Islamic history is full of warrior women who fiercely fought for what they believed in, defended what they cherished, and defied all expectations and became legends.
For original twitter thread: https://twitter.com/aaolomi/status/1384937836844101639
Nusaybah bint Ka’ab- From Medina, she was one of the early converts to Islam. She would famously fight alongside Prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Uhud. She fought fiercely against the enemy and when they surrounded Muhammad, she cast herself before him taking arrow after arrow wound until she collapsed. She was praised for her courage by Muhammad. She survived her wounds and lived well into the reign of the Caliph Umar.
Khawlah bint al-Azwar– Another contemporary of Muhammad, her story is legendary. When her brother was taken captive, she donned on armor and a green shawl and charged into the Byzantine troops, the Muslims rallied to her and defeated the Byzantines freeing the prisoners.
At another battle she was captured by the Byzantines who intended at assault her. She roused the other captives and with tentpoles fended off the Byzantines. Swinging her tentpole as a lance, Khawlah is said to have killed the enemy commander who intended to take her.
Umm Hakim- Another tent pole-wielding badass. At the Battle of Marj al Saffar in 634 CE she grabbed a tentpole and fought off the Byzantine forces, killing seven of them.
Ghazala al-Haruriyya– The 7th century leader of the Kharijites was a fearsome warrior. She commanded armies against the Umayyad Caliphate leading them in battle and prayer.
She forced the Umayyad general, Hajjaj ibn Yusuf into flight which she commemorated with a poem, “You are a lion against me but were made into an ostrich which spreads its wings and flees on hearing the chirping of a sparrow.”
Fannu- The 11th C the Almoravid princessfought in the defense of her city, Marrakesh. When the forces of Abd-al Mumin marched on her beloved city, Fannu donned on the armor and clothes of a man and fought alongside the defenders, falling while protecting her beloved home.
Sharifa Fatima of Yemen- A powerful ruler who bucked the social constraints placed on her. In the power struggles between imams, she was expected to marry her cousin who was taken captive. Escaping the clutches of the enemy she would conquer San’a and rule in her own right.
Chand Bibi- A legendary warrior and ruler in the 16th century. When the Mughals invaded Ahmednagar in 1595, Chand Bibi led her warriors in battle and successfully protected her fortress. She survived the siege only to be betrayed by the politicking of her ministers and rivals who roused the mob against her.
Malahayati of the Sultanate of Aceh– A famous admiral who commanded a fleet of war widows. The daughter of an admiral, she received an Islamic education and would go on to become a symbol of anti-colonial resistance against the Dutch. She defeated Cornelis de Houtman in battle and when the Dutch robbed Aceh merchant ships she successfully fought them until they agreed to pay recompense.
So fearsome was her reputation that the British decided it was better to negotiate a treaty than directly colonize. She would go on to earn a reputation as the guardian of the Sultanate of Aceh.
Queen Amina- In the 16th century the Hausa warrior, Amina was queen of the city-state of Zazzau. She led her people in wars of expansion for over 30 years. Much of her story is shrouded in legend and disputed, but it is reputed she took a lover in each new city she conquered. She would have them killed after to protect her secrets. Whether such legends were meant to malign her or demonstrate her fearsome reputation is unclear.
Nazo Tokhi- Was an Afghan poet warrior from the 18th Century. She was the mother of the founder of the Hotak dynasty. When her father was killed, Nazo fought to protect her fortress from the enemy and successfully defeated them.
Malalai of Maiwand- Attested to in legend, Malalai would go on to become an Afghan national heroic figure. In 1880 on her wedding night she participated in the Battle of Maiwand against the British. When the tide was turning against the Afghans she rushed into battle with folksong on her lips rousing the flagging morale of her compatriots.
Lalla Zaynab- A Sufi saint and warrior of the 19th century in Algeria, hers was a battle of wills and maneuvers against the French colonists and rivals. Upon her father’s death, a battle of succession began between her and her cousin.
The French favored her cousin but she successfully defeated them and rallied the people to her One of her most savvy tactics was using French law against the French colonists even going so far as hiring a lawyer to fight in court for her. She would become a symbol of resistance.
In each of these instances, these warrior women defied patriarchal standards to fight for what they believed in and cherished.
While capacity to wage war or inflict violence is neither glorious nor empowering, the lives of these women are a challenge to simplistic and reductive understandings of women in premodern history.
The case of Nusaybah and Khawlah is particularly revealing. As Leila Ahmed pointed out in her brilliant, Women and Gender in Islam, the lives of such women provide evidence that women participated in all aspects of public life during the time of Muhammad.
Yet later developments would rupture from this earlier experience as we see women warriors struggle against physical foes but also societal limitations.