Ever since I was a young girl, flipping through the pages of my Islamic Studies textbook in Sunday school, I’ve been exposed to the history of Islam. Amongst the many paragraphs and historical text I came across, I found a list of martyrs who had sacrificed their lives for the sake of Islam. I must say, one of the most heroic martyrs I read about had to be Sumayyah bint Khayyat (radiallahu annhu). And that’s right! Not only was Sumayyah bint Khayyat the first woman to be martyred, she was the first person to give her life for the sake of Islam.
Before Sumayyah accepted Islam, she was a slave in Mecca. Her slave owner, Abu Huthaifah, met a decent man named Yasir ibn Amir and introduced Sumayyah to him. The two were married. Abu Huthaifah was a kind man and allowed the newly married couple freedom from slavery and continued to help them in terms of finances as well when they needed it. The couple had a son named Ammar ibn Yasir soon, and lived happily.
Around 615 B.C. when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) began preaching the religion of Islam, there were around 7 people who said the shahada, or declaration of faith. Summayyah bint Khayyat was one of these 7 who boldly and confidently declared her dedication to Allah (SAW) and his Messenger (PBUH). It is quite interesting to note that at the time Islam was introduced, the circumstances in Mecca were hostile, especially towards women. Daughters were buried alive simply for not being sons, and women were treated horribly. Here, however, it is fascinating to see when a former slave wished to accept Islam, she was allowed and treated with as much respect as any other man who had accepted the religion.
Over time, many people began accepting Islam, men and women both. Of course, this was angering news for the non-believers in Mecca. Converts of Islam were threatened and told to give up the religion they had accepted. Some of these Muslims were wealthy and powerful, and came from families with a higher status and rank than others.
Sumayyah, who had been a slave prior to Islam, was one of the many Muslims who had no class to protect her. Thus, she (along with her husband and son) were amongst the many newly converted Muslims who were tortured and beaten simply for the religion they believed in. Those who tortured Sumayyah gave her the “opportunity” to renounce her faith to save herself and her family from the beatings and torture. Of course, Sumayyah denied over and over again, despite the fact that the religion does allow “giving up Islam” in front of one’s’ oppressors if it came to saving his or her life. Still, however, Islam’s first heroine continued to speak against the face of denying God’s word.
Once, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) witnessed Sumayyah and her family being abused. Despite being truly disturbed, he was unable to do anything, as Mecca had labeled him the source of this new religion they despised. He (PBUH) simply said, “Be patient, family of Yasir! For your final destination is Paradise.”
Eventually the torturing got out of hand. Abu Jahl, one of the tribal leaders in Mecca with a strong distaste for Islam and its’ followers, proceeded to torture Summayyah in the most humiliating, barbaric, and disgusting ways possible. Abu Jahl asked her repeatedly if she would give up Islam, but she continued to deny giving up her faith despite the pain she endured so strongly. He ended up stabbing her so painfully that she ended up martyred. Thus, Sumayyah bint Khayyat became the first martyr of Islam, and became a symbol to not only all the Muslim women who would follow her, but also to Muslim men as well. She is a symbol of strength, courage, bravery, and faith. She is a battle against the image that Muslim women are oppressed, for her death resists the idea that Muslim women do not have a choice to choose Islam. She is an example to me, now, as I sit here on my laptop typing away that there is nothing more important than what you believe in, standing your ground, and of course most importantly, Islam.
May Allah grant Sumayyah bint Khayyat the highest level of heaven. And may we all learn from this heroic role model and attain even a fraction of her endurance and courage. Ameen.