Glimpses of the early Muslim Women

Those scholars who study the role of women in Islam will notice that throughout the different periods of History, women were actively engaged in every field of endeavour , be it politics, government or learning. Women were not confined, as some have assumed, to Mothering and household occupation. I would restrict this post on account of giving Glimpses of Early Glimpses of Muslim women particularly during Prophet’s time and during the period of First Four Caliphs.

Nafisa bint al Hasan (d, 208/824) taught hadees to Imam ash Shafi (R.H.)

Ibn Hajar mentioned 12 women were musnida (transmitters of collection of traditions). He studied with 53 women.

Ibn Asaqi al Dimashqi (499-571) took hadees from 1300 male shaykh and 80-odd female shaykha.

As far as back the 3rd/9th century. Al Jihaz described these active women, by saying,’ The kings and nobility had bondswomen who undertook all kinds of daily responsibilities like joining the workforce, or staff of the diwans. These were women who attended to the affairs of the people, such as khalisah, the maid of al Khayzuran; and the Utbah, maid of Titah, daughter of Abu al Abbas al saffah; and sukkar and turkiyah, the amids of Umm Jafar. Furthermore , women appeared in public stylishly dressed and nobody decried that or reproached it. [ Amr ibn Bahr al Jihaz, Rasail]

Busra bint Uzwan (Razi’Allahu Anha) was the sister of Utbah bin Uzwan al mazini, the famous companion, the governor of Basra (iraq). According to the author , Busra hired Abu Hurraira (R.A.) and he was her employee during the time of Prophet (pbuh). Later she married him, after Marwan succeded him over Madinah. [ Al Isaba fi Tamyiz al Sahaba, by Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani]

Early Muslim women fully participated in society. They were farmers, traders, surgeons, politicians, scholars, jurists and even soldiers!

The Prophet (PBUH) always listened to women with consideration and compassion as he valued their views and opinions not only about affairs that specifically concerned them, but also about matters of wider significance.

It was because the Prophet gave such encouragement to women that there were well-known instances in early Muslim history of some of them freely speaking out for their rights.

Following the injunctions in the Qur’an, the Prophet gave women the right to education and freedom in matters related to marriage, divorce, and property rights.
He taught his followers that it is God’s commandment to treat women with gentleness and affection because, he said, “Women are your mothers, daughters, aunts.”
The Prophet described women as “the twin halves of men,” which emphasized the idea that their role in society is complementary to that of men. He declared that “the most valuable thing in the world is a virtuous woman.”

The labour forces in the Caliphate were employed from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, while both men and women were involved in diverse occupations and economic activities. Women were employed in a wide range of commercial activities and diverse occupations in the primary sector (as farmers, for example), secondary sector (as construction workers, dyers, spinners, etc.) and tertiary sector (as investors, doctors, nurses, presidents of guilds, brokers, peddlers, lenders, scholars, etc.). Muslim women also held a monopoly over certain branches of the textile industry, the largest and most specialized and market-oriented industry at the time, in occupations such as spinning, dyeing, and embroidery.

Women Farmers

Sahl ibn Sa’d, a companion of the Prophet mentioned a woman who had her own farm. She used to cultivate beets and barley to feed the companions of the Prophet with it after Friday prayer.

The daughter of Abu Bakr, Asma’, mentioned that when she was married to Zubair, they did not have wealth. The Prophet gave them some land about two miles away from their home. She used to farm and transport the produce herself.

Asma’ bint Abu Bakr reported, “One day I was coming back with date stones on my head. Then I met the Prophet with some people from Madinah. He asked me to ride with him on his camel’s back.”

It was apparent that farming was independently done by women. Moreover, they transported farm produce. If they had modern trucks, trains, ships and planes, Asma’ and other women would have used them rather than carrying the goods on their heads.
Women Traders

Quite a few women companions of the Prophet were engaged in trading. Khadija, the Prophet’s first wife, is the most famous example. Other women such as Khaula, Lakhmia, Thaqafia, and Bint Makhramah traded perfumes.

Ibn Sa’d records, ‘women would buy perfume from Asma bint Mahsama, and when the bottles were filled , she would write down the amount owned’. [tabaqat ibn sa’d, vol.8 pg.220]

A companion named Quila said to the Prophet, “I am a woman who buys and sells things.” Then she asked several questions about buying and selling.
Clearly, business was a legitimate activity of the women companions of the Prophet.
The wife of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud met her expenses by manufacturing and selling handicrafts.

