Umm Qirfa

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Umm Qirfa was an elderly Arab woman contemporaneous to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. She is said to have belonged to a pagan tribe named Banu Fazara at the valley of al-Qurra. The elderly woman was also said to be a chief of her clan, which was brutally killed when Muhammad and his followers raided and overpowered them. The attack took place almost six years after Muhammad’s Hijra (هِجْرَة Migration) to Medina in 622 AD. Traditional sources recount how Muhammad's companions tied Umm Qirfa to a pair of camels which, after being made to run in opposite directions, tore her body in half.

Umm Qirfa in the Sirah Narratives

Ibn Ishaq and Tabari

Ibn Ishaq, the first biographer of Muhammad, recounts the incident of the attack on the Banu Fazara as well the incident of her "cruel" execution in his Sirat Rasul Allah.

Zayd also raided Wadi-l-Qurra where he met Banu Fazara and some of his companions were killed; he himself carried wounded from the field. Ward b. Amr b. Madash one of B. Sad b. Hudhayl was killed by one of B. Badr whose name Sa’d b. Hudhaym. When Zayd came he swore that he would use no ablution until he raided B. Fazara; and when he recovered from his wounds the apostle sent him against them with a force. He fought them in Wadi-al-Qura and killed some of them. Qays b. al-Musahhar al-Yamuri killed Mas’ada b. Hakama b. Malik b. Hudhayfa b. Badr and Umm Qirfa Fatima was taken prisoner. She was a very old woman, wife of Malik. Her daughter and Abdulla b. Mas’ada were also taken. Zaid ordered Qays b al-Musahhar to kill Umm Qirfa and he killed her cruelly.
Ibn Ishaq, A. Guillaume, ed, Sirat Rasul Allah [The Life of Muhammad], Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 664-665, ISBN 9780196360331, 1955, https://archive.org/details/TheLifeOfMohammedGuillaume 

The "cruel' method used by Muhammad's warriors to kill Umm Qirfa is described in the history of al-Tabari.

Allah’s Messenger sent Zayd to Wadi Qura, where he encountered the Banu Fazarah. Some of his Companions were killed, and Zayd was carried away wounded. Ward was slain by the Banu Badr. When Zayd returned, he vowed that no washing should touch his head until he had raided the Fazarah. After he recovered, Muhammad sent him with an army against the Fazarah settlement. He met them in Qura and inflicted casualties on them and took Umm Qirfah prisoner. He also took one of Umm’s daughters and Abdallah bin Mas’adah prisoner. Zyad bin Harithah ordered Qays to kill Umm, and he killed her cruelly. He tied each of her legs with a rope and tied the ropes to two camels, and they split her in two.
al-Tabari, Michael Fishbein, tr, The History of al-Tabari, 8 (The Victory of Islam), SUNYP, pp. 95-97, 1997 

Ibn Ishaq adds that Umm Qirfa's daughter, who had been spared and taken captive, was then presented as a bride to one of Muhammad's companions.

Then they brought Umm Qirfa’s daughter and Mas’ada’s son to the apostle. The daughter of Umm Qirfa belonged to Salama b. Amr b. al-Akwa who had taken her. She held a position of honor among her people, and the Arabs used to say, “Had you been more powerful than Umm Qirfa you could have done no more”. Salama asked the apostle to let him have her and he gave her to him and he presented her to his uncle Hazn b. Abu Wahb and she bore him Abdul-Rahman b. Hazn.
Ibn Ishaq, A. Guillaume, ed, Sirat Rasul Allah [The Life of Muhammad], Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 664-665, ISBN 9780196360331, 1955, https://archive.org/details/TheLifeOfMohammedGuillaume 

According to Ibn Ishaq, Umm Qirfa held a high position among her people; the Arabs said of her: "No man or woman with more power could have done any more than Umm Qirfa”. She was thus perhaps comparable in social status to Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, Muhammad’s first wife. Afterwards, Umm Qirfa was beheaded and her head was brought to Medina and presented to Muhammad as proof of her execution.[1]

