13 – The Household

The bridegroom left his uncle’s house and went to live in the house of his bride. As well as being a wife, Khadijah was also a friend to her husband, the sharer of his inclinations and ideals to a remarkable degree. Their marriage was wondrously blessed, and fraught with great happiness, though not without sorrows of bereavement. She bore him six children, two sons and four daughters. Their eldest child was a son named Qasim, and Muhammad came to be known as Abu l-Qasim, the father of Qasim; but the boy died before his second birthday. The next child was a daughter whom they named Zaynab; and she was followed by three other daughters, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum, and Fatimah, and finally by another short-lived son.

On the day of his marriage, Muhammad set free of Barakah, the faithful slave he had inherited from his father; and on the same day Khadijah made him a gift of one of her own slaves, a youth of fifteen named Zayd. As to Barakah, they married her to a man of Yathrib to whom she bore a son, after whom she came to be known as Umm Ayman, the mother of Ayman. As to Zayd, he and some other youths had recently been bought at the great fair of ‘Ukaz by Khadijah’s nephew Hakim, the son of her brother Hizam; and the next time his aunt visited him Hakim had sent for his newly acquired slaves and invited her to choose one of them for herself. It was Zayd that she had chosen.

Zayd was proud of his ancestry: his father Harithah was of the great northern tribe of Kalb whose territory lay on the plains between Syria and Iraq: his mother was a woman of the no less illustrious neighboring tribe of Tayy, one of whose chieftains at that time was the poet-knight Hatim, famous throughout Arabia for his chivalry and his fabulous generosity. Several years had now passed since Zayd had been taken by his mother to visit her family, and the village where they were staying had been raided by some horsemen of the Bani Qayn, who had carried the boy off and sold him into slavery. Harithah, his father, had searched for him in vain; nor had Zayd seen any travelers from Kalb who could take a message from him to his parents. But the Ka’bah drew pilgrims from all parts of Arabia, and one day during the holy season, several months after he had become Muhammad’s slave, he saw some men and women of his own tribe and clan in the streets of Mecca. If he had seen them the previous year, his feelings would have been very different. He had yearned for such an encounter; yet now that it had at last come it placed him in a quandary. He could not deliberately leave his family in ignorance of his whereabouts. But what message could he send them? Whatever its gist, he knew, as a son of the desert, that nothing less than a poem would be adequate for such an occasion. He composed some verses which expressed something of his mind, but implied more than they expressed. Then he accosted the Kalbite pilgrims, and, having told them who he was, he said: “Speak unto my family these lines, for well I know that they have sorrowed for me:

Though I myself be far, yet take my words
Unto my people: at the Holy House
I dwell, amidst the places God hath allowed.
Set then aside the sorrows ye have grieved,
Weary not camels, scouring the earth for me,
For I, praise be to God, am in the best
Of noble families, great in all its line.”

When the pilgrims returned home with their tidings, Harithah at once set off for Mecca with his brother, Ka’b; and going to Muhammad they begged him to allow them to ransom Zayd, for as high a price as he might ask. “Let him choose,” said Muhammad, “and if he choose you, he is yours without ransom; and if he choose me, I am not the man to set any other above him who chooseth me.” Then he called Zayd and asked him if he knew the two men. “This is my father,” said the youth, “and this is mine uncle.” “Me thou knowest,” said Muhammad, “and thou hast seen my companionship unto thee, so choose thou between me and them.” But Zayd’s choice was already made and he said at once: “I would not choose any man in preference to thee. Thou art unto me as my father and my mother.” “Out upon thee, O Zayd!” exclaimed the men of Kalb. “Wilt thou choose slavery above freedom, and above thy father and thine uncle and thy family?” “It is even so,” said Zayd, “for I have seen from this man such things that I could never choose another above him.”

All further talk was cut short by Muhammad, who now bade them come with him to the Ka’bah; and standing in the Hijr, he said in a loud voice: “All ye who are present, bear witness that Zayd is my son; I am his heir and he is mine.”[1]

The father and the uncle had thus to return with their purpose unachieved. But the tale they had to tell their tribe, of the deep mutual love which had brought about this adoption, was not an inglorious one; and when they saw that Zayd was free, and established in honor, with what promised to be a high standing amongst the people of the Sanctuary such as might benefit his brothers and other kinsmen in years to come, they were reconciled and went their way without bitterness. From that day the new Hashimite was known in Mecca as Zayd ibn Muhammad.

Among the most frequent visitors to the house was Safiyyah, now Khadijah’s sister-in-law, the youngest of Muhammad’s aunts, younger even than himself; and with her she would bring her little son Zubayr, whom she named after her elder brother. Zubayr was thus well acquainted with his cousins, the daughters of Muhammad, from his earliest years. With Safiyyah came also her faithful retainer Salma, who had delivered Khadijah of all her children, and who considered herself to be one of the household.

As the years passed there were occasional visit from Halimah, Muhammad’s foster-mother, and Khadijah was always generous to her. One of these visits was at a time of severe and widespread drought through which Halimah’s flocks had been seriously depleted, and Khadijah made her a gift of forty sheep and a howdah camel.[2] This same drought, which produced something like a famine in the Hijaz, was the cause of a very important addition to the household.

