We do not know precisely how the young Abyssinian girl ended up
for sale in Makkah. We do not know her 'roots', who her mother
was, or her father or her ancestors. There were many like her,
boys and girls, Arabs and non-Arabs, who were captured and
brought to the slave market of the city to be sold.
A terrible fate awaited some who ended up in the hands of cruel
masters or mistresses who exploited their labor to the full and
treated them with the utmost harsh ness.
A few in that inhuman environment were rather more fortunate.
They were taken into the homes of more gentle and caring
Barakah, the young Abyssinian girl, was one of the more
fortunate ones. She was saved by the generous and kind Abdullah,
the son of Abd al-Muttalib. 'She became the only servant in his
household and when he was married, to the lady Aminah, she
looked after her affairs as well.
Two weeks after the couple were married, according to Barakah,
Abdullah's father came to their house and instructed his son to
go with a trading caravan that was leaving for Syria. Aminah was
deeply distressed and cried:
"How strange! How strange! How can my husband go on a trading
journey to Syria while I am yet a bride and the traces of henna
are still on my hands."
Abdullah's departure was heartbreaking. In her anguish, Aminah
fainted. Soon after he left, Barakah said: "When I saw Aminah
unconscious, I shouted in distress and pain: 'O my lady!' Aminah
opened her eyes and looked at me with tears streaming down her
face. Suppressing a groan she said: "Take me to bed, Barakah."
"Aminah stayed bedridden for a long time. She spoke to no one.
Neither did she look at anyone who visited her except Abd
al-Muttalib, that noble and gentle old man. "Two months after
the departure of Abdullah, Aminah called me at dawn one morning
and, her face beaming with joy, she said to me:
"O Barakah! I have seen a strange dream." "Something good, my
lady," I said.
"I saw lights coming from my abdomen lighting up the
mountains, the hills and the valleys around Makkah." "Do you
feel pregnant, my lady?"
"Yes, Barakah," she replied. "But I do not feel any discomfort
as other women feel." "You shall give birth to a blessed child
who will bring goodness," I said.
So long as Abdullah was away, Aminah remained sad and
melancholic. Barakah stayed at her side trying to comfort her
and make her cheerful by talking to her and relating stories.
Aminah however became even more distressed when Abd al-Muttalib
came and told her she had to leave her home and go to the
mountains as other Makkans had done because of an impending
attack on the city by the ruler of Yemen, someone called
Abrahah. Aminah told him that she was too grief-striken and weak
to leave for the mountains but insisted that Abrahah could never
enter Makkah and destroy the Kabah because it was protected by
the Lord. Abd al-Muttalib became very agitated but there was no
sign of fear on Aminah's face. Her confidence that the Kabah
would not be harmed was well-founded. Abrahah's army with an
elephant in the vanguard was destroyed before it could enter
Day and night, Barakah stayed beside Aminah. She said: "I slept
at the foot of her bed and heard her groans at night as she
called for her absent husband. Her moans would awaken me and I
would try to comfort her and give her courage."
The first part of the caravan from Syria returned and was
joyously welcomed by the trading families of Makkah. Barakah
went secretly to the house of Abd al-Muttalib to find out about
Abdullah but had no news of him. She went back to Aminah but did
not tell her what she had seen or heard in order not to distress
her. The entire caravan eventually returned but not with
Later, Barakah was at Abd al-Muttalib's house when news came
from Yathrib that Abdullah had died. She said: "I screamed when
I heard the news. I don't know what I did after that except that
I ran to Aminah's house shouting, lamenting for the absent one
who would never return, lamenting for the beloved one for whom
we waited so long, lamenting for the most beautiful youth of
Makkah, for Abdullah, the pride of the Quraysh.
"When Aminah heard the painful news, she fainted and I stayed by
her bedside while she was in a state between life and death.
There was no one else but me in Aminah's house. I nursed her and
looked after her during the day and through the long nights
until she gave birth to her child, "Muhammad", on a night in
which the heavens were resplendent with the light of God."
