Monday, April 22, 2013

Women around the Prophet: His Supporters from Madinah

Events and stories are easier to remember than names.  Thus, while the event of the Second Pledge of al-Aqabah is known to many, the names of two female participants are expectedly known only to a few.  

In the same vein, many Muslims know that during the Battle of Uhud, a group of Companions had used their bodies as human shields in order to protect the Prophet from being killed by the disbelievers.  Of this group, one of them was woman.  I bet not that many among us know who she was, or that she was one of the women who participated in the Second Pledge of al-Aqabah.

Similarly, many must have heard of a story about one female companion whose dowry was for her suitor to become a Muslim.  Few perhaps, know her name, or that she was the mother of Anas bin Malik, the well-known hadith narrator. 

Finally, we may likewise be familiar with the story of the invasion of Cyprus, the first naval battle engaged by the Muslims.  Many would perhaps know that one of them was woman, but few I suspect know who she was.

Having described some of the female companions of the Prophet from Makkah, as we have seen in the previous entry, we now turn to some of the women from Madinah, whose lives had been touched by the Prophet. 

The Second Pledge of al-Aqabah was the event that marked the turning point in the fate of Islam.  This event had led to the migration of the Prophet and his Companions from Makkah to Madinah.  This migration had enabled the Prophet to establish the first Islamic state.  With him as the supreme leader in Madinah, the Muslims were soon made equal to their enemies in Makkah.

The First Pledge of al-Aqabah took place a year before the second pledge, and it was called the Women Pledge, although no woman took part in it.  The second pledge, on the other hand, was called the Pledge of War, although there were two women in it, and women did not normally engage in war.  One may find this curious, but the reason is quite simple. 

In the first pledge, the people of Madinah were not required to defend the Prophet militarily.  In the second pledge, however, they were required to protect the Prophet with their lives, should the occasion arise.  Since men generally fight in the battle, not women, the pledge that does not involve military action is therefore termed as Women Pledge, although those taking part were all men.

The first of two women who took part in the Second Pledge of al-Aqabah was Umm Ammarah.  Her full name is Nusaybah bint Ka'ab b. 'Amr b. 'Auf b. Mabdhul b. 'Amr b. Ghanm b. Mazin b. al-Najjar.  She was the prominent one.  The other female participant in this pledge, Asma’ bint Amr, was a more obscure figure.  It is said that she was known as Umm Manee, and that she was the mother of a well-known companion, Mu’adh bin Jabal.  Other than this, little is reported about her.

Umm Ammarah was more prominent because she had played a major role during the Battle of Uhud.  She did not originally participate in the Battle of Uhud as a soldier, for she was a woman, and the Prophet only asked the men to fight.  The role of women was to provide assistance: to bring water, to care for the wounded, or to collect arrows shot by the enemies. 

But when Umm Ammarah saw that many Muslims were running helter skelter, and that the Prophet was quite exposed to the pursuing enemies, with only a handful of soldiers protecting him, she took the sword and joined the companions who were defending the Prophet.  The Prophet was reportedly saying that whichever direction he turned his face, he saw Umm Ammarah fighting the enemies, defending him.  This indicates how close the enemies were to the Prophet, and how precarious the situation was.

Umm Ammarah was badly wounded in that Battle, and suffered the pain throughout her life.  Yet, she continued to play active role in the struggle for Islam.  She died shortly after the Battle of al-Yamamah, against the army of Musaylamah the Liar.  This took place shortly after the death of the Prophet, during the reign of Abu Bakar.

Before the Prophet died, he had sent the son of Umm Ammarah, Habeeb, as one of his two envoys to al-Yamamah, to meet Musaylamah the Liar.  Musaylamah asked Habeeb whether he believed Muhammad to be the Messenger of Allah, to which Habeeb said yes.  Musaylamah then asked Habeeb whether he believed Musaylamah to be the Messenger of Allah as well, to which Habeed answered he can’t hear. 

That response incensed Musaylamah, and he had Habeeb’s limbs cut off, urging the latter to confess that he too was the Messenger of Allah.  Habeed died with his faith intact.  When the news reached Umm Ammarah, she vowed to avenge her son’s execution.  It was for this reason that Abu Bakar allowed her to go to al-Yamamah during the Apostasy War.  When the tribe of Banu Hanifah, the people of Musaylamah, was soundly defeated, and Musaylamah himself was killed, Umm Ammarah’s vow was fulfilled.  She did not live long after that.

Equally well known among the Ansari female companions (female companions from Madinah) is Umm Sulaym.  Like Umm Manee who had a well-known son, Mu’adh bin Jabal, Umm Sulaym also had a well-known son, Anas bin Malik.  Unlike Umm Manee, whose prominence was due to her son, Umm Sulaym was prominent on her own accord.  Stories about her are numerous.  Among her famous story is the bridal gift that she asked for her second marriage, as we allude to earlier.

Umm Sulaym, whose name is Rumaysa bint Milhan b. Khalid b. Zayd b. Haram b. Jundub b. 'Amir b. Ghanm b. 'Ady b. al-Najjar, was among the earliest Muslim women in Madinah.  She married twice.  He first husband was Malik bin an-Nadr, the father of Anas.  Her second husband was Abu Talha al-Ansari.  When Islam came to Madinah, Umm Sulaym chose to embrace it, but not her husband, Malik.  He divorced her for that, and left Madinah to live in Syria, and died there shortly thereafter.

