By Fiza Fatima Asar
In the last two parts of the Ramaḍān Challenge series, during the last ‘ashra of Ramaḍān which becomes naturally a time for more contemplation and closeness to Allāh , I want to revert to my original theme of education, intellect and belief in Allāh . I will be focusing on scholarly women from various eras of Muslim history and will try to demonstrate the emphasis laid on education throughout this time.
The women in this article are prolific writers, aḥadīth scholars and Islamic jurists, and each one of them imparted education for the betterment of their societies. Each of their stories demonstrates how women and men have been equally regarded and revered for their intellect and passion for sharing their knowledge in the way of Allāh .
Women from across the Muslim world have historically been prolific writers and poets and have used this power of the pen to make a strong contribution to society. Nana Asma’u, daughter of the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate, a princess, poet and teacher remains a revered figure in Nigeria to this day.
Highly knowledgeable in aḥadīth, classical Arabic, and Qurʾānic studies, she was a strong proponent for women’s rights in the light of Islamic law and traditions. She debated with scholars sent by foreign princes, advised her brother in governmental affairs, and started an educational project where her cadre of female teachers went home to home across the Caliphate to train women in Islamic studies. Her 40 years of experience has left over 60 pieces of literary work behind.
Maryam Jameelah, from modern history, is yet another example. A convert from Judaism, she corresponded with Maulana Mawdudi to quench her thirst for divine understanding. Mawdudi invited her to Pakistan after her reversion to Islam where she is still married and settled. A prolific writer, Jameelah wrote over 30 books on Islamic culture and history. The collection of her work includes correspondence, manuscripts, speeches, published articles and artwork. It also has videos included in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library collection of the New York Public Library.
Revered ḥadīth scholars
“Women set up such high standards of honesty in the narration of ḥadīth that in the book Meezan Al Aitadal of ‘Ilm Jarah o Tadeel, the compiler Al-Zahbi praises the contribution of these women in these words, ‘till today, I have not come across a woman whose narration was suspicious or rejected,’” says Farhat Hashmi in her article on Contributions of Women.
Women have been exceptional authorities on aḥadīth and their scholarly knowledge on its sciences has been immensely acknowledged throughout history.
What is rewarding to read is that these women have come from all segments of society, hence displaying once again that their intellect is the quality that won them respect. For example, Zaynab bint Sulaymān was a princess and daughter of the Governor of Basra and Spain and was given the title of “Mustanadud-Dameshyak” or “A Lady Authorized from Damascus.” On the other hand, Aabidah al-Madaniyah was a slave woman from Madīnah and it is believed that she related 10,000 aḥadīth on the authority of her Madīnahn teachers.
Jurists with authority
There were two leading jurists from the days of early Islam – Umm Darda as Sughra and Ambra bint Abdur-Raḥmān – both of whom had great knowledge of ḥadīth and Qurʾān and were much revered authorities in legal matters. Umm Darda was also a much revered teacher, educating both male and female students (separately) on ḥadīth, fiqh and law, which she taught in Jerusalem and in the great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. One blog quotes her as saying, “’I’ve tried to worship Allāh in every way,’ she wrote, ‘but I’ve never found a better one than sitting around, debating other scholars.’”
Ambra bint Abdur-Raḥmān, a student under ‘Ā’ishah bint Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s wife and an influential aḥadīth transmitter, carried more weight in her opinions than many other authorities. There are records of her reversing decisions by other judges. In fact, she was regarded as the prime authority on legal concerns including that of agriculture.
The gender differences and depicting a struggle between the genders has much of its basis on Western practices and laws and is a very modern construct. If Islam’s essence was understood, and its practicality remained the focus, we would have noticed that throughout history it is common to find Muslim women serving as jurists and legal experts, scholars, and authors of major legal texts.
To read more about each of these exceptional women, follow the links below: