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    Default Sahabiyyat - the best generation of women in history ever

    The Sahabiyyat (Women Companions) were the noble women who were the contemporaries of the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu A’laihi wa Sallam). They were the pure, ideal muslim women, and were honored during the very lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu A’laihi wa Sallam) with the prediction that they would live forever in Paradise in the Hereafter. Their achievements and influence are found in every sphere of that momentous period in the history of the world, when the whole of humanity would be transfigured forever. They were as active in religion as in politics, as courageous in war as in the peaceful and persuasive propagation of the teachings of Islam. These noble selfless women could be found in the battlefields among the foremost ranks of those taking part in Jihad. They were to be found in the political arena, in the field of education, in the courts of Islamic jurisprudence, in the interpretation of Shari'ah, in trade and commerce, in agriculture, in medicine and in nursing. In short there was no sphere that did not benefit from their intellect, their wisdom and their gentle yet firm strength of character.

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    Default The Lost Female Scholars of Islam

    The Lost Female Scholars of Islam

    Dr Akram Nadwi is soon to publish his 40-volume collection on Muslim women scholars. In 2007, Mehrunisha Suleman and Afaaf Rajbee analysed the lost legacy of women scholars and its impact on today's world in emel's feature on The Lost Female Scholars of Islam.

    At the time Eileen Collins became the first woman to command the space shuttle, some Muslims were debating the right of women to drive a car on the road. This disparity in the level of public discourse on the rights of women and role of women confront Muslim societies. New findings by a scholar at Oxford on the historical role of women may help Muslims forge a new perspective but still remain true to the Prophetic traditions. Mehrunisha Suleman and Afaaf Rajbee report.

    If you call a man a thief long enough, he will start to think he really is a thief. Likewise, if you call a child stupid all the time, she will grow up thinking s/he really is stupid. This swindle of self-perception describes the deep seated anxiety surrounding women in Islam. The sustained media and academic portrayal of Islam has been that of a sexist, patriarchal religion that subjugates women through implicit assumptions of their inferiority. The corrective efforts to this perceived sexism have been shaped by conservatism and radicalism alike. Muslim feminists throw women forward as the bastion of a new, gender-less Islam, free from the shackles of male scholarship and propelling them forth to become imams and state leaders. At the same time, one can find countless imams from the Asian subcontinent who will readily declare women’s rights as a pernicious Western import, against which the best defence is to keep them inside the home and away from places of work and education. In this way, there may be little that separates misogynistic mullahs from progressive feminists: both are reactions to a crisis of confidence in their own faith. The social and political upheavals of the past c e n t u r y h a v e shaken the ummah to the very core - to the point that commentators cannot seem to defend the most basic social relationship between men and women. Amidst these celebrations and condemnations of Islam’s supposed misogynism, Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi’s study of Al Muhaddithat: the women scholars of hadith is a timely reminder that the gender issue need not be a problem in Islam. The portrayal in the media of Islam as the cause of the subordination of women was a key inspiration for the Shaykh to embark on his decade long study. Currently a research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, he found himself confronted with disagreements amongst Muslims about their own history. There was a gaping need to seek out the real historical record on women’s place in the Islamic tradition.

    There are widely cited arguments that the male gender bias in Islamic scholarship has affected the interpretations of the Qur’an and hadith. But the historical records show examples of fatwas issued by male jurists that were materially adverse to men and in favour of women. Furthermore, many of the testaments of excellent female scholarships have been recounted by their male students. Imam Dhahabi noted that amongst female narrators of hadith, there were none found to be fabricators. Women’s scholarly integrity and independence were unimpeachable. Naturally, any sexist male would have a problem admitting to these facts. Since women today participate so little in the teaching of Hadith and the issuing of fatwas, there is a wide misconception that historically they have never played this role. As Shaykh Akram describes, “when I started, I thought there may be thirty to forty women,” but as the study progressed, the accounts of female scholars kept growing and growing, until eventually there were no less than 8,000 biographical accounts to be found. Such vast numbers truly testify to the huge role that women have played in the preservation and development of Islamic learning since the time of the blessed Prophet Muhammad. The women encountered by Shaykh Akram were far from mediocre when compared to men, indeed, some excelled far beyond their male contemporaries. There were exceptional women who not only actively participated in society but also actively reformed it. Most striking was the high calibre of their intellectual achievements and the respect that they received for this.

    Apart from well-known figures, including Ayesha Siddiqa, the daughter of Abu Bakr, the grandeur of forgotten scholars is rekindled in the work. Fatima Al Batayahiyyah, an 8th century scholar taught the celebrated work of Sahih al Bukhari in Damascus. She was known as one of the greatest scholars of that period, demonstrated especially during the Hajj when leading male scholars of the day flocked from afar to hear her speak in person. A beautiful picture is painted of her in an Islam that has been long forgotten – a distinguished, elderly woman teaching her students for days on end in the Prophet’s mosque itself. Whenever she tired, she would rest her head on the Prophet’s grave and continue to teach her students as the hours wore on. A n y w o m a n visiting the Prophet’s mosque now will know the frustration of not even being able to see the blessed Prophet’s grave, let alone rest their head on its side wall.

    Another, Zainab bint Kamal, taught more than 400 books of Hadith in the 12th century. Her “camel loads” of texts attracted camel loads of students. She was a natural teacher, exhibiting exceptional patience which won the hearts of those she taught. With such a towering intellectual reputation, her gender was no obstacle to her teaching in some of the most prestigious academic institutes in Damascus.

    Then there was Fatimah bint Muhammad al Samarqandi, a jurist who advised her more famous husband on how to issue his fatwas. And Umm al-Darda, who as a young woman, used to sit with male scholars in the mosque. “I’ve tried to worship Allah in every way,” she wrote, “but I’ve never found a better one than sitting around debating with other scholars.” She became a teacher of hadith and fiqh and lectured in the men’s section. One of her students was the caliph of Damascus. The sheer hard work and dedication to Islam by these women is unfathomable by standards today – but they also had some biological advantages against men. Female muhaddi that were often sought after by students to learn hadith because of their longer lifespan - which shortened the links in the chains of narration. Although Shaykh Akram’s study focuses on the narrators of Hadith, he found that women s c h o l a r s had also contributed significantly in teaching “theology, logic, philosophy, calligraphy and many of the crafts that we recognise and admire as Islamic.”

    The presence of female teachers alone does not do justice to the importance of women in Islamic history. The Qur’an, as originally recorded on parchments and animal bones, was entrusted to Hafsah, daughter of Umar. It was with the help of these preserved records that Caliph Uthman disseminated six standardised versions of the Qur’an to the major political and cultural centres in the Islamic realm. He ordered all non-standardised editions to be burned, an act that indicates the immense trust in Hafsah’s competence and character. The validity of women’s teachings was never doubted by the Companions on account of their gender, or by any respected scholar since.

