I thought you’ll like this article which details many of the contributions of women in early Muslim society. They were farmers, traders, surgeons, politicians, scholars, jurists and even soldiers!
The Prophet (PBUH) always listened to women with consideration and compassion as he valued their views and opinions not only about affairs that specifically concerned them, but also about matters of wider significance.
It was because the Prophet gave such encouragement to women that there were well-known instances in early Muslim history of some of them freely speaking out for their rights.
Following the injunctions in the Qur’an, the Prophet gave women the right to education and freedom in matters related to marriage, divorce, and property rights.
He taught his followers that it is God’s commandment to treat women with gentleness and affection because, he said, “Women are your mothers, daughters, aunts.”
The Prophet described women as “the twin halves of men,” which emphasized the idea that their role in society is complementary to that of men. He declared that “the most valuable thing in the world is a virtuous woman.”
“Those scholars who study the role of women in Islam will notice that throughout the different periods of history, women were actively engaged in every field of endeavor, be it politics, government, or learning. Women were not confined, as some have assumed, to mothering and household occupations.” [Salah al-Din al-Munajjid]
Busra bint Uzwan (ra) was the sister of Utbah bin Uzwan al-Mazini, the famous companion, the governor of Basra (in Iraq). According to the author, Busra hired Abu Huraira (ra) and he was her employee during the time of the Prophet. Later she married him, after Marwan succeeded him [as administrator] over Madinah.
[Al Isaba fi Tamyiz al Sahaba, by Ibn Hajar al Asqalani]
Nafisa bint al-Hasan (d. 208/824) taught hadith to Imam ash-Shafi’i.
Ibn Hajar mentioned 12 women who were musnida (transmitters of collection of traditions). He studied with 53 women.
Ibn Asakir al-Dimashqi (499-571) took hadith from 1,300 male shaykh and 80-odd female shaykha.
The labor force in the Caliphate were employed from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, while both men and women were involved in diverse occupations and economic activities. Women were employed in a wide range of commercial activities and diverse occupations in the primary sector (as farmers, for example), secondary sector (as construction workers, dyers, spinners, etc.) and tertiary sector (as investors, doctors, nurses, presidents of guilds, brokers, peddlers, lenders, scholars, etc.). Muslim women also held a monopoly over certain branches of the textile industry, the largest and most specialized and market-oriented industry at the time, in occupations such as spinning, dyeing, and embroidery.
Some specific examples (by no means a comprehensive list) of working women living at the time of the prophet follow.
Sahl ibn Sa’d, a companion of the Prophet mentioned a woman who had her own farm. She used to cultivate beets and barley to feed the companions of the Prophet with it after Friday prayer.
The daughter of Abu Bakr, Asma’, mentioned that when she was married to Zubair, they did not have wealth. The Prophet gave them some land about two miles away from their home. She used to farm and transport the produce herself.
Asma’ bint Abu Bakr reported, “One day I was coming back with date stones on my head. Then I met the Prophet with some people from Madinah. He asked me to ride with him on his camel’s back.”
It was apparent that farming was independently done by women. Moreover, they transported farm produce. If they had modern trucks, trains, ships and planes, Asma’ and other women would have used them rather than carrying the goods on their heads.
Quite a few women companions of the Prophet were engaged in trading. Khadija, the Prophet’s first wife, is the most famous example. Other women such as Khaula, Lakhmia, Thaqafia, and Bint Makhramah traded perfumes.
A companion named Quila said to the Prophet, “I am a woman who buys and sells things.” Then she asked several questions about buying and selling.
Clearly, business was a legitimate activity of the women companions of the Prophet.
The wife of ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud met her expenses by manufacturing and selling handicrafts.
Saudah, the Prophet’s wife, was an expert in tanning skins. She sold her tanned goods to trading caravans and local men throughout Medina.
Rufaidah Aslamiyyah was an expert in medicine and surgery. She used to tend to the sick and wounded in the battlefields. According to Ibn Sa’d, her tent was equipped with equipment for surgery and first aid. When Sa’d ibn Mu’adh was injured in the Battle of the Trenches, the Prophet transferred him to her tent for medical care.
Other women experts in medicine and surgery were Umm Muta’, Umm Kabashah, Hamnah bint Jahsh, Mu’adhah, Laila, Umaimah, Umm Zaid, Umm ‘Atiyyah, and Umm Sulaim.
Rubayyi’ bint Mu’awwaidh ibn ‘Afra was a great companion of the Prophet. She tended to the wounded and sick and supplied water to the thirsty soldiers in many battles. With other women, she transported the wounded and the dead in the war.
Women in Politics and Scholars
For example, the Prophet consulted with Umm Salamah when he negotiated the treaty of Hudaibiah. Many companions were angry at the weak terms of the treaty. It was Umm Salamah whose counsel helped ease the situation.