When Muhammad was born, Barakah was the first to hold him in her
arms. His grandfather came and took him to the Kabah and with
all Makkah, celebrated his birth. Barakah stayed with Aminah
while Muhammad was sent to the badiyah with the lady Halimah who
looked after him in the bracing atmosphere of the open desert.
At the end of five years, he was brought back to Makkah and
Aminah received him with tenderness and love and Barakah
welcomed him "with joy, longing and admiration".
When Muhammad was six years old, his mother decided to visit the
grave of her husband, Abdullah, in Yathrib. Both Barakah and Abd
al-Muttalib tried to dissuade her. Aminah however was
determined. So one morning they set off- Aminah, Muhammad and
Barakah huddled together in a small hawdaj mounted on a large
camel, part of a huge caravan that was going to Syria. In order
to shield the tender child from any pain and worry, Aminah did
not tell Muhammad that she was going to visit the grave of his
The caravan went at a brisk pace. Barakah tried to console
Aminah for her son's sake and much of the time the boy Muhammad
slept with his arms around Barakah's neck.
The caravan took ten days to reach Yathrib. The boy Muhammad was
left with his maternal uncles of the Banu Najjar while Aminah
went to visit the grave of Abdullah. Each day for a few weeks
she stayed at the grave. She was consumed by grief.
On the way back to Makkah, Aminah became seriously ill with
fever. Halfway between Yathrib and Makkah, at a place called
al-Abwa, they stopped. Aminah's health deteriorated rapidly. One
pitch dark night, she was running a high temperature. The fever
had got to her head and she called out to Barakah in a choking
Barakah related: "She whispered in my ear: 'O Barakah, I shall
depart from this world shortly. I commend my son Muhammad to
your care. He lost his father while he was in my abdomen. Here
he is now, losing his mother under his very eyes. Be a mother to
him, Barakah. And don't ever leave him.'
"My heart was shattered and I began to sob and wail. The child
was distressed by my wailing and began to weep. He threw himself
into his mother's arms and held tightly onto her neck. She gave
one last moan and then was forever silent."
Barakah wept. She wept bitterly. With her own hands she dug a
grave in the sand and buried Aminah, moistening the grave with
whatever tears were left in her heart. Barakah returned with the
orphan child to Makkah and placed him in the care of his
grandfather. She stayed at his house to look after him. When Abd
al-Muttalib died two years later, she went with the child to the
house of his uncle Abu Talib and continued to look after his
needs until he was grown up and married the lady Khadijah.
Barakah then stayed with Muhammad and Khadijah in a house
belonging to Khadijah. "I never left him and he never left me,"
she said. One day Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him
peace, called out to her and said: "Ya Ummah!" (He always called
her "Mother".) "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?" Barakah looked at Muhammad and said: "I shall
never leave you. Does a mother abandon her son?" Muhammad smiled
and kissed her head. He looked at his wife Khadijah and said to
her: "This is Barakah. This is my mother after my own mother.
She is the rest of my family."
Barakah looked at the lady Khadijah who said to her: "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."
"Whom shall I marry, my lady?" asked Barakah. "There is here now
Ubayd ibn Zayd from the Khazraj tribe of Yathrib. He has come to
us seeking your hand in marriage. For my sake, don't refuse."
Barakah agreed. She married Ubayd ibn Zayd and went with him to
Yathrib. There she gave birth to a son whom she called Ayman and
from that time onwards people called her "Umm Ayman" the mother
Her marriage however did not last very long. Her husband died
and she returned once more to Makkah to live with her "son"
Muhammad in the house of the lady Khadijah. Living in the same
household at the time were Ali ibn Abi Talib, Hind (Khadijah's
daughter by her first husband), and Zayd ibn Harithah.
Zayd was an Arab from the tribe of Kalb who was captured as a
boy and brought to Makkah to be sold in the slave market. He was
bought by Khadijah's nephew and put in her service. In
Khadijah's household, Zayd became attached to Muhammad and
devoted himself to his service. Their relationship was like that
of a son to a father. Indeed when Zayd's father came to Makkah
in search of him, Zayd was given the choice by Muhammad of
either going with his father or staying with him. Zayd's reply
to his father was:
"I shall never leave this man. He has treated me nobly, as a
father would treat his son. Not a single day have I felt that I
am a slave. He has looked after me well. He is kind and loving
towards me and strives for my enjoyment and happiness. He is the
most noble of men and the greatest person in creation. How can I
leave him and go with you?...I shall never leave him."
