The Story of the First Love in the Prophet’s Life

Thursday 24 March 202201:53 pm
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قصة الحب الأول في حياة الرسول

A Hadith quotes the prophet saying: “I swear to Allah. You are the best of His lands and you are the most beloved land to Allah, and had it not been that I was forced to leave you, I would have never left you.

This Hadith is often inferred to indicate how much the Prophet is attached to Mecca and its people as well as his hesitation to ever leave it, which is, of course, a logical explanation. But if we knew that when the Prophet uttered this phrase, he was standing in an area in ​​Mecca called “al-Hazoura”, would our view of the Hadith be any different?

Of course, the initial answer would be ‘no’. But it would undoubtedly differ if we knew that that area was an old market in Mecca near the home of his first love, whom he could not marry, even after she converted to Islam — Umm Hani bint Abi Talib.

Here, would it be well within our rights to ask whether there’s a possibility — albeit a small one — that the Prophet uttered these sentimental words, influenced by that house that stood before him, stirring up memories of the first love that was never meant to succeed.

Also at this house, the Prophet’s grandfather dug the famous “Al-Ajoul” well, where Arabs would congregate and have their camels drink. The well remained as a vital source of water, so much so that poetic verses were relayed — describing its fresh water and fine merits — roughly translating to: “The calves (camels) drink from it and then set off / Indeed, Qusai has made good on his word and fulfilled his oath / By feeding and satiating the living and quenching the cattle.”

Unfortunately, all these important ancient landmarks have been erased from existence, after any and all mention of them disappeared in 167 AH (Hijri), according to Al-Arzaqi. The Islamic historian confirmed that the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mahdi demolished that house as part of the expansion and renovation work he had been conducting for the Holy Mosque during his reign.

But what can never be demolished is the reported dramatic love story between the Prophet and his cousin — the sister of Bab Madinat al-Ilm (lit. Gate to the City of Knowledge), Ali bin Abi Talib — and the complex details the story holds that prevented them from marrying each other, despite their desire for each other.

The Prophet loved his cousin Hind bunt Abu Talib before his Bi'tha, but Hubayra bin Abi Wahb proposed first. Abu Talib had accepted Hubayra's proposal, prompting the Prophet to admonish his uncle, saying: “You had Hubayra get married and left me”.

The daughter of Abi Talib, the first love

Even though her real name is Hind and was also known as “Fakhitah”, a type of wild pigeon, she is better known in history books by her kunya, “Umm Hani bint Abi Talib”. She was the cousin of the Prophet and sister of Ali bin Abi Talib. Their father was Abu Talib bin Abd al-Muttalib, and their mother was Fatimah bint Asad bin Hashim.

Abu Abd-Allah al-Hakim narrates in Al-Mustadrak 'ala al-Sahihayn (1443 AH), that the Prophet loved his cousin before the Bi'tha (Bi'tha of the Prophet), so he asked for her hand when another man, Hubayra bin Abi Wahb, had already done so before him. Abu Talib agreed to the latter to have him marry his daughter, a move that prompted the Prophet to admonish his uncle, saying: “You had Hubayra get married and left me!”

Thus, the cousin joined the list of women who the Prophet proposed to, but — for one reason or another — the marriage did not take place, including Duba'ah bint Amer, and Safiyya bint Bashama, among others.

As soon as the Prophet began his call to Islam, Hubayra, was one of his most prominent opponents. He fought against the Muslim army in the Battle of Badr, and wrote poems smearing the Messenger’s call to Islam and urging Arab tribes to rally against it. He was not ashamed to show his great joy over the death of Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet, in the Battle of Uhud.

Without a doubt, this hostility was from one side only, since his wife did not share his resentment. Hind (Umm Hani) was keen on following the news of the Prophet even before her conversion to Islam, after she was connected to the Prophet in a “very strange” incident that we learned from claims regarding the Isra and Mi'raj journey (the famous Night Journey & Ascension to the Heavens). The Mawsu'ah at-Tafsir al-Manthur (1419 AH) reported that according to Umm Hani, she says: “The Prophet that night was in my house, he was taken on this journey from our house. He slept that night with us; he led al-'Isha prayers, and then he slept.” After that, Umm Hani reveals that the Prophet returned again to her house, and when he woke up, he announced to his people that, “He prayed in the Bait al-Maqdis in Jerusalem [literally ‘the holy house’ another name for the Blessed Masjid Al-Aqsa].”

