Tuesday, 3 January 2017

You’ve probably never heard of this female badass warrior

Joan of Arc, Hua Mulan and Queen Boudicca. These are, perhaps, the first names that enter your thoughts when someone asks about female historical warriors.  However, there is another, much less well known, name that belongs to one of the most notable warriors of all time: Khawla bint Al Azwar.

Most of us have heard stories relating the lives of the strong and brave women in Islamic history. The stories of these women were who I, along with many Muslims, was raised with shared details of their intelligence, loyalty, strength and beauty. But growing up a tomboy in this era of Marvel and DC Comics, I always wondered why there were no superhero Muslim women.  Women who fought, who battled with not only their words, but raised their fists and swords to protect their faith and their loved ones. That was until I was told the story of Khawla bint Al Azwar, the badass warrior who lived and fought shortly after the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

“In a battle that took place in Beit Lahia near Ajnadin, Khalid watched a knight, in black attire, with a big green shawl wrapped around his waist and covering his bust. That knight broke through the Roman ranks as an arrow.  Khalid and the others followed him and joined battle, while the leader was wondering about the identity of the unknown knight.”

A little history
What little is known about Khawla is ambiguous at best, particularly the information about her early years and her family.  We do know that she was born some time during the 7th century and her family were amongst the first Muslims. Before taking up the sword, Khawla was already serving as a nurse in the army.  Aside from her nursing and fighting skills, Khawla was also a poet and was educated in the art by her brother.

“Disguising herself as a knight and armed with weapons and a shawl around her shoulders, Khawla followed Khalid ibn Walid when his army went to rescue the prisoners.”

Warrior life
During the battle of Adnajn, Khawla’s brother, Zirrar ibn Azwar, the commander of the Rashidun army, was captured when fighting the Romans. It was this that spurred Khawla into action.

Disguising herself as a knight and armed with weapons and a shawl around her shoulders, Khawla followed Khalid ibn Walid when his army went to rescue the prisoners. She single-handedly, at first, charged the Roman rear-guard, with the rest of the Muslim army not far behind. Rafe Bin Omeira Al Taei, a soldier who was present at the battle, recalls how “the knight scattered the enemy ranks, disappeared in their midst, reappeared after a while with blood dripping from his spear.”  He mentioned that although the other soldiers did not know the identity of the mysterious knight, they assumed him to be Khalid. That is, until Khalid appeared by their side as dumbstruck as the rest of his men!

One might assume that when Khawla’s identity was revealed, Khalid would order her to step down and return to her nursing duties. This was not to be the case. Upon revealing her identity and her reasoning, Khalid ordered his army to chase after the Roman army, with Khawla leading them, and to search for her brother. Rather than punishing Khawla for overstepping her ‘female duty’, her fellow soldiers recognised her prowess. She was without a doubt a remarkable warrior, but her greatest victory came when she was captured in battle. She was sent to the tent where other female prisoners were kept. These prisoners were to be used for sexual slavery. Khawla did not accept this apparent defeat. She encouraged the other female prisoners in the tent to take the poles and they fought their way out of captivity.

Khawla’s Legacy 
The story of Khawla bint Al Azwar is one of bravery, courage, and empowerment. It is a story of Islamic history that is neglected by the few who know it, a story which is left on the shelf and allowed to collect dust. The stories that we are told growing up of Muslim women are those who were good wives and daughters and mothers. Khawla’s story is one that should be told with vigour and passion. It is time parents told this story to their children with the same enthusiasm as they do Disney. It is time for Muslim women to reclaim the woman warrior. We must honour and admire the memory of a woman who refused to allow her fellow Muslim brothers and sisters be enslaved.

This is particularly important and relevant today when we live in a society where Muslim women are overlooked. Any divergence from the stereotype is viewed with dismay and results in cultural allegations and hysteria. In an age when ‘The Muslim Woman’ is subject to judgements from people in every society, Khawla’s story reminds us to stand firm.  At a time where Muslim women are often the victims of abuse from both those who oppose Islam and those who support it, we must be encouraged by the story of Khawla bint al Azwar and stand up for what we believe in.  We must have the courage to take steps forward to ensure that we do not simply become voiceless and forgotten.

Women have the power to influence and instigate changes that would benefit us all. We are often the powerhouse of education which teaches loyalty, love, honesty and kindness but let us also not forget that we also have a duty to develop strength, integrity and an unwavering commitment to justice.

Let us teach our daughters about leadership and that it is warriors who win and not princesses.

(Source: MVSLIM)

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