Al-Khansa was the daughter of the great poet Zuheir. She was the distinguished poetess of Arabia during the early Islamic period. Even the Holy Prophet of Islam admired her verses. She accepted Islam along with the other members of her tribe.
The elegy that she wrote on the death of her brother is regarded as one of the best elegies in Arabic. She said:
"The herald of the dead announced the loss
Of the most generous man, Sakhr;
And he cried it so loud
That far and wide he was heard.
It wounded me so painfully
That in my misery I looked like a drunken person.
Every morning when I awaken,
The first rays of the sun remind me of him
And every evening when the sun sets
I mourn for him."
She was not only a poetess; she was very brave and valiant as well. When the Muslims fought against the Persians in the battle of Qadisiyya she was present at the front with her four sons. On the eve of the battle by a fiery and inspiring speech she exhorted her sons to fight for the glory of Islam. She said:
"My sons, I have borne you with pain and brought you up with great care. I have brought no dishonour to your family and no slur to your tribe. I have wrought no indignity to your father's prestige, and there can be no doubt about the sanctity of the character of your mother. Now, therefore, listen to me. Remember the great merit of fighting for defending your faith; remember the Quranic injunction of adopting patience in the midst of distress. Tomorrow morning, rise from your bed hale and hearty and join the battle with fearless courage. Go into the midst of the thickest of the battle, encounter the boldest enemy and if necessary embrace martyrdom."
The four sons of al-Khansa joined the battle with fearless courage. The words of their mother kept ringing in their ears and they plunged themselves heroically ill. The thick of the battle, and encountered the boldest enemies. They put many Persians to sword and were rewarded with the crown of martyrdom.
The Muslims won the battle of Qadisiyya, but Khansa lost all her sons. When the news of the death of her sons was brought to her, she wanted to know what was the result of the battle. When she was told that the Muslims had won, she thanked God for the martyrdom of her sons, and said, "Who dies, if Islam lives."
When she saw the dead bodies of her sons, she did not weep. She burst into an elegy:
"My sons I bore you with pain
And brought you up for care;
You have fallen today in the cause of Islam,
Who says you are dead;
You are very much alive, and alive with honour.
I feel proud to be the mother of martyrs."
When Khansa returned to Madina, Umar went to her house to condole with her over the death of her sons. Khansa merely said:
"Congratulate me, Amirul Mominin,
For verily I am the mother of martyrs."
Umar loaded her with gifts, and as long as she lived, she got the allowances due to her sons. The shares of her sons in the spoils of war arising out of the battle of Qadisiyya were also paid to her.