The early history of Islam is marked by many remarkable black individuals who played an important role in the life of the Prophet SAW and the beginnings of Islam. We wish to give you an insight into one of these women and her legacy in the muslim ummah.
The early history of Islam would not be done justice without honouring Umm Ayman, a woman truly like no other. The only one who can be said to have been with the Prophet SAW from the moment of his birth to the moment that he died. She is one of the few Muslims the Prophet SAW assured of paradise, and is a woman whom the Prophet honoured with the status of “mother after my own mother”.
Barakah bint Tha'labah, later known as Umm Ayman was a young Abysinnian girl brought to Makkah and sold as a slave. She was fortunate enough to be brought into the household of a noble and gentle man, Abdullah ibn Muttalib, the father of the Prophet SAW. She took care of his affairs as well as his wife Aminah bint Wahb, the mother of the Prophet SAW. It was Barakah who comforted Amina whilst her husband left on a long journey and it was Barakah who conveyed the news of his death to her too.
Whilst her husband was on the trip, Aminah fell ill and had a dream where she saw “lights coming from my abdomen lighting up the mountains, the hills and the valleys around Makkah” and it was Barakah who interpreted this to mean that she would “give birth to a blessed child who will bring goodness”. The young girl stood by Aminah’s side throughout her entire pregnancy and was also the only person present during the delivery of the Prophet SAW, where she was the first to hold him, bathe him, and care for him his entire life.
When Barakah RA was a young woman and the Prophet SAW was 6 years old, she accompanied him and his mother on a journey to Madinah, but on their return back to Makkah, Aminah fell seriously ill. She entrusted her son to Barakah and said "Be a mother to him, Barakah. And don't ever leave him." Aminah passed away at al-Abwa with Barakah and her son Muhammad SAW, so they buried her; Barakah then consoled the young boy and took him back to Makkah where they lived with the grandfather of the Prophet SAW, Abdul Muttalib. When the Prophet SAW was 9, his grandfather also died and Barakah was there to console him too. She stayed with the Prophet SAW throughout his life and although the Prophet inherited her from his father, he freed her. To him, she was his ‘mother after his mother’ and played a pivotal role.
The Marriages of Umm Ayman
Umm Ayman had devoted her youth to the Prophet SAW and remained unmarried, she lived to care for the young orphaned boy. However, as the Prophet SAW grew and got married to Khadijah RA at 25 years old, he encouraged her to get married too. He would say “Ya Ummah!" Now I am a married man, and you are still unmarried. What do you think if someone should come now and ask to marry you?" However, she would reply saying "I shall never leave you. Does a mother abandon her son?". To which he would then say to his wife Khadijah RA "This is Barakah. This is my mother after my own mother. She is the rest of my family." Khadijah RA said “Barakah, you have sacrificed your youth for the sake of Muhammad. Now he wants to pay back some of his obligations to you. For my sake and his, agree to be married before old age overtakes you." Barakah RA agreed and married Ubayd ibn Zayd from the Khazraj tribe of Yathrib (Madinah) and moved there. She gave birth to a son whom they called Ayman, and from then onwards she was known as "Umm Ayman", the mother of Ayman. However, her marriage did not last very long as her husband passed away so she returned to Makkah as a widow with her son, and lived with Muhammad SAW in the house of the Khadijah RA.
Umm Ayman was one of the first to accept Islam as she lived in the Prophets household when he received revelation. She did not hesitate to believe in his message and Prophethood, and immediately submitted to the will of Allah SWT. She bravely endured the persecution of the Quraysh, and performed invaluable services for the cause.
One night a few years after revelation, Umm Ayman risked her life to convey a message to the Prophet SAW by passing a blockade of disbelievers in Makkah to reach the House of Al-Arqam (where the Prophet SAW gathered his companions to teach about Islam). The Prophet SAW told her “you are blessed, Umm Ayman. Surely you have a place in Paradise.” And when she left he said to his companions: “should one of you desire to marry a woman of the people of paradise, let him marry Umm Ayman.” From them Zayd ibn al-Harithah, the Prophet SAW adopted son, said he would marry her because “By Allah, she is better than women who have grace and beauty”. From this marriage, despite her old age, she bore the child Usamah ibn Zaid, a boy whom the Prophet SAW loved like his own and people would say ‘he is the beloved son of the beloved’.
The Devotion of Umm Ayman
When the time of the Hijrah came, Umm Ayman, at the old age of about 70 years, also made the long and difficult journey on foot through the Arabian desert. She travelled through the intense heat and sandstorms and persisted in the way of Allah SWT fueled by her love for the Prophet SAW and his religion. On the journey she even found herself in a situation without any water. However, she believed in the mercy of her Lord, and Allah SWT sent down help. It was narrated that she saw a bucket tied with rope being lowered from the sky, it contained cold water for her to quench her thirst and cool her body. After this blessing she narrates that she ‘never felt thirsty after that, even when I fast on the hottest day’, what an honour. When she reached Madinah, her feet were swollen, her face covered with sand and dust, and upon seeing her the Prophet SAW wiped her face and eyes, massaged her feet and rubbed her shoulders, exclaiming: “"Yaa Umm Ayman! Ya Ummi! Indeed for you is a place in Paradise!".
