The Muslim Woman and her Ownself [Must Read for Sisters]

Islam encourages the Muslims to stand out among people, readily distinguishable by their dress, appearance and behaviour, so that they will be a good example, worthy of the great message that they bring to humanity.

According to the hadith narrated by the great Sahabi Ibn al-Hanzaliyyah, the Prophet (PBUH) told his Companions, when they were travelling to meet some brothers in faith:

“You are going to visit your brothers, so repair your saddles and make sure that you are dressed well, so that you will stand out among people like an adornment, for Allah (SWT) does not love ugliness.”[1]

The Prophet (PBUH) considered an unkempt and careless appearance, and scruffy clothes and furnishings, to be forms of ugliness, which is hated and forbidden by Islam.

Islam encourages the Muslims in general to stand out among the people; the Muslim woman, in particular, is encouraged to be distinct from other people in her appearance, because this reflects well on her, and on her husband, family and children.

The Muslim woman does not neglect her appearance, no matter how busy she is with her domestic chores and the duties of motherhood. She is keen to look good, without going to extremes, because a good appearance is an indication of how well she understands herself, her Islamic identity, and her mission in life. The outward appearance of a woman cannot be separated from her inner nature: a neat, tidy and clean exterior reflects a noble and decent inner character, both of which go to make up the character of the true Muslim woman.

The smart Muslim woman is one who strikes a balance between her external appearance and internal nature. She understands that she is composed of a body, a mind and a soul, and gives each the attention it deserves, without exaggerating in one aspect to the detriment of others. In seeking to strike the right balance, she is following the wise guidance of Islam which encourages her to do so.

How can the Muslim woman achieve this balance between her body, mind and soul?

1 – Her Body

Moderation in food and drink

The Muslim woman takes good care of her body, promoting its good health and strength. She is active, not flabby or overweight. So she does not eat to excess; she eats just enough to maintain her health and energy. This is in accordance with the guidance of Allah (SWT) in the Qur’an:

( . . . Eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.) (Qur’an 7:31)

The Prophet (PBUH) also advised moderation in food and drink:

“There is no worse vessel for the son of Adam to fill than his stomach, but if he must fill it, the let him allow one-third for food, one-third for drink, and one-third for air.”[2]

`Umar (RAA) said:

“Beware of filling your stomachs with food and drink, for it is harmful to the body and causes sickness and laziness in performing prayers. Be moderate in both food and drink, for that is healthier for your bodies and furthest removed from extravagance. Allah (SWT) will hate the fat man (one who revels in a life of luxury), and a man will not be condemned until he favours his desires over his religion.”[3]

The Muslim woman also steers clear of drugs and stimulants, especially those which are clearly known to be haram, and she avoids the bad habits that many women have fallen into in societies that have deviated from the guidance of Allah (SWT) and His Messenger, such as staying up late at night to waste time in idle pursuits. She goes to sleep early and gets up early to start the day’s activities with energy and enthusiasm. She does not weaken her energy with late nights and bad habits; she is always active and efficient, so that her household chores do not exhaust her and she can meet her targets.

She understands that a strong believer is more loved by Allah (SWT) than a weak believer, as the Prophet (PBUH) taught, so she always seeks to strengthen her body by means of a healthy lifestyle.

She exercises regularly

The Muslim woman does not forget to maintain her physical fitness and energy by following the healthy practices recommended by Islam. But she is not content only with the natural, healthy diet referred to above: she also follows an organized exercise program, appropriate to her physical condition, weight, age and social status. These exercises give her body agility, beauty, good health, strength and immunity to disease; this will make her more able to carry out her duties, and more fit to fulfil her role in life, whether it be as a wife or mother, young girl or old woman.

Her body and clothes are clean

The Muslim woman who truly follows the teachings of Islam keeps her body and clothes very clean. She bathes frequently, in accordance with the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH), who advised Muslims to take baths, especially on Fridays:

“Have a bath on Fridays and wash your heads, even if you are not in a state of janabah (impurity, e.g. following marital relations), and wear perfume.”[4]“Whoever attends Friday prayer, man or woman, should take a bath (ghusl).”[5]

The Prophet (PBUH) placed such a great emphasis on cleanliness and bathing that some of the Imams considered performing ghusl before Friday prayer to be obligatory (wajib).

Abu Hurayrah (RAA) reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said:

“It is the duty of every Muslim to take a bath (at least) once every seven days, and to wash his head and body.”[6]

Cleanliness is one of the most essential requirements of people, especially women, and one of the clearest indicators of a sound and likeable character. Cleanliness makes a woman more likeable not only to her husband, but also to other women and her relatives.

Imam Ahmad and al-Nisa’i report that Jabir (RAA) said:

“The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) came to visit us, and saw a man who was wearing dirty clothes. He said, `Could this person not find anything with which to wash his clothes?'”

The Prophet (PBUH) hated to see people come out in public wearing dirty clothes when they were able to clean them; he drew attention to the fact that the Muslim should always be clean, smart and pleasing to look at.

This teaching which is directed at men, is directed even more so at women, who are usually thought of as being more clean, the source of joy and tranquillity in the home. There is no doubt that the woman’s deep sense of cleanliness reflects on her home, her husband and her children, because it is by virtue of her concern for cleanliness that they will be clean and tidy.

No researcher, of whatever era or country, can fail to notice that this teaching which encourages cleanliness and bathing, came fifteen hundred years ago, at a time when the world knew next to nothing of such hygienic habits. A thousand years later, the non-Muslim world had still not reached the level of cleanliness that the Muslims had reached.

In her book Min al-riqq ila’l-sayadah, Samihah A. Wirdi says:

“There is no need for us to go back to the time of the Crusades in order to know the level of civilization in Europe at that time. We need go back no further than a few hundred years, to the days of the Ottoman Empire, and compare between the Ottomans and the Europeans to see what level the Ottoman civilization had reached.”In 1624, Prince Brandeboug wrote the following on the invitations to a banquet that he sent to other princes and nobles: Guests are requested not to plunge their hands up to the elbow in the dishes; not to throw food behind them; not to lick their fingers; not to spit on their plates; and not to blow their noses on the edges of the tablecloths.'”

The author adds:

“These words clearly indicate the level of civilization, culture, knowledge and manners among the Europeans. At the same time, in another part of Europe, the situation was not much different. In the palace of the King of England (George I), the ugly smell emanating from the persons of the King and his family overpowered the grandeur of their fine, lace-edged French clothes. This is what was happening in Europe. Meanwhile in Istanbul, the seat of the khilafah, it is well-known that the European ambassadors who were authorized by the Ottoman state be thrown into baths before they could approach the sultan. Sometime around 1730, during the reign of Sultan Ahmad III, when the Ottoman state entered its political and military decline, the wife of the English ambassador in Istanbul, Lady Montague, wrote many letters which were later published, in which she described the level of cleanliness, good manners and high standards among the Muslims. In one of her memoirs she wrote that the Ottoman princess Hafizah had given her a gift of a towel that had been hand-embroidered; she liked it so much that she could not even bear to wipe her mouth with it. The Europeans were particularly astounded by the fact that the Muslims used to wash their hands before and after every meal. It is enough to read the words of the famous English nurse Florence Nightingale, describing English hospitals in the mid-nineteenth century, where she describes how these hospitals were full of squalor, negligence and moral decay, and the wings of these hospitals were full of sick people who could not help answering the call of nature on their beds . . .”[7]

What a great contrast there is between the refined civilization of Islam and other, human civilizations!

She takes care of her mouth and teeth

The intelligent Muslim woman takes care of her mouth, for no-one should ever have to smell an unpleasant odour coming from it. She does this by cleaning her teeth with a siwak, toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash after every meal. She checks her teeth and visits the dentist at least once a year, even if she does not feel any pain, in order to keep her teeth healthy and strong. She consults otolaryngologists (“ear, nose and throat” doctors) if necessary, so that her breath will remain clean and fresh. This is undoubtedly more befitting for a woman.

`A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) used to be very diligent in taking care of her teeth: she never neglected to clean them with a siwak, as Bukhari and Muslim reported from a number of the Sahabah (RAA).

Bukhari reported from `Urwah (May Allah be pleased with her) via `Ata’:

“We heard `A’ishah the Mother of the Believers cleaning her teeth in the room . . .”[8]

Muslim also reports from `Urwah (May Allah be pleased with her) via `Ata’:

“We heard her using the siwak . . .”[9]

`A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) said:

“The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) never woke from sleeping at any time of day or night without cleaning his teeth with a siwak before performing wudu'”[10]

The Prophet’s concern for oral hygiene was so great that he said:

“If it were not for the fact that I did not want to overburden my ummah, I would have ordered them to use the siwak before every prayer.”[11]

`A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) was asked what the Prophet (PBUH) used to do first when he came home. She said, “Use siwak.”[12]

It is very strange to see that some Muslim women neglect these matters, which are among the most important elements of a woman’s character, besides being at the very heart of Islam.

They are among the most important elements of a woman’s gentle nature, and they reveal her feminine elegance and beauty. They are also at the heart of Islam because the Prophet (PBUH) urged cleanliness on many occasions, and he detested unpleasant odours and an ugly appearance. He said:

“Whoever eats onions, garlic or leeks should not approach our mosque, because whatever offends the sons of Adam may offend the angels.”[13]

The Prophet (PBUH) banned those who had eaten these pungent vegetables from coming anywhere near the mosque, lest the people and the angels be offended by their bad breath, but these smells pale into insignificance beside the stench of dirty clothes, filthy socks, unwashed bodies and unclean mouths that emanates from some careless and unkempt individuals who offend others in gatherings.

She takes care of her hair

The Prophet (PBUH) also taught Muslims to take care of their hair, and to make it look attractive and beautiful, within the limits of Islamic rulings.

This is reported in the hadith quoted by Abu Dawud from Abu Hurayrah (RAA), who said:

“The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: `Whoever has hair, let him look after it properly.'”[14]

Looking after one’s hair, according to Islamic teaching, involves keeping it clean, combing it, perfuming it, and styling it nicely.

The Prophet (PBUH) did not like people to leave their hair uncombed and unkempt, so that they looked like wild monsters; he likened such ugliness to the appearance of the Shaytan. In al-Muwatta’, Imam Malik reports a hadith with a mursal isnad from `Ata’ ibn Yassar, who said:

“The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) was in the mosque, when a man with unkempt hair and an untidy beard came in. The Prophet (PBUH) pointed to him, as if indicating to him that he should tidy up his hair and beard. The man went and did so, then returned. The Prophet (PBUH) said, `Is this not better than that any one of you should come with unkempt hair, looking like the Shaytan?'”[15]

The Prophet’s likening a man with untidy hair to the Shaytan clearly shows how concerned Islam is with a neat and pleasant appearance, and how opposed it is to scruffiness and ugliness.

The Prophet (PBUH) always took note of people’s appearance, and he never saw a scruffily-dressed man with untidy hair but he criticized him for his self-neglect. Imam Ahmad and al-Nisa’i report that Jabir (RAA) said:

“The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) came to visit us, and he saw an unkempt man whose hair was going in all directions, so he said, `Could he not find anything with which to calm his head?'”[16]

If this is how he Prophet (PBUH) taught men to take care of themselves, then how much more applicable are his teachings to women, for whom beauty and elegance are more befitting, as they are the ones to whom men draw close and seek comfort, tranquillity and happiness in their company! It is obvious to the sensitive Muslim woman that the hair is one of the most important features of a woman’s beauty and attractiveness.

