We have lots of female heroes in today’s age like Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, advocating for female education and building schools while attending Oxford University.
Yet what we need to note is that the symbols of Muslim women are not a recent trend. Everywhere, Muslim women are inspired by figures in Islamic culture and become feminist heroes of their own. Let’s look at six of the greatest female icons in Islamic history that have embodied feminism by their actions.
1. Hazrat Khadija رضي الله عنها
Khadija-bint-Khuwaylid was a successful businesswoman, widowed twice and a single, independent mother. A diligent and honest worker and a good CEO in a male-dominated work culture, after his passing she took over the company of her father and managed caravans throughout the country. She married a man far younger than her, based solely on his integrity and good moral character – the Holy Prophet (PBUH), and was firm in her convictions and principles that did not succumb to the strain of society. She was the first person ever to accept Islam, believing in her husband, and standing by him as the world shunned him.
2. Hazrat Aisha رضي الله عنها
Aisha was known for her intelligence, witness, and charm, married to Muhammad (PBUH). She was a scholar with a wealth of knowledge and was extremely intelligent. The Prophet also said that only from her could half of the faith be learnt. She was a great leader and educated women in her community. She used to lecture large groups that included men. Even after the death of the Prophet, when faced with a question or confusion, his companions would come to her. She always had an answer to every intellectual dispute.
3. Hazrat Fatima رضي الله عنها
Fatima, the youngest of the daughters of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), was a loyal follower of her father, and stood up for him, supporting him during his mission. She stayed strong, despite the hardships and persecution she faced. Once while her father was praying, the Prophet’s enemy called Abu Jahal and his friends came over and insulted him by putting the entrails of a camel on him while he was prostrated in prayer. The Prophet could not get up because of the weight. Once Fatima saw what had happened, she rushed over and immediately kicked the rubble off to free him. Patient and courageous, she was also known as Fatima al-Zahra, meaning “the shining Fatima.”
4. Khawla bint al Azwar رضي الله عنها
Warrior and fighter, Khawla was such a tough and brave soldier that many did not realize that she was not a man under all her clothes. Fighting under the leadership of the famous Muslim general Khālid ibn al-Walīd, Khawla was known at the Battle of Yarmouk in 636 for fighting the Byzantines. She was caught in battle and taken to the tent of the leader where he was preparing to rape her. Khawla however had other plans. She rallied up enough female soldiers to fight back and break out of captivity while killing about 30 Byzantine soldiers in the process.
5. Rufaida Al Aslamiya رضي الله عنها
A Prophet’s (PBUH) companion and follower, Rufaida had been given her nursing and medical training by her father who was a healer. During the early battles of Islam, she provided first aid and water to the wounded soldiers. She trained other women and girls too, and she had a team going out with her on the battlefield. It is even said that she asked the Prophet of Islam to have a tent inside Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina, where nursing care would be offered, and to train future nurses, after the conflicts were over.
6. Sumayyah bint Khayyat رضي الله عنها
Sumayyah was the first ever martyr in the history of Islam. She fought for her Muslim identity and did not care if she had to die for her belief. Her husband Yasir and her son Ammar had professed their faith. When Abu Jahal found out about their embrace of Islam, an enemy of the Prophet (PBUH), he asked them to affirm their statement to which they replied yes. They were taken and bound under the hot Arabian son on the stake to burn and blister as they were whipped for days. Sumayyah and her family refused to give up and she still did not recant when Abu Jahal lost his patience and drove a spear through her body. He asked her if she would give up her faith now, as she was dying, she spit on him and declared, “La illaha illala Muhammadur rasoolulah” (There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His servant and messenger) and passed away.