Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail – Zaid The Hanif
In the days before the advent of Islam, Arabia had become a corrupt environment, steeped in idolatry and injustice. There were still a few solitary individuals who adhered to the true faith established centuries ago in Arabia by Abraham and Ismail AS. These people eschewed worshiping idols and all that idolatry involved.
One of these people was Zaid bin `Amr bin Nufail. He would never offer sacrifices to idols or eat carrion and running blood. He used to say:
Is there one Lord or yet a thousand Lords
For me to worship in my many woes?
I turn away from Lât and from al-`Uzzâ
I am one who’s patient and endures.
I worship not al-`Uzzâ nor her daughters,
Nor the two idols held by Ibn `Amr,
Nor Ghanam who had been for us a Lord
From ancient times, until but recently.
I worship God, the Beneficent Lord
So He, Forgiving Lord, might waive my sins.
He also said:
I turn to Him who Abraham appealed to
For refuge, facing the Kaabah, standing in prayer,
Saying: I am humble, resolute
Whatever must befall me I’ll endure?
These verses paint the picture of a Muslim who presses his will to the service of Allah SWT, who is pleased with Allah’s decree, hoping for good from his Lord and turning to Him in refuge from what he fears. People like Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail were strangers among their people. They faced the severest form of estrangement in that time of ignorance, when believers in the truth were few.
Rasulullah SAW had met Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail. This was well before Rasulullah SAW had started to receive revelation.
Rasulullah SAW was served a meal and refused to eat from it. It was then presented to Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail who also refused to eat from it, and said: “I do not eat what you people slaughter over your idols. I only eat meat over which Allah’s name has been invoked.”
Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail used to reprove Quraish for their animal sacrifices, saying: “The sheep was created by Allah. Allah sent down the rains for it. He brought forth for it the vegetation from the Earth. Then you go ahead and sacrifice it invoking other than Allah’s name.” These words of his both rebuke their actions and glorify Allah at the same time.
It is related from Ibn `Umar that Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail traveled to Syria in search of a religion to follow. He met a Jewish scholar and asked him about his religion saying: “Perhaps I will embrace your faith, so inform me of it.” He said: “You will not be on our religion until you take your share of Allah’s wrath.”
Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail responded: “I flee from naught save the wrath of Allah! And I will not bear Allah’s wrath if I am able to avoid it. Can you guide me to something else?”
Then the Jewish scholar said: “I know of nothing except for you to be a Hanîf.”
Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail asked: “What is a Hanîf?”
The scholar answered: “The religion of Abraham,. He was neither a Jew nor a Christian and he worshipped none except Allah.”
Then Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail went forth until he came to a Christian scholar and made the same enquiry. The scholar replied: “You will not be on our religion until you take your share of Allah’s curse.”
Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail responded: “I flee from naught save the curse of Allah! And I will not bear Allah’s curse nor His wrath if I am able to avoid it. Can you guide me to something else?”
Then the Christian scholar said: “I know of nothing except for you to be a Hanîf.”
Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail asked: “What is a Hanîf?”
The scholar answered: “The religion of Abraham. He was neither a Jew nor a Christian and he worshipped none save Allah.”
When Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail saw what they had to say about Abraham (peace be upon him), left. When he went out, he raised his hands and said: “O Allah, I bear witness that I am on the religion of Abraham.”
Asmâ’, the daughter of Abû Bakr, said:
I saw Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail standing with his back against the Ka`bah saying: “O assembled tribesmen of Quraysh, no one from you is on the religion of Abraham except for me.”
Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail used to save the lives of newborn girls destined to be buried alive. He would say to a man who wanted to kill his daughter: “Do not kill her. I will support her.” He would then take her. After she grew up, he would say to her father: “If you wish, I will return her to you, or if you wish I will continue to support her on your behalf.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (4/232-233)]
Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail was not alone among the Arabs. There were a few others like him who worshipped Allah alone, followed the way of the Messengers, and eschewed the ways of polytheism. Likewise, there were still some Jews and Christians who remained steadfast on their religion.