Some, citing Sahih Bukhari 9:88:219, have suggested that the motivation for the execution itself and dramatic mode of execution might have been a consequence of Zyad b. Harithah emulating Muhammad's inability to tolerate women in leadership roles in society, especially those in elite positions of leadership such as Umm Qirfa.[2]

Authenticity

The first to report this murder was Ibn Ishaq followed by Tabari, whom more recent Muslim scholars view with suspicion when Muhammad is cast by them in a negative light. While the highly edited version of Ibn Ishaq (by Ibn Hisham) does contain the mention of the killing of Umm Qirfa but not the brutal way in which she was killed, Tabari mentions both the killing and the manner in which it was carried out. Sahih sources (Bukhari and Muslim) are also silent regarding the details of Umm Qirfa's killing but nonetheless confirm the raid on Banu Fazara.

Still, Saifur Rahman al-Mubarakpuri, a widely-read modern day biographer of Prophet Muhammad, has also pointed out the Umm Qirfa incident in his work The Sealed Nectar. This book is highly regarded internationally and its Arabic version was awarded first prize by the Muslim World League, at the first Islamic Conference on Sirah, following a worldwide competition for a book on the Sirah Rasul Allah (life of Muhammad) in 1979. The occurrence of the event of Umm Qirfa's execution is still acknowledged today in respected Islamic scholarly publications and is by no means hotly contested in circles where traditional Shari'ah punishments, such as stoning and crucifixion, are universally accepted.

An expedition led by Abu Bakr As-Siddiq or Zaid bin Haritha was despatched to Wadi Al-Qura in Ramadan 6 Hijri after Fazara sept had made an attempt at the Prophet’s life. Following the morning prayer, the detachment was given orders to raid the enemy. Some of them were killed and others captured. Amongst the captives, were Umm Qirfa and her beautiful daughter, who was sent to Makkah as a ransom for the release of some Muslim prisoners there. Umm Qirfa’s attempts at the Prophet’s life recoiled on her, and the thirty horsemen she had gathered and sustained to implement her evil scheme were all killed.

Umm Qirfa in the hadiths

The account found in “The Sealed Nectar” is derived from a Sahih Muslim Hadith in regards to the incident. Though somewhat descriptive, the Sahih Muslim Hadith does not mention the fate of Umm Qirfa. The accounts of the raid as given by both Ibn Ishaq and Tabari are consistent with each other, and are broadly confirmed by the hadith in Sahih Muslim. Though the details of Umm Qirfa's fate are not mentioned, her existence is apparently confirmed, and the details regarding the fate of her daughter are recounted in detail.

It has been narrated on the authority of Salama (b. al-Akwa') who said: We fought against the Fazara and Abu Bakr was the commander over us. He had been appointed by the Messenger of Allah. When we were only at an hour's distance from the water of the enemy, Abu Bakr ordered us to attack. We made a halt during the last part of the night to rest and then we attacked from all sides and reached their watering-place where a battle was fought. Some of the enemies were killed and some were taken prisoners. I saw a group of persons that consisted of women and children. I was afraid lest they should reach the mountain before me, so I shot an arrow between them and the mountain. When they saw the arrow, they stopped. So I brought them, driving them along. Among them was a woman from Banu Fazara. She was wearing a leather coat. With her was her daughter who was one of the prettiest girls in Arabia. I drove them along until I brought them to Abu Bakr who bestowed that girl upon me as a prize. So we arrived in Medina. I had not yet disrobed her when the Messenger of Allah met me in the street and said: Give me that girl, O Salama. I said: Messenger of Allah, she has fascinated me. I had not yet disrobed her. When on the next day, the Messenger of Allah again met me in the street, he said: O Salama, give me that girl, may God bless your father. I said: She is for you. Messenger of Allah! By Allah, I have not yet disrobed her. The Messenger of Allah sent her to the people of Mecca, and surrendered her as ransom for a number of Muslims who had been kept as prisoners at Mecca.

