Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: Hind bint Utbah

Actually, you have probably heard of Hind bint Utbah. She’s quite famous–or rather infamous–for allegedly eating the liver of Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib during the Battle of Uhud, a battle in which she was fighting against the Muslims. Because of her cruel and violent acts against Muslims before her conversion, many Muslims today challenge her status as a companion of the Prophet. Let it be noted that the status of Umar as a companion of the Prophet is never questioned, despite Umar killing his own daughter before his conversion, threatening to kill the Prophet himself, and even after his conversion threatening to burn down the house of Fatima–the daughter of the Prophet–with her in it once the Prophet died.

Hind bint Utbah, being a woman, does not inspire the same sympathy. Viciousness in a woman, that is a harpy. Viciousness in a man moves hearts to quiver.

In the Battle of Badr, an earlier battle in which the Muslims had defeated the Meccans, Hind’s father, brother, and uncle were all killed. Consequently, her anger at the Muslims was immense. She wailed and shrieked for days and wandered the desert pouring sand on her face and clothes, until her husband assured her that the death of her family would be avenged. She promised a reward for the one who could bring back to her the heart of Hamza, who was believed to have been the man who slaughtered her father and brother. In the Battle of Uhud, Hamza was struck with a spear, and after he died was ripped open–the liver was brought to Hind, who is reported to have eaten it.

When the Muslims conquered Mecca in 630 with comparatively little bloodshed, Abu Sufyan ibn Harb surrendered to them, much to Hind bint Utbah’s outrage. But something miraculous might have caused her heart to change, for when the time came for the official conversion she led a group of women to the Prophet cheerfully. And with the Prophet she had the following exchange:

“You shall have but one God.”

“We grant you that.”

“You shall not steal.”

“Abu Sufyan is a stingy man, I only stole provisions from him.”

“That is not theft. You shall not commit adultery.”

“Does a free woman commit adultery?”

“You will not kill your children by infanticide.”

“Have you left us any children that you did not kill at the Battle of Badr?”

Romanticization of the past is not only prevalent but normal, and not only among Muslims. And sometimes history is romanticized solely for redemption: the past couple of entries I’ve written about wars have been in remembrance of the women who fought in them, who are neglected and discredited often in this global patriarchy. But it is also important to remember that war is anything but glorious. People die, people are executed, in the most horrific ways imaginable. You would think, what monster could think up such a vile method of execution? Lives are destroyed. Most of the world isn’t good versus evil, but good versus good. And it is easy to judge and forget.

I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with romanticizing the past, especially if it becomes like respiration: we need it, for identity that was stolen from us, for hope, for believing that it could be better because once–once!–it was better. As long as we know that these are exaggerations, glorifications, that the nature of truth has a reputation of being both simple and stranger than fiction, which amusingly enough makes it both complex and obvious, there is nothing wrong with romanticizing the past if it helps us live here in the present. As long as we don’t forget we’re lying, just a little, and that the world isn’t black and white.

God knows best.

45 thoughts on “Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: Hind bint Utbah

  1. I have never thought of the reality of Muslims needing romanacisation. I knew the human soul craved hope and I guess romanticization of our histories is in fact a tangible result of that desire for hope.

    What do you think of hinds comment about adultery and the Prophet not respOnding? Raises questions about free women and consent no? Ties in a bit with Kecia ali’s questions.

    Lovely post Nahida.

    (and now I can comment :) )

  2. Khadeeja, a couple of years ago a woman came to me and asked me to prove that sex before marriage is truly a sin like everyone claims it to be. She argued that the Qur’an forbids adultery, which can only happen between a married couple in a closed marriage. I laughed and said no, the Arabic word for adultery in the Qur’an refers to any sex outside of / before marriage–it’s the old usage of the word, and that’s the same way we used to use it in English too, before it began to only refer to the betrayal of a spouse.

    And then a year after that, I read this. I read that Hind Bint Utbah said to the Prophet, “Does a free woman commit adultery?” and the Prophet did not correct her.