Good Appearance

It is no surprise that the Muslim woman is concerned with her clothes and appearance, without going to extremes or making a wanton display of herself. She presents a pleasing appearance to her husband, children, mahram relatives and other Muslim women, and people feel comfortable with her. She does not put them off with an ugly or untidy appearance and she always checks herself and takes care of herself, in accordance with the teachings of Islam, which asks its followers to look good in ways that are permitted.

In his commentary on the ayah:

( Say: Who has forbidden the beautiful [gifts] of Allah, which He has produced for His servants, and the things, cleans and pure, [which He has provided] for sustenance? . . .) (Qur’an 7:32)

Al-Qurtubi said: “Makhul reported from `A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her): `A group of the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH) were waiting at the door for him, so he prepared to go out to meet them. There was a vessel of water in the house, and he peered into it, smoothing his beard and his hair. (`A’ishah said) I asked him,

“O Messenger of Allah, even you do this?” He said, “Yes, when a man goes out to meet his brothers, let him prepare himself properly, for Allah (SWT) is beautiful and loves beauty.”‘”[17]

The Muslim does all of this in accordance with the Islamic ideal of moderation, avoiding the extremes of either exaggeration or negligence:

( Those who, when they spend, are not extravagant and not niggardly, but hold a just [balance] between those [extremes].) (Qur’an 25:67)

Islam wants its followers, and especially its advocates (da`is), to stand out in gatherings in an attractive fashion, not to appear unsightly or unbearable. Neglecting one’s appearance to the extent of being offensive to one’s companions in the name of asceticism and humility is not part of Islam. The Prophet (PBUH), who was the epitome of asceticism and humility, used to dress in decent clothes and present a pleasant appearance to his family and companions. He regarded dressing well and looking good to be a demonstration of the Blessings of Allah (SWT):

“Allah (SWT) loves to see the signs His gifts on His servant.”[18]

Ibn Sa`d reports in al-Tabaqat (4/346) that Jundub ibn Makith (RAA) said:

“Whenever a delegation came to meet the Messenger of Allah (PBUH), he would wear his best clothes and order his leading Companions to do likewise. I saw the Prophet (PBUH) on the day that the delegation of Kindah came to meet him; he was wearing a Yemeni garment, and Abu Bakr and `Umar were dressed similarly.”

Ibn al-Mubarak, Tabarani, al-Hakim, al-Bayhaqi and others report that `Umar (RAA) said: “I saw the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) ask for a new garment. He put it on, and when it reached his knees he said,

`Praise be to Allah (SWT), Who has given me clothes with which to cover myself and make myself look beautiful in this life.'”[19]

So long as this taking care of one’s outward appearance does not go to extremes, then it is part of the beauty that Allah (SWT) has allowed for His servants and encouraged them to adopt:

( O children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.Say, Who has forbidden the beautiful [gifts] of Allah, which He has produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure, [which He has provided] for sustenance? Say: They are, in the life of this world, for those who believe, [and] purely for them on the Day of Judgement. Thus do We explain the Signs in detail for those who understand.) (Qur’an 7:31-32)

Muslim reports from Ibn Mas`ud (RAA) that the Prophet (PBUH) said:

“No-one who has even an atom’s-weight of pride in his heart will enter Paradise.” A man asked him, “What if a man likes his clothes and shoes to look good?” (Meaning, is this counted as pride?) The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Allah (SWT) is beautiful and loves beauty. Pride means denying the truth and looking down on other people.”[20]

This is the understanding adopted by the Sahabah and those who followed them sincerely. Therefore Imam Abu Hanifah (RAA) always took care to dress well and to ensure that he smelled clean and fresh, and urged others to do likewise. One day he met a man who used to attend his circle, who was dressed in scruffy clothes. He took him to one side and offered him a thousand dirhams with which to smarten himself up. The man told him, “I have money; I do not need this.” Abu Hanifah admonished him:

“Have you not heard the hadith, `Allah (SWT) loves to see the signs of His gifts on His servant’? So you have to change yourself, and not appear offensive to your friend.”

Naturally, those who call people to Allah (SWT) should be better and smarter in appearance than others, so that they will be better able to attract people and make their message reach they hearts.

Indeed they, unlike others, are required to be like this even if they do not go out and meet people, because those who proclaim the word of Allah (SWT) should take care of their appearance and pay attention to the cleanliness of their bodies, clothes, nails and hair. They should do this even if they are in a state of isolation or retreat, in response to the call of the natural inclination of man (fitrah) which the Prophet (PBUH) told us about and outlined its requirements:

“Five things are part of the fitrah: circumcision, removing the pubic hair, plucking hair from the armpits, cutting the nails, and trimming the moustache.”[21]

Taking care of oneself in accordance with this fitrah is something encouraged by Islam and supported by every person of common sense and good taste.

She does not go to extremes of beautification

or make a wanton display of herself Paying attention to one’s appearance should not make a Muslim woman fall into the trap of wanton display (tabarruj) and showing her beauty to anyone other than her husband and mahram relatives. She should not upset the balance which is the basis of all Islamic teaching, for the Muslim woman always aims at moderation in all things, and is on the alert to prevent any one aspect of her life from taking over at the expense of another.

She never forgets that Islam, which encourages her to look attractive within the permitted limits, is also the religion that warns her against going to such extremes that she becomes a slave to her appearance, as the hadith says:

“Wretched is the slave of the dinar, dirham and fancy clothes of velvet and silk! If he is given, he is pleased, and if he is not given, he is displeased.” [22]

Our women today, many of whom have been influenced by the international fashion houses to such an extent that a rich women will not wear an outfit more than once, have fallen into that slavery of which the Prophet (PBUH) warned and, as a result, they are trapped in the misery of that senseless enslavement to excessively luxurious clothing and accessories. Such women have deviated from the purpose for which humanity was created in this world

.One of the worst excesses that many modern Muslim women have fallen into is the habit of showing off expensive outfits at wedding parties, which have become fashion shows where competition is rife and is taken to extremes far beyond the realms of common sense and moderation. This phenomenon becomes clearest when the bride herself wears all her outfits, which may number as many as ten, one after the other: each time she changes, she comes out and shows it off to the other women present, exactly like the fashion models in the West. It does not even occur to the women among whom this habit is common, that there may be women present who are financially unable to buy such outfits, and who may be feeling depressed and jealous, or even hostile towards the bride and her family, and other rich people. Nothing of this sort would happen if brides were more moderate, and just wore one or two outfits at their wedding parties. This is better than that extravagant showing-off which is contradictory to the balanced, moderate spirit of Islam.

No doubt the Muslim woman who has surrounded herself with the teachings of this great religion is spared and protected from such foolish errors, because she has adopted its principles of moderation.

2 – Her Mind

She takes care of her mind by persuing knowledge

The sensitive Muslim woman takes care of her mind just as she takes care of her body, because the former is no less important than the latter. Long ago, the poet Zuhayr ibn Abi Sulma said:

“A man’s tongue is half of him, and the other half is his heart; What is left is nothing more than the image of flesh and blood.”[23]

This means that a person is essentially composed of his heart and his tongue, in other words what he thinks and what he says. Hence the importance of taking care of one’s mind and supplying it with all kinds of beneficial knowledge is quite clear.

The Muslim woman is responsible just as a man is, so she is also required to seek knowledge, whether it is “religious” or “secular”, that will be of benefit to her. When she recites the ayah  . . . But say, `O my Lord! Advance me in knowledge.” (Qur’an 20:114) and hears the hadith, “Seeking knowledge is a duty on every Muslim,”[24 ] she knows that the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah are directed at men and women equally, and that she is also obliged to seek the kinds of knowledge that have been made obligatory for individuals and communities (fard `ayn and fard kifayah) to pursue them from the time that this obligation was made known to the Muslim society.

The Muslim woman understands the high value that has been placed on knowledge since the earliest days of Islam. The women of the Ansar asked the Prophet (PBUH):

“Appoint a special day for us when we can learn from you, for the men have taken all your time and left nothing for us.” He told them, “Your time is in the house of so-and-so [one of the women].” So he came to them at that place and taught them there.”[25]

The Muslim women had a keen desire for knowledge, and they never felt too shy to ask questions about the teachings (ahkam) of Islam, because they were asking about the truth, and ( Allah is not ashamed [to tell you] the truth) (Qur’an 33:53). Many reports illustrate the confidence and maturity with which the early Muslim posed questions to the Prophet (PBUH), this great teacher, seeking to understand their religion more fully. `A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported that Asma’ bint Yazid ibn al-Sakan al-Ansariyyah asked the Prophet (PBUH) about performing ghusl after a period. He said,

“Let one of you (who has finished her period) take her water and purify herself properly, then pour water over herself, then take a piece of cloth that has been perfumed with musk, and clean herself with it.” Asma’ (May Allah be pleased with her) asked, “How should she clean herself?” The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Subhan Allah! You clean yourself with it!” `A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) told her in a whisper, “Wipe away the traces of blood.”

Asma’ also asked him about performing ghusl when one is in a state of janabah. He said,

“You should take your water and purify yourself with it properly, and clean yourself all over, then pour water on your head and rub it so that the water reaches the roots of the hair, then pour water all over yourself.”[26]

`A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) said,

“How good are the women of the Ansar! Shyness did not prevent them from understanding their religion properly.”[27]

Umm Sulaym bint Milhan, the mother of Anas ibn Malik, came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said,

“O Messenger of Allah, Allah (SWT) is not ashamed (to tell) the truth, so tell me, does a woman have to perform ghusl if she has an erotic dream?” The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “Yes, if she sees water (i.e., a discharge).” Umm Salamah covered her face out of shyness, and said, “O Messenger of Allah, could a woman have such a dream?” He said, “Yes, may your right hand be covered with dust, otherwise how could her child resemble her?”[28]

Muslim reports that Umm Sulaym came to the Prophet (PBUH), when `A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) was with him, and when Umm Sulaym asked this question, `A’ishah said,

“O Umm Sulaym, you have exposed women’s secret, may your right hand be rubbed with dust!” The Prophet (PBUH) said to `A’ishah, “Rather your hand should be rubbed with dust; O Umm Sulaym, let a woman perform ghusl if she saw such a dream.”[29]

The women of that unique generation never hesitated to strive to understand their religion; they would put questions directly to the Prophet (PBUH) about whatever happened to them. If they doubted a person’s opinion (fatwa), or were not convinced of it, they would enquire further until they were sure that they understood the matter properly. This is the attitude of the wise and intelligent woman. This was the attitude of Subay`ah bint al-Harith al-Aslamiyyah, the wife of Sa`d ibn Khawlah, who was from Banu `Amir ibn Lu’ayy and had been present at Badr. He died during the Farewell Pilgrimage; she was pregnant, and gave birth shortly after his death. When her nifas ended, she prepared herself to receive offers of marriage. Abu’l-Sanabil ibn Ba`kak (a man from Banu `Abd al-Dar) came to her and said,

“Why do I see you preparing to receive offers of marriage? By Allah (SWT), you will never get married until four months and tens days have passed.” Subay`ah (later) narrated: “When he said this to me, I got dressed and went to see the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) in the evening. I asked him about it, and he told me that my `iddah had ended when I gave birth to my child, and said that I could get married if I wished.”[30]

Subay`ah’s efforts to understand the shar`i ruling precisely represent a blessing and benefit not only for Subay`ah herself, but for all Muslim women until the Day of Judgement. Her hadith was accepted by the majority of earlier and later scholars, above all the four Imams, who said that the `iddah of a widowed woman, if she is pregnant, lasts until she gives birth, even if she were to give birth so soon after her husband’s death that his body had not yet been washed and prepared for burial, and it becomes permissible for her to re-marry.[31] What a great service Subay`ah did to the scholars of the Muslim ummah by seeking to understand the shar`i rulings precisely and tto reach a level of certainty about this issue.

