Roses of Islam: Nusayba bint Ka’b al-Ansariyah

June 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Nusayba bint Ka’b al-Ansariyah, also known as Umm Umara and al-Maziniyyah, daughter of ar-Rabab bint Abdullah ibn Habib, was an early convert to Islam and the first female to fight in defense of the religion. Nusayba was a part of the Banu Najjar tribe living in Medina during the time of the Prophet. She was one of only two women who partook in the second pledge of Al-Aqabah (allegiance to Islam) by newly converted Muslims,  along with her first husband, Zaid ibn Asim who died after the Battle of Badr.

Her brother Abdullah bin Ka’b al-Mazani fought with the Prophet in the crucial Battle of Badr, while her second brother Abdul Rahman was one of those devout early believers who would burst into tears when listening to the first recitations of the Holy Qur’an.

Umm Umara married Zaid ibn Asim, bearing two children, Abdullah and Habib, who were both Companions of the Prophet. Then she was married to Ghaziyah ibn Amr and bore him Tamim and Khawla.

Nusayba was of one of the first advocates for the rights of Muslim women. Notably, she was the first woman to question Prophet Muhammad SAW on why the revelations of the Qur’an only addressed men and excluded women. Soon after this exchange, the Prophet SAW received a revelation [“For Muslim men and Muslim women, for believing men and believing women, for devout men and devout women, for truthful men and truthful women, for patient men and patient women, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give sadaqah, for fasting men and fasting women, for men who guard their private parts and women who guard, and for men who remember Allah much and women who remember, Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward.” – Surah Ahzab, 33: 35], addressing both genders and confirming that both men and women have spiritual, as well as human rights and responsibilities to an equal degree.

After converting, she fought alongside the Prophet against the Meccans in the Battle of Uhud, Battle of Hunain, Battle of Yamama, and the Treaty of Hudaibiyah.

Nusayba set out to the battle of Uhud with her second husband, Ghaziyah ibn Amr, and her two sons, Abdullah and Habib. She fetched water and tended the wounded the injured. Her intention had been to give water to the wounded, but Allah had planned for her a more rewarding role.

Muslim archers positioned on a hill during the...

Muslim archers positioned on a hill during the Battle of Uhud, as depicted in Moustapha Akkad’s 1976 film “The Message.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not long after the battle had begun, she reached the place where the Prophet had taken up his position on relatively high ground, He was with his closest companions and the battle was going in favour of the Muslims. The Muslims continued to advance until the way into the enemy camp was opened.

The Muslims had the upper hand, but then committed a fatal error – they were tempted by the booty and began to surge into the enemy camp seeking plunder.

The fifty archers chosen to guard the rear of the army saw their companions taking spoils of war and felt that they would lose out. So neglecting the Prophet’s command not to leave their posts and to remain on the hill no matter what happened, they left running towards the booty, assuming that the battle was finished. Their commander Abdullah ibn Jubair, was left with only a few archers.

Khalid ibn Walid, (who hadn’t embraced Islam yet), seeing the open flank, made a charge against the Muslims and suddenly the tide had swung towards the Quraish. The Muslims panicked and began to flee, leaving behind only the Prophet SAW and a handful of his Companions. Among these was Nusayba.

The Qur’an described it: “Behold! You were climbing up the high ground, without even casting a side glance at anyone, and the Messenger in your rear was calling you back…” [ 3: 153].

Seeing the Muslims flee, Nusayba ran to the defense of the Prophet and took up arms, along with her husband and two sons. She went forward, with her sword unsheathed and her bow in her hand, to join the small group who were standing firm with the Prophet SAW, acting as a human shield to protect him from the arrows of the mushrikin.

She tied her belt around her waist so that she would not trip, brandishing a sword at times and throwing arrows at others, she cut through the ranks of the enemy and took sides with the Prophet. The battle was fierce, for the Muslims were on foot fighting for their lives against mounted soldiers.

The Prophet noticed that she had no shield, and so said to one of the retreating men: “Give your shield to the one who is fighting.” So he handed her the shield, and she defended the Prophet of Allah with it, using also the bow and arrow along with a sword. She was attacked by horsemen, but never wavered nor felt fear. She later boldly claimed, “If they had been on foot as we were, we would have trounced them, Allah willing.”

She fought fiercely that day, striking fatal blows to her opponents until she suffered many wounds. She was wounded thirteen times in the battle of Uhud. She suffered so many deep cuts that her wounds required one painful year to heal. When the call to arms came again, she tried to join the ranks of the faithful, but she failed because she was bleeding so much.

