The Prophet’s (sa) Adopted Son

our role modelToday, adoption of children is no strange concept. Worldwide, it’s considered a highly noble deed that relieves needy and/or abandoned children from the throes of poverty. For infertile couples, it’s considered to be the perfect ‘solution’ for old-age loneliness. Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, provides the definition of adoption: “Adoption is the legal act of permanently placing a child with parents other than the birth parents. An adoption order has the effect of severing the parental responsibilities and rights of the birth parents and transferring those responsibilities and rights onto the adoptive parents. After the finalization of an adoption, there is no legal difference between adopted children and those born to the parents.” Legally, adopted children are named after their adoptive parents and inherit from them.

The Quran has also mentioned adoption, as it existed many centuries ago. Prophet Yusuf (as) and Prophet Moosa (as) were considered for adoption by the couples, who took them into their homes:

“And he (the man) from Egypt who bought him [Yusuf], said to his wife: ‘Make his stay comfortable: maybe he will profit us or we shall adopt him as a son.’” (Yusuf 12:21)

“And the wife of Firaun (Pharaoh) said [on finding Moosa (as) as a baby]: ‘A comfort of the eye for me and for you. Kill him not, perhaps he may be of benefit to us, or we may adopt him as a son.’ And they perceived not (the result of that).” (Al-Qasas 28:9)

Allah (swt) completed the Deen of Islam by establishing ordainments and prohibitions for all aspects of individual and communal life. Therefore, the Islamic law has laid down strict rules also regarding adoption. How? Years before he received the prophet-hood from Allah (swt), our Prophet Muhammad (sa) also had adopted a son, whose name was Zaid (rta). Zaid (rta) holds the privilege of being the only companion mentioned by name in the Quran. Allah (swt) nullified all relationships based on adoption by ordering Prophet Muhammad (sa) to marry Zaid’s divorced wife. Thus, Allah (swt) placed a permanent seal on the difference between blood relations and other bonds. Muslims today, therefore, cannot undertake adoption, unless they adhere to the limits imposed by Islam, which oblige that the adopted child should:

(i)           be informed that he/she is adopted;

(ii)         be named after his/her biological father: “Call them by (the names of) their fathers: that is more just in the sight of Allah.” (Al-Ahzab 33:5)

(iii)       not inherit from any adoptive relative, not even parents; (other than one third tht might be given to the adopted child as charity by the foster parents)

(iv)       observe the rules of Hijab on reaching puberty – an adopted daughter will become a non-Mahram for her ‘father’ and ‘brothers’, and an adopted son will become a non-Mahram for his ‘mother’ and ‘sisters.’

As feasible alternatives, Islam has strongly encouraged two other relationships that establish non-biological bonds:

(i)             Radaah (breast-feeding): a Muslim woman, who nurses a baby, becomes akin to the baby’s biological mother and a permanent Mahram.

(ii)           Patronage of orphans: several Quranic verses and authentic prophetic traditions encourage sponsorship of orphans.

Analyzing the Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) relationship with his adopted son before Revelation, one observes the same kind treatment he gave to all relations, be they children, kinfolk, slaves, neighbours, or wayfarers. Zaid Bin Harith (rta) was a slave-boy owned by Syeda Khadijah (rta), when she got married to the Prophet (sa). An Arab by ethnic origin, Zaid (rta) was dark-skinned and of unknown lineage. He had been captured during a raid on his tribe’s lodgings and sold as a slave in Makkah. In Arabia, masters had complete ownership rights over their slaves. Thus, the latter’s vulnerable position often opened the door to exploitation and oppression. Zaid (rta) could have suffered the same fate, but Allah (swt) had immense bounties in store for him instead, because after marriage, Khadijah (rta) gifted Zaid (rta) to the Prophet (sa) as a personal valet.