There is slight variation in the Sahih Muslim account, however, such variations are extremely common in hadith literature. In the hadith from Sahih Muslim, Abu Bakr is leading the raid in place of Zaid b. Harithah, who both Ibn Ishaq and Tabari describe as the leader. The remainder the account given almost entirely aligns with Ibn Ishaq and Tabari.

Modern perspectives and criticisms thereof

A deserved outcome

Some modern Muslim ulama, confronted with the negative light the incident of Umm Qirfa sheds on Muhammad's companions and potentially Muhammad himself, have felt the need to construe Umm Qirfa's execution as an act of retribution rather than an exercise of the Shari'ah-based permission to execute one's opponents following a successful Jihad.[3]

Drawing on the sequence of accounts found only in Ibn Sa'd and Ibn Hisham, it is presented that Zayd's raid on the Banu Fazara followed an attack led by Umm Qirfa on a caravan led by Zayd en route to Syria. On the other hand, in Ibn Ishaq, an earlier source, the first event in the chronology preceding Umm Qirfa's execution is a raid led by Zayd on the valley of al-Qurra, where the Banu Fazara tribe was located. Mubarkpuri in The Sealed Nectar affirms the sequence of events presented by Ibn Ishaq. It should also be noted that the account of Zayd's trade caravan to Syria is not found in the Sahih sources. The events leading up to Umm Qirfa's execution are just one example of the many contradictions found in early Islamic works of Sirah and history in general.

Evidence for a prohibition on raping slaves

Some modern Muslim ulama have also presented the example of Umm Qirfa's daughter as evidence in support of an Islamic prohibition on raping slaves.[4] In the hadith in Sahih Muslim 19:4345, a companion by the name of Salama (b. al-Akwa') is given Umm Qirfa's daughter, "one of the prettiest girls in Arabia", as "prize" by Abu Bakr. Once in Medina, Muhammad asks Salama for this girl with the intention of using her to ransom some Muslim captives. Salama twice refuses, each time recalling how he has "not yet disrobed her" - in the second of these two instances, Salama tells as much to Muhammad.

The fact of Salama's having "not yet disrobed her" is sometimes presented as evidence that Muslim men are not permitted to rape their slaves. On the contrary, the description of the girl as "one of the prettiest", as a "prize", and as one who "fascinated" Salama; the clear permissions to rape one's females slaves throughout Islamic scripture; and Salama's open and un-criticized admission to the prophet of his disappointment at having "not yet disrobed her" all make it clear that Salama intended to rape the girl, and that Muhammad and his leading companions, far from taking issue with the matter, were otherwise ready to facilitate Salama's aim.

See Also

References

  1. Abd al-Salam al-Termanini, "الجزء الأول من سنة 1 هـ إلى سنة 250 هـ [The first part of year 1 AH to year 250 AH]", أحداث التاريخ الإسلامي بترتيب السنين [Events of Islamic History in the Order of Years], 1, Damascus: Dar Talas, 1994 
  2. "Narrated Abu Bakra: ... When the Prophet heard the news that the people of the Persia had made the daughter of Khosrau their Queen (ruler), he said, "Never will succeed such a nation as makes a woman their ruler."" - Sahih Bukhari 9:88:219
  3. One source paints the chronology of events as follows:
    Zaid went on a trading journey to Syria and with some merchandise. The Banu Fazara tribe, whose leader was Umm Qirfa, attacked him and his companions and snatched all their merchandise. They killed some Muslims. So Umm Qirfa and her tribe deserved their fate.
  4. One source argues as follows:
    Salama said that he had not disrobed the daughter of Umm Qirfa when they reached Medina, and again when Muhammad met him in the street, he told that he had not disrobed her. This is enough proof that she was not raped or molested.