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Where Are The Women Scholars?

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Masha’Allah, there is a strong tradition of Muslim women studying the Deen and teaching it to their sisters in China’s Hui region, where the majority of Chinese Muslims can be found.

YINCHUAN, June 23 (Xinhua) — At a tiny courtyard mosque in China’s most populous Muslim region, Jin Meihua leads other women in prayer and chants.

Every day, the 44-year-old dons a black robe and violet scarf and preaches to dozens of women at the Little White Mosque in northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous region, where most of the country’s Islam-faith Hui ethnic minority live.

Jin has a routine life. “Except attending funerals, I always stay in the mosque, teaching the female Muslims Islamic scriptures.”

She is a female imam or “ahong,” pronounced ah-hung, from the Persian word “akhund” for “the learned.” In China, a female imam is an innovation, despite being rare in Arabic countries.

Jin has 15 students, mostly middle-aged and elderly people. They learn slowly and need two years to grasp “The Holy Qu’ran.”

“Many female Muslims do not have the benefit of a school education. Although they are Muslims, they know nothing about the Qu’ran. I want to teach them the holy scriptures and hope they can be inspired and think independently,” she said.

“Women ahong are the best qualified to do this because they can communicate with the female faithful in ways the male ahongs can’t.”

As early as the late Ming dynasty (around the 17th century), the faithful had set up female Muslim schools around the country. These turned into female mosques operated by women imams in late Qing dynasty (around the 19th century).

The practice of female imams then spread to all the Chinese Muslim societies, said Shui Jingjun, a Henan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences researcher.

In the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), religion was banned. It was revived in the 1980s, increasing the numbers of Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims and Christians, among others. The government’s push for gender equality helped broaden Muslim women’s roles.

However, China’s women imams are not equal with the male prayer leaders. They do not lead salat — the five daily prayers considered among the most important Muslim obligations. The prayers are instead piped via loudspeakers into the female mosques from the nearby male ones.

Still, the female imams guide others in worship and are the primary spiritual leaders for the women in their communities. In the female mosque, the female Muslims can learn the Qu’ran and the Islamic doctrines, as well as the Arabic language.

“The appearance of female mosque and female imams has met the female Muslims’ demand for religious knowledge and promoted harmony in the Muslim society,” said Hei Fuli, vice chairman of the Islamic Association of Ningxia. “The Arabic teachings have also enriched their lives.”

Currently, Ningxia has more than 80 female imams. There are more than 3,600 registered mosques and 6,000 ahongs in the region, he said.

Unlike most of her classmates who went to the coastal areas as translators, Zhao Dongmei, 21, a graduate from the Tongxin County Arab Language School in 2005, chose to be a female imam in Yuanzhou District, Guyuan City. Here, nearly half of the population is Muslim.

The timid girl with a mauve scarf and a pair of glasses, received her imam certificate issued by the local Islamic association before graduation. She became a female imam in the female mosque a month after marriage.

“I teach 10 young girls Arabic and Islamic scriptures. They all come from the countryside,” Zhao said, adding, “They can further their studies, be translators or spread what they have learned in their villages.”

Sheikh Yahya Ibrahim discusses the role of women in the history of Islamic scholarship, and reminds us of the need for similar women today. May Allah strengthen the women of this Ummah and increase us in knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of the Deen, ameen!

Where Are the Women Scholars? by Yahya Ibrahim
[Audio:http://www.idealmuslimah.com/images/stories/audio/womenscholars%20-%20idealmuslimah.com.mp3]

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

41 Comments

41 Comments

  1. greekmuslimgirl

    July 11, 2008 at 5:18 AM

    “Except attending funerals, I always stay in the mosque, teaching the female Muslims Islamic scriptures.”

    I wonder how they balance their personal and Islamic work life. Very interesting nonetheless!

  2. ibn fellah

    July 11, 2008 at 6:00 AM

    You should definitely read Shaykh Dr. Akram Nadwi’s work on female hadith scholars. The muqadimah of his multi-volume work has been translated into english. It provides a great insight.

  3. Ibn Masood

    July 11, 2008 at 11:51 AM

    Assalamualaikum

    JazakAllahu khair for the post lol… I always thought about marrying a Chinese sister… but I didn’t know they were THAT amazing in their deen!

