Halimah bint Abi Dhuayb (more commonly known as Halimah Saadia) was an Arabic Bedouin woman who became a wet nurse for the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) for the first two years of his life, as was custom at the time in the deserts of Arabia. Because of her, the name Halimah is now very popular in the Muslim world.
Below is an extract from the book The Prophet Muhammad: A Biography by Barnaby Rogerson (Chapter 3 – From Boy Shepherd To The Caravans Of Old Arabia) that describes the time Halimah went to Mecca to find a child to foster.
PS I have quoted previously from this book, in a blog post entitled ‘Hero of heroes‘.
It is market day in Mecca in AD 570. A party of Bedouin from the Beni Saad (literally, ‘the sons of Saad’) clan of the Hawazin tribe have come into the city from their customary grazing lands, a nine-day ride away. The women have left their husbands at the stock market and are enjoying themselves as they work their way around the streets of Mecca; they form a noisy, boisterous train, all mounted on donkeys, part heckling, part charming their way around the doorways of the noble households of the Quraysh. They are asking the women of the house if there are any newborn children who require a wet nurse, for fostering the children of the comparatively wealthy Quraysh is one of the ways in which these women can earn a little extra. No money changes hands, though it is acknowledged that they will receive a handsome gift when they deliver the child back to his Meccan home, which thereafter will also be obliged to provide hospitality to old foster mothers passing through Mecca for the market. One by one the Bedouin wives pick up an extra charge, until only one of them, Halimah, is left without a foster child. On the grapevine they have already heard that there is a young Quraysh wife who needs a wet nurse for her newborn son, Muhammad. But that same grapevine also warns the Bedouin that the father of the child is dead. They fear that the reward from a young widow may not be worth the extra work involved. Halimah hesitates. Should she approach the widow or should she not? She returns to the marketplace and asks her husband for advice. He is in a good mood and gives his approval, saying: ‘Perhaps he will be a blessing to us.’
Thus was the young Muhammad passed from his mother to the care of a Bedouin woman. Halimah and her husband rejoin their kinsfolk in time to pick up with the long cavalcade of the Beni Saad as they trot out of Mecca on the north-eastern road.