Zayd

Zayd

Zayd

Zayd

Synopsis

Although Muḥammad had no natural sons who reached the age of maturity, Islamic sources report that he adopted a man named Zayd shortly before receiving his first revelation. This "son of Muḥammad" was the Prophet's heir for the next fifteen or twenty years. He was the first adult male to become a Muslim and the only Muslim apart from Muḥammad whose name is mentioned in the Qur'an. Eventually, Muḥammad would repudiate Zayd as his son, abolish the institution of adoption, and send Zayd to certain death on a battlefield in southern Jordan.

Curiously, Zayd has remained a marginal figure in both Islamic and Western scholarship. David S. Powers now attempts to restore Zayd to his rightful position at the center of the narrative of the Prophet Muḥammad and the beginnings of Islam. To do so, he mines traces left behind in commentaries on the Qur'an, in biographical dictionaries, and in historical chronicles, reading these sources against analogues in the Hebrew Bible. Powers demonstrates that in the accounts preserved in these sources, Zayd's character is modeled on those of biblical figures such as Isaac, Ishmael, Joseph, and Uriah the Hittite. This modeling process was deployed by early Muslim storytellers to address two key issues, Powers contends: the bitter conflict over succession to Muḥammad and the key theological doctrine of the finality of prophecy. Both Zayd's death on a battlefield and Muḥammad's repudiation of his adopted son and heir were after-the-fact constructions driven by political and theological imperatives.

Excerpt

Many of the believers who formulated the Islamic foundation narrative were converts to Islam or their descendants. Inevitably these men and women were engaging in a conversation with earlier Jewish and Christian traditions, both written and oral. On the following pages, I shall attempt to demonstrate that the Muslims who related and transmitted stories about the subject of the present study—a man named Zayd—drew freely upon biblical and postbiblical texts, characters, themes, and motifs. At each stage of his life, the figure of Zayd—as well as that of his wife Zaynab and his son Usāma—is modeled on that of a different biblical or postbiblical figure. Initially, the audiences in whose presence these stories were related or performed would have been familiar with these biblical models. Over time, however, the interest of Muslims in biblical texts waned, and the textual links between the Islamic narratives and their biblical antecedents weakened and eventually were lost. Similarly, many readers of this book will have only a passing knowledge of these biblical figures. For this reason, I have divided each of the four chapters of this book into three sections: Islamic Narratives, Biblical Models, and Textual Encounters. in the Islamic Narratives section, I rely exclusively on Islamic sources. in the Biblical Models section, I summarize the relevant biblical and postbiblical stories that, in my view, served as literary models for the Islamic figures. Finally, in the Textual Encounters section, I identify the parallels between the Islamic figures and their biblical counterparts. Note well: I do not claim to have identified every relevant biblical model nor do I claim that every episode in the life of Zayd and his family is based on a biblical model.

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