    Allahuakbar!

    lol.

  4. Ahmad AlFarsi

    July 11, 2008 at 12:26 PM

    JazakAllahu khair for the post lol… I always thought about marrying a Chinese sister… but I didn’t know they were THAT amazing in their deen!

    MashaAllah, with excellent female scholarship, I too am contemplating marrying a Chinese sister, inshaAllah. (aside: my wife doesn’t read MM much)

  5. OM

    July 11, 2008 at 12:26 PM

    I dunno…I feel sorry for these guys because the Chinese government polices everything they do very rigorously, especially their religion.

  6. Hassan

    July 11, 2008 at 12:33 PM

    Ahmad AlFarsi (Author) said:

    MashaAllah, with excellent female scholarship, I too am contemplating marrying a Chinese sister, inshaAllah. (aside: my wife doesn’t read MM much)

    Also chineese people know martial arts, so your chineese wife can defend you against your first wife.

  7. Ahmad AlFarsi

    July 11, 2008 at 12:35 PM

    lol :)

    • Yemencutie1

      March 14, 2012 at 5:31 PM

      ditto

  8. UmA

    July 11, 2008 at 12:58 PM

    And the bonsai tree means?

  9. nasafi

    July 11, 2008 at 4:41 PM

    salam alikum

    are they chinese muslimahs or Uzbek muslimahs from eastern turkisten, an islamic nation that has been under chinese occupation.

  10. amad

    July 11, 2008 at 5:35 PM

    While China is busy destroying mosques that don’t support Olympics!

    News link

  11. nasafi

    July 12, 2008 at 12:33 AM

    brother amad ,

    just want remind everyone including myself first that we should use the term Masjid and not Mosques since this is a term that the europeans used in the times when they were fighting the uthmani empire. they got the name Mosque from mosquito and they wanted to crush us etc :)

    • Dan Africa

      October 22, 2010 at 11:34 AM

      What is your Dalil, InshaAllah refrrain from statements that you cannot prove.

  12. Ahmad AlFarsi

    July 12, 2008 at 1:47 AM

    Salam nasafi,

    Allahu a’lam, what you mentioned about the word mosque deriving from the word mosquito is more than likely a myth. It seems the word mosque is actually derived directly from the word masjid, or more likely, masgid (from some dialects of spoken Arabic).

    See the etymology of mosque below:
    http://www.takeourword.com/TOW175/page2.html

  13. anon

    July 12, 2008 at 2:47 AM

    What Ahmad said is correct. See the link below for more info

    http://www.islamtoday.com/show_detail_section.cfm?q_id=676&main_cat_id=20

  14. Nirgaz

    July 12, 2008 at 2:55 AM

    When my sons get old enough, Insh’Allah we will have to go looking for some Chinese sisters:)

    That is awsome to see that established and what a beautiful traditiion they are carrying on!

  15. Besim

    July 12, 2008 at 11:40 AM

    The tradition of women scholars that began with Ummul Mumineen A’ishah is still found in many places although it is nowhere near the level it used to be, much of it has to do with colonial influence (pre-women’s lib) that destroyed much.

    As for the larger English-speaking institutes SunniPath has 3 current full-time lady teachers: Ustadha Hedaya Hartford, Ustadha Noura Shamma, and Ustadha Zaynab Ansari

    -Edited: borderline advertisement moderated

  16. khawla

    July 12, 2008 at 2:21 PM

    May Allah bless my husband. His wife is half Chinese.

    Anyway, this post reminded me of a Chinese lady scholar who visited our community in Texas not so long ago. She’s also of the Hui people. MashaAllah, she gave us a beautiful program lecture. Surprisingly when asked how she decided to come visit the US. She said that, the Government of US invited and sponsored her entire trip. Infact, Texas was the 29th state she’d traveled.

  17. Yusuf Smith

    July 12, 2008 at 4:47 PM

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    As for the mosque/mosquito “connection”: this is a really bizarre connection. The word mosque is derived from the Spanish mezquita which is obviously derived from masjid (especially when you consider that a jeem or J is pronounced like a hard G in some Arab countries).

    The Hui are not Uighur; they are Chinese-speaking Muslims who are of partly Chinese and partly other (Turkish, Persian, Arab) descent. The Uighurs do not speak Chinese as a first language; their language is similar to Uzbek and Kyrgyz, and to Turkish.