Saudah, the Prophet’s wife, was an expert in tanning skins. She sold her tanned goods to trading caravans and local men throughout Medina.

Women Surgeons

Rufaidah Aslamiyyah was an expert in medicine and surgery. She used to tend to the sick and wounded in the battlefields. According to Ibn Sa’d, her tent was equipped with equipment for surgery and first aid. When Sa’d ibn Mu’adh was injured in the Battle of the Trenches, the Prophet transferred him to her tent for medical care. Rufaida Al-Aslamiya the first professional nurse in Islamic history. She lived at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the 1st century AH/8th century CE. Rufaidah bint Sa’ad, is recognized as the first Muslim nurse. Her full name was Rufaidat bint Sa’ad of the Bani Aslam tribe of the Khazraj tribal confederation in Madinah. She was born in Yathrib before the migration of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). She was among the first people in Madina to accept Islam and was one of the Ansar women who welcomed the Prophet on arrival in Madina. At the battle of the trench (ghazwat al khandaq), Rufaidah set up her hospital tent at the battle-field. Rufaidah had trained a group of women companions as nurses. When the Prophet’s army was getting ready to go to the battle of Khaibar, Rufaidah and the group of volunteer nurses went to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). They asked him for permission “Oh messenger of Allah, we want to go out with you to the battle and treat the injured and help Muslims as much as we can”. The Prophet gave them permission to go. She participated in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khaibar, and others.History has recorded names of women who worked with Rufaidah: Al-Shifa bint Abduallah, Nusayba bint Harith al-Ansari, Umm Ammara, Aminah, Umm Ayman, Safiyat, Umm Sulaim, and Hind. Other Muslim women who were famous as nurses were: Ku’ayibat, Amiinat bint Abi Qays al Ghifariyat, Umm ‘Atiyyah al Ansariyat, and Nusaibat bint Ka’ab al Maziniyyat.

Other women experts in medicine and surgery were Umm Muta’, Umm Kabashah, Hamnah bint Jahsh, Mu’adhah, Laila, Umaimah, Umm Zaid, Umm ‘Atiyyah, and Umm Sulaim.
Rubayyi’ bint Mu’awwaidh ibn ‘Afra was a great companion of the Prophet. She tended to the wounded and sick and supplied water to the thirsty soldiers in many battles. With other women, she transported the wounded and the dead in the war.

Women in Politics and Scholars

For example, the Prophet consulted with Umm Salamah his wife when he negotiated the treaty of Hudaibiah. Many companions were angry at the weak terms of the treaty. It was Umm Salamah whose counsel helped ease the situation.

Fatima bin Qais was a very able and intelligent scholar. When ‘Umar died, the nomination committee consulted Qais on the selection of the next Caliph.
Ibn Qayyim said,130 male and female companions of the Prophet (pbuh) had their legal decisions recorded, which formulated a treatise. [ Ilam al Muwaqqin vol.1 pg.911]
Hazrat Umar(R.A) appointed Shifa bint ‘Abdullah ibn Shams as the administrator of the market of Madinah which was one of the largest market of those days.

The Prophet Muhammad appointed Shifa bint ‘Abdullah ibn Shams as the administrator and controller (accountant) of the Market of Madinah which was one of the largest markets in those days. ‘Umar reappointed her when he became Caliph. Hazrat Umar (RA) also appointed Hazrat Umm Hakim Baiza, who was the paternal aunt of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) a learned women, at the post of Khilafat.

According to ‘Allama ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Shifa bint ‘Abdullah was a very intelligent and scholarly woman. Umar often took the initiative of asking her opinion to other people.

Women not only gave their opinion on various problems but also criticized state matters and participated in the evaluation and reckoning of a ruler’s actions.
It is commonly believed that freedom of speech originated recently in the West. This is no more than myth. Islam introduced equal rights and freedom of expression for women fourteen hundred years ago. The incident about mahr in the Caliphate of ‘Umar is well known. When he decided to fix the Mahr money, an old woman protested that he had no right to decide about it, and he ceded to her protest.

Hazrat Umar forbade the people from paying excessive Mahr and addressed them in a meeting saying,: “Don’t fix the Mahr for women over 40 ounces. If ever that is exceeded I shall deposit the excess amount in the public treasury.”

