Um Sulaim bint Milhan is the mother of Anas ibn Malik and the sister of Um Haram bint Milhan. She is Ansari (from Madinah) and embraced Islam early. Her husband, Malik ibn Nadr, however did not convert and tried his very best to make her change her beliefs. This caused constant arguments between the two and they ended up getting divorced. Malik left to Syria and where he passed away.
Um Sulaim was left to raise her son, Anas, on her own. She taught him about Islam and he eventually became Muslim at the age of 10 years old. Sometime after her divorce, Abu Talhah Al Ansari came to ask for Um Sulaim’s hand in marriage. Abu Talhah was a handsome man and the leader of his tribe but he had not yet converted to Islam. Um Sulaim did not want a repeat of her previous marriage and refused. Also, by that time it was not permissible for them to get married because she was a Muslim and he was a non-believer. She asked Abu Talhah, “What kind of man are you? Sometimes you worship trees growing out of the Earth, other times you worship stone idols that people carve out. Did you consider how these things can solve your problems when they themselves are helpless?” Abu Talhah had no answer to her questions. He tried his best to persuade her to marry him but she was adamant that she wouldn’t marry a non-Muslim, although normally a proposal from someone of his stature would not be rejected. Finally, Abu Talhah asked her if she would accept his proposal if he converted to Islam. She said she would and she said that his acceptance of Islam could be her Mahr (dowry). This was unique to the history of Islam.
Um Sulaim told her son Anas to arrange the marriage and it was her son who gave her in marriage. Um Sulaim then took her son to the Prophet ﷺ and said, “Oh Messenger, this is my son Anas and I have brought him to serve you.” The Prophet ﷺ welcomed Anas into his household. This is how Anas ibn Malik came to relate 2,286 hadith. He remained with the Prophet ﷺ for the ten years that he was in Madinah. Um Sulaim used to ask the Prophet ﷺ to pray for Anas to be increased in his knowledge and to have prosperity in this world and the next. These prayers were answered as Anas lived to be the age of 103 and had a magnificent palace in Basrah with huge gardens and eighty children!!
Um Sulaim was very happy in her second marriage and she had another son with Abu Talhah named Abu Omair. One day, the Prophet ﷺ saw Abu Omair looking sad and upon asking Um Sulaim what was wrong with the boy, found out that his bird had died. The Prophet ﷺ spent time with Abu Omair trying to cheer him up and console him. The Milhan house, the house of Um Sulaim and Um Haram, was the only house the Prophet ﷺe which was Anas. When asked why the Prophet ﷺ used to visit them so much he replied, “Their brother was killed while he was fighting by my side.”
When Abu Umair was still a young child, he fell extremely ill. One night, after suffering from a very high fever, he passed away. Um Sulaim was very calm and patient when her husband came home from work. He asked about the boy and she replied that he was better. She made her husband dinner and spent some time with him. She then asked him a question. “If a person entrusted someone with something, then came to claim it, should one return it?” He replied that certainly one should return it gladly. She then took him to his son’s room and removed the sheet from his face and trembling, she said that Allah has taken back the son that he had entrusted to their care. Abu Talhah was shocked and upset that she didn’t tell him as soon as he got home. He went to the Prophet ﷺ and told him what happened. The Prophet ﷺ did not disapprove of what Um Sulaim did and prayed for their blessing and prosperity. Some time later, Um Sulaim became pregnant and she gave birth to another boy, Abdullah ibn Talhah. Abdullah grew up to have ten children who all memorized the Quran completely.
According to Anas, Um Sulaim had a goat whose milk she used to make ghee. One day, she made ghee and put it in a leather bowl and sent it with her adopted daughter to the Prophet ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ told his family to empty the bowl and return it to the girl. The girl took back the empty bowl and hung it by a nail in the kitchen. When Um Sulaim came home, she saw the bowl was full and dripping and asked the girl why she did not give it to the Prophet ﷺ. The girl replied that she took it and brought it back empty. Um Sulaim went to the Prophet ﷺ about the incident and he told her that the girl brought it and left the house with an empty bowl. He told her she should not be amazed, she sent a gift to Allah’s Prophet and in return He sent a gift to her and she should eat it and feed others with it. The ghee in the bowl lasted two months with Um Sulaim’s family and others eating from it.