    Also, someone joked about taking a Chinese sister as a second wife; this is not really funny, particularly if your wife actually reads it. A while back one of the sister bloggers (UZ or Aaminah H, I think) did a long blog post about men who joke about this or threaten to take a number 2, and women don’t appreciate the joke; it makes them feel insecure in their marriage.

  18. Hassan

    July 12, 2008 at 8:11 PM

    Yusuf Smith said:

    Also, someone joked about taking a Chinese sister as a second wife; this is not really funny, particularly if your wife actually reads it. A while back one of the sister bloggers (UZ or Aaminah H, I think) did a long blog post about men who joke about this or threaten to take a number 2, and women don’t appreciate the joke; it makes them feel insecure in their marriage.

    The mere fact that we can take second wife makes them feel insecure. And how do you know that the brother was not serious?

  19. Hanifah

    July 12, 2008 at 9:24 PM

    I wish we had an all women mosque here in the U.S, I woud be there every day too. What a wonderful idea.

  20. nasafi

    July 12, 2008 at 11:08 PM

    brother anon, yusef smith, and ahmad al farsi , thanks for clearing up my errors.

    MAy Allah swt reward you guys

  21. Ahmad AlFarsi

    July 12, 2008 at 11:50 PM

    I think second wife jokes are very funny, considering it is perfectly permissible… while I acknowledge that most (all?) sisters find such jokes incredibly tactless and unfunny.

    And inshaAllah, I do seriously hope to take a second wife one day in the distant future (10+ years), and I’m not joking… and by the way, my current wife is absolutely the best wife I could ask for, may Allah reward her… my desire to take a second has nothing to do with my first.

  22. AnonyMouse

    July 13, 2008 at 12:59 AM

    Second wife jokes are annoying, although I must admit that they are occasionally funny. I don’t find anything particularly threatening about it, although those with a strong sense of ghayrah towards their husbands or insecurities might – which is reason enough to NOT make such jokes in the wife’s presence.

    Hey, how did this post go from our female scholars to second wives?!

  23. H. Ahmed

    July 13, 2008 at 3:31 AM

    I wonder the same thing Anonymouse (about the thread turning into a discussion on 2nd wives).

    Anyways, a book i highly recommend on Early Islam in China is:

    Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light by Professor Sachiko Murata

    (Please dont let the ‘sufi’ in the title deter those of you who arent so sufi-friendly :) ).

    Its a great book i studied with the author back in my undergrad days of religious studies – it includes a great overview of Islam in early China, as well as the author’s translation of a couple of the earliest primary Islamic texts from China!

  24. moon

    July 13, 2008 at 4:52 AM

    This attitude never fails to shock me, most and i mean MOST of you brothers joke about gettiing a second wife like your choosing another new toy, i think its about time you remembered this is someones life you are playing with and it deserves the same amount of thought and if not more than your first marriage.

    Yes how did this post get onto this subject? Just goes to show it is treated in jest! This post is tryign to show you how amazing these sisters are and you have so quickly belitted that.

  25. Hassan

    July 13, 2008 at 10:46 AM

    AnonyMouse (Author) said:
    although those with a strong sense of ghayrah towards their husbands or insecurities might – which is reason enough to NOT make such jokes in the wife’s presence.

    I guess then we need to stop joking and start getting married to second wife. I am sure first wife ghayrah atleast does not stop from that.

  26. Amad

    July 13, 2008 at 10:52 AM

    I remember one Shaykh telling me that those who joke and brag about second wives most usually don’t have the intention OR don’t actually have the guts/perseverance/etc to do it.

    So, I have taken heed, you won’t catch me doing so :)

  27. Hassan

    July 13, 2008 at 11:32 AM

    Amad (Author) said:

    I remember one Shaykh telling me that those who joke and brag about second wives most usually don’t have the intention OR don’t actually have the guts/perseverance/etc to do it.

    So, I have taken heed, you won’t catch me doing so :)

    Interesting, so first step of getting second wife is to stop talking about it.. very interesting, would start it now!