All of those people were strangers in their times, living in a world of confusion, contradiction, and division. Indeed, Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail own uncle, Khattab ibn Nufail, was one of his main tormentors, despising him for not worshipping his tribes’ idols or eating the meat that they slaughtered.
When Allah sent Rasulullah SAW as a Messenger to the world, Rasulullah SAW message came to aid the truth that those people adhered to, just as it came to the aid of the persecuted believers – those who followed the previous scriptures as well as others. It also came in support of all the previous Messengers of Allah (peace be upon them).
This is part of the meaning of Allah’s statement: “We will without doubt help our messengers and those who believe both in the life of this world and on the Day when the witnesses will stand forth.” [Sûrah Ghâfir: 51]
Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail lived during the time before Islam, so he is not numbered in the history books among Rasulullah SAW Companions. However, his son, Sa’îd b. Zaid, would become one of the most illustrious of Rasulullah SAW Companions. He was one of the ten Companions who were given the glad tidings of Paradise while they were still alive.
Zaid the son of Amr stood away from the Quraish crowd as they celebrated one of their festivals. Men were dressed in rich turbans of brocade and expensive Yemeni burdahs. Women and children were also exquisitely turned out in their fine clothes and glittering jewelry. Zaid watched as sacrificial animals, gaily caparisoned were led out to slaughter before the Quraish idols. It was difficult for him to remain silent. Leaning against a wall of the Kabah, he shouted: “O people of Quraish! It is Allah Who has created the sheep. He it is Who has sent down rain from the skies of which they drink and He has caused fodder to grow from the earth with which they are fed. Then even so you slaughter them in names other than His. Indeed, I see that you are an ignorant folk.”
Zaid’s uncle al-Khattab, the father of Umar ibn al-Khattab, seethed with anger. He strode up to Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail, slapped him on the face and shouted: “Damn you! We still hear from you such stupidity. We have borne it until our patience is exhausted.” Al-Khattab then incited a number of violent people to harass and persecute Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail and make life extremely uncomfortable for him. These incidents which took place before Muhammad’s call to Prophethood gave a foretaste of the bitter conflict that was to take place between the upholders of truth and the stubborn adherents of idolatrous practices. Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail was one of the few men, known as hanifs, who saw these idolatrous practices for what they were. Not only did he refuse to take part in them himself, but he refuses d to eat anything that was sacrificed to idols. Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail proclaimed that he worshipped Allah of Ibrahim and, as the above incident showed, was not afraid to challenge his people in public.
On the other hand, his uncle Al-Khattab was a staunch follower of the old pagan ways of the Quraish and he was shocked by Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail public disregard for the gods and goddesses they worshipped. So he had him hounded and persecuted to the point where he was forced to leave the valley of Makkah and seek refuge in the surrounding mountains. He even appointed a band of young men whom he instructed not to allow Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail to approach Makkah and enter the Sanctuary.
Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail only managed to enter Makkah in secret. There unknown to the Quraish he met with people like Waraqah ibn Nawfal, Abdullah ibn Jahsh, Uthman ibn al-Harith and Umaimah bint Abdul Muttalib, the paternal aunt of Muhammad ibn Abdullah SAW. They discussed how deeply immersed the Arabs were in their misguided ways. To his friends, Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail spoke thus: “Certainly, by Allah, you know that your people have no valid grounds for their beliefs and that they have distorted and transgressed from the religion of Ibrahim. Adopt a religion which you can follow and which can bring you salvation.”
Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail and his companions then went to Jewish rabbis and Christian scholars and people of other communities in an attempt to learn more and go back to the pure religion of Ibrahim. Of the four persons mentioned, Waraqah ibn Nawfal became a Christian. Abdullah ibn Jahsh and Uthman ibn al-Harith did not arrive at any definite conclusion. Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail however had quite a different story. Finding it impossible to stay in Makkah, he left the Hijaz and went as far as Mosul in the north of Iraq and from there southwest into Syria. Throughout his journeys, he always questioned monks and rabbis about the religion of Ibrahim. He found no satisfaction until he came upon a monk in Syria who told him that the religion he was seeking did not exist any longer but the time was now near when Allah would send forth, from his own people whom he had left, a Rasul who would revive the religion of Ibrahim. The monk advised him that should he see this Prophet he should have no hesitation in recognizing and following him.
Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail retraced his steps and headed for Makkah intending to meet the expected Prophet. As he was passing through the territory of Lakhm on the southern border of Syria he was attacked by a group of nomad Arabs and killed before he could set eyes on the Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace. However, before he breathed his last, he raised his eyes to the heavens and said: “O Lord, if You have prevented me from attaining this good, do not prevent my son from doing so.” When Waraqah heard of Zaid’s death, he is said to have written an elegy in praise of him. Rasulullah SAW also commended him and said that on the day of Resurrection “he will be raised as having, in himself alone, the worth of a whole people”.
Allah, may He be glorified, heard the prayer of Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail. When Rasulullah SAW rose up inviting people to Islam, his son Said was in the forefront of those who believed in the oneness of Allah and who affirmed their faith in the Prophethood of Muhammad. This is not strange for Said grew up in a household which repudiated the idolatrous ways of the Quraish and he was instructed by a father who spent his life searching for Truth and who died in its pursuit. Said was not yet twenty when he embraced Islam. His young and steadfast wife Fatimah, daughter of al-Khattab and sister of Umar, also accepted Islam early. Evidently both Said and Fatimah managed to conceal their acceptance of Islam from the Quraish and especially from Fatimah’s family for some time. She had cause to fear not only her father but her brother Umar Al Khattab who was brought up to venerate the Kabah and to cherish the unity of the Quraish and their religion.
Umar was a headstrong young man of great determination. He saw Islam as a threat to the Quraish and became most violent and unrestrained in his attacks on Muslims. He finally decided that the only way to put an end to the trouble was to eliminate the man who was its cause. Goaded on by blind fury he took up his sword and headed for Rasulullah’s house. On his way he came face to face with a secret believer in Rasulullah who seeing Umar’s grim expression asked him where he was going. “I am going to kill Muhammad…” There was no mistaking his bitterness and murderous resolve. The believer sought to dissuade him from his intent but Umar was deaf to any arguments. He then thought of diverting Umar in order to at least warn Rasulullah SAW of his intentions.
“O Umar,” he said, “Why not first go back to the people of your own house and set them to rights?” “What people of my house?” asked Umar. “Your sister Fatimah and your brother-in-law Said. They have both forsaken your religion and are followers of Muhammad in his religion…” Umar turned and made straight for his sister’s house. There he called out to her angrily as he approached. Khabbab ibn al-Aratt who often came to recite the Quran to Said and Fatimah was with them then. When they heard Umar’s voice, Khabbab hid in a corner of the house and Fatimah concealed the manuscript. But ‘Umar had heard the sound of their reading and when he came in, he said to them: “What is this hainamah (gibbering) I heard?”
They tried to assure him that it was only normal conversation that he had heard but he insisted: “Hear it I did,” he said, “and it is possible that you have both become renegades.” “Have you not considered whether the Truth is not to be found in your religion?” said Said to Umar trying to reason with him. Instead, Umar set upon his brother-in-law hitting and kicking him as hard as he could and when Fatimah went to the defense of her husband, Umar struck her a blow on her face which drew blood. “O Umar,” said Fatimah, and she was angry. “What if the Truth is not in your religion? I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”
Fatimah’s wound was bleeding, and when Umar saw the blood he was sorry for what he had done. A change came over him and he said to his sister: “Give me that script which you have that I may read it.” Like them Umar could read, but when he asked for the script, Fatimah said to him: “You are impure and only the pure may touch it. Go and wash yourself or make ablutions.” Thereupon Umar went and washed himself, and she gave him the page on which was written the opening verses of Surah Ta-Ha. He began to read it and when he reached the verse, ‘Verily, I alone am God, there no deity but me. So, worship Me alone, and be constant in Prayer so as to remember Me, ‘he said: “Show me where Muhammad is.”
