“Khalid bin Walid watched a knight in black attire, with a big green shawl wrapped around his waist and covering his bust. That mysterious 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.”
Khawlah bint al-Azwar (Arabic خولة بنت الأزور) was a prominent woman during the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Khawlah was a Muslim Arab warrior, sister of Zirrar ibn Azwar, the legendary Muslim soldier and commander of the Rashidun army during the 7th century Muslim conquest. Born sometime in the seventh century, Khawlah was well known for her leadership in battles of the Muslim conquests in parts of what are today Syria, Jordan, and Palestine.
Khawlah was the daughter of one of the chiefs of Bani Assad tribe. She fought side by side with her brother Zirrar in many battles, including a decisive Battle of Yarmouk in 636 against the Byzantine empire. Her family was among the first converts to Islam. Her father’s name was either Malik or Tareq Bin Awse; he was also known as al-Azwar.
Her combat talent first appeared during the Battle of Saniyat al Uqab in 634, fought during the Siege of Damascus, in which her brother Zirrar was wounded and taken prisoner by the Byzantine army. Khalid bin Walid took his mobile guard to rescue him. Khawla accompanied the army and rushed on the Byzantine rearguard all alone. In her armor and typical loose dress of Arabian warriors she was not recognized as a woman
“This warrior fights like Khalid bin Walid, but I am sure he is not Khalid.”
Her own brother asked about her identity when she approached him and refused to remove her veil several times, until she finally revealed herself as his sister.
once she revealed herself as a woman, Khalid bin Walid told her that while she may have started the battle standing with the women, now she was going to fight like a man. From that point on, she continued to serve throughout the campaign, battling on horseback with sword and spear in battles across Palestine, Syria and Jordan.
In a different battle, Khawla bint Azwar was captured after falling from her horse. She was forcibly moved to a camp with other female prisoners , after which she was to be taken to the leader of the enemy army for pleasure (read: rape), but she encouraged the other women to use the poles of the tent as weapons and attacked the guards.
They killed THIRTY of the Romans; Khawla herself killed five—including the leader who had wanted to rape her, the leader attempted to sway them with promises, including telling Khawla that he would marry her and make her first lady of Damascus, to which she replied, “I would never accept you to be a shepherd of my camels ! How do you expect me to degrade myself and live with you? I swear that I’ll be the one to cut off your head for your insolence.” (And apparently she did.)
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.
“Our women were much harsher than the Romans,” reported one of the knights who fought along side with Khawla’s women army during Battle of Yarmouk. “We felt that going back to fight and die was much easier than facing the fury of our women later on”.
Today, an Iraqi all-women military unit is named the Khawlah bint al-Azwar unit in Khawlah’s honor. In the United Arab Emirates, the first military college for women, Khawlah bint Al Azwar Training College, is also named for her. There are also several schools named after Khawlah bint al-Azwar