Even throughout history she witnessed every battle of the Prophet SAW, and accompanied him on expeditions such as to Khaybar and Hunayn. At the Battle of Uhud she distributed water to the thirsty and tended to the wounded. And when the Prophet was rumoured to have died and many muslims were running from the battlefield, she stood her ground along with some other muslim women to defend the Prophet SAW and the muslims. She would follow him everywhere as his protecting mother with a watchful eye.
Her Relationship with the Prophet SAW
Umm Ayman had been with the Prophet SAW throughout his life and he honored this relationship into his adulthood. She comforted him in times of hardship, treated him with care and affection, and he would do the same. They also shared a jovial relationship too, the Prophet SAW would laugh and joke with her and one such instance is when she came to the Prophet SAW said "O Messenger of Allah, may you give me an animal to ride." The Prophet jokingly told her, I will give you the offspring of a she-camel to ride." She said, "O Messenger of Allah, what will I do with the offspring of a she-camel? It would not be able to carry me." The Prophet said: "Are riding-camels born except from she-camels?”. Their relationship contained light heartedness as well as full faith and conviction in the message of the Prophet SAW. On occasions he would ask how she was and she would reply “I am well, O Messenger of Allah, so long as Islaam is". She had complete dedication to his cause and never forsook him or Islam despite the difficulties or persecution she may have faced, she never complained to the Prophet SAW about her hardships, but showed continual support.
The Death of the Prophet SAW
This woman's entire purpose in life was defined by the moment she held the Prophet SAW and she had spent her entire life by his side. Therefore, after his death Abu Bakr RA and Umar RA would visit her, as they had seen the Prophet SAW do every day throughout his life, and would be there to comfort her.
Anas reported that after the death of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) Abu Bakr said to 'Umar:
Let us visit Umm Aiman as Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) used to visit her. As we came to her, she wept. They (Abu Bakr and Umar) said to her: What makes you weep? What is in store (in the next world) for Allah's-Messenger (ﷺ) is better than (this worldly life). She said: I weep not because I am ignorant of the fact that what is in store for Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) (in the next world) is better than (this world), but I weep because the revelation which came from the Heaven has ceased to come. This moved both of them to tears and they began to weep along with her. [Sahih Muslim 2454]
The Legacy of Lineage - The legacy of Umm Ayman also lies in the greatness of her children
Ayman ibn Ubaid embraced Islam in Makkah and made the hijra to Madinah where he was a shepard and was entrusted to look after the goats of the Prophet SAW. He was a faithful companion of the Prophet and was also a participant in campaigns to defend Islam. At the battle of Hunayn when many of the muslims fled from the battleground because they were panic stricken; he was one of the 8 people who stood steadfast with the Prophet SAW. Ayman RA ended up being martyred at this battle, but the muslims were successful in their campaign. After his martyrdom, Al-Abbas RA, the uncle of the Prophet SAW composed a poem praising the steadfastness and bravery of Ayman ibn ‘Ubaid.
Usamah ibn Zaid, known as "The Beloved Son of the Beloved" having been born to parents the Prophet SAW considered as his own family, he was also loved immensely by the Prophet SAW. He cared for him and, as one of those who were born into Islam, was taught from an early age. He showed signs of great leadership in his early teens and attempted to join the muslims in the battles such as Uhud (although the Prophet SAW did not permit him) as well as the battle of the Trench where he fought bravely. He also participated in the battle of Mu’tah against the Byzantine alongside his father, Zayd ibn Harithah who was appointed head of the expedition but was later martyred in this battle. Usamah RA had the opportunity to encounter the Byzantines again as part of the last mission the Prophet SAW. The Prophet sent the muslims to face them and put the eighteen year old Usamah as their commander in chief. A young, yet intelligent, capable and accomplished fighter who was able to return to Madinah with his army and “people saw no army that was safer and richer in booty than Usamah’s army”. Usamah RA was a mighty warrior for the muslims and was greatly loved and respected.
By the time Umm Ayman RA died, she had witnessed the death of both of her husbands, both of her children, and the death of the Prophet SAW. She also outlived Abu Bakr RA and saw the assassination of Umar ibn al-Khattab. She experienced hardships in her life yet lived through the lives of almost everyone who was a part of hers. She died with honour as she was devoted to the Prophet SAW and as such, he elevated her status to that of his mother. He honoured this woman despite her lack of tribe, her skin colour, gender and poverty; he held her in such high regard which made society honour her as a mother after the Prophet's mother. The life of Umm Ayman was unique as the only one who lived so closely to the Prophet SAW from birth till death, and the Prophet himself said that she is a woman of Jannah. She is an example of sincerity and piety to the entire muslim ummah because of her love for the Prophet SAW, her commitment to Islam, her sacrifice and her service - all to please Allah SWT. She embodied her statement “I am good as long as Islam is good” and lived each day caring for the message and Prophet she knew to be true.