Today, it would be difficult to find a "sheikh" who even knows the names of her books, to say nothing of having read them. In addition to her intellectual acumen, her chain of narration in Hadith is regarded as the strongest from her generation back to the Prophet (peace upon him). Between her and Imam Al-Bukhari are eight transmitters, and between Imam Al-Bukhari and the Prophet (peace upon him) there are variously, three, four or five transmitters. No other chain of narrators allows one to reach the Prophet (peace upon him) with an equal or smaller number of narrators.
If we consider the great role of women such as Hafsah (may Allah be pleased with her and her father) in the compilation of the Qur'an, and the role of women like Aishah bint Abdul-Hadi in preserving and accurately conveying Hadith, it is clear that the two most fundamental sources of our religion have been secured with the aid and blessing of women.
Fatimah Al-Juzdani, a great scholar from Isfahan in present-day Iran, read one of the great books of Hadith, Al-Mu`jam Al-Kabeer, with Abu Bakr ibn Rida, who himself studied the entirety of the book with its author, Imam At-Tabarani. This book has been published in thirty-seven volumes (unfinished). After mastering the book, she subsequently taught it many times.
Not a single scholar alive today has studied this book, or even part of it with a teacher. Furthermore, we do not have a single narration of this book except from women, because it was forgotten by the male Hadith scholars.
In the time of Ibn Taymiyya, there were other scholars like Imam Dhahabi, Al-Mizzi, Al-Birzali, Tajuddin Al-Subqi, and a little later, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Al-Qayyim, Ibn Nasiruddin Al-Dimishqui, and Hafidh Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani. This was the golden age of Hadith, when the development of Hadith literature and teaching was at its peak. Not only were these men scholars, they were also reformers of their society.
At this very time, there was a woman in Syria, who was also known for her scholarship and the powerful positive influence she had on society. She helped in the reformation of communities in Damascus and Cairo by enjoining good and forbidding evil.
Ibn Kathir, the student of Ibn Taymiyya, has written in his highly acclaimed work of history, Al-Bidaya wal-Nihaya: "She reformed society by enjoining good and forbidding evil, she accomplished what men are unable to do, that is to say, she did more than the male scholars of her time." This testimony was written by a man. Hence, no one can say it is the biased opinion of a woman, and thereby question its authenticity. This was a golden age full of proactive, confident and talented women.
Not only were women scholars allowed to give binding religious verdicts, but if they differed with their male contemporaries there would be absolutely no objections concerning their judgement.
Hisham ibn `Urwah ibn Zubair (may Allah be pleased with him), is the teacher of Imam Malik, Abu Hanifa, Sufyan al-Thawri, Saeed Qahtan, and is acknowledged as a great Hadith scholar of that era. The most reliable Hadiths narrated by him, found in both Bukhari and Muslim, are those he narrates from his wife, Fatimah bint Mundhir. Sadly, many Muslim men today would not marry a woman more knowledgeable than themselves. The men of our past would proudly marry and learn from them.
One of the best compilations in Hanafi fiqh is the masterpiece Badaya al-Sanaya by Imam Kasani, whose wife was Fatimah Al-Samarqandiyya, daughter of Ala'addin Al-Samarqandi. This book is a commentary on Tuhfat al-Fuqaha' written by the latter. Fatimah was a great expert in Hadith and other religious sciences.
Imam Kasani's students narrate: "We saw our teacher at times would leave the classroom when he could not answer a certain difficult question. After a while he would return to elucidate the answer in great detail. Only later on did we learn that he would go home to put the same question to his wife in order to hear her explanation." Clearly, he depended on his wife in his scholarly life.
Not only were women scholars allowed to give binding religious verdicts (fatwas), but if they differed with their male contemporaries there would be absolutely no objections concerning their pronouncements. This was apparent from the earliest period. Illustrative of this is the opinion of Fatimah bint Qais (may God be pleased with her), who said that a husband need not provide support for his irrevocably divorced wife during her period of waiting (‘iddah). She based her opinion on a narration from the Prophet (peace upon him).
Despite the fact that `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) and other senior companions disagreed with her, based on their understanding of a verse in the Qur'an, they did not question her faith, impose sanctions on her, nor did they prevent her from continuing to narrate the Hadith and issuing her fatwa.
This incident is interesting in that it presents the opinion of a woman that advances a ruling that is not deemed favorable to woman. In so doing she opposes an opinion advanced by men that is deemed favorable to women. If this incident had occurred in our times it would have surely been the point of much contention and discussion.
The above are just some of the evidence that establishes the enormous contribution of women to the Islamic scholarly enterprise. The book it is excerpted from contains many more arguments and can be found at http://www.interfacepublications.com
This article originally appeared in www.newislamicdirections.com
It is republished here with kind permission.
Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi is currently a Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford. He specialized and taught Hanafi fiqh at the Nadwat al-‘Ulama (India). He has written over20 books in Arabic — biographical studies of Islamic scholars, Arabic grammar and syntax, Qur’anic sciences and Hadith sciences. He is currently working on the introduction to a (just completed) 40-volume biographical dictionary of women scholars of hadith in the Islamic world. He has just begun to write books in English. The following are forthcoming in 2007: al-Fiqh al-Islami (Angelwing); al-Muhaddithat: Women Scholars in Islam (Interface Publications,October 2006); and Madrasah Life: A Day in the Life of a Student in Nadwatul Ulama (al-Turath Publications
-------~--~----~------------~-------~--~----~The Believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two brothers; and fear Allah, that ye may receive Mercy. (49:10) Oh mankind! We created you from a single of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted. (49:13)