Sunday, July 27, 2008

Glimpse at early women Islamic scholars

Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi

Friday, September 7, 2007

IN THE time of the Companions, no question ever arose concerning the validity of learning directly from women. In every chapter of the books of prophetic tradition (Hadith) we will find women narrating as well as men. Major events such as the beginning of the call to the prophetic office were specifically narrated by women. 'Aisha alone narrated the tradition detailing the circumstances of the first revelation, as recorded by Imam Bukhari, immediately after the Hadith mentioning that actions are judged based on the intention accompanying them.

Interestingly, there is no single Hadith which has been rejected from a woman on account of her being a liar. Imam Dhahabi affirms: "There are many men who have fabricated Hadith. However, no woman in the history of Islam has been accused of fabrication." In light of this, if the intellectual integrity of anyone should be questioned, it should be that of men. Women have always truthfully conveyed religious knowledge.

Amrah bint Abdur Rahman was amongst the greatest of the female successors, the generation that came after that of the companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him. She was a jurist, a mufti, and a Hadith specialist. The great Caliph Umar ibn 'Abdul 'Aziz used to say: "If you want to learn Hadith go to Amrah." Imam Zuhri, who is credited with compiling the first systematically edited compilation of Hadith used to say: "Go to Amrah, she is the vast vessel of Hadith."

During that time, the Judge of Madinah ruled that the hand of a Syrian thief be cut off. Amrah bint Abdur Rahman immediately told one of her students to go tell the judge that he could not have the man's hand cut for stealing something whose value was less than a single gold coin (Dinaar). The judge then released the thief. He did not question her authority, nor did he seek a second opinion from other scholars, who were quite numerous in Madinah at the time. They included the likes of Sa'id ibn Al Musayyib. This incident is recorded in the Muwatta of Imaam Malik.

One of great Successors, Umm Darda, taught in both Damascus, in the great Umayyad Mosque, and Jerusalem. Her class was attended my Imams, jurists, and Hadith scholars. The powerful Caliph Abdul Malik ibn Marwan, who ruled an empire stretching from Spain to India, had a teaching license from Abdullah ibn Umar, who was considered the greatest jurist of his time in Madinah. When 'Abdullah reached old age, the people asked him: "Who should we seek religious verdicts from after you?" He replied: "Marwan has a son (Abdul Malik), who is a jurist so ask him."

Hence, Abdul Malik was endorsed by Abdullah. Yet even he would attend the classes of Umm Darda and he would never feel ashamed of learning from her. It has been recorded that when Umm Darda was teaching she would lean on Abdul Malik's shoulder, due to her being advanced in years, to go to mosque.

Around the beginning of the 8th Hijriyah, Fatima bint Ibrahim ibn Jowhar, a famous teacher of Bukhari, under whom both Imams Dhahabi and Subqi studied the entirety of Sahih Bukhari, appeared. When she came for the Haj, her fame was such that as soon as the students of Hadith heard that she had reached Madinah, they requested her to teach in the Mosque of the Prophet.

Ibn Rushayd al-Subki, who travelled from Marrakech, described one of her classes thus: "She was sitting in front of the blessed head of Prophet, peace upon him, and (due to her advanced years) she would lean on his grave. She would finish by writing and signing the licence to transmit her narrations (Ijaazah), personally, for all of the Hadiths that were read by every student present."

'Aisha bint Abdul Hadi used to teach in the grand mosque of Damascus. She was appointed by the Sultan of that time as the Master of Hadith and taught the compilation of Imam Bukhari. Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani travelled to Damascus and studied more than one hundred books with her.

'Aisha's chain of narration is regarded as the strongest from her generation back to the Prophet. Between her and Imam Bukhari are eight transmitters, and between Imam Bukhari and the Prophet, there are variously, three, four or five transmitters. No other chain of narrators allows one to reach the Prophet with an equal or smaller number of narrators.

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