How often do we doubt our own courage and strength when it comes to proudly showcasing our faith, our trust and belief in Allah ﷻ? It’s only natural that we do – we are humans after all.
But the story we’re about to delve into now is one of courage, strength and sacrifice that goes beyond what we can even imagine. And this story is about none other than Sumayyah bint Khayyat, the first martyr in Islam, and the first important woman in a series of important women we’ll be writing about.
Sumayyah bint Khayyat had a humble beginning: She was a Black woman from Abysinia (now known as Ethiopia), and a freed slave. She was a smart, intelligent woman, who married Yasir ibn Amir. The two had three sons and Sumayyah raised them to be the kind, respectful men everyone in the Quraysh tribe knew them to be. She was a devoted mother and was often praised for successfully raising children in a kind and loving manner, which reflected in their character. Her eldest sons, Ammar and Abdullah, were known for their good character and were set apart amongst the youth. Her youngest son, Harith, was murdered while he was quite young and so Sumayyah suffered a shocking and tragic loss.
She saw the truth and logic behind the call to Islam and strove to pledge her faith to Allah ﷻ and her life for Islam.
When the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ began calling people to Islam, she was one of the first seven people to accept that call, among other well-known Sahabah’s like Abu Bakr (RA) and Ali (RA) and Khadija (RA), the Prophet’s wife. She saw the truth and logic behind the call to Islam and strove to pledge her faith to Allah ﷻ and her life for Islam.
Unfortunately for Sumayyah and her family, who also accepted Islam soon after her, the Quraysh were looking for any way to put a hold on the Prophet Muhammad’s mission. They couldn’t directly hurt the Prophet because of his status as Abu Talib’s nephew, but they could hurt the regular citizens that were following him. And so, Sumayyah, her husband Yasir, and their two sons became the target of the Quraysh. Once, Sumayyah’s eldest son, Ammar, wept to the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, asking him why they had to suffer so much. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ replied by saying, “Be patient, O family of Yasir! For your final destination is Paradise.”
Abu Jahl decided to punish Sumayyah himself, disregarding her old age and status as a mother. He tortured her, threatened her, bribed her, and did everything he could to force her to renounce her faith in Allah ﷻ.
When put in such a situation, it is permissible in Islamic Law to falsely denounce Islam in order to save yourself, and Sumayyah could have done that to save her life. She wouldn’t have been committing a sin if she did so. However, because Sumayyah was a mother, and she valued the respect her sons had for her, and her love for Allah ﷻ was so steadfast, she never stopped saying, “There is no God but Allah.”
And that angered Abu Jahl to the point where he killed her.
Sumayyah became the first ever shaheed, the first martyr in Islam. Her husband Yasir was soon killed as well, and he became the second shaheed. Their son Ammar was martyred in battle a few years later as well.
She was a role model, not only for her sons, but for all the Muslims after her who heard of her perseverance when faced with torture, and her unshaken faith in Allah SWT.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had become extremely fond of Sumayyah, Yasir and their sons and he wept upon their deaths, and made dua. He often referred to Sumayyah’s children as ibn Sumayyah, to honour her legacy.
Resilience, patience, determination, courage, strength: These are just some of the words we can associate with Sumayyah bint Khayyat. She was a role model, not only for her sons, but for all the Muslims after her who heard of her perseverance when faced with torture, and her unshaken faith in Allah SWT.
In the Quran, Allah ﷻ says,
“Do you expect to enter Paradise without being tested like those before you? They were tested with hardship and adversity, and were shaken up” (Surah Al-Baqarah:214)
In a world where we face oppression constantly, and suffer through daily hardships, it is important for us to remember that women like Sumayyah bint Khayyat suffered as well. They were tested with hardships and adversity and were obviously shaken up, but not once did their belief in Allah ﷻ waver. And perhaps we can borrow some of their strength, courage and determination to never forget that Allah SWT is always going to be with us, both in this world and in the Akhirah.