Rufaida Al-Aslamia - the first Muslim nurse

Rufaida Al-Aslamia - the first Muslim nurse

March 31, 2017

Samar Yahya

By Samar Yahya

Women have always played and are playing major roles not only in their families but also in their societies and communities.

Islam has given women rights and privileges, which had never been enjoyed under other religious or constitutional systems before Islam.

Islam has always honored women and given her permission to keep her family name after marriage, to perform Hajj, to inherit, take up employment, and to run her own business.

Women in the early days of Islam had a great part in all spheres of life and they contributed to various fields such as business, education, Hadith narration, charity, nursing, and social work.

Rufaida Al-Aslamia was recognized for her work in medical and social circles in the earliest days of Islam, and she was the first female Muslim nurse.

She was among the first people in Madinah to accept Islam. She contributed with the other Ansar women to welcome Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) on his arrival in Madinah.

Rufaida Al-Aslamia is a role model for many women, empathetic nurse and a good organizer. With her clinical skills, she trained other women to be nurses and to work in the area of health care. She also worked as a social worker, helping to solve social problems associated with the disease.

Rufaida Al-Aslamia’s father, Saad Al-Aslami, was a physician and mentor. Rufaida initially obtained clinical experience from her father. Devoting herself to nursing and taking care of sick people, Rufaida became an expert healer. She practiced her skills in field hospitals in her tent during many battles.

Although not given responsibilities held solely by men such as surgeries and amputations, she practiced her skills in field hospitals in her tent during many battles. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to order that casualties be carried to her tent so that she can treat them with her medical expertise. She provided care for the injured soldiers during battles. Rufaida also provided shelter from the wind and heat of the harsh desert for the dying.

When Saad Ibn Muaath was injured in the Battle of Al-Khandaq (The Trench), Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) ordered that he be placed and treated in her tent.

Rufaida implemented her clinical skills and medical experience into developing the first ever documented mobile care units that were able to meet the medical needs of the community. Mostly, her work was primarily in hygiene and stabilizing patients prior to further and more invasive medical procedures.

Rufaida was interested in disease and its causes among ordinary people. She is recorded as having personally worked in poor communities encouraging hygiene and attempting to alleviate social problems which led to poor health.

Rufaida had trained a group of women companions as nurses. Throughout the wars and battles under Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), Rufaida led groups of volunteer nurses who went to the battlefield and treated the casualties. She participated in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khaibar, and others.

When the Muslim army was getting ready to go to the Battle of Khaibar, Rufaida and a group of volunteer nurses went to Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and asked him for permission to go with the army to the battle to treat the injured and help in any way that they could. Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) gave them permission to go with them. The nurse volunteers did such a good job that Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) assigned a share of the spoils of war to Rufaida. Her share was equivalent to that of the soldiers who had actually fought. This was in recognition of her medical and nursing work.

During times of peace, Rufaida continued her involvement with humanitarian efforts by providing assistance to Muslims who were in need. She helped children in need and took care of orphans, the handicapped, and the poor.
She was praised for spending her life taking care of the sick and dying and providing the people of her city with health education. She is described as having been patient, kind, devoted, and committed.

Stories about her work were passed on through the generations as told history, however, she has been rediscovered as the founder of nursing in the Muslim world, and several scholarly articles were written about her. One of the articles concluded, “Rufaida devoted her life to the development and improvement of nursing. She succeeded in laying new rules and traditions as the basis of better nursing.”

In Pakistan, a building at the famous college of nursing and midwifery, The Aga Khan University, was named after her. An annual Rufaida Al-Aslamia Prize in Nursing is awarded at the University of Bahrain. Each year the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) at the University of Bahrain awards one student the coveted and prestigious Rufaida Al-Aslamia Prize in Nursing. The award winner, determined by a panel of senior clinical medical staff members, is a student who consistently excels in delivering superb nursing care to patients.

Rufaida Al-Aslamia introduced nursing to the Muslim world 1, 200 years before Florence Nightingale who is known as the founder of modern nursing.

March 31, 2017