  28. Umm Reem

    July 13, 2008 at 4:49 PM

    It is interesting how me and Umm Sarah (and Sh. Waleed through Umm Sarah) were just recently talking back and forth about female scholars in Saudi. I was amazed to find out how many Muslim sisters graduate in Sharee’ah there. But then either they get married or get busy with their children.
    Regardless there is still a large number of sisters spreading knowledge to others. Umm Sarah herself is a student of one.
    In fact, Sh. Waleed, sometime ago, was trying to get his ijaazah from a famous female scholar (I will have to go back to my emails to find her name) but ended up going to a male scholar.
    So it was nice to know that they are there but we just don’t get to hear about them often.

  29. ibn abbas

    July 13, 2008 at 5:00 PM

    salaam, you guys are really making us(single men) depressed by talking about 2nd wife. Have sum mercy on us…

  30. Hassan

    July 13, 2008 at 6:58 PM

    ibn abbas said:

    salaam, you guys are really making us(single men) depressed by talking about 2nd wife. Have sum mercy on us…

    Aim high (4), you would get one insha’Allah atleast. And you know first step to get 2nd wife, is to get first wife. So we are just one step ahead of you.

  31. bint Ashfaq

    July 13, 2008 at 7:16 PM

    @ Hassan lol and kinda sad! : )

    *disappears before she gets grilled*

    Sorry for the sidetrack Anonymouse bwt great post masha’Allah…

    I think i may travel to China sometime insha’Allah to see what all the fuss about.

  32. Hannah

    July 15, 2008 at 12:03 AM

    has anyone heard of the weagers? i think im spelling that wong.

  33. Hannah

    July 15, 2008 at 12:12 AM

    Uighurs! thats how you spell it. This part 1 of a REALLY interesting documentary. It’s really short for a documentary but it reveals a great deal about the situation of the chinese muslims. It’s not a new video, but still has alot of interesting realities. PLEASE WATCH inshaAllah Khair.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBnv-bKUbe8

  34. Yus from the Nati

    July 15, 2008 at 12:00 PM

    Subhan’Allah…come to Columbus, OH

    You’ll see masjids pushing out Somali-sister hafizas like crack masha’Allah!

  35. Yafiah

    July 24, 2008 at 2:27 PM

    It is true that Chinese Muslims suffer under the regime as mentioned above but nevertheless this story of the Ahung is very heartening. Alhamdulillah!

  36. Idrus Fareez

    August 12, 2008 at 7:18 AM

    Assalamualaikum Warahmatullah

    Actually in south-east Asia especially in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, there are lots of Muslim women who teach Islam to the public, whether at the mosque or private homes. While they teach mostly other women, many of them are accustomed to attending public forums where they address both sexes. In the madrasahs, women teachers are a common sight.

    Just go to Malaysia and ask about Dr Sharifah Hayaati Syed Ismail, Ustazah Salbiah Umar or Ustazah Norbahyah Mahmood. Malaysian Muslims who make it a habit to watch the weekly Forum Perdana Ehwal Islam programme on state television would know who they are. In Singapore, the Ustazahs Habsah Senin, Kamariah Abdul Halim and Siti Rahmah are among the well-known female figures.

    If a female Muslim scholar is a rarity now in the Arab Middle East, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh or Africa, the opposite is true in the Malay south-east asia. The Ustazah in this part of the world is a common sight and she has great deference, which is given to her by both men and women.

    As a Singaporean Muslim, what is amazing about this story to me is therefore never about China having female ahungs, but rather at the fact that they are doing marvelously in preserving Islam in the community and working to ensure its survival in the coming generations, insha allah. Not only are they a tiny minority constantly exposed to the habits and traits of the vastly non-Muslim majority but they are also living within a communist state which denies the very existence of God. To continue living Islam and to manage imparting Islam to the next generation while facing these challenges, now that’s amazing.

  37. Bint

    November 13, 2008 at 2:42 AM

    well said, br. Amad

    Yes, I agree about the guys that joke about second wife rarely end up taking second wives. That is why I let my husband joke al he wants. I seriously actually helped him find a second wife but the sister declined. and then he definitlely doesnt have guts to get a second wife.

    most importantly…he cannot afford it like a lot of men.

  38. Doohinky

    April 11, 2010 at 11:54 PM

    @Bint – are u implying that marriages are dont only because of financial ability ?

    • Sayf

      April 12, 2010 at 4:11 PM

      If you get a reply after a 1.5 year comment I’m gonna lol.

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