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.



The Story of Yousef El Musulmani [Correction]

June 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Recently, I wrote an article “An Italian Revert & A Martyr: The Story of Yousef El Musulmani“, which I picked up from various online sources. It was a very important story closely linked to the great Umar Mukhtar (see article here).

Much to my embarrassment (at the same time enlightening), I received comments from Ennio Scannapieco, an Italian writer who has written many articles on Yousef  El Musulmani (formerly known as Carmine Jorio). Having read his comments on my article, I believe that I have to give the man his due credit by publishing his comments and the corrected version of the story of Yousef  El Musulmani. Following were his original comments and the corrected facts:

Comment #1

Ennio Scannapieco  [June 16, 2012 at 10:02 AM]

As I have written five long articles about the history of Carmine Jorio, alias Yusuf el-Musulmani, I can say that the Fathi Ali Saahli book gives us many errors. First, Jorio was born in Altavilla Silentina, near Salerno, and not in Naples; his born-date was December 8, 1892, and not 1883; he joined the Italian army in 1912, not in 1901, so he could not partecipate to the firs Italian invasion of Libya; he was in the Italian garrison of Tucrah (or Tocra), and not in Derna, when he, on the night of the July 14, 1916, left his garrison; little after, he was captured by a Bedouin caravan that left him to Ajadabiah, before the great Sanusi Muhammad Idris.

In Ajdabiah Carmine Jorio escaped to the gallows because he was taken under the protection of the Idris’ brother, Sayied Muhammad er-Rida. So the Italian deserter accepted to stay among the Sanusi Mujahedins,to converted to Islam becoming Yusuf el-Musulmani, and to fight along with his friend Omar al-Mukhtar. It is very true that, before being shot after the trial, he refused to return to his former religion, but he done that only for the honour of his two sons remained among the Mujaheddin. But is very false – or better, ridiculous – that someone offered to Jorio the life in exchange for his return to the Christian religion. For the Italian army. the Jorio’s fault of betrayal was so great that no power might save his life.
The book of Fathi Ali Saahli is an example of a strange and inaccurate way of writing the history.

Very sincerely
Ennio Scannapieco, Salerno, Italy.

Comment #2:

Ennio Scannapieco  [June 18, 2012 at 8:28 AM]

Dear Mr. Othman:

many thanks for your very kind e-mail.

The incorrectness noted about the Fathi Ali Saahli’s booklet are not offensive for me, but perhaps only for some little historical truths. In Italy the story of Carmine Jorio/Yusuf el-Musulmani (not Carmine Jorio Giuseppe) is very well-known, al least until his escape from Tocrah’s Italian garrison and after his capture (on November 16, 1928) at the Gicherra Oasis, near Jialo. Jorio was born on the December 9, 1892, in the little town of Altavilla Silentina, province of Salerno; in 1911 he married a young girl of his country, but on the March 21, 1912, he was enlisted by the Italian army, and sent in Libya with the 79° regiment of infantry.

As proved by the Italian document (a sentence to death for desertion dated December 30, 1916), Jorio escaped from the prison of the Tocrah garrison (in which he had been shut up for row and drunkenness) and began his great adventure among the Sanusi Mujahedins. These are simple truths easily checked. Then, following a story that Jorio herself told to the Italian military authorities after his capture at Gicherra, after his escape from the military prison, he was captured – still drunk – by a Libyan caravan that took him first at el-Abjar, and then to Ajdabiah, residence of the Great Sanusi chief Muhammad Idris, the future king Idris I°.

Sentenced to the gallows, Jorio was saved, at the last moment, by the Great Sanusi’s brother Sayied Muhammad el-Rida. El-Rida has been infomed that Jorio was a marks-man (or a good shot) in his regiment, so he offered to Jorio a chance of salvation, but in exchange for a “little” favour: to kill for him two el-Rida’s enemies of another tribe!… Jorio accepted, and done so well this charge, that el-Rida took him under his protection and proposed to the Italian deserter to join with the Sanusi Mujahedins, taking however the oath to the Sanusi Brotherhood. Jorio had not other choices, so he accepted the proposal. Of course, this last part of the history is unverifiable, as we have only the words of Jorio himself. It is sure, nevertheless, that the poor Italian deserter, after some months learned very well the Arab language and the Qur’an, and accepted to be converted to the Islamic religion, taking the new name of Yusuf el-Musulmani.

