The true Muslim woman is always keen to win her husband’s love and to please him. Nothing should spoil his happiness or enjoyment of life. So she speaks kind words to him, and refrains from saying anything hurtful or upsetting. She brings him good news, but she keeps bad news from him as much as she can, or postpones telling it until a more suitable time when it will not upset him so much. If she finds that she has no alternative but to tell him upsetting news, she looks for the most suitable way to convey it, so that the blow will not be so hard on him. This is the wise approach and good conduct of the clever woman, but it is very difficult to attain and only a very few virtuous women ever do so.
One of those who did reach this high level was the great Muslim woman Umm Sulaym bint Milhan, the wife of Abu Talhah al-Ansari. Her son passed away whilst Abu Talhah was traveling, and her attitude was so unique that if Imam Muslim had not reported this story we would have taken it to be a mere myth. Let us hear her son Anas ibn Malik tell the story of his remarkable mother and her attitude:
“A son of Abu Talhah by Umm Sulaym died. Umm Sulaym told her family, ‘Do not tell Abu Talhah about his son until I tell him about it.’ Abu Talhah came home, so she prepared dinner for him, and he ate and drank. Then she beautified herself in a way that she had never done before, and he had sexual intercourse with her. When she saw that he was satisfied, she said, ‘O Abu Talhah, do you think that if a people lent something to a household, then asked for it back, do they have the right not to return it?’ He said, ‘No’. She said, ‘Then resign yourself to the death of your son.’ Abu Talhah became angry and said, ‘You let me indulge myself and then you tell me about my son!’ He went to the Messenger of Allah and told him what had happened. The Messenger of Allah said, ‘May Allah bless both of you for this night!’ Umm Sulaym became pregnant. The Messenger of Allah went on a journey, and she accompanied him. Whenever the Messenger of Allah came back from a journey, he never entered Madinah at night. When they (the traveling-party) approached Madinah, her labor-pains started. Abu Talhah stayed with her, and the Messenger of Allah went on ahead to Madinah. Abu Talhah said, ‘O Lord, You know how I love to go out with Your Messenger when he goes out, and to come back with him when he comes back, and I have been detained, as You see.’ Umm Sulaym said, ‘O Abu Talhah, I do not feel as much pain as I did before, so let us go on.’ When they reached (Madinah), her pains-pains started again, and she gave birth to a boy. My mother said to me, ‘O Anas, nobody should feed him until you take him to the Messenger of Allah in the morning.’ So when morning came, I took the baby to the Messenger of Allah, and when I met him he was carrying an iron tool. When he saw me, he said, ‘I hope that Umm Sulaym has given birth.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ So he put down the tool and I brought the child to him and placed him in his lap. The Messenger of Allah called for some of the dates of Madinah. He chewed it until it became soft, then he put it in the baby’s mouth and the baby began to smack his lips. The Messenger of Allah said: ‘See how much the Ansaar love dates!’ Then he wiped the baby’s face and named him ‘Abdullah.”
How great was Umm Sulaym’s faith, and how magnificent her patience and virtue! How bravely she hid her pain from her husband and endeared herself to him. She managed to conceal her grief at the loss of her beloved son and spent that time with her husband patiently hoping that by being a good wife to her husband she might earn the pleasure of Allah (subhaanahu wa ‘ta’aalaa). This is true, deep and sincere faith.
Allah (subhaanahu wa ‘ta’aalaa) answered the Prophet’s prayer for Umm Sulaym and her husband, and she became pregnant from that night. When she was heavily pregnant, she saw her husband Abu Talhah preparing to set out on another military campaign with the Messenger of Allah. She insisted on partaking of the honor of jihad with him alongside the Messenger of Allah, even though she was in the later stages of pregnancy. Her husband took pity on her because of the difficulties of the journey and the heat of the desert, but he still asked the Prophet for permission to let her come with him, and he gave his permission because he knew her strength of character and love of jihad.
Umm Sulaym was present when the Muslims were triumphant at Makkah, and when they were sorely tested at Hunayn. She stood firm, as solid as a rock, alongside her husband and the small group of believers around the Prophet, even though she was pregnant, at that most difficult time when many others had fled, and she remained there until Allah (subhaanahu wa ‘ta’aalaa) brought victory to the believers.
