Most of us recognize Sumayyah (rtaf) as the first female martyr of Islam. However, only few realize that she actually was the first person ever to be martyred for proclaiming Shahadah, and as such she will lead the martyrs on the Day of Judgement. Her heart-rending story holds inspiration and food for thought for all those who suffer due to their faith and, of course, women in particular, as Allah (swt) chose to honor martyrs by making a destitute yet resilient woman their leader.
Sheikh Omar Suleiman’s narration of Sumayyah’s (rtaf) story made me sit up when he pointed out that Sumayyah (rtaf) was an old woman – she is said to have been twenty years older than Prophet (sa). When we examine her life, we can see that Allah (swt) in His infinite wisdom chose to make her from amongst the most downtrodden and helpless in the Makkan society. She was Abyssinian by descent, a slave of Abu Hudhaifah bin Mugheerah, and wife of Yasir (rtam), a man who had no tribal support of his own and therefore could offer her neither protection nor wealth. In material terms, she had little to be thankful for, except perhaps her son Ammar (rtam).
Yet, due to the purity of her Fitrah, she recognized that only a patient belief in the Hereafter could lead her peacefully through the trials of this world. She proclaimed the Shahadah with utter conviction, and no amount of cruelty could waver her belief.
- According to Mujahid, she was one of the first seven people who embraced Islam.
- She was older than even Khadeejah (rtaf). It was during her sixties that she was subjected to various forms of torture – being made to wear an armour in the heat of Makkah, being whipped, being buried in the burning sand, humiliated and taunted and finally martyred with a spear in the fifth year of prophethood.
- Her suffering resembles the suffering of Aasiyah (rtaf) at the hands of the Pharaoh. She too suffered at the hands of the pharaoh of Makkah – Abu Jahl.
- In spite of her weakened state, she could not stand Abu Jahl insulting the Prophet (sa) and she spat at him for defending the Prophet’s (sa) honour.
Points to Ponder
- Sumayyah (rtaf) stands as a role model for women in general and Muslim women in particular. She saw none of Islam’s glory and suffered abject poverty and slavery throughout her life; yet, she had absolute conviction in the Prophet’s (sa) promise of Jannah. Her son, in a moment of weakness, succumbed to torture, but she withstood on the basis of her firm faith.
- In a staunchly patriarchal society that was also deeply entrenched in biases on the basis of race, wealth and lineage, she stood firm in front of Abu Jahl, who could humiliate and torture with impunity.
- She did not choose to remain prudently silent, when the Prophet (sa) was insulted. At the cost of her own life, she vehemently avenged his honour – a true example of Gheerah for Islam.
- Martyrdom is generally achieved by the Mujahid men, but Allah (swt) chose her, a woman, to lead the martyrs in the Hereafter. Like Hajar, hers an example that women and men must emulate.
Therefore, Sumayyah’s (rtaf) life gives us hope in these bleak times of religious discrimination, genocide, and economic distress.