Ramlah, known as Umm Habibah (Mother of Habibah), was the daughter of Abu Sufyan, one of the most powerful chieftains in Makkah whom even the powerful listened to and obeyed.
At the onset of the Islamic da'wah, Abu Sufyan was its first challenger due to his jealousy of prophethood being bestowed upon someone outside his family, Banu 'Abd Shams. Therefore, he was the leader of the army of unbelievers against Islam. It was in this patriarchal society,
where women were the subjects and unquestioned followers of men, that Umm Habibah, daughter of Abu Sufyan, rose to declare her faith in what had been revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him).
She was a woman of independent thought and open-minded. She was married to 'Ubaydullah bin Jahsh, who before the advent of Islam had abandoned paganism for Christianity.
Some claimed that Umm Habibah converted to Islam just to follow her husband, as dictated by the social mores of tribal society at that time. The following incidents only prove the contrary.
Suffering and oppression were the outcome of the Makkan sanctions, and hence the Prophet (peace be upon him) directed the Muslims to immigrate to Abyssinia. 'Ubaydullah bin Jahsh and his wife Umm Habibah were among them. Tired of the continuous suffering at the hands of their enemies, 'Ubaydullah decided to revert to Christianity after he had met the Christians of Abyssinia and seen the luxury they were accustomed to. He urged his wife to follow him in his apostasy from Islam. "Umm Habibah, I have reverted to Christianity. Why don't you do the same?"
Umm Habibah said in terror, "By Allah, it is not good for you, Ubaydullah!" She tried to stop him but to no avail. He took to drinking alcohol, which eventually killed him. This sad event is evidence that her belief was her own personal choice and not on the pretext that she was following others.
Her husband's apostasy was a shock, leaving her with a little daughter, Habibah, and no one to support her. Despite the consolation she received from her Muslim brothers and sisters, she felt insecure, having lost both her father and her husband.
The news of this tragedy reached the Prophet (peace be upon him) in Madinah, and he hastened to support her. His messenger, 'Arnr bin Umayah Ad-Damri journeyed to the Negus, the Emperor of Abyssinia, to carry out the marriage procedures between the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Umm Habibah. The Negus sent one of his female slaves to Umm Habibah with the news. Relieved-in just a moment from the heavy burden that weighed down her heart, she rejoiced at the proposal, and so did the Muslims when the Negus informed them. The happiest of them all was Umm Habibah's cousin, Khalid bin Sa'id bin Al 'As, who contracted the procedure himself in the emperor's palace because such a marriage only made him I closer in kin to the Prophet (peace be upon him). Umm Habibah, who was now blessed with the best husband in place of her apostate one who had died, remained in Abyssinia with the rest of the Muslims waiting for the Prophet (peace be upon him) to permit them to migrate once more to Madinah.
At last the permission came and they hurried with great joy to the Negus to bid him farewell. When they arrived at Madinah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was celebrating the victory over the Jews in Khaybar and on sighting them, he said, "By Allah,Idon't know which is more pleasing to my heart, the victory of Khaybar or the coming of Ja'far." That group of immigrants was renowned for making two Hijras (migrations). Umm Habibah herself was entitled "Dhat Al-Hijratayn" which means "The Woman of the Two Migrations".
Umm Habibah led a happy life in the Prophet's household with nothing to upset her except her father's reluctance to follow the path of Islam. His stubbornness was at the crutch of his refusal, but she had hope for him because she believed he was a wise man. Her wishful desire extended till the Treaty of Al-Hudaybiyah, when she saw it as a chance for her father to reconsider his own welfare and that of his tribe, the Quraysh.
A But the Quraysh broke that covenant with the Prophet (peace be upon him) and he (peace be upon him) promptly decided, as a result of this, to conquer Makkah for the sake of Islam. The striking news spread all over the peninsula, and the Quraysh trembled at the formidable revenge for their act. They concurred to tell the Prophet (peace be upon him) that they were willing to keep the treaty and were also willing to extend it.
They chose one whom they deemed as the best to go on this mission, Abu Sufyan, because of his kinship with the Prophet. The custom was that Abu Sufyan would stay in his daughter's house during his visit. He intended to speak to her, about interceding with the Prophet (peace be upon him) on behalf of the Quraysh.
When Abu Sufyann arrived at Madinah, he noticed that it was different than before. There was a certain hustle and bustle about the place that was in stark contrast to the stillness of the past. Even the inhabitants looked more serious and confident compared to the gloomy faces of Makkah.
The Mother of the Faithful was surprised to see her father but was silent. Abu Sufyan thought that it was because he had surprised his daughter that she did not invite him in. He stepped into the house and was about to sit on the Prophet's bedding when Umm Habibah folded the bedclothes quickly. This puzzled him somewhat, so he asked her to explain. "Did you fold the bedspread away from me'? Is it because l am not fit for it or because it is not fit for me?"
She answered him confidently, "It is the bed of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and you are nothing but an impure idolater."
Abu Sufyan was startled to hear his daughter speak in such a manner when he, a man of great status, was sure that all the Arab households dreamed to receive him as a guest and place under him the most luxurious cushions. He asked himself why his daughter had done that. She must
have gone crazy!
He shouted at her, "You must have gone crazy after you left me!"
But she repeated insistently, "It is the bed of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and you are nothing but an impure idolater."
At that point he gave up any idea of asking for her intercession. He went to Abu Bakr, then to 'Umar, then to 'Ali for the same purpose, but they all sent him back. His mission was a failure.
A few weeks later Makkah was conquered by Islam and every nook and corner was shaken with the sound of "Allahu Akbar," "Allah is Greater."
It was on that day that Abu Sufyan declared his belief in Islam. The heart of Umm Habibah calmed. Only then was she fully satisfied.
Umm Habibah lived to a very old age. On her deathbed, she called for 'A'ishah and said to her, "There was between us what is normally between co-wives. May Allah forgive us for that."
'A'ishah answered, "May Allah have mercy on you and forgive you for that."
Umm Habibah was comforted and said, "You have pleased me. May Allah please you." She said the same to Umm Salamah, and the latter answered in the same way.
This is the story of a believing Muslim woman who declared her faith while her father was the leader of pagans. She held fast to her faith when her husband became an apostate. She went through two hijrahs, one to Abyssinia and the other to Madinah. She never lost her faith, even in the most delicate and trying moments like when she saw her father after a long separation.
She desired to return Allah wholly purified from anything that would stain her faith, so she asked her co-wives to forgive her and they did. May Allah have mercy on Umm Habibah, Mother of the Faithful.