Islam has made the pursuit of knowledge obligatory on women and men alike, as the Prophet (PBUH) said:

“Seeking knowledge is a duty on every Muslim.”[32]

In other words, it is a duty on every person, man or woman, who utters the words of the shahadah, so it comes as no surprise to see Muslim women thirsting for knowledge, devoting themselves to its pursuit. Muslim women of all times and places have understood the importance of seeking beneficial knowledge, and the positive effects this has on their own characters and on their children, families and societies. So they seek knowledge enthusiastically, hoping to learn whatever will benefit them in this world and the next.

What the Muslim woman needs to know

The first thing that the Muslim woman needs to know is how to read the Qur’an properly (with tajwid), and to understand its meaning. Then she should learn something of the sciences of hadith, the sirah of the Prophet (PBUH), and the history of the women of the Sahabah and Tabi`in, who are prominent figures in Islam. She should acquire as much knowledge of fiqh as she needs to ensure that her worship and daily dealings are correct, and she should ensure that she has a sound grasp of the basic principles of her religion.

Then she should direct her attention to her primary specialty in life, which is to take proper care of her house, husband, family and children, for she is the one whom Allah (SWT) has created specially to be a mother and to give tranquillity and happiness to the home. She is the one to whom Islam has given the immense responsibility of raising intelligent and courageous children. Hence there are many proverbs and sayings nowadays which reflect the woman’s influence on the success of her husband and children in their working lives, such as, “Look for the woman,” “Behind every great man is a woman,” and “The one who rocks the cradle with her right hand rocks the world with her left,” etc. No woman can do all of that unless she is open-minded and intelligent, strong of personality and pure of heart. So she is more in need of education, correction and guidance in forming her distinct Islamic personality.

It is unwise for women’s education to be precisely the same as that of men. There are some matters that concern women only, that men cannot deal with; and there are matters that concern men only, that women cannot deal with. There are things for which women were created, and others for which men were created, and each person should do that for which he or she was created, as the Prophet (PBUH) taught.

When the Muslim woman seeks to learn and specialize in some field, she should bear in mind the Islamic teaching regarding her intellectual, psychological and social make-up, so that she will prepare herself to fulfil the basic purpose for which she was created, and will become a productive and constructive member of her family, society and ummah, not an imitation of men, competing with them for work and taking up a position among men, as we see in those societies which do not differentiate between males and females in their educational curricula and employment laws.

Whatever a woman’s academic specialty is, she tries to understand it thoroughly and do her work perfectly, in accordance with the teaching of the Prophet (PBUH):

“Allah (SWT) loves for any of you, when he does something, to do it well.”[33]

Muslim women’s achievements in the field of knowledge

The gates of knowledge are open to the Muslim woman, and she may enter whichever of them she chooses, so long as this does not go against her feminine nature, but develops her mind and enhances her emotional growth and maturity. We find that history is full of prominent examples of remarkable women who sought knowledge and became highly proficient.

Foremost among them is the Mother of the Believers `A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her), who was the primary source of hadith and knowledge of the sunnah, and was the first faqihah in Islam when she was still a young woman no more than nineyears of age.

Imam al-Zuhri said:

“If the knowledge of `A’ishah were to be gathered up and compared to the knowledge of all the other wives of the Prophet (PBUH) and all other women, `A’ishah’s knowledge would be greater.”[34]

How often did the greatest of the Sahabah refer to her, to hear the final word on matters of the fundamentals of Islam and precise meanings of the Qur’an.

Her knowledge and deep understanding were not restricted only to matters of religion; she was equally distinguished in poetry, literature, history and medicine, and other branches of knowledge that were known at that time. The faqih of the Muslims, `Urwah ibn al-Zubayr, was quoted by his son Hisham as saying:

“I have never seen anybody more knowledgeable in fiqh or medicine or poetry than `A’ishah.”[35]

Imam Muslim reports that she heard her nephew al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr (RAA) make a grammatical mistake, when he and his (paternal) cousin were talking in front of her, and she told him off for this mistake. Imam Muslim commented on this incident: “Ibn `Atiq said: `Al-Qasim and I were talking in front of `A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her), and al-Qasim was one who made frequent mistakes in grammar, as his mother was not an Arab. `A’ishah said to him,

“Why do you not speak like this son of my brother? I know where the problem comes from: he was brought up by his mother, and you were brought up by your mother . . .”[36]

Among the reports in which the books of literature speak of the vast knowledge of `A’ishah is that which describes how `A’ishah bint Talhah was present in the circle of Hisham ibn `Abd al-Malik, where the shaykhs of Banu Umayyah were present. They did not mention any point of Arab history, wars and poetry but she did not contribute to the discussion, and no star appeared but she did not name it. Hisham said to her, “As for the first (i.e., knowledge of history etc.), I find nothing strange (in your knowing about it), but where did you get your knowledge about the stars?” She said, “I learnt it from my (maternal) aunt `A’ishah.”[37]`A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) had a curious mind and was always eager to learn. Whenever she heard about something she did not know, she would ask about it until she understood it. Her closeness to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) meant that she was like a vessel full of knowledge.

Imam Bukhari reports from Abu Mulaykah that `A’ishah, the wife of the Prophet (PBUH) never heard anything that she did not know, but she would keep going over it until she understood it. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Whoever is brought to account will be punished.” `A’ishah said: “I said, `But does Allah (SWT) not say ( `Soon his account will be taken by an easy reckoning’) (Qur’an 84:8)” He said, “That refers to al-`ard (when everyone is brought before Allah (SWT) on the Day of Judgement); but whoever is examined in detail is doomed.”[38]

In addition to her great knowledge, `A’ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) was also very eloquent in her speech. When she spoke, she captured the attention of her audience and moved them deeply. This is what made al-Ahnaf ibn Qays say:

“I heard the speeches of Abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman, `Ali and the khulafa’ who came after them, but I never heard any speech more eloquent and beautiful than that of `A’ishah.” * Musa ibn Talhah said: “I never saw anyone more eloquent and pure in speech than `A’ishah.”[39]

Another of these brilliant women were achieved a high level of knowledge was the daughter of Sa`id ibn al-Musayyab, the scholar of his age, who refused to marry his daughter to the khalifah, `Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, and instead married her to one of his righteous students, `Abdullah ibn Wada`ah. `Abdullah went in to his wife, who was one of the most beautiful of people, and one of the most knowledgeable in Qur’an, Sunnah and the rights and duties of marriage. In the morning, `Abdullah got up and was preparing to go out. His wife asked him, “Where are you going?” He said, “To the circle of your father Sa`id ibn al-Musayyab, so that I may learn.” She said, “Sit down; I will teach you what Sa`id knows.” For one month, `Abdullah did not attend Sa`id’s circle beacuse the knowledge that this beautiful young girl had learned from her father (and was passing on to him) was sufficient.

Another of these prominent female scholars was Fatimah, the daughter of the author of Tuhfat al-fuqaha’, `Ala’ al-Din al-Samarqandi (d. 539 AH). She was a faqihah and scholar in her own right: she had learned fiqh from her father and had memorized his book al-Tuhfah. Her father married her to his student `Ala’ al-Din al-Kasani, who was highly distinguished in the fields of al-usul and al-furu’. He wrote a commentary on Tuhfat al-fuqaha’ entitled Bada’i` al-sana’i`, and showed it to his shaykh, who was delighted with it and accepted it as a mahr for his daughter, although he had refused offers of marriage for her from some of the kings of Byzantium.. The fuqaha’ of his time said, “He commentated on his Tuhfah and married his daughter.” Before her marriage, Fatimah used to issue fatwas along with her father, and the fatwas would be written in her handwriting and that of her father. After she married the author of al-Bada’i`, the fatwas would appear in her handwriting and that of her father and her husband. Her husband would make mistakes, and she would correct them.[40]

`A’ishah, the other wives of the Prophet (PBUH), the daughter of Sa`id ibn al-Musayyab, Fatimah al-Samarqandi and other famous women scholars were not something unique or rare among Muslim women. There were innumerable learned women, who studied every branch of knowledge and became prominent in many fields. Ibn Sa`d devoted a chapter of al-Tabaqat to reports of Hadith transmitted by women, in which he mentioned more than seven hundred women who reported Hadith from the Prophet (PBUH), or from the trustworthy narrators among the sahabah; from these women in turn, many prominent scholars and imams also narrated Hadith.

Al-Hafiz ibn `Asakir (d. 571 AH), one of the most reliable narrators of hadith, who was so trustworthy that he was known as hafiz al-ummah, counted eighty-odd women among his shaykhs and teachers.41 If we bear in mind that this scholar never left the eastern part of the Islamic world, and never visited Egypt, North Africa or Andalusia – which were even more crowded with women of knowledge – we will see that the number of learned women he never met was far greater than those from whom he did receive knowledge.

One of the phrases used by scholars in the books of hadith is: “Al-shaykhah al-musnidah al-salihah so-and-so the daughter of so-and-so told me . . .” Among the names mentioned by Imam Bukhari are: Sitt al-Wuzara’ Wazirah bint Muhammad ibn `Umar ibn As`ad ibn al-Munajji al-Tunukhiyyah and Karimah bint Ahmad al-Maruziyyah. They are also mentioned by Ibn Hijr al-`Asqallani in the introduction to Fath al-Bari.[42]

The position of these great women is enhanced by the fact that they were sincere and truthful, far above any hint of suspicion or doubt – a status that many men could not reach. This was noted by Imam al-Hafiz al-Dhahabi in Mizan al-I`tidal, where he states that he found four thousand men about whose reports he had doubts, then follows that observation with the comment: “I have never known of any woman who was accused (of being untrustworthy) or whose hadith was rejected.”[43]

The modern Muslim woman, looking at the magnificent heritage of women in Islamic history, is filled with the desire for knowledge, as these prominent women only became famous and renowned throughout history by virtue of their knowledge. Their minds can only be developed, and their characters can only grow in wisdom, maturity and insight, through the acquisition of useful, beneficial and correct knowledge.

She is not Superstitious

The knowledgeable Muslim woman avoids all the foolish superstitions and nonsensical myths that tend to fill the minds of ignorant and uneducated women. The Muslim woman who understands the teachings of her religion believes that consulting and accepting the words of fortune-tellers, soothsayers, magicians and other purveyors of superstition and myths is one of the major sins that annul the good deeds of the believer and spell doom for him or her in the Hereafter. Muslim reports from some of the wives of the Prophet (PBUH) that he said:

“Whoever goes to a fortune-teller and asks him about anything, his prayers will not be accepted for forty days.”[44]

Abu Dawud reports the hadith of Abu Hurayrah in which the Prophet (PBUH) said:

“Whoever goes to a fortune-teller and believes in what he says, has disbelieved in that which was revealed to Muhammad.”[45]

She never stops reading and studying

The Muslim woman does not let her household duties and the burdens of motherhood prevent her from reading widely, because she understands that reading is the source which will supply her mind with nourishment and knowledge which it needs in order to flourish and grow.

