Umm Ayman: A Life Devoted to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

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At the beginning of her youth, Baraka bint Sa’laba, who would go down in history as Umm Ayman, was of African and Abyssinian descent.1 Abraha, who set out to destroy the Ka’ba, had included some women in the army, and one of them was Baraka. Both Abraha and she were advancing towards Mecca, unaware of the impending events. Although Baraka, for now, remained unaware and moved forward with numerous concerns, God had a different decree concerning her. At last, Abraha and his army reached the Mughammas Valley. Apparently, there was no obstacle between them and the Ka’ba. However, they had forgotten the true owner of the House, and this had led them to destruction. Flocks of birds had devastated the army of elephants, and Abraha left wounded, and battered, had sought refuge in Sana’a.

Baraka is serving as a nanny to the Mercy Prophet

After the destruction of the army, Abdulmuttalib, the leader of the Quraysh, took care of Baraka, 2 and he gifted her to his pregnant daughter Amina to serve. Unaware of the household she had fallen into, Baraka was now bustling within the peaceful home. With the passing of the head of the household, Abdullah, the burden on Baraka’s shoulders became quite heavy because her mistress Amina was pregnant, a mixture of serenity, sorrow, and excitement filled the air. The awaited time had arrived, and the blessed birth was approaching. Among those present at this historic moment was Baraka. The birth occurred smoothly; the room was filled with light, and hearts were enveloped in an indescribable joy.3 And there, in the arms of the black slave Baraka, was Muhammad. She was kissing, cuddling, and seemingly unable to get enough of loving him. 4

However, this joy soon gave way to longing. The climate conditions in Mecca were very harsh, and it was necessary to entrust the baby to a wet nurse where he could grow and thrive. Halima from the tribe of Banu Sa’d had come, taking Muhammad with her. Although they would see each other for a few days every year, this separation lasted for a full five years. 5 While managing the household chores on one hand, Baraka, always keeping an eye on the roads, was providing companionship to Amina. Finally, the longing period had come to an end; the apple of her eyes, the joy of her heart, had returned to the paternal home, to the mother’s embrace. The sorrow caused by separation had given way to the joy of reunion. Baraka took great pleasure in caring for him, and the hearts in the household were filled with contentment.

Baraka supports the Mercy Prophet

Muhammad had turned six. His mother decided to take him to Medina to visit his father’s grave and relatives, bringing Baraka along. After a month’s stay in Medina, their purpose was fulfilled, and they set out to return to Mecca. Upon reaching Abwa, Amina fell seriously ill and passed away on the spot. Muhammad, orphaned before birth and separated from his mother for five years, had lost the mother he reunited with just a year ago, witnessing her departure right before his eyes. Alone in the middle of the desert, Baraka, the Abyssinian black slave, was left to embrace and console him, taking his hand to safely deliver him to his grandfather.6

Baraka loved Muhammad as much as his mother did, and he was aware of this love. Indeed, in the subsequent years, he would address him with expressions of motherly affection, saying ‘My dear mother!’7 and ‘After my mother, my mother!’ 8 He would articulate the feelings generated within him by this sincere love and attention from Baraka. The Lord who said, ‘Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter?’9 had practically made Baraka a safe harbor for him. After burying Amina in Abwa, Baraka set out for Mecca, bringing the ‘orphaned and fatherless Muhammad’ to deliver him to his grandfather Abdulmuttalib. When Muhammad settled into the household of his grandfather, Baraka, who was to serve as his nanny, had returned to the Abdulmuttalib household. While the days passed peacefully, reminiscent of spring, Abdulmuttalib fell ill, took to his bed, and before long, he too had passed away. Now, Baraka witnessed the tears shed by the eight-year-old Muhammad for his grandfather, and she sought ways to console him.10

On his deathbed, Abdulmuttalib was contemplating his grandson Muhammad and bequeathing 11 him to his gentle son Abu Talib. As Muhammad moved to live with his uncle, the faithful nanny Baraka, who had inherited from his family, was also with him. From the age of 8 to 25, for a total of 17 years, Muhammad would stay with his uncle, and during this time, Baraka would serve him on one hand while helping the household’s mistress, Fatima bint Asad, on the other. According to Baraka’s observation, Muhammad never complained of poverty or hunger in this humble household, and he often contented himself with drinking the Zamzam water.12

Baraka becomes Umm Ayman

At the age of 25, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and met Khadija, the daughter of Khuwaylid, and they soon got married. Meanwhile, he wanted to express his love, gratitude, and loyalty to Baraka, who had been by his side since birth, and wished to grant her freedom. Although Baraka was content to continue serving him and his family, Muhammad was determined and freed her.13 Subsequently, Ubayd ibn Zeyd proposed to Baraka. Encouraged by Muhammad and Khadija, Baraka accepted Ubayd’s marriage proposal. From this marriage, Baraka had a son named ‘Ayman.’ Now, she also had an agnomen: Umm Ayman! 14 Everything fell into place, and life was proceeding in its usual course. Then, Umm Ayman’s husband, Ubayd, passed away. Filled with a burning desire to serve Muhammad, the only living memory of her mistress Amina, Umm Ayman took her son Ayman and returned to the peaceful home of Muhammad. She dedicated herself to serving him and his family.

