Women Scholars of Hadith

Women Scholars of Hadith   Women Scholars of hadith(Part 1)

By Dr. Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi


History records few scholarly enterprises, at least before modern times, in which women have played an important and active role side by side with men. The science of hadith forms an outstanding exception in this respect. Islam, as a religion which (unlike Christianity) refused to attribute gender to the Godhead,1 and never appointed a male priestly elite to serve as an intermediary between creature and Creator, started life with the assurance that while men and women are equipped by nature for complementary rather than identical roles, no spiritual superiority inheres in the masculine principle.2 As a result, the Muslim community was happy to entrust matters of equal worth in God’s sight to both men and women. Only this can explain why, uniquely among the classical Western religions, Islam produced a large number of outstanding female scholars, on whose testimony and sound judgment much of the edifice of Islam depends.

In the Early Days of Islam

Since Islam’s earliest days, women took a prominent part in the preservation and cultivation of hadith, and this function continued down the centuries. At every period in Muslim history, there lived numerous eminent women scholars of hadith, treated by their brethren with reverence and respect. Entries on very large numbers of them are to be found in the biographical dictionaries.

During the lifetime of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), many women were not only the instance for the evolution of many hadiths, but were also their transmitters to their sisters and brothers in faith.3 After the Prophet’s death, many women Companions, particularly his wives, were looked upon as vital custodians of knowledge, and were approached for instruction by the other Companions, to whom they readily dispensed the rich store which they had gathered in the Prophet’s company. The names of Hafsah, Umm Habibah, Maymunah, Umm Salamah, and `A’ishah, are familiar to every student of hadith as being among its earliest and most distinguished transmitters.4 In particular, `A’ishah is one of the most important figures in the whole history of hadith literature—not only as one of the earliest reporters of the largest number of hadith, but also as one of their most careful interpreters.

In the Period of the Successors

In the period of the Successors, too, women held important positions as scholars of hadith. Hafsah, the daughter of Ibn Sirin,5 Umm Ad-Darda’ the Younger (d. AH 81/700 CE), and `Amrah bint `Abdur-Rahman, are only a few of the key women scholars of hadith of this period. Umm Ad-Darda’ was held by Iyas ibn Mu`awiyah, an important scholar of hadith of the time and a judge of undisputed ability and merit, to be superior to all the other hadith scholars of the period, including the celebrated masters of hadith like Al-Hasan Al-Basri and Ibn Sirin.6 `Amrah was considered a great authority on traditions related by `A’ishah. Among her students, Abu Bakr ibn Hazm, the celebrated judge of Madinah, was ordered by the caliph `Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz to write down all the traditions known on her authority.7

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