This Black History Month, aside from the many exciting things happening with leaderboards, webinars and prizes, LaunchGood would also be featuring historical Black Muslim figures that we might not know about on our blog.
First on this list is none other than the first ever martyr in Islam — Sumayyah bint Khayyat!
Many of us may have grown up knowing that she was the first person to have sacrificed her life for Islam, but did not know that she was from Habashah, Abyssinia or modern-day Ethiopia. She was born around 20 years before Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wasallam and at the time of her martyrdom was an old, frail woman of around 60 years old.
Sumayyah is also amongst the first 7 people to accept Islam, mashaAllah!
A Vulnerable Family
Meccan society at the time was highly tribalistic. Sumayyah was a slave who was married to Yasir. Yasir was a man from Yemen who had come to Makkah to look for his lost brother. In the process, he decided to settle in Makkah and sought protection from Abu Hudhaifah al-Mughirah. The couple then had a child named Ammar who was about the same age as Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wasallam.
That meant that they were neither slaves nor independent. Their limbo status meant that they were extremely vulnerable and did not have a community or a tribe that they could rely on. The family served Abu Hudhaifah’s family and tribe, the Banu Makhzum.
The Persecution of Muslims
Banu Makhzum was one of the most powerful tribes in Makkah. This tribe was highly resistant to Islam because Banu Hashim (the tribe that the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wasallam is from) is their rival. They used to say that they could match the Banu Hashim in hospitality, wealth etc but if they accepted that Prophet Muhammad was indeed a Prophet, then they are admitting that Banu Hashim was better than them.
Guess who is also from Banu Makhzum?
Abu Jahl was a big man in physical stature, just like Sayyidina Umar. He was known for beating people up for accepting Islam. He wanted to crush dissent and really wanted to make an example out of the early Muslims.
The Martyrdom of Sumayyah
Remember the first 7 to accept Islam? Out of the 7, only Sayyidatina Khadijah and Sayyidina Abu Bakr had their tribe to protect them. The other 5 were Bilal, Khabbab, Suhayb, Sumayyah and her son Ammar — all without tribes.
The 5 of them including other early Muslims like Sumayyah’s husband, Yasir, were subjected to great public torture. They were forced to wear metal armour and were then beaten under the hot sun.
Sumayyah particularly was undeterred and annoyed Abu Jahl the most. The more Abu Jahl experimented different torture on her, the more she made zikr and smiled in his face.
Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wasallam could not do anything to save them from the torture but would walk past and say, “Be patient O family of Yasir. You have a place in Jannah.”
This beautiful family was tied to the tree trunks, all within view of each other. After torturing them for days, Yasir looks like he is about to die. Abu Jahl turns to Sumayyah and said, “Your husband is going to die before you. You probably will be happy when he does because you love Muhammad so much, you want to marry him after your husband passes.”
At this insult, Sumayyah spits in the face of Abu Jahl and said, “May you be humiliated by Allah, O enemy of Allah. What a vulgar and foul person you are. You are smaller to me in my eyes than a beetle that I would step on in the ground.”
Hearing this, Abu Jahl was so incensed that he took a spear and stabbed Sumayyah in her abdomen, granting her the honour of being the first martyr in Islam.
The Tenacity of Sumayyah
There is so much to learn from Sumayyah, least of all her tenacity and courage despite her old age. Sumayyah believed the Prophet’s promise to be true and it gave her the strength to persist.
Besides torturing the early Muslims, Abu Jahl really wanted them to curse Prophet Muhammad publicly too. Ammar, in a moment of weakness, did curse the Prophet, and afterwards was too embarrassed to be around him and would hide from the Prophet.
Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wasallam would then say to him that not only was he forgiven, but that if they did that to him again, then he should do it again (i.e. curse the Prophet). This was because the Prophet said that a person under duress was not accountable for saying what could save his life, as the Prophet knew what was in his heart.
Sumayyah however refused to curse the Prophet and give Abu Jahl that satisfaction. She knew other Muslims might be intimidated by the spectacle and wanted them to hold on to their faith. Not only did her martyrdom inspire the other Muslims then, she continues to inspire us today, all these years later!
This Black History Month, I’m so honored to be sharing about Sumayyah bint Khayyat, an amazing individual who was not just Black, but also a woman, who stood up to powerful men in her society and stuck on the truth and died for it. May Allah reward you most generously and raise your ranks Sayyidatina Sumayyah!
Ameera Aslam manages the blog at LaunchGood. She is passionate about telling stories about incredible Muslims around the world and loves working with her sincere and passionate colleagues. Outside of LaunchGood, she is an award-winning poet and a mountain lover. You can buy her book at www.desiringlightbook.com.