Rumaysa bint Milhan
Rumaysa Bint Milhan
Even before Islam was introduced to Yathrib, Rumaysa was known
for her excellent character, the power of her intellect and her
independent attitude of mind. She was known by various names
including Rumaysa and Ghumaysa, but these were possibly nickna
mes. One historian says that her real name was Sahlah but later
she was popularly known as Umm Sulaym.
Umm Sulaym was first married to Malik ibn an-Nadr and her son by
this marriage was the famous Anas ibn Malik, one of the great
companions of the Prophet.
Umm Sulaym was one of the first women of Yathrib to accept
Islam. She was influenced by the refined, dedicated and
persuasive Musab ibn Umayr who was sent out as the first
missionary or ambassador of Islam by the noble Prophet. This
was after the first pl edge of Aqabah. Twelve men of Yathrib had
gone to Aqabah on the outskirts of Makkah to pledge loyalty to
the Prophet. This was the first major break through for the
mission of the Prophet for many years.
Umm Sulaym's decision to accept Islam was made without the
knowledge or consent of her husband, Malik ibn an-Nadr. He was
absent from Yathrib at the time and when he returned he felt
some change had come over his household and asked his wife:
"Have you be en rejuvenated?" "No," she said, "but I (now)
believe in this man (meaning the Prophet Muhammad)."
Malik was not pleased especially when his wife went on to
announce her acceptance of Islam in public and instruct her son
Anas in the teachings and practice of the new faith. She taught
him to say la ilaha ilia Allah and Ash hadu anna Muhammada-r
Rasulull ah. The young Anas repeated this simple but profound
declaration of faith clearly and emphatically.
Umm Sulaym's husband was now furious. He shouted at her: "Don't
corrupt my son." "I am not corrupting him ," she replied
Her husband then left the house and it is reported that he was
set upon by an enemy of his and was killed. The news shocked but
apparently did not upset Umm Sulaym greatly. She remained
devoted to her son Anas and was concerned about his. proper
upbringin g. She is even reported to have said that she would
not marry again unless Anas approved.
When it was known that Umm Sulaym had become a widow, one man,
Zayd ibn Sahl, known as Abu Talhah, resolved to become engaged
to her before anyone else did.
He was rather confident that Umm Sulaym would not pass him over
for another. He was after all a strong and virile person who was
quite rich and who possessed an imposing house that was much
admired. He was an accomplished horseman and a skilful archer
and , moreover, he belonged to the same clan as Umm Sulaym, the
Abu Talhah proceeded to Umm Sulaym's house. On the way he
recalled that she had been influenced by the preaching of Musab
ibn Umayr and had become a Muslim.
"So what?" he said to himself. "Was not her husband who died a
firm adherent of the old religion and was he not opposed to
Muhammad and his mission?"
Abu Talhah reached Umm Sulaym's house. He asked and was given
permission to enter. Her son Anas was present. Abu Talhah
explained why he had come and asked for her hand in marriage.
"A man like you, Abu Talhah ," she said, "is not (easily) turned
away. But I shall never marry you while you are a kafir, an
Abu Talhah thought she was trying to put him off and that
perhaps she had already preferred someone wealthier and more
influential. He said to her:
"What is it that really prevents you from accepting me, Umm
Sulaym? Is it the yellow and the white metals (gold and
"Gold and silver?" she asked somewhat taken aback and in a
slightly censuring tone. "Yes," he said. "I swear to you, Abu
Talhah, and I swear to God and His Messenger that if you accept
Islam, I shall be pleased to accept you as a husband, without
any gold or silver. I shall consider your acceptance of Islam as
Abu Talhah understood well the implications of her words. His
mind turned to the idol he had made from wood and on which he
lavished great attention in the same way that important men of
his tribe venerated and cared for their personal idols.
The opportunity was right for Umm Sulaym to stress the futility
of such idol worship and she went on: "Don't you know Abu
Talhah, that the god you worship besides Allah grew from the
earth?" "That's true," he said.
"Don't you feel stupid while worshipping part of a tree while
you use the rest of it for fuel to bake bread or warm yourself?
(If you should give up these foolish beliefs and practices) and
become a Muslim, Abu Talhah, I shall be pleased to accept you as
a husband and I would not want from you any sadaqah apart from
your acceptance of Islam."
"Who shall instruct me in Islam?" asked Abu Talhah. "I shall,"
Umm Sulaym replied. "How?"
