Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: Al Shifa bint Abdullah

Along with contributing to medical necessities and engaging in politics Al Shifa bint Abdulla was the first female teacher in the early Muslim community. She is mentioned in nearly every text, but her name is seldom heard during sermons at the mosque—she is instead referred to as the first woman to hold public office, appointed by Umar to be an administrative officer of the marketplace (and his advisor while he was caliph.) But more notably, the Prophet himself regularly visited her for her medical expertise, which she had demonstrated to him and which he bade her not only to continue to practice but to teach to his wife and the others. “Oh Messenger of God, I used to do preventative medicine for ant bites during Jahiliyya, and I want to demonstrate it for you,” she disclosed upon approaching him, to which he replied, “Then demonstrate it.” Once she did, he asked her to teach his wife the practice of healing just as she taught her to read and write.

Because she dealt with the Prophet and his family so frequently and was so close to them she has narrated a substantial number of hadith.

Her name—Al Shifa—refers to her skills in healing because of her invaluable role in medicine. Her real name was Layla (night.) She was born in Mecca, converted to Islam before the migration to Medina, and thus endured all the harsh persecution faced by the members of the newly emerged religion.

During a time of illiteracy, Al Shifa bint Abdullah was one of the few literate people in Mecca before migrating to Medina. Along with her instrumental and essential medical contributions she taught reading and writing to her Muslim community.

One response

  1. Thank you for your series on Women in Islamic History, it is enriching to read about their lives and their direct communication with the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). Valuable work you are doing highlighting the active role women played. Personally, I feel I get an insight into the Prophet’s character when I read about the women with him and why I persist with learning about Islam. Love how al Shifa bint Abdullah’s name described what she did, don’t know why but I responded to that. Good work! :)

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