A Black History Month Special: A Glimpse into the Life of Umm Ayman

A Black History Month Special: A Glimpse into the Life of Umm Ayman

As we delve into the life of the prophet (saw) and begin to learn about his journey to prophethood, we realise the importance of community. The early companions who made up the first Muslim community came from diverse backgrounds, lineage and social status. There were companions who came from extremely wealthy backgrounds, but also those who were slaves and impoverished. There were companions who came from elite Arab tribes, and those who were slaves; their lineage unknown. Despite their differences in wealth and status, the companions were connected by Iman, making them brothers and sisters in faith. They treated each other with sincere love, generosity and gentleness. Ibn Awn reported: Umayr ibn Ishaq (may Allah have mercy on him) said, “I have met more companions of the Messenger of Allah (saw) than anyone before me. I have not seen anyone more lenient in living, nor less harsh than them.”[1]

Islam came to iron out all of the prejudices we may harbour within as individuals and communities. Looking down on someone due to their skin colour, lineage or wealth is not tolerated in Islam, nor is it reflective of the true Muslim character. When we zoom into the household of the prophet (saw), we see that he (saw) provided a sanctuary for not only his immediate family, but also for his young cousin Ali (ra), his adopted son Zaid ibn Haritha, and later, Zaid’s wife Umm Ayman as well. Sometimes we find ourselves living in isolated units, detached from our families and friends. When we study seerah, we find that the prophet (saw)’s domestic setting was evidence of his strong relationship with his extended family and community, full of acts of unending goodness towards them.

Black History Month

For most of us, Bilal (ra) is the first name that pops into our heads when we try to think of companions of the prophet (saw) who were black. It is less well-known that Umm Ayman, the elderly woman who lived within the prophet (saw)’s home was also black. This Black History Month, we want to explore the life of one of the most important black female companions of all time: Umm Ayman.

Who was Umm Ayman?

Umm Ayman was a woman who was with the prophet (saw) from birth until death. Her actual name was Barakah bint Tha’labah, and she was a slave from Abyssinia purchased by the father of the prophet (saw). She was the only one there when Amina, the prophet (saw)’s mother gave birth to him, and as As-Suyuti mentions, she was also one of the women who nursed the prophet (saw). At a young age as Amina was dying, Umm Ayman was instructed to take care of the prophet (saw).

Moving into the house of the prophet (saw)

After Umm Ayman’s husband died, she moved in with Khadeejah (ra) and the prophet (saw) with her son Ayman. She was the second woman to accept Islam, with Khadeejah (ra) being the first. Once she had moved in, the prophet (saw) said to his companions, ‘whoever wants to marry a woman from the people of Jannah, then marry Umm Ayman.’[2] The prophet (saw) found that it was only Zaid ibn Haritha who was prepared to consider this. At this stage in her life, Umm Ayman was widowed, no longer young, and came from a background of slavery. Zaid (ra) who of a similar background but at least 20 years younger than her, looked beyond all of this, and was instead drawn to the fact that she was a woman of Jannah.

A motherly figure to the prophet (saw)

Umm Ayman always interacted with the prophet (saw) with care and compassion and a sense of humour. Umm Ayman went to see the prophet (saw) one day and mistakenly said, ‘Salam la alaykum’ instead of ‘Assalamu alaykum.’ This was because Arabic was not her native language and so she sometimes struggled to say things in Arabic correctly. The prophet (saw) recognised this and allowed her to just say ‘As Salaam.’[3] On another occasion, Umm Ayman saw that the prophet (saw) was crying, and also started to cry:

Ibn Abbas narrated: “When a young daughter of the Messenger of Allah was dying, the Messenger of Allah picked her up and held her to his chest, then he put his hand on her, and she died in front of the Messenger of Allah. Umm Ayman wept and the Messenger of Allah said ‘Oh Umm Ayman, do you weep while the Messenger of Allah is with you?’ She said: ‘Why shouldn’t I weep when the Messenger of Allah is weeping.” So the Messenger of Allah said “Verily, I am not weeping. Rather it is compassion.’ Then the Messenger of Allah said: ‘The believer is fine whatever the situation; even when his soul is being pulled from his body and he praises Allah, the Mighty and Sublime”‘[4]

The prophet (saw)’s death

Once the prophet (saw) passed away Umm Ayman became very quiet. He (saw) used to visit her regularly, and they had a close relationship. One day, Abu Bakr and Umar (ra) decided to go and visit her, just as the prophet (saw) was in the habit of doing. When they got to her house, she started to cry:

Anas (ra) narrated: “After the Messenger of Allah (saw) had died, Abu Bakr said to ‘Umar: ‘Let us go and visit Umm Ayman as the Messenger of Allah (saw) used to visit her.’ He said: ‘When we reached her she wept.’ They said: ‘Why are you weeping? What is with Allah is better for His Messenger.’ She said: ‘I know that what is with Allah is better for His Messenger, but I am weeping because the Revelation from heaven has ceased.’ She moved them to tears and they started to weep with her.”[5]

From this hadeeth we see that Umm Ayman was a woman of great faith and love for the Quran. It saddened her heart that the words of Allah would no longer be descending, bringing with it guidance and strength for the believers. She lived a very long life and lived to see everyone who was most beloved to her pass away. She had witnessed the death of her first husband Ubaid, her son Ayman, her second husband Zaid ibn Haritha, the death of the prophet (saw), and finally, the death of her beloved son Usamah ibn Zaid. Some scholars say she lived until the age of 100. She lived through the khilafah of Abu Bakr (ra) and Umar (ra), and is said to have passed away during the khilafah of Uthman (ra).[6]

Final thoughts

Umm Ayman was a remarkable woman who was given the glad tidings of Jannah during her lifetime. Her life revolved around taking care of the prophet (saw) and he valued her greatly. She was honoured by the prophet (saw) and his greatest companions throughout her life, and her greatest concern was the deen of Allah. We hope that we can learn through the story of Umm Ayman that not all of the beloved companions of the prophet were Arab, or of elite lineage. She was an Abyssinian slave, her lineage unknown and her language foreign, but despite this, she was the only companion who was with the prophet (saw) from his birth until death. She was one of the few to have lived in the household of the prophet (saw), and after moving out was visited by him regularly, and after his death, by his most excellent companions. May Allah be pleased with her and her family.

[1] Sunan ad-Daarimi 128 (Hasan according to Ad-Daaraani)

[2] Siyar A’lam an Nubala

[3] Siyar A’lam an Nubala

[4] Sunan an Nasaa’i (Hasan)

[5] Sunan ibn Majah (Sahih)

[6] Siyar A’lam an Nubala



Photo Credit to Mohamed-Nohassi from Unsplash