Umm Haram – a Warrior and Martyr in her Seventies.

(An Article for the Muslim Weekly)

by Sr Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

Dear Editor, I was most interested to read about the mosque and tomb of Umm Haram in Cyprus (the Hala Sultan Tekke). From my own researches, I can vouch for the fact that Umm Haram was indeed one of the Prophet’s relatives, a sort-of aunt on his father’s side. The Prophet was the great-grandson of Salmah bint Amir of the Banu Adiy b. Najjar, an important and feisty lady trader of Yathrib/Madinah, who was also much-married (in the days before Islam when influential women thought nothing of marrying several husbands, even simultaneously, especially if they were nomadic). Her husbands included the celebrities Sheikh Uhayhah b. Julah of Banu Aws, Malik b. Adiy (b. Zayd b. Mina) of her own tribe, and Awf b. Abdu Awf of Banu Zuhrah, before she accepted the noble Amr (Hashim) b. Abdu’l Manaf of the Quraysh – with whom she refused to live in Makkah, but kept her own establishment in Yathrib. She brought up their sons in her own household, the first of whom was the Prophet’s (pbuh) grandfather Shaybah, better known as Abdu’l Muttalib.

Abdu’l Muttalib had a half-sister Mulaykah, Salmah’s daughter by her husband Malik b. Adiy. Mulaykah married Milhan b. Khalid, and the sisters Umm Haram (or Halah) bint Milhan and her sister – the better known Umm Sulaym[1] (or Ghumaysah) – were their daughters. Thus Umm Haram was a grand-daughter of that Salmah who was the Prophet’s great-grandmother. Umm Haram’s husband was Amr b. Qays, and they had two sons, Qays and Abdullah.

So far as I know, the Prophet (pbuh) never visited his Yathribi relatives before the age of six, when his mother, the widow Aminah, took him to visit his relatives and the grave of his father Abdullah. I would think it unlikely that the Prophet (pbuh) took breast-milk from any of them at the age of 6. (It was not impossible, however – a woman could express breast-milk to give a sip to a person she wished to include amongst her mahrem).

This group of ladies were among the very first converts of Yathrib, leading Muslims long before the faith spread amongst their menfolk, long before the people of Yathrib/Madinah sent their deputations to invite Muhammad (pbuh) to come to live there and be their ruler, and long before the Hijrah actually took place. It may well be that their influence, plus that of several other leading matriarchs of Yathrib, helped to account for the fact that Islam and its Prophet (pbuh) were so successful in Yathrib whereas they had faced persecution in Makkah.

After the Prophet (pbuh) settled in Madinah, in his fifties, Umm Sulaym sent her son Anas b. Malik, who was about 12 at the time, to serve him and help look after him. He grew up in the Prophet’s household to become one of the most famous of Companions and recorders of hadiths. His records give most of the intimate details that we have about the Prophet’s life.

The Prophet’s (pbuh) everyday routine was to take a rest from the heat of the day after the mid-day prayer. He used to visit the homes of various friends to relax, and regularly enjoyed the hospitality of Umm Sulaym and her sister Umm Haram.

Umm Sulaym’s house was one of the Prophet’s (pbuh) favourites. She would spread out a leather mat for him to lie on, and on very hot days, when his sweat was left on the mat, she used to collect it and keep it in little phials. One day the Prophet (pbuh) had dozed there while she was out. She came in and saw him asleep with beads of perspiration visible on the leather cloth, and immediately started trying to collect it. He woke up with a start, and asked what she was doing. She explained that she used to mix his perspiration with her perfume, and that people sought blessings for their children through it. He allowed her to continue doing this.[2] She also collected any of his fallen hair, and cut off the neck of the leather water-bag he used to drink from, and kept these as relics.[3]

‘By Him in whose hand is my life, you are the dearest to me among the people,’ he once said when Umm Sulaym came to visit him, and repeated it three times.[4] The Prophet (pbuh) commented that she was the only woman he felt he was able to visit even when her husband was not there,[5] a friendship which was augmented when her brother Haram died as one of the martyrs of Badr. On one occasion he commented that he had entered Paradise and heard the sound of footsteps. When he asked who it was coming, the people of Paradise told him ‘Ghumaysah (ie Umm Sulaym), the mother of Anas b. Malik.’

Anas recorded that when the Prophet (pbuh) took dinner in the house of his grandmother Mulaykah (the Prophet’s grandfather Abdu’l Muttalib’s half-sister), they would pray with him in three lines, the Prophet (pbuh) in front of them, then himself and Damir – an orphan boy who lived with her, and then the old lady herself on her old black mat.[6] Sometimes the Prophet (pbuh) prayed in Anas’ house with Umm Sulaym and Umm Haram. When these four prayed together, the Prophet (pbuh) would place Anas beside him on his right, with the two women behind.[7]

Anas particularly loved his aunt Umm Haram, who once made him an upper and lower garment out of one of her head-dresses. Umm Haram lived at the Quba oasis, and it was said that whenever the Prophet rode out to Quba (usually for the Friday congregational prayer) he used to go to Umm Haram’s house to take his meal and relax afterwards.