    I froze.

    I still stand by my earlier interpretation, because the Qur’an must come before all other sources in terms of what is or isn’t sinful, but I do not wish to withhold information, for that is how we become religious tyrants. I contacted the woman again and told her that I still believe premarital sex is a sin for the reasons I stated before–but here’s something that happened, and I thought she ought to know.

    Zeina, the source stopped there. =(

      1. Hmm… I’m not sure that makes sense. I mean, free women are more likely to commit adultery than slave women (who are more likely to be raped than commit adultery) because options and intentions.

    1. The idea of consent is problematic. I am not sure of the Arabic etylmology of the word zina and its context so I feel ill equipped to comment. The emphasis on guarding one’s chastity is repeated so many times in the Quran that one is almost compelled to take the idea of marriage as the only validating institution for consensual sex.

      Still.

      reading Kecia Ali’s book opened up some more questions to me. Not answers.

    2. Safia

      There have been other occasions where the Prophet was asked a similar question, and refused to answer by falling silent. I believe this says more about sin being kept between the sinner and Allah, and the burden self-disclosure would place on the Prophet (having to discipline the person). There are several hadith that come to mind which include a person attempting to *confess* adultery to the Prophet, and he turned his face away because he did not want to have to carry out the punishment for their act.

      1. I was thrown off a little because many sources say he looked amusedly at Umar. Thank you, Safia. That is true. But the accusations of adultery against Hind were before her conversion, so it wouldn’t have counted as sin because she had begun as a new person, and what she had done before she became Muslim would be forgiven. And she doesn’t say she did commit adultery; if anything, she is saying she didn’t.

  3. Both Leila Ahmed and Fatima Mernissi speak of the event and the quotes–and yes, they have been repeated in various other sources. Fatima Mernissi herself cites very old ones, including Tabari. Ahmed’s source for the conversation is Ibn Sa’d 8:4, and it has been transcribed by historians.

    1. Yasin Abbas

      Presumably the original source is Ibn Sa’d, and Tabari quoted from there? Just trying to find an online source for both Katib ul-Waqidi and Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Mulouk to get a better understanding of the conversation.

      It almost reads like the prophet didn’t feel it necessary to rebut the comment “does a free woman commit adultery”. It’s akin to hearing a slew of idiotic statements while you’re making your own point and seeing that they’re “not getting it” – just moving on with the rest of the points to be made … and not that the prophet was “stumped” for an answer.

      I dunno though.

      1. Um. I don’t think he was “stumped” either. He is reported to have exchanged an amused glance with Umar when she said this. On other points of the conversation (namely the last) the Prophet may have been humbled by the fact that his army decimated her family. These were far from a slew of idiotic statements.

  4. You know, I didn’t think about “free woman” as referring to a woman who isn’t a slave until Zeina brought it up–and given the context of the time, this is of course the most likely meaning. But I think there is a possibility that she might have meant, does a free woman–as in an unmarried woman–commit adultery? She would be free in the sense that she was not bound to her marriage by a contract, or by a different contract. After all, she was already married before she converted, and seeing the outspoken woman she was may have forged a contract that granted her several freedoms.

    If anyone has any luck finding the original primary source, in the first language in which it was transcribed, that would be useful.

    I found the Prophet’s comment, “That is not theft” pleasantly amusing. (Though the whole exchange itself is humorous.) It’s not theft, of course, because a wife cannot steal from her husband–in Islam what belongs to him MUST belong to her (whereas her property is hers alone and he cannot take it from her); it just showed the different outlooks on marriage.

    1. Sumayah

      I have always been uncomfortable with saying that wives cannot steal from their husbands as their finances belong to them as well (ahhh pronouns) because the same argument is used that men can’t rape their wives because their sexuality belongs to them……

      1. No, the “same” argument would be that husbands can’t steal from their wives because their finances belong to them. You just have to point out the inconsistencies when people say things like that. Bodily autonomy isn’t transferrable like cash, which is literally made (up) to move from person to person.

