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By Sabeen Khan

Al-Shifa: Knowledge and Healing

Al-Shifa bint Abdullah al-Adawiyyah was born in Mecca; her real name was Laylah, but she was called Al-Shifa as tribute to her knowledge of and skill in healing. She was married to Abi Khaithamah bin Hudhayfah bin Amir al-Qurashi al-Adawi. She was an extremely intelligent and wise woman. Very few people were literate in pre-Islamic Mecca, but she was one of them. Al-Shifa bint Abdullah embraced Islam early on and struggled with the rest of the Muslims under persecution in Mecca. She was one of the many who migrated to Medina. [Click here to learn more about early Muslim life in Mecca and Medina.]

Al-Shifa bint Abdullah was many things. She is said to be the first woman in Islam who was a teacher. Because she was literate, she taught many other people how to read and write. Notably, she taught Hafsah bint Umar, a wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

Al-Shifa bint Abdullah was also a healer. She was particularly skilled in the art of Ruqyah, or spiritual healing. In Medina, Al-Shifa bint Abdullah practiced and taught others medicine.

Overall, Al-Shifa bint Abdullah was very intelligent, and became the public administrator when Umar was caliph – possibly the first Muslim woman to hold office. She was in charge of making sure that all business practices matched with the rulings, teachings, and values of Islam. She is also known to have advised Caliph Umar on many occasions about numerous different things; he always took her very seriously. [Read more: Umar, the Great]

877-Why-Islam presents an interview of Dr. Ingrid Mattson, former President of ISNA. Spiritual equality, responsibility and accountability for both men and women is a well-developed theme in the Quran. Spiritual equality between men and women in the sight of God is not limited to purely spiritual, religious issues, but is the basis for equality in all temporal aspects of human endeavor.

Al-Shifa bint Abdullah: A Role Model

Why is Al-Shifa bint Abdullah such a good role model? She was a truly incredible woman, playing a part in almost every important role of society. Teachers are the foundation of society; without teachers, there are no other occupations. Al-Shifa bint Abdullah’s teaching was valuable. It was so rare to be literate in those days that to not only be literate, but to share this with others is truly admirable. Medicine is one of the most difficult practices – it is today, and it always has been. However, Al-Shifa bint Abdullah not only healed, she healed in the best way: the way of God. Finally, her excellence in politics and advisory proves her to be an extremely significant and notable member of her society.