Anas narrates that one day Abu Talhah came home and told Um Sulaim that the Prophet ﷺ sounded weak and was possibly hungry. She replied that she had some bread wrapped in a cloth and Abu Talhah went to the masjid to tell the Prophet ﷺ to join them for a meal. The Prophet ﷺ accepted the dinner invitation and invited all those in the masjid to come along with him. Abu Talhah became very nervous because he knew they did not have enough food for everyone. He went home and expressed this to Um Sulaim and she smiled and told him not to worry and they put out all the food they had in the house. The Prophet ﷺ came in and made supplication to Allah for plentitude and told Abu Talhah to bring in the first ten people that were standing outside. They all ate until they were full and then he asked Abu Talhah to call in ten more. This continued until about eighty people had eaten until they were satisfied and there was still food leftover.
Um Sulaim played a very active role in the Prophet’s ﷺ life. When he got married to Zainab bint Jahsh (RA), she sent him a gift of dates and ghee. When he married Safiyyah (RA), Um Sulaim dressed her up as a bride. Um Sulaim also was with the Prophet ﷺ in the battlefield. During the Battle of Uhud, she and Aisha (RA) used to fill the leather water bottles for the wounded soldiers, and Um Sulaim was pregnant at the time. During the Battle of Hunain, she carried a spear and told the Prophet ﷺ that if any enemy came before her she would split his belly.
The Prophet ﷺ used to constantly visit her house and pray for her family. The Prophet ﷺ told them that when he went to Paradise, he heard someone’s footsteps ahead of him and was told that these were Um Sulaim’s. So she heard from the Prophet ﷺ that she would enter Paradise.
Um Sulaim had many hadiths narrated from her, mostly by her son Anas and some of the other companions. May Allah be pleased with her and please her.
*Um Sulaim was the first woman to ever accept an embrace of Islam as a mahr. This was a new trend that she started and was truly unique in the history of Islam.
*This is yet another example of how Islam gave women so much strength. Think about Um Sulaim’s situation. She is a divorced single mom and she gets the opportunity to marry someone who will take care of her and raise her in status and be a good role model for her son. Not to mention that this man is someone that no one would refuse and is incredibly strong. However, Um Sulaim’s Islam was stronger and she knew that she would not want such a great man if Islam wasn’t involved and was able to stand up to him and her own situation and be strong enough to say no. And in return, Allah rewarded her with the blessing of having Abu Talhah’s acceptance of Islam be through her and starting a trend among women with her mahr. Not to mention, the blessings of a happy marriage.
*The Prophet’s ﷺ response when asked why he visited Um Sulaim was that her brother died fighting next to him. Look at the respect of the leader to his fellow comrades! He looked after their families and prayed for them. Also I love how normal it was for him to be a constant visitor and for her to go to him with her problems. Wouldn’t you love to be that close with the Prophet ﷺ?
*Um Sulaim gave Anas responsibility from a very young age, such as giving her away in marriage and being like an assistant to the Prophet ﷺ. I feel that nowadays we underestimate children and what they are capable of. Also, isn’t it amazing how Abdullah’s ibn Talhah’s children all had the Quran memorized? Imagine what greatness can be achieved when you memorize the Quran at such a young age! This type of upbringing is the foundation of the home, one based on religion and learning of the Quran.
*The stories of Um Sulaim are accurate because they are all narrated by Anas ibn Malik. That is also why there is so much on her and Um Haram.
Quṭb, Muḥammad ʻAlī. Women around the Messenger. Riyadh: International Islamic House, 2007. Print.
04 Jan 2016
28 Oct 2015