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The Prophet's Wives Series

Discovering the Personality of Umm Salama

Part six

Discovering the Personality of Umm Salama
Umm Salama was a scholar among scholars. She narrated over 300 hadith and was so knowledgable about the Qur’an and its interpretation.

We often are introduced to the people around the Prophet (PBUH) through his life and perspective. While there is good reason for this, it can also be of great benefit to learn about the companions of the Messenger as individuals. They were the people who Allah (SWT) calls in the Quran, “[…] the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind”. (Quran 3:110)

It can be especially important to look to the lives of the honorable and honored wives of the Prophet (PBUH) to understand that they too were human beings who lived, ate, laughed and struggled to please Allah (SWT). After the Prophet, can there be a better example for us than the mothers of the believers who were all promised paradise?

Continuing in our journey to find out if our mothers were funny, sensitive, outgoing, introspective, self-doubting, or fearless, we take a look at Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) wife, Umm Salama (May Allah be pleased with her-RA).

Among the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) wives, Umm Salama was smart, valiant, and wise.

She was smart

Umm Salama was a scholar among scholars. She narrated over 300 hadith and was so knowledgable about the Qur’an and its interpretation that she was considered among those companions who had the most competent judgment on Islamic law. Even ‘Abdullah bin ‘Abbas, one of the earliest scholars of Quran, would seek advice from Umm Salama on Islamic law.

But Umm Salama’s (RA) area of expertise didn’t begin and end in Islamic knowledge. She was a master of language as well. According to Islam’s Women, “when she spoke her words and phrases were well chosen and exactly appropriate for the expression of ideas. Her written language was suited for literary expression”.

Umm Salama (RA) was eloquent speaker and master of the written word. She wrote about her experience when leaving Makkah for Madina explaining her anguish when her family was met with a heartbreaking fate:

“When Abu Salama (my husband) decided to leave for Medina, he prepared a camel for me, lifted me up onto it and put my son Salama on my lap. My husband then took the lead and went straight ahead without stopping or waiting for anything. Before we were out of Mecca, however, some men from my tribe, the Banu Mahkhzum, stopped us and said to my husband: ‘Although you may be free to do what you like with yourself, you have no power over your wife. She is our daughter. DO you expect us to allow you to take her away from us?’ They then grabbed hold of him and snatched me away from him. Some men from my husband’s tribe, the Banu Abdul Asad, saw them taking both me and my child and became hot with rage: ‘No, by Allah!’ They shouted. ‘We shall not abandon the boy. He is our son and we have a rightful claim over him.’ So they took him by his arm and pulled him away from me. Suddenly, in the space of a few minutes, I found myself all alone. My husband headed out towards Medina by himself; his tribe had snatched away my son from me; and my own tribe had overpowered me and forced me to stay with them. From the day that my husband and my son were parted from me, I went out at noon every day and sat at the spot where this tragedy had occurred. I would remember those terrifying moments and weep until nightfall. […]” (Ibn Kathir)

She was valiant

Umm Salama (RA) was among those companions who migrated to Abyssinia and to Medina. She left her home and family twice to seek religious freedom. Migrating to Abyssinia “for Umm Salamah, it meant abandoning her home and giving up the traditional ties of lineage and honor for something new, pursuing the pleasure and reward of Allah”.

Sixteen people set out on that historic first migration of the followers of Islam – twelve men and four women, Umm Salamah (RA) was one of those four brave women who faced the struggles of travelling and setting up life in a new and strange land.

After returning from Abyssinia to her home in Makkah, and seeing that things had not improved as she immigrants to Abyssinia had thought, she and her family set out to leave behind everything once again and emigrate to Madina.

But, as she wrote, her husband and children were met with opposition from her family and were torn apart. After days of mourning the incident, her family took pity on her and returned her son to her care. Wanting to reunite her entire family, she was determined to travel to Medina.

And she did just that. Travelling through the desert in her day and age took time and was extremely dangerous. But still she bravely set out to travel alone with her child to Madinah trusting in Allah alone. And Allah provided her with safety in the form of  ‘Uthman bin Talhah ‘Abdari, who honorably accompanied her the rest of the way.

Not only did she show bravery in her travels and search for religious freedom, she was also a warrior and took part in many battles. She fought next to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) during the Battles Bani Mustalaq, Ta’if, Khaybar, Hunayn, and the conquest of Makkah. And she was present at the signing of the treaty of Hudaybiyah.

She was wise

After the treaty of Hudaybiyah, many Companions of Prophet (peace be upon him) were extremely frustrated because they thought the treaty implied that the Quraysh were superior. They were also greatly disappointed because they saw the treaty as giving the Quraysh the upper hand.

This was despite the fact that the treaty was a full of wisdom and farsightedness. Allah calls it victory in the Quran:

{Verily, We have given you (O Muhammad) a manifest victory.} (Quran 48:1)

The Companions could not see how this was the case, though. And in their frustration and disappointment, they failed to comply to the Prophet’s instructions after the treaty was finalized. The Prophet (PBUH) went to Umm Salama (RA). Seeing how distressed he was, she offered him some advice. She said he should go and have his head shaved in public.

She likely knew that if the companions would see him taking this action, and they would follow him as they always had. The Prophet (PBUH) took her advice, and the companions followed suit, setting everything to rights.

Umm Salam’s (RA) use of her natural inclination toward valiance, intelligence, and wisdom stands out for us today as an example of how to live a life that is pleasing to Allah.

About Theresa Corbin

Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.

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