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Rufaida Al-Aslamia: First Muslim Nurse

Salman Rasheed

The writer is a Karachi-based research analyst and political consultant.

Rufaida Al-Aslamia was born around 620 AD and is known for her work in medical and social circles in the earliest days of Islam and was the first female Muslim nurse. She was a pioneer in the field of nursing, introducing it to the Muslim World more than 1,200 years before Florence Nightingale who is known as the founder of modern nursing. Also, Rufaida was among the first people in Madinah to accept Islam and contributed with the other Ansar women to welcome the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) on his arrival in Madinah.

Rufaida’s father, Saad Al-Aslami, was a physician and mentor and she initially gained vital clinical experience from him.  Rufaida became an expert healer resulting from her dedication to nursing and caring for sick people. When the city of Madinah was established, the Prophet (SAW) allowed Rufaidah to establish a tent/hospital in front of the Masjid ul-Nabawi to care for the sick and distressed.  

She practiced and honed her skills in field hospitals in her tent during many battles. Our prophet (SAW) used to order that casualties be sent to her tent so that they would receive expert medical treatment from her. Rufaida provided care for the injured soldiers during battles and shelter from the harsh elements of the desert for the dying. Also, she even trained a group of women companions as nurses that included the wives of the Prophet (SAW), Hazrat Khadija (RA) and Hazrat Aisha (RA).

When the Muslim army was preparing to go to the Battle of Khaibar, Rufaida and a group of volunteer nurses asked permission from the Prophet (SAW) to accompany the army to the battle to treat the injured and provide any required assistance. The Prophet (SAW) permitted the nurses to go with them. The volunteer nurses did such a good job that the Prophet (SAW) allocated a share of the spoils of war to Rufaida that was equal to that of the soldiers who had fought, one of the earliest examples of equal pay.

Rufaida employed her clinical skills and medical experience into developing the first-ever documented mobile care units that were able to proficiently serve the medical needs of the community. Generally, her work was primarily in hygiene and stabilizing patients before further and more invasive medical procedures.

She was interested in disease and its causes among ordinary people.  The historical accounts show that Rufaida worked in poor communities encouraging hygiene and trying to mitigate social problems which led to poor health.

During periods of peace, Rufaida continued her involvement with humanitarian efforts and social work by helping poor Muslims. She helped children in need and cared for orphans, the handicapped, and the poor.

Besides being a dedicated caregiver and providing health education for the people of Madinah, another accomplishment of Rufaida is developing nursing’s first code of conduct and ethics and promoting community health. She is described as having been patient, kind, devoted, and committed.  Along with being recognized as the first female nurse in history, Rufaida is also the first female to perform surgery in Middle Eastern countries.

In honor of Rufaida’s contribution to nursing, the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi has named its college of nursing and midwifery after her, and the University of Bahrain awards an annual Rufaida Al-Aslamia Prize in Nursing.  Also, Jamia Hamdard (University) Delhi established a nursing college after the name of Rufaida. She is a source of inspiration for many Muslims regardless of gender to pursue the noble profession of nursing to serve humanity to please Allah (SWT).

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