During the time of the Prophet Mohammed ﷺ, babies were taken out to the desert to be cared for by wet nurses. They were breastfed and raised in the open desert air which was suppose to benefit their eyesight and overall health.
When the Prophet ﷺ was born, there were a few other babies born around the same time, so a group of women from the tribe of Banu Sa’ad came to Mecca hoping to find babies to nurse. These women do this as a living and they get paid from the fathers of the babies. However, because Mohammed’s ﷺ father had already passed away at the time, he was considered an orphan and no wet nurse wanted him. They didn’t think they would get much money from his mother. At the same time one wet nurse, Haleemah As-Sa’diyah, was having a hard time getting a baby to nurse. When all the other wet nurses had babies, she told her husband that she will just go get the orphan to avoid embarrassment of going back to the desert empty handed.
So Haleemah took Mohammed ﷺ back with her to the desert and immediately started to feel the blessing of this child. Her milk was enough to feed Mohammed ﷺ until he was full as well as feed her own son. The donkey that they rode on to get to Mecca was moving so much faster than it did on the way to Mecca. Upon arriving home, they noticed that despite being poor, their sheep was producing more milk than anyone else’s. They were always blessed with food and Mohammed ﷺ was growing up different than the other children.
Haleemah herself had three children of her own, one of which was her daughter Shaima (Shaima was a nickname her real name was Huzafa). Shaima was about five years old when Mohammed ﷺ came under her mother’s care. She was old enough to witness the change that happened in her family from poverty to comfort and knew that it was the blessing of this child. She used to make songs and poetry about him.
“Our Lord! Keep Mohammed ﷺ alive for us so that I can see him become an adolescent, then a leader. Suppress his enemies and those who are envious of him, and give him everlasting glory!”
Shaima used to help her mother take care of Mohammed. She would bath him and take him for walks and always embraced him with love. When it came time for him to be returned to his mother, she was very sad to see him go.
Mohammed ﷺ did not see his nursing family for years until after he became a prophet. During the battle of Hunayn, many of the outer tribes came together to fight against the Muslims. They were consumed by obsessive tribalism and ignorance in their Bedouin society. This is why many of them, including the Prophet’s ﷺ foster siblings did not embrace Islam immediately
The Muslims ended up winning the battle of Hunayn, even though they were up against more than thirty thousand men. Of these, there were 6000 that were taken as prisoners of war. Among them was Shaima. She pleaded to the Muslims to let her speak to Mohammed ﷺ telling them that she was his milk-sister. They let her go see him and she told him, “Messenger of Allah, I am your foster sister.” He did not recognize her since they were so young when they knew each other, so he asked her if she can prove it. “I have a scar where you bit me on my back while I was placing you on my hip,” she replied.
Remembering the incident, he spread his garment for her and told her to come sit next to him. He asked her about her mother and father and she replied that they had both past away. This brought tears to the Prophet’s eyes ﷺ.
“If you like, you can stay with me and be always loved and honored and if you like, I can provide for you and send you back to your people,” said Mohammed ﷺ.
“I would like you to provide for me and send me back to my people,” she replied. Having had the blindfold of ignorance removed, she was finally able to see what Islam was all about from her interactions with Mohammed ﷺ and she converted to Islam. The leader of the prisoners also came to Mohammed ﷺ and told him that they are all the families of the nursing mothers, just like his. Mohammed ﷺ freed all 6000 slaves, many of who embraced Islam after seeing such mercy and compassion. Mohammed ﷺ gave Shaima camels, sheep, goats, and a maid before saying goodbye to her as she left with her tribe.
*This story is the finest example of Silat Arrahem, our obligation to look after and take care of our family members. Shaima is considered Mohammed’s ﷺ sister, so even though she had just participated in a battle against him and he hadn’t seen her in years, he still made sure to free her and take care of her.
*Look at the mercy that was shown to the prisoners of war. In every single battle, we see this kind of mercy and compassion. Who can ever say that Islam is not a religion of peace?
*In Islam, if you are breast fed from another woman other than your mother, then she and her children are considered family. If she has daughters, they do not have to cover in front of any boys that she breastfed and her children are forbidden to marry them, just as siblings are forbidden to marry each other. A few years ago, I read some medical research that said that when a child is breastfed by another woman, the child’s genes will somehow change and resemble her genes as well as those that the child has from his/her parents. I am not exactly sure how this happens and I couldn’t find the research to look over it again. I know from a nutrition perspective that breast milk alters gene expression for the intestines and digestion, which is why children who are breast-fed do not have some of the intestinal problems that children who are not breast-fed might have. Inshallah if I find the research about the genes of the mothers I will post it. If anyone else knows anything about this subject I would love to hear it.
Quṭb, Muḥammad ʻAlī. Women around the Messenger. Riyadh: International Islamic House, 2007. Print.
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04 Jan 2016
28 Oct 2015