When Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was still in the womb of his mother, Aminah, it was Umm Ayman a.ka Barakah, an Ethiopian woman who told her “You shall give birth to a bless child who will bring about much goodness.” Barakah was the first person to hold him when he was born and the only person who knew him from birth to death.
As his mother Aminah was dying, she stated, “O Barakah, I shall depart from this world shortly. I commend my son Muhammad to your care. He lost his father while he was in my abdomen. Here he is now, losing his mother under his very eyes. Be a mother to him, Barakah. And don’t ever leave him.” The Prophet, peace be upon him, referred to Barakah as, “my mother after my mother”.
Umm Ayman served several important roles in Islamic history. When the Muslims migrated from Mecca to Medina to escape the religious persecution from the idol worshippers, Umm Ayman’s feet were sore, swollen, and her face covered in dust. Upon seeing her, the Prophet, peace be upon him, told her, “Oh my mother, indeed for you is a place in paradise.” The Prophet, peace be upon him, wiped her face, eyes, massaged her feet and rubbed her shoulders.
When the Muslims retreated during the battle of Uhud, Umm Ayman rebuked them and urged them to go back and fight. Her son, Amin was martyred in the battle at Hunayn and her husband, Zayd, was martyred in the battle of Mutah against the formidable Roman empire. Despite this, when the Prophet, peace be upon him, asked Umm Ayman how she was doing, Umm Ayman would always reply, “I am well, O Messenger of Allah, so long as Islam is.” When the Prophet, peace be upon him, returned to Allah (swt), Umm Ayman began to cry. When asked why she was crying, she replied: “By Allah, I knew that Rasulullah SAW would die but I cry now because the revelation from on high has come to an end for us.”
Another important Black woman in Islamic history is the great Sumayyah bint Khabba. Sumayyah was also of Ethiopian heritage and has the distinction of being known as the first martyr for Islam. She was a slave who was one of the first to embrace Islam. This declaration of faith in one God subjected her to persecution and torture by Abu Jahl, a hater of Islam. Summayah witnessed Abu Jahl murder her husband, Yassir, just because he too confessed there was no God but Allah and Muhammad was His Messenger. Abu Jahl would then torture Sumayyah to coerce her to renounce her faith but she refused. He persisted. Abu Jahl stabbed Summayah with a spear, and she became a martyr, someone killed for the cause of Islam.
Centuries later Nana Asmau, emerges as a Muslim military leader, political figure, and Islamic scholar, of the Sokoto Caliphate in modern day Nigeria. She worked zealously for dawah throughout West Africa. Nana wrote a biography on the life of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, which was read throughout West Africa. She wrote, “The glory of our Prophet Muhammad..his light exceeds the light of the full moon. There is no light like the light of Muhammad.”
Historian Jean Boyd declares that within the Sokoto Caliphate, “To deny women equal opportunity to develop their God-given talents was to challenge God’s will.” Nana Asmau is lauded even by non-Muslim African feminists and is considered to be the precursor of modern feminism in Africa—even though she was a Muslim woman with an Islamic worldview.”
As an Islamic scholar, she issued legal verdicts known as fatwas concerning what was halal (permissible) and what was haram (forbidden). She spoke out against the use of tobacco, stating that, “It dries one up, it is a waste of money, it affects a person’s facial features. It leads to immodesty, it makes a person look undignified; it is not a common sense thing to do. Anyone who smokes is a fool. It originated in Pagan countries.”
Nana wrote a poem about Aisha bint Abu Bakr, the wife of the Prophet, on women’s education. It states, “I bring all women to Aisha; Aisha, the Noble Daughter of Al-Siddiq. She was held in esteem by the Prophet. She had a mastery of learning and exceeded all women. She was the outstandingly pious woman person of her time.” Her poem call’s upon her community to study the life of Aisha bint Abu Bakr to encourage women’s learning and scholarship.
Safiya Buhkari worked to challenge oppression as a devoted member of the Black Liberation Army. She joined the Black Panther Party for self-defense after witnessing poverty and police brutality against Black people in Harlem. For her courageous role in Islamic resistance to white supremacy, Safiya Bukhari was incarcerated and later placed in solitary confinement.
While in solitary confinement, she refused to live in fear stating “ I studied hadith (written traditions of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him,) on shirk. I read the Qu’ran on faith and the oneness of God.” Though solitary confinement has been deemed a form of torture, designed to break ones will, through Islam, Safiya Bukhari states “I grew stronger and my fear abated until it was gone. I could truly say with conviction, with a rock-solid belief system in place, “There’s no God but God and Muhammad, peace be upon him, is His messenger.” With complete trust in Allah (swt), Safiya Bukhari escaped from prison. Though Safiya Bukhari, would eventually be recaptured, her Islamic resistance to white supremacy should inspire us all.
The Black Dawah Network honors Black Muslim women who have struggled to make Allah (swt)’s deen the highest. We ask Allah to bless these strong Black Muslim women who endured persecution, fought oppression, worked to expand the dawah, and who operated with a pure determination that idolatry shall never prevail over Islam.
In honor of these great Black women, Black Dawah Network will be launching an interactive that will revolutionize how Dawah in the Black community. Please donate to support.