Women Scholars of Hadith (Part 1)
since islam's earliest days, women took 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 scholars of hadith, treated by their brethren with reverence and respect. entries on very large numbers of them are to be found in the biographical dictionaries.
|after the prophet's death, many women companions, particularly his wives, were looked upon as vital custodians of knowledge.|
in the period of the successors
in the period of the successors, too, women held important positions as scholars of hadith. hafsah, the daughter of ibn sirin, umm ad-darda' the younger (d. ah 81/700 ce), and `amrah bint `abdur-rahman, are only a few of the key women scholars of hadith of this period. umm ad-darda' was held by iyas ibn mu`awiyah, an important scholar of hadith of the time and a judge of undisputed ability and merit, to be superior to all the other hadith scholars of the period, including the celebrated masters of hadith like al-hasan al-basri and ibn sirin. `amrah was considered a great authority on traditions related by `a'ishah. among her students, abu bakr ibn hazm, the celebrated judge of madinah, was ordered by the caliph `umar ibn `abdul-`aziz to write down all the traditions known on her authority.
|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.|
zaynab bint sulayman (d. ah 142/759 ce), by contrast, was princess by birth. her father was a cousin of as-saffah, the founder of the abbasid dynasty, and had been a governor of basrah, oman, and bahrain during the caliphate of al-mansur. zaynab, who received a fine education, acquired a mastery of hadith, gained a reputation as one of the most distinguished women scholars of hadith of the time, and counted many important men among her pupils.
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 hadith from the earliest period received many of them from women teachers: 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 scholars themselves mastered them and delivered lectures to large classes of pupils, to whom they would issue their own ijazah (permission to transmit hadiths or a book of hadith).
in the fourth century we find fatimah bint `abdur-rahman (d. ah 312/924 ce), known as as-sufiyyah on account of her great piety; fatimah, granddaughter of abu dawud of sunan fame; amat al-wahid (d. ah 377/987 ce), the daughter of distinguished jurist al-muhamili; umm al-fath amat as-salam (d. ah 390/999 ce), the daughter of the judge abu bakr ahmad (d. ah 350/961 ce); jumu`ah bint ahmad, and many other women, whose classes were always attended by reverential audiences.
|the islamic tradition of female hadith scholarship continued in the fifth and sixth centuries after hijrah.|
shahdah was a famous calligrapher and a scholar 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” (needle-seller). but her father, abu nasr (d. ah 506/1112 ce) had acquired a passion for hadith and managed to study it with several masters of the subject. in obedience to the sunnah (the prophet's way and teachings), he gave his daughter a sound academic education, ensuring that she studied under many hadith scholars 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. 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.
also known as an authority on al-bukhari was sitt al-wuzara, who, besides her acclaimed mastery of islamic law, was known as the musnidah (the great hadith authority) of her time, and delivered lectures on the sahih and other works in damascus and egypt. classes on the sahih were likewise given by umm al-khayr amatil-khaliq (ah 811/1408 ce–ah 911/1505 ce), who is regarded as the last great hadith scholar of the hijaz. still another authority on al-bukhari was `a'ishah bint `abdul-hadi.