But the true Jorio’s conversion was another one: he understood that the Libyan people had all rights to fight against the violent Italian colonialism, so decided to help the Libyan fighters for freedom, becoming friend and lieutenant of Omar al-Muthkar. Jorio married two Arab women, the second was a girl of great beauty named, in the italian documents, “Teber ben-Mussa”, but whose correct name was, following Fathi Ali Saahli, Tibra Musa al-Majebri (but another Libyan source gives a little different name: Tibra Musa al-Miqires). In 1928 the woman was captured by Italian soldiers, and to free her, Jorio fell in the fatal trap of Gicherra Oasis.

Even if some accounts of this story were in the booklet “Il mistero di Cufra” (1932) written by the fascist author Dante Maria Tuninetti, the true story of Carmine Jorio was known in Italy only after the Second World War and the fall of the Fascism. In 1931 a good Italian journalist, Francesco Maratea (1889-1977), during a trip in Libya interviewed the general Pietro Maletti who had questioned Carmine Jorio after his arrest and during the trial; but only in 1950 Maratea could publish a long reportage about the entire story of Yusuf el-Musulmani on an Italian magazine.

In 2004 another famed Italian journalist, Gian Antonio Stella, discovered again and popularized this exotic history. Four years after Stella wrote also a historic fiction (titled “Carmine Pasha”) in which Carmine Jorio is transformed in a literary personage. My dream to write an entire historical book on the adventurous life of Yusuf El-Musulmani has been frustrated, up till now, by my inability to purchase one of the works published in Libya on this subject. Even if a book as that one of Fathi Ali Saahli give us many biographical inaccuracies, I think that it might be very useful for my aim. Might you give me an advice or help for this purpose?

Apologizing for the length of this mail, thank you for your patient attention.

Very cordially, Ennio Scannapieco, Salerno, Italy

To the respected Ennio Scannapieco, my sincere gratitude to you for taking much of your precious time to advise me on the discrepancies. In the near future, I hope to use the new information from you and publish a more accurate article on Yousef El Musulmani. Thank you so much, Ennio Scannapieco.

Umar Mukhtar: Lion Of The Desert

June 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

Umar Mukhtar (1862 – September 16, 1931), was born in the small village of Janzour, near Tobruk in eastern Barqa (Cyrenaica) in Libya. Beginning in 1912, he organized and, for nearly twenty years, led native resistance to Italian colonization of Libya. The Italians captured and hanged him in 1931.Umar Mukhtar

He was orphaned early and was adopted by Sharif El Gariani, nephew of Hussein Ghariani, a political-religious leader in Cyrenaica. He received his early education at the local mosque and then studied for eight years at the Senussi university at Jaghbub, which was also the headquarters of the Senussi Movement.

In October 1911, during the Italo-Turkish War, an Italian naval contingent under the command of Admiral Luigi Faravelli reached the shores of Libya, and demanded that the Turkish administration and garrison surrender their territory to the Italians or incur the immediate destruction of the city of Tripoli. The Turks and their Libyan allies withdrew to the countryside instead of surrendering, and the Italians bombarded the city for three days, then proclaimed the Tripolitanians to be “committed and strongly bound to Italy.” This marked the beginning of a series of battles between the Italian colonial forces and the Libyan armed opposition under Umar Mukhtar.

A teacher of the Qur’an by profession, Mukhtar was also skilled in the strategies and tactics of desert warfare. He knew local geography well and used that knowledge to advantage in battles against the Italians, who were unaccustomed to desert warfare. Mukhtar repeatedly led his small, highly alert groups in successful attacks against the Italians, after which they would fade back into the desert terrain. Mukhtar’s men skillfully attacked outposts, ambushed troops, and cut lines of supply and communication. The Italian army was left astonished and embarrassed by his guerrilla tactics

“I’m not a sweet bite of a meal anyone can swallow. No matter how long they try to change my belief and opinion, Allah is going to let them down” Umar Mukhtar

Umar Mukhtar’s struggle of nearly twenty years came to an end on September 11, 1931, when he was wounded in battle near Slonta, then captured by the Italian army. The Italians treated the native leader hero as a prize catch. His resilience had an impact on his jailers, who later remarked upon his steadfastness. His interrogators stated that Mukhtar recited verses of peace from the Qur’an.

In three days, Mukhtar was tried, convicted, and, on September 14, 1931, sentenced to be hanged publicly (historians and scholars have questioned whether his trial was fair or impartial). When asked if he wished to say any last words, Mukhtar replied with a Qur’anic phrase: “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.” (“To God we belong and to Him we shall return.”). On September 16, 1931, on the orders of the Italian court and with Italian hopes that Libyan resistance would die with him, Mukhtar was hanged before his followers in the concentration camp of Suluq at the age of 82 years.