    Considering Islam’s teachings on the fundamental equality of men and women, Shaykh Akram’s work should really be no surprise. The Prophet taught that there is no difference in worth between believers on account of their gender. Both have the same rights and duties to learn and teach – from memorising and transmitting the words of the Qur’an and Hadith to the interpretation of these sources and giving counsel to fellow Muslims through fatwas (legal opinions). Women have the same duty as men to encourage the good and restrain the evil. It follows quite logically from this that if they cannot become scholars and be capable of understanding, interpreting and teaching, they cannot fulfil their duty as Muslims. If the subjugation of women is not the result of Islamic teachings, then why are there such gross violations of women’s rights in the Muslim world today? Relegating the Muslim woman only to the role of a mother and housewife is a relatively modern phenomenon (didn’t Ayesha lead an army and didn’t Umm Salama avert a crisis at Hudaybiyyah?). The definitive cause to this complex and multi-faceted problem is heavily debated, but a few contributing factors are worth tracing here. The hegemony of Western civilisation in the modern world brings with it an inevitability that the Muslim world will fall victim to its own weaknesses. Women have always had a problematic position in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the most obvious example being the Biblical account of Adam and Eve’s fall from the Garden. The source of mankind’s original sin is placed squarely on Eve, who represents the weaker sex in the parable (the pains of childbirth have traditionally been regarded as atonement for this original sin in the Christian faith).

    Theological precedents aside, the equality of men and women has come late in the day to Western Europe, with the status of women as “human” being debated in the 16th century and equal legal rights to men only being established by the 19th and 20th centuries. Misogynism was internationalised, as Aisha Bewley, writer and translator of the Qur’an describes, by western colonial authorities who excluded women from teaching in mosques and assuming political roles in the Muslim societies they colonised. “The lens through which the West viewed Muslim women was already a distorted one – and o n c e imposed or implanted among the Muslims, this viewpoint gradually became an established norm.” As the technologically and scientifically superior western culture impressed Muslim intellectuals, they grew more open to the values that these cultures brought with them.

    Finger-pointing at “the West” is a comfortable answer for everyone, but it is all the more important to realise that the fate of the Muslim woman cannot be divorced from the fate of the Muslim community as a whole. The retraction of women from the public sphere is also the result of fear. “Islam’s current cultural insecurity has been bad for both its scholarship and its women,” says Shaykh Akram. “Our traditions have grown weak, and w h e n people are weak, they grow cautious. When they are cautious, they don’t give their women freedoms.” Man’s desire to protect women has gone into overdrive, to the point that it has actually undermined the quality of Muslim communities. When the few women that do break free begin to propagate extreme brands of feminism, the result is a vicious circle of suspicion, fear and oppression.

    The revelation of the 8,000 strong history of Muslim women scholars will prompt a variety of reactions from various parties. Misogynists are likely to deny it and attempt to undermine its authenticity. Feminists will be pleased that someone has done the hard work for them. Yet the best lesson is most likely to be found in the motivation behind its writing. Shaykh Akram seeks to bring people back to traditional Islam with the purpose of demonstrating that Islam is not misogynistic and nor were early male scholars biased against women. Accusations that his study encourages free-mixing and the relaxing of modesty are unfounded. It is clear in the introduction to the 40 volumes that the hijab is also the sunnah of the Prophet and “enables women to be present and visible in the public space in a way that is safe and dignified.” Here Shaykh Akram’s status as a learned alim from a prestigious institution (Nadwat al Ulama in Lucknow, India) who has studied Islam in the traditional way stands him in good stead; scholars including Shaykh Yusuf al Qaradawi have been more than willing to acknowledge his research and findings.

    The irony of our forgotten women scholars is that they spent their lives in the pursuit of historical facts, whereas Muslims have long forgotten the fact of their contribution. Historical criticism is a fundamental principle in Islam. The Qur’an requires “O believers! If any iniquitous person comes to you with a slanderous tale, verify it, lest you hurt people unwittingly...” (49:6) Questioning the media frenzy on Islam is not just a good idea, but a religious obligation for Muslims to seek out the truth.

    Once we have acknowledged the true historical record, that women are not subjugated by Islam and have played a part since the very beginning, we must also move on. Islam was not revealed as a bundle of doctrines delineating women’s rights, human rights or animal rights. Islam confers all of these rights and duties on us when we sincerely accept Allah’s rights. Faith, and not bare-knuckled rationality, permits us to create a society where everyone can have their rights upheld t h r o u g h submission to His Word and His messengers. Centuries of accusations of misogynism have been internalised and turned into reality, making Muslims themselves believe that Islam is fl awed. In a world where some women are kept locked in their homes while others are vying to become presidents, Shaykh Akram’s research should present us with some confidence in the justice of Islam. Not because it proves that Islam has had many women scholars – but that there were many great scholars that happened to be women.

    The original Arabic is still under review so no chance of English translation anytime soon, just the foreword is available in English.

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    A Glimpse at Early Women Islamic Scholars
    By Imam Zaid on 04 September 2007

    The following is a transcript of a lecture delivered by Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi of Oxford University, on the role of women scholars in preserving and transmitting prophetic tradition (Hadith) in Islam. The original transcript has been edited by Imam Zaid Shakir to enhance readability.

    The Female Scholars of Islam

    O Mankind! Fear your Lord who has created you from a single soul, and from it He created its mate; and from them both, He brought forth multitudes of men and women. Be mindful of Allah through Whom you demand your mutual (rights), and revere the wombs that bore you. Surely, Allah is ever watching over you. (4:1)

    From the very beginning of the human saga, Allah makes it quite clear that men and women are equal beings created from one single soul, sharing the same father and mother, and subservient unto the same Lord. The verse mentioned above came to the Messenger of Allah, peace upon him, at a time when women were being humiliated and tortured. Allah says: …and when the female child, buried alive, will be asked: For what sin was she killed. (81:8-9) This is in refers to an ancient practice of the Arabs (and even some modern societies through abortion) who would kill their female children from fear of being humiliated in the community, or out fear that they would not have the means to provide for them. Islam came to eradicate these ignorant practices, amongst others, and after twenty-three years of prophetic teachings it had conferred unto women a status that was previously unthinkable.

    The first revelation: Read in the name of your Lord who created… (96:1) left the Prophet, peace upon him, severely shaken, for he could not comprehend such an event happening to an unlettered, orphaned, desert Arab. It is related that he was consoled by Khadijah, May Allah be pleased with her, who believed in him and comforted him in a time of great need and distress. She was the backbone of his initial efforts for the advancement of the new faith, and a noble business woman of high lineage.

    After three years of secrecy he was ordered by Allah to call his own family to the faith. He, peace upon him, gathered his family and openly called upon the tribe of Hashim and the tribe of Abdul Muttalib to believe in his message. Towards the end of the narration of this event, he, peace upon him, specifically says to ‘Abbas b. ‘Abdul Muttalib, May Allah be pleased with him: “I cannot benefit you on the Day of Judgment.” He uttered the same statement to his aunt, Safiyyah bint ‘Abdul Muttalib and to his daughter, Fatima, May Allah be pleased with both of them. He added: “Ask me of my wealth in this world, but on the Day of Judgment I cannot avail you in any way.” In this address the Prophet, peace upon him, specifically named two women and one man, demonstrating that women possess independent religious responsibility that has no connection to their gender.

