Home
Success Through Authentic Knowledge of Islam

Home

Muslim Women in History
 

Umm al Muqtadir-billah

She directed state affairs due to the incapacity of her son, the Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadir-Billah, in the early fourth century A.H.  In a public square in Baghdad, she set up a tribunal for the purpose of settling people's petitions and lawsuits one day a week.  She placed one of her female courtiers as judge. People were scandalized and no one came to her on the first day.  On the second day, the woman courtier brought the famous judge Abul Hassan so the public would know that there was scholarly approval.  Many wronged people benefited from this increased access to justice, so people soon overcame their resistance to this idea.

Some fourteen years later, military officers formented resentment at the female influence in the state, and staged a coup.  After a failed attempt, they killed Muqtadir in a second coup in 320 A.H.  His mother, who became ill from shock, was imprisoned.  The new caliph, Al-Qahir, demanded all her wealth and brutally tortured her.  He then tried to force her to dissolve all her awqaf (trusts) and appoint his agent to sell them.  She retorted, "I established these awqaf in the name of charity and in the name of closeness to Makkah and Madinah, for the weak and the poor, and I will not authorize their dissolution and sale."

Qahir then dissolved and sold them anyway (without the formality of her approval).  In 321, Umm al-Muqtadir's condition worsened due to the torture.  A prominent townsman who had been her son's supporter cared for her at his own mother's home.  She died that year and was buried in the cemetary she had founded on Al-Rusafa (a bank of the Tigris River).

Source:  Umar Kahhala, A'lam al Nisa.

The Women who took the Pledge of Aqabah

This was a historic occasion when leaders of Yathrib/Madinah came to the Prophet (saw) in Makkah, where he and his followers were being persecuted, and pledged allegiance to him. They sent one small party first, then the larger party which is the better known; both pledges took place under cover of darkness, without cognizance of the Makkan chieftans. Both the First and Second Pledges of Aqabah have political as well as spiritual implications.  That is, those who pledged were not only declaring their faith in Islam, but promising political support and, if necessary, military protection, to the Prophet. Here is the relevant passage from the compendium on the Companions by Ibn Hajar al Aqalani, Al Isaba fi Tamyiz al Sahaba.

Naseeba (often called Nusaiba) bint Ka'b bin 'Amr al Ansariya al Najjariya Um Amara, who is as well-known by her kunya Um Amara as she is by her name.

Ibn Ishaq mentions, narrations from multiple sources, that in the Second Pledge of Aqabah there were from the Madinan tribe of Bani Khazraj sixty-two men and two women, and the narrators claim that the women pledged... [Note here the incredulity of the historian Ibn Ishaq and his reluctance, writing as he was in a period well after the time of the early Muslims, to believe that the women really participated!   Despite the verification of this fact by more than one narrator!  In the historian's time, women were already pushed out of most forms of public political participation.] ... claim that the women pledged the Prophet peace and prayers be upon him, and he did not used to shake hands with women; rather, he used to put them to the question, and if they agreed, he said, "You may go."  The two women were from the family of Bani Mazin bin al-Najjar, Naseeba and her sister, both the daughters of Ka'b. Naseeba had her husband, Zaid bin 'Asim, there with her, and her son by him, Habib, the one who was later killed by Musailama  [a claimant to prophethood after the death of Muhammad].  She also had Abdullah, who later narrated a hadith about wudu.

[The following is an abridgement]

When she heard the news that Musailama had killed her son Habib, she swore an oath to God that she would kill Musailama or die trying, and she participated in combat in the battle of Yamamah (waged against Musailama).  She sustained twelve wounds in that battle and her hand was lopped off.  [Musailama was killed in the battle.]

She also participated in combat at the Battle of Uhud (much earlier), and was party to the Pledge of Ridwan as well.

1. Busra bint Safwan bin Nawfal al Qurashiya al Asdiya.   She was the niece of Waraqa bin Nawfal (the man whom Khadija consulted about Muhammad's prophethood after the earliest revelation).  Ibn al Athir ays her mother was Salima bint Umayah al Silmiya.  Busra was the wife of Al Mughirah bin Abi al As, and she had a daughter Aisha with him.  Then Marwan b. al Hakam married her and according to one (dubious) source, she had a son Abd al Malik with him.  Other's say the mother of Marwan's son Abd al Malik was the daughter of "Muawiya brother of Mughira." Busra narrated [hadith] from the Prophet, peace and prayers be upon him, and Marwan b. al Hakam  narrated on her authority as did Urwa b. al Zubair, Sa'eed b. al Musayyib, and other prominent persons of the generation following the Companions.*   Al Shafii says Busra was an early Muslim and made the Hijrah.  Mus'ab says she was one of the women who took the Pledge.  Amr b. Shuaib said, She was my maternal aunt; she narrates a hadith about [what happens to wudu in the case of] touching one's member, and she was a hairdresser who used to coiff the women in Makkah.