Fatima bin Qais was a very able and intelligent scholar. When ‘Umar died, the nomination committee consulted Qais on the selection of the next Caliph.
The prophet Muhammad appointed Shifa bint ‘Abdullah ibn Shams as the administrator and controller (accountant) of the Market of Madinah which was one of the largest markets in those days. ‘Umar reappointed her when he became Caliph. Hazrat Umar (RA) also appointed Hazrat Umm Hakim Baiza, who was the paternal aunt of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) a learned women, at the post of Khilafat.
According to ‘Allama ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Shifa bint ‘Abdullah was a very intelligent and scholarly woman. Umar often took the initiative of asking her opinion to other people.
Women not only gave their opinion on various problems but also criticized state matters and participated in the evaluation and reckoning of a ruler’s actions.
It is commonly believed that freedom of speech originated recently in the West. This is no more than myth. Islam introduced equal rights and freedom of expression for women fourteen hundred years ago. The incident about mahr (dowry) in the Caliphate of ‘Umar is well known. When he decided to fix the dowry money, an old woman protested that he had no right to decide about it, and he ceded to her protest.
There are many female jurists in early Islamic history. In jurisprudence, ‘Aisha had few equals and Umm Salam also gave many legal rulings.
Others are Safiyyah, Hafsa, Umm Habiba, Juwayriyyah, Maymuna, Fatima, Zahra, Umm Sharik, Umm ‘Atya, Asma’ bint Abu Bakr, Haila bint Qanif, Khaula bint Tuwait, Umm al-Darda, Atika bint Zaid, Sahalah bint Suhail, Fatima bint Qais, Zaynabah bint Abu Salamah, Umm Ayman, and Umm Yusuf.
A noted medieval Muslim scholar, Imam Badr al-Din Kashani, explained the rationale for appointing a women Qadi judge): “Where there is ability to give testimony, there is also the ability of qada (ruling).” According to al-Tabari, a woman can be an absolute judge in every matter.
It is reported that Dawud ibn Husayn, a companion of the Prophet, used to take Qur’anic lessons from Umm Sa’d Jamilah bint As’ad Ansariyyah, daughter of As’ad ibn Rabi who fought in the Battle of Badr and achieved martyrdom in the Battle of Uhud. According to ibn Athir, Umm Sa’d had memorized the Qur’an and used to give regular lessons.
Khansa bint ‘Amr was a woman of great stature and a poetess of great fame. According to ibn Athir, all poets of fame unanimously agree that no poetess ever equaled Khansa, and the Prophet appreciated her verses.
Su’da, Safiyyah, ‘Atikah, Muridiyyah, Qunila Abduriyyah, Umm Ayman, Umm Ziad, and Kabsah bint Rafi were also well known poetesses at the time of the Prophet .
‘Amra bint ‘Abdu’r-Rahman was one of most prominent women of second generation. She was one of those who gave legal opinions in Madina after the Companions. Her opinion overrode the views of other authorities. She is the first authority for three legal issues dealing with the prohibition against digging up graves, the ban on selling unripe fruit, and the effect of crop damage on the sale of agricultural produce. In one case, she reversed the decision of her nephew to cut off the hand of a man who stole some iron rings. Her authority was accepted on matters such as business transactions and punishments (hudud). Imam Malik takes her as a legal precedent for details on the hajj.
Many examples of women actively participating in war could be found at the time of the Prophet. One companion, Umm ‘Umarah, demonstrated courage and fearlessness in the battle of Uhud.
Umm Hakim, wife of Ikrimah ibn Aji Jahl participated in the war against the Romans.
When Muslims suffered defeat in the Battle of Uhud, there was some confusion in the Muslim camp. Then Safiyah bint ‘Abd al-Muttalib left Madinah armed with a spear and aroused a sense of shame among those who were returning from the battle. She angrily asked them, “Did you leave the Prophet behind?”
Asma’ bint Yazid fought and killed nine enemy soldiers in the battle of Uhud.
Umm Salaim, mother of Anas, went to battle with a dagger.
There were not many different kinds of jobs during the days of the Prophet.
Farming, trading, construction, tool making, tanning, bread making, teaching, transporting goods, nursing, health care and defense of the nation were the major economic activities in those days.
Female companions of the Prophet participated in all these activities WITH his approval.
Thank you so much for the detailed post.
God tells us in the holy Quran that the responsibility for a Muslim society is divided equally between men and women,
“And the believing men and believing women – each are allies to one another. They command what is recognized as good, forbid the objectionable, establish the prayer, give the alms and obey God and His Messenger. Those – God will be merciful with them. Verily, God is Mighty and Wise.” (9:71)
We are all here for each other.
Notice how God finishes the verse with two attributes of His that are pertinent to this verse? Mighty over those who want to organize society differently and Wise in His arrangement of society the way He arranged it.