Founder of the Nursing Profession in Islam
Rufaidah bint Sa’ad founder of the Nursing Profession in Islam
By Prof Dr Omar Hasan Kasule
This short paper presents the history of Rufaidah, the first professional nurse in Islamic history. She lived at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the 1st century AH/8th century CE. Her history illustrates all the attributes expected of a good nurse. She was kind and empathetic. She was a capable leader and organiser able to mobilise and get others to produce good work. She had clinical skills that she shared with the other nurses whom she trained and worked with. She did not confine her nursing to the clinical situation. She went out to the community and tried to solve the social problems that lead to disease. She was a public health nurse and a social worker. Rufaidah is an inspiration for the nursing profession in the Muslim world.
Rufaidah bint Sa’ad, is recognized as the first Muslim nurse. Her full name was Rufaidat bint Sa’ad of the Bani Aslam tribe of the Khazraj tribal confederation in Madinah. She was born in Yathrib before the migration of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). She was among the first people in Madina to accept Islam and was one of the Ansar women who welcomed the Prophet on arrival in Madina.
Rufaidah’s father was a physician. She learned medical care by working as his assistant. Her history illustrates all the attributes expected of a good nurse. She was kind and empathetic. She was a capable leader and organizer able to mobilize and get others to produce good work. She had clinical skills that she shared with the other nurses whom she trained and worked with. She did not confine her nursing to the clinical situation. She went out to the community and tried to solve the social problems that lead to disease. She was both a public health nurse and a social worker.
When the Islamic state was well established in Madina, Rufaidah devoted herself to nursing the Muslim sick. In peace time she set up a tent outside the Prophet’s mosque in Madina where she nursed the sick. During war she led groups of volunteer nurses who went to the battle-field and treated the casualties. She participated in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Khaibar, and others. Rufaidah’s field hospital tent became very famous during the battles and the Prophet used to direct that the casualties be carried to her.
At the battle of the trench (ghazwat al khandaq), Rufaidah set up her hospital tent at the battle-field. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) instructed that Sa’ad bin Ma’adh who had been injured in battle be moved to the tent. Rufaidah nursed him, carefully removed the arrow from his forearm and achieved hemostasis. The prophet visited Sa’ad in the hospital tent several times a day. Sa’ad was to die later at the battle of Bani Quraidhat.
Rufaidah had trained a group of women companions as nurses. When the Prophet’s army was getting ready to go to the battle of Khaibar, Rufaidah and the group of volunteer nurses went to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). They asked him for permission “Oh messenger of Allah, we want to go out with you to the battle and treat the injured and help Muslims as much as we can”. The Prophet gave them permission to go. The nurse volunteers did such a good job that the Prophet assigned a share of the booty to Rufaidah. Her share was equivalent to that of soldiers who had actually fought. This was in recognition of her medical and nursing work.
Rufaidah’s contribution was not confined only to nursing the injured. She was involved in social work in the community. She came to the assistance of every Muslim in need: the poor, the orphans, or the handicapped. She looked after the orphans, nursed them, and taught them.
Rufaidah had a kind and empathetic personality that soothed the patients in addition to the medical care that she provided. The human touch is a very important aspect of nursing that is unfortunately being forgotten as the balance between the human touch and technology in nursing is increasingly tilted in favor of technology.
History has recorded names of women who worked with Rufaidah: Umm Ammara, Aminah, Umm Ayman, Safiyat, Umm Sulaim, and Hind. Other Muslim women who were famous as nurses were: Ku’ayibat, Amiinat bint Abi Qays al Ghifariyat, Umm ‘Atiyyah al Ansariyat, and Nusaibat bint Ka’ab al Maziniyyat.
Information by Prof. Dr. Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. from a Paper Presented at the 3rd International Nursing Conference “Empowerment and Health: An Agenda for Nurses in the 21st Century” held in Brunei Dar as Salam 1st-4th November 1998