Umm Salama was one of the wives of Prophet Muhammad and who he inherited from his friend Abu Salama. Umm Salama’s ability to recall numerous Hadiths led to her being considered the most influential wife of Muhammad. Part of this influence had to do with the fact that she, together with her former husband, was among the first people to convert to Islam. In fact, she had left her honorable life and left for Abyssinia after the persecution that followed the conversion to Islam (Jardim, 2014). After her husband’s death in battle, she was married to the Prophet. The influence that Umm Salama had is evidenced in how she influenced decisions and especially regarding the position of women in religion. In many instances, Umm Salama questioned the treatment of women in the religion. Essentially, Hind, as was her personal name, is seen as a feminist who advocated for the women in her days.
Feminism is the advocacy and support for the equality and rights of women. In her days, as narrated in the Koran, Umm Salama is seen as pushing for the achievement of socio-economic, cultural, personal and political rights of women equal to those of men. Umm Salama’s physical beauty guaranteed her the privilege of being consulted regarding matters that vitally affected the community. The Koran depicts Salama as a woman who never accepted that God required women to be subservient to men (Jardim, 2014). In her personal awareness, she questioned religious inconsistencies that were dominant in the early days of Islam. She raised issues that only mature women would ask back in those days
In one instance, Umm Salama is recorded as questioning why only men were mentioned in the Koran and not women. In raising the question, the Prophet’s wife was aware of the fact the Koran had been written in a language that was gender insensitive thus giving more importance to the men than it did to women. During the days, God spoke directly to Prophet Muhammad and she patiently waited for the reply from God. In the answer that God gave Muhammad, men and women were considered as equal in God’s eyes. The answer from God, and one that was recited by Muhammad in the Mosque, affirmed her feminist belief that “Allah spoke of the sexes in terms of total equality as believers” (Uthman, 2009). Accordingly, the grace from Allah was not determined by the recipient’s sex. Rather, it is ones faith and willingness to obey and serve God that guaranteed of Allah’s grace upon them. The questioning of the reference of men and the lack of mention of women in the Koran was a way of showing concern for the belittling of women in Umm Salama’s days.
Another way through which Umm Salam portrayed her advocacy for feminism was in the advice that she gave the Prophet in many instances. The fact that the Prophet listened and acted upon all her advices is testament to the influence she had achieved in advocating for the involvement of women in the political processes. During the crisis which occurred at al-Hudaybiyya, Umm Salama had advised the Prophet to go out and sacrifice his animal and then shave his head (Kassam, 2010). Before this act, the companions of Muhammad had disobeyed his orders to end their pilgrimage because they did not like the treaty he had signed with their enemies. However, after the Prophet undertook the rites as advised by his wife, they obeyed him. In this regard, it was a woman’s advice that saved a situation that could have easily degenerated into a full blown conflict. The involvement of Umm Salama in the political decisions affirms the fact that all men and women are equal and can equally make the right decisions.
When Umm Salama’s husband, Abu, died from war wounds, she asked God to grant her someone even better than Abu Salama. God answered her prayer by giving her the Prophet as her husband. The desire to have someone better that her deceased husband is testament of her self-awareness and desire to have only the best. This self awareness came at a time when most women were condemned to subservience to their men (Engineer, 2008). The views of Umm Salama that she deserved the best seemed to challenge the norm at that time when women were at the mercy of men. In addition, after her marriage to the prophet she ceased being the mother of Salama alone but became the mother of all believers. The big role that she was given was testament of her resolve to push the women agenda on larger platform.
In another instance, Umm was menstruating while in bed with the Prophet. Upon noticing her, the Prophet asked her if she was menstruating and she replied in the affirmative. Her response is particularly important due to the coolness that she maintained in her response. She said that she felt like she was menstruating “just like other women do” (Raghavan & Levine, 2012) thus implying that she did not feel embarrassed of her state. In addition, the inclusion of other women in her response portrays a woman who is ready to fight for the rights of other women and not just hers. The response made Muhammad to comfort her saying that it was God’s will that women undergo the process. The level of confidence displayed by Umm Salama affirmed the fact that women should be respected regardless of the state they are in.
Engineer, A. A. (2008). The rights of women in Islam. New Delhi [India: Sterling.
Jardim, G. L. (2014). Recovering the female voice in Islamic scripture: Women and silence.
Kassam, Z. (2010). Women and Islam. Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger.
Raghavan, C., & Levine, J. P. (2012). Self-determination and women’s rights in Muslim societies. Waltham, Mass: Brandeis University Press.
Uthman, I. O. (2009). Feminist insiders-outsiders: Muslim women in Nigeria and the contemporary feminist movement. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.
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