The Fruits of an Ideal Marriage
A comparison of two marriages in the earliest days of Islam that give a fair representation of the nature and outcome of the two marriage types throughout history. It is in this light that we can understand why the Prophet (saws) emphasized on choosing the spouse with morality and religious commitment.
Aristocrats, uncles of the Prophet, rich and married to extraordinary wives, Abu Lahab and Abu Talha had many striking similarities. But the faith contrasted their fate and that of their respective households.
In Makkah, once lived an unparalleled Qurayshite leader and chieftain of Bani Hashim, the Makkan responsible clan of watering and feeding the pilgrims. His name was Shaybah b. Hashim, best known as `Abd al-Muttalib. Exceeding his forebears, `Abd al-Mutallib miraculously dug and revitalized Zamzam, the centuries-long buried and lost sacred well which was first revealed during the time of the Prophet Ibrahim and his son Isma`il(peace be upon them). `Abd al-Muttalib sagacity and generosity went beyond human welfare; as he would feed birds and wild beings. Hence he bequeathed his sons high regard, esteem and influence. Abu Lahab was one of the ten sons of `Abd al-Muttalib, who wealthily lived his pre-Islamic life in Makkah showing some aspects of his father traits, such as generosity and sense of brotherhood. When informed by his slave-girl Thuwaibah of a posthumous son being born to his late paternal half-brother `Abdullah, Abu Lahab freed her as an expression of his gratitude for carrying the good news to him.
Intuitively, Abu Lahab relationship with his orphan nephew Muhammad b. `Abdullah (saws) remained on the same affectionate terms for four decades, within which double marriage took place between their children: `Utbah b. Abi Lahab to Ruqayyah bint Muhammad and `Utaibah b. Abi Lahab to Umm Kulthum bint Muhammad. But surprisingly, Abu Lahab was incensed by learning the honor of the prophet-hood divinely bestowed upon his once-darling nephew, Muhammad (saws). The Prophet started conveying the divine message in Makkah. But, the more the divine message expanded,the worser his uncle, Abu Lahab’s madness and enmity became,as he could foresee that the divine message of human equality was a threat to his high social class and supremacy. Yet Abu Lahab shared the animosity against the Prophet with his wife, called Umm Jamil, to the extent that it is difficult to determine who, among the couple, had a greater share. Even more difficult to say was who was behind the other, or at the front, in this hostility.
Each of the duo did, or attempted to, inflict oppression of all kinds on the Prophet – verbal insult, physical attack, public humiliation – so much so that their notoriety is eternalized by being the only enemy of the Prophet (saws) cursed by name and, that too, in a complete chapter of the holy Qur’an (Chapter: 111).
By reviewing the reliable sources to satisfy the curiosity of knowing the basis of Abu Lahab and Umm Jamil marriage, we find no explicit information. However, Umm Jamil, in her turn, was an aristocrat, similar to Abu Lahab in nobility; for being daughter of Harb b. Umayya,a Qurayshite leader, chieftain of Kinana clan and a commander of the famous pre-Islamic war of Fijar. And for being sister of Abu Sufiyan, the master of Qurayshite tribes, and a powerful Arab leader of pre and early period of Islam. She happened to boast by saying: “The Qurayshites are aware that I am the daughter of their master.” She is well-remembered for the luxurious life she led. She once vowed to spend her expensive necklace in the enmity against the Prophet (saws). While Abu Lahab’s handsomeness and physical beauty is widely reported, her look is not commented upon, though her nickname, Umm Jamil, hints to the fact of her being pretty. Having said that, the lineage or social status, the wealth and beauty are the known reasons of Abu Lahab and Umm Jamil’s marriage.
This marriage did not only bring disaster to the couple, but it rendered them disaster, itself, to their entire household. Under the threat of Abu Lahab (“My head is unlawful to yours if you do not divorce Muhammad’s daughters!”)both of his sons divorced their wives, the daughters of the Prophet (saws), even before consummation of the marriages. `Utayba in particular did not stop at the divorce but typically followed the footsteps of his mother in satirizing the Qur’an until he was cursed by the Prophet (saws). And he was consequently expired by being devoured by a lion. And Abu Lahab, himself, sustained a fatal wound in Makkah, which dangerously turned into sepsis and open pustules all over his body. As he was dying, the wound became so repulsive that nobody could come near him, even his own household, out of fear of contagion of the disease. Hence, his decaying body was watered from a distance, and then pushed into a grave outside Mecca, and stones were thrown over it.