    This independence in faith is exemplified by the fact that the wives of Noah and Lot, peace upon them, both rejected faith. Hence, the Qur’an affirms that even the wife of a Prophet is free to believe or disbelieve. Furthermore, Umm Habiba became a believer while her father, Abu Sufyan, May Allah be pleased with them both, was a staunch opponent of the Prophet, peace upon him. He possessed neither the power nor priviledge to influence her independent choice. At the second Pledge of Aqabah, a covenant that involved specific political and strategic obligations, the Prophet, peace upon him, took an oath from both men and women. He was not content to have women confined to their houses, totally divorced from any involvement in public affairs.

    The Quran, the most sacred and important source in Islam, was memorized by many of the companions. After the Battle of Yamama, where a large number of those memorizers were killed, Umar, May Allah be pleased with him, advised Abu Bakr to issue a standardized edition of the entire Qur’an in the dialect of Qureish, whose protection he vouchsafed. Abu Bakr, May Allah be pleased with him, issued such an edition. After his death it passed into the protection of Umar, May Allah be pleased with him, and after his passing, it was given to Hafsah bint Umar, may Allah be pleased with her, to be carefully guarded and preserved. During the caliphate of Uthman, May Allah be pleased with him, it was noticed that divergent and erroneous recitations of the Qur’an were emerging among the newly converted non-Arab people in places like Armenia and Azerbaijan. Uthman, may Allah be pleased with him, then borrowed the edition of the Qur’an in Hafsah’s protection, may Allah be pleased with her, to make six standardized copies to send to the major political and cultural centers in the Islamic realm. He ordered all non-standardized editions to be burned. It is clear here that no one questioned Hafsah’s trustworthiness, May Allah be pleased with her, as to rather she had altered the edition vouchsafed to her in any way.

    In the time of the Companions, the question never arose concerning the validity of learning directly from women. If we were to consider, for example, the books of prophetic tradition (Hadith), in every chapter you will find women narrating as well as men. Imam Hakim Naisapuri states: “One fourth of our religion depends on the narrations of women. Were it not for those narrations, we would lose a quarter of our religion.”

    For example, Abu Hanifah considers there to be four units of supererogatory prayer before the obligatory noon prayer, whereas the remaining Imams say that there are only two. The latter depend on the narration of Abdullah b. Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, while Abu Hanifah relies on Umm Habiba, may Allah be pleased with her, and the other wives of the Prophet, peace upon him. Abu Hanifah argues that since the prophet, peace upon him, used to pray supererogatory prayers in his house, the narration of his wives, may Allah be pleased with them, is stronger.

    Similarly, major events, such as the beginning of the call to the prophetic office, were specifically narrated by women. Ayesha alone narrates the tradition detailing the circumstances of the first revelation, as recorded by Imam Bukhari, immediately after the Hadith mentioning that actions are judged based on the intention accompanying them.

    To give similar examples, we all know that performing ablution is essential for the validity of Ritual Prayer (Salat). A female companion, Rubiyya bint Muawidh b. Afrah, may Allah have mercy on her, whose family members died in the Battle of Uhud, was a great narrator of Hadith. Her narrations can be found in Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, and other compilations. She narrated how the Prophet, peace upon him, performed ablution after actually witnessing his performance of the purificatory ritual. The companions would go to learn from her despite the fact that Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Muadh b. Jabal, and Abdullah b. Masood, may Allah be pleased with them, were all present in Madinah. She was regarded as the expert in the performance of ablution. Her students included the likes of Abdullah b. Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him and his father, the great Qur’anic exegete, and also a member of the family of the Prophet, peace and blessing of Allah upon him. He never asked: “Why should I learn from her when I am from the family of the Prophet and great exegete?” The same is true for Ali Zain ul-Abideen, the great grandson of the Prophet, peace upon him, and a great scholar himself. Their philosophy was to go to whoever possessed knowledge, irrespective of their gender.

    Interestingly, there is no single Hadith which has been rejected from a woman on account of her being a fabricating liar. Imam Dhahabi affirms: “There are many men who have fabricated Hadith. However, no woman in the history of Islam has been accused of fabrication.” In light of this, if the intellectual integrity of anyone should be questioned, it should be that of men. Women have always truthfully conveyed religious knowledge.

    Amrah bint Abdur Rahman was amongst the greatest of the female Successors, the generation that came after that of the companions of the Prophet, peace upon him. She was a jurist, a mufti, and a Hadith specialist. The great Caliph Umar b. ‘Abdul ‘Aziz used to say: “If you want to learn Hadith go to Amrah.” Imam Zuhri, who is credited with compiling the first systematically edited compilation of Hadith used to say: “Go to Amrah, she is the vast vessel of Hadith.”

    During that time, the Judge of Madinah ruled in a case involving a Christian thief from Syria who had stolen something. The judge had ordered that his hand to be severed. When Amrah bint Abdur Rahman heard of this decision, she immediately told one of her students to go tell the judge that he cannot severe the man’s hand because he had stolen something whose value was less than a single gold coin (Dinaar). As soon as he heard what Amrah had said, he ordered that the man be released, unharmed. He did not question her authority, nor did he seek a second opinion from other scholars, who were quite numerous in Madinah at the time. They included the likes of Sa’id b. Al Musayyib. This incident is recorded in the Muwatta of Imaam Malik, and this ruling is also his opinion in such cases.

    One of great Successors, Umm Darda, taught in both Damascus, in the great Umayyad Mosque, and Jerusalem. Her class was attended my Imams, jurists, and Hadith scholars. The powerful Caliph Abdul Malik b. Marwan, who ruled an empire stretching from Spain to India, had a teaching license from Abdullah b. Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, who was considered the greatest jurist of his time in Madinah. When ‘Abdullah reached old age, the people asked him: “Who should we seek religious verdicts from after you?” He replied: “Marwan has a son (Abdul Malik), who is a jurist so ask him.” Hence, Abdul Malik was endorsed by Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with him. Yet even Abdul Malik Abdul Malik b. Marwah would attend the classes of Umm Darda and he would never feel ashamed of learning from her. Furthermore, he would humbly serve her. It has been recorded that when Umm Darda was teaching she would lean on the shoulder of Abdul Malik b. Marwah, due to her being advanced years, to go to mosque for Salat. He would help her return to her place of teaching after the prayer. The fact that these women taught men who were themselves regarded as great scholars indicates the respect and status they had attained.

    The mosque of the Prophet, peace upon him, is undoubtedly one of the most sacred places in Islam, and his blessed grave is even more sacred. Around the beginning of the Eighth Century of the Muslim calnedar, Fatima bint Ibrahim b. Jowhar, a famous teacher of Bukhari, under whom both Imams Dhahabi and Subqi studied the entirety of Sahih Bukhari appeared. When she came for the Pilgrimage (Hajj) her fame was such that as soon as the students of Hadith heard that she had reached Madinah, they requested her to teach in the Mosque of the Prophet, peace upon him. Ibn Rushayd al-Subki, who traveled from Marrakech, describes one of her classes thus: “She was sitting in front of the blessed head of Prophet, peace upon him, and [due to her advanced years] she would lean on his grave. She would finish by writing and signing the license to transmit her narrations (Ijaazah), personally, for all of the Hadiths that were read by every student present.”

