Post-classical history

§ A Courageous Woman Kills her Bandit Husband

I was a witness to one marvellous example of the courage that women have for the sake of honour. There was a man among the companions of Ibn Mula’ib called ‘Ali ‘Abd ibn Abi al-Rayda’, whom God (may He be exalted) had endowed with eyesight like that of Zarqa’ al-Yamama.227 He used to go on raids with Ibn Mula’ib and could spot a caravan coming a full day’s distance away.

A fellow member of his gang, called Salim al-’Ijazi, passed into the service of my father after Ibn Mula’ib was killed.228 He told me:

One day we went out on a raid and sent out ‘Ali ‘Abd ibn Abi al-Rayda’ early in the morning to act as a lookout for us. He came back to us and said, ‘Cheer up, everyone, for soon we’ll have some plunder! There’s a long caravan headed this way.’ We looked, but we couldn’t see a thing. So we said, ‘We don’t see a caravan or anything else.’ ‘By God,’ he replied, ‘I’m telling you I see a caravan! At the front there are two horses with black spots on their foreheads, shaking their manes.’ We stayed hidden in our ambush until late afternoon. Then a caravan appeared with two horses at the front, with black spots on their foreheads. So we rushed out and captured the caravan.

Salim al-’Ijazi also told me the following tale:

One day we went out on a raid and ‘Ali ‘Abd ibn Abi al-Rayda’ went up to act as a lookout for us. But he fell asleep, and before he knew it, a Turk from a detachment [128] of Turks took him captive. They asked him, ‘What’s your business?’ ‘I am a poor beggar,’ he said, ‘and I have rented my camel to a merchant in a caravan. Give me your hand in promise that you will return my camel to me and I will lead you to the caravan.’ So the leader of the Turks gave him his hand. ‘Ali walked along in front of them and led them to where we were, lying in ambush. So we rushed out at them and took them captive. As for ‘Ali, he latched on to the Turk that was in front of him and took his horse and his gear. We carried off some nice plunder from them.

When Ibn Mula’ib was killed, that ‘Ali ‘Abd ibn Abi al-Rayda’ passed into the service of Theophilos the Frank, lord of Kafar-tab. He used to go out on raids with the Franks against the Muslims and plunder them. He did as much harm to the Muslims as he could, seizing their wealth and shedding their blood, to the point of making the roads unsafe for travellers.

He had a wife at Kafartab, in the hands of the Franks, who objected to what he did and tried to forbid him from doing so, but he didn’t stop. In the end, she sent for a relative of hers from some village – her brother, I think – to come to her and she hid him in the house until nightfall. Then they ganged up on her husband ‘Ali and killed him and ran off with all his belongings. In the morning, she was with us at Shayzar. She said, ‘On behalf of the Muslims, I was angry because of what this infidel was doing to them.’ Thus, she gave the people a respite from that devil. We took special consideration for her, given what she did. She stayed with us and was treated with great generosity and respect.

§ A Frankish Woman Fights Back

There was an amir in Egypt named Nada al-Sulayhi,229 who had two scars on his face. One went from his right eyebrow up to his hairline, the other from his left eyebrow up to his hairline. I asked him about them and he told me:

When I was young, I used to go out on raids from Ascalon on foot. One day, I was on a raid on the road to Jerusalem hoping maybe to knock off some Frankish pilgrims. We came across a group of them. I encountered one of them, a man carrying a spear, with his woman behind him holding a small rough-ware jar with water in it. The man gave me this first spear-wound, at which point I hit him [129] and killed him. Then his wife advanced on me and struck me with that rough-ware jar in my face and made this other scar. Both of them left their mark on my face.

§ Intrepid Women: A Shayzari Woman Captures Frankish Pilgrims

Here is an example of the intrepid spirit of women. A group of Frankish pilgrims went on pilgrimage and, on their return, they passed through Rafaniya, which belonged to them at the time.230 They then left it, making for Apamea. But during the night they got lost and wound up at Shayzar, which at that time did not have any town-walls. So they entered the town, and they were about seven, maybe eight hundred people including men, women and children. But the army of Shayzar had already left town in the company of my uncles Sultan and Fakhr al-Din Shafi’ (may God have mercy upon them both) to meet two brides whom my uncles had married. They were sisters of the Banu Sufi family, originally of Aleppo. However, my father (may God have mercy upon him) was in the citadel. It happened that a man went outside the city on an errand during the night and came across a Frank there. So he came back, grabbed his sword and went out and killed him. Then he raised the alarm throughout the town. The populace rushed out and attacked the Franks, seizing what they could of their women, children, silver and beasts of burden.

In Shayzar, there was a woman called Nadra bint Buzurmat, the wife of one of our comrades. She went out with the rest of the populace and took a Frank captive and brought him back to her house. Then she went out and captured another one and brought him back to her house, then went and captured another. So three Frankish captives were collected at her house. After taking what suited her from their possessions, she went out and called for a group of her neighbours, who came and killed them.

During the night, my two uncles and the troops arrived. Now, some of the Franks had taken flight and so some of the men from Shayzar had pursued and killed them in the hinterland of the town. The horses of my uncles’ army, [130] in the dark of the night, started stumbling over the dead bodies without knowing what they were stumbling over, until one of them dismounted and noticed the corpses in the darkness. That terrified our men, who thought that the town had been taken by surprise.

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