Now that Umm Sulaym was available to be married, Abu Talha came to ask her hand in marriage.  Abu Talha was not yet a Muslim at that time.  Instead of saying yes, Umm Sulaym said: “Abu Talha, don’t you know that the god you worship grows out of earth?”  Since Abu Talha worshipped an idol made of wood, he replied in affirmative.  Umm Sulaym then added: “Are you not ashamed of worshipping the tree?”

Had Abu Talha did not come to ask for her hand in marriage, he might have given her a good slap on her face.  But perhaps because he still entertained the thought of marrying her, he just kept quiet. 

“I have embraced Islam, and I do not want any bridal gift from you other than your acceptance of Islam,” Umm Sulaym added.  To that, Abu Talha replied he would think about it.  When faith subsequently entered Abu Talha, they were married.

Like Umm Ammarah, Umm Sulaym also took active part in the struggle for Islam, and participated in many major battles.  Similarly, like Umm Ammarah, her participation was non-combatant.   While Umm Ammarah sprang into action to defend the Prophet in the Battle of Uhud, which took place in 3 AH, Umm Sulaym also did likewise in the Battle of Hunayn, which took place about a month after the conquest of Makkah. 

In this Battle, the Muslims were at first complacent due to their superiority in number.  The enemies, therefore, managed to surprise the Muslims with their determined attack.  Consequently, the Muslim army was thrown into confusion.  In the heat of the moment, Umm Sulaym took her dagger trying to protect the Prophet against the approaching enemies. 

Unlike the case of Umm Ammarah, however, Umm Sulaym’s husband (Abu Talha) was with her.  He pushed her aside and took her place to defend the Prophet, saving his wife from danger, while at the same time defending the Prophet.  For that reason, Umm Sulaym was not hurt, unlike the case of Umm Ammarah.

As mentioned earlier, Umm Sulaym (whose given name was Rumaysa) was the daughter of Milhan.  Now, the house of Milhan was one of the houses that the Prophet used to visit frequently.  The house of Milhan also produced another illustrious woman, Umm Haram, the sister of Umm Sulaym.

Like her sister Umm Sulaym, Umm Haram was also among the earliest Muslim women in Madinah.  Unlike her sister, however, her husband, Qays bin Zaid bin Sawad also became Muslim, but he died in the Battle of Uhud.  Henceforth, she married Ubada bin Samit, one of the learned Companions.  Together with her husband, she took part in about all major struggles for Islam, especially in the conquest of Sham and Egypt.  But Umm Haram was most renowned for her part in the Conquest of Cyprus, being the only woman who participated in that expedition.

Muawiyah bin Abu Sufyan, the general who led the expedition to Cyprus, would not have brought Umm Haram along, because this was the first time that the Muslims were crossing the seas as the soldiers.  Muawiyah, then the Governor of Sham, had recognized the importance of having a military base in Cyprus, because the coastlines of Sham (greater Syria) were too exposed to the Romans.  He had requested the permission from Umar al-Khattab, the Caliph at that time, to allow him to conquer the island of Cyprus, but Umar disagreed, not wanting to expose the Muslims to danger, for the Arabs then were not familiar with sea battles. 

When Umar died, Muawiyah managed to convince Uthman, the successor of Umar, to give him permission to conquer Cyprus, on the condition that the participation must be voluntary.  No soldier should be coerced to join if he was not willing to participate in this uncharted water.  It goes without saying that women were discouraged to participate in this venture.  But Umm Haram was given an exception, because years back, the Prophet had a vision that the Muslims would cross the Green Sea (Mediterranean Sea) as victorious soldiers.  This vision came to him when he took a nap at the house of Milhan, and Umm Haram happened to be there.

After the Prophet woke up from his short nap, Umm Haram noticed a smile on his face, and enquired what the smile was for.  The Prophet replied: “Some people among my followers were shown to me riding the Green Sea like kings over their thrones.”  To that, Umm Haram said: “O Messenger of Allah, invoke Allah that I will be one of them.”

On another occasion, similar thing happened, and Umm Haram asked similar thing to the Prophet, to which the Prophet replied: “You are one of them.”

It was for this reason that Umm Haram was allowed to join the expedition.  While Muawiyah was not superstitious, he must have regarded the vision to be a good omen; hence his decision to allow Umm Haram to join the expedition. 

Umm Haram died and was buried in Cyprus, in the year 28 AH. 

Like their counterparts in Makkah, the women from Madinah also played active roles in Islam.  Islam would not have flourished without them.  Although generally less famous, the service of these women to Islam was no less great.  And it is not only those from Makkah and Madinah who were outstanding in their service for Islam.  There were many others who came from somewhere else, but we shall content ourselves with only a few of them, as narrated in this and the previous parts. 

There is one famous name that I have deliberately omitted here.  She was Umm Hani, the sister of Ali.  Her name could be found in almost all books on Seerah, particularly with the event of the Miraculous Night Journey (Isra’ Mi’raj) and the Conquest of Makkah.

I have mentioned her name in passing in the Introductory Remarks, but I have deliberately omitted the story about her in this series because of one special reason.  Umm Hani deserves special mention, because a number of Internet sites have been spewing a curious tale about her love affair with the Prophet.  They say that the Prophet was passionately in love with her. 

We shall look into this strange tale in our next installment, inshaAllah.

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