Asma was a woman of great nobility, loyalty, wisdom and patience. She belonged to a distinguished Muslim family. Her father, Abu Bakr al Siddiq (radiAllahu anhu), was a close friend of the Prophet and the first Khalifah after his death. Her mother was Qutaylah bint Abd al-Uzza. Her half- sister, A’isha, was a wife of the Prophet and one of the Ummahat al-Mu ‘m ineen. Her husband, Zubayr ibn al- Awwam, was one of the special personal aides of the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam). Her son, Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, became well-known for his incorruptibility and his unswerving devotion to Truth. Thus, she was brought up in an atmosphere of purity and devotion and shared close ties with the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) from a very early age.
Asma was older than A’isha by ten years, and was very young when she embraced the Message recited by the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam). In fact, she was one of the first persons to accept Islam. Only about seventeen persons including both men and women became Muslims before her. When the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) started his message, Asma was only 14 years old. How fortunate was she to be the daughter of the courageous Abu Bakr, for that allowed her to witness and participate in some of the greatest events in human history.
The greatest evidence of the respected position of Asma is the trust which she gained from the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) himself. When the moment was revealed by Allah (swt) for the flight of the early Believers from Makkan persecution, Asma was one of the few entrusted with that knowledge.
She was later given the nickname Dhat an-Nitaqayn (the One with the Two Waistbands/belts) because of an incident connected with the departure of the Prophet and her father from Makkah on the historic hijrah to Madinah.
The habit of the Messenger (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) had been to visit his companion Abu Bakr’s house either early morning or late evening, to avoid the harsh heat. It happened one day that Prophet Muhammad (salAllahu alayhi wasalam), appeared unexpectedly at noon, the hottest hour. When Abu Bakr heard the entrance of Muhammad (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) and saw the expression on his face, he recognised that a very serious turn of events had occurred. Prophet Muhammad (salAllahu alayhi wasalam), asked to speak in private, at which Abu Bakr exclaimed that every place in his house was the reserve of the Prophet, as they were all his family.
The Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) confided that Allah (swt) had instructed him to migrate from Makkah with only the most trusted of companions. Abu Bakr humbly requested the honour of sharing the terrible risk, and the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) accepted. The plan for flight was so closely kept that only Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, Ali ibn Abu Talib and Abu Bakr and his wife and children (radiAllahu anhum) knew of the preparations. Upon the frail shoulders of young Asma fell the task of supplying the provisions for her father and his leader during their stay in Ghar Thawr (The Cave of Thawr). Had the persecutors of the Believers discovered the rationale for her purchases in the souks, her fate would have been terrible.
So Asma was one of the few persons who knew of the Prophet’s plan to leave for Madinah. The utmost secrecy had to be maintained because of the Quraysh plans to murder the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam).
On the night of their departure, Asma was the one who prepared a bag of food and a water container for their journey. She had difficulty with the bundle of provisions, and did not find anything though with which to tie the containers and fasten the package more securely. So she decided to use her waistband/belt or nitaq. Abu Bakr (radiAllahu anhu) suggested that she tear it into two. This she did, and tied the food and water with each piece. At seeing this, the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) commended her action, â€œMay Allah give you two waistbands in Paradise in the place of your current ones!â€
From then on she became known as “Dhat an-Nitaqayn” or “the One with the Two Waistbands/belts”.
[sahih al-Bukhari, vol.4 p.141 #222]
Asma amply deserved the trust which had been bestowed upon her. Eventually the courageous girl was discovered by the unbelievers to have assisted the escape of Prophet Muhammad, (salAllahu alayhi wasalam). Asma was dragged to the house of the chieftain Abu Jahl ibn Hisham, who angrily slapped her repeatedly in a vain attempt to force from her the location of the Companions. The young girl held her silence and earned her status as one of the first Believers.
Despite her young age, Asma’s courage became widely known. Zubayr ibn al- Awwam (radiAllahu anhu), (the cousin of Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam)), and an impeccable muslim youth from a distinguished family, requested her hand in marriage and she accepted. Together the newlyweds accompanied the family of Prophet Muhammad (salAllahu alayhi wasalam), and members of her own family in their own migration to join the Companions in Madinah.