2. Busra bint Uzwan.  Abu Hurairah worked for her and they later married.  She was the sister of Utbah bin Uzwan al-Mazini, the famous companion, the governor of Basra (in Iraq).  The story of Abu Huraira is  true according to this author; she hired him and he was her employee during the time of the Prophet, and she married him later, after Marwan succeeded him [as administrator] over Madinah.

Source:  Al Isaba fi Tamyiz al Sahaba, by Ibn Hajar al Asqalani, ca. 1500 C.E.

Jamila bint Thabit bin Abi al-Aflah

Jamila bint Thabit bin Abi al-Aflah, sister of Asim, wife of Umar b. al Khattab, was also called Um Asim.  Her name used to be 'Assiya (means "intractable") and the Prophet changed it to Jamila (means "beautiful").  After she embraced Islam, she went to Umar and said "I hate my name, give me a name."  He said, "You are beautiful (jamila)."   She got angry and kept going through names and couldnt find any but her mother's name.  So she went to the Prophet(pbuh) and said O Messenger of Allah, I hate my name.  He said, "You are beautiful (jamila)."  She got angry again, and said "That's what Umar said!" The Prophet said, "Dont you know that Allah is on Umar's tongue and [in his] heart?"

She married Umar in the year 7 A.H.. After Umar divorced her she married Yazid bin Harithah, with whom she had a son, Abdulrahman.  Ibn Sa'd mentions her  among the women who took the Bay'ah (Pledge) to the Prophet saw, in his Tabaqat. Ibn Sa'd mentions on the authority of Jabir that Umar said to the Prophet "O Messenger of Allah, I gave Jamila a hard blow because she asked of me what I cannot do." That cryptic remark is a clue to what caused their divorce.

They had a son 'Asim. After they were divorced, 'Asim who was a child, lived with his mother. One day Omar saw his son playing and wanted to take him but Jamila did not want to give the young child to Omar.  She took the case to Abu Bakr, who was the Caliph at this time. He ruled in Jamila's favor and Omar had to return the child to his mother.

Al-Islaba fi  Asma al-Sahaba by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (ca. 15th century c.e.)

Azdah bint al-Harith bin Kaldah

The people of Maisan (a valley of many small towns between Basra and Wasit in Iraq) had collected an army against the Muslims.  Mughirah bin Shu'bah took the Muslim army and went out to wait for them at Al-Murghab (a river) but the enemy did not appear right away.  Azdah, who was with the women back at the Muslim base camp, said "Our men are busy in combat with the enemy and I do not feel secure that the enemy might not turn back upon us, and we do not have anyone here to prevent them.  And I also fear that the enemy may be too many for the Muslims and that they may defeat them.  If we go out, we can be secure from what we fear, and the pagans will think that we are reinforcements coming in aid of the Muslims, and this will breakthem."  So she strategized.

The women responded to what she planned.  She made a banner out of her khimar (headscarf) and all the women made banners out of their khimars and marched, with her in the lead, calling out poetry for the victory of Islam.

They reached the battlegrounds and the pagans were battling the Muslims.  When the pagans saw the banners, they believed the Muslims were being reinforced with troops, so they retreated, and the Muslims pursued them.  And the Muslims won that region.

Translated and abridged from Umar Kahhala, A'lam al Nisa, vol. 1.

Al-Shifaa bint Abduallah al Qurashiyah al Adawiyah

The Companion* Al-Shifaa bint Abduallah al Qurashiyah al Adawiyah was one of the wise women of her time.  Literate in an illiterate age, she was skilled in medicine, involved in public administration, and had a strong presence in early Muslim history.

Al-Shifaa embraced Islam before the Hijra, and was one of the earliest to migrate from Makkah to Madinah.  She took the Pledge or Bay'ah to the Messenger (saw), declaring loyalty to him before witnesses when it was still a dangerous thing to do.

Her real name may have been Laila.  Al Shifaa is a title derived from her profession as a medicine woman; it means "healing." She used to conduct preventative treatments against antbite before the advent of Islam.   After Hijrah, she approached the Prophet, and said "Oh Messenger of Allah, I used to do preventative medicine for antbites during Jahiliyya, and I want to demonstrate it for you."

He said, "Demonstrate it."

Al Shifaa said "So I demonstrated it for him, and he said '[continue to] do this, and teach it to Hafsah [a wife of the Prophet].'  In another version he said "Why dont you teach this one [indicating Hafsah] the preventative medicine against antbites, just as you taught her how to write?"   She apparently taught Hafsah, and probably others, to write, at the personal request of the Prophet.

The Messenger (saw) used to visit her in her own home so frequently that she set aside a mat and a cover, or izar, for his use when he took his siesta there.  She kept these momentos until her death and passed them on to her children.

