Umm `Atiyyah, the Teenager Believer

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An Ansari woman who embraced Islam before the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) immigration to Madinah, Umm `Atiyyah was a devoted Muslim who was eager to be in the forefront of servants of the new faith.

It is well-known that the Ansar (or the Helpers) gave their pledges to the Prophet Muhammad (saws) at `Aqabah, in Mina, before he moved to join them in their city. However, the number of people who attended that pledge was only 75. Therefore, when the Prophet arrived in Madinah, all its Muslim population gave him their pledges.

It was the men who did so at first. The women of the Ansar wanted not to be outdone. They went to the Prophet and said to him: “Messenger of God, our men have given you their pledges of loyalty. We also would like to give you our pledges.” He accepted that.

The terms of the pledge are those specified in the Qur’an:

“Prophet! When believing women come and pledge to you that they will not associate any partner with God, nor steal, nor commit adultery, nor kill their children, nor lie about who fathered their children, nor disobey you in anything reasonable, then accept their pledge of allegiance and pray to God to forgive them.” (60: 12)

Under the heading, ‘nor disobey you in anything reasonable,’ the Prophet mentioned that women ‘must not wail, scratch their faces, tear their clothes, pull their hair or lament for the death of anyone.’ Such manifestations of grief are unbecoming of Muslim women, because all Muslims know that death is caused by God and Muslims must always resign themselves to accept God’s will.

Umm `Atiyyah, whose name was Nusaybah bint Al-Harith, was a dedicated servant of Islam. When the Prophet went on an expedition of Jihad, he normally took some women with him. He would take one of his wives and some women who were able to serve the army, particularly when a battle is fought. Umm `Atiyyah was always ready to join a Muslim army.

She reports: “I went with God’s messenger on seven expeditions: I would watch over their belongings, cook for them, treat the wounded and nurse the ill.” (Related by Muslim).

Umm Atiyyah had very close relations with the Prophet’s household. She was friendly with his wives, particularly Ayesha (ra). She was also close to the Prophet’s daughters. Indeed, she was the one who prepared the body of his eldest daughter for burial, when Zaynab died early in year 8AH. She reports: “When Zaynab, the Prophet’s daughter, died, he told us: ‘Wash her an odd number of times, three or five. Use camphor with the last wash. When you have finished, let me know.’ When we finished, he gave us his robe to cover her with.” (Related in all six authentic anthologies).

It is also reported that she was the one who also prepared the body of the Prophet’s other daughter, Umm Kulthoom for burial. She wanted to render a service to the Prophet’s family. Being a woman of intelligence, she was thus able to report how deceased women should be prepared for burial. We have learnt this from her.

Umm `Atiyyah reported forty Hadiths, six of which are related by both al-Bukhari and Muslim. Al-Bukhari related one more on his own and Muslim one. The remainder of her Hadiths are related in other anthologies.

Umm `Atiyyah lived for sometime in Basra, in southern Iraq, where a number of scholars learnt from her the Hadiths of the Prophet. `Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and the fourth Caliph used to visit her there. However, she returned to Madinah where she spent her last days.

We do not know the exact date of her death, but she lived for many years after the four Caliphs, which suggests that she was a young woman, may be in her late teens or early twenties, when she accepted Islam.