Every time danger approached the Prophet SAW she hastened to protect him. Nusayba herself related some of what had happened during that battle; “The people had left the Prophet exposed and only a few, not more than ten, remained. My husband and my sons and I were among them defending him and the people were moving around in a defeated state. I did not have my shield with me. The Prophet saw a man with a shield, so he said, ‘Give your shield to someone who is fighting?’ So the man gave it to me and I used it to defend the Prophet .”

At the Battle of Uhud, wherever I turned to the left or the right, I saw her fighting for me.
Prophet Muhammad SAW (Jennifer Heath, The Scimitar and the Veil (Mahwah: Hidden Spring 2004), 214)

Nusayba continued fighting, treating the wounded and carrying water for them. Her son was wounded and his blood was flowing. However, she was totally oblivious to her son’s condition until the Prophet said, “Bandage your wounded”. She ran to her son and bandaged his wounds, while the Prophet stood looking at her. After she had bandaged the wound, she commanded to her son, “Rise and fight the people my son.”

Her own son, Abdullah ibn Zaid, related later more of her heroic behavior during the battle; “..The Prophet admired her sense of sacrifice, and commended her, ‘Who can endure what you can endure, Umm Umara?‘”. On this day, Nusayba herself received many wounds whilst she was fighting the people and striking their chests.

At one stage, the Prophet SAW was left alone, so taking the opportunity, the enemy Ibn Qamiah charged at the Prophet, shouting “Show me Muhammad! May I not survive if he survives!” Then Ibn Qamiah recognised the Prophet and struck at him. The blow was averted by Talhah, who was standing next to the Prophet. Talhah then threw himself in the direction of the sword and they closed around the Prophet to protect him. Mus’ab ibn Umayr, along with some other of the Companions, dashed to the protection of the Prophet. Nusayba was among them, and began fiercely striking at the enemy of Allah, even though he was wearing double armour.

Ibn Qamiah stuck her and she struck him, but he was wearing two coats of armour which protected him from her blows. Ibn Qamiah managed to strike a blow at her neck, leaving a serious wound. The Prophet quickly called on her son “Your mother! Your mother! Bind her wound! May Allah bless you, the people of a house! The stand of your mother is better than the stand of so-and-so. May Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) bless you and your household! Your mother has fought better than so-and-so.!”

Umm Umara, seeing the Prophet’s pleasure on her determination and valour, earnestly requested “Pray to Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta’ala) that we may accompany you in Paradise!” So he said “O Allah, make them my companions in the Garden.” And this was the desire of Nusayba, to which she replied “I do not care what befalls me in this world!”

The battle of Uhud was not the only occasion when Nusayba showed her bravery. She also witnessed the battle of Hunayn, Khaybar, and Yamamah. After the Prophet died, she continued to be revered for her loyalty, and lived through the rule of Abu Bakr and Umar ibn Al-Khattab. When the Prophet SAW passed away, some of the Arab tribes apostatized, at their head was Musaylimah The Liar – the one who claimed to be prophet of Yemen. Khalifah Abu Bakr (ra) rallied the Muslims to fight the renegades.

Nusayba took part in the fighting against Musaylimah in Yamamah. She went to Abu Bakr who was Caliph at the time, to seek permission to join the expedition with Khalid ibn Walid (now reverted to Islam) against Musaylimah.

Abu Bakr said. “We know your worth in war, so go out, in the Name of Allah.” Abu Bakr committed her to Khalid ibn Walid’s charge and she fought bravely at Yamamah. Nusayba returned from the war having suffered eleven wounds inflicted by spear and sword, and having lost a hand, and her beloved son.

She heard that her son Habib fell prisoner to Musaylimah The Liar. He asked him, “Do you testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah?”

When Habib said that he did, Musaylimah went on, “And do you testify that I am the messenger of Allah?”. Habib answered, “I do not hear.”

So Musaylimah began to cut him to pieces, organ by organ until he died. He asked him the same questions over and over, but he could not get a different answer.

Her courageous character earned her the respect of all the Companions, especially the Khalifa’s who would visit her and pay special attention to her.

It is no surprise that the Prophet SAW gave her the good news that she would enter Paradise, and that she was later held in high esteem by the Caliph Abu Bakr As-Siddiq and his commander Khalid ibn Walid and then by Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra)!

This was the life of Nusayba (Umm Umara), the warrior-woman who stood when many fled, who sent her wounded son back into the thick of the battle, and was prepared to lose her life to save the Prophet’s.

Umm Umara, Nusayba bint Ka’b, was a woman who was true to her words, a woman who occupies a special place in the history of Islam.

May Allah bless our women with such courage, self-sacrifice and perseverance.


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