Lady Umm Kulthum ranks among the few historical figures in Islam who have been honored with ties to the house of Islam and the Holy Quran. Her grandfather was God’s last messenger and Prophet, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny). She was born in the 9th year after Hijrah (the Prophet’s migration to Medina) and two years before the death of her beloved grandfather. Her blessed parents were Lady Fatima Zahra (peace be upon her) who is regarded as Islam’s most perfect woman and her father was the commander of the faithful and the Prophet’s successor, Imam Ali (peace be upon him). The leaders of the youth of paradise, Imam Hassan and Hussain were Lady Umm Kulthum’s brothers and role models.
From the plains of Karbala emerged a legacy of timeless heroes from the most honorable martyr, Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) to the eloquent messenger of Karbala, Lady Zainab to the 72 men of God who stood defiantly in the face of unparalleled tyranny. Neglected however, in the yearly mourning gatherings of thousands of believers, is Lady Umm Kulthum (peace be upon her). Who was Lady Umm Kulthum? What was her role during the tragedy of Karbala and its heart-breaking aftermath?
The House of Islam
Lady Umm Kulthum ranks among the few historical figures in Islam who have been honored with ties to the house of Islam and the Holy Quran. Her grandfather was God’s last messenger and Prophet, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny). She was born in the 9th year after Hijrah (the Prophet’s migration to Medina) and two years before the death of her beloved grandfather. Her blessed parents were Lady Fatima Zahra (peace be upon her) who is regarded as Islam’s most perfect woman and her father was the commander of the faithful and the Prophet’s successor, Imam Ali (peace be upon him). The leaders of the youth of paradise, Imam Hassan and Hussain were Lady Umm Kulthum’s brothers and role models. With such surroundings emerged Lady Umm Kulthum’s praised personality and character. Her traits resemble the peerless, excellent qualities of her mother and older sister, Lady Zainab (peace be upon her). In fact, historians have consistently mentioned that Lady Umm Kulthum’s title was Zainab al-Sughra (the Younger Zainab) with her older sister, Lady Zainab, being Zainab al-Kubra.
Lady Umm Kulthum was 2 years old when her mother passed away, marking the opening of her life’s calamities. Following the martyrdom of Lady Fatima Zahra, Lady Umm Kulthum lived under the guidance and care of her father, Imam Ali and her siblings. When Imam Ali was struck with the poisoned sword by the misguided and conniving Ibn Muljim, he stayed at the residence of Lady Umm Kulthum. She is therefore the source of the accounts of information on what occurred on the last night of the life of Imam Ali.
Lady Umm Kulthum, following the death of her husband Aun ibn Jafar, embarked with Imam Hussain and Lady Zainab towards Karbala. During the events of Karbala, she assisted her older sister in the tents and with the children. However, her contributions to the legacy and propagation of the events of Karbala did not end there. In fact, she had given many sermons and speeches about the sacrifice of her brothers and family in the forsaken fields of Karbala.
The Story of Struggle Retold in the Prisons
The propaganda by the Umayyads was unparalleled and they sought to ensure that the story of Karbala was erased from the pages of history. However, the story lived on thanks to the bravery and graceful eloquence of Lady Zainab and Lady Umm Kulthum, who despite being taken as prisoners and paraded in the marketplaces of Kufa and Shaam, re-told the story and sacrifice of Imam Hussain wherever they went.
In Kufa, the audience had been led to believe that Imam Hussain was a rebel seeking power rather than a pious and God-wary Imam. Upon entering the city of Kufa, Lady Zainab began explaining to the crowd that had gathered around them of the maliciousness of Yazeed. Lady Umm Kulthum also gave a speech which caused both the men and women of Kufa to lament loudly and cry:
“O Kufans! May you face evil! Why did you refrain yourselves from rendering assistance to Hussain, why did you kill him? Why did you plunder his belongings and become its possessors? Why did you imprison his women-folk and suppress him? May you be ruined and uprooted! Woe be to you! Do you know what you have brought forth? And do you know what load of sin have you taken upon your backs? And what blood have you shed? And which women-folk you have taken as captives? And what children have you loot? And what belongings have you plundered? You have killed the best of men succeeding the Prophet, while mercy has departed away from your hearts.
“Beware, verily the Party of Allah alone shall be the successful ones, and verily the party of Satan are the losers (Surah al-Mujadilah, 58:22 and 19).” (Nafasul Mahmum)
She further inquired of the Kufans, who were celebrating the death of Imam Hussain ignorantly with sweets and dancing:
What will you answer if the Prophet were to ask you?
What have you done while you were the last of the nations
To my progeny and household after my death?