  5. Hasan

    Interesting debate, but let it be known that Umar’s status as an honourable companion is questioned by at least 30% of the muslim because of his conflict with the Prophet’s family after Muhammad’s (Saw) death.
    Hind like her husband Muawiyah converted to Islam when they had no choice, they along with their son Yazid never wholeheartedly accepted it. Muawiyah’s declaration of war against Ali & Yazid’s declaration of war against Husayn are clear evidences.

    1. I don’t believe I am fit to judge whether Hind ever wholeheartedly accepted Islam, especially if I must associate her with her husband in order to judge that she did not.

      1. LOL I can’t breathe.

        This website is more Shia than Sunni, if I needed to choose. From your comment, for a minute I thought it was yours. Whoever you are. And then I looked up and saw, nope, I’m reading the fatal feminist, and for some reason there’s someone telling Shias they’re not welcome here.

      2. @Abdullah: I am DYING laughing over here! Uhh?! What?! Dude, your bigotry is not welcome here. I cannot believe you had the gut to tell another Muslim, another human individual, that their views are “not welcome” anywhere at all. You have no right to tell another person where and whether their views are welcome, okay?

        This is why we have got to be more forceful about ridding this world of patriarchy. #DeathToPatriarchyInshaAllah Patriarchy not only attacks women and works towards the rejection of women’s views; it also seeks to attack people of minority opinions and beliefs. You’d think your Sunni views are any more legitimate or “Islamic” than Shi’i views, which is so hilarious, given that history teaches us that that’s simply a reflection of power dynamics and not at all about truth.

        God bless you with some intelligence and open-mindedness and respect for humanity. Again: YOUR bigotry is not welcome here.

  6. ProfessorX

    [This comment contains information–information that the writer of the comment seems to think is new and revolutionary to us, but information nonetheless–so it has been approved with modifications made by your author, rather than being discarded in its entirety. Condescending, arrogant, and frankly snobbish privilege has been crossed-out, as well as parts of the comment in which “ProfessorX” neglects to familiarize himself with the method of the site before chastising us for interpretational approach and gracing us with his supreme intelligence. –Nahida]

    In the beginning of this hadith, Hind was actually veiled and the Prophet did not know who was speaking. However, the MAIN problem here is [Oh yes, please tell me what my “problem” is] taking hadiths without knowing their transmission, which books they come from and/or without knowing Islamic History leaves you open to create whatever arguments you wish without first acknowledging that Qur’an supersedes any hadith, no matter how good. [Um, hello?]

    Also, keep in mind that Lady Zaynab (sa) reproached Yazid (la) and reminded him from whom his lineage was from while in his palace as his captive. Lady Zaynab (sa) also mentioned the Day of Judgment and who will be standing with who as their supporters.

    Learn Islamic History and gather some knowledge before taking something and running with it.

    Regarding fornication: You guys need to understand your Qur’an better, because you scare me with what you do NOT know. [Actually I don’t owe you anything, thanks.] The verse is regarding zina, i.e. fornication.

    Here’s the ayat in Arabic transliteration and in English. The keyword is translated as “near” for those who cannot understand the point of it. Al-Isra verse 32

    Transliteration
    Wala taqraboo azzinainnahu kana fahishatan wasaa sabeela
    Muhsin Khan
    And come not near to the unlawful sexual intercourse. Verily, it is a Fahishah [i.e. anything that transgresses its limits (a great sin)], and an evil way (that leads one to Hell unless Allah forgives him).

    [Commenting is a privilege, not a right. If you don’t belong in polite society, you will be banned.]

    1. Zeinab

      Bismillah…as much as you all may hate to say it, professor x is right. We cannot quote Quran and hadith out of context to derive our own meaning from it. Rather, we all must strive to learn what Allah SWT and his messenger meant. I’m not suggesting we accept the blind conventional wisdom but that we carefully investigate before making up our own minds based on our own whims and cultural norms.

