The Islamic history has an unfaltering line of Muslim women contributing to human society. Many of which made remarkable contributions that helped develop the world into a better place today.
It is known that during the pre-Islamic days of Arabia, a lot of work has to be done to uplift society and develop righteous individuals with unwavering and informed faith. Some of the injustices that were rampant and were part of the social norm back then were particularly against women. They had no rights or positions in society. This was also part of the norms in other existing civilisations of the time. Women did not experience the same privilege as other men and had to face unfair treatment in society.
Islam came and abolished many of these injustices and uplifted the status of women through prophetic guidance.
Despite all the setbacks, there were Muslim women figures who rose up from these injustices and became inspiring individuals. Amongst which is Shifa Bint Abdullah r.a.
Shifa bint Abdullah Al-Qurashiyyah Al-Adawiyah r.a. was the daughter of Abdullah ibn Abd Shams and Fatima bint Wahb. She then married a nobleman Abu Hathma ibn Hudhayfa, she was blessed with two sons, Sulaiman and Masruq.
Shifa belonged to the same tribe as Sayyidina Umar Ibn Al-Khattab r.a, the Banu Adi clan. The young lady was given the title Al-Shifa which means ‘The Healer’ due to her expertise in medicine. In other narrations, it was mentioned that her given name is Layla.
She was amongst the companions of the Prophet s.a.w. who embraced Islam during its early days and is one of the first to migrate (Hijrah) from Makkah to Madinah. Her house in Madinah was situated near the mosque of the Prophet s.aw and the marketplace in Madinah. On that premise, the Prophet s.a.w. and later Sayyidina Umar r.a. used to consult her in financial matters which created a bond of trust between them. It was pre-eminent that Shifa was known for her wisdom in various fields. Ibn Hajar Al-’Asqalani described her to be one the most intelligent and noblewomen of the time.
Literacy, medicine and penmanship were amongst the mastery she possessed at that time.
Sayyidatina Hafsah r.a, the daughter of Sayyidina Umar ibn Al-Khattab r.a. and a wife of the Prophet s.a.w, was among her first students which she was known to be close with.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, illiteracy was common and learning how to write and read was a luxury. The transmission of knowledge at that time mostly relied on memorisation and verbal communication. Despite that, Shifa r.a. was among the few who could read and write.
She was not just literate, in fact, she was one of the earliest female teachers at that time. As mentioned earlier, Hafsah r.a. was a student of Shifa r.a. and she too was amongst the literate as well. Hafsah r.a. later held a significant role in Islamic history when she was trusted with the safekeeping of the Quran after the passing of her husband, the Beloved Prophet s.a.w.
Literacy in the current era is a fragment of our lives. With this opportunity, we ought to realise the importance of seeking knowledge and how it is an important factor for growth in our society.
Looking back at the footsteps of Shifa r.a, she not only acquired knowledge but she shared and spread her mastery for the betterment of others. This is no other like the footsteps of our beloved Prophet s.a.w. As mentioned in a hadith:
أَفْضَلُ الصَّدَقَةِ أَنْ يَتَعَلَّمَ الْمَرْءُ الْمُسْلِمُ عِلْمًا ثُمَّ يُعَلِّمَهُ أَخَاهُ الْمُسْلِمَ
"The best of charity is when a Muslim gains knowledge, then he teaches it to his fellow Muslim."
(Sunan Ibn Majah)
During the course of time when medicine was still an underdeveloped discipline, Shifa r.a was skilled in medicine and was considered as one of the early healers during that era.
Al-Shifa’ Bint ‘Abdallah r.a. reported that when she was with Hafsah r.a, Rasulullah s.a.w. entered upon them and said:
أَلَا تُعَلِّمِينَ هَذِهِ رُقْيَةَ النَّمْلَةِ كَمَا عَلَّمْتِيهَا الْكِتَابَةَ؟
“Will you not teach (Hafsa r.a.) the cure for Ant bites (skin eruptions) as you have taught her writing?”
(Sunan Abi Dawud)
As we are gleaned that Hafsah r.a was her student and learnt from her the skill of reading and writing. It was on this occasion that the Prophet s.a.w visited her abode while she and Hafsah r.a. were at home. He s.a.w. asked her if she could teach Hafsah r.a. the cure for ‘Ant bites’ which is known today as blisters as how she taught Hafsah r.a how to read and write.
Shifa r.a knew how to treat blisters. She recites the name of Allah s.w.t. and uses natural remedies by making compounds from turmeric and vinegar.
In this brief story, we can gather that the Prophet s.a.w has formed a trust in her knowledge acquired and this proves the credibility of her mastery.
Shifa r.a was the first Muslim woman to hold an official position appointed by Umar Al-Khattab r.a. who was the Caliph at that time.
During its development and rising economy in the city of Madinah, Umar r.a, the Caliph of the time, designated her as an officer and Controller of the Madinan Market to ensure that trading in the marketplace was done with equity and abiding by the laws. Being well versed and wise, the people greatly benefitted from her presence.
Umar r.a. placed a great responsibility on her as he trusted her views and judgement. Whenever Shifa r.a. offered her perspective, He would precede it over others as she showed competency and capability in her duties.
Indeed, Shifa r.a was not only an intellectual, but she was also able to contribute in assisting the community and was well respected.
As we took a step back in time to rediscover the footsteps of Shifa bint Abdullah r.a. We can learn that despite the scarcity of knowledge or other challenges faced during the early days of Islam, Shifa r.a. did not allow herself to be restrained and become a victim of the environment. Rather, she took the leap in acquiring knowledge as a woman and contributed remarkably to society.
In this spirit, let us learn about the righteous companions of the Prophet s.a.w. who emulated his beautiful character traits and became exemplary figures in history. Let us also be contributors to society in any way we possibly can, just as how Shifa bint Abdullah r.a. contributed to the development of the first generation of Muslims.
May we receive the strength to acquire knowledge and inspire future generations of our society. Insha Allah.
And Allah knows best.
 Dr Haifaa Jawad, The Rights of Women in Islam: An Authentic Approach, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1998
 Ibn Hajr Al-’Asqalani, Al-Isobah Fi Tamyiz As-Sohabah, Maktabah Al-’Asriyyah, Beirut, 2012
 Toseef Azid, Economic Empowerment Of Women in The Islamic World: Theory and Practice