Hind, or Umma Hani bint Abi Taleb followed Mohammed’s news before Islam; she never refused a request of his, and loved him before and after Islam... The story of the Prophet’s first love

Here, it is possible to understand this account outside its literal meaning. The Prophet was not specifically in her house, but rather indoors at her place of residence, which was located next to the rest of the homes of his Talib relatives, and this is the meaning that we can easily deduce from Qatada bin Da’amah’s interpretation of Surah Al-Isra in the verse, “{Glory to (Allah) Who did take (transport) His servant (Prophet Muḥammad) for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque (al-Masjid al-Ḥarām) to the farthest Mosque (al-Masjid al-Aqṣā)},” that the Messenger was transported from the kin or ‘clan of Abu Talib’.

It is worth mentioning here that Isra and Mi'raj, according to the most reliable accounts, took place during the first year of the Hijrah (migration from Makkah to Madinah), that is, before Umm Hani’s conversion to Islam. She did not embrace the Prophet’s calling until the year of the Conquest of Mecca (8 AH).

We grant protection to whomever you protect

According to the “Al-Muwatta' (The Approved)” of Imam Malik Bin Anas (1433 AH), Umm Hani converted to Islam late in the year of the Holy Conquest, “on the day of the conquest (of Mecca)” in 8 AH. Despite this, the day the Muslim armies entered Mecca, they honored and recognized  Umm Hani.

According to Al-Fakihi in his book Akhbar Makkah (1414 AH), her house was the first house the Prophet entered in Mecca. He then called for a glass of water that he drank from, then gave her the rest of the cup and asked her to finish it, and she did, even though she had been fasting that day, which she later justified as, “she hated to refuse the favour of the Messenger”. Later, the Prophet prayed the Duha prayer (8 rak’ahs) in her house, and then set out to manage the rest of his affairs on this historic day in Islam.

Later on, Ibn Abbas will rely on this incident to establish the custom of performing the Duha prayer, which he called “Salat al-Ishraq (the Sunrise Prayer)”, influenced by what was mentioned in verse No. 18 of Surah Sad, {exalting [Allah] in the 'Ashi and Ishraq (at nightfall and sunrise)}”.

The Prophet’s honoring of Umm Hani did not stop there. After the Prophet left, two relatives (two men from the family of her husband who dared to attack Islam) took refuge in her home and asked her for protection, so she granted it to them. When her brother Ali bin Abi Talib came upon them, he was not aware of his sister’s promise of safety to them and wanted to kill them. When they appealed to the Prophet, he immediately went to the aid of Umm Hani, saying: “We grant asylum to those whom you had granted, and we bestow protection upon those to whom you have granted protection,” not caring about the objection of Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter, over accepting this protection.

Yet another narration on the authority of Umm Hani from the day of the conquest tells us of the Prophet’s appearance on the day he victoriously entered Mecca: “The Messenger of Allah arrived and entered Mecca, and he had his hair in four plaits (braids),” which is consistent with another “hadith wasfi” (hadith on the characteristics of the prophet) where Umm Hani recounted another thing about the appearance of the Messenger: “Whenever I see the stomach of the Messenger of God, I remember the folded sheets (referring to the folds of his skin),” as Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi mentioned in his Musnad (Hadith book).

Following the conquest, the status of Umm Hani was consolidated in Mecca within the Prophet’s community, who had always supported. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani narrates in Al-Matalib al-’Aliyah (1419 AH), that Umar saw her in an attire he did not like (in another, clearer narration: Umar saw her donning two earrings). He told her “Do you see that your kinship with the Messenger exempts you from anything to do with God?” When she protested this to the Prophet, he rejected what Umar did, and supported her once again.

