Female Heroines of Islam - Part I
Throughout the history of Islam, numerous are the stories of Muslim men who put everything on the line for the sake of Allah and the Ummah. Men such as: Umar Bin Al Khattab, Khalid Bin Walid, Amr al Aas and others.
We read the exploits and achievements of such heroic men, and cannot help but to wonder...Were there any heroic Muslim woman? Were Muslim women as active as their men in pursuing the establishment of Islam? After reviewing the lives of the Sahabiyat (women companions), one is surprised to learn that indeed they were as active as their male counterparts.
In this lecture we shall know about the lives of some of these Sahabiyat, and review their exploits and achievements; and hopefully, by the end of the lecture, obtain not only knowledge of some of the heroines of Islam, but also a better understanding of Muslim women in general.
We begin with the story of Um Haram bint Malhan. She was the aunt of Anas bin Malik and her ambition was to be martyred in the way of Islam.
She was the first woman of the Ansar to embrace Islam and the Prophet (pbuh) held her in high regard. He used to visit her home and rest there when tired. Um Haram felt grateful for his presence and considered serving him to be a great honor. When asked why he would visit her home so often, the Prophet (pbuh) replied that he felt a sense of pity for the family ever since he saw two of her brothers martyred in the battle of Bir Maoonah. He visited her to see to her needs and comfort her.
Once while visiting, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “From among my Ummah an army will sail on the sea as a king sits on his throne.” Um Haram asked if she would be one amongst this army. “Yes,” he answered. “You will be one of the foremost amongst them.”
Both Um Haram’s first husband and son fought with the Prophet (pbuh) during the battle of Badr. They were later martyred during the battle of Uhud. She remarried and had more sons.
During the Caliphate of Uthman, Muawiya the son of Abu Sufyan was given permission to conquer Cypress. For this battle the first Muslim naval force was put together. Um Haram along with her husband Ubadah bin Samit accompanied this naval force. After arriving in Cypress, the Muslim’s docked fleet of ships and set out to survey the enemy territories. Um Haram climbed onto a mule to travel on land, but unfortunately the mule became frightened by something and as a result Um Haram was thrown to the ground. In the process her neck was broken and she died. Thus she attained the martyrdom she desired, and the prophecy was foretold by the Messenger of Allah -pbuh- had come true. Um Haram was buried there in Cypress where her tomb remains to this day.
Um Haram was not the only woman in her family known for courage and dedication of faith. Her sister, Um Sulaym was just as God-fearing and daring. Like her sister, Um Sulaym was one of the first of the Ansar women to accept Islam; and her decision was made without the knowledge or consent of her husband who was away on a journey. Upon returning from his journey, Um Sulaym’s husband felt a change in his family. His wife explained to him that she has accepted the religion of Muhammad (pbuh).
Um Sulaym’s husband became furious especially after seeing the fervor that his son Anas had for this new faith. After much domestic violence, Um Sulaym’s husband left the home and was later killed.
When it became known that Um Sulaym was widowed, a rich man named Abu Talha approached her for marriage. He was confident that she would accept his proposal being that he was not only rich, but handsome and popular amongst the people as well. Abu Talhah reached Umm Sulaym's house. He asked and was given permission to enter. Her son Anas was present. Abu Talhah explained why he had come and asked for her hand in marriage.
"A man like you, Abu Talhah ," she said, "is not (easily) turned away. But I shall never marry you while you are a kafir, an unbeliever."
Abu Talhah thought she was trying to put him off and that perhaps she had already preferred someone wealthier and more influential. He said to her:
"What is it that really prevents you from accepting me, Umm Sulaym? Is it the yellow and the white metals (gold and silver)?"
"Gold and silver?" she asked somewhat taken aback and in a slightly censuring tone. "Yes," he said. And she said: "I swear to you, Abu Talhah, and I swear to God and His Messenger that if you accept Islam, I shall be pleased to accept you as a husband, without any gold or silver. I shall consider your acceptance of Islam as my dowry."
Abu Talhah understood fully the implication of her words; and he thought about the idol he himself carved from wood, which he worshipped. As if reading his mind, Um Sulaym said; "Don't you know Abu Talhah that the god you worship besides Allah grew from the earth?" "That's true," he said.
"Don't you feel stupid while worshipping part of a tree while you use the rest of it for fuel to bake bread or warm yourself? (If you give up these Foolish beliefs and practices) and become a Muslim, Abu Talhah, I shall be pleased to accept you as a husband and I would not want from you any sadaqah apart from your acceptance of Islam."
"Who shall teach me in Islam?" asked Abu Talhah. "I shall," Umm Sulaym replied. "How?” he asked.
"Utter the declaration of truth and testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. Then go to your house, destroy your idol and throw it away."
Abu Talhah left and reflected deeply on what Umm Sulaym had said. Later he came back to her beaming with happiness.
"I have taken your advice to heart. I declare that there is no god but Allah and I declare that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah."
Thus, Umm Sulaym and Abu Talhah were married. Anas, her son, was pleased and the Muslims would say: "We have never yet heard of a dowry that was more valuable and precious than that of Umm Sulaym for she made Islam her dowry."
Abu Talhah and Umm Sulaym had an exemplary Muslim family life, devoted to the Prophet -pbuh- and the service of Muslims and Islam. The Prophet -pbuh- used to visit their home. Sometimes when the time of Prayer came, he would pray on a mat provided by Umm Sulaym. Sometimes also he would have a siesta in their house and, as he slept, she would wipe the perspiration from his forehead. Once when the Prophet awoke from his siesta, he asked: "Umm Sulaym, what are you doing?" "I am taking these (drops of perspiration) as a barakah (blessing) which comes from you" she replied.
In addition to her strength of faith, Um Sulaym was also noted for her courage and bravery. During the Battle of Uhud, she carried a dagger in the folds of her dress. She also gave water to and cared for the wounded. When the Prophet (pbuh) was left alone on the battlefield during this battle, she was one of the women who ran to protect him from the enemy.