    This, and similarly stories, makes it clear that women can teach in the best of mosques. Pathetically, today there are debates as to whether they can even come to the mosque for prayer! This is an indication of our ignorance of our own Islamic heritage, and of our digression from the practices of our pious predecessors.

    Ayesha bint Abdul Hadi used to teach in the grand mosque of Damascus. She was appointed by the Sultan of that time as the Master of Hadith and taught the compilation of Imam Bukhari. She represented the whole community and they could not find any man better than her. Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani, considered by many to be the greatest of all latter day Hadith scholars traveled to Damascus and studied more than one hundred books with her. Today, it would be difficult to find a “shaykh” who even knows the names of her books, to say nothing of having read them. In addition to her intellectual acumen, her chain of narration in Hadith is regarded as the strongest from her generation back to the Prophet, peace upon him. Between her and Imam Bukhari are eight transmitters, and between Imam Bukhari and the Prophet, peace upon him, there are variously, three, four or five transmitters. No other chain of narrators allows one to reach the Prophet, peace upon him, with an equal or smaller number of narrators.

    If we consider the great role of women such as Hafsah, may Allah be pleased with her and her father, in the compilation of the Qur’an, and the role of women like Ayesha bint Abdul Hadi in preserving and accurately conveying Hadith, it is clear that the two most fundamental sources of our religion have been secured with the aid and blessing of women.

    Fatima al-Juzdani, a great scholar from Isfahan in present-day Iran, read one of the great books of Hadith, Al-Mu’jam Al-Kabeer, with Abu Bakr b. Rida, who himself studied the entirety of the book with its author, Imam Tabarani. This book has been published in thirty-seven volumes (unfinished). After mastering the book, she subsequently taught it many times. Not a single scholar alive today has studied this book, or even part of it with a teacher. Furthermore, we do not have a single narration of this book except from women, because it was forgotten by the male Hadith scholars!

    In the time of Ibn Taymiyya, there were other scholars like Imam Dhahabi, al-Mizzi, al-Birzali, Tajuddin al-Subqi, and a little later, Ibn Kathir, Ibn al-Qayyim, Ibn Nasiruddin al-Dimishqui, and Hafidh Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. This was the golden age of Hadith, when the development of Hadith literature and teaching was at its peak. Not only were these men scholars, they were also reformers of their society. At this very time, there was a woman in Syria, who was also known for her scholarship and the powerful positive influence she had on society. She helped in the reformation of communities in Damascus and Cairo by enjoining good and forbidding evil. Ibn Kathir, the student of Ibn Taymiyya, has written in his highly acclaimed work of history, Al-Bidaya w’al-Nihaya: “She reformed society by enjoining good and forbidding evil, she accomplished what men are unable to do, that is to say, she did more than the male scholars of her time.” This testimony was written by a man. Hence, no one can say it is the biased opinion of a woman, and thereby question its authenticity. This was a golden age full of proactive, confident and talented women.

    Hisham b. Urwah b. Zubair, May Allah be pleased with him, is the teacher of Imam Malik, Abu Hanifa, Sufyaan al-Thawri, Saeed Qahtan, and is acknowledged as a great Hadith scholar of that era. The most reliable Hadiths narrated by him, found in both Bukhari and Muslim, are those he narrates from his wife, Fatima bint Mundhir. Sadly, many Muslim men today would not marry a woman more knowledgeable than themselves. The men of our past would proudly marry and learn from them.

    One of the best compilations in Hanafi fiqh is the masterpiece Badaya’ al- Sanaaya’ by Imam Kasani, whose wife was Fatima al-Samarqandiyya, daughter of Ala’addin al-Samarqandi. This book is a commentary on Tuhfa al-Fuqaha’ written by the latter. Fatima was a great expert in Hadith and other religious sciences. Imam Kasani’s students narrate: “We saw our teacher at times would leave the classroom when he could not answer a certain difficult question. After a while he would return to elucidate the answer in great detail. Only later on did we learn that he would go home to put the same question to his wife in order to hear her explanation.” Clearly, he depended on his wife in his scholarly life.

    Not only were women scholars allowed to give binding religious verdicts (fatwas), but if they differed with their male contemporaries there would be absolutely no objections concerning their pronouncements. This was apparent from the earliest period. Illustrative of this is the opinion of Fatima bint Qais, may God be pleased with her, who said that a husband need not provide support for his irrevocably divorced wife during her period of waiting (‘Iddah). She based her opinion on a narration from the Prophet, peace upon him.

    Despite the fact that Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, and other senior companions disagreed with her, based on their understanding of a verse in the Quran, they did not question her faith, impose sanctions on her, nor did they prevent her from continuing to narrate the Hadith and issuing her fatwa. This incident is interesting in that it presents the opinion of a woman that advances a ruling that is not deemed favorable to woman. In so doing she opposes an opinion advanced by men that is deemed favorable to women. If this incident had occurred in our times it would have surely been the point of much contention and discussion.

    The above are just some of the evidence that establishes the enormous contribution of women to the Islamic scholarly enterprise. The book it is excerpted from contains many more arguments and can be found at www.interfacepublications.com. I hope that this article empowers us to help women attain the status and dignity that was given to them by our pious predecessors, based on the inspiration they received from the leader of all the Prophets, our exemplary master, Muhammad, the Chosen One, peace and mercy of God upon him

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    Default Nafisa bint Hassan

    Nafisa bint Hassan

    Nafeesah bint Al-Hassan was born in Makkah in 145 A.H., corresponding to 762 CE, into a household known for its tradition of scholarship. Her ancestry reads as follows: Nafeesah bint Al-Hassan ibn Zaid ibn Al-Hassan ibn Ali ibn Abu Talib. Thus, her great grandfather was Al-Hassan, the Prophet’s grandson born to his youngest daughter, Fatimah. Nafeesah was married to Ishaq ibn Jaafar Al-Sadiq, who was also a descendent of the Prophet through his daughter Fatimah and her other son, Al-Hussain. Jaafar was a leading scholar of high renown, as were many of the members of that household. Nafeesah was a scholar in her own right, and many scholars sought to read under her, or attended her as she taught. Apparently, Al-Shafie was a frequent visitor of Nafeesah, and he sometimes prayed at her place and she prayed with him. When he died, she asked for his funeral to be brought into her home so that she could pray the special janazah prayer for his soul.

    It is reported that she traveled with her husband, or with her father, to Egypt where she settled. Her father was appointed Governor of Egypt by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mansoor. However, after staying five years in that post, the caliph sacked him and put him in jail in Baghdad. After the caliph’s death, his son who succeeded him, Al-Mahdi, released her father and returned to him all his confiscated property.