A love in Jahiliya and in Islam

After embracing Islam, Umm Hani separated from her husband, who fled from both her and Mecca to Najran fearing the punishment of Muslims, and lived in it until he died. In his book Al-Tawabin (1424 AH), Ibn Qudamah revealed that Hubayra was one of two to escape the city on the day of the conquest. He was accompanied by Abdullah bin al-Zabari from Najran, but al-Zabari abandoned Hubayra and returned to the Prophet, where he embraced Islam before the Prophet. This move shocked Hubayra, and he told him before he left, “I wish I had accompanied someone other than you, by God, I never thought that you would ever follow Muhammad.”

Meanwhile, Muhammad al-Amin al-Shanqeeti revealed in his book Al-Athab Al-Namir (1426 AH) that Hubayra justified his quick escape to his wife in poetry:

By your life, I did not turn my back on Muhammad / and his companions in cowardice, nor for fear of being killed

But I looked within myself and found no / use for my sword nor my spear if I strike

I took a stance, and when I feared it would be lost in futility / I retreated like a jaded lion

According to Al-Thalabi’s interpretation of the Qur’an (Tafsir al-Thalabi), the Al-Kashf wa-l-bayān ʿan tafsīr al-Qurʾān (1422 AH), that when news of his former wife’s conversion to Islam reached him, he wrote a poem criticizing her, where he said:

You have followed the religion of Muhammad / and cut the ties of blood (with your kin)

What truly matters here is that Umm Hani had finally become unattached, and so the Prophet immediately proposed to her, but she refused.

Umm Hani feared for her relationship with the Messenger, and said to him: “By God, I loved you in the Jahiliya (the Age of Ignorance and period of pre-Islam), then how about during Islam. But I am an unfortunate woman of misfortune and I hate that you would be harmed.” In another account, she told him: “I am afraid that if I tend to a husband (meaning him), I will neglect some of my affairs and my children, and if I tend to my children, I will neglect my husband’s rights,” saying that she would not be able to do justice to both young children and a new husband. In both cases, the Prophet completely understood her refusal to marry him, commenting in admiration of her with the words: “The best of the women who ride on camel-back are the women of Quraysh! They are the most kind to their children and most generous to their husbands with all they possess.”

Later, Umm Hani revealed the details of this refusal to other Muslims, saying: “The Messenger proposed to me, and I apologized to him, so he excused me.”

The irony is that some of her sons from Hubayra, for whose sake she had refused to marry the Prophet, converted to Islam and became good practicing Muslims, with history books celebrating them and their offspring. According to Ibn al-Atheer in his book The Lion of the Forest (1415 AH), Umm Hani gave birth to 3 sons from Hubayra, while others said they were 4 sons. Their names are Ja’dah, Omar, Youssef, and Hani, whose name she became known by as her kunya. The most famous of them is Ja’dah bin Hubayrah, who narrated a famous hadith on the authority of the Prophet; “The best people are those of my generation, and then those who will follow them (the next generation), and then those who will come after them (the next generation after that).” When Ali bin Abi Talib took over the Islamic Caliphate over the Muslims, he appointed him as governor of Khurasan.

Al-Dhahabi, in his book The History of Islam (1410 AH), also designated some space to talk about the exploits of Yahya bin Ja’dah bin Hubayrah bin Abi Wahb, and him hearing a great number of hadiths on the authority of his grandmother and Abu Huraira, which were later narrated from him by another group of people.

Hind witnessed the end of her brother Ali bin Abi Taleb’s rule to Muawiyah, but she did not live to watch the rise of the Umayyad state on the ruins of the Talib rule, for she died during the era of Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan

The Qur’an separates them for good

After she converted to Islam, Umm Hani expressed an urgent desire to understand the rules and teachings of her new religion. More than once, she expressed her interest in asking the Prophet about a number of tenets and principles, as well as the interpretation of some verses of the Qur’an, including what was mentioned by al-Thalabi in his interpretation of the Qur’an “Al-Kashf wa-l-bayān ʿan tafsīr al-Qurʾān”. More specifically verse 29 of Surah Al-Ankabut, which says: “{And practise al-Munkar (every evil and wickedness) in your meetings councils}”, which al-Thalabi interpreted based on the narration of Umm Hani, when she asked the Prophet about the nature of this evil, and he said: “They used to throw stones on travelers, and make fun of them.”

