"The Hour will not be established until there arise thirty impostors, liars, each one imagining that he is a messenger of Allah, a prophet, but I am the Seal of the Prophets: there is no prophet after me."
[Prophet Muhammad (SAWS)]1
Malik bin Nuwaira was a chief of the Bani Yarbu', a large section of the powerful tribe of Bani Tamim which inhabited the north-eastern region of Arabia, above Bahrain. Being close to Persia, some elements of the Bani Tamim had embraced Zoroastrianism, but by and large the tribe was pagan until Islam came to Arabia. The centre of Malik's clan was Butah. 2 (See Map 8.).
Malik was a chief of noble birth. Famous for his generosity and hospitality, he would keep a light burning outside his house all night so that any traveller passing that way would know where to find shelter and food. He would get up during the night to check the light. A strikingly handsome man, he had a thick head of hair and his face, a contemporary has said, was "as fine as the moon." 3 He was skilful in the use of weapons and noted for his courage and chivalry, and he was an accomplished poet. Thus Malik possessed all the qualities which the Arabs looked for in the perfect male. He had everything!
Laila was the daughter of Al Minhal and was later also known as Umm Tamim. A dazzling beauty, she was one of the loveliest girls in Arabia, the fame of whose stunning good looks had spread far and wide. She was known especially for her gorgeous eyes and her lovely legs. She too had everything! 4
When she came of age she was pursued by every swain in the region but rejected the suit of one and all. Then she met Malik, with whom she was destined to enter the pages of history. Malik married Laila. Thus Malik, in addition to all his other enviable qualifications, also had as wife one of the loveliest women of the time.
Malik bin Nuwaira certainly had everything. Everything, that is, but faith.
During the Year of Delegations, when the tribe of Bani Tamim embraced, Islam, Malik also moved with the popular trend and became a Muslim. In view of his distinguished position in the tribe and his unquestionable talents, the Holy Prophet appointed him as an officer over the clan of Bani Handhalah. His main responsibility was the collection of taxes and their despatch to Madinah.
Malik performed these duties honestly and efficiently for some time. Then the Holy Prophet died. When news of his death reached Butah, Malik had just collected a good deal of tax, prior to its despatch to Madinah. Forgetting his oath of allegiance, he at once opened the coffers and returned the money to the taxpayers. "O Bani Handhalah!" he announced, "your wealth is now our own."5 Malik had apostatised.
Sajjah was the daughter of Al Harith. Born in a family of chiefs, she had qualities of leadership, personality and intellect with which few women have been endowed. She was clairvoyant, would predict future events, and was so versatile a poetess that practically everything that she said was in verse. When people spoke to her, she rhymed back at them.
Later known as Um Sadira, she also belonged, on her father's side, to the Bani Yarbu' and thus was a kinswoman of Malik bin Nuwaira. On her mother's side, however, she belonged to the Taghlib, one of the tribes in the large group known as Rabi'a which inhabited Iraq. Sajjah lived mostly among the Taghlib who followed the Christian faith, and because of her mother's influence, Sajjah also had become a Christian, but Christianity did not have a very strong hold upon her, nor upon many members of the Taghlib, as we shall see.
When apostasy began to spread, Sajjah heard that Tulaiha and Musailima had proclaimed their prophethood. Her fertile imagination was intrigued by the possibilities that these false claims opened up. Why should only men be prophets? Why could a woman not enter the sacred precincts of prophethood? An adventuress at heart, she finally gave in to the temptation. "I am a prophetess!" she declared, and elucidated the point with a few appropriate verses.
1. Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Hakim. Sahih Al-Jami' Al-Saghir No. 7417-8.
2. Butah is now nothing more than a tiny Bedouin settlement 14 miles south-south-west of the present Ras. It shows signs of having been a bigger place at one time.
3. Balazuri: p. 108.
4. Isfahani: Vol. 14, p. 65. "It used to be said that never had legs more beautiful than hers been seen."