The Muslim woman who understands that seeking knowledge is a duty required of her by her faith can never stop nourishing her mind with knowledge, no matter how busy she may be with housework or taking care of her children. She steals the odd moment, here and there, to sit down with a good book, or a useful magazine, so that she may broaden her horizons with some useful academic, social or literary knowledge, thus increasing her intellectual abilities.

3 – Her Soul

The Muslim woman does not neglect to polish her soul through worship, dhikr, and reading Qur’an; she never neglects to perform acts of worship at the appointed times. Just as she takes care of her body and mind, she also takes care of her soul, as she understands that the human being is composed of a body, a mind and a soul, and that all three deserve appropriate attention. A person may be distinguished by the balance he or she strikes between body, mind and soul, so that none is cared for at the expense of another. Striking this balance guarantees the development of a sound, mature and moderate character.

She performs acts of worship regularly and purifies her soul

The Muslim woman pays due attention to her soul and polishes it through worship, doing so with a pure and calm approach that will allow the spiritual meanings to penetrate deep into her being. She removes herself from the hustle and bustle of life and concentrates on her worship as much as she is able to. When she prays, she does so with calmness of heart and clearness of mind, so that her soul may be refreshed by the meaning of the words of Qur’an, dhikr and tasbih that she is mentioning. Then she sits alone for a little while, praising and glorifying Allah, and reciting some ayat from His Book, and meditating upon the beautiful meanings of the words she is reciting.

She checks her attitude and behaviour every now and then, correcting herself if she has done anything wrong or fallen short in some way. Thus her worship will bring about the desired results of purity of soul, cleansing her of her sins, and freeing her from the bonds of Shaytan whose constant whispering may destroy a person. If she makes a mistake or stumbles from the Straight Path, the true Muslim woman soon puts it right, seeks forgiveness from Allah (SWT), renounces her sin or error, and repents sincerely. This is the attitude of righteous, Allah-fearing Muslim women:

( Those who fear Allah, when a thought of evil from Shaytan assaults them, bring Allah to remembrance, when lo! They see aright.) (Qur’an 7:201)

Therefore, the Prophet (PBUH) used to tell his Companions:

“Renew your faith.” He was asked, “O Messenger of Allah, how do we renew our faith?” He said, “By frequently repeating la ilaha ill-Allah.”[46]

The Muslim woman always seeks the help of Allah (SWT) in strengthening and purifying her soul by constantly worshipping and remembering Allah (SWT), checking herself, and keeping in mind at all times what will please Allah (SWT). So whatever pleases Him, she does, and what angers Him, she refrains from. Thus she will remain on the Straight Path, never deviating from it or doing wrong.

She keeps company with righteous people and joins religious gatherings

In order to attain this high status, the Muslim woman chooses righteous, Allah-fearing friends, who will be true friends and offer sincere advice, and will not betray her in word or deed. Good friends have a great influence in keeping a Muslim woman on the Straight Path, and helping her to develop good habits and refined characteristics. A good friend – in most cases – mirrors one’s behaviour and attitudes:

“Do not ask about a man: ask about his friends, / for every friend follows his friends.”[47]

Mixing with decent people is an indication of one’s good lineage and noble aims in life:

“By mixing with noble people you become one of them,/ so you should never regard anyone else as a friend.”[48]

So it is as essential to choose good friends as it is to avoid doing evil:

“If you mix with people, make friends with the best of them,/ do not make friends with the worst of them lest you become like them.”[49]

The Muslim woman is keen to attend gatherings where there is discussion of Islam and the greatness of its teachings regarding the individual, family and society, and where those present think of the power of Almighty Allah (SWT) and His bountiful blessings to His creation, and encourage one another to obey His commandments, heed His prohibitions and seek refuge with Him. In such gatherings, hearts are softened, souls are purified, and a person’s whole being is filled with the joy of faith.

So `Abdullah ibn Rawahah (RAA), whenever he met one of the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH), used to say, “Come, let us believe in our Lord for a while.” When the Prophet (PBUH) heard about this, he said, “May Allah have mercy on Ibn Rawahah, for he loves the gatherings that the angels feel proud to attend.”[50]

The rightly-guided khalifah `Umar al-Faruq (RAA) used to make the effort to take a regular break from his many duties and the burden of his position as ruler. He would take the hand of one or two men and say, “Come on, let us go and increase our faith,” then they would remember Allah (SWT).[51] Even `Umar (RAA), who was so righteous and performed so many acts of worship, felt the need to purify his soul from time to time. He would remove himself for a while from the cares and worries of life, to refresh his soul and cleanse his heart.

Likewise, Mu`adh ibn Jabal (RAA) would often say to his companions, when they were walking, “Let us sit down and believe for a while.” [52] The Muslim is responsible for strengthening his soul and purifying his heart. He must always push himself to attain a higher level, and guard against slipping down:

( By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it; and by its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right – truly he succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it!) (Qur’an 91:7-10)

So the Muslim woman is required to choose with care the best friends and attend the best gatherings, so that she will be in an environment which will increase her faith and taqwa:

( And keep your soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face; and let not your eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this Life; nor obey any whose heart We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us, one who follows his own desires, whose case has gone beyond all bounds.) (Qur’an 18: 28)

She frequently repeats du`a’s and supplications described in Hadith

Another way in which the Muslim woman may strengthen her soul and connect her heart to Allah (SWT) is by repeating the supplications which it is reported that the Prophet (PBUH) used to say on various occasions. So there is a du`a’ for leaving the house, and others for entering the house, starting to eat, finishing a meal, wearing new clothes, lying down in bed, waking up from sleep, saying farewell to a traveller, welcoming a traveller back home, etc.

There is hardly anything that the Prophet (PBUH) did that he did not have a du`a’ for, through which he asked Allah (SWT) to bless him in his endeavour, protect him from error, guide him to the truth, decree good for him and safeguahim from evil, as is explained in the books of hadith narrated from the Prophet (PBUH).[53] He used to teach these du`a’s and adhkar to his Companions, and encouraged them to repeat them at the appropriate times.

The true Muslim woman is keen to learn these du`a’s and adhkar, following the example of the Prophet (PBUH) and his distinguished Companions, and she keeps repeating them at the appropriate times, as much as she is able. In this way, her heart will remain focused on Allah (SWT), her soul will be cleansed and purified, and her iman will increase.

The modern Muslim woman is in the utmost need of this spiritual nourishment, to polish her soul and keep her away from the temptations and unhealthy distractions of modern life, that could spell doom for women in societies which have deviated from the guidance of Allah (SWT) and sent groups of women to Hell, as the Prophet (PBUH) indicated: “I looked into Hell, and saw that the majority of its inhabitants were women.”54 The Muslim woman who understands the teachings of her religion looks where she is going and strives to increase her good deeds, so that she may be saved from the terrifying trap into which the devils among mankind and jinn in all times and places try to make women fall.


1 Reported by Abu Dawud, 4/83, in Kitab al-libas, bab ma ja’a fi isbal al-izar; its isnad is sahih.

2 A sahih hasan hadith narrated by Ahmad, 4/132, and Tirmidhi, 4/18, in Kitab al-zuhd, bab ma ja’a fi karahiyyah kathirat al-akl.

3 Kanz al-ummal, 15/433. See also the valuable article on the harmful effects of over-filling the stomach on a person’s body, mind and soul, by Muhammad Nazim Nasimi MD in Hadarah al-Islam, Nos. 5, 6, Vol. 15.

4 Fath al-Bari, 2/370, Kitab al-jumu’ah, bab al-dahn li’l-jumu’ah. Note: the command to wear perfume applies to men only; it is forbidden for women to wear perfume when they go out. [Translator]

5 A hadith narrated by ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar and recorded as sahih by Abu ‘Awanah, Ibn Khazimah and Ibn Hibban. See also Fath al-Bari, 2/356, Kitab al-jumu’ah, bab fadl al-ghusl yawm al-jumu’ah.

6 Agreed upon. See Sharh al-Sunnah, 2/166, Kitab al-hayd, bab ghusl al-jumu’ah.

7 See Samihah A. Wirdi, Min al-riqq il’al’sayadah, Damla Yayinevi No. 89, p. 28ff.

8 Fath al-Bari, 3/599, Kitab al-‘umrah, bab kam a’tamara al-Nabi (r).

9 Sahih Muslim, 8/236, Kitab al-Hajj, bab ‘adad ‘amar al-Nabi (r) wa zamanihinna.

10 A hasan hadith, narrated by Ahmad (6/160) and Abu Dawud (1/46) in Kitab al-taharah, bab al-siwak.

11 Fath al-Bari, 2/374, Kitab al-jumu’ah, bab al-siwak yawm al-jumu’ah; Sahih Muslim, 3/143, Kitab al-taharah, bab al-siwak.

12 Sahih Muslim, 3/143, Kitab al-taharah, bab al-siwak.

13 Sahih Muslim, 5/50, Kitab al-masajid, bab nahi akil al-thum wa’l-basal ‘an hudur al-masjid.

14 Reported by Abu Dawud, 4/108, in Kitab al-tarajjul, bab fi islah al-sha’r; its isnad is hasan.

15 al-Muwatta’, 2/949, Kitab al-sha’r, bab islah al-sha’r.

16 A sahih hadith reported by Ahmad (3/357) and al-Nisa’i (8/183) in Kitab al-zinah, bab taskin al-sha’r.

17 See Tafsir al-Qurtubi, 7/197.

18 A hasan hadith narrated by Tirmidhi, 4/206, in Kitab al-isti’dhan, bab athar al-ni’mah ‘ala’l-‘abd.

19 See Al-Targhib wa’l-Tarhib, 3/93, Kitab al-libas wa’l-zinah.

20 Sa hih Muslim, 2/89, Kitab al-iman, bab tahrim al-kibr.

21Fath al-Bari, 10/334, Kitab al-libas, bab qass al- sharib; Muslim, 3/146, Kitab al-taharah, bab khisal al-fitrah.

22 Fayd al-Bari, 6/81, Kitab al-jihad, bab al-hirasah fi’l-ghazw fi sabil-Allah.

23 See Hashimi (ed.), Jumharah Ash’ar al-‘Arab, 1/300, published by Dar al-Qalam, 1406 AH.

24 A hasan hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, 1/81, in al-Muqaddimah, bab fadl al-‘ulama’ wa’l-hath ‘ala talab al-‘ilm.

25 Fath al-Bari, 1/195, Kitab al-‘ilm, bab hal yuj’al li’l-nisa’ yawm ‘ala hidah fi’l-‘ilm.

26 Fath al-Bari, 1/414, Kitab al-hayd, bab dalk al-mar’ah nafsaha idha tatahharat min al-muhid; Sahih Muslim, 4/15, 16, Kitab al-hayd, bab istihbab isti’mal al-mutaghasilah min al-hayd al-misk.