Abu Talib had more children than he could easily support, and the famine weighed heavily upon him. Muhammad noticed this and felt that something should be done. The wealthiest of his uncles was Abu Lahab but he was somewhat remote from the rest of the family, partly no doubt because he had never had any full brothers or sisters amongst them, being the only child of his mother. Muhammad preferred to ask for the help of ‘Abbas, who could well afford it, being a successful merchant, and who was close to him because they had been brought up together. Equally close, or even closer, was ‘Abbas’s wife, Umm al-Fadl, who loved him dearly and who always made him welcome at their house. So he went to them now, and suggested that each of their own households should take charge of one of Abu Talib’s sons until his circumstances improved. They readily agreed, and the two men went to Abu Talib, who said  when he heard their proposal: “What what ye will, but leave me ‘Aqil and Talib.” Ja’far was now about fifteen, and he was no longer the youngest of the family. His mother Fatimah had borne yet another son to Abu Talib, some ten years younger, and they had named him ‘Ali. ‘Abbas said he would take charge of Ja’far, whereupon Muhammad agreed to do the same for ‘Ali. It was about this time that Khadijah had borne her last child, a son named ‘Abd Allah, but the babe had died at an even earlier age than Qasim. In a sense he was replaced by ‘Ali, who was brought up as a brother to his four girl cousins, being about the same age as Ruqayyah and Umm Kulthum, somewhat younger than Zaynab and somewhat older than Fatimah. These five, together with Zayd, formed the immediate family of Muhammad and Khadijah. But there were many other relatives for whom he felt a deep attachment, and who have a part to play, large or small, in the history which here is chronicled.

Muhammad’s eldest uncle, Harith, who was now dead, had left many children, and one of the sons, his cousin Abu Sufyan, was also his foster-brother, having been nursed by Halimah amongst the Bani Sa’d a few years after himself. People would say that Abu Sufyan was of those who bore the closest family likeness to Muhammad; and amongst the characteristics they had in common was eloquence. But Abu Sufyan was a gifted poet -perhaps more gifted than his uncles Zubayr and Abu Talib- whereas Muhammad has never shown any inclination to compose a poem, though he was unsurpassed in his mastery of Arabic, and in the beauty of his speech.

In Abu Sufyan, who was more or less his own age, he had something of a friend and a companion. A little closer by blood kinship were the numerous children of his father’s full sisters, that is, of ‘Abd al-Muttalib’s five eldest daughters. Amongst the eldest of these cousins were the children of his aunt Umaymah who had married a man named Jahsh, of the North Arabian tribe of Asad.[3] He had a house in Mecca, and it was possible for a man who lived amongst a tribe other than his own to become, by mutual alliance, the confederate of a member of that tribe, into which he thus became partly integrated, sharing up to a point its responsibilities and its privileges. Harb, now chief of the Umayyad[4] branch of the clan of ‘Abdu Shams, had made Jahsh his confederate, so that by marrying him Umaymah could almost be said to have married a Shamsite. Their eldest son named after her brother ‘Abd Allah, was some twelve years younger than Muhammad, and the two cousins had a great affection for each other. Umaymah’s daughter Zaynab, several years younger than her brother, a girl of outstanding beauty, was included in this bond. Muhammad had known and loved them both from their earliest childhood; and the same was true of others, in particular of Abu Salamah, the son of his aunt Barrah.

The powerful attraction which centered on al-Amin -as he was so often called- went far beyond his own family; and Khadijah was with him at that center, loved and honored by all who came within the wide circle of their radiance, a circle which also included many of her own relations. Particularly close to her was her sister Halah whose son, Abu l-‘As, was a frequent visitor to the house. Khadijah loved this nephew as if he had been her own son; and in due course -for she was continually sought after for help and advice- Halah asked her to find a wife for him. When Khadijah consulted her husband, he suggested their daughter Zaynab, who would soon be of marriageable age; and when the time came they were married.

The hopes of Hashim and Muttalib -the two clans counted politically as one- were set upon Muhammad for the recovery of their waning influence. But beyond all question of clan, he had come to be considered by the chiefs of Quraysh as one of the most capable men of the generation which would succeed them and which would have, after them, the task of maintaining the honor and the power of the tribe throughout Arabia. The praise of al-Amin was continually upon men’s lips; and it was perhaps because of this that Abu lahab now came to his nephew with the proposal that Ruqayyah and Umm Kulthum should be betrothed to his sons ‘Utbah and ‘Utaybah. Muhammad agreed, for he thought well of these two cousins, and the betrothals took place.

It was about this time that Umm Ayman became once more a member of the household. It is not recorded whether she returned as a widow, or whether her husband had divorced her. But she had no doubt that her place was there, and for his part Muhammad would sometimes address her as “mother”, and would say of her to others: “She is all that is left me of the people of my house.”[6]


[1] I.S. III/1, 28
[2] I.S. I/1, 71
[3] Asad ibn Khuzaymah, a tribe to the north-east of Mecca, whose territory lay at the northern extremity of the plain of Najd. It is not to be confused with the Quraysh clan of Asad.
[4] Named after Harb’s father Umayyah, son of ‘Abdu Shams
[5] I.S. VIII, 162
[6] I.I. 125

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