    Nafeesah memorized the Qur’an at an early age, and she studied the Hadith, attaining a very high standard. It is reported that when Imam Al-Shafie settled in Egypt, he attended her circle and listened to her as she taught Hadith. Another well known figure, Bishr Al-Hafi, renowned for his ascetic lifestyle, denying himself all worldly pleasures, used to visit her. However, when he fell ill, she went to visit him. As she was there, another visitor came to see him who was none other than Ahmad ibn Hanbal. He asked Bishr to introduce the lady visiting him. When Imam Ahmad learned that she was Nafeesah, he said to Bishr: ‘Would you request her to pray for us.’ When he did, she prayed thus: “My Lord, Bishr ibn Al-Harith and Ahmad ibn Hanbal seek refuge with You from the fire of hell. Please grant them Your refuge.”

    A woman held in such high esteem by the founders of two of the four major schools of Fiqh must have achieved a very high standard indeed. Her learning made her very courageous in stating the truth loud and clear. Ahmad ibn Toloon was the governor of Egypt and he started his reign pursuing heavy-handed policies. People were very angry but they needed someone to speak for them. They went to Nafeesah complaining. They also informed her of the time when he habitually rode into the city. She wrote a few lines on a piece of paper and went out at the right time. As he passed close to her, she called out to him by his name: “Ahmad ibn Toloon!” He looked at her and recognized her. Therefore he dismounted and took her paper from her to read.

    She had written:

    “As you are in power, you follow a policy of injustice and oppression, and you fire people unfairly, ruining their livelihood. Yet you know that prayer at night, before dawn, is always answered by God, particularly when they are addressed by hearts that you have hurt and bodies that you have left hungry and without proper clothing. It is impossible that the oppressed vanish and the oppressor remains. You may do as you please, and we will bear that with patient perseverance. You may continue with your injustice, but we will seek God’s justice. Certainly, the unjust will come to rue their injustice.”

    Her appeal touched the right cord with Ahmad ibn Toloon, and he immediately began to change his policy direction. From that moment onward, he became very keen to establish justice.

    Nafeesah was great in her voluntary worship. She spent long hours in night worship, and she fasted voluntarily so often, praying to God that she would be fasting on her day of death. Her husband was away at the time, but he arrived back in Egypt on the day she died in 208 A.H. He announced his intention to take her body to Madinah so that she would be buried in its cemetery with her ancestors and the Prophet’s companions. The people of Egypt were very upset, and they raised a large amount of money and presented it to him if he would only let her be buried in Egypt, but he refused. However, the following day they went to him to try again, only to be surprised that he immediately accepted their request. When they wondered about this change of heart, he told them that he saw the Prophet in his dream that night, and he said to him: “Return the money to the people of Egypt and bury her in their city.” He actually buried her in her home.

    Today, the place is attached to a large mosque known as the Lady Nafeesah Mosque. People always visit the mosque and her grave. Many are those who attribute to her some miracles that they claim she performed after her death. This is totally against Islam. Nothing of this is true. She was a great woman in her learning and her piety. May God shower His mercy on her.


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    Default Sayyada Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.

    As-Salaam alaikum,
    Ummul Mumineen, Sayyada Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, may Allah be pleased with her, was the first wife of the Noble Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu alaihi Wasallam. She was the first in accepting Islam as her religion. She was an image of faith, integrity, truth and good manners.

    About her, the Prophet, Sallallahu alaihi Wasallam, said:--

    "She believed in me when no one else did; she accepted Islam when
    people rejected me; and she helped and comforted me when there
    was no one else to lend me a helping hand. And it is through her that
    Allah blessed me with children."

    In the attachment below, find a brief account on the biography of this virtuous Lady, and partake in the immense lessons it offers.
    Best Regards.

    Attached Files

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    Default A Short Biography of the “Mothers of the Faithful”

    The wives of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, hold a special place in Islamic piety. The Quran calls them “Mothers of the Faithful” (Quran 33:6). They were his wives in this life and shall be in the life to come. They were young and old, widows and virgins, poor and wealthy, aristocrats and freed slaves. Each one played their specific role in forming the history of Islam.

    Prophet Muhammad married her when he was twenty-five, while she had reached the age of forty. She was a widow, twice married. He was at the peak of his youth. Impressed by Muhammad’s honesty and moral character, she send a relative to propose marriage. They were married for twenty five years until her death. Through every persecution, Khadeejah was his sole companion and helper. Khadeejah, along with Aisha, played a major contribution in the establishment and spread of the Islamic civilization. Khadeejah bore four daughters with the Prophet: Zainab, Umm Kulthoom, Ruqayya, and Fatima. All four grew to maturity and accepted Islam. They all died in the lifetime of their father, except Fatima who died six months after the Prophet. Khadeejah also bore two sons, Qasim and Abdullah, both of whom died at an early age.

    Months after the death of Khadeejah, the Prophet had returned from an unsuccessful mission in Taif, helpless and persecuted. At this time he married Sawdah, another widow, who possessed neither beauty, nor social status, nor wealth. She had been forced to escape to Abyssinia with her husband from the persecution of pagan Meccans to find some security. Her husband died in exile, giving his life for the sake of his faith. He had migrated with his wife from his home for the cause of his religion, and he left her in utter poverty. Driven by a sense of generosity, the Prophet of Mercy married her, raising her to the spiritual level of “Mother of the Faithful.” The Prophet did not marry another woman for the first three years of his Marriage to Sawdah. She died a few years after the death of Prophet Muhammad.

    Aishah was the daughter of one of the closest companions of Prophet Muhammad, Abu Bakr. An old friend of the Prophet, Abu Bakr was one of the earliest converts to the faith and was considered to be the most sincere, earnest, and devoted in faith. Seeing the loss of the Prophet, one of the woman companions proposed Abu Bakr’s daughter to him and approached Abu Bakr on behalf of the Prophet. But there were two problems. One, Aishah was already betrothed to Jubair bin Mut’im, a pagan Meccan. Jubair, it turned out, had lost interest because of the wide gulf between paganism and Islam. In addition, Aishah had not yet reached puberty, and this also contributed to Jubair’s disinterest in pursuing the betrothal. Thus, she was betrothed to the Prophet while still in Mecca, and three years later, when both were in Medina and she had reached puberty, he consummated his marriage. She was the only virgin he married, though they did not have any children. Aishah was a leading scholar of Islam and played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Islamic civilization. She taught for forty years after the death of the Prophet until her death at the age of sixty-seven.


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    JAzaKAllah Khair ,,,

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    Default A Short Biography of the “Mothers of the Faithful”


    Prophet Muhammad married her when he was twenty-five, while she had reached the age of forty. She was a widow, twice married. He was at the peak of his youth. Impressed by Muhammad’s honesty and moral character, she send a relative to propose marriage. They were married for twenty five years until her death. Through every persecution, Khadeejah was his sole companion and helper. Khadeejah, along with Aisha, played a major contribution in the establishment and spread of the Islamic civilization. Khadeejah bore four daughters with the Prophet: Zainab, Umm Kulthoom, Ruqayya, and Fatima. All four grew to maturity and accepted Islam. They all died in the lifetime of their father, except Fatima who died six months after the Prophet. Khadeejah also bore two sons, Qasim and Abdullah, both of whom died at an early age.


