Zayd ibn Harithah: From Slavery to Commandership

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The Prophet (peace be upon him) loved Zayd so dearly due to his singular loyalty, greatness of spirit, conscientiousness, honesty, and trust worthiness. All this and more, made Zayd ibn Harithah or Zayd ‘the Beloved One’, as the Companions used to call him, hold a distinguished place in the Prophet’s heart.

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Neither Islam nor the Prophet took notice of descent or prestige.

`A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said: “The Prophet never sent Zayd on an expedition but as a commander and if his life had not been so short, he would have made him his successor.”

What Distinguishes Zayd?

Was it possible for anyone to be held in such great esteem by the Prophet? What was Zayd really like?

He was that boy who had been kidnapped, sold, and manumitted by the Prophet. He was this short, swarthy, snub-nosed man. Above all, he had a compassionate heart and a free soul. Therefore, he was raised to the highest position by his Islam and the Prophet’s love for him, for neither Islam nor the Prophet took notice of descent or prestige.

Muslims like Bilal , Suhayb, Khabbab, `Ammar, Usamah and Zayd were all alike according to this great religion. Each one of them played an important and distinctive role in giving impetus to the rapidly spreading religion. These saintly ones and commanders were the sparkling stars of Islam. Islam rectified life values when the Glorious Qur’an said:

Surely, the most honorable among you in the sight of Allah are the most pious of you. ( Al-Hujurat 49:13)

Moreover, it encouraged all promising talents and all pure, trustworthy, and productive potentialities.

Zayd’s Marriage

The Prophet married his cousin Zaynab to Zayd. It seems that Zaynab (May Allah be pleased with her) accepted that marriage because her shyness prevented her from turning down the Prophet’s intercession. Unfortunately, the gap between them widened every day, and finally their marriage collapsed.

The Prophet felt that he was , in a way, responsible for this marriage which ended up in divorce; therefore, he married his cousin and chose a new wife, Umm Kulthum bint `Uqbah for Zayd.

The slanderers and the enemies of the Prophet spread doubt concerning the legality of Muhammad’s marriage to his son’s ex-wife. The Qur’an refuted their claims by striking a distinction between sons and adopted sons. It abrogated adoption altogether saying:

Muhammad is not a father of any man among you, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the last of the Prophets. (Al-Ahzab 33:90)

Hence, Zayd was called after his father’s name once again, namely, Zayd ibn Harithah.

A Commander

Now, do you see the Muslim troops that marched towards the Battle of Al-Jumuuh? Their commander was Zayd ibn Harithah. Do you see those Muslims troops that marched to At- Tarf, Al-‘Iis and Hismii and other battles? The commander of all those battles was Zayd ibn Harithah. Truly, as `A’ishah said, “The Prophet never sent Zayd on as expedition but as a commander.”

At last, the Battle of Mu’tah took place. It seems that the Romans and their senescent empire were filled with apprehensions and forebodings about the rapid spread of Islam.

They saw it as a genuine and fatal threat to their very existence, especially in Syria, which bordered the center of the new, sweeping religion. Therefore, they used Syria as a springboard to the Arab Peninsula and the Muslim nation.

The Prophet realized that the aim of the Roman skirmishes was to test the Muslim combat readiness. Therefore, he decided to take the initiative and exhibit in action Islam’s determination to resist and to gain ultimate victory.

No Discrimination

On 1 Jumada al-Awwal,  A.H. 8, the Muslim army marched towards Al-Balqa’ in Syria until they reached its borders where Heraclius’s armies of the Romans and Arabicized tribes residing at the borders were. The Roman army pitched camp at a place called Masharif, whereas the Muslim army pitched camp near a town called Mu’tah. Hence, the battle was named Mu’tah.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) knew how important and crucial this battle was; therefore he chose for its command three of those who were worshippers by night and fighters by day.

Those three fighters sold their lives and property to Allah and renounced their needs and desires for the sake of great martyrdom which would pave their way to win Allah’s pleasure and to see Allah, the Generous. These three commanders were in succession: Zayd ibn Harithah, Ja`far ibn Abi Talib and `Abdullah ibn Rawahah.

Thus, the Prophet stood to bid farewell to his army and gave them his order saying, “Zayd ibn Harithah) is your first commander, but in case he is wounded, Ja`far lbn Abi Talib will take over the command, and if he is also wounded, `Abdullah ibn Rawahah will take it over.

Although Ja`far ibn Abi Talib was one of the Prophet’s closest friends who had valor, fearlessness, and good lineage, yet the Prophet chose him as the second commander after Zayd.

Thus, the Prophet stressed the fact that the new religion of Islam came to abolish corrupt human relationships based on false and superficial discrimination. It established new, rational human relationships instead.

It was as if the Prophet foresaw the proceedings of the imminent battle, for he assigned the command of the army to Zayd, Ja`far, and then `Abdullah and strangely enough, all of them were raised to Allah in the same order set by him.

Last Heroic Minutes

When the Muslims saw the vanguard of the Roman army, which they had estimated at 200,000 warriors, they were stunned by its enormity that surpassed all expectation. But since when did the battles of faith depend on number?

At that moment, the Muslims flung themselves into the battlefield regardless of the consequences or jeopardy. Their commander, Zayd, carried the Prophet’s standard and fought his way through the enemy’s spears, arrows, and swords. He was not so much searching for victory as for concluding his deal with Allah, Who has purchased the lives and properties of Muslims in exchange for Paradise.

Zayd saw neither the sand of Al-Balqa’ nor the Roman forces. The only things that he saw were the hills of Paradise and its green cushions. These images flickered through his mind like the fluttering flags that had announced his wedding day.

When he thrust and struck, he not only smote at the necks of his enemies, but also flung the doors open that stood in his way to the vast door through which he would reach the home of peace, the eternal Paradise and Allah’s company.

Zayd clung to his destiny. His spirit, on its way up to heaven, was overjoyed as it took its last glance at the body of its master that was not covered with soft silk but rather with pure bloodshed in the way of Allah. His serene smile widened when he saw the second commander, Ja`far, dart towards the standard and hold it high before it touched the ground.

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The article is excerpted from the book “Men Around the Messenger”, which is a translation based on Khalid Muhammad Khalid’s celebrated work in Arabic “Rijal Hawla Ar-Rasul” which represents the real inspirational stories of sixty-four Companions of the Prophet.

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