27 See Fath al-Bari, 1/228, Kitab al-‘ilm, bab al-haya’ fi’l-‘ilm; Sahih Muslim, 4/16, Kitab al-hayd, bab ghusl al-mustahadah wa salatiha.

28 Fath al-Bari, 1/228, Kitab al-‘ilm, bab al-haya’ fi’l-‘ilm; Sahih Muslim, 3/223, 224, Kitab al-hayd, bab wujub al-ghusl ‘ala’l-mar’ah bi khuruj al-maniy minha.

29 Sahih Muslim, 3/220, Kitab al-hayd, bab wujub al-ghusl ‘ala’lmar’ah bi khuruj al-maniy minha.

30 See Fath al-Bari, 7/310, Kitab al-maghazi, bab istifta’ Subay’ah bint al-Harith al-Aslamiyyah; Sahih Muslim, 10/110, Kitab al-talaq, bab inqida’ ‘iddah al-mutawafa ‘anha zawjuha wa ghayruha.

31 See Sharh al-Nawawi li Sahih Muslim, 10/109, Kitab al-talaq, bab inqida’ ‘iddah al-mutawafa ‘anha zawjuha bi wad’ al-haml.

32 A hasan hadith, narrated by Ibn Majah, 1/81, in al-Muqaddimah, bab fadl al-‘ulama’ wa’l-hathth ‘ala talab al-‘ilm.

33 A hasan hadith reported by al-Bayhaqi in Shu’ab al-iman, 4/334, from ‘A’ishah

34 al-Isti’ab, 4/1883; al-Isabah, 8/140.

35 Tarikh al-Tabari: Hawadith 58; al-Samt al-Thamin, 82; al-Isti’ab, 4/1885.

36 Sahih Muslim, 5/47, Kitab al-masajid, bab karahah al-salat bi hadrat al-ta’am.

37 Al-Aghani, 10/57.

38 Fath al-Bari, 1/196, Kitab al-‘ilm, bab man sami’a shay’an fa raji’ hatta ya’rifuhu.

39 Reported by Tirmidhi, 5/364, in Kitab al-munaqib, bab min fadl ‘A’ishah; he said that it is hasan sahih gharib.

40 Tuhfat al-fuqaha’, 1/12.

41 Tabaqat al-shafi’iyyah, 4/273.

42 Fath al-Bari, 1/7.

43 Mizan al-i’tidal, 3/395.

44 See Sahih Muslim, 14/227, Kitab al-salam, bab tahrim al-kahanah wa ityan al-kahan.

45 A hasan hadith narrated by Abu Dawud, 4/21, in Kitab al-tibb, bab fi’l-kahin.

46 Reported by Ahmad (2/359) with a jayyid isnad.

47 See ‘Adiyy ibn Zayd al-‘Ibadi by the author, 172.

48 Anonymous.

49 See ‘Adiyy ibn Zayd al-‘Ibadi by the author, 172.

50 Reported by Ahmad (3/265) with a hasan isnad.

51 Hayat al-Sahabah, 3/329.

52 Ibid.

53 See, for example, Supplications of the Prophet by Waleed al Essa or Hisnul Muslim (Fortification of the Believer) by Sa’eed al Qahtani

54. Sahih Muslim, 17/53, Kitab al-riqaq, bab akthar ahl al-jannah al-fuqara’ wa akthar ahl al-nar al-nisa’.


Contribution of Women in Spreading the Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

By Dr. Farhat Hashmi

As soon as a person develops insight and a sense to question, he is faced with countless queries regarding himself and the environment around him, the most important being, “Who am I?…..Who created me?………What is the truth of everything around me and how was it made? Whose skillful workmanship is this? The society and the environment say that all this was made by ‘Allah. Who is Allah? What is He like? Where is He? How do we recognize Him? How do we reach Him? What is the proof that He really does exist? A person is perplexed when he tries to answer these questions and in the end when all reasoning fails, in this state of utter hopelessness, human nature needs a mentor who would help him recognize his Creator, and help him believe in his own existence. So his Most Merciful Creator does not abandon him, and to fulfill his need, sends a being who helps him get rid of his bewildered state, acquaints him with his Creator, and saves him from going astray.

              Rasul Allah (SAW) is that being, that personality, who not only familiarizes the created with their Creator but also apprises them with the latter’s likes and dislikes. In his personality we find a living example of Allah’s message, and an excellent practical example of the fulfillment of His commands. In his teachings do we find ways of physical and spiritual purification; and we learn from his teachings that man’s eternal success or loss depends on his faith in Allah. We obey and follow the Prophet (SAW) and Allah will love us; we answer his call and that will be a means of life for us; disobedience to the Prophet (SAW) will result in exclusion from paradise and rebellion will result in getting caught in conflict and turmoil and be the cause of Allah’s wrath. It is essential for every man and woman to obey his commands and accept his decisions with pure sincerity; there is no second option.

        The Prophet (SAW) was sent on this earth as a Messenger, as a guide who showed mankind the right path. the Divine Message that he conveyed is for all times and places. Not only were the people who believed in him in his time, were expected to obey him unconditionally, but this law holds for the coming generations as well, till the Day of Judgement.

This is why the path to salvation is not just in following the Quran, but the Prophet’s (SAW) Sunnah¹ as well. For all times, the entry into Islam is not just with (la ilaha illallah—-arabic) but with (Arabic—–Muhammad dur rasul Allah) as well.

         The people of Prophet’s (SAW)’s time realized the importance of this reality and readily heeded to his call (balligho unee—–arabic)(“spread my message even though its one ayah”) by transmitting his message of guidance  to the coming generations. The Prophet (SAW) declared that it was mandatory for every man and woman to seek knowledge, and in this path of knowledge, if the seeker died, he would be a martyr. Importance of both the teacher and the pupil was highlighted, and it was stated that the teacher’s position was something to be envied, and the pupil was given the glad tidings of paradise. A scholar was given precedence over a worshipper, the ink of a scholar’s pen was given precedence over a martyr’s blood, and scholars were called the heirs of the prophets and a special prayer of mercy was performed for someone who not only learns, but conveys to others as well. Mothers of the Believers were specially instructed to learn the Prophet’s (SAW) ahadith (sayings), along with the Quranic teachings.

        After becoming aware of the importance of acquiring knowledge, and the significance of learning and transmitting the ahadith of the Prophet (SAW), not only men, but women also started to fulfill this duty. Special arrangements were made to include the Prophet(SAW)’s teachings in the education syllabus, other than the Quran, and this became a practice throughout history. So one cannot find a period in time where along with the men, women did not carry out this responsibility with due fervor. In fact some women made such accomplishments that men also took up apprenticeship with them. Women set up such high standards of honesty in the narration of hadith that in the book ‘meezan al aitadal’ of ‘ilm jarah o tadeel’, the compiler Alzahbi praises the contribution of these women in these words, ‘till today, I have not come across a woman whose narration was suspicious or rejected.’

          During the Prophet(SAW)’s age, the mothers of the believers were inquired regarding women’s issues; they were also approached for details concerned with the Prophet(SAW)’s personal life after he passed away. Who else could have been a better teacher regarding matters relating to the Prophet’s(SAW) personal life after him, than his wives. 

The scholastic contributions of the mothers of the believers,  including Hafza (r.a), Umm Habiba (r.a), Maimona (r.a), Umm Salmah(r.a), and Ayesha (r.a), are not hidden from anyone; specially the services of Ayesha (r.a) cannot be forgotten. In the history of Islam, no other woman can equal Ayesha (r.a) in her efforts for the promotion of the Prophet’s (SAW) teachings. She is one of the few companions whose narration of ahadith exceeds 2000 in number and she was a source of education for all for nearly 50 years after the Prophet(SAW)’s death.       

In this process of imparting and learning of knowledge, other lady companions of the Prophet (SAW) also left examples that can be emulated. In this context, the names of Umm e Qais, Umm ul Fazl bint Harith, Fatima bint Qais, Umm e Atiah, Umm e Haani, Asma bint Abu bakr (r.a), Asma bint Amees and Asma bint Yazeed are worth mentioning, whose number of ahadith that they have narrated are, 22,30,34,40,46,58,60 and 81 respectively. Other than these, Busra bin Safwan, Umm Sabeeha Khola Aljuhniyah, Umm ul Hussain al Ahmasiyah, Umm e Jundub al Azdiyah, Umm al Hakeem al Khazaiyah, Sara’a bint Nabhaan, Zareena, Khulaidah bint Qais, Khateebah al Nisa ,Asma bint Yazeed and Khansa al Ansariyah (r.a) are among the women who directly narrated ahadith from  Prophet (SAW). 

  History has witnessed that the women who were honored by promoting the Prophet(SAW)’s teachings, belonged to free and respectable families as well as slaves The attendants of the Prophet (SAW), Rozina and Maria also had the honor of narrating ahadith. Other notable names in this category include Maimona bint Saeed, Umaima Mola² Rasul who were narrators of hadith as well. Other than these, Barirah and Umm e Ulqama (Mola Ayesha (r.a)), Khaira Umm ul Hassan al Basry (mola Umm e Salmah), Nadbah (mola Maimoona (r.a), Mother of the Believers), Zarra and Nadbah (mola ibn Abbas (r.a)), Bananah (mola Abdar Rahman al Ansari (r.a)) and Laila (mola Umm Ammarah al Ansariyah).


 During the age of the Taba’een³ , a number of women became famous due to their educational achievements; Ibn Sa’ad,4  alone, has written about more than 60 women who were taking part in the pursuit of knowledge among them,  Hafza bint Sireen being one of the most famous scholars of hadeeth of her time. When Hassan Basary and Ibn e Sireen were mentioned in front of Iyaas bin Muaawiyah, he openly stated that in his opinion, no one surpassed Hafza bint Sireen. Another lady belonging to this category is the famous Umm e Darda al Sughra, whose students include distinguished taba’eens such as Abu Qalaabah, R´jaa bin Haiwah Makhool and Zaid bin Aslam.

                Ayesha (r.a)’s outstanding pupil, Umrah bint Abd ar Rahman who needs no introduction, knew the largest number of ahdith narrated by the former. One of her students, Abu Bakr bin Hazm was specially ordered by Omar bin Abdul Aziz to compile all the ahadith that Umrah was proficient in and put them in writing. Referring to her, Imam Ibn e Shahab al Zohry told Qasim bin Mohammad, ‘I see you hungry for knowledge so shouldn’t I guide you to its treasure? Go to Umrah if you want to acquire knowledge.’ Qasim bin Mohammad says that I found Umrah to be a sea of knowledge that never dries up.  

      Jawabnah al Musayyab was the name that the famous taba’ee Saeed bin al Musayyab’s daughter was known from. Before their marriage, her husband used to attend her father’s lectures. On the next day after her marriage, her husband got ready to go to Saeed bin al Musayyab’s class, when Jawabnah told him to remain at home, because she could also impart the same knowledge to him that her father could.

