Ummul Baneen: The Mother of Her Sons
By: Huda Jawad
Throughout Islamic history, only a handful of women have emerged as models of perfect womanhood in all legitimate social and religious domains. In addition to the four leading women of world – Ladies Maryam, Asiya, Khadija, and Fatima Zahra (peace be upon them all) – there are several women without whom the religion of Islam would have greatly stumbled. Lady Fatima, daughter of Hizam bin Khalid bin Rabi, more commonly referred to as Lady Ummul Baneen (peace be upon her), ranks among the most esteemed and pious of Muslim women to this date and will remain so due to her courage, piety, and steadfastness towards the Prophet and his Household (peace be upon them). Her life, despite the fact she was a fallible being like the rest of us, presents countless lessons that illustrate the type of character and sincerity we can obtain and reach.
The Model of Motherhood
Abu Nasr Bukhari relates from Mufadhal bin Umar, that Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq said: "It related that the Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali inquired from his brother Aqeel, who was a genealogist and knew the Arabian families well, to find a woman from a valorous Arab family, so that he could marry her and she in turn would bear him a valorous son. Aqeel replied, 'Then marry Fatima Kilabiyah, for there is none among the Arabs who is more valorous than her fathers', thus he married her."
It is amazing to consider the fact that despite being the Lion of God and the Victor of Khaybar, Imam Ali still insisted on marrying a brave wife in order to raise a courageous son, driving home the point for us that when it comes to proper upbringing of children, both parents play crucial roles in imbuing their children with God-consciousness and other desirable characteristics.
Lady Ummul Baneen's name was Fatima; however, upon her arrival in Imam Ali's household, she requested that everyone call her Ummul Baneen so that she would not remind them of the daughter of the Prophet and upset them. Despite being a young bride who undoubtedly had dreams and aspirations of her own, she instead insisted on being a mere servant to the orphans of Lady Fatima Zahra. In turn, the children treated her with great respect and love, referring to her as their own mother. This presents an example of sacrifices individuals on both ends should be willing to commit when it comes to re-marriages and becoming part of an already-established family. Ummul Baneen translates to "Mother of Her Sons", a fitting title since Lady Ummul Baneen and Imam Ali had four sons: Usman, Ja'far, Abdullah, and Abul Fadhl al-Abbas, the Gateway to the Acceptance of Desires and the Moon of Bani Hashim (peace be upon them all).
All four sons of Lady Ummul Baneen stood bravely alongside Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) on the day of Ashura. She instilled in her sons a love and loyalty for the Prophet and his Household that allowed them to stand with firm faith despite knowing that they would be killed by the overwhelming army of falsehood that stood before them. Such men of honor and valor cannot be trained and brought up to be like so, unless their mother is a woman of faith and courage herself.
Loyalty to the Holy Household
Lady Ummul Baneen loved the Prophet's family more than she loved her own sons. When news of the heart-breaking events of Karbala reached her, she did not ask about the fate of her four sons first and instead said, "Tell me about Hussain", and when she received the news of Imam Hussain's martyrdom, she said: "All of the arteries of my heart are torn. May all of my children and whatever that exists under this azure heaven be sacrificed for the sake of Imam Hussain."
Indeed, the characteristics of Ummul Baneen's sons are a reflection of her own greatness. It is vastly ironic that Lady Ummul Baneen was a cousin of the evil Shimr, one of the killers of Imam Hussain. During the events of Karbala, Shimr came and stood facing the companions of Imam Hussain and called out in a loud voice, "Where are the sons of our sister (of clan)?"
Hearing this, Abbas and his brothers Abdullah, Jafar, and Uthman came out and asked him what he desired. Shimr replied, "O sons of my sister! You are guaranteed security." They replied, "Woe be upon you and your security! You offer us security while the son of the Prophet is devoid of it?"
Abbas then called out in a loud voice, "May your hands be amputated! What an evil security you have brought for us. O enemy of God! Do you desire that we should betray our brother and master Imam Hussain and obey the accursed sons of accursed fathers?"
Lady Ummul Baneen trained her children to love and remain loyal towards the Prophet and his Household, and to serve Islam regardless of the cost. Their morals and guidance could not have been manifested without the courage and selflessness of their mother, and once again, we find more examples of lessons to draw from the life of Lady Ummul Baneen.
Mourning Imam Hussain
Lady Ummul Baneen was among the first individuals to hold moruning sessions (Majalis) for Imam Hussain. Imam Sadiq has narrated, "Ummul Baneen, the mother of the four martyred brothers would go to (the cemetery of) al-Baqi and would lament with heart-rending and grief-stricken words upon her sons. People would gather and listen to her (sorrowful words). One day Marwan bin Hakam came and heard her lamenting and started weeping (in spite of being ruthless himself)." Along with the other ladies of Bani Hashim, she virtually transformed Jannat al-Baqi into a Hussainiya, a center of mourning for Imam Hussain and the tragedy that befell his family. She is considered the first person to recite poetry lamenting the plight and suffering of Imam Hussain and the orphans in Karbala, as well as the tragic martyrdom of her own sons. The lamentations and poems she wrote are highly regarded as important masterpieces of Arabic literature. One famous elegy she wrote is as follows:
Whoever has seen the courageous advances of Abbas
And along with him were the brave sons of Haidar
I heard that he lost his arms, and his head was wounded
O Lord, how did my son fall on the ground with no arms to break his fall?
Were it that he had a sword, no one would have dared approach him
Don't call me the Mother of Her Sons anymore
This title reminds me of those Haidari lions
As long as my sons were alive, I was Ummul Baneen
Now that I have lost them, this title doesn't suit me
Those four sons of mine were like four lions
The ones who sleep in the desert after giving their heads
Whoever faced them in the midst of the battlefield
Surely would have fallen to the ground like rain
How I wish someone had come and informed me
That the arms of my Abbas were brutally severed
A few years after the tragedy of Karbala, Lady Ummul Baneen passed away on 13th Jamadi al-Thani, 64 AH. But the mourning sessions and traditions she established have kept the sacrifice of Imam Hussain and the Prophet's Family alive, and it is incumbent upon us to maintain this legacy and keep the incident of Karbala alive in our hearts.
Mulla Bashir Rahim: The History and Philosophy of Aza of Imam Hussain
Shaikh Abbas al-Qummi: Mafatih al-Jinan (Urdu translation)
Shaikh Abbas al-Qummi: Nafasul Mahmum