent" (ibn hisham 296).
according to muhammad fathi musa in his book the wives of prophet muhammad, zainab bint khuzaimah used to spend her wealth on the inhabitants of the most impoverished muslim district of her time. her charity and kindness were returned with constant prayers from this community, and that is probably why she is remembered as one of the noblest muslim women.
she is also remembered as someone who played a fundamental role in developing islam's strong societal landscape. it was through her work that social values were strengthened through supporting the poor and guarding the property and rights of orphans. through her example, many other muslims followed suit, and took very seriously the divine decree to safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable in society.
it is only befitting, then, that prophet muhammad would later wed zainab bint khuzaimah, the "mother of the poor". it is through allah's guidance that prophet muhammad was instructed to draw zainab bint khuzaimah close to him in holy matrimony as a wife and consultant. and when one reads between the lines of islamic history, there is always more than one way to revel in allah's divine wisdom.
much like the other wives, except for lady aishah, zainab was a widow when she married the prophet. her deceased husband, a brave warrior by the name of ubaidah ibn al-harith, was the first martyr during the battle of badr when his leg was severed by utbah ibn rabiah during the opening of the battle. ubaidah was then carried back to the troops by his two comrades hamzah ibn abd al-muttallib and ali ibn abi talib.
despite his loss of blood and severe pain, ubaidah's only concern was whether he would be considered a martyr in islam. he managed to ask prophet muhammad before departing from the world, and prophet muhammad soothed him by replying, "indeed, you are."
ubaidah managed to meet with his wife after his injury, and she cared for him until he finally left her. ubaidah died as one of the companions who were promised heaven.
his young wife, zainab, was widowed for a year before prophet muhammad was provided the decree to wed her. her marriage to him was therefore in equity, as her status was elevated to one of the mothers of the believers, carrying the pride and beauty of iconic muslims during the golden era of islam, much like her martyred husband, whose death has never been forgotten.
the battle of badr was such an important feat in islamic history that it is even mentioned in the quran. after all, it was through badr that the foundation of the islamic state was revealed, enabling it to fully develop, as the muslims reached their first milestone in islamic history.
if the islamic forces had been impeded or destroyed, the survival of the muslim community of that time may have been compromised, curbing any progressive developments of their civilization. they would have been seen as a hoax, a joke of arabia at that time, trying vainly to take on a large army of the powerful quraish in the name of a foreign faith.
with the pagans outnumbering the muslims by three men to one, the martyrs and their wives and children whom they left behind truly deserve the recognition as muslims who were willing to sacrifice so much for the cause of allah. considering the fact that zainab was so young, she could have begged her husband to refrain from leaving for the battle and to stay by her side for as long as his natural life permitted. instead, she stood by the prophet, his message, and her love for allah, and accepted the path that her husband took before meeting his death.
it is through muslims like ubaidah and zainab that this new islamic state became something to be reckoned with, and became a recognized and growing civilization in arabia.
prophet muhammad's marriage to zainab can be seen as a reward for her steadfastness to her faith, and the exemplary virtues she upheld as a young muslim woman who also had to endure the painful emigration from makkah to madinah with her peers of the same faith.
his marriage to her was out of compassion, as zainab had lost her beloved husband during a very emotional battle, yet remained patient and accepting of fate. it was due to her trust in the divine that she accepted her own fate with pride and confidence, knowing that her husband was a brave muslim who died fighting for a cause. but despite her loss, her charity persisted; she never looked back on her misfortune, but continued to support those whom she felt were truly in need.
when zainab married prophet muhammad, she became his fifth wife — fourth after the death of lady khadijah — and a fourth lodging was made for her adjoining the mosque, just like the other wives (sawdah, aishah, and hafsah).
her marriage also bore meaningful lines in history, and runs deeper than the average union between husband and wife. although initially the marriage was out of compassion towards another muslim, prophet muhammad also wed zainab through allah's direction for a special purpose.
zainab's father, khuzaimah, was from a bedouin tribe called amir. this marked an important alliance with another clan that was just beginning to come to terms with the new religion.
the chief of the amir tribe was an elderly gentleman by the name of abu bara, and though it had been reported that he never embraced islam at the time, he declared that he would not oppose the religion. his open mindedness and his acceptance of zainab's marriage to prophet muhammad opened doors for muslims to venture out of madinah and into areas that were known to be possible threats to them.
abu bara promised that as long as he was the chief of his tribe, the muslim community would fall under his protection, as long as they remained in the vicinities that fell under his wing. his open invitation and assurance of protection led the prophet to deploy 40 muslims to represent islam and spread the message of islam to the whole tribe.
although it turned out that there were a few bad apples who lingered under abu bara's rule, the majority of the amir tribe supported his call for muslim integration. it was through this union that political ties were strengthened between communities that had barely anything in common in the first place, except for a young wife who was married to a pious muslim leader.
lady zainab's marriage continues to dispel the false allegations that prophet muhammad married his younger wives out of lust. rather, all of his marriages were legal and dignified, and most importantly, muslims believe they were ordained by allah through wisdom that may not have been clear to all at the time, but the consequences of which we see in the unfolding of islam's messages until this very day.
a few short months rolled by, and lady zainab bint khuzaimah passed away. her departure was bittersweet as it was reportedly the same year that al-husain ibn ali — the prophet's first grandchild — was born. prophet muhammad buried zainab in al-baqi amongst the pious muslims who had passed before her, with the respect and love she deserved.
until today, she continues to be revered as one of the mothers of believers and the mother of the poor, sending out a strong message to muslims around the globe that adversities come with blessings, especially when one is close to allah.
zainab's life teaches us that although a woman might not bear children, she can still achieve the high status of a mother by taking care of, working with, and supporting the vulnerable and the needy.