 In the later ages, i.e, the 3rd century, some notable names are: Abida al Madinah, Umm e Omar as Thaqfiah, Zainab bint Sulaiman, Nafisa bin Hassan bin Zaid, Khadija Umm e Mohammad, Abdah bint e Abdar Rahman, Abbasah, Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal’s wife, and other women as well, who gave formal lectures on Rasulallah’s (SAW) ahadith, and great Muhadditheen attended these lectures. Abida, who was an African slave, but had an expertise in relating ahadith was gifted to Habib bin as Walid al Dahoon al Undalasi by her owner, Mohammad bin Yazeed. Her new master was so impressed by her knowledge that he freed her and married her and took her to Undalas (Spain) with him. In Spain, Abida related 10,000 ahadith on the authority of Imam Malik bin Anas and several other Madni scholars; hence she became the source of the spread of the Prophet’s (SAW) teachings in Europe. Another such exceptional lady was Zainab bint Sulayman who was a princess. Her father was the Governor of Basra and Spain during the rule of Al Mansoor. She was also very interested in ahadith and had acquired a lot of knowledge in this context. Famous muhaditheen related ahadith on her authority. Nafisa who belonged to ahl e bait, was another lady who excelled in this field, and even Imam Shafaee listened to her relating the ahadith.

 When the editing of hadith began and hadith books became available, the trend of the women also changed towards the listening and relating of these books. They took part in lecturing on them and people from all walks of life benefited. Karima tul Maroozia is a leading name in this context.

Great scholars who related the ahadith of Sahih Bukhari, like Abu Bakr al Khateeb al Baghdadi, traveled from Baghdad to Makkah to listen to Karima relating Sahih Bukhari. Abu Bakr bin Mansoor al Asma’aani states “ My father was very impressed with Karima’s educational capabililties, and used to say that I have not seen anyone like her”. Even the orientalist, Goldzheir writes about the large amount of Karima’s ‘consents5’ to relate the ahadith of Sahih Bukhari.

 Women other than Karima, prominent in relating ahadith of Bukhari and other hadith books include Musnadah al Quwatt sat al wizra bint Umar who taught in Damascus and Egypt for a long period of time and who was also famous for relating of ahadith of Bukhari. Umm al Khair umm al Khaliq was the last relator of Sahih Bukhari in Madrassa e Hijaz. Another important name is of Ayesha bint Abdul Hadi, who held a special position in the teaching of Bukhari.      

 Not only did they relate and lecture on the ahadith of Bukahri but women also worked on other famous hadith books; Umm al Khair Fatima bint Ali al Baghdadiyah’s name is worth mentioning who was a famous relator of her time, of the ahadith of Sahih Muslim. Fatima al Jawz Daniyah used to relate ahadith of Maujam al Tabarani. Zainab bint al Makki al Harani lived for 94 years; she related the ahadith of Musnad Ahmed, and crowds of students always gathered around her. Ibne Nuqta, has mentioned 10 such women, in his book “al Taqeed ul Ma’arfa Rawayah al Sunan wal Masaneed”, who were famous in the relating of ahadith in their times.

    In the fourth century, Fatima bint abd Arrahman al Haraaniyah umm Mohammad, Umm Salmah Fatimah (the granddaughter of Imam Abu Dawood al Sajastani, the compiler of Sunan Abu Dawood), Umma tul Wahid bint Abi Abd Allah al Mahamly, Umm al Fath al Islam bint Qazi Ahmed bin Kamil al Baghdadiyah, Jumuah bint Ahmed al Mahiyah, Fatimah bint Halal, and Tahira bint Ahmed al Tanwakhiyah are names worth mentioning, who attained an expertise in the knowledge of hadith and left never-ending impressions on  countless people who used to attend their lectures.

  In the fifth century, daughter of the famous Sufi Hassan bin Ali al Duqaq and wife of Abul Qasim al Qashiry, Fatimah, became famous for getting Sannad e aali (high degree) she used to relate ahadith on the authority of Abu Naeem al Asfaraainy and Hakim Neshapury. Other well known names were Khadija bint Mohammad al Shahjahaniyah, Satita bint al Qazi ibn abi Amr, Khadija bint al Baqal and Jabrah as Sawdah.

         In the sixth century, Fatimah bint Mohammad – Musnada e Isfahan, Umm ul Khair Fatimah bint Ali – Musnada e Khurasan, Musnada ul Waqt – Fatimah al Jawziyah, Fakhar un nisa Khadija bint Mohammad, Tajni bint Abd Allah and Shahdah bint Ahmed – Musnadah al Arq are famous for ‘sanad e aali’. Shahdah, who was given the title of ‘Fakhrun nisa’, used to have large gatherings of students on her lectures, and because of her prestigious degree and fame, people wrongly showed themselves as her students .Zaki al Din al Barzali compiled her “Mushaikha” in 8 volumes.

            Muhadatheen of all times have believed in traveling long and trying distances for acquiring the knowledge of hadith and getting ‘sanad e aali’. Even though the facilities available for traveling today were not present at that time, women did not hesitate and faced all obstacles in this path. Umm e Mohammad Zainab bint Ahmed al Muqaddasi 6 (died 722 years after hijrah) traveled to Egypt from Palestine, and then Syria and Madinah. During this time she received hadith education from renowned scholars and when eventually she acquired the permission to relate hadith, and started lecturing, students used to travel from far off places to listen to her.

Fatimah bint Sa’ad al Khair was born in Isfahan but traveled all the way to Egypt to gain knowledge regarding ahadith. Sut ul Khutbaa bint Taqi ud Din al Subki (died 773 years after hijrah) traveled to Egypt and Damascus, Umm e AbdAllah Zainab bint Ahmed al Kamal al Muqaddasiyah (died 740 years after hijrah) traveled to Baghdad, Mardin, Syria, Alexandria, and Cairo, for this purpose, and on her way listened to great scholars, and related many hadith books herself as well.

Baai khatoon, a famous muhadditha of the ninth century used to lecture in Egypt and Syria and distinguished scholars used to attend them. She was known as Ayesha bint Ibrahim Jawabnah al Sharahi, and after gaining an expertise in this field, she continued to give lectures in Egypt, Syria and Balbuk etc.

The lecturing and teaching activities of these women were not limited to a few people on a private level, but they used to teach in madaris (educational institutions) as well, where people from all walks of life used to attend their lectures. Ayesha bint Mohammad al Haraaniyah (736hijrah) used to earn her living by stitching clothes and doing embroidery. According to abundant accounts available today, she held a special place in relating some parts of ahadith (ajzai hadith).

While traveling in Damascus during 726 hijrah, Ibn e Batuta listened to her hadith lecture in the Bani Umaiyyah University. Another lady Umm al Khair al Hijaziah was placed on the respected seat of teaching in Egyptian university of Amr bin al Aas.

  During my quest for knowledge in Turkey, Egypt and Syria, I came across several letters (makhtootat)  whose seal of sanad e sama’a (Certificate of  attending the hadith sessions) shows that a large number of men and women attended these lectures that took place in different madaris. Women also held hadith gatherings over there. A lady named Umm e Abd Allah after teaching Ibn al Bukhari’s mushaikha, wrote a statement on its page number 250 which shows that she taught this book in a combined class of 50 men and women7.

 In the 7th century after hijrah, women’s fervor in the pursuit of Rasulallah(SAW)’s teachings did not lessen and they continued according to the method of the day, in which sama’a (attending) to hadith lectures, relating hadith and acquiring permission to relate them was a top priority. Musnada e Khurasan al Shariyah was one such famous lady of that time whose passing away resulted in the termination of the sanad e aali. Ayesha bint Moammar al Asbahaniyah was famous for relating ahadith from Musnad Abi Yaa’li and the renowned muhadith Ibn e Nuqta was one of her students. Musnada e Syria was also a lady with distinctive qualities who had the permission of relating hadith from renowned scholars and she was never weary of relating hadith. Zainab al Makki always had crowds of students gathered outside her door. Another special lady was Shamiah ummatul Haque who related “ajza e hadith”(parts of hadith?) and Ujaiba bint Mohammad al Baghdadiyah compiled her mushaikha in 10 volumes.

 Several names of women can also be found in this regard, in the 8th and 9th centuries as well, a witness to the fact that the Prophet (saw)’s teachings still held a place of importance among them. Ibn e Hajar in his book ‘al darar  al kaamnah writes the names of 170 women, who developed this field with their perseverance and enthusiasm. Goldzheir is also amazed at the interest shown by such a large number of women. Reading short autobiographies of these women, one finds out that Ibn e Hajar and a large number of his contemporaries and their teachers and students, all attended the hadith lectures of these ladies.

Studying the history of the eighth century, an interesting fact that emerges, is that the famous Huffaaz of these times, Muhadditheen, daughters of scholars and other family members, were all involved in serving hadith. The abundance in this century cannot be found in any other period of history. Some names worth mentioning in this context are: Isma bint Mohammad Abi al Mowaahib ibn Hasry, Ummatul Aziz bint al Zahbi, Fatima bint al Barzali, Isma bint Khalil bin Kaiklady al Alaai, Ruqaiyya bint ibn Daqeeq al Eed, Zainab bint Ibn Qadamah al Muqaddasi, Zainab bint ibn Jama’ah al Kanaani, Umm al Baha Zainab bint Ibn al Ajmee, Sat ul Na’am bint al Allama Najam ud din al Harani, Sat ul Wuzra bint Umar ibn Amanja satiah Taqi ud din al Subki, Satiah bint Najm ud din al Dimiyati, Ayesha bint Ibraheem (Hafiz al Mazi’s wife), Ayesha bint AbdAllah (Mohib ad din al Tabri’s granddaughter), Lawzah bint AbdAllah (molah Ibn Daqeeq al Eed), Sat ar Rakab (Ali ibn Hijr’s sister), and Zainab bint AbdAllah Taqi ud din (Ibn Taymiyah’s neice).   

 It was not only women who benefited from the educational capabilities of these women but men also gained from them in all periods. The teaching of Ayesha (r.a) to the Companions of the Prophet (SAW) is known to all, and this imparting of knowledge continued in later times as well. The names of Umrah and Karimah al Maroziah have been mentioned earlier in regard to the countless number of people who attended their hadith lectures. The compiler of the history of Damascus, Ibn Asaakar mentions 80 women in his ‘mushaikha’ from whom he took lectures on hadith. Abu Tahir as Salfi in his books ‘Mushaikha al baghdadiyah’, ‘Maujam as Safar’ and ‘Mushaikha al asbahaniyah’, and Abu Sa’ad al Sama’ani in his book ‘al Khabir fi al Maujam al Kabir’, mentions about several ladies whom they consider their ‘shayookh’(teachers) from whom they either listened to hadith or got permission to relate. Ibn Khulqaan, the compiler of ‘Wafiat ul A’ayaan’ was a student of Zainab al Sha’ary ( 524 hijrah). Even though Ibn e Batuta was not a Muhadith, in his enthusiasm to acquire the knowledge of hadith, he attended lectures of various men and women, especially Zainab bint Ahmad al Kamal (710 hijrah). The famous Muhadith of the 9th century, Afeef ad din Junaid attended Fatima bint Ahmad bin Qasim’s lectures of Sunan ad Darmi. Nafisa bint Ibraheem was a teacher of Barzaali and Zahbi and Haafiz al Iraaqi and al Haithmi were students of sat al Karb bint Mohammad al Bukhari.

  Abd ar Rahman al Sakhawi (897hijrah) writes about the Muhadithaat in his famous book ‘Az Zu al Lama’a. The last volume of this book is completely dedicated to women, majority of who were connected to hadith in some manner. An ‘Index of Shayookh’ was written by Abd al Aziz Umar bin Fahad (881years after hijrah) in which out of 1100 shayookh, 130 are women, from whom he benefited in hadith and various sciences.

