Khawla bint Al-Azwar was the daughter of a powerful chief of an Arab tribe known as the Bani Assad. In the early 600s, she was an early convert to the religion of Islam. During the Islamic Conquest when the sons of the Prophet tore through many non-European empires, she served as nurse and healer. Later, Khawla fought as a warrior on the front lines.
She learned the sword from her brother. There is much more information on Khawla and her battles, but I’ve only have a short amount of space.
Her name remained greatly unknown, until the battle of Ajnadin, not far from Jerusalem, where Derar lost his spear, fell from his horse, and was taken prisoner. She donned a male knight’s attire, took her arms and rode her mare through the Roman ranks, using her sword skillfully against whoever tried to stop her. The Muslim soldiers, and their leader Khalid, watched her with great admiration, presuming that she was a man.
The Arab Historian, Al Waqidi, tells us in his book “The conquering of Al Sham (greater Syria)” that: “In a battle that took place in Beit Lahia near Ajnadin, 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.”
Rafe’ Bin Omeirah Al Taei was one of the fighters. He described how that knight scattered the enemy ranks, disappeared in their midst, reappeared after a while with blood dripping from his spear. He swerved again and repeated the deed fearlessly, several times. All the Muslim army was worried about him and prayed for his safety. Rafe’ and others thought that he was Khalid, who had won great fame for his bravery and genius military plans. But suddenly Khalid appeared with a number of knights. Rafe’ asked the leader: “Who is that knight? By God, he has no regard for his safety!”
Khalid answered that he didn’t know the man, though he greatly admired his courage. He called on the arm to attack as one man and to make sure that they protect their hero(ine). They were fascinated as they watched the knight appear with a number of Roman knights chasing him. Then he would turn around and kill the nearest before resuming his attacks.
The Romans eventually lost the battle and fled, leaving many dead and wounded in the battlefield. Khalid looked for the knight until he found him. By then he was covered in blood. He praised his bravery and asked him to remove his veil. But the knight did not answer, and tried to break away. The soldiers wouldn’t let him do that. And everyone asked him to reveal his identity.
“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.”
Khalid ordered his army to chase the fleeing Roman army, with Khawla leading the attack, looking in all directions for her brother, but in vain. By noontime, the victory was decisive. Most of the Roman soldiers were killed.
Knowing that the prisoners had to be somewhere, Khalid sent Khawla with a number of knights to find them. After a hot chase, they managed to catch up with a Roman detachment that was taking the prisoners to their headquarters. Another fight took place, the Roman guards were all killed and the prisoners saved.
Khawla served the rest of the war, eventually married a powerful Arab prince, and is now remembered as one of the greatest female warriors in the Muslim world. To this day nearly every city in the Middle East has a school named after her. They’ve also named a number of awards and military combat ships after her, and even more recently a unit of women soldiers serving in the modern-day Iraqi military is named after the Islamic faith’s most famous war heroine.
Women Warriors: A History (The Warriors) by David E. Jones