Rufaidah Al-Aslamia: The first nurse in Islamic history

Society Contributor
Rufaidah Al-Aslamia
© Yulia Mikhaylova |

Islam has given women a lot of rights and privileges. Women have always played and are still playing important roles both in their families and communities. In the early days of Islam, women had a large part in every aspect of life. They contributed to various fields like education, charity, Hadith narration, and healthcare. Islamic women were known as efficient health workers and nurses.

In Islam, nurses provide health care services as a manifestation of their love to Almighty Allah and Prophet Muhammad( SAW) [Peace be upon him]. Our tradition encourages sympathy and responsibility for those in need. This has flourished during the developmental phase of Islam as a religion and culture.

Like every profession in our peaceful religion, there is a pioneer of nursing too. Rufaidah bint Saad or Rufaidah Al-Aslamia is considered the first professional Muslim nurse. She was one of the first persons in Madina to accept Islam. She was even one of the Ansar women who greeted our beloved Prophet (PBUH) on his arrival in Madina.

The early life of Rufaidah Al-Aslamia

Born in the year 620 AD, Rufaidah learned nursing and other health care knowledge from her father. Her father, Saad Al Aslamy, was a well-known physician of Madina. She used to assist him regularly. She was born into Boni Aslem tribe of the Kazraj tribal confederation of Madina.

Her attitude was indicative of being a good nurse and caregiver. She was kind and empathetic. She was an efficient leader and organizer too. It is said that she has the ability to get good work from others.

How she became the pioneer in the field of caregiving and nursing?

Rufaida dedicated her life to nursing and taking care of sick people. She became an expert and efficient healer. It is said, she practiced in the field hospitals along with the war tents in many wars. She is considered an inspiration and pioneer of the nursing profession in the Muslim world.

At that time, Prophet (SAW)’s followers were engaged in various battles. Rufaidah set up a group of volunteer nurses in the warzone for taking care of the injured. At the Ghazwat al Khandaq, she set up her hospital tent at the battlefield. Our beloved Prophet(SAW) gave her instructions to take care of Saad bin Maadh. He had been deadly injured in the war. Rufaidah nursed him by carefully removing the arrow from his arm. The Prophet was pleased.

After that, she had prepared a group of women nurses. When the Prophet’s army was getting ready for the battle of Khaibar, the group went to him and asked, “Oh Messenger of Allah, we want to go out with you to the battlefield and treat the injured and help Muslims as much as we can”.

Beloved Prophet gave them permission and the nurses saved a lot of lives. The prophet was pleased and he gifted Rufaidah a portion of the increment. The nurses got the share equal to that of soldiers who actually fought. This was the recognition they got for their services. Moreover, when the city of Madina was established, the Prophet allowed Rufaidah to built a hospital in front of the Mosque to take care of the sick and distressed.

Contribution and teachings of Rufaidah Al-Aslamia

It is said, Ayesha, Prophet’s beloved wife also learned nursing from her. She even engaged in social works. According to the scholars, she was patient, kind, committed, and extremely intelligent.

Today, she has been rediscovered as the pioneer of nursing in the Islamic world. The Aga Khan University has founded a college of nursing after her name. The University of Bahrain awards a Rufaida Al-Aslamia prize in Nursing. It can be said that Rufaidah introduced nursing to the Islamic world almost 1300 years before Florence Nightingale.

The present generation of Islamic nurses must follow the footsteps of this glorious lady to earn the pleasure of Allah and His Apostle (SAW).