When the final emigration from Makkah to Madinah took place soon after the departure of the Prophet, Asma was pregnant. She did not let her pregnancy or the prospect of a long and arduous journey deter her from leaving. As soon as she reached Quba on the outskirts of Madinah, she gave birth to a son, Abdullah. The Muslims shouted Allau Akbar (God is the Greatest) and La ilaha illAllah (There is no God but Allah) in happiness and thanksgiving because this was the first born among the small early muhajireen community of the Believers in Madinah. One can only imagine what joy that young baby boy brought amidst their suffering.
Her newly born son’s name was chosen by none other than the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) himself. He would grow up to be another famous personality in early Islam. She would later give birth to Urwah, Al-Mundhir, Asim and Al-Muhajir. All were great leaders of Islam.
Asma became known for her fine and noble qualities and for the keenness of her intelligence. She was an extremely generous person. Her son Abdullah once said of her, “I have not seen two women more generous than my aunt A’isha and my mother Asma. But their generosity was expressed in different ways. My aunt would accumulate one thing after another until she had gathered what she felt was sufficient and then distributed it all to those in need. My mother, on the other hand, would not keep anything even for the morrow.”
Asma’s presence of mind in difficult circumstances was remarkable. It was a true reflection of her great intelligence and trustworthy and loyal nature. When her father left Makkah, he took all his wealth, amounting to some six thousand dirhams, with him and did not leave any for his family. When Abu Bakr’s blind father, Abu Quhafah (who was still a mushrik) heard of his departure he went to his house and said to Asma:
“I understand that he has left you bereft of money after he himself has abandoned you.”
Asma, however, held her silence. “No, grandfather,” she replied, “in fact he has left us much money.” She took some pebbles and put them in a small recess in the wall where they used to put money. She threw a cloth over the heap and took the hand of her grandfather and said, “See how much money he has left us”.
Through this strategem, Asma kept the affairs of her father private and allied the fears of the old man, forestalling him from giving them anything of his own wealth. This was because she disliked receiving any assistance from a mushrik even if it was her own grandfather.
She had a similar attitude to her mother and was not inclined to compromise her honour and her faith. Her mother, Qutaylah, once came to visit her in Madinah. She was not a Muslim and was divorced from her father in preIslamic times. Her mother brought her gifts of raisins, clarified butter and qaraz (pods of a species of sant tree). Asma at first refused to admit her into her house or accept the gifts. She sent someone to A’isha to ask the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) about her attitude to her mother and he replied that she should certainly admit her to her house and accept the gifts. On this occasion, the following revelation came to the Prophet:
“God forbids you not, with regard to those who do not fight you because of your faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them. God loves those who are just. God only forbids you with regard to those who fight you for your Faith, and drive you from your homes, and support others in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances) that do wrong.”
[surah al-Mumtahanah, 60: 8-9].
The hijrah (migration) to Madinah was a trial visited upon the Believers by Allah (swt) to test their mettle. Life in Madinah was rather difficult for the Muslims at first. The young married couple had nothing, as her husband had neither land nor money nor slaves, and faced a lot of hardship due to the extreme poverty. He was a very poor man, and there was a huge difference between the financial status and upbringing that she was used to, and the life she was living now.
Suddenly, this daughter of a rich noble merchant, and one of the most distinguished families of Makkah found herself tending to the animals, kneading, grinding, fetching water and carrying huge loads on her head. It is noteworthy that Asma was also the sister-in-law of Prophet Muhammad (salAllahu alayhi wasalam)!
Their one possession of value was a horse, which Asma groomed well to keep it healthy to help in the continual work. Asma herself described these early days:
“When az-Zubayr married me, he had neither land, nor wealth, nor slave, nor anything else like it, except a camel to get water and his horse.” “I used to graze his horse, provide fodder for it, look after it and ground dates for his camel. Besides this, I grazed the camel, made arrangements for providing it with water and patching up his leather bucket”
“I would grind grain and make dough but I could not bake well. The women of the Ansar used to bake for me. They were truly good women. I used to carry the grain on my head from az-Zubayr’s plot which the Prophet had allocated to him to cultivate. It was about three farsakh (about two miles or eight kilometres) from the town’s centre.
