Khawla bint Al-Azwar was the daughter of a powerful chief of a presumably-obscure Arab tribe known as the Bani Assad (which I would like to think is Arabic for BaadAssad). An early convert to the wild newfangled religion of Islam in the early 600s, Khawla would go on to be one of the most hardcore ass-kicking chicks throughout the entire Islamic Conquest, as the sons of the Prophet steamrolled the puny forces of pretty much every non-European civilization in the world. She served as a nurse and a healer, and then when that became boring she fought as a front-line warrior, and now is known among her people as the prime example of how much ass a woman can kick - especially when you piss her off badly enough.
We don't know much about her youth, except that as a girl young Khawla learned swordsmanship and literary awesomeness from her brother, a well-known local warrior-poet named Derar who enjoyed stuff like epic poetry and anything involving stuff that explodes. Derar, as the son of the chief, had been trained from birth in the art of pushing these skills to the max, and in passing the knowledge along to his sis he actually in the long run ended up doing himself (and pretty much the entire empire) a favor by doing so.
When Derar joined the armies of Islam in their incessant conquests of the Middle East in the 7th century, his sister joined up to follow the soldiers along and provide medical assistance Florence Nightingale-style. Traveling with the ultra-badass general Khalid bin Walid in his sword-point ass-reaming of Palestine, Syria and Jordan, Khawla was one of a team responsible for patching together gaping sword wounds, bringing water to dying men, and replacing bandages and cleaning out wounds. Well, one day, during a battle against the Byzantine Empire outside Jerusalem, Khawla was watching the battle from a ridge when she saw her brother Derar get knocked from his horse and dragged off by Byzantine troops as a prisoner, and suddenly cleaning horrific injuries didn't hold as much interest for her as inflicting them did.
It was at this point that Khawla bint Al-Azwar did something that set her apart as one of the most seriously toughest women from the Middle Ages. Rather than sit back and weep about how her brother was now going to be crammed into a pound-me-in-the-ass Byzantine torture chamber for a lifetime of Chinese water torture and boring church hymns, she got seriously seriously fucking pissed off. Khawla ran to the supply tent, grabbed a suit of armor, threw on a black robe with a green sash, turned a black strip of cloth into a badass-looking ninja mask that concealed everything on her face except her eyes, and rode out into battle on horseback carrying a heavy spear and a scimitar.
"I was with the women accompanying the army,
and when I learnt that the enemy captured my brother, I did what I did."
The battle at Yarmouk was already going pretty well for Khalid, but pretty much everyone on the battlefield was shocked out of their steel-plated jock straps when they suddenly saw this black-and-green streak of screaming warrior babe come charging in out of nowhere and blast into the Byzantine lines like a burkha-wearing lightning bolt of face-stabbing pain. Stories written down from people who were there claimed that they just saw some crazy knight in a black hood blasting into the Byzantine lines, swinging around a spear that dripped blood, and massacring everything in her wheelhouse like a face-slicing maniac. One guy mentioned that he thought this warrior fought with such fury that it must have been Khalid himself, but then when the real Khalid came over to see what was up everybody was like, "WHAAA?! Dude what the fuck is going on around here?" When the Arabic general saw this one dude wasting an entire battalion by himself, he ordered all of his men to attack, and he even sent a trusted member of his personal bodyguard out to ensure that this lone wolf madman made it through the battle alive. In the battle that ensued, the Byzantines were driven from the field and ran home to their mommas. Khawla had not only helped turn the tide of the battle, but as the Byzantine army was routing she led a small detachment that rode down their ranks, found her brother (and the other Muslim prisoners), slew the guards, and brought all of the POWs back to friendly lines.
At the end of the battle, Khalid tracked down this mysterious black-clad knight (who, according to the Arabic histories was at this time covered completely in blood) and demanded the warrior to reveal his true identity. At first Khawla was reluctant (presumably for obvious reasons), but once she revealed herself as a woman Khalid really didn't seem to give a shit about it - all he did was tell her that while she may have started the battle standing with the women, now she was going to fight like a man. From that point on, she continued to serve throughout the campaign, battling on horseback with sword and spear in battles across Palestine, Syria and Jordan, including one fight when she personally rallied a routed Muslim force, re-organized them, and led them in a balls-out counter-attack.
Khawla is pretty awesome because she dealt with pretty much every situation by resorting to extreme head-cleaving vengeance. For instance, while she was fighting at the Battle of Ajnadin, Khawla's horse was cut out from under her, sending her sprawling to the sand and losing control of her spear, but this untimely dismounting didn't come close to breaking her fighting spirit. Before she could get up, the Byzantines were on her, capturing her and bringing her back to their camp, where she was put in a prison tent with another group of Arab women who had been captured early in the campaign. After the battle, the Byzantine general came by to check out the prisoner, and when he saw how totally smoking hot Khawla was, he told the guards to bring her by his tent later on that night for some good old fashioned sexing.
Well fuck that bullshit. Khawla wasn't about to submit to some perv just because she was his prisoner, so she organized the other women around her to get seriously pissed off and decide to stick it to these Byzantine fucks (rather than the other way around). So, as soon as the sun went down, the Arab women in the prison tent broke out of their bindings, grabbed the tent poles, and brought the entire tent down on their heads. When the nearby guards ran over to see what was going on, Khawla bint Al-Azwar busted up through the collapsed tent fabric and cracked the closest guy in the face with a tent pole, sending the dude spinning to the turf. Within moments an entire group of women emerged, wielding tent poles like spears and plunging sharpened tent pegs into anyone around them in an even-more-unhygenic variant on shanktastic icepick homicide. The women fought their way out, escaped across the battlefield to allied lines, and made it out of there. Khawla herself is personally credited with killing five men during the battle, liquefying their brains by cracking them in the dome with a giant hunk of wood.
Khawla served the rest of the war, eventually married a powerful Arab prince, and is now remembered as one of the greatest female warriors in the Muslim world. To this day nearly every city in the Middle East has a school named after her. They've also named a number of awards and military combat ships after her, and even more recently a unit of women soldiers serving in the modern-day Iraqi military is named after the Islamic faith's most famous war heroine.
USA Today article on the modern Khawla Unit
Bano, Afsar. Status of Women in Islamic Society. Anmol, 2003.
Hasan, Masudul. Daughters of Islam. Hazrat Data, 1976.
Kurzman, Charles. Modern Islam, 1840-1940. Oxford Univ. Press, 2002.
Miles, Rosalind and Robin Cross. Hell Hath No Fury. Three Rivers, 2008.