Editor’s note: Muslim societies today are not free from the sickness of racism. The following post introduces a little known character of Islamic history, whose position in the nascent Muslim community serves as a model for race relations in our contemporary society.
Among the early Muslim women of African origin was Umm Ayman. She was the nanny of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and took care of him from the time of his birth. The Prophet ﷺ in turn loved her and was very kind to her. Indeed, he used to praise her in front of his Companions. It is narrated that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘Whoever desires to wed a woman from Paradise, then let him marry Umm Ayman.’ So Zayd bin Haritha married Umm Ayman and she bore him a son, Usama bin Zayd. (Related by Ibn Sa’d.) And what greater honor is there than being a woman of Paradise!
When Usama bin Zayd was born, the Prophet ﷺ used to love him so much that he was known as ‘the Beloved of the Prophet’! No wonder, for his father was Zayd bin Haritha, who was so loved by the Prophet ﷺ that he adopted him, until the command was revealed in Qur’an to attribute everyone to their father. And Usama’s mother was Umm Ayman, who was greatly respected and treated as a second mother by the Prophet ﷺ. We can see this love in the following authentic narration:
وعن عبدِ اللَّهِ بنِ عمرَ رضي اللَّهُ عنهما، قال: ( بَعَثَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم بَعْثًا، وَأَمَّرَ عليهِم أُسامةَ بنَ زيدٍ فَطَعَنَ بعضُ النَّاسِ في إمارَتِهِ، فقالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم: « أَنْ تَطْعُنُوا فِي إِمَارَتِهِ فَقَدْ كُنْتُمْ تَطْعُنُونَ فِي إِمَارَةِ أَبِيهِ مِنْ قَبْلُ، وَايْمُ اللَّهِ إِنْ كَانَ لَخَلِيقًا لِلْإِمَارَةِ وَإِنْ كَانَ لَمِنْ أَحَبِّ النَّاسِ إِلَيَّ، وَإِنَّ هَذَا لَمِنْ أَحَبِّ النَّاسِ إِلَيَّ بَعْدَهُ» . رواه البخاري ومسلم.
Narrated ‘Abd Allah bin ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him and his father):
“The Prophet ﷺ sent an army and appointed Usama bin Zayd as their commander. When some people criticized Usama’s leadership, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘If you are criticizing Usama’s leadership, then you used to criticize his father’s leadership before. By Allah, he (Zayd) was worthy of leadership and was one of the most beloved persons to me, and now this (i.e. his son, Usama) is among the most beloved to me” (Bukhari and Muslim).
From Umm Ayman and her family, we see that Islam gives equal status to everyone, and people excel one another by nothing but piety and righteousness. Indeed, discrimination based on color, race, or gender has no place in Islam.
عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه أن رسولَ الله صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم قال: « المُسْلِمُ أخُو المُسْلِمِ: لا يَظْلِمُهُ، ولا يَخْذُلُهُ ولا يَحْقِرُهُ، التَّقْوَى ههُنَا، التَّقْوَى ههُنَا، ويُشِيرُ إلى صَدْرِهِ، بِحْسبِ امْرِيءٍ مِنَ الشَّرِّ أَنْ يَحْقِرَ أَخَاهُ المُسْلِمَ، كُلُّ المُسْلِمِ عَلَى المُسْلِمِ حَرَامٌ: دَمُهُ، وعِرْضُهُ، ومَالُهُ، إنَّ اللَّهَ لا يَنْظُرُ إلَى أجْسَادِكُمْ، وَلا إلَى صُوَرِكُمْ، وأَعْمَالِكُمْ، ولكِنْ يَنْظُرُإلَى قُلُوبِكُمْ». رواه البخاري ومسلم.
Narrated Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet ﷺ said:
“A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He neither oppresses him, nor humiliates him, nor looks down upon him. Piety is here (and while saying so he pointed towards his chest). It is a serious evil for a Muslim that he should look down upon his brother Muslim. All things of a Muslim are prohibited for his brother in faith: his blood, his wealth, and his honor. Verily Allah does not look to your bodies nor to your faces and actions but He looks to your hearts.” (Bukhari and Muslim).
It is well-known that Bilal, the freed African slave, had great status with the Prophet ﷺ. And now we learn about Umm Ayman, the African nursemaid of the Prophet ﷺ, who had a similar high regard and status with the Prophet ﷺ. Suffice it to say, these examples serve as important lessons for us today in our interaction with others.