This story is about a very special woman, her name is Khawla bint Tha’labah (رضي الله عنها). And Khawla bint Tha’labah, she tells her story, she says that “My husband was Aws ibn Samit. and Aws ibn Samit was older than me
and he had a really really bad temper, so he used to constantly be verbally abusive with me. And we had an argument and he said to me the famous words.
“أنتِ علي كظهر أمي”
It sounds awkward in translation, essentially, “You are to me like my mother’s back.” Means, you’re like my mom,
meaning you’re haram for me, so I’m not gonna touch you, I’m not going to treat you like a wife, you have no rights upon me, I’m just going to leave you in the house like a prisoner.”
This was a form of divorce called “Thihar” that existed in the time of Jahiliyya (Age of Ignorance). For women, this practise was demeaning. It banned the wife from remarrying and relieved the husband of his duties to his wife and children. but the problem is now they’re Muslims. So Khawla bint Tha’labah says, “He said this to me and the next day he came back.” “And he was a hot-tempered man and he was fine and he tried to be intimate with me and I said, ‘No! You can’t tell me that I’m like your mother’s back and then try to be intimate with me the next day.'”
So Khawla bint Tha’labah says, “He actually tried to force himself on me.” She says, “I was a lot stronger than he was, I was a strong young woman.” She said, “I pushed him off and I went to the Prophet (ﷺ).”
Seeking help from Prophet (ﷺ)
And when she went to the Prophet (ﷺ) and she told the Prophet (ﷺ) what happened. Allah could have revealed to the Prophet (ﷺ) something privately to deal with her situation, instead Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) reveals an entire surah of the Qur’an in response to this woman. And the first words of that,
قَدْ سَمِعَ ٱللَّهُ قَوْلَ ٱلَّتِى تُجَـٰدِلُكَ فِى زَوْجِهَا
وَتَشْتَكِىٓ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ
(QS. Al-Mujadila: 1)
“Allah has heard the plea of that woman
that has come to you complaining about her husband
and she grieves to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى),
she’s complaining to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى).”
The Revelation of Surah al Mujadilah (The Pleading Woman)
Now we want you to think about this. Allah (عز و جل) reveals this entire surah for this woman to be a form of Qur’an
that all of us will recite not just for her situation but essentially it shows us by the way how we are to respect women in our religion. SubhanAllah, there’s a whole surah now that’s called “The woman who pleads (Al-Mujadilah)”.
If we ask you, what surah of the Qur’an has a mention of Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) in every ayah? It has the name of Allah in every ayah? Most people would say, it might be قُلْ هُوَ اللَّـهُ أَحَدٌ (Al-Ikhlaas), it might be some surah that’s really short
in Juz Amma, in the last juz. But here you have a surah, that’s actually more than a couple of pages and Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) chooses this surah to be the only surah in which His name is in every single ayah, “The woman who pleads (Al-Mujaadila)”. As if Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) is saying that He heard that (Khawla bint Tha’labah) woman when no one else heard her, SubhanAllah.
Allah heard her cries
So when a person is being wronged by their husband, when a person is being wronged by anyone in fact, Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) hears their cries, Allah hears them, so much so that He revealed a surah with His name in each and every single ayah to show how much He heard that woman, SubhanAllah.
The Forgiving and Magnificent Response of Khawlah
More information about Khawlah’s generous response is provided by Ibn Kathir in his tafsir of Surah Al-Mujadila.
The Prophet addressed Khawla bint Tha’labah after the four verses were revealed.
“Command him (her husband) to free a slave.”
Khawlah replied, “O Allah’s Messenger! He does not have any to free.”
Then the Prophet said, “Let him fast for two consecutive months.”
Khawlah replied, “By Allah! He is an old man and cannot fast.”
Then he said, “Let him feed sixty poor people with a Wasq of dates.”
Khawlah said, “Oh Allah’s Messenger! By Allah, he does not have any of that.”
The Prophet said, “We will help him with a basket of dates.”
Khawlah replied, “And I, O Allah’s Messenger! I will help him with another.”
The Prophet said, “You have done a righteously good thing. So go and give away the dates on his behalf and take care of your cousin.” And she did just that.
Culture of Respect for Women
Now this created a culture amongst the sahaba. Umar ibn al-Khattab (رضي الله عنه) is walking one day and he’s with a man by the name of al-Jaruud (رضي الله تعالى عنه). And al-Jaruud says that “While we’re walking, this woman suddenly calls out and says,
I remember when you were Umair,”
(which means little Umar),
“And you were in the marketplace,
tending to your sheep with a stick,
so fear Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) as khalifah.”