  7. Commenter

    Actually Shia Muslims adamantly hate ABU Sufyan, muawiya, and umar for the reasons you stated above and they praise the prophets wives daughters and granddaughters and consider them role models for everyone (for example, Fatima, Sakina, zainab, their nanny Fizza, but not aisha)

  8. Muslim

    You can’t make a certain claim that Umar Ibn Al Khattab killed his own daughter, this hasn’t been proven and there are no strong sources supporting it. In trying to make a point, don’t falsify claims or make claims with no proper source.

  9. Omar

    Umar killing his own daughter is a pretty much an accepted fact, the story is famous among Muslims. You must remember this was before he accepted Islam, when he was a pagan and a drunk. It was an Arabian custom for fathers to bury their newborn daughters, until out beloved Prophet (saw) destroyed that practice.

  10. Poison_Arrow

    Very interesting post Nahida, you’ve written it very well. I came across your blog as I was researching whatever info I could find on Hind Bint Utbah, because she was quite the character and one of more infamous ones in Islamic history. And I’ve enjoyed reading your views on her as well your detailed replies to some of the comments here, well done.

  11. Dionysian

    Well as far as “limits” in context of marital relations are concerned ; their scope is vague and shallow. More than 80 percent of muslims don’t even know that sexual intercourse is yielded with cocobines.

  12. mohammed ally

    Hinda was never accepted by the nabi saw ,she was converted by sahaba because nabi saw could not stand to look at her ,read surah lahab she will have twisted fibre around her neck ,more so it is stated in quran surah taubah that those who did not fight in the battle of badr for muslims allah commanded the nabi saw never to pray for their forgiveness even at their qabrs , hadith is there yes but the truth is quran .hazrath hamza was more of a muslim and mohmin than the whole progeny of abu sufiyan put together .

  13. Forgive me but Hind only accepted Islam when she didn’t have any other option to accept. One option is to accept Islam other one was to get Executed so obviously anyone will accept Islam just like seen in her above conversation. in her conversation rudeness appears against the Prophet S.A.W so I don’t believe she is a Muslim, I believe she is a Kafir and will go straight to hell.

    1. I don’t believe your opinion of the degree of anyone’s religiosity or their whereabouts in the afterlife is relevant to God’s judgement.

      1. I don’t care what you believe or what you not! She is the one who chewed Hazrat-e-Hamza liver and ask her Husband to take revenge and trained her son to fight against the Family of Muhammad whenever they find a chance as you told in the conversation. That is why ‘Karbala’ occurred! And Hussain ibn Ali got killed with a lot of his companions.

  14. And that is how the hadith go.

    Hind, once again, interrupted the course of homage. She said to Muhammad S.A.W: we raised them when children and you killed them when adult. Have you left behind any man of ours save be killed by you?! You have killed their fathers on the Day of Badr and instructing us concerning their children right now!!

    This answer drips that she didn’t have any respect for Muhammad S.A.W. And one who has no respect for Muhammad S.A.W. is a Kafir.

      1. Abu Rabbani

        Syed wali is nothing but a racist donkey. He probably never went under a roof of a school. The whole generation of today’s women combined in their goodness cannot hold a candle in comparison to hindh bint utbah (rali). She is only second to khawla bint Al azwar (rali), in line of the bravest women in Islam. The first woman to post questions distinguishing between haram and halaal was hindh (rali) again. Islam doesn’t not just forgive the past. Someone tell this donkey and a half that Islam deletes the past, that’s the promise of the creator. He probably doesn’t know what it is to look up to one mom. Subhanallah, what arrogance for him to judge one of the greatest women in Islamic history, and that too to hell he says. This word is enough to take him to the depths of burning hell. Whoever you are, run

      2. Okay! Everyone! There are no personal attacks in the comment section of this website. There is also NO comparing women to each other. If you’re new, please be respectful. To sum up: No calling people kafirs (you can’t possibly know), no calling people donkeys (completely unnecessary), no coming to the websites of women to tell them you don’t care what they believe (then go somewhere where you do), and NO comparing women to each other (or other forms of sexism).

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