The typical Muslim woman, shrouded from the world, lives her life in obscurity in the service of her husband and children. Seeking no recognition and having no personality or ambitions beyond the pleasure of her family she lives and dies leaving no mark on the pages of history. She is of course oppressed, neglected and possibly abused. “But that is not true!” you cry out. These statements infuriate us, but a large number of people, Muslims and people of other faiths, believe these myths to be true. As the knowledge of the deen receded through the years of colonialism, we lost touch with the real heroes and heroines of Islam and replaced them with worthless icons from the popular media. To destroy all stereotypes we need to study the life of just one of these amazing women: Umm Ammarah, Naseebah bint Ka’b al-Maziniyah al-Ansariyah.
As I sit in the comfort of my home and read about her life, I weep. I am filled with pride at her accomplishments and shame at my own inadequacy. I complain about my mountain of laundry while she climbed a mountain to defend the Messenger of Allah sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam. We struggle to give our children a Muslim identity, while her son defied Musaylamah the Liar even as he cut off piece after piece of his body and martyred him. The slightest insult from a friend or acquaintance leaves us emotionally traumatized and useless for days. She received close to a dozen wounds in just one battle and, when fighting at the age of sixty, she lost her arm.
If I could meet her I would ask her just as the Messenger of Allah sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam had asked, “From where can anyone get courage like you, O Umm Ammarah?”
Maybe she would take my hand in her worn and wounded hand and give me some advice. Maybe she would give me some insight to her extraordinary valor, determination and, most importantly, her unwavering eemaan that guided her through all her struggles. Maybe she would say…
1. Love Allah and His Messenger sal Allahu alyhi was sallam
In my research I could not find a direct quote recorded from Umm Ammarah that she mentioned her love for Allah and His Messenger sal Allahu Alyhi was sallam. But some people speak so clearly with their actions that words become unnecessary. Especially in this world that we live in today where knowledge is abundant but actions are scarce, she truly fulfilled the ayat of the Quran,
“Say, “Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the worlds.” (Al-Anam 6:162)
Her life is a testimony to her deep love for Allah and His Messenger sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam and this is the most important lesson we can learn from her.
2. Never lag behind
The first time the spotlight of history falls on her she is part of a delegation that has come from Madinah to secretly meet with the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam. It is the 13th year of Prophethood and a group of over seventy men and two women is making its way to Aqabah. One of those women is Umm Ammarah. She chose to travel with her husband on this crucial mission and did not linger behind. The women swore allegiance when the men swore allegiance. The Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam did not admonish them for accompanying the men. In fact, the oath of loyalty was the same for the men and the women except that out of respect, the Prophet did not hold their hand. He touched their hearts and they dedicated their lives for the service of the deen.
She could have stayed at home and waited for her husband to inform her about the Messenger sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, but Umm Ammarah was not of those who stay behind.
3. Seize the moment when Allah gives it to you
A few years pass in which significant events of Islamic history unfold: the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam migrates to Madinah, the Islamic state is established, the battle of Badr takes place and then comes the battle of Uhud and the turning point in the life of Umm Ammarah and her whole family. Allah subhaana wa ta’aala gives her an opportunity and she seizes it. Initially the Muslims are winning, but the tide turns when the archers that the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi was sallam had placed strategically on the hill of Aynayn with instructions not to move under any circumstance, suddenly abandon their posts. This gives an opportunity for the enemy to attack from the rear. The Muslim army is suddenly surrounded and chaos ensues.
Umm Ammarah, who had joined the army to serve water to the soldiers, suddenly sees the Prophetv sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam under attack with only a few of the Sahabah by his side. Her immediate response is to grab a sword and a shield or a bow (both are mentioned) and rush to his defense. She does not think, “Oh I am a woman, how can I protect the Messenger sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam? What use can I be to him?” Before the container of water hits the ground and spills its contents, Umm Ammarah’s name has been splashed across the pages of history and written in the scrolls of the righteous in the heavens. Hazrat Umar would mention later that the Prophet sal Allahu alyhi was sallam had said to him, “Whenever I turned left or right on the day of the Battle of Uhud, I always saw her (Umm ‘Ammarah) fighting in my defense.”
4. Do everything as a family
Just as at the time of the Second Pledge of Aqabah, the family of Umm Ammara is together on the day of Uhud. Umm Ammarah’s two sons, Habib and Abdullah and her husband rush to where the small group of Sahabah stand to defend the Messenger of Allah sal Allahu alyhi wa sallam. Abdullah and Umm Ammarah are both wounded in the fighting. When her son is injured and blood gushes out from his shoulder, she ties up his wound and tells him to keep fighting and when she is injured, the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam calls out to Abdullah to help his mother. Despite their injuries neither of them abandoned the defense of the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi was sallam, and keep fending off the onslaught of the disbelievers.
The Prophet sal Allahu alayhi was sallam is amazed by the courage displayed by this valiant family and sensing his pleasure, she makes a request. In the uproar of the battle, as the swords clash and the arrows fly overhead and men scream in agony and fall to their death, this remarkable woman, wounded but determined, asks, “O’ Messenger of Allah, invoke Allah to make us your Companions in Paradise!”
The Messenger sal Allahu Alyhi was sallam replies, “O’ Allah, make them my Companions in Paradise.”
A guarantee of Paradise in the company of the Messenger sal Allahu alayhi was sallam for the whole family! She could have asked merely for her own salvation but even at that point she is not selfish and includes her family in her prayer.
In our zeal for acquiring the knowledge of the deen we sometimes become negligent of our families. It is important to pass on the knowledge to them as well and to include them in every beneficial activity that we participate in. Allah subhan wa ta’aala commanded us,
“O you who have believed, protect yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones, over which are [appointed] angels, harsh and severe; they do not disobey Allah in what He commands them but do what they are commanded.”
She earned for her family Paradise. We can at least save ours from the fire, if Allah wills.
5. Remain a grateful servant of Allah
The Prophet sal Allahu alayhi was sallam stood for so long in prayer at night that his feet were swollen and cracked. When asked by Hazrat Ayesha why he endured so much hardship when Allah had forgiven all his later and previous sins, he replied, “Should I not prove myself to be a thankful servant?”
The Sahaba and the sahabiyaat also acquired this characteristic of Shukr (gratitude). The family of Umm Ammarah did not cease to strive in the way of Allah after receiving the guarantee of Paradise. Ibn Hajar said: “She (Umm ‘Ammarah) witnessed the pledge of Aqabah and she also pledged allegiance. She participated in the battles of Uhud, Hudaybiyah and Khaybar and participated in ‘Umrat al Qada. She also witnessed the conquest of Makkah and participated in the campaigns of Hunayn and Yamamah.”
Both her sons were martyred: Abdullah in the battle of Hurrat and Habib at the hands of Mussaylamah the Liar. He tortured him to death, cutting off piece after piece of his body because every time he was asked, “Do you believe I am the Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “I can’t hear.”
When the Muslim army set out at the time of Hazrat Abu Bakr to fight Musaylamah, Umm Ammarah at the ripe old age of sixty requested the Khalifah and joined them. She lost her arm in the battle but had the satisfaction of seeing the dead body of the man who defied the Messenger of Allah sal Allahu alayhi was sallam and tortured her son.
Would any of us strive so hard and sacrifice so much, after receiving the promise of Paradise? Umm Ammarah, may Allah be pleased with her, was a woman of exemplary courage and her life carries so many lessons for us. I have shared a few that I learned. Please share what part of her story touched you the most and how do you think we can implement some semblance of her courage in our lives.