One day, the Prophet advised her to raise sheep in order to obtain blessings, and also taught her some of the dhikr (religious recitations) that would bring her many hasanat (good deeds) if she kept reciting them. She also occupied a prominent place in the books of Islamic history that dealt with the female companions who narrated news about the Prophet but were not wives of his. According to al-Imam al-Nawawi, she reached 46 hadiths, in addition to her testimony to a famous and pivotal incident in Islamic history that took place between Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet, and Abu Bakr, the first caliph. The key incident took place following the Prophet’s death, after Fatima asked that she be given “sahm dhawuu al-qurbaa” (her share of her rightful inheritance from Abu Bakr, who had ordered it be confiscated). But the caliph refused, claiming that the Prophet had said to him: “Sahm dhawuu al-qurbaa (the share of relatives) is theirs during my life, and not theirs after my death.” This narration sparked a great, extended rift between Sunnis and Shiites about whether Fatima was deprived or not deprived of her right. This incident occupies a large space within the Shiite narrative to consolidate Fatima’s unjust treatment during the era of Abu Bakr.

This indicates a relationship that carried on with the Prophet despite Umm Hani’s refusal to marry him, crowned by a saying that Suhaib Abdul-Jabbar reported in “Al-Mustadrak” about her: “I used to hear the Prophet’s recitation of the Qur’an while I was in my house and he was at the Kaaba.”

It is true that the sentence did not specify a period of time, but the Prophet would never have recited the Qur’an at the Kaaba, only after everything was stabilized after the year of the Conquest of Mecca.

Whereas Abu Abdullah Al-Fakihi, in his book Akhbar Makkah, presents the same narration in a slightly different form, revealing that the goodwill and friendship remained intact, after it was reported that Umm Hani used to “listen” and not “hear” the Prophet’s reading of the Qur’an. This indicates that her ears used to detect the voice of the Messenger from her home, even if from afar.

This explains the initiative she later on undertook with the Prophet. Ibn Saad narrated in his book Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra (1410 AH) that when her children had grown up a little, she went to the Messenger and offered herself to him in marriage. But this time, the rejection came from him, when he decisively said, “Now, no, it cannot be.”

This was not a personal rejection from the Prophet. She had simply been too late. The Prophet’s response came in compliance with the divine command that was reported in verse 50 of Surah Al-Ahzab: “{O Prophet, indeed We have made lawful to you your wives. to whom you have given their due compensation (dowry) and those your right hand possesses from what Allah has returned to you [of captives], and the daughters of your paternal uncles and the daughters of your paternal aunts and the daughters of your maternal uncles and the daughters of your maternal aunts who emigrated with you, and a believing woman if she offers herself to the Prophet [and] if the Prophet wishes to marry her, [this is a privilege] for you only, excluding the [rest of] the believers.}”

Thus the end of this love story was put in place once and for all, and the Prophet was forbidden by divine command from concluding a marriage. None of the conditions that the Qur’an stipulated must be met in any future marriage of the Prophet, had applied to her, something that she regretfully expressed with the words: “I am not lawful for him (as a wife), since I did not emigrate with him.”

After the Prophet

We do not know much about her life after the death of the Prophet, nor about her stance regarding his departure from this world. But there is no doubt that her grief would have been overwhelming, even if it had not been conveyed to us in the history books.

According to Adnan Al-Aroor’s Diwan Al-Sunnah book, Umm Hani lived for a long time, and in most cases she did not stray far from the vicinity of her brother Ali. She sided with him in all his political positions that followed, as evidenced by her son’s support for his uncle, and him being appointed governor of an emirate belonging to his state. She also witnessed the end of her brother’s state before Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan, but she did not live long to watch the rise of the Umayyad state on the ruins of the Talib rule, for she died during the era of Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan.

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