As he descended from the pulpit, a flat nosed lady stood up from among the women audiences and said “It is not within your right”. Hazrat Umar asked, “why should this not be of my right?” She replied, because ALLAH has proclaimed it. Ans then she recited [Surah An’ Nisa Ayat 20] : But if you want to replace one wife with another and you have given one of them a great amount [in gifts], do not take [back] from it anything. Would you take it in injustice and manifest sin?

When he heard this, Umar said: “the woman is right and Umar is wrong.” It seems all people have deeper insight and wisdom than Umar.”

Fatimah (d. 966/1558), the daughter of Abd al Qadir , better known as Bint Quraymazan. She was a scholar in her own right.And the principal of Adiliyah Khanqah in Aleppo.She copied by her own hand a great number of books.

Another woman was Sayyidah (d. 647/1249), the daughter of Abd Al Ghani al Abdariyah of Spain, who knew the Qur’an by heart and was well known for her philanthropic work and for ransoming prisoners.She sopied by her own hand the whole of Imam Al Ghazali’s “Ihya Ulum Al Din”.

Al Rida, the daughter of Al Fath was well known writer in Baghdad.She was a prolific writer and copier, and copied the diwan of Ibn al Hajjaj,a copy of which the historian Al Safadi saw.

Another well known women in Baghdad was Shuhdah bint al Ubri. Nicknamed, the ‘glory of womanhood’, she was a muhadditha, a compiler of hadees,who knew by heart the traditions of Prophet (pbuh). She penned beautiful calligraphy in the fashion of Fatimah int al Iqra.

A female companion, Rubiyya bint Muawidh ibn Afrah (may Allah have mercy on her), whose family members died in the Battle of Uhud, was a great narrator of Hadith. Her narrations can be found in Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, and other compilations.
Amrah bint Abdur-Rahman was amongst the greatest of the female Successors, the generation that came after that of the companions of the Prophet (peace upon him). She was a jurist, a mufti, and a Hadith specialist. One of great Successors, Umm Darda, taught in both Damascus, in the great Umayyad Mosque, and Jerusalem. Her class was attended by Imams, jurists, and Hadith scholars.

Around the beginning of the 8th century of the Muslim calendar, Fatima bint Ibrahim ibn Jowhar, a famous teacher of Al-Bukhari, under whom both Imams Dhahabi and Al-Subki studied the entirety of Sahih Al-Bukhari appeared. When she came for the pilgrimage (Hajj) her fame was such that as soon as the students of Hadith heard that she had reached Madinah, they requested her to teach in the mosque of the Prophet (peace upon him).

Aishah bint Abdul-Hadi used to teach in the grand mosque of Damascus. She was appointed by the Sultan of that time as the Master of Hadith and taught the compilation of Imam Al-Bukhari. She represented the whole community and they could not find any man better than her. Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani, considered by many to be the greatest of all latter day Hadith scholars, traveled to Damascus and studied more than one hundred books with her

Women Jurists

There are many female jurists in early Islamic history. In jurisprudence, ‘Aisha had few equals and Umm Salam also gave many legal rulings.
Others are Safiyyah, Hafsa, Umm Habiba, Juwayriyyah, Maymuna, Fatima, Zahra, Umm Sharik, Umm ‘Atya, Asma’ bint Abu Bakr, Haila bint Qanif, Khaula bint Tuwait, Umm al-Darda, Atika bint Zaid, Sahalah bint Suhail, Fatima bint Qais, Zaynabah bint Abu Salamah, Umm Ayman, and Umm Yusuf.

A noted medieval Muslim scholar, Imam Badr al-Din Kashani, explained the rationale for appointing a women Qadi judge): “Where there is ability to give testimony, there is also the ability of qada (ruling).” According to al-Tabari, a woman can be an absolute judge in every matter.

It is reported that Dawud ibn Husayn, a companion of the Prophet, used to take Qur’anic lessons from Umm Sa’d Jamilah bint As’ad Ansariyyah, daughter of As’ad ibn Rabi who fought in the Battle of Badr and achieved martyrdom in the Battle of Uhud. According to ibn Athir, Umm Sa’d had memorized the Qur’an and used to give regular lessons.

Khansa bint ‘Amr was a woman of great stature and a poetess of great fame. According to ibn Athir, all poets of fame unanimously agree that no poetess ever equaled Khansa, and the Prophet appreciated her verses.

