In the Battle of Mu'tah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) stood to pay his farewell to the departing Muslim army on its way to fight the Romans and to announce the name of the three successive commanders of the army: "Zaid Ibn Haarithah is your first commander, but in case he is wounded, Ja'far Ibn Abi Taalib will take over the command, and if the latter is wounded then `Abd Allah Ibn Rawaahah will replace him."
But who was Zaid Ibn Haarithah. Who was the beloved one of the Prophet (peace be upon him)?
Narrators and historians described his appearance as short, dark swarthy, and snub-nosed. As for his reality, he was truly a great Muslim.
If we go back in time, we will see Haarithah, Zaid's father, just putting the luggage on the camel that was to carry his wife, Su'dah, to her family. Haarithah paid his farewell to his wife who carried Zaid - at that time a young child - in her arms. But every time he was about to leave his wife and child who were going with a caravan, to return to his house and work, he was driven by a mysterious and inexplicable urge to keep his wife and son in sight; yet it was time for them to set out on their way and Haarithah had to pay his last farewell to his wife and head back home. His tears flowed as he said goodbye and stood as if pinned to the ground until he lost sight of them. At that moment he felt broken-hearted.
Su'dah stayed with her family for a while. One day, suddenly her neighborhood was attacked by one of its opposing tribes. Taken by surprise, Bani Ma'n were defeated and Zaid lbn Haarithah was captured along with other war prisoners. His mother returned home alone. When Haarithah heard the sad news, he was thunderstruck. He traveled everywhere and asked everyone about his beloved Zaid. He recited these lines of poetry on the spur of the moment to lament the loss of his son:
At that time, slavery was a recognized and established social fact that turned into a necessity. This was the case in Athens, which had long enjoyed a flourishing civilization, in Rome, and in the entire ancient world, including the Arab Peninsula. When the opposing tribe attacked the Bani Ma'n, it headed to the market of 'Ukaadh, held at that time, to sell its prisoners of war. The child Zaid, was sold to Hakim Ibn Huzaam, who gave him to his aunt Khadiijah as a gift. At that time, Khadiijah was married to Muhammad Ibn 'Abd Allah but the revelation had not yet descended to him. However, he enjoyed all the promising great qualities of Prophets (peace be upon him). Khadiijah, on her part, gave her servant Zaid as a gift to her husband, Allah's Prophet. He was very pleased with Zaid and manumitted him straight away. His great and compassionate heart overflowed with care and love towards the boy.
Later on, during one of the Hajj seasons, a group of Haarithah's tribe ran into Zaid in Makkah and told him about his parents anguish and grief eversince they had lost him. Zaid asked them to convey his love and longing to his parents. He told them,
"Tell my father that I live here with the most generous and loving father."
No sooner did his father know his son's whereabouts than he hastened on his way to him, accompanied by his brother.
As soon as they reached Makkah, he asked about the trustworthy Muhammad. When he met him, he said, "O son of lbn Abd Al-Muttalib! O son of the master of his tribe! Your land is one of security and sanctuary and you are famous for helping the distressed and sheltering the captive. We have come here to ask you to give us back our son. So please confer a favor on us and set a reasonable ransom for him." The Prophet knew the great love and attachment Zaid carried in his heart for him, yet at the same time, he respected Haarithah's parental right. Therefore, he told Haarithah, "Ask Zaid to come here and make him choose between you and me. If he chooses you, he is free to go with you, but if he chooses me then, by Allah, I will not leave him for anything in the world." Haarithah's face brightened, for he did not expect such magnanimity; therefore, he said, "You are far more generous than us." Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) summoned Zaid. When he came he asked him, "Do you recognize these people?" Zaid said,
"Yes, this is my father and this is my uncle."
The Prophet (peace be upon him) told him what he had told Haarithah. Zaid replied,
"I will not choose anyone but you, for you are a father and an uncle to me."
The Prophet's eyes were full of thankful and compassionate tears. He held Zaid's hand and walked to the Ka'bah, where the Quraish were holdinga meeting, and cried out, "I bear witness that Zaid is my son, and in case I die first, he will inherit from me, and in case he dies first, I will inherit from him." Haarithah was overjoyed, for not only had his son been manumitted but he had also become the son of the man who was known by theQuraish as "The Honest and Trustworthy". Moreover, he was a descendant of Bani Haashim and was raised to a high station among his people.
