Inspiration from the Life of Umm Sulaym (rta)

flowerblueSaheeh Muslim recorded that the Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “I entered Paradise and heard footsteps. So I said, ‘Who is this?’ and they told me, ‘It is al-Ghumaysa’ (rta), the daughter of Milhan, the mother of Anas ibn Malik, (rta) (Umm Sulaym (rta)).”Umm Sulaym bint Milhan (rtf) is known by several names: Sahlah, Rumaylah, Rumaythah, Maleekah, Ghumaysa and Rumaysah. But her most popular name is Umm Sulaym. She was the maternal aunt of the Prophet (sa), either through ties of Rada’ah (breastfeeding) or through ties of blood. Umm Sulaym (rta) was amongst those who pronounced the Shahadah in the early days of Islam. She was an Ansari woman married to Malik ibn Nadr. They had a blessed son by the name of Anas bin Malik (rta). When he was just ten years old, Umm Sulaym took him to the Prophet (sa) so that he could be with him and serve him.

Marital life

At the time Umm Sulaym (rta) came into the folds of Islam, her husband was still a disbeliever. Umm Sulaym (rta) separated from her husband when Malik refused to accept Islam despite constant invitations to the truth. Later, Malik left Madinah and settled in Syria, where he breathed his last. After the demise of her husband, Umm Sulaym (rta) was proposed to by Abu Talha Al Ansari (rta). This was at the time when Abu Talha (rta) was still practising polytheism. Umm Sulaym (rta) invited Abu Talha (rtam) to monotheism. She said to him: “I have embraced Islam, and I do not want any bridal gift (Mahr) other than your acceptance of Islam.” Abu Talha (rta) contemplated for some time and finally returned, only to declare his Shahadah. Thus, Umm Sulaym (rta) became the first Muslim woman whose Mahr was not in the form any worldly object; rather, her Mahr was the acceptance of Islam by the one who had proposed to her. Not only did she find a noble companion, but also succeeded in guiding a person into the folds of Islam.

Woman with an exemplary patience and wisdom

Umm Sulaym (rta) and Abu Talha (rta) were blessed with a son. It so happened that the child fell ill and one day, by the will of Allah (swt), the child departed from this world. Abu Talha was away from home at the time. Umm Sulaym (rta) gave her son his final Ghusl and covered him up. When Abu Talha (rta) returned home, he inquired about their son’s condition. Umm Sulaym (rta) replied: “O Abu Talhah, from the time he fell sick, he has never been as calm as he is now, and I hope that he is resting.” She did not wish to upset her husband so soon after arriving home. When she said that he was calm, she meant the calmness that one attains after being relieved from the pains of sickness. Upon hearing these words, Abu Talha (rta) assumed that his son was on the road to recovery. Consequently, he peacefully had a meal with his wife and took a nap. It was after Abu Talha (rta) had rested, that Umm Sulaym (rtaf) said to him, “O Abu Talhah, do you think that if some people lent something to some others, then they asked for it back, do they have the right not to give it back?” He said, “No.” She said, “Allah (swt), may He be glorified, lent your son to you, and now He has taken him back, so seek reward with Him and have patience.”

The first time I heard this story and these words, I just could not accept it to be true. I thought no mother could ever exhibit such patience at the time of her child’s death. I was wrong. I was wrong because I did not realise what faith actually means – faith in the promises of Allah (swt) for those who bear trials of this life with patience; faith in Allah (swt) that whatever He ordains, there is definitely some good in it for us; faith that this life is transitory – good or bad everything shall pass eventually; therefore, it is the Hereafter that we need to focus upon.

Muhammad Ahmed, my son, moved on to the next world at the age of two-and-a-half months after spending three days in an intensive care unit. Sharing the news of his death with his older siblings was challenging. Challenging in the sense that the manner in which they were to be informed about the departure of a loved one from this world would determine their outlook about life and its trials, as well as, determine their relationship with their Rabb. Alhumdulillah, this beautiful example of Umm Sulaym (rta) gave me the strength that I never knew I possessed. Wa ma Yaufeeqi illa billah.

Concept of grief in Islam

Islam is a Deen upon Fitrah (nature). It does not expect a person to do things beyond their ability. Patience in the face of calamity does not mean that you bottle up your feelings and live your life deprived of emotions. If that was the case, then our beloved Prophet Muhammad (sa) would not have cried at the time of his son Ibrahim’s death. It is recorded in the Saheehain that at that difficult time, when Prophet (sa) was asked about his tears, he had replied: “The eyes tear, the heart is in pain. But (with my tongue) I will only say that which is pleasing to Allah (swt). And we are indeed sad at your departure, O Ibraheem.”  If crying was prohibited, then Yaqoob (as) would not have cried at the separation of his son Yusuf (as) to the extent that he lost his eye-sight. It is normal and acceptable to feel grief and pain in one’s heart over the loss of a blessing. What is not acceptable is our failure to recognise that it was an Amanah which had to return to its Owner.

It is recorded in Tirmidhi that Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: When a man’s child dies, Allah (swt) asks His angels: “Have you taken the life of the child of my slave?” And they say: “Yes”. Allah (swt) then asks: “Have you taken the fruit of his heart?” And they say: “Yes.” Allah (swt) then asks: “What did my slave say?” The angels say: “He praised you and said ‘Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilaihi Rajioon’.” (We are all Allah’s (swt) property, and we will all surely return to Him.) And then Allah (swt) says, “Build a house for my slave in Jannah and name it Bait Al Hamd (The House of Praise).”

Umm Sulaym (rta) earned Jannah for herself in return for her total submission to Allah (swt). May Allah (swt) be pleased with her, and may He guide us through her example. Ameen.