Asmaa Bint Abu Bakr

For Asmaa and indeed for many other Muslims, life in Madinah was rather difficult at first. Her husband was quite poor and his only major possession to begin with was a horse he had bought. Asmaa herself described these early days:

“I used to provide fodder for the horse, give it water and groom it. I would grind grain and make dough but I could not bake well. The women of the Ansar used to bake for me. They were truly good women. I used to carry the grain on my head from az-Zubayr’s plot which the Prophet had allocated to him to cultivate. It was about three farsakh (about eight kilometres) from the town’s centre. One day I was on the road carrying the grain on my head when I met the Prophet and a group of Sahabah. He called out to me and stopped his camel so that I could ride behind him. I felt embarrassed to travel with the Prophet and also remembered az-Zubayr’s jealousy–he was the most jealous of men. The Prophet realised that I was embarrassed and rode on.”

Later, Asmaa related to az-Zubayr exactly what had happened and he said, “By God, that you should have to carry grain is far more distressing to me than your riding with (the Prophet)”.

Asmaa obviously then was a person of great sensitivity and devotion. She and her husband worked extremely hard together until their situation of poverty gradually changed. At times, however, az-Zubayr treated her harshly. Once she went to her father and complained to him about this. His reply to her was: “My daughter, have sabr for if a woman has a righteous husband and he dies and she does not marry after him, they will be brought together again in Paradise.”

Az-Zubayr eventually became one of the richest men among the Sahabah but Asmaa did not allow this to corrupt her principles. Her son, al-Mundhir once sent her an elegant dress from Iraq made of fine and costly material. Asmaa by this time was blind. She felt the material and said, “It’s awful. Take it back to him”.

Al-Mundhir was upset and said, “Mother, it was not transparent.”

“It may not be transparent,” she retorted, “but it is too tight-fitting and shows the contours of the body.”

Al-Mundhir bought another dress that met with her approval and she accepted it.

If the above incidents and aspects of Asmaa’s life may easily be forgotten, then her final meeting with her son, Abdullah, must remain one of the most unforgettable moments in early Muslim history. At that meeting she demonstrated the keenness of her intelligence, her resoluteness and the strength of her faith.

Abdullah was in the running for the Caliphate after the death of Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah. The Hijaz, Egypt, Iraq, Khurasan and much of Syria were favourable to him and acknowledged him as the Caliph. The Ummayyads however continued to contest the Caliphate and to field a massive army under the command of Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf ath-Thaqafi. Relentless battles were fought between the two sides during which Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr displayed great acts of courage and heroism. Many of his supporters however could not withstand the continuous strain of battle and gradually began to desert him. Finally he sought refuge in the Sacred Mosque at Makkah. It was then that he went to his mother, now an old blind woman, and said:

“Peace be on you, Mother, and the mercy and blessings of God.”

“Unto you be peace, Abdullah,” she replied. “What is it that brings you here at this hour while boulders from Hajjaj’s catapults are raining down on your soldiers in the Haram and shaking the houses of Makkah?” “I came to seek your advice,” he said.

“To seek my advice?” she asked in astonishment. “About what?”

“The people have deserted me out of fear of Hajjaj or being tempted by what he has to offer. Even my children and my family have left me. There is only a small group of men with me now and however strong and steadfast they are they can only resist for an hour or two more. Messengers of the Banu Umayyah (the Umayyads) are now negotiating with me, offering to give me whatever wordly possessions I want, should I lay down my arms and swear allegiance to Abdul Malik ibn Marwan. What do you think?”

Raising her voice, she replied:

“It’s your affair, Abdullah, and you know yourself better. If however you think that you are right and that you are standing up for the Truth, then persevere and fight on as your companions who were killed under your flag had shown perseverance. If however you desire the world, what a miserable wretch you are. You would have destroyed yourself and you would have destroyed your men.”

“But I will be killed today, there is no doubt about it.”

“That is better for you than that you should surrender yourself to Hajjaj voluntarily and that some minions of Banu Umayyah should play with your head.”

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