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Five Extraordinary Women Who Helped Shape Islamic History

In the days surrounding International Women’s Day, which took place earlier this month, we wrote about several modern day Muslim female superstars, including a journalist, an illustrator, and an Olympic fencer who defied Hitler.

However, inspirational women have always been a part of Islam, so now we want to go back – way back – and focus on the ladies who helped shape our entire history. Here are five extraordinary women from centuries past.

Khadija b. Khuwaylid (died 620)

Khadīja b. Khuwaylid was a successful businesswoman who employed a number of men. She was so impressed with one that she thought she should make a move and ask him to marry her. This was no small feat, considering the man in question was the prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Khadīja played an important role in spreading the word of Muhammad, meaning she holds the distinction of being the first ever person to become a Muslim.

Prophet Muhammad is widely believed to have said of Khadīja: ‘God Almighty never granted me anyone better in this life than her. She accepted me when people rejected me; she believed in me when people doubted me; she shared her wealth with me when people deprived me; and God granted me children only through her.’

Nusaybah bint Ka’ab (d. 620)

Nusaybah was a companion of the Prophet’s and an early convert to Islam. She is best known for the role she played in the Battle of Uhud (625), in which she really took it to the Meccans. Nusaybah is thought to have sustained 12 lance wounds while shielding Muhammad from the attacking enemy. She lost consciousness after the twelfth blow, and when she awoke the next day, she’s believed to have immediately asked ‘did the Prophet survive?’

‘‘Ā’isha b. Abī Bakr (d. 678)

‘Ā’isha was the wife of Muhammad who continued to spread the teachings of Islam following his death. Because of this, she’s often considered one of the most influential women in the history of the faith, her name often preceded by the title ‘Mother of the Believers’.

‘Ā’isha also served as the narrator for 2210 hadiths. She was an expert in Quranic verse, and her scholarship played a crucial role in developing the religion.

Rabia of Basra (d. 801)

Rabia was a Muslim saint and Sufi Mystic. She was known for her complete devotion to God, a form of faith she called ‘the pure love of God’. Many people look to a poem she wrote as an example of loving God for His own sake, not due to a fear of punishment or hope of reward:

O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell
and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your Own sake
grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.

Razia Sultan (d. 1240)

Razia Sultan ruled over the Sultanate of Delhi between the years 1236 and 1240. Razia was a leader who championed education, and she’s best known for establishing many schools and libraries throughout northern India.

Razia inherited her role from her father, Shams al-Dīn Iltutmish. Like her dad, she led armies into battle, sat on a throne, and elected not to wear a veil. In fact, she wore the exact same royal dress as her father, to some controversy. Razia is a powerful example of female leadership in Islamic history.

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