Editor's note: For Women's History Month, we are sharing stories of some of our favorite Sahabiyyat, female companions of the Prophet Muhammad (S). These women are the foundations of our histories, and their lives are a multitude of lessons for us all.
The story of Al Khansa (ra) has always been one of my favorites and one that never left me since I read and learned of her so many years ago. It was during the “Companions of the Prophet (S)” Rabata
class, and what struck me about that class was not only how many companions of the Prophet Muhammad (S) were women, but just how incredible these women were. It pained me that I didn’t learn of these women growing up, and I wanted their stories to spread far and wide.
The story of Al Khansa (ra) is one of recognition of one's gifts and talents and extreme conviction in Allah (S) and His promise. Her full name is Tumadir bint ‘Amr ibn Harith ibn al Sharid, but she went by Al Khansa (ra), or the brave and smart one. A poet, Al Khansa was incredibly gifted and known for her honor, beauty and fame. She was famous for her eulogies about her two brothers who had passed. She recited about her brother Sakhr,
O my eyes be generous and do not dry out
Why do you not cry for Sakhr
Why do you not cry for the bold and the brave
Why do you not cry for the youthful master
One day she recited her poetry to the Prophet (S) and he responded, “More, O Khunaas.” I thought so much about this. Here’s a woman who approaches the Prophet (S), who was probably surrounded by other companions in what I picture in my mind to be a crowded city square. He listens to her beautiful poetry and not only recognizes and appreciates her unique gifts and talents, but encourages her with the words, “More, O Khunaas.”
Oh, what that must have meant to her. To have this man say those words to her. He didn’t tell her that she shouldn’t be performing her poetry in front of men, that her voice is awra, that what she’s doing is haram and she should be ashamed – no. Rather, he said, “More, O Khunaas.” More.
Not only did he encourage her, the Prophet (S) would often call on Al Khansa (ra) to recite her poetry and genuinely enjoyed her beautiful gift. She would then listen to the Prophet (S) as he recited the Quran, blessing all those around him with the beautiful gift of Allah (S)’s words.
Years passed and her conviction in Islam strengthened after accepting the truth of La Illaha Illa Allah and pledging her allegiance to Islam and the Muslims. Long after the passing of the Prophet (S) during the reign of Umar (ra), Al Khansa (ra) and her four sons headed out with the Muslim army (yes, women went to battle) to Iraq in the battle of Al Qadissiyah.
Before the battle commenced, Al Khansa gathered her four sons and encouraged them to fight with bravery and remember the reward for martyrdom – paradise. She reminded them that the eternal abode of jannah is better than the temporary home of this world. She told them:
“If morning comes and you are well, God willing, then go forth and fight your enemy; for with Him you are victorious. And when the fighting on the battlefield heats up, then seek out the most dangerous and intense part of the battlefield and fight the strongest of their leaders. You will be rewarded the greatest of war booties and honor in the land of eternal life.”
Sure enough, her four sons, filled with bravery and determination, headed to the most heated part of battle. All four were martyred. When word of their deaths reached Al Khansa (ra), she said, “Praise be to Allah who has graced me with their martyrdom. I only hope that I will be joined with them by His mercy.”
How far Al Khansa had come from mourning and lamenting the death of her brothers in her famous poetry filled with sadness, to praising God when learning of the death of her four sons. It reminds me of the great justice of God, and how he works. God will test your beliefs. He will purify you until your understanding of your beliefs is in line with His truth. That purification process, while it sounds great, can be an incredibly taxing, arduous process. While the reward is worth the struggle, to look into the depths of your soul and break your internal belief system is no easy feat. After all, this is the same woman who once recited,
If it were not for the many others weeping
Also for their brothers, I would have killed myself
May we all have the strength and conviction of Al Khansa (ra) in Allah (S) and His truth, and may we all never be shy to step into our gifts and talents as Al Khansa (ra) did. She knew what she was good at and leaned into it. She received great fame as a result but more importantly, she was true to herself and fully accepted the love God gave her through her beautiful gifts. May Allah (S) have mercy on her and her four sons.
We hope you've enjoyed these series! Comment below with some of stories of your favorite sahabiyyat!