Heritage and Legacy: Ramla bint Abi Sufyan, Umme Habiba, a Mother of the Believers

Ramla bint Abi Sufyan (c.594-665) also known as Umm Habiba was a wife of Muhammad and mother of believers.

She was the daughter of Abu Sufyan ibn Harb and Safiyyah bint Abi al-‘As. Abu Sufyan was the chief of the Umayya clan, and he was the leader of the whole Quraysh tribe and the most powerful opponent of Muhammad in the period 624-630. However, he later accepted Islam and became a Muslim warrior. The first Ummayad caliphMuawiyah I, was Ramla’s half-brother, and Uthman ibn Affan was her maternal first cousin[2] and paternal second cousin.

Her first husband was Ubayd-Allah ibn Jahsh,[3] a brother of Zaynab bint Jahsh, whom Muhammad married in 627.

Ubayd-Allah and Ramla were among the first people to accept Islam. In 616, in order to avoid hostilities from Quraish, they both emigrated to Abyssinia (Ethiopia), where she gave birth to her daughter, Habibah bint Ubayd-Allah.[3]

Ubayd-Allah later converted to Christianity.[3] He tried to persuade Ramla to do the same, but she held on to Islam. His conversion led to their separation. They all continued to live in Abyssinia until Ubayd-Allah’s death in 627.[3]

Muhammad sent Ramla a proposal of marriage, which arrived on the day she completed her idda (widow’s waiting period).

The marriage ceremony took place in Abyssinia even though Muhammad was not present. Ramla chose Khalid ibn Said as her legal guardian at the ceremony. The Negus (King) of Abyssinia read out the Khutba himself, and Khalid ibn Said made a speech in reply. The Negus gave Khalid a dower of 400 dinars and hosted a huge wedding feast after the ceremony. He also sent musk and ambergris to the bride through the slave Barrah.[3] Muhammad did not give a dower larger than this to any of his other wives.[5]

The Negus then arranged to send all thirty of the remaining immigrant Muslims back to Arabia. They travelled to Medina in two boats.[6] Shurahbil ibn Hasana accompanied Ramla on this journey. According to some sources, she married Muhammad one year after the Hijra, though she did not live with him until six years later, when Muhammad was sixty years old and she was thirty-five.[7] Tabari writes that her marriage took place in 7 A.H. (628) when “she was thirty-odd years old

The Hadith literature includes about sixty-five hadiths narrated by Ramla. Muhammad al-Bukhari and Muslim b. al-Hajjaj agreed on two of them, and Muslim took two of them alone.

Ramla died in the year 45 A.H. (664 or 665 C.E.) during the Caliphate of her brother, Muawiyah I.[8] She was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi cemetery next to other wives of Muhammad.