Umm Ayman takes her place among the pioneers

Meanwhile, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and had reached the age of forty. The dates indicated that it was a Monday, the seventeenth day of the month of Ramadan. His Lord, who had spent several days in the Cave Hira, returned to his home trembling to the marrow. He exclaimed, ‘Cover me! Cover me!’ They covered him, and he left to rest. After a while, he woke and shared the events that had transpired with his wife Khadija, and later with others. In the Hira Cave, the head of their household, the beloved of their hearts, Prophet Muhammad, received the first revelation and was given the mission of prophethood. Like the other inhabitants of the household, Umm Ayman and her son immediately affirmed their belief, embraced Islam, and took their place among the pioneers of the faith. 15 However, the people of Mecca were not pleased with these developments. They confronted the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and began to torture him and his Companions in an attempt to extinguish the light of God. Umm Ayman also endured these tortures but never, under any circumstances, abandoned the Messenger of God, standing by him unwaveringly.

It was the fourth year of the Prophethood, and the dark cloud of torture hung over the Muslims like a shadow. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, ‘Let anyone who wishes to marry a dweller of Paradise marry Umm Ayman!’ 16 Following this, Zaid ibn Harithah, a freedman and one of the closest Companions of the Prophet, and among the first Muslims, sought to please and satisfy him by proposing to Umm Ayman. Umm Ayman gladly accepted this proposal because Zaid was a person whom the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) loved as if he were his own son and always kept close to him. Marrying Zaid meant an increase in closeness and continued companionship with the Prophet.

Despite the most challenging days of the Meccan period, the marriage took place, bringing joy to the troubled Muslims. The message was clear: even in the toughest times, one should not lose hope in life; on the contrary, they should continue on the path with a smile in the face of adversity. Before long, Umm Ayman gave birth to her second son, Usama. 17 The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was overjoyed with the birth of Usama, whom he loved dearly, and he would closely care for him until the end of his life. This was his way of showing gratitude and loyalty to Umm Ayman, who had served him with maternal affection since the moment Usama was born.

Umm Ayman stayed in Mecca with the purpose of supporting the Household of the Prophet

However, the people of Mecca were not heeding principles, justice, or domestic tranquility. They had turned the city into an unbearable place for the Muslims. The Messenger of God accepted the invitation of the Ansar and migrated to Medina. However, during the migration, he left his family in Mecca, and Umm Ayman, who wanted to support the Household, stayed with them. When the Prophet sent Zaid along with Abu Rafi to bring them to Medina, Umm Ayman, along with her two sons (Ayman and Usama), joined the caravan and came to Medina.18

In Medina, the circumstances were somewhat different, and Umm Ayman, along with her family, was settled in a separate house. However, this separation was purely related to the living arrangements. Umm Ayman spent all her time with the family of the Prophet, and Usama moved around in his vicinity. They were granted permission to enter the Prophet’s household at any time, day or night. 19 Umm Ayman prepared the respected Umm Kulthum as a bride, and she personally took care of the dowry for the respected Fatima. When she passed away, she was one of those who washed and shrouded the respected Zaynab. She also served the respected Mariya for a while after the birth of the respected Ibrahim. Additionally, she took care of the goats lent to the Prophet. 20

Umm Ayman associates her joy and sorrow with the Mercy Prophet

The Messenger of God would occasionally show kindness to her; 21 when someone else was present, he would say, “This is what remains for me from my family” when Umm Ayman entered. He dedicated the date palms gifted by the respected Umm Sulaym to Umm Ayman. Umm Ayman had connected both her sorrow and joy to the Mercy Prophet. One day, a sick little girl was brought to the Prophet, and she passed away while in his arms. The Mercy Prophet became saddened, and his eyes welled up with tears. Witnessing this scene, Umm Ayman began to cry. The Prophet asked, “O Umm Ayman, why are you crying in the presence of the Messenger of God?” She replied, “How can I not cry when the Messenger of God is crying!” In response, the Prophet said, “I am not crying! What you see is mercy! A believer is always in a state of goodness. Even when his soul is being taken from his body, he praises God!”22