Su’da, Safiyyah, ‘Atikah, Muridiyyah, Qunila Abduriyyah, Umm Ayman, Umm Ziad, and Kabsah bint Rafi were also well known poetesses at the time of the Prophet .
‘Amra bint ‘Abdu’r-Rahman was one of most prominent women of second generation. She was one of those who gave legal opinions in Madina after the Companions. Her opinion overrode the views of other authorities. She is the first authority for three legal issues dealing with the prohibition against digging up graves, the ban on selling unripe fruit, and the effect of crop damage on the sale of agricultural produce. In one case, she reversed the decision of her nephew to cut off the hand of a man who stole some iron rings. Her authority was accepted on matters such as business transactions and punishments (hudud). Imam Malik takes her as a legal precedent for details on the hajj.

Women Warriors

Many examples of women actively participating in war could be found at the time of the Prophet. One companion, Umm ‘Umarah, demonstrated courage and fearlessness in the battle of Uhud.

Umm Hakim, wife of Ikrimah ibn Aji Jahl participated in the war against the Romans.
When Muslims suffered defeat in the Battle of Uhud, there was some confusion in the Muslim camp. Then Safiyah bint ‘Abd al-Muttalib left Madinah armed with a spear and aroused a sense of shame among those who were returning from the battle. She angrily asked them, “Did you leave the Prophet behind?”

Asma’ bint Yazid joined Muslim armies in several occasions.She also participated in the battle of Yarmuk, against the byzantinnes during the time of Hazrat Umar (R.A.). Asma’ bint Yazid fought and killed nine enemy soldiers in the battle of Uhud.
Umm Umarah Nusayba bint Ka’b demonstrated courage and fearlessness in the battle of uhud.She also participated in the battle of khaibar, Hunain, Yamamah where she lost her hand and received 12 wounds by swords and arrows.

The Prophet (pbuh) himself said: To the left and to the right, in whatever direction I turned, I saw Umm Umarah fighting in my defence.

Umm Hakim, wife of Ikrima ibn Abi Jahl participated in the war agains the Romans.I one battle Ikrimah died. Later she married Khalid ibn Sa’d. The wedding celebration wasn’t even finished when the Romans again attacked. Umm Hakim who was wearing bridal garments took a rod which was holding a tent up and killed 7 enemy of that day. [Al Istiab fi asma al ashab]

Umm Harith showed perseverance in the battle of hunain. [Al Istiab fi asma al ashab]
Umm Salaim, mother of Anas, went to battle with a dagger.[tabaqat ibn sa’d]
Safiyah bint Abd Al-Mutal’ib, the aunt of Prophet (pbuh) was with a group of women who were in a castle during the battle of trenches.The jews circled the castle and one climbed up. Safiyah caught him and cut off his head and threw it down to the jews. [Mustadrak Hakim vol.4 pg.50-51]

Khansa (Razi’Allahu Anha) during the regime of Hazrat Umar went to the battle of Qadisia with her four sons.

Umm Atiyah said, “I participated in 7 battles with the Prophet. I looked after the things of the fighters, prepared meals for them, provide first aid and attended to the sick.” [Ahmad in Musnad, vol.5 pg.84]

Sumayyah (mother of `Ammar ibn Yasir) was among the first to be martyred in Islam. Muslim women took part in the first and second Pledges of Allegiance.

Khawlah Bint Al-Azwar was a great warrior of Islam. Khawlah became a legend during her life and remains a legend till this day. She set an example to men and women alike that one should fight for what he or she believes in, and never accept defeat.Once She donned a male knight’s attire, took her arms and rode her mare through the Roman ranks, using her sword skillfully against whoever tried to stop her. The Muslim soldiers, and their leader Khalid, watched her with great admiration, presuming that she was a man.

Women Calligraphers

• Sit Nasim played an important role during the caliphate of Al Nasir(d. 622/125).She was not only a poet and calligrapher but also knowledgeable in mathematics and in all aspects of learning.

• Lubna (d.394/1003) the secretary of al Muntasir was a poetess who excelled in grammar, rhetoric and mathematics.

