Asmaa daughter of Abu Bakr is from a family of heroic men and women; it seems like greatness runs in their family.
Her father is Abu Bakr, the best friend, confidant, and strongest supporter of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Her sister is Aisha, Prophet Muhammad’s wife who transmitted and taught over 2,200 Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Her husband is Az-Zubair ibn Al-Awwam, who was known as “The Disciple” of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and who was among the ten companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) who were promised Paradise. Her son is Abdullah bin Az-Zubair, a great martyr in Islam.
Asmaa bint Abi Bakr was one of the earliest Muslims; she was actually the 18th person in Makkah to embrace Islam. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was a frequent visitor in her father’s home and she learned a great deal of the new faith from the company of the noble Prophet (peace be upon him) and her father.
Piety, farsightedness, intelligence, courage, integrity and generosity – all of these praiseworthy qualities were found in Asmaa. She was instrumental to one of the most important moments in Islamic history, the migration from Makkah to Madinah. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Abu Bakr hid in Cave Thawr for three days to trick the men of Quraish who were searching for them. Asmaa risked her own life to take food and water to her father and the Prophet (peace be upon him) to the cave where they were in hiding.
Abu Jahl came to the house of Abu Bakr looking for them, furious. He asked Asmaa where her father was, but she said that she did not know. He slapped her hard but she faced him with steadfastness and courage and did not betray her secret.
When Abu Bakr migrated with the Prophet (peace be upon him), he took all the wealth he had to support the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the new Muslim community in Madinah. Abu Bakr’s father, Abu Quhafa, was still a disbeliever and he came to visit the family after Abu Bakr had left. Abu Quhafa complained that Abu Bakr had left them alone with nothing and had put them in difficulty.
Asmaa wanted to reassure her old grandfather who was blind. She took some stones and put them in a niche where Abu Bakr kept his money, then she covered them with a cloth and took her grandfather’s hand and said, “Put your hand on this money.”
He did so and Asmaa said, “There is nothing to worry about; he has done well in leaving you this, and you will have enough.”
Asmaa was such a strong woman to mask plenty when there was nothing; her faith was enough for her.
After the safe arrival of her father and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in Madinah, it was time for Asmaa to migrate as well. Her husband, Az-Zubair, was in Abyssinia and they would reunite in Madinah. Asmaa was nine months pregnant when she made the arduous journey to Madinah. On the outskirts of Madinah, in the valley of Qubaa, Asmaa went into labor and gave birth to a baby boy, Abdullah bin Az-Zubair. The Muslims rejoiced and thanked Allah because Abdullah was the first child to be born to the Emigrants in Madinah.
For Asmaa and her husband, life in Madinah was difficult at first. Her husband was quite poor and his only major possession to begin with was a horse he had bought. Asmaa herself used to provide fodder for the horse, give it water, and groom it. She would grind grain and make dough. She would carry grain on her head gathered from their plot of land, which was an eight kilometer walk from the town.
Asmaa and her husband worked extremely hard together until their situation improved. Az-Zubair eventually became one of the richest men in Madinah.
Asmaa was a devoted worshiper. She often stood for long hours in prayer and she fasted often. She was extremely generous and was known to give profusely and to free slaves.
Her son, Abdullah, said of her, “I have not seen two women more generous than my aunt Aisha 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.”
Asmaa took part in the Battle of Yarmuk and fought bravely by her husband’s side. The Battle of Yarmuk is regarded as one of the most decisive battles in military history. The Muslims were hugely outnumbered by the Romans but, with the help of the women and the young boys amongst them, they drove the Roman Empire out of Syria. Historians have written that the women fought harder than the men. Every time the men ran away, the women fought, fearing that if they lost, the Romans would enslave them.
Later in her life, she patiently endured a tremendously painful trial.
Her son, Abdullah, had garnered substantial support from many Muslims to run for the Caliphate after the death of Yazid bin Mu’awiyah. The Hijaz, Egypt, Iraq, Khorasan, and much of Syria acknowledged him as the Caliph. The Ummayyads however led a massive army under the command of Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf Al-Thaqafi to crush Az-Zubair and those loyal to him. Many of Az-Zubair’s supporters could not withstand the continuous strain of battle and gradually began to desert him. Finally, he sought refuge in the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, and a desperate battle was waged there. Abdullah bin Az-Zubair’s army was facing defeat, and the Umayyads started negotiating with him that if he gave up his demand for Caliphate they would give him any worldly possession he desired.
Abdullah went to ask his mother who was a blind, old woman of 100 years old if he should surrender.
Asmaa told her son that if he was standing up for what is right then he should not worry about dying. He said that it was not death he feared but he was afraid they would mutilate his body after death.
She answered, “Once a goat is slaughtered the skinning cannot cause it any pain. Fear of death should not stand in the way of a truly courageous man.”
Abdullah kissed his mother and said that he wanted to fight but he was making sure that she would be strong enough if something terrible happened to him.
So Abdullah returned to the battlefield and advanced through the ranks fighting courageously; but since they were outnumbered he died the death of a martyr.
Hajjaj bin Yusuf hung up his body for all to see. Al-Hajjaj who was feared by all came to Asmaa to break her resolve and he said, “How has Allah dealt with His enemy?”
Asmaa bravely and indignantly answered, “You have ruined his life, but he has ruined for you the Hereafter!”
Al-Hajjaj could not answer this legendary woman and he left silently.
Not long after the death of her son, Asmaa bint Abi Bakr died. She was a hundred years old, but even at that age she had a full set of teeth and a sharp memory.