Khawla Bint Thalaba; The Disputer
Can you imagine Allah listening to an argument of a woman? The idea of a woman arguing is somehow considered “taboo” in many
societies in the Arab world. However, a woman who argued with the Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) more than 1400 years ago was listened to and respected.
Khawla Bint Thalaba is a well-known name in the Islamic history. To understand Khawla’s story, first we have to go back to a tradition that used to be practiced by men before Islam. That tradition was called “Thihar”; Thihar means that when a man is upset with his wife or wants to punish her, he swears that she is not his wife anymore and that she is to him like his mother or sister. He tells her that you are like my mother, and our relation is no more that of a husband and wife. This is not divorce as you might think. The wife used to remain a wife but only by name. She remains a wife to a husband who completely ignores her right and needs as a woman and wife. Usually, the family would be destroyed after the husband swears saying those words, so it was oppression under the name of marriage. Some marriages used to end, and others used to survive without happiness and joy.
Khawla was a happy wife with her husband, Aws Ibn AlSamit, and they had been married for years when one day they had a quarrel just as any couple do. Aws got very upset that he swore that “Khawla is no more his wife and that she is to be like his mother.” Of course, it was a great shock for Khawla to see her beloved husband rejecting her this humiliating way when she was a good loving wife and a caring mother to his children. A short while later, Khawla’s husband wanted her again…he loved his wife and it was just his bad temper that made him utter such words. However, Khawla refused to let him get away with such a behavior. She was also concerned about the Islamic opinion; could she be his wife after that? Was it allowed for her to live under the same roof with a man who no longer considers her as his wife? Would she be committing adultery if things got back to normal after the words he said? All those questions raced in her mind, so she went to Prophet Mohammad asking him for advice and asking about the Islamic ruling regarding such a condition.
Prophet Mohammad told her that he thought their marriage had to end, and that it would be forbidden for her to stay with Aws. Khawla wasn’t really convinced nor pleased by what the Prophet had said, so she started arguing with the Prophet and repeating her question in different ways, trying to get a soothing answer from the Prophet. She wanted to get back to the man that she loved, and she wanted to teach him a lesson at the same time. She explained to the Prophet that she was willing to forgive her husband for what he said, but she wanted an Islamic rule that states that her relation with her husband is legal and not forbidden or looked upon as adultery. However, the Prophet seemed not to have the answer she wanted. He kept repeating the same thing to her; you can’t be that man’s wife any more.
Khawla left with great sorrow and went immediately to the Holy Mosque in Makkah, praying to Allah. Being very close in front of the Holy Ka’aba, Khawla was weeping and praying, “Oh, Allah, you know my agony and how tough it is for me to be away from my husband. Oh, Allah, please send your prophet anything that might release me from this grief.”
As Khawla was crying in the Holy Mosque, everyone who heard her sympathized with her and felt her deep sadness.
But something miraculous happened. As soon as she finished praying, Allah has sent Gabriel to Prophet Mohammad with a new “sourah”. A “sourah” that would be read to our day…a “sourah” that is in favor of a woman, who stood for her right.
In Surat Al-Mujadila (SHE THAT DISPUTETH, THE PLEADING WOMAN), Allah Almighty says, “Of a surety Allah hath heard the saying of her that disputed with thee concerning her husband and bewailed Unto Allah; and Allah hath heard your mutual discourse. Verily Allah Is Hearing, Beholding. As to those among you who put away their wives by pronouncing zihar their mothers they are not. Their mothers are but those who gave them birth; and verily they utter a saying disputable and false. And verily Allah is Pardoning, Forgiving. Those who put away their wives by pronouncing zihar and thereafter would retract that which they have said, then upon them is the freeing of a slave before the twain touch each other. That is that wherewith ye are exhorted; and Allah is of whatsoever ye work Aware. 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 ye 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.”
In simple words, the verses were in favor of Khawla’s opinion. Allah has stated in these verses that there is no such thing as Zihar in Islam. It is not acceptable, for no woman can be a mother of any man except his real biological mother. The verses go on to solve Khawla’s situation saying that if her husband wants her to return to him as a wife, he should free a slave as expiation of his sin.
To this day, Quraan is read by millions of Muslims around the world, and the story of the brave out-spoken woman, Khawla, is recited, setting an example for women to defend their rights with perseverance, respect, and politeness.
This article is one in a series about Muslim women’s mission.
Here are the previous related articles.
Saudi Women’s Oppression VS Muslim Women’s Mission
Aisha Bint Abi Bakr Al-Siddiq – The Prophet’s wife
Hint Bint Otba; The Free Woman
Khadija Bint Khowailid – The Prophet’s first wife