A close relative of ‘Umar bin al-Khattab bin Nufail, Zayd bin ‘Amr bin Nufail was a determined man able to think independently of his surroundings. In pre-Islaamic Makkah, this was not an easy quality to nurture. Zayd bin ‘Amr resisted being trapped by the idol worship and ignorant beliefs of Makkah.
Zayd observed, painfully, his tribesmen believing in things that made absolutely no sense to him. Idolatry in itself ran against logic and the natural yearning of the human soul to be close to its Maker; but it was especially absurd in a city whose most important structure was the Ka‘bah, a House of worship built by Ibraaheem and dedicated to the worship of Allaah.
Zayd did not keep his feelings secret. One day, when throngs of the Quraysh celebrated a festival—with the men decked out in brocade turbans and posh Yemeni attire, women glittering with jewellery, and children in their best clothing, all to watch garlanded animals slaughtered before dozens of idols—Zayd couldn’t contain himself.
He shouted, “O people of Quraysh! It is God who created the sheep. He sends rain from the skies from which they drink and causes the fodder to grow from which they feed. You slaughter them in names other than His. You are an ignorant folk!”
Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Umar: The Prophet met Zayd bin ‘Amr bin Nufail in the bottom of the valley of Baldah before any Wahy came to the Prophet. A meal was presented to the Prophet but he refused to eat from it. (Then it was presented to Zayd) who said. “I do not eat anything which you slaughter in the name of your stone idols. I eat none but those things on which Allaah’s name has been mentioned at the time of slaughtering.” Zayd bin ‘Amr used to criticize the way Quraish used to slaughter their animals and used to say. “Allaah has created the sheep and He has sent the water for it from the sky and He has grown the grass for it from the earth; yet you slaughter it in other than the Name of Allaah. He used to say so for he rejected that practice and considered it as something abominable. [Saheeh al Bukhaaree]
When al-Khattab (a giant of a man), the father of ‘Umar and paternal uncle of Zayd, heard Zayd say this, he marched towards him and slapped him on the face: “Damn you! We hear such idiocy from you!” Thereafter, al-Khattab provoked some of Makkan youths to persecute Zayd and make his life unbearable, until Zayd was forced to leave the valley of Makkah and seek refuge in the surrounding mountains. All of this took place before Muhammad was called to prophethood.
Narrated Asmaa bint Abee Bakr: I saw Zayd bin Amr bin Nufail standing with his back against the Ka’bah and saying. “O people of Quraish! By Allah none amongst you is on the religion of Ibraaheem except me.” He used to preserve the lives of little girls: If somebody wanted to kill his daughter he would say to him. “Do not kill her for I will feed her on your behalf.” So he would take her. and when she grew up nicely. he would say to her father. “Now if you want her. I will give her to you. and if you wish. I will feed her on your behalf.” [Saheeh al Bukhaaree]
Muhammad bin Ishaaq from ‘Hisham b. Urwah from his father on the authority of his mother Asmaa b. Abee Bakr said that she saw Zayd as a very old man leaning his back on the Ka’bah and saying, ‘O Quraysh, By Him in whose hand is the soul of Zayd, not one of you follows the religion of Ibraaheem but I.’ Then he said: ‘O Allaah, if I knew how you wished to be worshipped I would so worship you; but I do not know.’ Then he prostrated himself.’
Waraqah bin Naufal, Uthman bin Al-Huwairith, Zayd bin ‘Amr and Ubaidullah bin Jahsh assembled at a place and began to think over their beliefs and actions. At last, each one of them showed disgust at the worship of idols and stones and set out to various places in search of the religion brought by Ibraaheem. Waraqah bin Naufal accepted Christianity and went through the Torah and the Gospel with rapt attention. Ubaidullah bin Jahsh found himself unshaken in the quest for religion seeking the worship of one God till Islam appeared and he earnestly embraced it. Then he migrated to Abyssinia and became a Christian. Uthman bin Huwairith joined Caesar of Rome and accepted Christianity.
Zayd bin ‘Amr would not regret his stand. In fact, he took it to a higher level when he left the region altogether, journeying throughout the land to find answers. His search took him as far north as Mosul in the north of Iraq and back southwest to Syria. In his journey, he asked monks and rabbis about the religion of Ibraaheem. But the answers did not satisfy him.
Finally, he came across a monk in Syria who was honest with Zayd and told him that the religion of Ibraaheem that he sought no longer existed. The monk, however, told him that this was about to change, for the time had come when Allaah would send forth, from Ibraaheem’s own lineage, a prophet who would revive the religion of Ibraaheem. The monk also told Zayd that he would never be mistaken about this prophet if he should ever see him. The monk said one more thing: this prophet would soon appear in the very city that Zayd had been forced to leave, Makkah.
Narrated Ibn ‘Umar: Zayd bin ‘Amr bin Nufail went to Sham inquiring about which deen to follow. He met a Jewish religious scholar and asked him about their religion. He said, “I intend to embrace your religion, so tell me something about it.” The Jew said, “You will not embrace our religion unless you receive your share of Allah’s Anger.” Zayd said, “I do not run except from Allah’s Anger and I will never bear a bit of it if I have the power to avoid it. Can you tell me of some other religion?” He said, “I do not know any other religion except the Hanif.” Zayd enquired, “What is Hanif?” He said. “Hanif is the religion of (the prophet) Ibraaheem who was neither a Jew nor a Christian and he used to worship none but Allah.” Then Zayd went out and met a Christian religious scholar and told him the same as before. The Christian said, “You will not embrace our religion unless you get a share of Allah’s Curse.” Zayd replied, “I do not run except from Allah’s Curse and I will never bear any of Allah’s Curse and His Anger if I have the power to avoid them. Will you tell me of some other religion?” He replied. “I do not know any other religion except Hanif.” Zayd enquired, “What is Hanif?” He replied. Hanif is the religion of (the prophet) Ibraaheem who was neither a Jew nor a Christian and he used to worship none but Allah.” When Zayd heard their statement about Ibraaheem. He left that place and when he came out. He raised both his hands and said. “O Allah! I make You my Witness that I am on the religion of Ibraaheem.” [Saheeh al Bukhaaree]
Zayd bin ’Amr neither accepted Judaism nor Christianity nor continued to tread the path of idolatry. He acknowledged as unlawful the use of blood and dead animals and gave up bloodshed and severing of ties with relatives. On inquiry he would say that he worshipped the Lord of Ibraaheem decried idolatry and counselled his people to desist from evil acts.
Zayd retraced his steps toward Makkah. His intentions were to meet this expected prophet. He believed in him though he had not met him. But as Zayd travelled through Lakhm, on the southern border of Syria, he was attacked by a group of bandits and killed before he could set eyes on the Muhammad as the Messenger of Allaah (peace be upon him). It is said that his last words were: “O Lord, if You have prevented me from attaining this good, do not prevent my son from doing so.”
The Prophet later during his messengership, praised Zayd bin ‘Amr, although he had died before meeting the Prophet (peace be upon him). Still, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said that on the Day of Resurrection Zayd “will be raised as a nation by himself.”
Allah answered Zayd’s final prayer, for Zayd’s son, Sa‘eed bin Zayd, became a Muslim when he was less than twenty. He and his wife, Fatimah (‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s sister) had become close followers of the Prophet. ‘Umar grew enraged at when he learnt that they had become believers, as the well-known conversion story of ‘Umar is recorded.