Women Scholars


Women Scholars

Women Scholars

Q. In conducting some research on the role of sisters in Islam I am desperately short of information regarding sisters who were leaders in various of the Islamic sciences, throughout the history of Islam. The obvious and common examples are the Sahabiat(ra), but I know that our history was not bereft of contributions from sisters in this regard. Quite the contrary in fact.

I am aware that scholars like Imam Malik(ra) and Imam Suyuti(ra) both had female teachers, but have no details on them.

I would be most grateful and appreciative if those of you with the requisite knowledge could fill this void for me.

I need to know:

-the names and biographies of such sisters.

-what their speciality was (e.g. scholar, jurist, exegete, etc.)?

-what other roles did they occupy (e.g. were they mothers as well as scholars- this will help show that sisters can be more than just wives/mothers [without diminishing the magnitude of these roles too])?

-who were they taught by / who did they teach?

-what works did they author?

-are any of these works extant?

-what were their known achievements in their fields of expertise?

-what is the source you are using to provide me with such information?

-why is this information not widely available/known today?

-why are such roles not emphasised in our times? And if they are then why does it seem that the number of sisters versus brothers who are of expertise in these fields is disproportionate to the past?

Jazakallahkhair in advance to any who can assist. Please know that this research is for the benefit of the Ummah, and not to denigrate it in any way.

A. Al-hamdu lillah for the precision of this long overdue research. If scholarly Muslim sisters have one task today it is to educate Muslims and non-Muslims about the true place of woman in Islam, which its enemies have completely misrepresented in the media and elsewhere. Note from the final disclaimer how suspicious we have become that our Muslim history be misused toward such misrepresentation.

I cannot hope to fill the blanks opened up by all these questions, nor do I think that the original questioner had me in mind as their ghost writer or researcher. I will give a couple of pointers and paste some relevant material I had saved from previous net discussions. The rest will be up to the researcher with my prayers for success, and Allah is the Granter of success!

I recommend that you get in touch with the hadith history specialist Dr. Mustafa Azami, who insha Allah will take a special interest in this project as he told me years ago that he was hoping someone would undertake it.

Center for Hadith Analysis Professor M. M. Al-Azami, Director 805 29th Street #552N, Boulder, CO 80303, USA phone/fax 303-938-1211

You might also get in touch with Dr. Aisha Bewley the celebrated translator of Maliki classics.

On women scholars of hadith: See the excellent appendix bearing that title at the conclusion of “Hadith Literature,” by Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi, the Islamic Texts Society, 1993.

On women scholars in general: Aisha Bewley once wrote the following in a discussion on the History of Islam list:

A’isha was accepted as a source of legal knowledge. There is a recorded instance of her contradicting Abu Hurayra on one issue and Ibn ‘Abbas on another and her view is accepted for theirs. In another case, she asked her client to write out a Qur’an for her and corrected him when he reached a verse about the middle prayer. When people argued with her about the ‘idda, she interpreted a verse of Qur’an. (Both instances showing her command of the Qur’an) Her command of Islamic law was such that the oldest Companions consulted her. She gave fatwas in the khalifates of Umar and Uthman and until her death. She also had knowledge of medicine and poetry.

The role of women in Islam in all areas of knowledge is quite extensive:

Umm Waraqa collected and recited the Qur’an and may have assisted ‘Umar in assembling the text.

‘Amra bint ‘Abdu’r-Rahman was one of most prominent women of second generation. She was one of those who gave legal opinions in Madina after the Companions. Her opinion overrode the views of other authorities. She is the first authority for three legal issues dealing with the prohibition against digging up graves, the ban on selling unripe fruit, and the effect of crop damage on the sale of agricultural produce. In one case, she reversed the decision of her nephew to cut off the hand of a man who stole some iron rings. Her authority was accepted on matters such as business transactions and punishments (hudud). Imam Malik takes her as a legal precedent for details on the hajj.

Nafisa bint al-Hasan (d. 208/824) taught hadith to Imam ash-Shafi’i.

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