Muslim Women in History - Ash-Shifa bint 'Abdullah al-Qurashiyyah al-Adawiyah

Since 2014-01-11

Ash-Shifa bint 'Abdullah al-Qurashiyyah al-Adawiyah

The Companion Ash-Shifa bint 'Abdullah al-Qurashiyyah al-Adawiyyah was one of the wise women of her time. Literate in an illiterate age, she was skilled in medicine, involved in public administration, and had a strong presence in early Muslim history.

Al-Shifa embraced Islam before the Hijrah, and was one of the earliest to migrate from Makkah to Madinah. She took the Pledge or Bay'ah to the Messenger, declaring loyalty to him before witnesses when it was still a dangerous thing to do.

Her real name may have been Laylah. Ash-Shifa is a title derived from her profession as a medicine woman; it means "healing." She used to conduct preventative treatments against antbite before the advent of Islam. After Hijrah, she approached the Prophet, and said, "Oh Messenger of Allah, I used to do preventative medicine for antbites during Jahiliyyah, and I want to demonstrate it for you."

He said, "Demonstrate it."

Ash-Shifa said, "So I demonstrated it for him, and he said '[continue to] do this, and teach it to Hafsah [a wife of the Prophet]." In another version he said, "Why dont you teach this one [indicating Hafsah] the preventative medicine against antbites, just as you taught her how to write?" She apparently taught Hafsah, and probably others, to write, at the personal request of the Prophet.

The Messenger used to visit her in her own home so frequently that she set aside a mat and a cover, or izar, for his use when he took his siesta there. She kept these momentos until her death and passed them on to her children.

The Messenger (peace be upon him) gave her title to a house in the Hakakin area of Madinah. His value for her company influenced the caliphs. As Caliph, 'Umar used to defer to her opinion. 'Umar's respect for Ash-Shifa's competence, character, and judgement led him to appoint her as an officer, or wali, in the administration of the marketplace. This makes her possibly the first Muslim woman to hold an official position in public administration.

Ash-Shifa narrates a good number of ahadith. Many Companions narrate ahadith on her authority, including Hafsah.

With her forceful character, influential counsel, and multiple professional skills, Ash-Shifa bint 'Abdullah must have been a major figure in early Muslim society, probably a household name.

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