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    Default Muslim Woman, The Most Feared Navy Admiral

    Muslim Woman, The Most Feared Navy Admiral

    Just over 400 years ago, Malahayati became the first female Admiral to lead a Navy in the modern world. Being a student of Pesantren Islamic School, military graduate and widow, she led an Army of other widows to become one of the most feared and formidable fighting forces to roam the seas around Sumatra.

    She was so feared that when the Dutch decided to attack Sumatra in 1600, she only went and kidnapped their senior Admiral Van Neck, sunk most of their fleet and killed their Senior Commander De Houtman. The Dutch came pleading for a peace treaty, which she only signed when the Dutch apologized and agreed never to return. It then took a further 3 diplomatic missions to get her to release the Dutch prisoners she was holding.

    Even the British empire knew better than to mess with her. Queen Elizabeth I, sent a full diplomatic mission led by James Lancaster, just to get her to agree to let British merchant ships to sail through the Malacca strait peacefully. He was given a knighthood for actually having the guts to go and talk to this woman.

    The First Female Commander in the Modern World Was Muslim - Meet Aceh Malahayati

    The history is full of women who have been doing great work the past decades. From science to fine art to extreme sport, nowadays every discipline has its female heroes. As a matter of fact there has always been 'the first female' in everything. Aceh was one of them.

    Keumalahayati, also known as Malahayati, was the first female admiral in the world. Her story and achievements are more than just impressive; they are brave, honorable, successful and admirable. She is a role model and an inspiration for everyone.

    Malahayati lived in the period of the Aceh Sultanate during the 15th and the 16th century. She was a descendant of the founder of the Sultanate of the Aceh Darussalam. In fact, one of the founders was her great great grandfather Sultan Ibrahim Ali Mughayat Syah. Her father and grandfather were both very respected admirals. She was interested in the fascinating work her father fulfilled and decided to enter the Ma'had Baitul Maqdis Military Academy after graduating from Pesantren, an Islamic boarding school. The Academy offered education in The Navy and The Ground Force department. After graduating from there she married her true love, a Navy officer candidate. Unfortunately he was killed during the Haru Bay War against Portuguese troops. Malahayati swore to take revenge for her husband.

    Determined to continue her husband's fight, she requested the Sultan to form an armada from Aceh's widows. After his approval the armada was named the 'Inong Bale Armada' and Malahayati was appointed as the First Admiral. She led many different battles against the Dutch and Portuguese.

    In 1599 the Dutch commanders Cornelis de Houtman and his brother Frederick de Houtman visited the Sultan to establish their trade relationship. They were welcomed peacefully but Cornelis brought a Portuguese as a translator, which was an insult against the Sultan. Many violent battles followed in which Malahayati was the lead. She succeeded to defeat the Dutch, killed Cornelis and jailed his brother for two years.

    In 1600 Paulus van Caerden, who led the Dutch Navy robbed an Aceh merchant ship of its pepper and sank it. A year later Admiral Jacob van Neck and his companions introduced themselves as merchantmen to buy pepper. But after Malahayati found out that they were Dutch, they were arrested as a compensation for the previous deeds. After a few months Maurits van Oranje ordered two emissaries, Admiral Laurens Bicker and Gerard de Roy, to take a diplomatic letter of apology and some presents for the Empire of the Aceh. As a result Malahayati and the emissaries made a treaty agreement. Meanwhile she was appointed as a Troop Commander and Palace Guard. Malahayati was also involved when England entered Malacca Strait. Queen Elizabeth I had sent James Lancaster with a letter for the Sultan. After he had a negotiation with Malahayati an agreement opened the English route to Java.

    An extraordinary coincidence is the way Malahayati died. She was killed during the battle against the Portuguese, just as her husband. These days many universities, hospitals, roads and Sumatran cities are named after her. Even a series, "Laksamana Keumalahayati" was made to honor her great work.

    There is no doubt that Malahayati is a name to remember. She was a warrior with a will to achieve anything if she sets her mind to it.


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    Default 15 Important Muslim Women in History

    15 Important Muslim Women in History

    This post, the first of several on the topic, intends to highlight the various contributions of Muslim women throughout medieval and early modern history. While many people may be familiar with the accomplishments of contemporary Muslim women (whether heads of state, scholars or activists), the fact that women also played a pivotal role in the pre-modern Muslim world as intellectuals, poets, mystics, rulers and warriors tends to be less appreciated. By sharing a handful of biographies of a few of these luminaries from Islamic history, it is my hope that this will help dispel certain problematic stereotypes (among both Muslims & non-Muslims) about the historical role of women in Islamic societies and spark further interest and inquiry into women’s history in the medieval and early modern Islamic world (as well as in pre-modern history more generally).

    1) Khadīja b. Khuwaylid (d. 620).
    Even before her famous marriage to the Prophet Muhammad, she was an important figure in her own right, being a successful merchant and one of the elite figures of Mecca. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and has the distinction of being the first Muslim. As the Prophet Muhammad himself is believed to have said in a hadith preserved in Sahih Muslim: “God Almighty never granted me anyone better in this life than her. She accepted me when people rejected me; she believed in me when people doubted me; she shared her wealth with me when people deprived me; and God granted me children only through her.” Indeed, another of the most important women of early Islam, Fāṭima al-Zahrā’, was the daughter of the Prophet by Khadīja and it is only through Fāṭima (especially through her two sons, al-Hasan and al-Husayn) that the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad is preserved. These facts make Fāṭima and her mother Khadīja among the most revered female personages in Islamic history.

    2) Nusayba b. Ka‘b al-Anṣārīyya (d. 634).
    Also known as Umm ‘Ammara, she was a member of the Banū Najjār tribe and one of the earliest converts to Islam in Medina. As a Companion of the Prophet Muhammad, there were many virtues attributed to her. She is most remembered, however, for taking part in the Battle of Uhud (625), in which she carried sword and shield and fought against the Meccans. She shielded the Prophet Muhammad from enemies during the battle and even sustained several lance wounds and arrows as she cast herself in front of him to protect him. It is said that after she sustained her twelfth wound, she fell unconscious and the first question she asked when she awoke (a day later in Medina) was “did the Prophet survive?” a testament to her loyalty and commitment to the new faith.

    3) Khawla b. al-Azwar (d. 639).
    Another contemporary of the Prophet Muhammad. She is best known for her participation in the Battle of Yarmuk (636) against the Byzantines. According to later narratives of the Islamic conquests, authors described her as having the skill and fighting ability of the famed Muslim general Khālid ibn al-Walīd. There are a lot of embellishments and unclear details that emerge from later sources about her which make the details questionable, leading some scholars to doubt whether she had even existed at all! Despite these reservations, it is nonetheless notable that scholars such as al-Azdi, writing in the eighth and ninth centuries, in his “Futuh al-Sham” (a work often incorrectly attributed to al-Waqidi) and later chroniclers such as Ibn Kathir and al-Zirkali found it necessary to ascribe such importance to a female warrior in the conquests. Indeed, if she never existed at all this makes her legend all the more interesting.

