Asmaa bint Abu Bakr belonged to a distinguished Muslim family. Her father, Abu Bakr, was a close friend of the Prophet and the first Khalifah after his death. Her half- sister, A’ishah, was a wife of the Prophet and one of the Ummahat al-Mu ‘m ineen. Her husband, Zubayr ibn al- Awwam, was one of the special personal aides of the Prophet. Her son, Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, became well- known for his incorruptibility and his unswerving devotion to Truth.
Asmaa herself was one of the first persons to accept Islam. Only about seventeen persons including both men and women became Muslims before her. She was later given the nickname Dhat an-Nitaqayn (the One with the Two Waistbands) because of an incident connected with the departure of the Prophet and her father from Makkah on the historic hijrah to Madinah.
Asmaa became known for her fine and noble qualities and for the keenness of her intelligence. She was an extremely generous person. Her son Abdullah once said of her, “I have not seen two women more generous than my aunt A’ishah and my mother Asmaa. But their generosity was expressed in different ways. My aunt would accumulate one thing after another until she had gathered what she felt was sufficient and then distributed it all to those in need. My mother, on the other hand, would not keep anything even for the morrow.”
If the above incidents and aspects of Asmaa’s life may easily be forgotten, then her final meeting with her son, Abdullah, must remain one of the most unforgettable moments in early Muslim history. At that meeting she demonstrated the keenness of her intelligence, her resoluteness and the strength of her faith.
Abdullah was in the running for the Caliphate after the death of Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah. The Hijaz, Egypt, Iraq, Khurasan and much of Syria were favourable to him and acknowledged him as the Caliph. The Ummayyads however continued to contest the Caliphate and to field a massive army under the command of Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf ath-Thaqafi. Relentless battles were fought between the two sides during which Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr displayed great acts of courage and heroism. Many of his supporters however could not withstand the continuous strain of battle and gradually began to desert him.
Finally he sought refuge in the Sacred Mosque at Makkah. It was then that he went to his mother, now an old blind woman, and said:
“Peace be on you, Mother, and the mercy and blessings of God.”
“Unto you be peace, Abdullah,” she replied. “What is it that brings you here at this hour while boulders from Hajjaj’s catapults are raining down on your soldiers in the Haram and shaking the houses of Makkah?” “I came to seek your advice,” he said.
“To seek my advice?” she asked in astonishment. “About what?”
“The people have deserted me out of fear of Hajjaj or being tempted by what he has to offer. Even my children and my family have left me. There is only a small group of men with me now and however strong and steadfast they are they can only resist for an hour or two more. Messengers of the Banu Umayyah (the Umayyads) are now negotiating with me, offering to give me whatever wordly possessions I want, should I lay down my arms and swear allegiance to Abdul Malik ibn Marwan. What do you think?”
Raising her voice, she replied:
“It’s your affair, Abdullah, and you know yourself better. If however you think that you are right and that you are standing up for the Truth, then persevere and fight on as your companions who were killed under your flag had shown perseverance. If however you desire the world, what a miserable wretch you are. You would have destroyed yourself and you would have destroyed your men.”
“But I will be killed today, there is no doubt about it.”
“That is better for you than that you should surrender yourself to Hajjaj voluntarily and that some minions of Banu Umayyah should play with your head.”
“I do not fear death. I am only afraid that they will mutilate me.”
“There is nothing after death that man should be afraid of. Skinning does not cause any pain to the slaughtered sheep.”
Abdullah’s face beamed as he said:
“What a blessed mother! Blessed be your noble qualities! I have come to you at this hour to hear what I have heard. God knows that I have not weakened or despaired. He is witness over me that I have not stood up for what I have out of love for this world and its attractions but only out of anger for the sake of God. His limits have been transgressed. Here am I, going to what is pleasing to you. So if I am killed, do not grieve for me and commend me to God.”
“I shall grieve for you,” said the ageing but resolute Asmaa, “only if you are killed in a vain and unjust cause.”
“Be assured that your son has not supported an unjust cause, nor committed any detestable deed, nor done any injustice to a Muslim or a Dhimmi and that there is nothing better in his sight than the pleasure of God, the Mighty, the Great. I do not say this to exonerate myself. God knows that I have only said it to make your heart firm and steadfast. ”
“Praise be to God who has made you act according to what He likes and according fo what I like. Come close to me, my son, that I may smell and feel your body for this might be the last meeting with you.”
Abdullah knelt before her. She hugged him and smothered his head, his face and his neck with kisses. Her hands began to squeeze his body when suddenly she withdrew them and asked:
“What is this you are wearing, Abdullah?” “This is my armour plate.”
“This, my son, ls not the dress of one who desires martyrdom. Take it off. That will make your movements lighter and quicker. Wear instead the sirwal (a long under garment) so that if you are killed your ‘awrah will not be exposed.
Abdullah took off his armour plate and put on the sirwal. As he left for the Haram to join the fighting he said:
“My mother, don’t deprive me of your dada (prayer).” Raising her hands to heaven, she prayed:
“O Lord, have mercy on his staying up for long hours and his loud crying in the darkness of the night while people slept . . .
“O Lord, have mercy on his hunger and his thirst on his journeys from Madinah and Makkah while he fasted . . .
“O Lord, bless his righteousness to his mother and his father . . .
“O Lord, I commend him to Your cause and I am pleased with whatever You decree for him.
And grant me for his sake the reward of those who are patient and who persevere.”
By sunset, Abdullah was dead. Just over ten days later, his mother joined him. She was a hundred years old. Age had not made her infirm nor blunted the keenness of her mind.