Umm Habiba Ramla bint Abu Sufyan, may Allah be pleased with her, in fact married the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in 1 AH, although she did not actually come to live with him in Medina until 7 AH, when the Prophet was sixty years old and she was thirty-five. Umm Habiba was the daughter of Abu Sufyan, who for some of his life was one of the most resolute enemies of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) spending much of his great wealth in opposing the Muslims, and leading the armies of the kafirun against the Muslims in all the early major battles, including the battles of Badr, Uhud and al-Khandaq. Indeed it was not until the conquest of Mecca, when the Prophet generously pardoned him, that Abu Sufyan embraced Islam and began to fight with the Muslims instead of against them.
Umm Habiba and her first husband, who was called Ubaydullah ibn Jahsh, the brother of Zaynab bint Jahsh, were among the first people to embrace Islam in Mecca, and they were among those early Muslims who emigrated to Abyssinia in order to be safe. Once in Abyssinia, however, Ubaydullah abandoned Islam and became a Christian. He tried to make her become Christian, but she stood fast. This put Umm Habiba in a difficult position, since a Muslim woman can only be married to be a Muslim man. She could no longer live with her husband, and once they had been divorced, she could not return to her father, who was still busy fighting the Muslims. So she remained with her daughter in Abyssinia, living a very simple life in isolation, waiting to see what Allah would decree for her.
One day, as Umm Habiba sat in her solitary room, a stranger in a strange land far from her home, a maidservant knocked on her door and said that she had been sent by the Negus who had a message for her. The message was that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had asked for her hand in marriage, and that if she accepted this proposal that she was to name one of the accepted this proposal then she was to name one of the Muslims in Abyssinia as her wakil, so that the marriage ceremony could take place in Abyssinia even though she was not in the same place as the Prophet. Naturally Umm Habiba was overjoyed and accepted immediately. “Allah has given you good news! Allah has give you good news!” she cried, pulling off what little jewelry she had and giving it to the smiling girl. She asked her to repeat the message three times since she could hardly believe her ears.
Soon after this, all the Muslims who had sought refuge in Abyssinia were summoned to the palace of the Negus to witness the simple marriage ceremony in which the on the Prophet’s behalf and her wakil, Khalid ibn Sa’id ibn al-As, acting on her behalf. When the marriage was finalized, the Negus addressed the gathering with these words:
“I praise Allah, the Holy, and I declare that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His servant and His messenger and that He gave the good news to Jesus the son of Mary.
“The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) requested me to conclude the marriage contract between him and Umm Habiba, the daughter of Abu Sufyan. I agreed to do what he requested, and on his behalf I give her a dowry of four hundred gold dinars.” The Negus handed over the amount to Khalid ibn Sa’id who stood up and said:
“All praise is due to Allah. I praise Him and I seek His help and forgiveness and I turn to Him in repentance. I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger whom He has sent with the deen of guidance and truth so that it may prevail over all other religions, however much those who reject dislike this. “I agreed to do what the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) requested and acted as the wakil on behalf of Umm Habiba, the daughter of Abu Sufyan. May Allah bless His Messenger and his wife. Congratulations to Umm Habiba for the goodness which Allah has decreed for her.”
Khalid took the dowry and handed it over to Umm Habiba. Thus although she could not travel to Arabia straight away, she was provided for by the Prophet, (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) from the moment and that they were married. The Muslims who had witnessed the marriage contract were just about to leave, when the Negus said to them, “Sit down, for it is the practice of the Prophets to serve food at marriages.” Joyfully everyone sat down again to eat and celebrate the happy occasion. Umm Habiba especially could hardly believe her good fortune, and she later described how eager she was to share her happiness, saying: “When I received the money as my dowry, I sent fifty mithqals of gold to the servant girl who had first brought me the good news, and I said to her, ‘I gave you what I did when you gave me the good news because at that time I did not have any money at all.’
“Shortly afterwards, she came to me and returned the gold. She also produced a case which contained the necklace I had given to her and gave it to me, saying, ‘The Negus has instructed me not to take anything from you, and he has commanded the women in his household to present you with gifts of perfume.’
“On the following day, she brought me ambergris, saffron and aloes wood oil and said, ‘I have a favor to ask of you.’
‘”What is it?’ I asked.
‘”I have accepted Islam,’ she replied, ‘and now I followed the deen of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Please convey my greetings of peace to him, and let him know that I believe in Allah and His Prophet. Please do not forget.'”
Six years later, in 7 AH, when the emigrant Muslims in Abyssinia were finally able to return to Arabia, Umm Habiba came to Medina and there the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), who had just returned victorious from Khaybar, warmly welcomed her. Umm Habiba relates: “When I met the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), I told him all about the arrangements that had been made for the marriage, and about my relationship with the girl. I told him that she had become a Muslim and conveyed her greetings of peace to him. He was filled with joy at the news and said, ‘Wa alayha as salam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh’ – ‘And on her be the peace and the mercy of Allah and His blessing.'”
The strength of Umm Habiba’ s character can be measured by what happened shortly before the conquest of Mecca, when her father, Abu Sufyan, came to Medina after the Quraish had broken the treaty of Hudaybiyya, in order to try and re-negotiate a fresh settlement with the Prophet Muhammad and the Muslims. He first went to Umm Habiba’s room and was about to sit down on the blanket on which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) slept when Umm Habiba, who had not seen her father for over six years, asked him not to sit on it and quickly folded it up and put it away. “Am I too good for the bed, or it is the bed too good for me?” he asked. “how can the enemy of Islam sit on the bed of the Holy Prophet?” she replied.
It was only after Abu Sufyan had embraced Islam, after the conquest of Mecca, and had become the enemy of the enemies of Islam, that Umm Habiba accepted and loved him again as her father. When she received the news that her father and brother Mu’awiya, who later became the Khalif of the Muslims, had become Muslims after the conquest, she fell down in prostration to Allah out of thankfulness. Umm Habiba spent four years of her life with the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and lived for another thirty-three years after he had died, dying at the age of seventy-two in 44 AH, may Allah be pleased with her.
Like all the wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) Umm Habiba spent much of her time remembering Allah and worshipping Him. She has related that once the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to her, “A house will be built in the Garden for anyone who, in the space of a day and a night, prays twelve voluntary rak’ats;” and she added, “I have never stopped doing this since I it from the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessinof Allah be upon him).