  The amount of women working for the spread of the Prophet Muhammad (saw)’s teachings during the 9th century is considerably larger than in any other period, so reference to the famous women of this period will also be lengthy. Here, for instance, I will  mention only one teacher of Sakhawi and Ibn Hajar; Umm Haani Maryam bint Abd ar Rahman al Hooreeniyah (871AH). Apart from having an expertise in literature, poetry and calligraphy, she was a Haafiz e Quran and was proficient in various other Islamic sciences as well. She had the opportunity of receiving education in hadith in Cairo and Makkah. Other than giving lectures on hadith, she gave out permissions of relating hadith as well. Another prominent name is of Maryam bint al Athra’eey who is considered to be an authority in this field. The abundance of her teachers can be ascertained from the fact that Ibn Hajar compiled their Index, and the amount of her students as well is countless.

After reading the books ‘Al e’ed’, history of Rusi ‘Alnoor al musaafir, Mahyi’s ‘Khulaasa al Akhbaar’ and Mohammad bin AbdAllah al Najdi’s ‘Al Sahab al Waabilah’, all written about, the ‘rijal e hadith’(Men who the knowledge regarding Narators of Ahadith at their finger tips) of the 10th, 11th and then the 12th centuries, it becomes apparent that the trend of women decreased in this field. The names of only 10 or 12 lady Muhaditheen can be found in these books However, it would be wrong to conclude that interest in hadith among the ladies became totally extinct.

 The last link in this series was Fatima al Fuzailiyah (1247 AH), who was born in the later years of the 12th century. She was an expert calligraphist and copied many books with her own hands. She was very interested in hadith, took permission from many scholars, and became famous as a Muhadithah.

The basic reason for the women to be left behind in this field is the low ratio in the rate of education, generally among the Muslim Ummah, and especially among the women. But the progress taking place in this century is promising. Trends are developing for the research and publication of the ‘makhtootat e hadith’of hadith books and specialization in hadith as well. In the field of research, Bint al Shaaty and Ayesha Abdar Rahman of Egypt, Munirah Naaji and Bahijah al Hasni of Iraq, Sakinah al Shahabi of Syria and Jamilah Shaukat of Pakistan are prominent names. Iraq’s Khadijah al Hadlithi’s book ‘Mauqaf alnaha min al Ahtajaj bil Hadith al shareef’ is also an excellent example.

In the religious education institutions of Muslim countries, as well as a few countries where Muslims are a minority, women are actively participating in acquiring and spreading the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s teachings. Other than the hadith lectures in the Islamic studies departments of different universities, the initiation of the department of hadith and tafseer on the graduate level, specially for women in the International Islamic University of Islamabad, is an important advancement.

The need of the day is that women face the challenges of the present age and set such brilliant examples of their knowledge and practice, which not only revives the practices of their forefathers, but is also able to return the lost position of the Muslim ummah, which is not possible without the proper knowledge, propagation and practice of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

***This is an Award Winning Article taken from the published works of National Seerah Conference, 1414 Hijri, 1993 – Role of Muslim Women by Dr.Farhat Hashmi

Women Scholars of Hadith

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. 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.

Since Islam’s earliest days, women had been taking 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-traditionists, treated by their brethren with reverence and respect. Biographical notices on very large numbers of them are to be found in the biographical dictionaries.

During the lifetime of the Prophet, many women had been not only the instance for the evolution of many traditions, but had also been their transmitters to their sisters and brethren 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 Hafsa, Umm Habiba, Maymuna, Umm Salama, and A’isha, are familiar to every student of hadith as being among its earliest and most distinguished transmitters.4 In particular, A’isha 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, too, women held important positions as traditionists. Hafsa, the daughter of Ibn Sirin,5 Umm al-Darda the Younger (d.81/700), and ‘Amra bin ‘Abd al-Rahman, are only a few of the key women traditionists of this period. Umm al-Darda’ was held by Iyas ibn Mu’awiya, an important traditionist of the time and a judge of undisputed ability and merit, to be superior to all the other traditionists of the period, including the celebrated masters of hadith like al-Hasan al-Basri and Ibn Sirin.6 ‘Amra was considered a great authority on traditions related by A’isha. Among her students, Abu Bakr ibn Hazm, the celebrated judge of Medina, was ordered by the caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz to write down all the traditions known on her authority.7

After them, ‘Abida al-Madaniyya, ‘Abda bin Bishr, Umm Umar al-Thaqafiyya, Zaynab the granddaughter of Ali ibn Abd Allah ibn Abbas, Nafisa bint al-Hasan ibn Ziyad, Khadija Umm Muhammad, ‘Abda bint Abd al-Rahman, and many other members of the fair sex excelled in delivering public lectures on hadith. These devout women came from the most diverse backgrounds, indicating that neither class nor gender were obstacles to rising through the ranks of Islamic scholarship. For example, Abida, who started life as a slave owned by Muhammad ibn Yazid, learnt a large number of hadiths with the teachers in Median. She was given by her master to Habib Dahhun, the great traditionist of Spain, when he visited the holy city on this way to the Hajj. Dahhun was so impressed by her learning that he freed her, married her, and brought her to Andalusia. It is said that she related ten thousand traditions on the authority of her Medinan teachers.8

Zaynab bint Sulayman (d. 142/759), by contrast, was princess by birth. Her father was a cousin of al-Saffah, the founder of the Abbasid dynasty, and had been a governor of Basra, Oman and Bahrayn during the caliphate of al-Mansur.9 Zaynab, who received a fine education, acquired a mastery of hadith, gained a reputation as one of the most distinguished women traditionists of the time, and counted many important men among her pupils.10

This partnership of women with men in the cultivation of the Prophetic Tradition continued in the period when the great anthologies of hadith were compiled. A survey of the texts reveals that all the important compilers of traditions from the earliest period received many of them from women shuyukh: every major collection gives the names of many women as the immediate authorities of the author. And when these works had been compiled, the women traditionists themselves mastered them, and delivered lectures to large classes of pupils, to whom they would issue their own ijazas.

In the fourth century, we find Fatima bint Abd al-Rahman (d. 312/924), known as al-Sufiyya on account of her great piety; Fatima (granddaughter of Abu Daud of Sunan fame); Amat al-Wahid (d. 377/987), the daughter of distinguished jurist al-Muhamili; Umm al-Fath Amat as-Salam (d. 390/999), the daughter of the judge Abu Bakr Ahmad (d.350/961); Jumua bint Ahmad, and many other women, whose classes were always attended by reverential audiences.11

The Islamic tradition of female hadith scholarship continued in the fifth and sixth centuries of hijra. Fatima bin al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn al-Daqqaq al-Qushayri, was celebrated not only for her piety and her mastery of calligraphy, but also for her knowledge of hadith and the quality of the isnads she knew.12

Even more distinguished was Karima al-Marwaziyya (d.463/1070), who was considered the best authority on the Sahih of al-Bukhari in her own time. Abu Dharr of Herat, one of the leading scholars of the period, attached such great importance to her authority that he advised his students to study the Sahih under no one else, because of the quality of her scholarship. She thus figures as a central point in the transmission of this seminal text of Islam.13 As a matter of fact, writes Godziher, ‘her name occurs with extraordinary frequency of the ijazas for narrating the text of this book.’14 Among her students were al-Khatib al-Baghdadi15 and al-Humaydi (428/1036-488/1095).16

Aside from Karima, a number of other women traditionists ‘occupy an eminent place in the history of the transmission of the text of the Sahih.’17 Among these, one might mention in particular Fatima bint Muhammad (d.539/1144; Shuhda ‘the Writer’ (d.574/1178), and Sitt al-Wuzara bint Umar (d.716/1316).18 Fatima narrated the book on the authority of the great traditionist Said al-Ayyar; she received from the hadith specialists the proud tittle of Musnida Isfahan (the great hadith authority of Isfahan).

Shuhda was a famous calligrapher and a traditionist of great repute; the biographers describe her as ‘the calligrapher, the great authority on hadith, and the pride of womanhood.’ Her great-grandfather had been a dealer in needles, and thus acquired the sobriquet ‘al-Ibri’. But her father, Abu Nasr (d. 506/1112) had acquired a passion for hadith, and managed to study it with several masters of the subject.19 In obedience to the sunna, he gave his daughter a sound academic education, ensuring that she studied under many traditionists of accepted reputation.

She married Ali ibn Muhammad, an important figure with some literary interests, who later became a boon companion of the caliph al-Muqtadi, and founded a college and a Sufi lodge, which he endowed most generously. His wife, however, was better known: she gained her reputation in the field of hadith scholarship, and was noted for the quality of her isnads.20 Her lectures on Sahih al-Bukhari and other hadith collections were attended by large crowds of students; and on account of her great reputation, some people even falsely claimed to have been her disciples.21

Also known as an authority on Bukhari was Sitt al-Wuzara, who, besides her acclaimed mastery of Islamic law, was known as ‘the musnida of her time’, and delivered lectures on the Sahih and other works in Damascus and Egypt. 22 Classes on the Sahih were likewise given by Umm al-Khayr Amat al-Khaliq (811/1408-911/1505), who is regarded as the last great hadith scholar of the Hijaz.23 Still another authority on Bukhari was A’isha bint Abd al-Hadi.24

Apart from these women, who seem to have specialized in the great Sahih of Imam al-Bukhari, there were others, whose expertise was centered on other texts. Umm al-Khayr Fatima bint Ali (d.532/1137), and Fatima al-Shahrazuriyya, delivered lectures on the Sahih of Muslim.25 Fatima al-Jawzdaniyya (d.524/1129) narrated to her students the three Mu’jams of al-Tabarani.26 Zaynab of Harran (d.68/1289), whose lectures attracted a large crowd of students, taught them the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the largest known collection of hadiths.27 Juwayriya bint Umar (d.783/1381), and Zaynab bint Ahmad ibn Umar (d.722/1322), who had travelled widely in pursuit of hadith and delivered lectures in Egypt as well as Medina, narrated to her students the collections of al-Darimi and Abd ibn Humayd; and we are told that students travelled from far and wide to attend her discourses.28

Zaynab bint Ahmad (d.740/1339), usually known as Bint al-Kamal, acquired ‘a camel load’ of diplomas; she delivered lectures on the Musnad of Abu Hanifa, the Shamail of al-Tirmidhi, and the Sharh Ma’ani al-Athar of al-Tahawi, the last of which she read with another woman traditionist, Ajiba bin Abu Bakr (d.740/1339).29 ‘On her authority is based,’ says Goldziher, ‘the authenticity of the Gotha codex … in the same isnad a large number of learned women are cited who had occupied themselves with this work.”30

With her, and various other women, the great traveller Ibn Battuta studied traditions during his stay at Damascus.31 The famous historian of Damascus, Ibn Asakir, who tells us that he had studied under more than 1,200 men and 80 women, obtained the ijaza of Zaynab bint Abd al-Rahman for the Muwatta of Imam Malik.32 Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti studied the Risala of Imam Shafii with Hajar bint Muhammad.33 Afif al-Din Junayd, a traditionist of the ninth century AH, read the Sunan of al-Darimi with Fatima bin Ahmad ibn Qasim.34

Other important traditionists included Zaynab bint al-Sha’ri (d.524/615-1129/1218). She studied hadith under several important traditionists, and in turn lectured to many students – some of who gained great repute – including Ibn Khallikan, author of the well-known biographical dictionary Wafayat al-Ayan.35 Another was Karima the Syrian (d.641/1218), described by the biographers as the greatest authority on hadith in Syria of her day. She delivered lectures on many works of hadith on the authority of numerous teachers.36

In his work al-Durar al-Karima,37 Ibn Hajar gives short biographical notices of about 170 prominent women of the eighth century, most of whom are traditionists, and under many of whom the author himself had studied.38 Some of these women were acknowledged as the best traditionists of the period. For instance, Juwayriya bint Ahmad, to whom we have already referred, studied a range of works on traditions, under scholars both male and female, who taught at the great colleges of the time, and then proceeded to give famous lectures on the Islamic disciplines. ‘Some of my own teachers,’ says Ibn Hajar, ‘and many of my contemporaries, attended her discourses.’39

A’isha bin Abd al-Hadi (723-816), also mentioned above, who for a considerable time was one of Ibn Hajar’s teachers, was considered to be the finest traditionist of her time, and many students undertook long journeys in order to sit at her feet and study the truths of religion.40

Sitt al-Arab (d.760-1358) had been the teacher of the well-known traditionist al-Iraqi (d.742/1341), and of many others who derived a good proportion of their knowledge from her.41 Daqiqa bint Murshid (d.746/1345), another celebrated woman traditionist, received instruction from a whole range of other woman.

