By: Dr. Nazmy Khalil Abulata
Studying the History of Islam and the holy history of the Life of Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) in a careful and objective way – despite the misunderstandings of some Muslims today – one will be introduced to the pioneering role of Muslim women. Such a leading role was emphasized through protecting the Call to Islam, martyrdom for the sake of God, sacrifice, consultation, medical treatment, struggle, giving opinions, learning, and bringing up children, all of which are proved by events, facts and true reports of the Sunna  and Islamic History.
- Khadija (Radhia Allahu Anha) is the first believer in Islam:
When Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) returned from the Cave of Hira for the first time, he went to Khadija (his wife) (Radhia Allahu Anha) and said: “Cover me! Cover me! (out of fear as he had already saw the Angel Jibril (Alayhi Salaam).” She covered him until his fear was over and after that he told her everything that had happened and said, “I fear that something may have happened to me.” Khadija replied: “Never! By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously and assist the destitute and calamity-afflicted ones.” Khadija then accompanied him to her cousin Waraqa bin Naufal, who was an old learned man. Khadija said to Waraqa: “Listen to the story of your nephew, O my cousin!” Waraqa asked: “O my nephew! What have you seen?” Allah’s Apostle described what he had seen. Waraqa said, “This is the same one who keeps the secrets (Angel Jibril) whom Allah had sent to Moses.”
Imam Ahmad has reported that Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) said (about Khadija): “She believed in me when others disbelieved in me, she affirmed my faithfulness when others accused me of lying, and she supported me with her money while others deserted me”.
The pioneering role of Khadija (Radhia Allahu Anha):
Khadija (Radhia Allahu Anha) played a pioneering role. She never abandoned the Messenger of God (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) during his troubles. Furthermore, Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam), as a man, never devalued the opinion of Khadija (Radhia Allahu Anha), as a woman. He never ignored her advice. Instead, he accompanied her to her erudite cousin where she started the discussion and showed leadership, which was not disapproved by Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam). Also, he never felt ashamed that he was weak at the beginning of (receiving) the Divine Revelation while she coped well with the situation. This is, actually, a lesson for male degree holders, as today some of them degrade women and their role.
- Sumaya Bint Al-Khayat (Radhia Allahu Anha), the first martyr in the History of Islam:
She encountered the polytheists with the strength of a female believer who had a firm will and died of excruciating torture.
Although the unbelievers used to beat her belly and her private parts with a steel bar as they became filled with rage at her pioneering attitude and resistance, and in spite of her slavery and torture, she was strong and venerated. On the contrary, in spite of the pretended mastery of the polytheists, they were very humble before her.
What a heroic role! What great honour a Muslim woman had when she became the first martyr in the history of Islam! O slaves of manhood, wake up! O those who have a complex about womanhood, I wonder which man did as Sumaya (Radhia Allahu Anha) did.
- Asma’  (Radhia Allahu Anha) was the first one to have risked her life for Islam (commando) in the History of Islam:
She played the role of commissariat for the Immigrants’ Army and the role of an intelligence agent as she used to transmit necessary information of the enemy. It has been narrated in Sahih Muslim that when Al-Hajjaj crucified her son, Abd Allah Bin Al-Zubair (Radhia Allahu Anhu), and sent his messenger to her, she refused to attend his court. So, Al-Hajjaj came to her himself. “How do you find what I did with the enemy of God?” Al-Hajjaj said. “I find that you ruined his life, while he ruined your life in the Hereafter.” she replied. “I have been informed that you call him: the son of the Woman of the Two Belts. I swear by Allah, I am the Woman of the Two Belts; with one of them, I suspended high the food of the Prophet (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) and Abi Bakr, making it out of the reach of pack animals. The other is the necessary belt for a woman . The Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) told us that, in the Thaqif Tribe, there would be born a great liar and a great assassin. We have seen the liar,(Mussailama), and I do think the murderer is none but you.” Thereupon, he (Al-Hajjaj) stood up and never replied to her.
