Khawla bint Tha'labah


Khawla bint Tha'labah was a great woman who enjoyed very high standing among the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), who were her contemporaries and knew her virtues.


Khawla exemplified patience while standing firm in her beliefs. She persevered until she got the truth. She wanted to stand up for her rights and rights of women, while maintaining her love for her husband. She maintained her high standing through time, and people, including the stature of ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), the second caliph, paid attention to what she had to say.


The story of Khawla bint Tha'labah and her husband Aws ibn al-Samit is narrated by Imam Ahmad and Abu Dawud and quoted by Ibn Kathir in his tafsir at the beginning of Surat al-Mujadilah.


Khawla said:

"By Allah, concerning me and Aws ibn al-Samit, Allah revealed the beginning of Surat al-Mujadilah. I was married to him, and he was an old man who was bad-tempered. One day, he came in and I raised a particular issue with him again. He became angry and said, 'You are to me as the back of my mother.' Then he went out and sat for a while in the meeting-place of his people. Then he came back, and wanted to resume marital relations with me. I said, 'No way! By the hand of the One in Whose hand is the soul of Khuwayla (i.e., Khawla), you will never get what you want from me after saying what you said, until Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) decide between us.' He tried to force himself on me, but I was able to resist because I was a young woman and he was a weak old man. I pushed him away. Then I went to one of my (female) neighbors and borrowed a cloak from her and went to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). I sat before him, told him what my husband had done to me, and began to complain to him about my sufferings because of my husband's bad temper. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, 'O Khuwayla, your cousin is an old man, so fear Allah with regard to him.' I did not leave him until Qur'an was revealed concerning me. He was overcome as he usually was when Qur'an was revealed to him, and when it was over, he said: 'O Khuwayla, Allah has revealed Qur'an concerning you and your husband.' Then he recited to me:


[Allah has indeed heard (and accepted) the statement of the woman who pleads with you concerning her husband and carries her complaint (in prayer) to Allah: and Allah (always) hears the arguments between both sides among you: for Allah hears and sees (all things). If any men among you divorce their wives by zihar (calling them their 'mothers'), they cannot be their mothers. None can be their mothers except those who gave them birth. And in fact they use words (both) iniquitous and false: but truly Allah is One that blots out (sins), and forgives (again and again). But those who divorce their wives by zihar, then wish to go back on the words they uttered - it is ordained that such a one should free a slave before they touch each other: this are you admonished to perform. And Allah is well-acquainted with (all) that you do. And if any has not the wherewithal, he should fast for two months consecutively before they touch each other. But if any is unable to do so, he should feed sixty indigent ones. This, that you may show your faith in Allah and His Messenger, those are limits (set by) Allah. For those who reject (Him), there is a grievous Penalty.] (Qur'an 58:1-4)


He told me, 'Let him release a slave.' I said, 'O Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), he does not have the means to do that.' He said, 'Then let him fast for two consecutive months.' I said, 'By Allah, he is an old man, he is not able to do that.' He said, 'Then let him feed sixty poor people with a wasq of dates.' I said, 'O Messenger of Allah, he does not have that much.' He said, 'Then we will help him with a faraq of dates.' I said, 'And I will help him with another faraq, O Messenger of Allah .' He said, 'You have done right and done well. Go and give it in charity on his behalf, then take care of your cousin properly.' And I did so."


Khawla bint Tha'labah could not bear to stay for one moment with her husband after he had spoken the words of zihar to her, which was a form of divorce at the time of ignorance, until she had referred the matter to the Prophet (peace be upon him), so that she might know how Allah would judge between her and her husband. She did not even have a suitable garment with which to go out and appear before the Prophet (peace be upon him), so she borrowed a robe from one of her neighbors, and rushed to where the Prophet (peace be upon him) was sitting, so that she could hear Allah's ruling concerning her, and follow it.


It comes as no surprise that this great woman enjoyed such high standing among the companions who were her contemporaries and knew her virtues, above all 'Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him). She met him one day outside the mosque, when al-Jarud al-'Abdi was with him. 'Umar, who was the caliph at that time, greeted her, and she said to him, "O 'Umar, I remember you when you were called 'Umayr in the marketplace of 'Ukaz, taking care of the sheep with your stick. So fear Allah in your role as khalifah taking care of the people, and know that the one who fears the threat of punishment in the Hereafter realizes that it is not far away, and the one who fears death fears missing some opportunity in this life." Al-Jarud said, "You have spoken too harshly to Amir al-Mu'minin, woman!" 'Umar said, "Let her be. Do you not know that this is Khawla, to whose words Allah listened from above the seven heavens? By Allah, 'Umar should by rights listen to her."


Ibn Kathir mentions in his tafsir that a man said to 'Umar, when he saw him welcoming her warmly and listening to her, "You left a man of Quraish to come to this old woman?" 'Umar said, "Woe to you! Do you not know who this is?" The man said, "No." 'Umar said, "This is a woman whose complaint Allah listened to from above the seven heavens: this is Khawla bint Tha'labah. By Allah , if she did not leave me until night fell, I would not tell her to leave until she had got what she came for, unless the time for prayer came, in which case I would pray, and then come back to her until she had got what she came for."