Information on women traditionists of the ninth century is given in a work by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Sakhawi (830-897/1427-1489), called al-Daw al-Lami, which is a biographical dictionary of eminent persons of the ninth century.42 A further source is the Mu’jam al-Shuyukh of Abd al-Aziz ibn Umar ibn Fahd (812-871/1409-1466), compiled in 861 AH and devoted to the biographical notices of more than 1,100 of the author’s teachers, including over 130 women scholars under whom he had studied.43

Some of these women were acclaimed as among the most precise and scholarly traditionists of their time, and trained many of the great scholars of the following generation. Umm Hani Maryam (778-871/1376-1466), for instance, learnt the Qur’an by heart when still a child, acquired all the Islamic sciences then being taught, including theology, law, history, and grammar, and then traveled to pursue hadith with the best traditionists of her time in Cairo and Mecca. She was also celebrated for her mastery of calligraphy, her command of the Arabic language, and her natural aptitude in poetry, as also her strict observance of the duties of religion (she performed the hajj no fewer than thirteen times).

Her son, who became a noted scholar of the tenth century, showed the greatest veneration for her, and constantly waited on her towards the end of her life. She pursued an intensive program of learning in the great college of Cairo, giving ijazas to many scholars, Ibn Fahd himself studied several technical works on hadith under her.44

Her Syrian contemporary, Bai Khatun (d.864/1459), having studied traditions with Abu Bakr al-Mizzi and numerous other traditionalists, and having secured the ijazas of a large number of masters of hadith, both men and women, delivered lectures on the subject in Syria and Cairo. We are told that she took especial delight in teaching.45

A’isha bin Ibrahim (760/1358-842/1438), known in academic circles as Ibnat al-Sharaihi, also studied traditions in Damascus and Cairo (and elsewhere), and delivered lectures which eminent scholars of the day spared no efforts to attend.46 Umm al-Khayr Saida of Mecca (d.850/1446) received instruction in hadith from numerous traditionists in different cities, gaining an equally enviable reputation as a scholar.47

So far as may be gathered from the sources, the involvement of women in hadith scholarships, and in the Islamic disciplines generally, seems to have declined considerably from the tenth century of the hijra. Books such as al-Nur al-Safir of al-Aydarus, the Khulasat al-Akhbar of al-Muhibbi, and the al-Suluh al-Wabila of Muhammad ibn Abd Allah (which are biographical dictionaries of eminent persons of the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries of the hijra respectively) contain the names of barely a dozen eminent women traditionists. But it would be wrong to conclude from this that after the tenth century, women lost interest in the subject. Some women traditionists, who gained good reputations in the ninth century, lived well into the tenth, and continued their services to the sunna.

Asma bint Kamal al-Din (d.904/1498) wielded great influence with the sultans and their officials, to whom she often made recommendations – which, we are told, they always accepted. She lectured on hadith, and trained women in various Islamic sciences.48 A’isha bint Muhammad (d.906/1500), who married the famous judge Muslih al-Din, taught traditions to many students, and was appointed professor at the Salihiyya College in Damascus.49 Fatima bint Yusuf of Aleppo (870/1465-925/1519), was known as one of the excellent scholars of her time.50 Umm al-Khayr granted an ijaza to a pilgrim at Mecca in the year 938/1531.51

The last woman traditionist of the first rank who is known to us was Fatima al-Fudayliya, also known as al-Shaykha al-Fudayliya. She was born before the end of the twelfth Islamic century, and soon excelled in the art of calligraphy and the various Islamic sciences. She had a special interest in hadith, read a good deal on the subject, received the diplomas of a good many scholars, and acquired a reputation as an important traditionist in her own right. Towards the end of her life, she settled at Mecca, where she founded a rich public library. In the Holy City she was attended by many eminent traditionists, who attended her lectures and received certificates from her. Among them, one could mention in particular Shaykh Umar al-Hanafi and Shaykh Muhammad Sali. She died in 1247/1831.52

Throughout the history of feminine scholarship in Islam it is clear that the women involved did not confine their study to a personal interest in traditions, or to the private coaching of a few individuals, but took their seats as students as well as teachers in pubic educational institutions, side by side with their brothers in faith. The colophons of many manuscripts show them both as students attending large general classes, and also as teachers, delivering regular courses of lectures.

For instance, the certificate on folios 238-40 of the al-Mashikhat ma al-Tarikh of Ibn al-Bukhari, shows that numerous women attended a regular course of eleven lectures which was delivered before a class consisting of more than five hundred students in the Umar Mosque at Damascus in the year 687/1288. Another certificate, on folio 40 of the same manuscript, shows that many female students, whose names are specified, attended another course of six lectures on the book, which was delivered by Ibn al-Sayrafi to a class of more than two hundred students at Aleppo in the year 736/1336. And on folio 250, we discover that a famous woman traditionist, Umm Abd Allah, delivered a course of five lectures on the book to a mixed class of more than fifty students, at Damascus in the year 837/1433.53

Various notes on the manuscript of the Kitab al-Kifaya of al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, and of a collection of various treatises on hadith, show Ni’ma bin Ali, Umm Ahmad Zaynab bint al-Makki, and other women traditionists delivering lectures on these two books, sometimes independently, and sometimes jointly with male traditionists, in major colleges such as the Aziziyya Madrasa, and the Diyaiyya Madrasa, to regular classes of students. Some of these lectures were attended by Ahmad, son of the famous general Salah al-Din.54


1. Maura O’Neill, Women Speaking, Women Listening (Maryknoll, 1990CE), 31: “Muslims do not use a masculine God as either a conscious or unconscious tool in the construction of gender roles.”

2. For a general overview of the question of women’s status in Islam, see M. Boisers, L’Humanisme de l’Islam (3rd. ed., Paris, 1985CE), 104-10.

3. al-Khatib, Sunna, 53-4, 69-70.

4. See above, 18, 21.

5. Ibn Sa’d, VIII, 355.

6. Suyuti, Tadrib, 215.

7. Ibn Sa’d, VIII, 353.

8. Maqqari, Nafh, II, 96.

9. Wustenfeld, Genealogische Tabellen, 403.

10. al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Tarikh Baghdad, XIV, 434f.

11. Ibid., XIV, 441-44.

12. Ibn al-Imad, Shsadharat al-Dhahah fi Akhbar man Dhahah (Cairo, 1351), V, 48; Ibn Khallikan, no. 413.

13. Maqqari, Nafh, I, 876; cited in Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 366.

14. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 366. “It is in fact very common in the ijaza of the transmission of the Bukhari text to find as middle member of the long chain the name of Karima al-Marwaziyya,” (ibid.).

15. Yaqut, Mu’jam al-Udaba’, I, 247.

16. COPL, V/i, 98f.

17. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 366.

18. Ibn al-Imad, IV, 123. Sitt al-Wuzara’ was also an eminent jurist. She was once invited to Cairo to give her fatwa on a subject that had perplexed the jurists there.

19. Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil (Cairo, 1301), X, 346.

20. Ibn Khallikan, no. 295.

21. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 367.

22. Ibn al-Imad, VI. 40.

23. Ibid., VIII, 14.

24. Ibn Salim, al-Imdad (Hyderabad, 1327), 36.

25. Ibn al-Imad, IV, 100.

26. Ibn Salim, 16.

27. Ibid., 28f.

28. Ibn al-Imad, VI 56.

29. ibid., 126; Ibn Salim, 14, 18; al-Umari, Qitf al-Thamar (Hyderabad, 1328), 73.

30. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 407.

31. Ibn Battuta, Rihla, 253.

32. Yaqut, Mu’jam al-Buldan, V, 140f.

33. Yaqut, Mu’jam al-Udaba, 17f.

34. COPL, V/i, 175f.

35. Ibn Khallikan, no.250.

36. Ibn al-Imad, V, 212, 404.

37. Various manuscripts of this work have been preserved in libraries, and it has been published in Hyderabad in 1348-50. Volume VI of Ibn al-Imad’s Shadharat al-Dhahab, a large biographical dictionary of prominent Muslim scholars from the first to the tenth centuries of the hijra, is largely based on this work.

38. Goldziher, accustomed to the exclusively male environment of nineteenth-century European universities, was taken aback by the scene depicted by Ibn Hajar. Cf. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 367: “When reading the great biographical work of Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani on the scholars of the eighth century, we may marvel at the number of women to whom the author has to dedicate articles.”

39. Ibn Hajar, al-Durar al-Karima fi Ayan al-Mi’a al-Thamina (Hyderabad, 1348-50), I, no. 1472.

40. Ibn al-Imad, VIII, 120f.

41. Ibind., VI, 208. We are told that al-Iraqi (the best know authority on the hadiths of Ghazali’s Ihya Ulum al-Din) ensured that his son also studied under her.

42. A summary by Abd al-Salam and Umar ibn al-Shamma’ exists (C. Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur, second ed. (Leiden, 1943-49CE), II, 34), and a defective manuscript of the work of the latter is preserved in the O.P. Library at Patna (COPL, XII, no.727).

43. Ibid.

44. Sakhawi, al-Saw al-Lami li-Ahl al-Qarn al-Tasi (Cairo, 1353-55), XII, no. 980.

45. Ibid., no. 58.

46. Ibid., no. 450.

47. Ibid., no. 901.

48. al-Aydarus, al-Nur al-Safir (Baghdad, 1353), 49.

49. Ibn Abi Tahir, see COPL, XII, no. 665ff.

50. Ibid.

51. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 407.

52. al-Suhuh al-Wabila, see COPL, XII, no. 785.

53. COPL, V/ii, 54.

54. Ibid., V/ii, 155-9, 180-208. For some particularly instructive annotated manuscripts preserved at the Zahiriya Library at Damascus, see the article of Abd al-Aziz al-Maymani in al-Mabahith al-Ilmiyya (Hyderabad: Da’irat al-Ma’arif, 1358), 1-14