From them are captives and others covered with their blood
This was not the recompense to which I directed you
That after me you deal with my kin with such evil
Indeed I fear that a curse will come upon you
Like the chastisement befalling the previous nations.
Proses of Heart Break
Upon their return to Medina, Umm Kulthum uttered the following prose to reflect her sadness and heart break at the tragedies that had befell the Prophet’s family:
O my forefather’s city, do not accept us
With regret and sorrow returned us
With all our family members we left you
With no man, no child, we return unto you
We did gather before moving
We are ransacked when returning
Under God’s protection it appears were we
Of oppressor’s cruelty and perjury still fear we
Our companion was our leader Hussain
Homeless and patrollers are we
For our brother did mourn we
On camels we are carried
On rough ones we are carried
We are Taha’s and Yasin’s daughters
We did cry out for our fathers
The great infallibles are we
The bearers of events are we
The truthful advisers are we
Oh our forefather, the foes desire was fulfilled
By slaying us they have been cursed
Be disgraced the women by them
Be carried forcefully on camels by them
Oh Medina! A caravan of sorrow to thee bring I
an abundant gift of tears to thee bring I
Oh Medina! Not opened your gate I,
no one, a gift of sorrow bestows, except I
Oh Medina! If a garden of flowers to Karbala took I
If my black hair be whitened by grief but glad am I
since a clear proof for our being oppressed carry I
I swear to friend life, if captive but glad am I
In the best way, my duty did perform I
Oh Medina, Yusuf of Ali’s family took I
Now if not return him, but his shirt carry I
Oh Medina! None of Hashimites becomes aware,
the message of a man beheaded carry I
Oh Medina! Stop me not, if return to thou alive I
By so troubles, this half dead body carry I
Oh Medina look, these captivities cannot prevent I
What by my speeches did to enemies I?
(Imam Hussain and the Tragic Saga of Karbala by Ali Nazari Munfared, translated by Ali Ebrahimi)
A Record of Historical and Academic Oppression
It is not uncommon to see meritorious individuals neglected and misrepresented in Islamic history and instead witness the superficial acclaim of individuals who have tainted Islam’s name. Lady Umm Kulthum’s contributions to Islam have been reduced to the ridiculous claim that she was married to the second caliph, Umar ibn Khatab. This fabricated story has unfortunately taken away from the significance of the work done by Lady Umm Kulthum in spreading the universal values of Karbala. It is an injustice to allow this claim to go un-refuted and to neglect the radiating character of all of the grandchildren of the Holy Prophet.
The claim that Lady Umm Kulthum married Umar ibn Khattab is nothing short of academic character assassination. Lady Umm Kulthum was married only once, to her cousin Aun ibn Jafar. Those who wish to detract from her esteemed personality incorrectly claim she was married to the second caliph and following his death, remarried two more times. This could not be farther from the truth and those who slander her whole personality have been unable to respond to its refutations:
- Umar’s daughter Hafsah was married to the Holy Prophet and the Prophet’s granddaughter was Lady Umm Kulthum. Why would any man wish to marry the granddaughter of his son-in-law?
- The Sunni historians who claim that Lady Umm Kulthum was married to Umar ibn Khatab stated that she passed away during the reign of Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan and yet they accept narrations that state she was alive during the events of Karbala.
- The Imams have rejected this claim as false: Umar bin Adheena said to Imam Ja’far Sadiq (peace be upon him), “People claim that Imam Ali married his daughter to such a person.” The Imam, who was until then sitting down, stood up and said angrily, “Whoever holds such a viewpoint is misled.” (Nasehkul Tawareekh, v. 3 p. 408)
- Umar ibn Khattab had several wives, and a number of them also had the title Umm Kulthum, including Umme Kulthum Jameela binte Asim bin Thabit, Umme Kulthum binte Jarweela Khuzeema, and Umme Kulthum binte Abu Bakr. (Tareekh Khamees v. 2 p. 251)
- It is widely considered true that Umar ibn Khattab married the daughter of Abu Bakr, Umme Kulthum binte Abu Bakr, and the marriage was agreed to by Aisha, the Prophet’s wife. (Tareekh Kamil, v. 3 p. 41; Tareekh Khamees, v. 2 p. 267; Al Istiab, v. 2 p. 795)
In order to portray a facade of a close relationship between the second caliph and the Prophet’s family, some substituted the name of the wife of Umar to deceive people into thinking the daughter of Imam Ali was married to Umar. Yet this is just another attempt to raise the ranks of those without legitimate claim to leading the Muslim world.
The life of Lady Umm Kulthum has survived the oppression of the Umayyads and those inclined towards them who have neglected her dedication to Islam.