Treatment of Servants
Adil Salahi, Arab News
Friday 9 May 2008
In the Arabian society, where there was a constant inflow of slaves, there was no shortage of servants. The Arabs in Makkah disliked manual work, and depended on trade for their income. Hence, they assigned all manual work to servants who were glad to have any employment that gave them something to live on. When the Prophet rejoined his mother in Makkah, after spending his first five years with his wet nurse, Haleemah, in the desert area, he was looked after by an African woman called Umm Ayman.
Barakah, who was later to be known as Umm Ayman, was a slave woman with his family, and she was assigned to Abdullah ibn Abd Al-Muttalib, the Prophet’s father. When Abdullah died, Umm Ayman stayed with the family, serving Aminah, the Prophet’s mother. After Aminah’s death, she continued to look after the young boy, Muhammad, staying with him wherever he lived.
She was with him after he married Khadeejah, and he treated her with exemplary kindness. She was so dear to him that he used to refer to her after prophethood saying: “Umm Ayman was my mother after my own mother had passed away.”
. She had apparently lost her husband who had given her a son called Ayman. Therefore, he encouraged Zayd ibn Harithah, his servant whom he loved like a son, to marry her, and she gave Zayd a son named Usamah, whom the Prophet also loved as a son of his own. The Prophet always called her, “Umm”, which is the Arabic equivalent of “Mom.”
On one occasion, when the Muslims were facing an enemy attack, the Prophet saw her behind the lines praying for victory. He came over to her and listened to what she was saying and reassured her. His companions realized how the Prophet held her in a special position, so they treated her with respect. Even after the Prophet’s death, Abu Bakr and Umar went to visit her, inquiring if she needed any help.
She was in tears. They said: “Why are you crying hard? Are you not aware that the Prophet is now with God, and his position there is much better than in this world?” She said: “Yes, indeed. I am only crying because we no longer receive revelations from on high.” They said that she was right and both wept.
What honor must this woman have felt when the Caliph, Abu Bakr, and the Prophet’s great companion, Umar, visited her in her home, inquiring after her?
She was certainly honored because of her close relationship to the Prophet. There was nothing else in her background to merit any such treatment. She was an Abyssinian slave woman in a hard society that attached much importance to class. It was Islam that removed such restrictions and valued everyone according to their own actions and merits.
One day when he was in Makkah, some slaves were brought in. When an Arabian tribe attacked another and captured some of their men, such captives were always sold as slaves. The Prophet looked at those slaves and saw among them a young man looking broken hearted. He bought him and set him free. The young man, named Thawban, felt grateful to this person who has been so kind to him, so he preferred to stay with him rather than go back to his people in Yemen. He loved the Prophet so much that he could not stay long without seeing him.
One day, the Prophet looked at him and said: “What has changed your color? You look Ill.” He said: “No, Messenger of God! I am not ill, and nothing is troubling me physically. However, when I do not see you, I feel I badly miss something very important, until I meet you again. Also, when I think of the Day of Judgment I fear that I would not see you there, because you will be in the highest position with all prophets. My position will be far removed from you there. And if I do not go to heaven, then I would never see you.” The Prophet felt tenderly for him. Soon afterward he received revelations that included the verse that says: “All who obey God and the Messenger shall be among those upon whom God has bestowed His blessings: the prophets, and those who never deviate from the truth, and the martyrs and the righteous ones. How goodly a company are these!” (4: 69)