Treatment of Servants
The Prophet (peace be upon him) belonged to a highly distinguished family in Makkah. His grandfather was the undisputed chief of that city, which was universally acknowledged as the most important in Arabia. It housed the Kaaba, the first ever building dedicated for the worship of God alone, and it was the center of international trade. His family occupied a high position of honor, but was not wealthy. Certainly, by the time Muhammad (peace be upon him) was born, his family could not boast of any material wealth, but its standing in Arabia continued to be among the highest.
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(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) 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(r.a.). After his marriage, he had no shortage of servants as his wife was a rich woman. In Madinah, several maids and servants attended to the needs of his household. What sort of treatment could they expect from the Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam)?
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(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam)’s father. When Abdullah died, Umm Ayman stayed with the family, serving Aminah, the Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam)’s mother. After Aminah(r.a.)’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(r.a.), 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.” When he grew up, he gave her her freedom so that she was no longer in bondage. Not only so, but he wanted her to have a good husband. He commended her to his companions, describing her as a woman certain to be in heaven.” She had apparently lost her husband who had given her a son called Ayman(r.a.). Therefore, he encouraged Zayd ibn Harithah(r.a.), his servant whom he loved like a son, to marry her, and she gave Zayd a son named Usamah, whom the Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) also loved as a son of his own. The Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) always called her, “Umm”, which is the Arabic equivalent of “Mom.”
On one occasion, when the Muslims were facing an enemy attack, the Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) 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(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) held her in a special position, so they treated her with respect. Even after the Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam)’s death, Abu Bakr(r.a.) and Umar(r.a.) 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(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) is now with Allah, 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(r.a.), and the Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam)’s great companion, Umar, visited her in her home, inquiring after her? She was certainly honored because of her close relationship to the Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam). 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.
Umm Ayman(r.a.) was aware of her position with the Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) and enjoyed it. She talked to him in a way that removed all barriers. Once he was pouring water from a container to drink. She said to him: “Give me a drink.” Lady Ayesha(r.a.) was amazed at her and said to her: “Is this the way you talk to Allah’s Messenger?” Umm Ayman(r.a.) said: “I served him for much longer.” The Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) smiled, poured her some water and gave it to her to drink. He then looked at his wife and said: “She is right.”
This sort of humility was a consistent trait of the Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam). 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(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) 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(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) so much that he could not stay long without seeing him.
One day, the Prophet(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) looked at him and said: “What has changed your color? You look Ill.” He said: “No, Messenger of Allah! 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(sallallhu alaiyhi wasallam) felt tenderly for him. Soon afterward he received revelations that included the verse that says: “All who obey Allah and the Messenger shall be among those upon whom Allah 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)
Authored By: Sheikh Adil Salahi