Islam's Women Scholars
By Yoginder Sikand
One indicator of the development of a society is its
female literacy rate and, related to this, the number
of its female scholars. On both these fronts, India's
Muslims are among the lowest of all the communities in
the country. This unfortunate fact provides a basis
for negative stereotyping of the community,
particularly in matters related to inter-gender
relations. This, however, is ironical, given that
Islam is one of the few religions to have declared
education to be a duty binding on all its followers,
men as well as women. The irony is further heightened
by the fact that early Islamic history provides
examples of numerous Muslim women scholars who made
valuable contributions to the intellectual life of
That little known story is precisely what an Urdu book
I recently read with avid interest is all about.
Penned by a Pakistani alim, Maulana Syeed Ghulam
Mustafa Bukhari Aqeel, the book, titled 'Muslim
Khawatin Ki Ilmi Khidmat' ('The Intellectual
Contributions of Muslim Women') contains vignettes
about scores of early Muslim women scholars, who could
serve as major sources of inspiration to Muslims,
including Muslim women, today if only they were more
widely known, a task that the Maulana takes upon
Many of these early Muslim women scholars were experts
in various Islamic sciences, in contrast to today's
case where we have few, if any, such female scholars.
The book refers to Ibn Hajar Asqalani as writing that
the early centuries of Islam record more than 1500
female scholars of Hadith, traditions attributed to
the Prophet Muhammad, including several wives of the
Prophet and his companions as well as women in
succeeding generations. Many of these were also
narrators of Hadith reports. Fatima bint Qais is said
to have had long debates with the caliph Umar on an
issue related to fiqh, and, so the book says, the
majority of the ulema gave preference to her view.
Similarly, the noted historian Khateeb Baghdadi
mentions 32 famous female scholars of his times, and
one of them, Karina Bint Ahmad Maruzia, taught him the
collection of Hadith by Imam Bukhari. Likewise, the
noted Muhaddith Imam Zahri described Umra Bint Abdur
Rahman, a woman brought up by Hazrat Ayesha, as 'an
unending sea of knowledge'.
Several of these women scholars had male students,
something quite inconceivable for many Muslims today.
Thus, Ayesha Bint Sad bin Al-Waqas, a scholar of
Hadith, had a large number of students, including the
great Imam Malik. Imam Shafi, so the book tells us,
would attend the lectures of Hazrat Nafisa,
grand-daughter of Imam Husain. The Abbasid Caliph
Malik Marwan would sometimes attend the lectures of a
woman scholar Sahima Bint Yahya al-Osabia.
Other women wrote books on religious and other
subjects, many of which, unfortunately, have been now
lost. Fatima Nishapuri wrote a tafsir or commentary on
the Quran; Zainab Bint Usman bin Muhammad authored
several books on fiqh; Razia, sister of al-Hakim of
Andalusia, wrote extensively on History and Geography;
Aisha Khas, a noted calligrapher and musician,
translated several books from Sanskrit and Greek and
so on. The book also mentions several Indian Muslim
families from royal families who were accomplished
authors, mainly in the fields of Sufism, history and
In this early period of Islamic history, numerous
women founded madrasas, including some specifically
for Muslim women. Thus, says the book, the first
madrasa, as separate from a mosque as a centre for
education, was founded by a woman, Fatima Bint
Muhammad al-Fahari, in Morocco in the mid-ninth
century. The enormous structure of the madrasa could
accommodate some thirty thousand worshippers praying
Other notable women founders of madrasas in this
period included Maryam Bint Yaqub, who established a
girls' madrasa in Seville, where besides the Islamic
sciences, subjects like Philosophy, History,
Geography, Mathematics, Astronomy and various crafts
were taught; Bint Qazi Shihabuddin al-Tabari, whose
madrasa catered to orphans; Tazkira Rabai Khatun's
madrasa in Egypt for poor girls; a school for training
women in martial arts set up by Geti Ada Begum,
daughter of Murad Khan, ruler of Zabulistan; and the
Dar ul-Zubaida, a madrasa built on the spot of the Dar
ul-Arqam, the place outside Mecca where the Prophet
would himself teach his followers, built by Talib
ul-Zaman Habshia, a female slave of the Abbasid Caliph
These early Muslim women show how Islam, as they and
the men who supported their endeavours understood it,
positively facilitated women's scholarship and
intellectual pursuit. In a context as in India today,
where the number of female Islamic scholars is
negligible and even books on Islam and women are still
written almost wholly by men and are often shaped by
patriarchal prejudices, these women provide numerous
lessons that we could well profit from.
SUCCESSFUL NAATIA MUSHAERA ON 2.21.14
45 PICTURES AT: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeghouse/sets/72157641382648224/
August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas
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Mirza A Beg
PLANNED MUSLIMS RESPONSE TO QUR'AN BURNING BY PASTOR JONES ON 9/11/13 IN MULBERRY, FLORIDA
We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.
Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”
God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.
We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration (www.UnitydayUSA.com) held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.
Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.
As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.
We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.
We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.
We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.
Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.
Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.
We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.
The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.