Zayd. BY DAVID S. POWERS. Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion. Philadelphia: UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA PRESS, 2014. Pp x + 175. $55, [pounds sterling]36.
Zayd b. Haritha should have been one of the household names of early Islam. The only companion of the Prophet to be mentioned by name in the Quran, the Prophet's adoptive son, and the first adult male to embrace Islam--you would expect him to be up there with Abu Bakr, Umar, Ali, and the other well-known close companions. Yet few non-specialists will have heard of him. Those who do will most likely connect him to the memorable and controversial story of how Muhammad accidentally came to see the wife of a companion in a state of undress and fell in love with her, upon which said companion divorced her to allow Muhammad to take her as his wife. That selfless companion was Zayd. However, there are many more and important aspects to the life of this unobtrusive figure, and David Powers has set out to show the importance of why he has not been paid more attention.
The topic is linked to Powers's lifelong interest in historicizing Islamic inheritance law, to which belongs the question of what do adopted children inherit? The short answer is nothing, since there is no adoption in Islam. God abolished it in Q 33:4-6, and Zayd is central to the story behind this abolition. Powers discussed this issue in his monograph Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men in 2009 (see the review in JAOS 131 : 171-73). The present book takes up his argument, situating the story of Zayd in a wider literary tradition of father-son relationships in biblical and Jewish sources.
The book begins with the traditional narration of the story as we find it in the sira biographies of Muhammad: a member of the north Arabian Kinda tribe, the youngster Zayd b. Haritha was captured by raiders and sold as a slave in Mecca, where Muhammad's wife Khadija bought him and gave him to her husband as a wedding present. Muhammad took a liking to Zayd, freed him, and adopted him as his son: "I am his heir and he is mine." As part of the household, Zayd was the first to hear and accept Muhammad's revelation after Khadlja and his foster brother Ali (then still a child). After the hijra to Medina, Zayd took part in many campaigns and became a respected war leader. Then came the well-known episode of Zayd's wife Zaynab, referred to in Q 33:37, where God chides Muhammad for fearing the people's prattle rather than God's...