The Messenger (saw) gave her title to a house in the Hakakin area of Madinah. His value for her company influenced the caliphs.  As Caliph, Umar used to defer to her opinion.  Umar's respect for Al Shifaa's competence, character, and judgement led him to appoint her as an officer, or wali, in the administration of the marketplace. This makes her possibly the first Muslim woman to hold an official position in public administration.

Al Shifaa narrates a good number of hadiths.  Many Companions narrate hadiths on her authority, including Hafsah.

With her forceful character, influential counsel, and multiple professional skills, Al Shifaa bint Abdullah must have been a major figure in early Muslim society, probably a household name.

Um Aban bint Utbah

She journeyed to Syria and witnessed its opening to Islam with her brother Abu Hashem and her husband Aban bin Sa'eed. She was widowed on the day of the Battle of Ajnadain.  It is said that they were together no more than two nights before she was widowed.  Another version says her husband who was killed was Yazid bin Abu Sufian.

When she was widowed, Umar proposed to her and she rejected him. She  was asked "Why?"  She said "When he enters, he enters sternly and when he leaves, he leaves sternly.  He is preoccupied by his Hereafter from his worldly affairs, as if he were staring his Lord in the eye." Another   version has it "He enters frowning and he leaves frowning.  His doors are closed and his giving is little."

Then Zubair bin al-Awwam proposed to her and she rejected him.  She was asked "Why?"  She said, "A wife gets nothing from him but chores and work to secure his needs.  And he says ~I did this~ and ~I did that~ and ~I am this~ and ~I am that~."

Then Ali proposed to her and she rejected him. She was asked "Why?" And she said, "Women have no luck when they are with him..." [abridgement]

Then Talhah proposed to her and she said "Marry me, truly."  People said, "How is this?"  She said "I truly know his moral character. When he enters, he enters laughing and when he leaves he leaves smiling. When he is asked, he gives. When I withdraw, he inquires; when I work, he thanks; and when I do wrong, he forgives."

Ali was visiting them in their home and he said [to her husband], "Abu Muhammad,  may I speak to Um Aban?" He said, "Speak to her." Ali said, "Assalamu alaiki, oh woman who is dear to herself."  She said "Alaik assalam."  He said "The Leader of the Believers, Chief of the Muslims, proposed to you and you rejected him."

"That is so."

"And I proposed to you and I am from the Prophet (pbuh) and you rejected me."

"That is so."

In another version, Ali added "You refused all those whom you refused, and married this son of the daughter of al Hadrami." She said "Decree and destiny."  Ali replied, "You know, you married the one of us who was most beautiful of face, the one with the best hand, and the one with the most goodness toward his family."

In Umar Kahhala, Alam al Nisa, Vol. 1 p. 21.

Abraha al-Habashiyah (Abraha the Abyssinia)

She was among the servants of Al-Najaashi, king of Abyssinia.  She was with the Companion Um Habibah when Al-Najaashi performed the marriage ceremony marrying Um Habibah to the Prophet (ppbuh). Ibn Sa'd finds her story in the Tarjamah of Um Habibah on the authority of Abdullah bin Amr on the authority of   Ismail bin Amr on the authority of Um Habibah.

Arnab al-Madaniyah al-Mughaniyah (Arnab the Madinan the singer). The two Ispahanis narrate by way of Ibn Juraij that Abu al Asba' informed me that Jamilah the singer informed him that she asked Jabir bin Abdullah (a Companion) about singing.  So he replied, "Some Ansari married some relation of Aisha, so Aisha led the bridal procession to Quba. Then the Prophet, ppbuh, said, have you presented your bride?  She said, Yes.  He said,  Have you sent her off with singing?   For the Ansar love it. She said, No.  He said, You should have sent for Arnab [a woman who used to sing in Madinah]."

Asiya bint al Harith al Sa'diyah

The milk-sister of the Prophet, peace and prayer be upon him.

Aaminah bint al Arqam

Abu Sa'ib al Makhzumi narrates on the authority of his grandmother Aaminah bint al Arqam that the Prophet (ppbuh)  granted her title to a wll in the heart of Al-Aqiq, and it became known  as Aaminah's well, and she was blessed in it.  She was one of those who made the Hijrah.

Aaminah bint Affan al Umawiyah

Sister of the fourth caliph Uthman bin Affan.  Abu Musa says she accepted Islam the day Makkah was  opened.  She was at the place of Sa'd the client of the Bani Makhzum tribe, and she was among the women who pledged to the Prophet (ppbuh), along with Hind bint Abi Sufian, that they would not associate anything  with God, nor steal, nor commit adultery.  Ibn Ishaq mentions her in this context in _Al-Maghazi_.

Source:  Al Isabi fi Tamyiz al Sahaba, by Ibn Hajar al Asqalani,  Vol. 4.