Monday, March 11, 2013

Women around the Prophet: Introductory Remarks

Names like Khadijah, Aisha, Aminah, Fatimah and Umm Jamil are practically known to every Muslim.  The first two were the Prophet’s wives, the third was his mother, the fourth was his daughter, and the last one was his fierce enemy. 

Other names like Fatimah bint Amr, Fatimah bint Asad and Barakah are less well known, except to the students of Seerah, although these three were very closely related to the Prophet.  The last two, in fact, had played great roles in the life and mission of the Prophet.  Of these three, the first was his grandmother, the second was his auntie (the wife of Abu Talib) who was his guardian after the death of his mother, and the last one was his father’s bondmaid whom the Prophet considered as “my mother after my mother.”

In this series, we shall try to highlight some of the women around the Prophet. 

Women around the Prophet may be divided into four categories.

First are his guardians: his grandmother (Fatimah Amr), his mother (Aminah Wahab), his suckling mother (Halimah al Saadiyah), his auntie who raised him after the death of his mother (Fatimah Asad), and his father’s freed bondmaid who took care of him when he was young and remained close to him for the rest of his life (Barakah or popularly known as Umm Ayman).

Second are his wives, of whom he had twelve: 1. Khadijah bint Khuwaylid; 2. Sawda bint Zam'a; 3. A'isha Siddiqa bint Abu Bakr; 4. Hafsah bint Umar; 5. Zaynab bint Khuzayma; 6. Umm Salamah Hind bint Abi Umayya; 7. Zaynab bint Jahsh; 8. Juwayriya bint al-Harith; 9. Umm Habibah bint Abi Sufyan; 10. Safiyya bint Huyayy; 11. Maymuna bint al-Harith; and 12. Maria al-Qibtiyya.  Or thirteen if we count Rayhanah bint Zayd as well, whose status is disputed, as we have seen in Prophet Muhammad Is Not an Israelite.

Third are his daughters, of whom he had four: Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthoom and Fatimah.

And finally his supporters, who are either his close relatives, such as his auntie Safiyya (the sister of his uncle Hamzah), his cousin Umm Hani (the sister of his cousin Ali), or distant relatives such as Fatimah al Khattab (the sister of Umar al Khattab), or those who are not related at all, such as Umm Sulaym (the mother of his boy-servant in Madinah, Anas bin Malik).

This classification is neither neat nor clear cut.  For instance, all of them are essentially his supporters as well, with the exception of his grandmother and his mother who had died when he was still a boy (his mother died when he was about six years old, and his grandmother a year or two later), and his suckling mother who had “disappeared” from his life after he was four years old, only to “reenter” again after the Battle of Hunayn.  His suckling mother was said to embrace Islam after that battle, but “disappeared” again from his life, living with her Bedouin tribe.

Not included in the above categories, but whose names are well known, were his female enemies.  Foremost among these were his auntie, Umm Jamil, the wife of his notorious uncle, Abu Lahab; Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan bin Harb; Khunass bint Malik, the mother of Mus’ab bin Umayr; and Umm Anmaar, the mistress or slave owner of Khabbab bin al Aratt. 

Since this series is about the female companions of the Prophet, or his guardians, let’s conclude this introductory remark by briefly highlighting the Prophet’s well known female enemies.

The first one was Umm Jamil. Her real name was Arwaa’ bint Harb. “Umm” means mother in Arabic.  Thus, her name denotes that she was the mother of “Jamil,” as Barakah, the guardian of the Prophet, was called Umm Ayman because she had a son called Ayman.  Arwaa’ bint Harb, however, did not have a son called “Jamil.”  She was called Umm Jamil because she was said to be very beautiful, for Jamil means beautiful.  Thus her name signifies that she is the “mother of beauty.”

Her beauty, however, did not go beyond her looks.  She had a sharp tongue and a terrible behavior. Unlike other female enemies of the Prophet, whose enmity tend to be mostly verbal, Umm Jamil got physical with the Prophet.  Aside from verbal abuse, she would throw dirt, animal hides, and thorns to the Prophet.  Other than Umm Jamil, no other woman was brave enough to cause physical and verbal abuse to the Prophet. 

Her “gallantry” was probably due to the fact that the Prophet was her nephew by marriage, since she was the wife of Abu Lahab, the Prophet’s notorious uncle.  Her “standing” was further amplified by the fact that she was the sister of Abu Sufyan bin Harb, a well-known enemy of the Prophet.  As if that is not enough, she was also the sister in law of Hind bint Utbah, another notorious female enemy of the Prophet, whose father, Utbah bin Rabi’ah, was also a well-known enemy of the Prophet. 

For her role in opposing her nephew and the mission he brought, Umm Jamil earned the epithet of the “wicked carrier of firewood.”  This epithet, given by Allah Himself, is preserved for eternity in the Surah al Masad.  As her husband was rich, she did not have to carry firewood to earn her living.  The epithet is a satire from Allah, signifying that her work would serve as fire to burn her in Hell.