    4) ‘Ā’isha b. Abī Bakr (d. 678).
    A figure that requires almost no introduction, ‘Ā’isha was the wife of the Prophet Muhammad who had perhaps the most influence on the Muslim community after his death. She played a central role in the political opposition to the third and fourth caliphs Uthmān ibn ‘Affān and ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, even leading an army against the latter at Basra in 656. Although she retired from political life after her defeat, she continued to play a major role as a transmitter of Islamic teachings. She is one of the major narrators of hadith in the Sunni tradition. In many ways, she is among the most interesting (and controversial) figures in early Islam, especially since the implications of her actions for women’s participation in scholarship, political life, and the public sphere clashed with later conservative conceptions of the role of women. For more about ‘Ā’isha and her legacy, read Denise Spellberg’s excellent book entitled Politics, Gender and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of ‘Ā’isha bint Abī Bakr (1996).

    5) Zaynab b. ‘Alī (d. 681).
    She was the grand-daughter of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fāṭima (d. 633) and her husband ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (d. 661). She was a leading figure of the Ahl al-Bayt (Family of the Prophet) during the late seventh century and played a central role both during and after the Massacre at Karbala (680), where her brother al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī, and 72 of her nephews and other brothers were killed by the Umayyads. For a time, she was the effective leader of the Ahl al-Bayt and served as the primary defender of the cause of her brother, al-Ḥusayn. At Kufa, she defended her nephew—‘Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn (d. 712)—from certain death by the governor of the city and, when presented to the Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya at Damascus, gave such an impassioned and forceful speech in the royal court that the caliph was convinced by his advisers to release her and the prisoners taken at Karbala. Her strength, patience, and wisdom makes her one of the most important women in early Islam. Her shrine at Damascus remains a major place of visitation by both Sunnis and Shi’is, a fact that emphasizes the universality of her legacy among Muslims.

    6) Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya (d. 801).
    One of the most important mystics (or Sufis) in the Muslim tradition, Rābi‘a al-‘Adawīyya spent much of her early life as a slave in southern Iraq before attaining her freedom. She is considered to be one the founders of the Sufi school of “Divine Love,” which emphasizes the loving of God for His own sake, rather than out of fear of punishment or desire for reward. She lays this out in one of her poems:

    “O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
    and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
    But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
    grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

    When asked why he included such a major entry on Rābi‘a in his biographical dictionary of mystics (the Tadhkirat al-Awliyā’), the 13th-century scholar Fariduddīn Attār (d. 1220) explained: “the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) himself said, ‘God does not regard your outward forms. The root of the matter is not form, but the inner intention. Mankind will be raised up according to their intentions.’ Moreover if it is proper for us to derive two-thirds of our religion from a woman, the noble and blessed ‘A’isha bint Abi Bakr (may God be pleased with them both), then surely it is permissible to take religious instruction from [one who can be likened, in status, to] a handmaiden of ‘A’isha (may God be pleased with her).” For more on Rābi‘a, see Margaret Smith-[Ch. Pellat]. “Rābiʿa al-ʿAdawiyya al-Ḳaysiyya.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Brill Online

    7) Lubna of Cordoba (d. 984).
    Originally a slave-girl of Spanish origin, Lubna rose to become one of the most important figures in the Umayyad palace in Cordoba. She was the palace secretary of the caliphs ‘Abd al-Rahmān III (d. 961) and his son al-Hakam b. ‘Abd al-Rahmān (d. 976). She was also a skilled mathematician and presided over the royal library, which consisted of over 500,000 books. According to the famous Andalusi scholar Ibn Bashkuwāl: “She excelled in writing, grammar, and poetry. Her knowledge of mathematics was also immense and she was proficient in other sciences as well. There were none in the Umayyad palace as noble as her.” [Ibn Bashkuwal, Kitab al-Sila (Cairo, 2008), Vol. 2: 324].

    8) Al-Malika al-Ḥurra Arwa al-Sulayhi (d. 1138).
    Her full name was Arwa b. Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Sulayḥī. From 1067 to 1138, she ruled as the queen of Yemen in her own right. She was an Ismā‘īlī Shi’i and was well-versed in various religious sciences, Qur’an, hadith, as well as poetry and history. Chroniclers describe her as being incredibly intelligent. The fact that she ruled in her own right as queen is underscored by the fact that her name was mentioned in the khutba (Friday sermon) directly after the name of the Fatimid caliph, al-Mustanṣir-billah. Arwa was given the highest rank in the Yemeni Fatimid religious hierarchy (that of ḥujja) by the Fatimid caliph al-Mustanṣir. She was the first woman in the history of Islam to be given such an illustrious title and to have such authority in the religious hierarchy. It was also during her reign that Ismā’īlī missionaries were sent to western India, where a major Ismā’īlī center was established at Gujrat (which continues to be a stronghold of the Ismā’īlī Bohra faith). She played a major role in the Fatimid schism of 1094, throwing her support behind al-Musta‘lī (and later al-Tayyib), and it is a mark of her immense influence that the lands under her rule—Yemen and parts of India—would follow her in this. Indeed, Yemen became the stronghold of the Tayyibī Ismā’īlī movement. Her reign was marked by various construction projects and improvement of Yemen’s infrastructure, as well as its increased integration with the rest of the Muslim world. She was perhaps the single, most important example of an independent queen in Muslim history. For more on Queen Arwa, see Farhad Daftary, “Sayyida Hurra: The Isma’ili Sulayhid Queen of Yemen” (http://www.iis.ac.uk/research/academ...id-queen-yemen)

    9) Fāṭima b. Abī al-Qāsim ‘Abd al-Rahmān b. Muhammad b. Ghālib al-Ansārī al-Sharrāṭ (d. 1216)
    She was one of the most learned women in al-Andalus during the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Her engagement with works of legal theory, jurisprudence as well as mysticism makes it apparent that she was familiar with a wide variety of Islamic sciences. She was the mother of the eminent Andalusi scholar Abū al-Qāsim b. al-Ṭaylasān. According to the Andalusi scholar Abū Ja’far al-Gharnāṭī (d. 1309): “She memorized enumerable books under the guidance of her father, including al-Makki’s Tanbīh, al-Qudā‘ī’s al-Shihāb, Ibn ‘Ubayd al-Ṭulayṭalī’s Mukhtasar, all three of which she knew by heart. She also memorized the Qur’an under the guidance of Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Madwarī, the great ascetic who is considered from among the abdāl [an important rank within Sufism]. With her father, she also learned Sahīh Muslim, Ibn Hishām’s Sīra [of the Prophet], al-Mubarrad’s al-Kāmil, al-Baghdādī’s Nawādir, and other works.”[Abū Ja’far Ahmad b. Ibrāhīm al-Gharnāṭī, Kitāb Silla al-Silla (Beirut, 2008), p. 460].