Umar then made his way to the house of Al-Arqam and declared his acceptance of Islam and Rasulullah and all his companions rejoiced. Said and his wife Fatimah were thus the immediate cause which led to the conversion of the strong and determined Umar and this added substantially to the power and prestige of the emerging faith. Said ibn Zaid RA was totally devoted to Rasulullah SAW and the service of Islam. He witnessed all the major campaigns and encounters in which Rasulullah SAW engaged with the exception of Badr. Before Badr, he and Talhah were sent by the Prophet as scouts to Hawra on the Red Sea coast due west of Madinah to bring him news of a Quraish caravan returning from Syria. When Talhah and Said returned to Madinah Rasulullah SAW had already set out for Badr with the first Muslim army of just over three hundred men.
After the passing away of Rasulullah SAW, Said bin Zaid RA continued to play a major role in the Muslim community. He was one of those whom Saidina Abu Bakr Siddiq RA consulted on his succession and his name is often linked with such companions as Uthman, Abu Ubaidah and Saad ibn Abi Waqqas in the campaigns that were waged. He was known for his courage and heroism, a glimpse of which we can get from his account of the Battle of Yarmuk. Said bin Zaid RA said: “For the Battle of Yarmuk, we were twenty four thousand or thereabout. Against us, the Byzantines mobilized one hundred and twenty thousand men. They advanced towards us with a heavy and thunderous movement as if mountains were being moved. Bishops and priests strode before them bearing crosses and chanting litanies which were repeated by the soldiers behind them.
When the Muslims saw them mobilized thus, they became worried by their vast numbers and something of anxiety and fear entered theft hearts. Thereupon, Abu Ubaidah stood before the Muslims and urged them to fight. “Worshippers of Allah” he said, “help Allah and Allah will help you and make your feet firm.” “Worshippers of Allah be patience and steadfast for indeed patience and steadfastness (sabr) is a salvation from unbelief, a means of attaining the pleasure of Allah and a defense against ignominy and disgrace.”
“Draw out your spears and protect yourselves with your shields. Don’t utter anything among yourselves but the remembrance of Allah Almighty until I give you the command, if Allah wills.” “Thereupon a man emerged from the ranks of the Muslims and said: “I have resolved to die this very hour. Have you a message to send to Rasulullah SAW, may Allah bless him and grant him peace?”
“Yes” replied Abu Ubaidah, “convey salam to him from me and from the Muslims and say to him: O Rasulullah, we have found true what our Lord has promised us.” “As soon as I heard the man speak and saw him unsheathe his sword and go out to meet the enemy, I threw myself on the ground and crept on all fours and with my spear I felled the first enemy horseman racing towards us. Then I fell upon the enemy and Allah removed from my heart all traces of fear. The Muslims engaged the advancing Byzantines and continued fighting until they were blessed with victory.”
Said bin Zaid RA was ranked by Rasulullah SAW as one of the outstanding members of his generation. He was among ten of the companions whom Rasulullah SAW visited one day and promised Paradise. These were Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Abdul Rahman ibn Awf, Abu Ubaidah , Talhah, Az-Zubair, Sad of Zuhrah, and Said the son of Zaid the Hanîf. The books of Rasulullah’s sayings have recorded his great praises of the Promised Ten (Al-‘asharatu-l mubashshirun) and indeed of others whom on other occasions he also gave good tidings of Paradise.