Later, in public Muhammad proclaimed the freedom of Zayd.
However, Zayd continued to live with him as part of his
household and devoted himself to his service.
When Muhammad was blessed with prophethood, Barakah and Zayd
were among the first to believe in the message he proclaimed.
They bore with the early Muslims the persecution which the
Quraysh meted out to them.
Barakah and Zayd performed invaluable services to the mission of
the Prophet. They acted as part of an intelligence service
exposing themselves to the persecution and punishment of the
Quraysh and risking their lives to gain information on the plans
and conspiracies of the mushrikin.
One night the mushrikun blocked off the roads leading to the
House of al-Arqam where the Prophet gathered his companions
regularly to instruct them in the teachings of Islam. Barakah
had some urgent information from Khadijah which had to be
conveyed to the Prophet. She risked her life trying to reach the
House of al-Arqam. When she arrived and conveyed the message to
the Prophet, he smiled and said to her:
"You are blessed, Umm Ayman. Surely you have a place in
Paradise." When Umm Ayman left, the Prophet looked at his
companions and asked: "Should one of you desire to marry a woman
from the people of Paradise, let him marry Umm Ayman."
Ali the companions remained silent and did not utter a word. Umm
Ayman was neither beautiful nor attractive. She was by now about
fifty years old and looked rather frail. Zayd ibn al-Harithah
however came forward and said:
"Messenger of Allah, I shall marry Umm Ayman. By Allah, she is
better than women who have grace and beauty."
Zayd and Umm Ayman were married and were blessed with a son whom
they named Usamah. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant
him peace, loved Usamah as his own son. Often he played with
him, kissed him and fed him with his own hands. The Muslims
would say: "He is the beloved son of the beloved." From an early
age Usamah distinguished himself in the service of lslam, and
was later given weighty responsibilities by the Prophet.
When the Prophet migrated to Yathrib, henceforth to be known as
al-Madinah, he left Umm Ayman behind in Makkah to look after
certain special affairs in his household. Eventually she
migrated to Madinah on her own. She made the long and difficult
journey through the desert and mountainous terrain on foot. The
heat was killing and sandstorms obscured the way but she
persisted, borne along by her deep love and attachment for
Muhammad, may God bless him and grant him peace. When she
reached Madinah, her feet were sore and swollen and her face was
covered with sand and dust.
"Ya Umm Ayman! Ya Ummi! (O Umm Ayman! O my mother!) Indeed for
you is a place in Paradise!" exclaimed the Prophet when he saw
her. He wiped her face and eyes, massaged her feet and rubbed
her shoulders with his kind and gentle hands.
At Madinah, Umm Ayman played her full part in the affairs of the
Muslims. At Uhud she distributed water to the thirsty and tended
the wounded. She accompanied the Prophet on some expeditions, to
Khaybar and Hunayn for example.
Her son Ayman, a devoted companion of the Prophet was martyred
at Hunayn in the eighth year after the Hijrah. Barakah's
husband, Zayd, was killed at the Battle of Mutah in Syria after
a lifetime of distinguished service to the Prophet and Islam.
Barakah at this time was about seventy years old and spent much
of her time at home. The Prophet, accompanied by Abu Bakr and
Umar often visited her and asked: "Ya Ummi! Are you well?" and
she would reply: "I am well, O Messenger of Allah so long as
After the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, had
died, Barakah would often be found with tears in her eyes. She
was once asked, "Why are you crying?" and she replied: "By
Allah, I knew that the Messenger of Allah would die but I cry
now because the revelation from on high has come to an end for
Barakah was unique in that she was the only one who was so close
to the Prophet throughout his life from birth till death. Her
life was one of selfless service in the Prophet's household. She
remained deeply devoted to the person of the noble, gentle and
caring Prophet. Above all, her devotion to the religion of Islam
was strong and unshakable. She died during the caliphate of
Uthman. Her roots were unknown but her place in Paradise was