MIHE Public Lecture Series
Dr Erin Thomas Dailey, University of Leicester
11 October 2022
Women and War in Early Islam: Conquerors, Combatants, Captives
Dr Dailey detailed a timeline of key historical battles following the Hijra from Makkah to Madinah in 622. While not receiving formal military training, a number of women in early Islam are known to have actively engaged in combat, where participation placed them in great jeopardy during these early battles and skirmishes. Of these, Nusayba bint Ka’ab, following the Pledge of Aqaba, was recorded to have defended and saved the life of Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him) using a sword and bow during the Battle of Uhud, where she suffered injury and lost a hand. She was praised for her courageous actions. She had not travelled to Uhud with the intention to fight rather, initially, to supply her sons with water. At this battle unfaithful archers had disobeyed the Prophet’s (pbuh) commands which left him open to attack.
Aisha bint Abu Bakr (RA) led troops into battle during the Battle of the Camel, also known as the Battle of Basra. Early historical records reveal tributes to Hind bint ‘Utba for her valiant action during the Battle of Yarmouk. Female vulnerability would engender a fight to the death amidst circumstances where captured women were used for sexual purposes. War during these historical periods involved the full mobilisation of society - women would provide medical support, food, encouragement and inspiration to male warriors to keep fighting – while it was rare for women to physically fight it was common to see them adopt supportive roles.
Dr Dailey discussed the social expectations placed on Muslim women during this early historical epoch and referred to the wider contexts of warfare. Armies duringcentury Arabia did not comprise professionalwarriors but rather consisted of elite male forces. While distinctions aredrawn between qital (fighting),conditions of harb (war) and jihad (striving in the way of Allah comprises a number of differing forms), Bukhari’s hadith collection reveals that jihad was considered to be the best of deeds –with the best jihad being Hajj (Bukhari 2784). Contemporary debates still rage over the ethics and implications of direct female engagement in military action which remains contentious even as the mechanisms and delivery of warfare change. Dr Dailey’s presentation concluded with a discursive response to aseries of questions arising from the presentation.