Umm Habibah

    Umm Habibah  was the daughter of Abu Sufyan, a very powerful Quraishi chief and a staunch enemy of Islam. She was married to Ubaidullah ibn Jahsh , a cousin of the Prophet  and a brother of Zainab bint Jahsh . She thus became the sister-in-law of Zainab who, many years later, would become a wife of the Prophet . However, at the time this story begins, the Prophet's mission was just beginning in Makkah, and many Quraishi families were becoming split, as some members embraced Islam and others did not.  Abu Sufyan's family was one of those affected, as his daughter and son-in-law accepted Islam. Abu Sufyan and his family did not make things pleasant for the young couple. Umm Habibah and Ubaidullah  were in the first groups of Muslims who emigrated to Abyssinia, under the leadership of Ja'far , to escape persecution from their families.

    The king of Abyssinia, the Negus, placed the members of the Muslim community under his protection. However, Ubaidullah, who had been a Christian before entering Islam, reverted to Christianity in Abyssinia. This greatly upset Umm Habibah , who remained a Muslim.

    Shortly before the treaty of Hudaibiyah, years later, when the Muslims and the Makkans reached an agreement about performing Hajj the following year, the Prophet received the news that Ubaidullah had died of illness. When four months had passed after her husband's death, the Prophet sent a message to the Negus, asking him to marry Umm Habibah to the Prophet by proxy, that is, without the Prophet being physically present. He sent no direct message to Umm Habibah , but when she received the news from a messenger of the Negus, she consented. She chose her kinsman, Khalid ibn Sa'id , to give her in marriage, and the contract was finalized between him and the Negus, in the presence of Ja'far and some other Muslims. The Negus then invited the entire Muslim community to a wedding feast at his palace.

    The Prophet also sent word to Ja'far that the Muslim community should leave Abyssinia and join the Muslims in Madinah. The Negus gave the community two boats for transportation. Umm Habibah was among the Muslims who would return. Work on an apartment for her was begun in Madinah. Shortly after the victory of Khaibar, the Muslims from Abyssinia returned to their homeland. They had been away for thirteen years. Umm Habibah was now about thirty-five years old. A second wedding feast was held in Madinah. Umm Habibah  settled easily in among the other wives. Most of the wives, except Aishah had known her from Makkah, while Sawdah and Umm Salamah had been with her during the early years in Abyssinia. In addition, she was the sister-in-law of Zainab .

    Through his marriage to Umm Habibah , the Prophet became the son-in-law of the leader of the Quraish, Abu Sufyan. Umm Habibah suffered from no doubts about where her loyalties should lie. She and her father met for the first time, after fifteen years, when the Makkans had broken the terms of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah and Abu Sufyan had been sent to try to pacify the Prophet . The Prophet's  reception of Abu Sufyan was frosty, to say the least, so Abu Sufyan visited his daughter, in the hopes that she could intervene on his behalf. However, the interview did not go well for Abu Sufyan. When he entered her apartment and was about to sit on the best seat, which was the Prophet's rug, she hastily grabbed the rug from beneath him. She would not allow an idolator, a man unpurified, to sit on her husband's rug. She also asked him how it could be possible that a man who was the leader of his people would worship powerless stones, rather than embracing the power of Islam. His rather lame excuse was that his fathers had done so before him. In any case, Abu Sufyan left his daughter's apartment with no support from her. Her rejoicing must have been great when her father, after a long internal struggle, finally embraced Islam.

    Umm Habibah died at the age of seventy-three in the forty-fourth year of Hijrah during the reign of her brother, Mu'awiyah .

Bonnie L. Hamid

Published: November 2006