• Shifā bt. ‘Abdullāh al-Adawiyya (7th Century)

• Umm al-Dardā al-Sughrā (8th Century)

• Sana (8th Century)

• Fadl (d. 260/873-74). Gulsum al-Attābī (d. 220/835)

• Fadl (10th Century). Duhtar-i ibn Mukla Shirāzī (10th Century)

• Muznā (d. 358/969)

• Fātima (10th Century). Safiyyā bt. Abdurrabī’ (d. 417/1026)

• Fātima bt. Zakarīyā b. ‘Abdullāh as-Shebbarp (d. 427/1036)

• Fātima al-Baghdādī bt. Hasan b. ‘Alī b. ‘Abdullāh Attar (d. 480/1087)

• Zaynab Shāhdā bt. Ahmad b. Al-Faraj b. ‘Omar Al-Abrī (d. 547/1178)

• Sittu’r-Ridā bt. Nasrallāh b. Mas’ūd (died after 567/1171)

• Asmā Ibret (b. 1194/1780)

• Soraya Syed Sanders

• Hilal Kazan

In Mathematics Sutayta Al-Mahāmali, Labana of Cordoba.
In Patronage Zubayda bint Abu Ja’far al-Mansur , Fatima al-Fehri , Dhayfa Khatun , Hürrem Sultan

In Rulers and political leaders Sitt al-Mulk, Shajarat al-Durr, Sultana Raziya, Amina of Zaria, Ottoman women

Courage of Muslim Women

During our rare outings to the local Masjid and even rarer participation in the daily ‘Taleem’ gatherings, we hear and learn about numerous events of bravery and heroism regarding the noble Companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad . We learn about the heroism of Hamza , the bravery of Bilal and the steadfastness of Saad . Rarely do we learn about the female Companions of the Holy Prophet , therefore I decided to shed some light on this issue.

There are countless female Companions of the Holy Prophet who demonstrated their bravery and courage for Islam. One of these was Hadhrat Safiyyah who was the daughter of Abdul Muttalib, hence a cousin of the Prophet . She has the privilage and honour of being the only paternal aunt of the Prophet to accept Islam. The pinnacle of her bravery became apparent during the famous battle of the trench. During this battle the women were being protected in the strongest Ansari fort, which belonged to Hadhrat Hassan . This fort happened to be adjacent to the Jewish tribe Banu Quraizah. During the onslaught the Jews turned their attention to this fort. Hazrat Safiyyah(R.A.)spotted one of the Jews approaching the gate of the fort, intending to attack. Therefore she informed Hadrat Hassaan to confront and kill the Jew but he was not able to carry out his protective duties due to him not being well. At this point the valour and bravery surfaced within Hadhrat Safiyyah as she took a large peg nail off a tent, went down to the gate, and amazingly confronted the Jew herself. Then she struck the Jew in his head with such force that he fell to the ground dead. Having returned to the fort she asked Hadhrat Hassaan to go and bring the clothes, weapons and more importantly the head of the Jew – which he declined. So Hadhrat Safiyyah went herself and returned with the head of the Jew, after severing it herself. She then threw this head amongst the Jews, who became certain that their were fighters inside the fort, not daring to launch another attack.

Another famous Companion of the Holy Prophet was Umme Saleem . She was not only amongst the blessed and honourable women but also amongst the courageous and brave ones whom the Prophet used to take along with him during battles to nurse the injured soldiers of Islam on the battlefield. This in itself requires a great deal of courage as well as conviction. She participated in the battles of Uhud and Khayber where her bravery was not signified as much as it was during the battle of Hunain, where after being asked why she was carrying a dagger, she replied:

“If any non-believer comes near me I shall tear open his abdomen with it!”

This is just one more of the numerous incidents highlighting the courage of the Muslim women in self defense and the defense of other women during the time of the Holy Prophet.

The above are just some of the evidence that establishes the enormous contribution of women in Islam.During the days of the Prophet(ﷺ) women took part in many different jobs,and participated fully in society.I hope that this article empowers us to help women attain the status and dignity that was given to them by our pious predecessors, based on the inspiration they received from the leader of all the Prophets, our exemplary master, Muhammad(ﷺ), the Chosen One, peace and mercy of God upon him.


  1. Saheeh Hadees
  2. Tabaqat Ibn Sa’ad
  3. Al Muhaddithat

One thought on “Glimpses of the early Muslim Women

  1. Pingback: 27 Prominent Medieval Muslim Andalusi Women – Izhaar Ul Haqq

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