It is an awesome thing, to contemplate the impact that the wahy – the revelation of God – had on the Prophet Mohammed, his family, and his followers. The stories of his daughters bring this home to me in the most profound way. At the risk of projecting my own sensibilities onto those of women in a different time and culture, I have tried to imagine how they must have felt as their lives unfolded. The accounts I have read come from the Hadith collections of Bukhari, Muslim, and Ibn Kathir quoting Ibn Ishaq.
The Prophet Mohammed, pbuh, had four children who survived beyond the first few years of life, all girls, and all with his first wife, Khadija. They were, in order of birth, Zeinab, born in 600 AD, Ruqayya, Um Khulthum, and Fatima, the youngest. Fatima was the only one to survive the Prophet. She died six months after he did. The Prophet suffered the deaths of the other three before him.
Zeinab was ten years old when Prophet Muhammed received the first message of the wahy:
Iqra bismi Rabbika aladi khalaq….
Write in the name of your Lord who created
Can you imagine how the lives of these four little girls were transformed over time by these words, and those that followed? After their father received this message, he came home after being away for weeks, trembling and terrified. This must have been astonishing to them, because before this their father was, by all reports, a successful trader who was kind and generous and loved his family. He would probably have come home from long trips and gathered his daughters in his arms and given them presents. This time he curled into fetal position with his head in Khadija’s lap and said “Cover me.” And then he was overcome by anxiety and depression because he did not receive another revelation for (reports vary) months or years. He was afraid he had gone insane. What impact would this have had on four little girls whose family had been happy and prosperous until then?
And then, when the wahy returned and the Prophet began to share his message, things got progressively worse for them over time. At first it wasn’t too disruptive. As the first three girls grew older, they were engaged to members of their tribe, the Quraysh. Zeinab was married to Abulas Ibn Rabiyya (Khadija’s nephew). Zeinab had become a Muslim right after her mother, but Abulas could not accept the message of the Prophet.
Ruqayya and Um Khulthum were engaged to sons of the Prophet’s uncle, the wealthy, attractive and influential Abd al-Uzza, known as Abu Lahab – he of the glowing face.
But then, after the fifth revelation of the wahy, the Prophet gathered the Quraysh together and stood on the hill of As-Safa in Mecca and warned them about the coming of the last hour. This was one of the things that many members of Quraysh could not accept – that there would be a final Judgment Day, and life after death. This notion was new to them, and they could not accept it. Abu Lahab exclaimed “Was it for this purpose that you summoned us? May you be doomed!” Shortly after this, the 6th revelation came, Surah Al-Masad (The Twisted Strands):
Doomed are the hands of him of the glowing countenance, and doomed is he!
What will his wealth avail him, and all that he has gained?
[In the life to come] he shall have to endure a fire fiercely glowing,
together with his wife, that carrier of evil tales,
[who bears] around her neck a rope of twisted strands.
Abu Lahab’s wife was Arwa umm Jamil bint Harb ibn Umayyah; (she was a sister of Abu Sufyan and hence a paternal aunt of Mu’awiyah, who later founded the Umayyid dynasty – to give us another idea of how interconnected the Muslims and the unbelieving Quraysh were). The rope in this ayah refers to was a necklace that she used to always wear. She hated Muhammed and his followers so much that she would often, under cover of darkness, scatter thorns in front of the Prophet’s house to hurt him, and she was quite eloquent in persistently slandering him and his message. When she heard about the revelation of Surah al-Masad, she was furious. Abu Lahab ordered his sons to break their engagements. So Ruqayya and Um Khulthum, who had been promised marriage into one of the wealthiest and most influential families of their tribe, saw those who had arranged to be their in-laws growing to hate their father, and then breaking their engagements.
After the breakup of her first engagement, Ruqayya married Uthman Ibn Afan, (who later became the third Caliph). The persecution of the Muslims in Mecca got worse, and so Ruqayya and Uthman left with 81 other men and women to go to Abyssina, where there was a kind Christian king who Prophet Muhammed knew would shelter them. This was in 614 – four years after the first revelation. Ruqayya was probably 13 or 14 years old. She was a child bride in a strange land, away from her mother and sisters, and must have missed them terribly. She came back to Mecca after 8 years and found that Khadija, her mother had passed away. She was pregnant at the time, which was right before the Muslims had to flee to Medinah. She got sick, but made the journey to Medinah anyway, with her husband. She lost the baby and became depressed. She was bed-ridden for two years. In 624, while Prophet Muhammed was fighting in the Battle of Badr, Ruqayya died. She had been away from him for 8 years, and then lost her baby and then became too ill to leave her bed. Now he was unable to be at her side at her death, or even to attend her funeral. She was the first in his family to die after Khadija. After she died, her husband Uthman married Um Khulthum, her sister. They had no children. Um Khulthum also died young, at age 26. We do not know more than that about her life. Perhaps she also died from stress or pregnancy, we do not know.