“Taking care of the people
and know that the one
who fears the threat of punishment in the hereafter
realize it that it’s not distant
and the one who fears death,
fears missing an opportunity in this life.”
Umar (رضي الله تعالى عنه) broke down into tears. He starts bawling. Al-Jaruud says,
“What is it with you old lady?”
“Why did you make the man cry like that?”
“Why are you talking to Amirul Mu’minin that way?”
“You’re talking to the khalifah that way?”
And Umar (رضي الله تعالى عنه) grabs him
and says to Al-Jaruud,
“Do you know who this woman is?
This is Khawla,
this is the woman that Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) heard
from above seven heavens,
you think I’m not going to listen to her?”
SubhanAllah, so it actually created a culture. And Ibn Kathir (رحمه الله تعالى), he says in his Tafseer, there was another incident where a man was talking to Umar (رضي الله تعالى عنه), and then suddenly Khawla bint Tha’labah came, and Khawla started talking to Umar. And Umar just completely neglected the man, he completely abandoned the man. And Khawla bint Tha’labah was just talking for, you know, just going on and on and on, and Umar (رضي الله عنه) was sitting in a humble way
and listening to her.
And the man gets frustrated he says,
“You left a man of Quraish
to tend to this old woman?”
This shows you something, Khawla bint Tha’labah wasn’t actually from a powerful tribe. SubhanAllah, so it’s not like the Prophet (ﷺ) had to do something for her. And Umar (رضي الله تعالى عنه) responds once again, he says,
“This is a woman
who Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) listen to
from above the seven heavens.
This is Khawla bint Tha’labah.”
He said, “Wallahi,
if she did not leave me until the night fell,
I would not tell her to leave
until she got what she came for
unless the time for salah came,”
and he said, “Even if salah time came.”
He said, “I’d go pray
and I come back and keep listening to her.”
So subhanAllah, it created a culture amongst the sahabah to respect women in particular and to realize that just because people might not be heard in this world doesn’t mean that Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) is not hearing them. So we have to internalize that as well. That we need to make sure that we plead only to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) and we complain to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) of the injustices towards us so that we recognize that Allah hears us at all times.
And we don’t inflict or transgress against any human being, any individual or think that because we’re in the comfort of our home that we can become abusive cowards towards our wives.
Aisha (ra) recounts the Story of Khawla bint Tha’labah
“Blessed is the One Whose hearing encompasses all things. I heard some of the words of Khawlah bint Tha’labah, but some of her words were not clear to me, when she complained to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) about her husband, and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, (ﷺ) he has consumed my youth and I split my belly for him (i.e., bore him many children), but when I grew old and could no longer bear children he declared Zihar upon me; O Allah, I complain to You.’ She continued to complain until Jibra’il brought down these Verses: ‘Indeed Allah has heard the statement of she who pleads with you (O Muhammad) concerning her husband, and complains to Allah” (Sahih Ibn Majah).
Allah had acknowledged Khawlah’s complaint. Thihar’s unfair custom was abolished.
Lessons learned from Story of Khawla bint Tha’labah:
Many important lessons about women’s rights and roles in Islam can be learned from Khawla bint Tha’labah’s story.
1) Husbands have a responsibility to treat their wives fairly and with respect. In the eyes of Allah, Aws’ treatment of his wife was unjust, and as punishment, he had to liberate a slave, fast for two months straight, or feed 60 needy people.
2) When they have been treated unfairly, Muslim women have the right and obligation to seek justice. Khawlah defended her honor and rights by speaking up. She reacted when she received unfair treatment. She was rewarded by Allah for defending her rights.
3) Every time a Muslim woman has a problem, she should seek Allah’s help. The story of Khawla bint Tha’labah serves as a reminder to pray to Allah directly. Her story demonstrates Allah’s promise in the verse “Call on Me, and I will answer you” (40:60).
4) Even when they have been wronged, Muslim women and men should practice forgiveness and compassion. Khawlah pardoned her husband’s transgression and even assisted him in paying the charity he due as restitution. Despite the fact that he had wronged her, she offered him sympathy.
Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) heard this woman who wasn’t being physically abused by the way but emotionally abused,
verbally abused. Allah heard her from above seven heavens and we need to hear our sisters as well.
And Allah knows Best.