Khawla bint Al Azwar is AMAAZING!!! I wanted to save her for some kind of occasion but I just couldn’t wait. (And anyway Mosaic is coming up on its one month anniversary (can you believe it?) so that is something to celebrate). This woman’s story makes you want to laugh in the face of anyone who says that Islam oppresses women. I am so excited to share it with you. Ladies and Gentlemen, the INCREDIBLE Khawla bint Al Azwar:
Khawla bint Al Azwar lived during the Prophetic time. There is not much information on her year of birth or her childhood but we know that her family was some of the first to embrace Islam. She was very close with her brother Derar and they were always doing everything together. So it was only natural that when he went to go fight with Khalid ibn Waleed’s army against the Romans in the greater Syria region, Bilad Al-Sham, that she would go with him. During that time, the families, women and children, of the soldiers would go to war with them. This was for many reasons. One of them was that it kept the army ethical and reminded them of what they were fighting for. So the women would cook, work as nurses, and tend to their men and some of the women also fought alongside the men. The Muslim army always had women in it.
Derar was known as a fearless fighter. He was a master of the martial arts and would go into battle without a shield, helmet or any kind of army and he was extremely powerful. He knew exactly how to fight. In one battle, they were fighting the Byzantines and the son of Caesar (Emperor Heraclias) was leading the Romans. Derar fearlessly fought through the Byzantine ranks until he got to the son and killed him. However, now being right in the middle of the Romans, he was not able to make it back to the Muslim side and he was captured.
Word gets back to the Muslim camp that the fearless Derar has gone missing. Khowla first reaction is to weep for her brother and recite poetry in his name. However, she quickly pulls herself together and puts on some black armor and a green scarf tied around her helmet and the top of her chest. She also wears a black niqab to conceal her identity. At that time, niqab was not worn only by women, it was worn by men too because it was used to protect their face from sand in the desert. So by wearing the niqab she could easily be mistaken for a man.
So Khawla, dressed in black armor, takes to the battlefield straight into the Romans in search of her brother. Little known fact to everyone else is that Khawla is trained in martial arts in the same way brother is. She goes into battle like a “torch of fire” defeating Romans left and right, coming in and out of the Roman ranks like a pro. The other Muslim fighters are bewildered as to who this black knight could be, and since they know that Derar has been captured, the only other person that can fight like that is the great general Khalid ibn Al Walid. So they all assume that Khawla is Khalid ibn Al Walid.
Until of course, Khalid ibn Al Walid comes riding up next to them. Shocked, Rabe ibn Utba, another general, says to Khalid ibn Walid, “I thought that was you!” Then Khalid says to Rabe, “I though that was you!” Mixed between confusion as to the identity of the black knight and in awe of the incredible skills they are witnessing, Khalid and Rabe decide that they need to get the knight to pull back as they want “him” to stay alive so that they can benefit from “his” strength and power for later battles. However, try as they might, they could not catch up to her, she was too fast for them.
It wasn’t until Khawla finally started to get tired that she started to recede a bit in toward the Muslim side, and some of the Muslims surround her, address her as the great knight and start to ask her who she is and which tribe is she from. All of them want to claim her as part of their tribe to take the honor of having such a fearless warrior. None of them know it is Khawla and she doesn’t say a word. Then Khalid ibn Al Walid addresses her with extreme respect and tells her to stay within ranks.
However, Khawla is still intent on finding her brother so she goes off right into the battlefield again. This time Khalid is on her tail and he manages to stop her and asks her why she is not following command. And from under the armor, Khalid hears the voice of a woman and he is completely startled and impressed. Khalid asks her why she is fighting in the way that she is, she tells him that she is Derar’s sister and she is looking for him. When Khalid hears this, he rounds up the army and puts Rabe on one side and Khawla, as a general, on the other side and they take down the Roman army, who were already very fearful of this black knight.
At the end of the battle, Khowla goes looking among the Romans for word of her brother and reciting poetry about her sadness on his loss. The Muslim army later comes upon a group of Syrians and they ask them about Derar. They say they have heard about the knight who fights without armor and who killed the emperor’s son, he was taken to Constantinople by 100 knights. Khawla upon hearing the location of her brother, asks Khalid if she can accompany the Muslim knights going to free Derar. He of course accepts and places her as the leader along with Rabe among the 100 Muslim knights who will go rescue Derar. She rides ahead of the army and works as the tracker, finding the path left by the Romans. She ends up figuring out their tracks and designs the plan of invasion to get her brother back. The Muslim knights follow Khawla’s plan and end up succeeding in the rescue of Derar.
Khawla’s story does not end there though. At another battle, the Roman’s attack the family tents and took the women back to the Roman camp and held them as prisoners in a tent. The Romans, however, had no idea what they had gotten themselves into. They had no idea that among the women they captured, was Khawla bint Al Azwar, the fearless and powerful black knight. So in the tent Khawla stands up and says,
“Oh daughters of Himyar and remnant of the acient kings of Yemen, are you content to have the Roman barbarians as your sires and your children slaves in Byzantium? Where is your heroism and surpassing skill that the Arab tribes and Arabian town and village speak so much of? I believe you are the furthest of people from such subjugation. I think you would love to die more than bear this bondage and servitude, which the Byzantines have afflicted you with.”
The women all agreed with her but asked her how they can escape without weapons? The answer: Tents have poles. So the women take the tent poles as spears and the pegs as daggers. Khawla, being experienced in war, tells the women to hold together strong like a wall with their arms linked and use the tent poles to break the ranks of the Romans. Khawla walked in front of them fighting off the Roman men on her own while the women walked behind her strong. In that way, Khawla rescued the women and brought them home.
*When we talk about heroines in history, most people think of Joan of Arc or maybe Virginia Woolf and they probably don’t come up with many Muslim heroines. That is because our history and our reality are created by what is around us, like movies and books and other forms of media. Most often than not, the story is told by the European point of view, and the history of people of the Middle Eastern region is not mentioned as much, making it seem insignificant or nonexistent. So our daughters grow up without the amazing stories of Muslim women and as a result they don’t have many Muslim women role models. Inshallah, as we continue in our pursuit of knowledge, we can teach our daughters about the great Muslim women that came before them.
Isnt she super awesome? What did you think of Khawla?
Abd-Allah, Dr. Umar Faruq. “Famous Women in Islam.” Lecture.
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04 Jan 2016
28 Oct 2015