Zeinab did not make the initial voyage to Medinah. Her husband would not convert to Islam, and would not allow her to join the others, even though she had converted. She must have heard of the deaths of her two sisters. After they left with her father, she never saw them again. In 624 AD, when Zeinab was 24 years old ?, the Muslims in Medinah fought a much larger and better-equipped army of Quraysh at a place called Badr, and won an amazing victory. After the battle, there were about 300 prisoners of war, one of whom was Zeinab’s husband. The Prophet debated what to do with those prisoners. He gathered Abu Bakr and Umar and asked their opinions. Abu Bakr suggested that they ask Quraysh for ransom so the community could benefit and then release them, which was the tradition when the Arabs fought each other at that time. Umar disagreed and advised the Prophet to kill them, stating that they were fighters who would go back to Mecca and return to fight the Muslims again and again. The Prophet thought about both opinions, and decided to take Abu Bakr’s advice. He released the prisoners of war in return for ransom money from Quraysh. After this, a revelation came, Surah Al-Anfal (8), Ayat 67-69:
It does not behoove a prophet to keep captives unless he has battled strenuously on earth. You may desire the fleeting gains of this world – but God desires [for you the good of] the life to come: and God is almighty, wise. 
Had it not been for a decree from God that had already gone forth, there would indeed have befallen you a tremendous chastisement on account of all [the captives] that you took. 
Enjoy then, all that is lawful and good among the things which you have gained in war, and remain conscious of God; verily God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. 
Commentators differ as to whether these ayat confirm the rightness of Abu Bakr’s advice and the Prophet’s decision, or confirm Umar’s position. It would seem however, that subsequent events support Abu Bakr’ and the Prophet’s action.
After the prophet offered to release the prisoners for ransom, Zeinab sent some money in exchange for her husband, Abulas, along with the necklace that her mother Khadija had given her when she married. When the Prophet saw the necklace he recognized it and he cried. He decided he could not make the decision to release Abulas because he could not be objective about his daughter’s husband. He told his companions to decide what to do with him. They released him and sent Zainab’s money, and necklace back to her. But the Prophet made a condition that Abulas then send Zeinab to Medinah, which he had refused to do before that. The Prophet sent his servant Zaid ibn Haritha to Mecca to bring her. Zainab was pregnant at the time. On their way back to Medinah, they were stopped by members of Quraysh, and the fear and stress she experienced made her miscarry her baby.
Around six years later, around year 8 AH, Abulas was leading a trade caravan and was attacked by a small group of Muslims. They captured the caravan, but he escaped. The closest place for him to go was Medinah, so he went to Medinah and asked for Zeinab’s house, and asked her to protect him. She took him in, stood on her roof, and pronounced “I am Zeinab bint Muhammad, and I give my protection to Abulas Ibn Rabiyya.” The Prophet heard her while he was praying in the mosque, and he asked the people “Have you heard what I just heard?” He said, “I didn’t know anything about this until now.” He went to Zeinab and said, “Take care of him, but don’t let him come close to you physically, because you are no longer legally married.” By this time, the Muslims were forbidden from marrying the non-Muslims.
Then the prophet gathered the Muslims and told them that Abulas Ibn Rabiyya was under his daughter’s protection, and suggested that they give him back the money that they had taken from the caravan (which was Quraysh’s money). They got all the bounty and gave it back to him. They released him and he went back to Mecca. He gave everyone in Mecca their money back, and asked them to confirm that they had all received their money. After they said yes, he said the Shehada and converted to Islam. He then went back to Medinah, for the third time, and he and Zeinab remarried. They lived together in Medinah for a year. They never had children, and Zeinab died a year later, at age 30.
The story of Fatima, the Prophet’s youngest daughter, is for another time. She spent more time at the Prophet’s side during the years of prophecy than any of the others. Suffice it to say here that she was the only one of the Prophet’s daughters who had children, two sons, Hassan and Hussein (who were later martyred), and two daughters. Fatima named her daughters after her sisters, Zeinab and Um Khulthum. We can only imagine that had she had a third, she would have named her Ruqayyah.. The Prophet, by all accounts, loved his daughters, and they all loved him. Yet because of his message they suffered so much, and he had to watch them suffer, and even die. And all they had to sustain them was the wahy. How great that power had to be – the power of the revelation – the power of their faith through such suffering. It is an awesome thing for us to ponder today - to remember their stories, and to thank God for our families and our blessings, and to ask God to give us the strength of faith whenever we are suffering.