These are only some glimpses of the courage of Asma (Radhia Allahu Anha) a woman who was one who confronted the tyrant, Al-Hajjaj – a man who was a case in point- and supported reformers and prophets – the Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) and the Immigrants with him (Radhia Allahu Anhum).
- Umm Salama (Radhia Allahu Anha), a woman who rescued Muslims from ruin:
On the day of Al-Hudaibiya Treaty, people disobeyed the Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) and therefore the Muslims were about to be ruined . Allah protected them with the wisdom of Umm Salama (Radhia Allahu Anha) and her good advice. Imam Al-Bukhari has reported: “when the Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) concluded the Al-Hudaibiya Peace Treaty with the Quraish Tribe, he said to his Companions: ‘Get up and butcher your sacrifices, then have your heads shaved’. By God, no one did so although he repeated his order three times. When none of them got up, he went to Umm Salama (his wife) and told her about what the people had done. She said: ‘O Prophet of Allah, do you want them to follow your order?
Go out, do not speak to any of them until you butcher your she-camel (sacrifice) and call your barber to shave your head’. He got out and did not speak to anyone until he did that, i.e. butchered his sacrifice and called his barber to shave his head.
When Muslims saw that, they got up, butchered their sacrifices and shaved the heads of each other”.  It is the fraternity of Islam appearing in how Umm Salama (Radhia Allahu Anha) rescued Muslims from the disobedience to their Prophet (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam). Furthermore, he (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) never devalued her advice, as some men do nowadays with their wives. Instead, he followed her advice. I wonder if men today try to draw a lesson from that.
- Umm Atiya (Radhia Allahu Anha) defended men:
Imam Al-Bukhary reported that the husband of Umm ‘Atiyya participated in twelve military campaigns (Ghazawats) with the Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam). Umm Atiya accompanied him in six of them. Imam Muslim narrated on the authority of Umm ‘Atiyya, the Ansarite, who said: I took part with the Messenger of God (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) in seven battles. I used to stay behind in the camp of men, cook their food, treat the wounded and nurse the sick. 
On the day of the Battle of Uhud, when men ran away, she resisted and defended the Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam). So, she used to stand up for Muslim men and the Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam).
- The first military field hospital established by a Muslim woman:
It is mentioned in the history of Islam that Raffida (Radhia Allahu Anha) set up the first mobile military field hospital in the History of Islam. She pitched a field tent where medical care was provided for the wounded.
In short, if we try to mention the glorious feats of women in the History of Islam, we would find that such pioneering feats are countless. I wonder how far women nowadays tread in the steps of those of the early age of Islam.
(1) Sunna: The deeds, sayings, and silent approvals of the Prophet Muhammad (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam); this constitutes the second source of Shari’a (Islamic Law). It is obligatory for Muslims to follow the Sunna as well as the Quran.
(2) Al Jaami` Al-Saheeh, Vol.1, No.1-3 and Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Number 0301.
(3) Asma’ bint Abi Bakr (died 73 A.H.): A meritorious female Companion, she was one of the first to adopt Islam. She was called “the Woman of the Two Belts” because she split her belt to bind the food carried for Abu Bakr (Radhia Allahu Anhu) and the Prophet (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) on their Migration journey. She composed good poetry, and was the last woman immigrant to die.
(4) When the disbelievers agreed to the Treaty (of Hudaibiya), one of the things stipulated was that the Prophet (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) should return to them (i.e. the pagans) anyone coming to him from their side, even if he was a Muslim; and would not interfere between them and that person. The Muslims did not like this condition and got disgusted with it. The disbelievers would not agree except with that condition. (Al Jaami` Al-Saheeh, Vol.3, No.3-874).
(5) Al Jaami` Al-Saheeh, Vol.3, No.3-891
(6) Sahih Muslim, Book 19, Number 4462