Several years later, Zaid’s (rta) father Harith heard that his son was residing in Makkah in one of its esteemed households. He eagerly came looking for him and offered a very large sum to Muhammad (sa) as his son’s ransom. Muhammad (sa) instead proposed that Zaid (rta) make the choice: if he wished, he could leave with his biological father; if he chose to stay, he could stay on with his master. The choice made by young Zaid (rta) is proof of our Prophet’s (sa) exceptionally kind nature: despite recognizing his father, he chose to stay with his master.

“No sooner had Zaid (rta) announced his choice, Muhammad (sa) took him by the hand to the Black Stone of the Kabah and publicly announced that he had adopted Zaid (rta) as his son. Harith was well-pleased with this situation and returned home. From then on, Zaid (rta) became known as ‘Zaid Bin Muhammad’, thus manumitted from slavery and raised in rank.” The Quran, therefore, mentions him thus:

“…on whom Allah had bestowed Grace (by guiding him to Islam) and you (O Muhammad (sa) too) have done favor (by manumitting him).” (Al-Ahzab 33:37)

Prophet’s Muhammad’s (saw) kindness to a dark-skinned slave-boy thus blessed the latter with one privilege after another:

  • Saabiq: When Prophet Muhammad (sa) became Messenger of Allah, Zaid (rta) was among the Saabiqoon – the first ones to embrace Islam.
  • Hijrah: He was among the first Muslims to emigrate to Madinah, where the Prophet (sa) arranged his first marriage. There, he begot a son called Usama Bin Zaid (rta), who was also loved dearly by the Prophet (sa).
  • Marriage into nobility: The Prophet (sa) married Zaid (rta) again, this time to his own cousin Syeda Zainab Bint Jahsh (rta), a pious lady from the Quraish, despite the difference in social status between them. When it was time to submit to Allah’s (swt) command of abolishing their father-son relationship, both complied – Zaid (rta) divorced Zainab (rta), reverted his name to Zaid Bin Harith, and Prophet Muhammad (sa) married his divorcee.
  • Martyrdom: Narrated Anas Bin Malik (rta): The Prophet delivered a sermon and said, “Zaid took the flag and was martyred, and then Ja’far took the flag and was martyred, and then ‘Abdullah Bin Rawaha took the flag and was martyred too, and then Khalid Bin Al-Walid took the flag though he was not appointed as a commander and Allah made him victorious.” The Prophet further added, “It would not please us to have them with us.” Aiyub, a sub-narrator, added, “Or the Prophet, shedding tears, said, ‘It would not please them to be with us.” (Bukhari)
  • Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book 52, Hadith No. 55:
    Narrated Anas Bin Malik: The Prophet delivered a sermon and said, “Zaid took the flag and was martyred, and then Ja’far took the flag and was martyred, and then ‘Abdullah Bin Rawaha took the flag and was martyred too, and then Khalid Bin Al-Walid took the flag though he was not appointed as a commander and Allah made him victorious.” The Prophet further added, “It would not please us to have them with us.” Aiyub, a sub-narrator, added, “Or the Prophet, shedding tears, said, ‘It would not please them to be with us.”
  • Zaid (rta) led an expedition as a military commander, which culminated in the Battle of Mutah, where Allah (swt) favoured him with the supreme honour of martyrdom. “The three commanders, Zaid (rta), Jafar (rta) and Ibn Rawahah (rta) all fell as martyrs. When the Prophet (sa) learned of their death, he was extremely sad. He said of them that they ‘were lifted to Paradise on thrones of pure gold, just as men see in their dreams.’”

We can learn from the Prophet’s (sa) example the virtue of rectifying our own behaviour with people inferior to us in social and economic status. Needy of livelihood, servants do our menial work, but we are quick to catch their mistakes and demean them. Instead, overlooking their faults and being polite is the best way to emulate the kindness our Prophet (sa) showed to his slave-boy – kindness that elevated the latter to a high status in this world and the Hereafter.

“Zaid took the flag and was martyred, and then Jafar took the flag and was martyred, and then Abdullah Bin Rawaha took the flag and was martyred too, and then Khalid Bin Al-Walid took the flag though he was not appointed as a commander and Allah made him victorious.” The Prophet further added, “It would not please us to have them with us.” (Bukhari)