In Madinah, lived Abu Talha in nobility and aristocracy, not less than Abu Lahab’s. He was the wealthiest man of Madinah and mighty warrior with unique aptitude in archery. He was of Banu Najjar, an Arab Madinan tribe, whose members are considered as the uncles of the Prophet; for both of his paternal grandmother and paternal great grandmother belonged to Bani Najjar. Unlike Abu Lahab, Abu Talha received the news of the spread of Islam in Madinah with neither aggressive attitude nor oppressing behavior. When he intended to be married, his choice fell on Umm Sulaym, real name Rumaisa bint Milhan, who was a widow and well-known for the highest moral and intellectual qualities. She was among the few earliest converts to Islam in that pre-Hijrah era in Madinah, whereas the suitor Abu Talha was still follower of the idol-worshiping religion. “I am not allowed to marry you, because you are a disbeliever,” Said she, rejecting his proposal:“Abu Talha, don’t you know that your deities are sculpted by so and so; and if you set fire to them, they will burn down.” In a bid to attract her, Abu Talha offered her gold and silver. But Umm Sulaym turned down the offer, with the rejoinder: “A man like you, Abu Talha is too good to be rejected, but I will not marry you.However, if you accept Islam, I will. And your Islam will be my Mahr (dowry) and I will seek nothing more.”
While Abu Lahab responded to the Prophet’s call to Islam by saying “Woe unto you the rest of the day,” Abu Talha’s un-uttered response to Umm Sulaym’s call to Islam seemed like saying “May we be blessed by this faith forever.” Hence, he embraced Islam and Umm Sulaym married him with his conversion to Islam as her Mahr.
Abu Talha’s marriage gave rise to a household which shone from all its angles: father, mother and offspring. Soon after his conversion, Abu Talha along with 74 newly Madinah Muslims journeyed to Makkah, met the Prophet and invited him to migrate to Madinah after undertaking the pledge of allegiance, obedience, assistance and protection.
As the invitation was honored the following year by Hijrah, Abu Talha fulfilled his pledge to the fullest. He spent his most precious property in the cause of Islam and heroically fought all the battles of the Prophet.
At the Uhud Battle, fighters ran away, but Abu Talha persevered in defense of the Prophet, and he was famously quoted as saying: “O Messenger of Allah! Let my father and mother be sacrificed for your sake! Please [stay behind me and] don’t look and raise your head, so as not to be shot by an arrow of the enemy. Let my neck and chest be hit instead of yours.” Abu Talha continued his life with the same manly spirit until old age. His demise occurred in the ship at sea while sailing on a military expedition, during the reign of the Caliph `Uthman b. `Affan. It took seven days before his companions found an island to bury him. However, during all this time, his corpse remained unchanged, as if he was sleeping.
For his wife Umm Sulaym, she recorded, with her sacrifice and devotion, instances beyond imagination, such as her attendance of Hunayn Battle while pregnant, for watering and caring the wounded fighters, and the gift she presented to the Prophet:’O Messenger of Allah! No man or woman of Ansar is left without giving you a present. And for me I can’t afford for any gift except this son [Anas b. Malik]. So take him, he shall serve you for whatever you like’. And fortitude she showed on the death of her short-lived son Abu Umayr, upon which the Prophet supplicated to Allah for her family. Umm Sulaym is also honorably mentioned in a Hadith of Allah’s Messenger (saws): “I entered Paradise and heard footsteps. I said: ‘Who is it?’ They said: ‘She is Rumaisa, daughter of Milhan, the mother of Anas b. Malik.” (Sahih Muslim).
The couple had two long-lived sons. The first was Anas b. Malik, stepson of Abu Talha as he was of the first marriage of Umm Sulaym and he was servant of the Prophet. Anas became prominent Companion scholar, the third most quoted transmitter of Hadith andasrich as Abu Talha. `Abdullah b. Abi Talha, the second son, was also a scholar and father of ten children, all of them were scholars, memorizers of the Qur’an, and most of them narrated and transmitted sciences of Islam, including Ishaaq b. `Abdullah b. Abi Talha, a teacher of Malik b. Anas, the scholarly giant Imam of Madinah and the founder of Maliki school of jurisprudence that is followed by many Muslims up until now.
In the light of above, we can understand why the Prophet (saws) emphasized on choosing the spouse with morality and religious commitment. He said: “Marry a woman who is religiously-committed.”
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