"Utter the declaration of truth and testify that there is no god
but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. Then go
to your house, destroy your idol and throw it away."
Abu Talhah left and reflected deeply on what Umm Sulaym had
said. He came back to her beaming with happiness.
"I have taken your advice to heart. I declare that there is no
god but Allah and I declare that Muhammad is the Messenger of
Umm Sulaym and Abu Talhah were married. Anas, her son, was
pleased and the Muslims would say: "We have never yet heard of a
mahr that was more valuable and precious than that of Umm Sulaym
for she made Islam her mahr."
Umm Sulaym was pleased and delighted with her new husband who
placed his unique energies and talents in the service of Islam.
He was one of the seventy three men who swore allegiance to the
Prophet at the second Pledge of Aqabah. With him, according to
on e report, was his wife Umm Sulaym. Two other women, the
celebrated Nusaybah bint Kab and Asma bint Amr witnessed Aqabah
and took the oath of allegiance to the Prophet.
Abu Talhah was devoted to the Prophet and took enormous delight
in simply looking at him and listening to the sweetness of his
speech. He participated in all the major military campaigns. He
lived a very ascetic life and was known to fast for long periods
at a time. It is said that he had a fantastic orchard in Madinah
with date palms and grapes and running water. One day while he
was performing Salat in the shade of the trees, a beautiful bird
with brightly colored plumage flew in front of him. He became
engrossed in the scene and forgot how many rakats he had prayed.
Two? Three? When he completed the Prayer he went to the Prophet
and described how he had been distracted. In the end, he said:
"Bear witness, Messenger of Allah, that I hand over this orcha
rd as a charity for the sake of Allah, the Exalted."
Abu Talhah and Umm Sulaym had an exemplary Muslim family life,
devoted to the Prophet and the service of Muslims and Islam. The
Prophet used to visit their home. Sometimes when the time of
Prayer came, he would pray on a mat provided by Umm Sulaym.
Someti mes also he would have a siesta in their house and, as he
slept, she would wipe the perspiration from his forehead. Once
when the Prophet awoke from his siesta, he asked: "Umm Sulaym,
what are you doing?" "I am taking these (drops of perspiration)
as a ba rakah (blessing) which comes from you ," she replied.
At another time, the Prophet went to their house and Umm Sulaym
offered him dates and butterfat but he did not have any of it
because he was fasting. Occasionally, she would send her son
Anas with bags of dates to his house.
It was noticed that the Prophet, peace be on him, had a special
compassion for Umm Sulaym and her family and when asked about
it, he replied: "Her brother was killed beside me."
Umm Sulaym also had a well-known sister, Umm Haram, the wife of
the imposing Ubadah ibn as-Samit. She died at sea during a naval
expedition and was buried in Cyprus. Umm Sulaym's husband, Abu
Talhah, also died while he was on a naval expedition during the
time of the third Caliph, Uthman, and was buried at sea.
Umm Sulaym herself was noted for her great courage and bravery.
During the Battle of Uhud, she carried a dagger in the folds of
her dress. She gave water to and tended the wounded and she made
attempts to defend the Prophet when the tide of battle was tur
ning against him. At the Battle of Khandaq, the Prophet saw her
carrying a dagger and he asked her what she was doing with it.
She said: "It is to fight those who desert."
"May God grant you satisfaction in that," replied the Prophet.
In the face of adversity, Umm Sulaym displayed a unique calmness
and strength. One of her young sons (Umayr) fell sick and died
while her husband was away looking after his orchards. She bathe
d the child and wrapped him in shrouds. She told others at her
home that they should not inform Abu Talhah because she herself
wanted to tell him.
Umm Sulaym had another son whose name was Abdullah. A few days
after she gave birth, she sent Anas with the baby and a bag of
dates to the Prophet. The Prophet placed the baby on his lap. He
crushed the dates in his mouth and put some in the baby's mouth.
The baby sucked the dates with relish and the Prophet said: "The
Ansar are only fond of dates."
Abdullah eventually grew up and had seven children all of whom
memorized the Quran.
Umm Sulaym was a model Muslim, a model wife and mother. Her
belief in God was strong and uncompromising. She was not
prepared to endanger her faith and the upbringing of her
children for wealth and luxury, however abundant and tempting.
She was devoted to the Prophet and dedicated her son Anas to his
service. She took the responsibility of educating her children
and she played an active part in public life, sharing with the
other Muslims the hardships and the joys of building a community
and living for the pleasure of God.