Zaid's father and uncle returned back home leaving their son safe and sound after he had become master of himself and after the Prophet (peace be upon him) had set to rest their fears concerning his fate.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) adopted Zaid and from that moment on he was known as Zaid Ibn Muhammad.
Suddenly, on a bright morning whose brightness has never been seen before or since, the revelation descended on Muhammad: "Read! In the name of your Lord who created - created mankind from something which clings; read! And your Lord is the Most Noble; who taught by the pen; taught mankind what he did not know " (96:1-5). Then the revelation continued: "O you encovered--- Arise and warn! And magnify your Lord" (74:1-3). "O Messenger! Proclaim the message which has been sent down to you from your Lord. And if you do not, then you have not conveyed His message. Allah will protect you from mankind. Verily, Allah guides not the people who disbelieve" (5 : 61).
As soon as the Prophet (peace be upon him) had shouldered the responsibility of his message, Zaid submitted himself to Islaam. Narrators said that he was the second man and more probably the first man to embrace Al-Islaam.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) loved Zaid so dearly due to his singular loyalty, greatness of spirit, conscientiousness, honesty, and trust worthiness. All this and more, made Zaid Ibn Haarithah or Zaid the Beloved One, as the Companions used to call him, hold a distinguished place in the Prophet's heart (peace be upon him). `Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said,
"The Prophet (peace be upon him) never sent Zaid on an expedition but as a commander and if his life had not been so short, he would have made him his successor."
Was it possible for anyone to be held in such great esteem by the Prophet? What was Zaid really like?
As we have mentioned, he was that boy who had been kidnapped, sold, and manumitted by the Prophet (peace be upon him). 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 (peace be upon him) took notice of descent or prestige. Muslims like Bilaal, Suhaib, Khabbaab, 'Ammaar, Usaamah and Zaid were all alike according to this great religion. Each one of them played an importantand distinctive role in giving impetus to the rapidly spreading religion. These saintly ones and commanders were the sparkling stars of Islaam. Islaam rectified life values when the glorious Qur'aan said: "Surely, the most honorable among you in the sight of Allah are the most pious of you " (49:13). Moreover, it encouraged all promising talents and all pure, trustworthy, and productive potentialities.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) married his cousin Zainab to Zaid. It seems that Zainab (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 and came to an end. The Prophet (peace be upon him) felt that he was, in a way, responsible for this marriage which ended up in divorce; therefore, he married his cousin Zainab and chose a new wife, Umm Kulthuum Bint 'Uqbah for Zaid. 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'aan refuted their claims by striking a distinction between sons and adopted sons. It abrogated adoption altogether saying: "Muhammed is not a father of any man among you, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the last of the Prophets." (33:90). Hence, Zaid was called after his father's name once again, namely, Zaid Ibn Haarithah.
Now, do you see the Muslim troops that marched towards the Battle of Al-Jumuuh? Their commander was Zaid Ibn Haarithah 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 Zaid Ibn Haarithah. Truly, as 'Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) said,
"The Prophet never sent Zaid 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 (peace be upon him) 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. On 8 A.H., the Muslim army marched towards Al-Balqaa' 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 Mashaarif, 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: Zaid Ibn Haarithah, Ja'far Ibn Abi Taalib and Abd Allah Ibn Rawaahah (may Allah be pleased with them and they with Him, and may Allah be pleased with all the Companions). Thus, the Prophet (peace be upon him) stood to bid farewell to his army and gave them his order saying, "Zaid Ibn Haarithah is your first commander, but in case he is wounded, Ja'far lbn Abi Taalib will take over the command, and if he is also wounded, 'Abd Allah Ibn Rawaahah will take it over."
Although Ja'far lbn Abi Taalib was one of the Prophet's closest friends who had valor, fearlessness, and good lineage, yet the Prophet chose him asthe second commander after Zaid. Thus, the Prophet (peace be upon him) 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 Zaid, Ja'far, and then 'Abd Allah and strangely enough, all of them were raised to Allah in the same order set by him. 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, Zaid, 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.
Zaid saw neither the sand of Al-Balqaa' 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. 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. Zaid clung to his destiny. His spirit, on its way up to heaven, was overjoyed as it took its last glance towards the body it once resided in, which wasn't covered with soft silk but rather with pure blood shed in the way of Allah.
Source: Men around the Messenger