One day I was on the road carrying the grain on my head when I met the Prophet and a group of Sahabah. He called out to me and stopped his camel so that I could ride behind him. I felt (shy and) embarrassed to travel with the Prophet [and other men], and also remembered az-Zubayr’s jealousy – he was the most jealous of men. The Prophet realised that I was embarrassed and rode on.”
Asma (radiAllahu ahna) was one of the most noble personalities, yet was modest and shy in front of men. She refused to be with men, mingle with them, ride among them or go with them; and, by Allah, the men being talked about were no ordinary men! They were the Messenger of Allah (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) and his Companions (radiAllahu anhum).
Later, Asma related to az-Zubayr exactly what had happened. “The Messenger of Allah (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) met me as I was carrying date-stones upon my head and there was with him a group of his Companions. He told the camel to kneel so that I could mount it but I felt shy from him and I remembered your gheerah (jealousy)”.
Upon this, Az-Zubayr said, “By God, that you should have to carry grain is far more distressing to me than your riding with (the Prophet)”.
He asked her later why she had refused the kindness of Prophet Muhammad (salAllahu alayhi wasalam), which must have been commented upon by many.
Thereafter her father Abu Bakr (radiAllahu anhu) granted her a slave of her own so that she was spared such privation. In her own words, she related, “I led this life of hardship until Abu Bakr sent me a female servant who took upon herself the responsibility of looking after the horse and I felt as if she had emancipated me”.
[sahih al-Bukhari vol.7 p.111 #151]
Asma obviously then was a person of great sensitivity, devotion and patience. She and her husband worked extremely hard together until their situation of poverty gradually changed. At times, however, az-Zubayr treated her harshly. Once she went to her father Abu Bakr (radiAllahu anhu) and complained to him about this. His reply to her was: “My daughter, have sabr (patience) for if a woman has a righteous husband and he dies and she does not marry after him, they will be brought together again in Paradise.”
[Kitab at-Tabaqat al-Kabir of Muhammad Ibn Sa'd]
And az-Zubayr was indeed a righteous man, as the Prophet (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) himself testified when he counted him among the Promised ten of Paradise. [Musnad Ahmad, Abu Dawud and others]. He (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) also said of him: “az-Zubayr is the son of my paternal aunt and my disciple from my Ummah.”
[narrated by Jabir, sahih Musnad Ahmad]
In addition to her being the wife of such a righteous man, Asma was also the mother of ‘Urwah Ibn az-Zubayr, who became one of the scholars of Madinah. His teachers included his parents as well as his maternal aunt, the Mother of the Believers, A’isha (radiAllahu anhu); from whom he learnt a great deal. Umar ibn Abdul Aziz (radiAllahu anhu) said about him: “I do not find anyone more knowledgeable than ‘Urwah Ibn az-Zubayr, and for whatever I know he knows something which I do not.”
[reported by ad-Dhahabi in Siyar A'lamin-Nubala']
His son Hisham reports that his father’s leg had to be amputated at the knee and was adviced to drink a narcotic (alcohol), but he refused saying, “I did not think that anyone would drink something which would take away his intellect to the point that he did not know his Lord.” So they took off his leg with a saw and he did not say anything but “Ouch, ouch.” And in the same journey his son Muhammad was kicked to death by a mule and ‘Urwah was not heard to say anything about it but: “We have suffered much fatigue in this, our journey.” [Surah al-Kahf 18: 62]. O Allah, I had seven sons and You took one and left me with six, and I had four limbs and You took one and left me with three – so if You have tested me then You have saved me, and if You have taken – You have left (more) behind.”
[Ibn 'Asakir 11/287]
Once a person came to Asma, and said, “Mother of Abdullah, I am a destitute person and I intend that I should start business under the shadow of your house”.
