Published in  
April 2, 2024

Know Your Heroes: Zayd ibn Harithah

Zayd ibn Harithah was from the Qahtani branch of the Arabs from Yemen. Like Prophet Yusuf عليه السلام, Zayd ibn Harithah رضي الله عنه was unfairly sold as a slave in the market of Okaz. He was adopted by Prophet Muhammad as his own son. Zayd would go on to rise and become among the first people to accept Islam and become a leader of the Muslims.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “None of you have faith until I am more beloved to him than his children, his father, and all of the people.” [Bukhari]

This hadith always fascinated me and the story of Zayd ibn Harithah رضي الله عنه recently came up in one of our discussions. His life is such an amazing physical manifestation of this hadith.

Who is Zayd? Zayd ibn Harithah was from the Qahtani branch of the Arabs from Yemen. Zayd's mother and father were from two different tribes that had a love-hate relationship: One day, Zayd's mother, Su'dah bint Tha'laba, took Zayd, who at the time was 7 or 8 years old, to her own tribe; and right at that time, it so happened that a small fight broke out between Zayd's father's and mother's tribes — and Zayd's distant relatives from his mother's side got so angry, they took Zayd, kidnapped him from his own mother, and sold him into slavery to get revenge at his father's tribe — because in Jahiliyyah, the son belongs to, and takes the lineage of, the father. And so, Zayd was sold in the grand fairs of Ukkadh (Okaz) —the largest marketplace which took place after the hajj season.

Like Prophet Yusuf عليه السلام, Zayd ibn Harithah رضي الله عنه was unfairly sold as a slave in the market of Okaz for 400 dirhams. He was bought by Hakim ibn Hizam, the nephew of Khadijah رضي الله عنها. When his aunt called upon him on his arrival to Makkah, he presented Zayd to her as a gift. When she got married to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, she gave Zayd as a gift to him.

His father was still searching for his lost son. Merchants travelling back from Makkah recognized Zayd and told the father. The father immediately set out for Makkah on hearing this accompanied by his brother. Upon his arrival to Makkah, they both went to see Muhammad ﷺ and requested him to set their son free for a reasonable ransom. Muhammad ﷺ responded by saying that he would leave the matter to Zayd. If Zayd wanted to go with his father, he was free to go without any ransom. However if he wanted to stay with him, then his father must allow him to do so.

Harithah was jubilant at this offer from the Prophet ﷺ. When Zayd was called and asked whether he recognized the men before him, he replied, ”Yes, he is my father and my uncle.” After that he was told about the offer of his leaving with his father and being set free. To this he responded, ”I would never leave you (Muhammad ﷺ) for anything in this world.”

Hearing his son’s response, Harithah was both surprised as well as shocked to know that his son preferred to stay a slave and not go as a free man with him to his own tribe. To set the father's heart at ease, the Prophet ﷺ took Zayd by hand to Ka'bah and announced that he had adopted Zayd as his son. That from now on he was to be Zayd ibn Muhammad, and he would inherit from me and I would inherit from him.

* Zayd ibn Harithah رضي الله عنه is one of the first people to accept Islam.

* Zayd رضي الله عنه was raised in the Prophet's ﷺ house just like his own son. Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه famously said, “I never knew Zayd except as Zayd Ibn Muhammad until the ayah, 'Call them by (the names of) their fathers was revealed.'" [Ahmad]. This gives us a glimpse of the love and the way the Prophet ﷺ treated him.

* Zayd رضي الله عنه was married to at least three, if not five wives throughout the course of his life. His first wife was Umm Ayman, a slave who belonged to Abdallah, the father of the Prophet ﷺ. When they had Usamah, he was born inside the house of the Prophet ﷺ. He grew up nurtured in this blessed house and in the company of Hassan and Hussayn رضي الله عنهم.

* Usamah رضي الله عنه was dearly beloved to the Prophet ﷺ such that he was famously known among the sahaba as, the beloved, son of the beloved. The sahaba used to ask Usamah to take forth their requests to the Prophet ﷺ. He is one of the three who accompanied the Prophet ﷺ when he entered the Ka'bah.

* Zayd رضي الله عنه was the only person to accompany the Prophet to Taif and became his support when everyone else had abandoned him.

* Zayd رضي الله عنه is the only sahabi mentioned by name in the Qur'an (Surah A-Ahzab, 37) and his name will be on the tongue of the Muslims around the world till the end of times.

* Zayd رضي الله عنه was sent to accompany the family of the Prophet when they made hijrah from Makkah to Madinah.

* After hijrah to Madinah, Zayd was paired with Hamza ibn Abdul Muttalib رضي الله عنه. It is reported that Hamza even entrusted Zayd with his wasiyyah. By relationship, Hamza would be the grand uncle of Zayd.

* Aishah رضي الله عنها reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ never dispatched Zayd ibn Harithah with an army but that he appointed him commander over them. If he had lived after the Prophet, he would have appointed him as the Caliph. [Ahmad]

* Whenever the Prophet ﷺ went out of Madinah, Zayd رضي الله عنه was appointed as the Governor of Madinah in his absence.

* During his caliphate, Umar رضي الله عنه gave Usamah a stipend of 3500 while he granted his own son, Abdullah, with only 3000. When Abdullah enquired the reason for this preferential treatment, despite his precedence in battles, Umar said, "Because Zayd was more beloved to the Messenger of Allah than your father, and Usamah was more beloved to the Messenger of Allah you. So I gave preference to the beloved of the Messenger of Allah over my beloved.” [Tirmidhi]

* Zayd رضي الله عنه was an extremely talented warrior and archer. He was martyred in the Battle of Mutah as the Commander of the Muslims in 8 A.H. at the age of 55.

One takeaway from this is how we respond when we are told about the Sunnah. Do we immediately submit, accept, and try to better ourselves? Or do we say that our fathers and grandfathers were doing a certain action, and they cannot be wrong, so we will not leave it? Let's reflect and better ourselves.

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