From “Nikes” to Lemon Grass: Musab ibn Umayr and Young Muslims Today

About 1,400 years before Nikes were the rage among young people, it was red, Yemeni shoes that were the coolest. And it was no surprise that Musab ibn Umayr, may Allah be pleased with him, owned them.

After all, among Makkah’s youth, he had the best clothes, but also the best style. He was smart and good looking. He also knew how to speak well, impressing even adults, who sought his advice and included him in their circles of discussion.

Like many young Muslims in America today, his family could afford these luxuries that his peers in other parts of Makkah and Arabia could not. They lavished him with these, along with their love and attention.

So it was perhaps a surprise when this young man decided to embrace Islam. It was a highly unpopular choice, especially for a popular youth comfortably sitting in luxury’s lap. But Musab’s heart opened to Islam, recognizing its truth and beauty after a visit to Dar ul Arqam. This was the home of one of the Muslims, where they would secretly meet, learn, and worship God, far from the prying eyes of disapproving family members and neighbors.

Once Muslim, Musab did what young people do today as well - hide what he was doing from his parents. However, the stakes were far higher. This wasn’t about hiding a picture that shouldn’t have been uploaded in the first place, or secret texts to a crush. It was a life change his parents would literally kill him for if they found out.

Still, Musab was as brave and committed as he was good looking and smart. He would sneak out of the house to Dar ul Arqam the way many kids do to parties. His mother eventually found out, thanks to a concerned community member who saw him leaving the clandestine Muslim meeting place too often.

Had it been another parent, she would have meted out some low-level retribution. Perhaps the seventh century equivalent of suspending phone privileges. But this was Khunaas Bint Maalik, a woman feared in Makkah because of her anger and strong personality. And that meant Musab was in major trouble.

She came close to slapping him across the face - but stopped short. Instead, she bound his hands in shackles and locked him in an ugly part of the house, guards barring his exit from his new prison.

Musab didn’t back down. He plotted escape.

He found out that a number of the Muslims had started leaving to Abyssinia, a safe haven where they could worship in safety and peace. It was exactly the refuge he was looking for. He wasted no time fooling the guards and escaping house arrest. 

Musab later returned to Makkah, where his mother once again tried to lock him in her house. This time, she relented after he threatened to kill anyone who dared try. Knowing his determination, she conceded defeat and started to weep, announcing that she was disowning him. The tears softened Musab, and he invited her to Islam gently. She met his resoluteness with stubbornness. "By the stars, I will never enter your religion, to degrade my status and weaken my senses!" she exclaimed. It was his last brush with the luxurious life.

The red Yemeni shoes and classy clothes were gone. They were replaced by coarse attire and rough living, eating some days and starving during others. The change didn’t pain Musab. But it did those who remembered him before Islam. They cried when they saw his worn clothes and decidedly unstylish appearance.

Musab had now set his sights much higher. After years of persistent commitment to his faith, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, appointed him for a pivotal position that played a key role in Islamic history - becoming an envoy to Madinah.

Musab successfully represented his faith and the Muslim community there. His sincerity, wisdom, good character, and ability to work well with others paid off. Many of the Medinans were willing to accept Islam and to welcome the Prophet as their leader.

This led to the Hijra, the mass Muslim migration from Makkah to Madinah, offering Muslims the opportunity to establish the first Islamic peace sanctuary. Here, they could be free from the torture and persecution they had endured for 13 years under the Makkans. They could also focus on building a community from the ground up in peace and security. It was a move that changed history.

Musab was no longer a young man. But after devoting his youth and best years to Islam, his faith didn’t waver. It culminated in his death at the Battle of Uhud, where he died physically defending the Prophet, trying to distract the enemy so they would not harm the leader of the Muslims.

Musab left nothing behind except the shredded woolen cloth he was wearing. And his feet were bare. The Prophet ordered that his head be covered with his clothing and his feet with lemon grass. Looking at Musab as he lay in the dirt of Uhud, the Prophet’s eyes overflowed with tears. He recited this verse from the Quran: "Among the believers are men who have been true to their covenant with Allah" (33:23).

His last words to Musab, may Allah be pleased with him, summed up the trajectory of his life: "I saw you at Makkah, and there was not a more precious jewel, nor anyone more distinguished than you. And here you are, bare-headed in a garment!"

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