Whenever we’ve heard stories of prominent figures in Islamic history, the narrative we’ve been taught always highlighted the male companions and male scholars – making it seem as if the women were all hidden, veiled away from the rest of society. We assumed they were always at home, where they belonged (as we were told), staying out of the public eye.
But as I began to study, I started to unveil TREASURES. Jewels of women who played roles in society, even at the time of Rasullalah (S), that I had never in my life imagined that Islam granted women the ability to play. But their stories were always hidden, tucked away in Arabic books – un-translated to the masses. Why have their names been erased from our Islamic curriculum?
Islamic history is full of women exercising their God-given rights to work, serve, and be fully engaged in her society. The erasure of these names from history has caused these rights to be stripped from her, leading to the mistreatment and exploitation of half of the Muslim ummah.
Revive their names, revive their stories. It’s time to bring back the Hidden Female Figures of our Islamic History:
Have you ever heard of Shifaa bint Abdullah? The strong intelligent woman who Umar (R) appointed as a policewoman of the entire marketplace in Madinah. She walked around with her stick, keeping the peace and reprimanding those who were violating the business transaction laws of the Shariah. Imagine that. A woman who was so knowledgeable of the Shariah, that she was chosen from all the other Sahaba to police both men and women. In fact, when Umar (R) decided to appoint another police for the Makkan marketplace, another woman, Samra’ bint Nuhayk was chosen as the most suitable for the job. These women were looked at based upon their qualifications, their knowledge of the Shariah – not their gender.
Have you ever heard of Nusayba bint Ka’ab? The female warrior who courageously defended the Prophet (S) in several battles. The one whom the Prophet (S) said about her at Uhud, “Whenever I looked to the right or left, I saw her fighting in front of me.” The one whom the Prophet (S) asked, “From where can anyone get courage like you, O Umm Umarah (her nickname)?”
Have you ever heard of Rufayda bint Sa’ad? Also known as Rufayda al-Aslamiyyah, who was the first female nurse in Islamic history. The Prophet (S) ordered the wounded and dying to be sent specifically to her tent during battles. Learning medical knowledge from her father, she became an expert in the medical field, and began training other women companions to become nurses as well. She was known as a kind, empathetic healer, as well as a compassionate social worker who took care of orphans, the handicapped and the poor.
Have you ever heard of Um Mihjaan? The cleaner of the masjid, who beautified and maintained the Prophet (S)’s blessed mosque. The one whom the Prophet (S) was upset when she passed away, because nobody had informed him of it. “Why did you not inform me?” he asked his companions. He then asked to see her grave, and prayed his own individual Salat ul Janaazah over her. Isn’t it amazing that a woman was entrusted to take care of the masjid of Rasulallah (S), yet today several Muslim societies won’t even let women into the masjid?
Have you ever heard of Umm Sa’d Jamilah bint As’ad Ansariyyah? A noble teacher of Islam. It is reported that Dawud ibn Husayn, a companion of the Prophet (S), used to take Qur’anic lessons from her. According to ibn Athir, Umm Sa’d had memorized the Qur’an and used to give regular lessons.
Have you ever heard of the female companion who owned her own farm? She employed many men to work under her, she was their boss, and they tended to her crops.
Have you ever heard that many female companions were businesswomen? Like the wife of Abdullah ibn Masud, who was the main breadwinner of her family, making handicrafts by her own hand and selling her goods in the marketplace.
Have you heard that Aisha bint Abu Bakr was actually considered a “Muftiyah” meaning a female Mufti? Did you know that title could even exist for women? Men and women would come from all over the Islamic world to consult her about the Shariah, and she would perform ijtihad and issue fatawa. There are several times where she even corrected the fatawa of other sahaba, since she was privy to a lot of ahadith that others had not heard because of her close relationship with the Prophet (S).
Have you ever heard of Umm al-Darda? A prominent female scholar and jurist of Islam in the 7th century who would teach her lessons in the male section of the masjid. Her class was attended by men and women, Imams, jurists, and Hadith scholars.
Have you ever heard of the numerous women scholars who played a pivotal role in the lives of many of the ulama we look up to? The female scholar Nafisa bint al-Hasan taught hadith to Imam ash-Shafi’i. Ibn Hajar mentioned that he studied under 53 women scholars. Ibn Asakir al-Dimashqi took hadith from 80 female narrators of hadith.
Have you ever heard of Fatima al-Fihri? The educated Muslim woman who founded the world’s very first university, The University of al-Qarawiyyin, which still stands today as one of the most prominent institutions of Islamic learning.
These are just a few of the hidden female figures of our Islamic history. Women who exercised the rights that Islam had granted her, untainted by the patriarchy and cultures that stifle women today.
Learn about their names. Share their names.
Rewrite their names into the books of history.
Safiya Ravat graduated with a degree in Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh and Usul al Fiqh) from the International Islamic University of Malaysia, as well as a Journalism degree from the University of Houston. She and her husband live in Dallas, TX where they are Instructors and Researchers at the Bayyinah Institute. Full bio here. Follow them for more videos and posts on Facebook at Mahad and Safiya.