Khawlah bint al-Azwar (Arabic خولة بنت الأزور) was a Muslim warrior during the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and later a military leader. She has been described as one of the greatest female military leaders in history and was once compared with Khalid Bin Walid by the opponents in the battlefield. She was the sister of Dhiraar bin Al-Azwar, the soldier and commander of the Rashidun army during the 7th century Muslim conquest. Born sometime in the seventh century, daughter of Malik or Tareq Bin Awse, one of the chiefs of the Banu Assad tribe, Khawlah was well known for her leadership in battles of the Muslim conquests in parts of what are today Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. She fought side by side with her brother Dhirrar in many battles, including the decisive Battle of Yarmouk in 636 against the Byzantine empire. On the 4th day of the battle she led a group of women against the Byzantine army and defeated its chief commander and later was wounded during her fight with a Greek soldier.
Born sometime in the seventh century in Arabia (modern-day Saudi Arabia), Khawlah was the daughter of one of the chiefs of Bani Assad tribe. 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.
Siege of Damascus
Her talent first appeared during the Battle of Sanita-al-Uqab in 634, fought during the Siege of Damascus, in which her brother Zirrar (or Deraar) was leading the Muslim forces and was wounded and taken prisoner by the Byzantine army. Khalid ibn Walid took his mobile guard to rescue him. Khawlah 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, until she was asked by Khalid about her identity.
In the Battle of Ajnadin, Khawlah had accompanied the Muslim forces to provide medical attention to wounded soldiers. After her brother Diraar was captured by the Byzantine forces, Khawlah took a knight's armor, weapons, and mare, wrapping herself in a green shawl. She fought the Byzantine battalion, who were attacking Muslim soldiers. Khalid bin Walid, the leader of the Muslim forces, ordered the soldiers to charge the Byzantine. Many of the Muslim soldiers thought that Khawlah was Khalid until Khalid appeared. The Muslims defeated the Byzantines, who fled the battlefield. When Khalid found Khawlah, she was covered in blood. He asked her to remove her veil. After refusing several times, Khawlah revealed her identity. Khalid ordered his army to chase the fleeing Byzantines, with Khawlah leading the attack. After a search, the Muslim prisoners were found and freed. One of the Rashidun army commanders, Shurahbil ibn Hassana, is reported to have said about her that:
This warrior fights like Khalid ibn Walid, but I am sure he is not Khalid.
In another battle, Khawlah was captured after falling from her horse. After being taken to a camp with other women prisoners, Khawlah was to be taken to the leader's tent as he intended to rape her. Instead, Khawlah roused the other prisoners, who used the tent poles as weapons and attacked the Byzantine guards. According to Al Waqidi, they managed to kill five Byzantine knights with Khawlah taking credit for one, including the Byzantine who insulted her.
Many streets and schools in her native home land, Saudi Arabia, are named after her. Jordan issued a stamp in her honor as part of the "Arab Women in History." Many Arab cities have schools and institutions carrying the name of Khawla Bint al-Azwar. 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.