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The Story of Umm Sulaym

Shaykh Rashīd Barbee

The touching story of Umm Sulaym details the struggles of a woman trying to expand her family whilst using her patience and faith in Allāh to persevere.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

“I entered Paradise, and heard footsteps. So I said, ‘Who is this?’ and they told me, ‘It is al-Ghumaysa’ (رضي الله عنها), the daughter of Milhan, the mother of Anas ibn Malik (رضي الله عنه) (Umm Sulaym (رضي الله عنها)).”

[Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim]

…So he married her (Umm Sulaym), and she was a woman with nice eyes, rather small. She was with him until she bore him a son, who Abū Ṭalḥah loved very much. The child became very ill, and Abū Ṭalḥah was very upset and distressed by the child’s sickness. Abū Ṭalḥah used to get up to pray the morning prayer, he would go to the Prophet (ﷺ) and pray with him, and would stay with him for almost half the day. Then [Abū Ṭalḥah] would come to take a nap and eat, and when he had prayed Zuhr [mid-day prayer] he would get ready and leave, and would not come back until the time of the ‘ʿIshāʾ’ [night-time] prayer. One evening, Abū Ṭalḥah went out to see the Prophet (ﷺ) (according to another report: to go to the mosque), and the child died (during his absence).

Um Sulaym said, “No one is to tell Abū Ṭalḥah about his child’s death until I have told him.” She covered the child up as if he were sleeping, and left him in a corner of the house. Abū Ṭalḥah came back from visiting the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) and brought some people from the mosque with him. He asked, “How is my son?” She said, “O Abū Ṭalḥah, from the time he fell sick, he has never been as calm as he is now, and I hope that he is resting.” (She spoke vaguely so as not to upset him; this was not a lie. She was referring to the calmness of death and the child finding relief from the pain of his sickness, but her husband took it to mean that the child’s condition had improved). She brought the meal and they all ate dinner, then the people left. Then he went to bed and lay down, and she got up and put on perfume and adorned herself, making herself more beautiful than she ever had before. (This was a sign of her patience and great faith in the will and decree of Allāh. She was seeking reward from Allāh and concealing her feelings, hoping that she would become pregnant that night to make up for the loss of her child). Then she came and lay down in the bed with him, and when he smelt the perfume, he did as men usually do with their wives (this is the narrator’s polite and circumspect manner of referring to what happened between them).

At the end of the night, she said, “O Abū Ṭalḥah, 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, “Allāh, may He be glorified, lent your son to you, and now He has taken him back, so seek reward with Him and have patience.” He became angry and said, “You left me until I did what I did (i.e., had intercourse), then you tell me that my son has died!” Then he said, “Innā Lillāhi wa innā ilayhi rājiʿūn (Truly, to Allāh we belong and truly, to Him we shall return – the words uttered by Muslims when faced with news of death or calamity) and he praised Allāh. In the morning, he did ghusl (full ablution) then he went to the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) and prayed with him, and told him what had happened. The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “May Allāh bless you for last night.” She conceived a child (thus the Prophet’s prayer for them was answered).

Umm Sulaym used to travel with the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ), leaving Madīnah when he left, and returning when he returned. The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “When she gives birth, bring the child to me.” He was on a journey, and Umm Sulaym was with him. When the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) came back from travelling, he would never enter Madīnah at night (so as not to disturb the people, and so that his wives would have time to get ready to greet their husbands). They reached the outskirts of Madīnah, and her labour pains started. Abū Ṭalḥah stayed with her, and the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) went on. Abū Ṭalḥah said, “O Allāh, you know that I like to set out with your Messenger when he sets out, and come back with him when he comes back. I have been detained as You see.” Umm Sulaym said, “O Abū Ṭalḥah, I do not feel the pains as much (this was one of her “miracles”; her labour pains ceased because she had asked Allāh to enable her to catch up with the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ)).

So they set off, and after they had reached Madīnah, her labour pains started again, and she gave birth to a boy. She told her son Anas, “O Anas, I will not give him anything to eat until you take him in the morning to the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ),” and she sent some dates with him. (Because she wanted the first thing to enter the child’s mouth to be food from the Prophet (ﷺ); this was a sign of her great faith, because the woman’s natural instinct is to hasten to feed the baby as soon as he is born). The child cried all night long, and I [Anas, the narrator of this story] stayed up all night taking care of him. In the morning, I took him to the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ), who was wearing his burdah (a kind of cloak) and marking the camels and sheep that had been given to him (the animals had been given in charity and he was marking them so that they would not get lost or mixed with other flocks or herds). When he saw him, he said to Anas, “Has the daughter of Milhān [i.e., Um Sulaym] given birth?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “I will be with you in a minute.” He put down the tool in his hand (with which he had been marking the animals) and took the child, then he said, “Do you have something for him?” They said, “Yes, dates.”

The Prophet (ﷺ) took some of the dates and chewed them, mixing them with his saliva (and the saliva of the Prophet (ﷺ) was blessed by Allāh). Then he opened the child’s mouth and gave him some of the dates, wiping them inside his mouth (this is called Tahneek and is one of the customs among Muslims when a baby is born). The infant began to smack his lips, sucking some of the sweetness of the dates and the saliva of the Prophet (ﷺ). Thus the first thing that entered that child’s stomach was mixed with the saliva of the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ). He said, “See how much the Ansār (the Muslims who were living in Madīnah when the Prophet migrated there) love dates!” I [Anas] said, “O Messenger of Allāh, name him.” He wiped his face and named him ʿAbdullāh. There was no young man among the Ansār who was better than him, and when he grew up he had a lot of sons, and was martyred in Persia (he died as a martyr when the Muslims conquered Persia; all of this happened as a result of the Prophet’s blessed duʿāʾ’).

Source: The story was reported by Imām al-Bukhārī, Muslim, Aḥmad, and al-Tayālisī; this version was reported by al-Tayālisī and others. Al-’Allāmah Muḥammad Nāṣir al-Dīn al-Albānī collected all its isnāds in his book Aḥkām al-Janā’iz, p. 20.

Published: October 7, 2013
Edited: February 11, 2023


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