When she came to know about the epithet, Umm Jamil was overcome with rage.  She took a stone and went looking for his nephew.  The Prophet was with his bosom friend, Abu Bakar, at that time.  She saw Abu Bakar, but somehow her nephew was “hidden” from her sight.

“Where is your companion Abu Bakar?”  She asked.

“Why?”  Abu Bakar replied with a question.

“I want to smash his mouth with this stone for lampooning me!”  She said.  Abu Bakar did not respond, and she left shortly thereafter, oblivious to the fact that her nephew, Muhammad the Prophet, was in front of her all the while.  This story is well known.

The second well known female enemy of the Prophet is Hind bint Utbah.  She was the wife of Abu Sufyan, the Makkan supreme leader after the Battle of Badar.  Abu Sufyan was among the arch enemies of the Prophet, but unlike Abu Jahal, Abu Sufyan did not belong to the hardliners.   This is probably due to his close friendship with Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib, the Prophet’s uncle. 

Hind was also the daughter of Utbah bin Rabi’ah, another well-known enemy of the Prophet.  She was related to Umm Jamil in many ways, for Umm Jamil was her cousin as well as her sister in law.

Hind opposed Islam and the Prophet from the beginning, following the footsteps of her father and her husband.  But unlike her sister in law, Umm Jamil, her opposition was not physical.  She also took the backseat behind Umm Jamil while the latter was alive.  The situation, however, changed after the Battle of Badar.  In that war, her father, Utbah bin Rabi’ah, her uncle, Shaybah bin Rabi’ah and her brother, Walid bin Utbah, were killed in the duel.

Crying out for vengeance, she mourned the death of her father, uncle and brother, putting dust on her head outside of her house, where she stayed and moaned for hours daily.  Her husband Abu Sufyan pleaded her to stop mourning and putting dust on her head, but she refused, until Abu Sufyan gave her the promise that the vengeance would be waged the next year.  It was to be the Battle of Uhud.

Hind’s enmity with the Prophet also turned personal after the Battle of Badar.  She wanted three men dead: the Prophet, Ali and Hamzah.  As for the Prophet, that was because he was the leader.  As for Ali, it was he who killed her brother, Walid.  As for Hamzah, it was he who killed her uncle, Shaybah.  And both Ali and Hamzah also finished off his father, Utbah, during the duel before the actual battle started.

For that purpose, she hired an Ethiopian slave, Wahsy, promising him freedom and material reward.  Wahsy was to kill the three, or at least one of them.  He managed only to give martyrdom to Hamzah, for he could never come close to the Prophet during the battle, and Ali was too vigilant when fighting.  When Hamzah fell, Wahsy slit opened his belly and took out the liver for Hind to chew.  Hind did chew the liver, but spit it out, unable to swallow it.  This story is well known.

Unlike Umm Jamil, however, Hind died as a good Muslim woman.  She embraced Islam after the conquest of Makkah.

The other two fierce enemies of the Prophet were Khunaas bint Malik and Umm Anmaar.  Khunaas was a close friend of Hind, a woman of high standing.  She was present with Hind during the Battle of Uhud.  But her story is known only because she was the mother of Mus’ab bin Umayr.  While she opposed Islam in general and Muhammad in particular, unlike Umm Jamil, she did not confront the Prophet physically.  Her opposition was mostly verbal, but she is quite known because she had chained her son Mus’ab and locked him in the room when she found out that her son had become a Muslim.  Like Umm Jamil but unlike Hind, she died a disbeliever.

Umm Anmaar is a more obscure figure compared to the first three.  She did not even belong to the tribe of Quraysh, but of Khuzaa, the Quraysh ally in Makkah.  But she is known because of her method of torturing her slave, Khabbab al Aratt.  Now, Khabbab was an ironsmith.  When Umm Ammar knew that Khabbab had become Muslim, she tortured him by putting the burning charcoal on the ground and roasted him as if he was some kind of roasted lamb.  Khabbab survived the ordeal, for the purpose of the torture was not to kill him, but to inflict severe pain, and Allah still wanted him to live by then. 

But Umm Anmaar got her “equitable reward” while still living.  Towards the end of her life, she was inflicted with excruciating headache the like of which had not been seen by the Makkans.  No treatment could relieve her pain, which would never go away.  Somebody suggested that the only way to cure her illness is by cauterizing her.  The burning iron ore was then placed on her neck, and she died after that.

These four, undoubtedly, were not the only female enemies of the Prophet.  But they were the most famous ones.  As our purpose is to highlight the female companions of the Prophet, beginning with his guardians, we shall end this introductory remark at this point.

Stay tuned.

Relevant articles you might be interested in:
Main Battles Before the Conquest of Makkah

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