    10) Razia Sultan (d. 1240).
    She was the ruler of the Sultanate of Delhi between 1236 and 1240. Her father, Shams al-Dīn Iltutmish (r. 1210-1236) had Razia designated as his heir before his death, therefore making her the official ruler of the sultanate. She was a fairly effective ruler and was a major patron of learning, establishing schools and libraries across northern India. In all matters, she behaved like a sultan, leading armies, sitting upon the throne and even adopting the same royal dress as her father; to the outrage of many, she also insisted on appearing unveiled in public. In 1240, she was overthrown in a rebellion by the nobles of the kingdom, who—among other things—were strongly opposed to being led by a woman and killed. For more about Razia Sultan, see Rafiq Zakaria’s Razia: Queen of India (1966).

    11) Shajar al-Durr (d. 1257).
    She was the widow of the Ayyubid sultan al-Sālih Ayyūb (r. 1240-1249) and played an important role in Egyptian politics following her husband’s death. She was most likely of Turkic origin, beginning her life as a slave-girl in the Ayyubid court. By 1250, she had become the ruler (or sultana) of Egypt; her reign is generally considered to mark the beginning of the Mamluk sultanate of Egypt. She was heavily involved in the preparations in defending northern Egypt against the Seventh Crusade, defeating the crusaders (although she herself was not present) at the Battle of Fariskur (1250) and taking King Louis IX of France captive. She was the effective head-of-state and her name was mentioned in the khutba and coins minted in her name with the title “Malikat al-Muslimīn” (Queen of the Muslims). However, it was difficult for people to accept being ruled solely by a woman and in August 1250, as a result of various pressures, she married her commander-in-chief ‘Izz al-Dīn Aybak, who became the first Mamluk sultan. Despite the marriage, Shajar al-Durr maintained her power and was even able to ensure that documents of state bore the names of both sovereigns, rather than only that of Aybak. However, in 1257 she decided to eliminate her husband (for political reasons in addition to discovering that he was engaged in an affair with another woman or sought to marry an additional wife [the sources are obscure on this issue]) and assassinated him in bath. When this was discovered, she was deposed and brutally killed, bringing her reign to a tragic close. For more on Shajar al-Durr, see Amalia Levanoni, “Shajar al-Durr: A Case of Female Sultanate in Medieval Islam,” World History Connected 7 (2010) http://worldhistoryconnected.press.i.../levanoni.html

    12) Zaynab b. Ahmad (d. 1339).
    She was perhaps one of the most eminent Islamic scholars of the fourteenth century. Zaynab belonged to the Ḥanbalī school of jurisprudence and resided in Damascus. She had acquired a number of ijazas (diplomas or certifications) in various fields, most notably hadith. In the early fourteenth century, she taught such books as Sahīh Bukhāri, Sahīh Muslim, the Muwatta’ of Mālik b. Anas, the Shamā’il of al-Tirmidhī, and al-Tahāwī’s Sharḥ Ma‘ānī al-Athār. Among her students was the North African traveler Ibn Battūta (d. 1369), Tāj al-Dīn al-Subkī (d. 1355), al-Dhahabī (d. 1348), and her name appears in several dozen of the isnads of Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalānī (d. 1448). It is important to point out that Zaynab was only one of hundreds of female scholars of hadith during the medieval period in the Muslim world. For more on the role of Muslim women in hadith scholarship, read Asma Sayeed’s Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam (2013) and Mohammad Akram Nadwi’s Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars of Islam (2007).

    13) Sayyida al-Hurra (d. 1542).
    Sayyida al-Hurra was originally from the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, but was forced to flee following its conquest by Christian Spain in 1492. Like many Andalusi Muslims, she settled in Morocco and, along with her husband, fortified and ruled the town of Tetouan on the northern coast. Following the death of her husband in 1515, she became the sole ruler of the city, which grew in strength and population as more Andalusi Muslims were driven out of Iberia in the early sixteenth century. For various reasons, including the desire to avenge the destruction of al-Andalus and the forcible conversion to Christianity of Muslims there, she turned to piracy and transformed Tetouan into a major base of naval operations against Spain and Portugal. She allied with the famous Ottoman corsair-turned-admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa in Algiers and together they dealt a serious blow to Spanish imperial power in North Africa and the Western Mediterranean. It is important to indicate that Muslim sources are generally quite silent about Sayyida al-Hurra, and most of our information about her is derived from Spanish and Portuguese documents, who emphasize her effectiveness as a pirate queen and the destructiveness of the raids that she wrought against the southern shores of the Iberian peninsula. She later married the Moroccan Wattasid Sultan, Abūl Abbās Muhammad (r. 1526-1545). For a good look at her life, see Fatima Mernissi’s The Forgotten Queens of Islam (1997), where the author discusses al-Sayyida al-Hurra as well as other important female figures in the medieval Muslim world. For those who know Spanish, see Rodolfo Grim Grimau’s “Sayyida al-Hurra, Mujer Marroqui de Origen Andalusi,” Anaquel de Estudios Arabes (2000): 311-320. This is also a great summary article about her life: http://pictorial.jezebel.com/sayyida...ate-1685524517

    14) Parī Khān Khānum (d. 1578).
    A Safavid princess and daughter of Shah Tahmasp I (r. 1524-1576) by a Circassian mother, she was one of the most influential Iranian women in the sixteenth century. She was renowned as an educated woman and was well-versed in traditional Islamic sciences, such as jurisprudence. She was also known to be an excellent poet. Parī Khān Khānum was instrumental in securing the succession of her brother Ismā‘īl II to the Safavid throne. However, during Ismā‘īl’s short reign, her influence waned. During the reign of Ismā‘īl’s successor, Mohammad Khodabanda, she was killed because she was seen to wield too much influence and power. For more, see Shohreh Gholsorkhi’s “Pari Khan Khanum: A Masterful Safavid Princess,” Iranian Studies 28 (1995): 143-156.

    15) Kösem Sultan (d. 1651).
    Many English-speaking audiences are quite familiar with Roxelana or Hurrem Sultan, the queen-consort of Suleyman I (r. 1520-1566). However, Kösem Sultan seems to be much less known. As the consort (then wife) of Ottoman sultan Ahmed I (r. 1603-1617), the mother of the sultans Murad IV (r. 1623-1640) and Ibrahim (r. 1640-1648), and the grandmother of the sultan Mehmed IV (r. 1648-1687), she wielded immense influence and can be considered to be perhaps the most powerful woman in Ottoman history. Originally a Greek with the name Anastasia, she was enslaved at a young age and brought to the Ottoman palace, where she became the concubine of the sultan Ahmed I. According to a contemporary source, Cristoforo Valier, in 1616, Kösem was the most powerful of the sultan’s associates: “she can do what she wishes with the Sultan and possesses his heart absolutely, nor is anything ever denied to her.” Between 1623 and 1632, she served as regent for her son Murad IV, who took the throne as a minor. Until her assassination in 1651, as a result of court intrigue, she exercised a major influence on Ottoman politics. For more on Kösem Sultan and the institution of the Ottoman imperial harem, see Leslie Peirce’s The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (1993).

    20 other influential women in medieval and early modern Islamic history: https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/20...-muslim-women/

    Anyone wishing to learn more about women in the medieval Muslim world should consult the bibliography I have compiled here:



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