“Is there not in Madinah (any place for starting the business) except my house?”, she asked, “If I grant you permission, (my husband) az Zubayr may not agree to that, so you come and make a demand of it when az-Zubayr is also present there.”
When Az-Zubayr came to know of Asma’s declination, he said, “Why is it that you prohibit the destitute man to start business here?”.
Asma related what happened thereafter: “So he started business and he (earned so much) that we sold our slave-girl to him. Az-Zubayr came to me while the money was in my lap. He said: “Give this to me.” I said: “(I intend) to spend it in charity.””
Notice how Asma had been in favour of allowing that person to start business under the shadow of their house, but she did not like to do anything which could be a source of annoyance or disgust to her husband. She, therefore, posed a question in order to solicit the opinion of her husband, and when his reaction was found favorable, she agreed to this proposal to start business at the shadow of their house.
Eventually, Asma’s husband, Az-Zubayr al-Awaam (radiAllahu anhu), despite his early hardship and poverty, became one of the richest men among the Sahabah, but Asma a did not allow this to corrupt her principles. She would refuse extravagant gifts from her son, Al-Mundhir, from Iraq until they met her conditions. Once al-Mundhir sent her an elegant dress from Iraq made of fine and costly material. Asma by this time was blind. She felt the material and said, “It’s awful. Take it back to him”.
Al-Mundhir was upset and said, “Mother, it was not transparent.”
“It may not be transparent,” she retorted, “but it is too tight-fitting and shows the contours of the body.”
Al-Mundhir bought another dress that met with her approval and she accepted it.
Once her son Abdullah was grown, Al Zubair divorced her and Asma went to live in her son’s household.
“The Girl of Two Belts” lived with dignity and respect. Prophet Muhammad (salAllahu alayhi wasalam), had the habit of looking after her with his continuous prayers. It came to pass that she developed a tumour on her neck.
Prophet Muhammad (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) stroked the swelling on several occasions and prayed that God protect her from harm. She was miraculously cured! She freed a slave in thanksgiving, and from that time onward, whenever she was sick and then recovered, she freed another of her slaves.
Asma lived on until she was one hundred years old. Allah (swt) protected her so that she was strong, and she retained her strong mental power to the end. Her age had not made her infirm nor blunted the keenness of her mind.
Asma was tested, however, with two crises in her old age. The first was to lose her sight like her grandfather before her, which reduced the self-sufficient woman to a state of dependency on others.
The second test was much more severe. It was during one of the most turbulent periods in Islamic history. Indeed, her final meeting with her son, Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, must remain one of the most unforgettable moments in early Muslim history. At that meeting, she demonstrated the keenness of her intelligence, her resoluteness and the strength of her faith.
After the death of Yazid ibn Muâ€™awiyah, the areas of Hijaz, Egypt, Iraq, Khurasan and much of Syria were favourable to him and acknowledged him as the Caliph. The Ummayyads however continued to contest the Caliphate, and were against it, so they sent a huge army under the command of Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf ath-Thaqafi to subdue Abdullah and his supporters. Relentless battles were fought between the two sides during which Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr displayed great acts of courage and heroism. Many of his supporters however could not withstand the continuous strain of battle and slowly, they began to desert him. Finally he sought refuge in the sanctuary of the Sacred Mosque in Makkah.
It was then that he went to his mother, now an old blind woman, to seek her advice:
“Peace be on you, Mother, and the mercy and blessings of God.”
“Unto you be peace, Abdullah,” she replied. “What is it that brings you here at this hour while boulders from Hajjaj’s catapults are raining down on your soldiers in the Haram and shaking the houses of Makkah?”
“I came to seek your advice,” he said.
“To seek my advice?” she asked in astonishment. “About what?”
“The people have deserted me out of fear of Hajjaj or being tempted by what he has to offer. Even my children and my family have left me. There is only a small group of men with me now and however strong and steadfast they are they can only resist for an hour or two more. Messengers of the Banu Umayyah (the Umayyads) are now negotiating with me, offering to give me whatever wordly possessions I want, should I lay down my arms and swear allegiance to Abdul Malik ibn Marwan. What do you think?”