Today, Mukhtar’s face appears on the Libyan ten-dinar bill.

Umar Mukhtar

His final years were depicted in the movie Lion of the Desert (1981), starring Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, and Irene Papas. The Italian authorities had banned the film in 1982 because, in the words of the then Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, it was “damaging to the honor of the army”.

The last act of the government’s intervention against the film was on April 7, 1987, in Trento; afterward, MPs from Democrazia Proletaria asked Parliament to show the movie at the Chamber of Deputies.

The movie was finally broadcasted on television in Italy by Sky Italy on June 11, 2009 during the official visit to Italy of Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi (who wore a photograph of Umar Mukhtar hanging on his chest while on the state visit, and brought along Umar Mukhtar’s elderly son).

from the movie Lion of the Desert:
Umar Mukhtar: We do not kill prisoners!
Arab Warrior: They do it to us!
Umar Mukhtar: They are not our teachers!

With the Libyan uprising beginning February 17, 2011, Umar Mukhtar again became a symbol for a united, free Libya and his picture is depicted on various flags and posters of the Free Libya movement. Rebel forces named one of their brigades the “Umar Mukhtar brigade” after him.

An Italian Revert & A Martyr: The Story of Yousef El Musulmani

June 12, 2012 § 5 Comments

A great story in a small book written by Fathi Ali Saahli of CARMINE JORIO GIUSEPPE (Yousef El Musulmani). Yousef El Musulmani

Carmine Jorio was born to a Christian family in Naples, Italy in 1883. When he was a teenager he had a dream troubling him many nights and told his mother who called the village priest. He told the priest that he dreamt that he saw himself at the edge of a mountain and being transformed into a great bird, and when he was ready to fly a great serpent jumped at him and while he was struggling with the serpent he woke up.

The priest told him not to worry, that at sometime in his future he would become something else and his struggle with the serpent is the eternal struggle between good and evil.

In 1901 he joined the Italian army and specialized in small arms maintenance and repair. On 15 October, 1911, he was a sergeant and a member of the marine force of 15,000 strong directed to occupy the City of Derna in eastern Libya.

After ten days of bombardment and failed landings, the defending force of 3,500 Turk and Arab soldiers were finally defeated and the Italians occupied the Turkish garrison of the city and made it their own.  Count Trombi was then appointed as a governor and the garrison was strengthened by 1,500 soldiers and two battalions of Alpine Chasseurs.

Carmine Jorio became one of the soldiers in the Italian garrison of Derna. It seems that Carmine was very inquisitive of his new environment and wished to learn Arabic language and to understand the Quran. His battalion shared some of the vicious and heavy fighting against the Libyan Mujahedin in January 1915 around Derna and near Martouba.

In 1916 Carmine made the great step of his life, he fled Derna garrison and delivered himself voluntary to the Mujahedin in the outskirts of the Green Mountain. He was then taken to Al Fadeel Bu Omar الفضيل بو عمر one of Omar Mukhtar commanders where he declared his conversion to Islam and became known as Yousef El Musulmani يوسف المسلمانى .

Yousef El Musulmani became one of the free fighters of the land and a great help to the cause with his expertise in small arms and Italians tactics of war. He was present in the battles of Marsa Brega, Bir Bilal, Solug and many others. Omar Mukhtar made him a lieutenant and he married a girl from Kufra called Tibra Musa Al Majebri تبرة موسى المجبرى . He had two children, a boy called Mohamed محمد , and a girl called Aisha عائشة . His grandsons and granddaughters still live with us in their own home land.

His fantastic story ended abruptly when after twelve years and due to the betrayal of some traitors he was captured near Jialo oasis in 1928. As some high fascist officials were personally following up his case he was put to a quick trial on the spot , tried for high treason and given the verdict of capital punishment. He was then given the choice of converting back to his former religion and offered life instead, but he refused and willed only that his family –hidden then by his fellow Mujahedin- to be left living peacefully with his fellow Muslims.

Historical eyewitnesses say that he stood gallantly and read few verses of the Quran before he was hit by the firing squad in the market Jialo square, and he was buried in Jialo.

A record of Carmine’s story is found in several Fascist writings, bearing in mind that they represent the Fascist point of view. Those include Dante Maria Tuninetti, Secretary of the Fascist Party of Cyrenaica, several military officers and the Minister of Colonies then.

In 1991, Salvatore Bono, professor of Afro-Asian History of Perugia University, Italy wrote a research on the soldier that became a fighter with Omar Mukhtar.

Doesn’t Yousef El Musulmani Deserved To Be Remembered By Us?


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