October is Black History Month within the UK, an event that has been celebrated nationwide for more than 30 years. We thought there’s no better time than in Black History Month to get to know the Black Sahaba of the Prophet (saw) who made an immense contribution to our tradition and are held in high esteem.

Black Muslims face a combination of Islamaphobia and racism both within the Muslim community and wider society. However, when the topic of racism amongst the Muslim community arises, we are often directed to the Prophet (saw) and his last sermon, where he said:

“There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except on the basis of personal piety and righteousness.”

It is undeniable that Islam delivers teachings of anti-racism and equality. We are taught that we are all descendants of Adam and Eve and judged based on our actions, not based on the colour of our skin. However, unfortunately the problem isn’t within the teachings, it is often within our implementation of it as believers. Black Muslims, both present and in the past, have had their accomplishments overlooked. When we discuss the importance and influence of black companions, we unable to think beyond Bilal (ra), the first Mu’adhin appointed by the Prophet (saw).

It’s time to shake off the notion that Islam belongs to a specific group of people, to a skin colour or to a country. It is universal, diverse and beautifully equal.  As part of Black History Month we would like to to highlight Black Sahaba and their importance within Islamic history.

Sumayyah bint Khayat (ra)

Before embracing Islam, Sumayyah (ra) a Black Abyssinian (modern day Ethopia) woman was a slave in Makkah, who was owned by Abu Hudhaifah (ra). She was married to Yasir ibn Amir (ra), and had a son called Ammar Ibn Yasir.  She was one of the first seven people to accept Islam as a 60-year-old woman, alongside her son, and was later followed by her husband Yasir. Sumayyah (ra) was known for her strength, will-power and bravery. She endured severe torture at the hands of Abu Jahl, who stabbed her to death.

Sumayyah (ra) was assured by the Prophet (saw) that her destination was Paradise. She was one of the early converts to Islam and has the exalted status of being the first martyr of Islam.

Sumayyah (ra) teaches us lessons of bravery, strength and determination, even in her later years. She, as a 60-year-old woman, accepted Islam and suffered at the hands of those who oppressed and tortured her. Her unwavering faith in Islam, and the message of the Prophet (saw), inspires us to remain steadfast and strong through our own trials and tribulations.

Julaybib (ra)

Julaybib was from among the Ansar and accepted Islam in Madina. He is a companion who is not that well known, but was beloved to the Prophet (saw). He was ridiculed and shunned from society due to his outward appearance. No one was aware of who his mother or father was, and this was detrimental in a time when importance was placed on one’s lineage.

Julaybib was shy in nature, but sat in the company of the Prophet (saw) often. His marriage was arranged by the Prophet (saw). Just a short while after his marriage, he accepted the call of the Prophet (saw) and joined them in battle as he did not want to miss out on the immense reward. He fought heroically in the battle. Once the battle was over the Prophet (saw) asked after him. He was notified that he had been killed. The Prophet (saw) went to him and said: “This man lying here is from me, and I am from him.”  He (saw) repeated this three times, and buried him with his own hands. He was given the greatest seal of honour by passing away as a martyr and spent a lifetime in obedience and worshipping Allah (swt)

Julaybib (ra) teaches us the lessons of being beloved in the sight of Allah and His messenger (saw). Julaybib went on a journey from being an outcast to a beloved. He was derided by his own society, due to his outward appearance, but was beloved to the Prophet (saw) and was gifted the death of matyr.

Umm Ayman (Barakah) 

Umm Ayman (ra) was of Abyssinian descent and the primary care giver of the Prophet (saw) after the passing of his mother Amina. She was one of the most important people in the Prophet’s (saw) life. She was originally a slave but later freed. She looked after the Prophet (saw) both in his early years, and beyond.

It was only once the Prophet (saw) had married Khadijah (ra), that she married. She married Ubayd ibn Zayd, they had a son named Ayman, thus her kunya (nickname), Umm Ayman.

Umm Ayman (ra) was the first among the early Muslims and like others, faced punishment of the Quraish. She remained steadfast in her belief and loyal to the Prophet (saw). Her ultimate concern was the affairs of the Muslims and the protection of the faith. During a visit from the Prophet, he asked: “Ya Ummi! Are you well?” and she would reply: “I am well, O Messenger of Allah, so long as Islam is.”

She was honoured by being the wife of a martyr and mother of a martyr, as her husband was killed in the Battle of Khaybar, and her son, Ayman, in the Battle of Hunayn. Thereafter, she married Zayd ibn Harithah, adopted by the Prophet (saw), and together, they had another son, Usama. Usama ibn Zayd (ra) too was honoured by being appointed by the Prophet (saw) himself, as the commander of the army against the Byzantines, despite his youth, paving the way for the expansion of Islam into the Levant and Egypt.

Umm Ayman’s life was spent in service of the Prophet (saw) and Islam. She was honoured by being a motherly figure to the Prophet (saw) and was told that she was a woman of Jannah. She was a woman filled with sincerity and piety, devoted to the Prophet (saw) and the true message.

These Sahaba paved the way for Islam to flourish. Their statuses are exalted including both the first martyr and the primary care giver of the beloved (saw). We are aware of these companions but how many of us were aware that they were of non-Arab origin?

These Sahaba are just a few Black Sahaba that both influential and at the core of Islamic history; individuals who served Islam to their very end.

The origin of these Companions is often overlooked, yet in their origin is a great lesson for us. The Prophet (saw), the greatest gift to mankind exalted and raised the status of these companions. He embodied the teachings of Islam, of kindness, equality and love for all believers. We say we truly love him, then surely we should aim to follow in his footsteps, in all ways.

“O mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Aware.”  (49:13)