Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: Kahula bint Azwar

Kahula bint Azwar, who belongs in the warriors series, is nothing short of legendary. Most notably the ardent heroine charged to the rescue of her abducted brother, who was also a soldier and had been taken prisoner by the Byzantine Roman army during the Siege of Damascus in the Battle of Saniyat al Uqab, 634. (Until this incident, no one knew she was a woman.) Her brother Zirrar ibn Azwar fought alongside her frequently through numerous battles. When she accompanied Khalid ibn Walid to rescue him, she rushed forward toward the guards all alone—and because of her Arab clothing and armor she was not recognized by them as a woman, nor by the other commanders of her army, one of whom remarked, “This warrior fights like Khalid ibn Walid, but I am sure he is not Khalid.” Her own brother asked about her identity when she approached him covered in blood and refused to remove her veil several times, until she finally revealed herself as his sister.

Up until that point, writes Al Waqidi, “Khalid watched a knight, in black attire, with a big green shawl wrapped around his waist and covering his bust. That knight broke through the Roman ranks as an arrow. Khalid and the others followed him and joined battle, while the leader was wondering about the identity of the unknown knight.” That knight was Kahula bint Azwar.

The leader is reported to have been asked, “Who is that knight? By God, he has no regard for his safety!”

When she reached her brother, Kahula was asked by him and other eager soliders to remove her veil to show her identity, but she refused until finally she stated, “My prince, I did not answer because I am shy. You are a great leader, and I am only a woman whose heart is burning.”

At this, as the soldiers were astonished at the feminine voice, her brother asked her identity once more.

“I am Khawla Bint Al Azwar. I was with the women accompanying the army, and when I learnt that the enemy captured my brother, I did what I did.”

As the enemy army was fleeing, she led the attack against them. The prisoners the enemy had captured were freed after the camp was searched.

In a different battle Kahula bint Azwar was captured herself after falling from her horse as it was killed. She was forcibly moved to a camp with other female prisoners (whom she was shocked to discover had been wrongfully attacked), after which she was to be taken to the leader of the enemy army for pleasure (read: rape), but she incited the other women to use the poles of the tent as weapons and attacked the guards. They killed THIRTY of the Romans; Kahula herself killed five—including the leader who had wanted to rape her and who, upon seeing that she had roused and armed the other women, furiously attempted to sway them with promises, including telling Kahula that he would marry her and make her first lady of Damascus, to which she replied, “I wouldn’t even accept you to be a shepherd of my camels! How do you expect me to degrade myself and live with you? I swear that I’ll be the one to cut off your head for your insolence.” (And apparently she did.)

She also an army of women against the Byzantine army during the Battle of Yarmouk (in which she was wounded by a Greek soldier.) Witnesses report she was braver than most men, and when she was not fighting attended to the medical needs of soldiers. In fact, when the men were met with a much larger army, several of the soldiers began to flee, and Kahula met them with an army of women, harshly questioned their claims of bravery, and forced them to return to battle. (The battle was won.) “Our women were much harsher with us than the Romans,” reported one of the knights. “We felt that going back to fight and die was much easier than facing the fury of our women later on.”

4 thoughts on “Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: Kahula bint Azwar

    1. I can’t remember specifically what I was reading when I wrote this but I think it was Women in the Qur’an, Traditions, and Interpretation by Barbara Freyer Stowasser. Sorry! I usually remember sources for comments but I wrote this ages ago and just realized I had it lying around. =P But, she is very famous (there are schools named after her) so you can basically find this information anywhere.



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