Raising her voice, she replied:
“It’s your affair, Abdullah, and you know yourself better. If however you think that you are right and that you are standing up for the Truth, then persevere and fight on as your companions who were killed under your flag had shown perseverance. If however you desire the world, what a miserable wretch you are. You would have destroyed yourself and you would have destroyed your men.”
“But I will be killed today, there is no doubt about it.”
“That is better for you than that you should surrender yourself to Hajjaj voluntarily and that some minions of Banu Umayyah should play with your head.”
“I do not fear death. I am only afraid that they will mutilate me.”
“There is nothing after death that man should be afraid of. Skinning does not cause any pain to the slaughtered sheep.”
Abdullah’s face beamed as he said:
“What a blessed mother! Blessed be your noble qualities! I have come to you at this hour to hear what I have heard. God knows that I have not weakened or despaired. He is witness over me that I have not stood up for what I have out of love for this world and its attractions but only out of anger for the sake of God. His limits have been transgressed. Here am I, going to what is pleasing to you. So if I am killed, do not grieve for me and commend me to God.”
“I shall grieve for you,” said the ageing but resolute Asma, “only if you are killed in a vain and unjust cause.”
“Be assured that your son has not supported an unjust cause, nor committed any detestable deed, nor done any injustice to a Muslim or a Dhimmi and that there is nothing better in his sight than the pleasure of God, the Mighty, the Great. I do not say this to exonerate myself. God knows that I have only said it to make your heart firm and steadfast. ”
“Praise be to God who has made you act according to what He likes and according fo what I like. Come close to me, my son, that I may smell and feel your body for this might be the last meeting with you.”
Abdullah knelt before her. She hugged him and smothered his head, his face and his neck with kisses. Her hands began to squeeze his body when suddenly she withdrew them and asked:
“What is this you are wearing, Abdullah?”
“This is my armour plate.”
“This, my son, is not the dress of one who desires martyrdom. Take it off. That will make your movements lighter and quicker. Wear instead the sirwal (a long under garment) so that if you are killed your ‘awrah will not be exposed.
Abdullah took off his armour plate and put on the sirwal. As he left for the Haram to join the fighting he said:
“My mother, don’t deprive me of your dada (prayer).”
Raising her hands to heaven, she prayed:
“O Lord, have mercy on his staying up for long hours and his loud crying in the darkness of the night while people slept . . .
“O Lord, have mercy on his hunger and his thirst on his journeys from Madinah and Makkah while he fasted . . .
“O Lord, bless his righteousness to his mother and his father . . .
“O Lord, I commend him to Your cause and I am pleased with whatever You decree for him. And grant me for his sake the reward of those who are patient and who persevere.”
By sunset, Abdullah was dead.
Her son Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr was killed in Makkah at the hands of al-Hajjaj on the 17th of Jumad al-Ula. At least she was spared the sight of Abdullah’s body after he had been cruelly crucified.
The old mother’s cry when she was brought to the body and touched the feet of her dead son became forever famous among the Believers, “The time will come when this knight will walk again!” Asma had herself taken to confront Al Hajjaj, and the blind woman cried out to him in front of his henchmen, “I heard Prophet Muhammad himself (salAllahu alayhi wasalam) say that two men would emerge out of the Thaqeef tribe, one of them a liar and the other a tyrant. We have met the liar before, and now you Al Hajjaj we know as the tyrant!”
Just over ten days after the death of her son Abdullah, his mother joined him. She was one hundred years old. It was in the year 73 after Hijrah, the flight to Madinah, in which her own role earned Asma her golden place in Heaven and in the hearts of the Believers forever after.
Companions of the Prophet – Abdul Wahid Hamid
Kitab at-Tabaqat al-Kabir – Muhammad Ibn Sa’d
Al-bidayah wa’l-nihayah – Ibn Kathir
The Women of Madina – Translated by Aisha Bewley
The Story of Asmaa bint Abu Bakrby Mohamed Bassyouni
Ad-Da’wah ilallaah (The Call to Allah) magaine (UK) vol 11 issue 5