The mujahid army returned to Madinah, and her labor began. When the pains became intense, she and her husband stayed behind for a while, but her husband prayed to his Lord in the still of night because he loved to go out and return with the Prophet. Suddenly the pains ceased; she told her husband and they set out to follow the army that had gone on ahead. They caught up with them, and after they had entered Madinah, Umm Sulaym’s labor pains began anew. She gave birth to a boy, and his brother on his mother’s side, Anas, brought him to the Prophet, who fed him a small amount of dates (tahnik) and named him ‘Abdullah. The prayer of the Prophet for this baby was fulfilled, as among his descendents were ten great scholars.
No doubt Allah (subhaanahu wa ‘ta’aalaa) knew the sincerity of Umm Sulaym’s faith, and conveyed the good news of Paradise to her via His Prophet:
“I entered Paradise, and heard footsteps. I said, ‘Who is this?’ and they told me, ‘It is al-Ghumaysa’, the daughter of Milhan, the mother of Anas ibn Malik.’”
Another example of the ways in which a wife may endear herself to her husband is the way in which ‘A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) spoke to the Prophet when he came back to his wives after he had kept away from them for a month. He had said, “I will not go in to them for a month,” because he was so angry with them. When twenty-nine days had passed, he came to ‘A’ishah first. ‘A’ishah said to him, ‘You swore to stay away from us for a month, and only twenty-nine days have passed; I have been counting them.” The Prophet said, “This month has twenty-nine days.” That particular month had only twenty-nine days.
‘A’ishah’s telling the Prophet that she had counted twenty-nine days was a clear indication of her love towards her husband and of how she had waited, day by day, hour by hour, for him to come back to her. It shows how she loved and missed her husband. This approach made her even dearer to him, so when he came back to his wives, he started with her.
The sincere Muslim woman recognizes her husband’s likes and habits, and tries to accommodate them as much as she can, in the interests of mutual understanding and marital harmony, and to protect the marriage from the boredom of routine. This is what every wise and intelligent wife does. It was narrated that the qadi and faqih Shurayh married a woman from Banu Hanzalah. On their wedding night, each of them prayed two rak‘ahs and asked Allah (subhaanahu wa ‘ta’aalaa) to bless them. Then the bride turned to Shurayh and said, “I am a stranger, and I do not know much about you. Tell me what you like, and I will do it, and tell me what you do not like so I may avoid it.” Shurayh said, “She stayed with me for twenty years, and I never had to tell her off for anything, except on one occasion, and I was in the wrong then.”
This is the respectful and loving wife as Islam wants her to be, responsible for her home and loyal to her husband, and always careful to maintain a good relationship between them. If anything happens to upset their marriage, she hastens to calm the situation with her sincere love and wise understanding. She does not listen to the whispering of the Shaytan which calls her to do wrong, and she never hastens to ask her husband for a divorce. The marriage bond should be too strong to be undone by temporary arguments or occasional misunderstandings.
The Prophet warned those foolish women who ask their husbands for a divorce with no legitimate reason that they would be denied even the scent of Paradise:
“Any woman who asks her husband for a divorce with no good reason will be deprived of even smelling the scent of Paradise.”
 Sahih Muslim, 16/11, Kitab fada'il al-Sahabah, bab fada'il Umm Sulaym.
 See Sahih Muslim, 16/11, Kitab fada'il al-Sahabah, bab fada'il Umm Sulaym.
 From a lengthy hadith narrated by Al-Bukhaari and Muslim. See Fath al-Bari, 5/116, Kitab al-mazalim, bab al-ghurfah wa'l-'aliyyah al-mushrifah; Sahih Muslim, 7/195, Kitab al-siyam, bab bayan an al-shahr yakun tis'an wa 'ishrin
 A hasan sahih hadith, reported by Tirmidhi, 2/329, abwab al-talaq, 11; Ibn Hibban, 9/490, Kitab al-nikah, bab ma'ashirah al-zawjayn.
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