He enjoyed being tended and ‘groomed’ and both sisters were among those allowed the intimacy of taking his head in their laps to comb him carefully and check him for lice (which were a frequent menace in Arabia, no matter how clean the person).[8]
Once, whilst Umm Haram was doing this chore, the Prophet (pbuh) dozed off, and woke up with a beaming smile. He said he had seen Muslim warriors gliding on the waters like kings on thrones. Umm Haram asked if he had noticed her amongst the warriors. He did not answer, but laid his head down and dozed off again, and this time he did see her. He told her she would be amongst the leading warriors of Islam.[9]

Umm Haram’s husband (Amr b. Qays) was martyred at the battle of Uhud, leaving her a widow. The Jewish-Muslim chieftain Abdullah Ibn Ubayy then arranged for her to marry his close friend Ubadah b. Samit b. Qays of Banu Khazraj, who also happened to be a nephew of her dead husband.[10] Although they were both then in their fifties, Umm Haram bore Ubadah a son, whom they named Muhammad. The Prophet (pbuh) made Ubadah the officer in charge of collecting and distributing the zakah.

When he was Caliph, Umar appointed Ubadah b. Samit as Governor of Palestine, and then later Qadi of Syria, and thus Umm Haram became a wealthy and much-travelled lady. Ubadah was a forthright opponent of the Umayyad Caliph Mu’awiyyah.
In 647-8 CE/27-8 AH when they were in their seventies, Ubadah formed the first Muslim fleet and led the first Arab raids against Cyprus. Umm Haram was, as ever, with her husband and the army, at his side. The Prophet’s (pbuh) dream about her was fulfilled during the siege of Larnaca when she fell from her horse. This female warrior, at such an age, was frail, and the fall broke her neck. She was buried on the western edge of Larnaca’s salt lake in southern Cyprus with its minarets reflected in the water, the tekke these days a peaceful sanctuary surrounded by a copse of tall cypress and palm trees and flowering shrubs.[11] Her grave was marked with three huge stones and a black rock believed to have fallen as a meteorite (in similar way to the black rock set in the Ka’bah).[12] I believe that today her tomb lies south of the mosque, below a large monolith and shielded by green-colored drapes, a sacred colour for Muslims, which symbolizes paradise. Superstitious women used to go there, walk around it three times and then throw a pebble in a well outside. If the pebble rippled in the water, they believed their wish would come true.

The indefatigable Ubadah went on to become Qadi of Jerusalem, and died there in 654/34 – at the age of c.82.
I would love to see her history published in your newspaper, if possible. Your readers might be interested. She was a great Muslim role model. Incidentally, my book on the life of the Prophet (pbuh) – from which I picked out these details for you, is due to be published by the Institute of Islamic Research of Islamabad in 2006, insha’Allah.



[1] Her real name was Ghumaysah bint Milhan b. Khalid b. Zayd b. Haram b. Jundub b. Amir b. Ghunaym b. Adiy b. Bukhar. She was also known as Rumaysah, Rumaylah or Rumaythah.
[2] Muslim 1084, 5762; Bukhari 8.298, etc.
[3] ‘Women of Madina’ from Ibn Sa’d vol 8. p.280.
[4] Muslim 6012.
[5] ‘Women of Madina’ from Ibn Sa’d vol 8. p.280.
[6] Muslim 1387, Bukhari 1.377.
[7] Muslim 316-7, 1389 etc.
[8] Bukhari 4.47. There are many references to troublesome lice in the hadiths. People often used to wash their hair in camels’ urine to get rid of them. Anas recorded how Abdu’r Rahman b. Awf and Zubayr complained to the Prophet (pbuh) about the lice that caused itching, and were allowed to wear silken clothes. ‘I saw them wearing such clothes in a holy battle,’ he said. Bukhari 4.170.
[9] Muslim 4699.
[10] Ubadah had previously been married to Jamilah bint Abu Sa’Sa’ah, the mother of Walid b. Ubadah.
[11] Larnaca Area tourist information on CosmosNet. The tombs of King Hussein of Jordan’s great-grandmother Khadijah who died in Cyprus in 1929. and grandfather Abdullah are also here. Khadijah was the Turkish wife of King Hussein Ibn Serif Ali. King Hussein comes from the line of the Prophet Mohammad and so his wife was buried at the side of Hala Sultan’s grave.
[12] ‘Aphrodite’s island’, by Penny Drayton, Wood & water, Vol.2, No.41, Jan 1993.



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