Once again, a group from the Ghifar tribe had come to Medina to embrace Islam. Among them was a robust and tall man named Jahjah. Evening prayer was being performed in the Prophet’s Mosque. After the prayer, the Prophet said, “Everyone should take the hand of the person next to them and lead them to dinner.” Everyone took someone except for Jahjah, who remained alone. The Prophet himself took him to his home. The Prophet personally milked a goat for him, and when Jahjah was not satisfied, the Prophet milked the remaining six goats and offered them as well. Meanwhile, a pot of food had been brought, and despite not being satisfied with the milk, Jahjah finished the meal as well. There was no more food left for the Messenger of God. Umm Ayman, who was present there, couldn’t bear it any longer and said, “May God leave hungry the one who leaves the Prophet hungry!” Upon this, the Messenger of God said, “Be quiet, O Umm Ayman! He has consumed his provision, but our sustenance is in the hands of God!” On the second day, Jahjah embraced Islam. In the evening, the Messenger of God ordered his Companions to do the same thing, and again, Jahjah was assigned to the Prophet. However, this time, the Prophet had a goat milked for him, and he was satisfied. Umm Ayman, surprised, asked, “Isn’t he our guest from yesterday?” The Prophet replied, “Today he is a believer; he ate with only one stomach. Yesterday, he ate with seven stomachs. A disbeliever works for seven stomachs, but a believer works for one stomach.” 23

Umm Ayman was supporting him on the battlefronts

Umm Ayman did not leave the Messenger of God alone in battles like Uhud and Khaybar. She accompanied him to the frontlines, providing services such as water supply and caring for the wounded, aiming to offer support. 24 In the second part of the Battle of Uhud, when some confused soldiers were heading back towards Medina, she threw dirt on them, exclaiming, “Are you fleeing from the Messenger of God? Give me your swords! I will fight with the women to protect him. You, take the water flasks and go spin some ropes!” Her actions significantly contributed to the gathering of the army around the Messenger of God. 25

Meanwhile, the Messenger of God often sent her husband, the respected Zeyd as a commander in various directions. However, in the last expedition he participated in, which was the Battle of Mu’tah, the respected Zeyd was martyred. 26 The Messenger of God, who used to frequently visit the home of Umm Ayman, visited her on the day of Zeyd’s death to offer condolences and continued these visits until his own demise. 27 During his visits, he would point to Umm Ayman and say to the people accompanying him, “This is what remains from my family!”28

She participated in the Battle of Hunayn along with her sons, the respected Ayman and the respected Usama. She supported the Prophet by preparing meals and taking care of wounded soldiers behind the front lines. Unfortunately, her son Ayman, at the age of thirty-five, became a martyr in this battle. Just as she had stood by the Prophet during the confusion at the beginning of the Battle of Uhud, she steadfastly remained by his side as a woman, addressing the soldiers to rally the scattered army and help restore order. 29

Sixty-three years had passed since the birth of the Messenger of God, and twenty-three years since the start of his prophethood. Now, the religion had been perfected and completed, and the time of the Prophet’s departure had come. His illness had intensified, and he was spending his last days. The Prophet had appointed Umm Ayman’s son, the respected Usama, as the commander of the army and sent him on a campaign. Although people hesitated about this decision, he stood firm behind his choice, delivering a persuasive sermon in his weakened state to convince them.30

Umm Ayman praying woman image

Umm Ayman was witnessing the demise of the Last Prophet

He was in the chamber of the respected Aisha, experiencing his final moments. Among those present in the household, Umm Ayman was also there. The Blessed Prophet uttered, “Prayer! Prayer! Take care of those under your hands (slaves and servants)! O God, forgive me, have mercy on me, and admit me into Your exalted companionship!”31 He then peacefully surrendered his soul to the Most Merciful. It was as if the world had lost its sun. The passing of the Messenger of God was not only the greatest calamity and trial for all his Companions but also a source of profound sorrow for his caretaker, Umm Ayman. Overwhelmed by tears, she wept and sang elegies:

“O generous eyes of mine! Shedding tears is the remedy for my troubled heart, weep abundantly!

They said, ‘The Prophet has passed away and is lost from among us!’ This is the greatest calamity that has befallen us!

We have been deprived of the most virtuous being in the world and the one designated for revelation, weep!

Weep until God decrees His judgment upon you!

I did not know what reunion meant until the Mercy Prophet came with his light!

He became a light and a lamp; all our darkness was illuminated by him!

He was the seal of the prophets, the Last Prophet, with a pure character and a noble lineage.”32

Umm Ayman is giving a lesson in wisdom

Meanwhile, the respected Abu Bakr had been elected as the caliph and assumed leadership of the Muslim community. He was well aware of how much the Messenger of God loved Umm Ayman and how frequently he visited her home. He understood the void that was created in her life.

In an attempt to alleviate her grief and offer comfort, the respected Abu Bakr said to the respected Umar, “Come, let’s visit Umm Ayman, just as the Messenger of God used to do.” They went to her home together. Upon seeing them, Umm Ayman began to cry again. When they asked her, “Why are you crying so much!? What the Messenger of God will find in the presence of God is better for him!”

Umm Ayman suddenly stopped crying and turned to them with this historical and wisdom-filled response: “I also know that what is in the presence of God is certainly better for the Messenger of God. I am not crying for his passing! What makes me cry is that the revelation from the heavens has ceased!” This response deeply moved the respected Abu Bakr and Umar, who did not approach the situation from this perspective, and they too began to cry with Umm Ayman. 33

The respected Umm Ayman was present at the birth of the Messenger of God, and just as she witnessed his birth, she was also present at his passing. The era of happiness, the Age of Bliss, unfolded within her lifetime. The Messenger of God was born, grew up, married, fulfilled his mission of prophethood, migrated, and ascended to the horizon of the spirit during her lifetime. The Qur’an was revealed within the span of her life, and the Companions were nurtured in the process. From his birth to his passing, she witnessed almost the entirety of the Prophet’s life. However, what saddened her more than the passing of the Messenger of God was the cessation of revelation. This is because individual, familial, societal, civilizational, and the Hereafter-related transformations had all begun with revelation. The knowledge, news, causes, and wisdom provided by revelation enabled them to read and understand life, objects, and events correctly.

In the forty years she lived in the company of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), he had become the purest, highest, and infallible guide to humanity, morality, faith, the connection between God, the universe, and mankind, and worship, illuminated by the light of revelation. Therefore, what should truly sadden and engulf believers in sorrow is not the departure of their loved ones to the Hereafter or the loss of their possessions but rather the “closure, drying up, blockage, cessation, or their own distancing from the sources of knowing God, the sources of nourishment.” A black slave woman had borne witness to revelation and the living Qur’an through the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and attaining such profound consciousness.

Umm Ayman is reuniting with her Beloved

During their caliphates, the respected Abu Bakr and the respected Umar also frequently visited her in her home.34 Following the principle of “A person will be with those whom he loves,” Umm Ayman passed away within the first year of the caliphate of the respected Uthman, 20 days after the martyrdom of the respected Umar, and joined the Messenger of God. 35

When the respected Umar was wounded and exclaimed, “Today, Islam has weakened,” Umm Ayman, who was overwhelmed with tears, had lived a “blessed and long life.” She had experienced the blessings of staying close to the Messenger of God and as a person honored by the frequent visits of the Prophet and his caliphs, the respected Abu Bakr, and the respected Umar, she had now departed to the beyond. From where she started to where she ended up…

Author: Yücel Men

He completed his undergraduate studies in theology in 2003 and finished his master’s degree in 2012. In the academic year 2015-2016, he served as a guest lecturer at a private university.

Footnotes

  1. Ibn Hajar, Isaba 1983
  2. See Ibn Kathir, Tafsir 8/373; Suyuti, Raf’ Shani’l-Hubshan 216; Amiri, Bahajatu’l-Mahafil 2/153
  3. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/70
  4. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/82
  5. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/78-81
  6. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/81, 82
  7. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 10/177; Tabari, Tarikh 11/616; Ibn Hajar, Isaba 1982
  8. Ibn al-Athir, Usdu’l-Ghaba 1598; Ibn Hajar, Isaba 1982
  9. Surah Ad-Duha, 93/6
  10. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/83
  11. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/83
  12. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/83
  13. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/385
  14. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 10/177; Ibn Hajar, Isaba 1982
  15. Ibn Abdilbarr, Istiab 2/546
  16. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 10/177; Ibn Hajar, Isaba 1982
  17. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 10/177; Ibn Hajar, Isaba 1982
  18. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/173
  19. Ibn Hajar, Isaba 1982
  20. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 1/383
  21. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 10/177, 178
  22. Nasa’i, Janaiz 13; Ibn Hibban, Sahih 2914
  23. Bukhari, Et’ime 5052
  24. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 178; Ibn Hajar, Isaba 1983
  25. Waqidi, MegAzi 1/241, 242
  26. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 3/34
  27. Ibn al-Athir, Usdu’l-Ghaba 1598
  28. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 10/177; Tabari, Tarikh 11/616; Ibn Hajar, Isaba 1982
  29. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 10/177, 178
  30. Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 2/196, 197
  31. Ibn Majah, Janaiz 64
  32. See Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 2/260, 261
  33. Muslim, Fadaiulu’s-Sahaba 18; Ibn Majah, Janaiz 65; Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat 10/179; Ibn al-Athir, Usdu’l-Ghaba 1598; Ibn Hajar, Isaba 1983
  34. Ibn al-Athir, Usdu’l-Ghaba 1598
  35. Tabari, Tarikh 11/616; Ibn Hajar, Isaba 1983Top of Form

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