Al-Muhaddithat: the Women Scholars in Islam
The book covers centuries of female scholarship from the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and thereafter. Although women became scholars in all fields of knowledge, this particular book covers the prominent female scholars of Hadith. It should be noted that Al-Muhadithat is only the Muqaddimah or introduction to Akrams 40 volume biographical dictionary on this subject. That's right, 40 volumes dedicated to female scholars of Hadith. Only the Muqaddimah has been translated from Arabic into English and it consists of about 300 pages.
Al-Muhaddithat is a great source of reference for female scholarship in Islamic history. It is well indexed and divided into ten chapters dealing with a number of valuable subjects. The biographical examples I isolated [below] were done so in order to provide a feel for some aspects of the book. Overall, I am pleased that such a detailed work has been translated into English on this subject. Likewise, it is significant because it highlights the potential of female scholarship.
Classes could be held in various venues such as Mosques, houses, schools etc. The attendees would be male and female and likewise the teachers could be male or female. The lists of attendees were recorded in the students manuscripts which would display the names of many female students. Akram notes that women became proficient with the pen in the second year after the migration to Madinah (Hijrah). For the centuries that followed, women as well as men sought out the obligatory knowledge of their religion based on the Hadith,Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim.
Akram points out that much of the early education started at home with the parents and relatives. Afterwards they may continue further studies with a teacher in the Mosque etc. They would also learn from their husbands and there were situations where their husbands would learn from them. A man who had a Shaykhah as a wife could refer to her for difficult juristic issues. The author gives some examples of parents who passed their knowledge to their daughters such as Imam Malik. His daughter memorized the Muwatta from him -the best book at that time for Hadith and Fiqh issues. Likewise, Saeed ibn Al-Musayyab had a daughter who learnt all the Hadiths her father knew by heart. The Umayyad Caliph Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan asked if his son Al-Walid could marry Saeed ibn Al-Musayyabs daughter. Rather than marry the Caliphs son, Saeed refused and preferred for her to marry one of his impoverished students. Her husband said about her, She was among the most beautiful people, and most expert of those who know the book of God by heart, and most knowledgeable of the Sunnah of the Prophet, and most aware of the rights of the husband.
The author gives many examples of greatly influential female teachers. For example, Umm Kiraam, Kareema Al-Marwaziyyah who came from central Asia was considered to be the best women of the fourth Hijri century to learn the entire Sahih of Al-Bukhari from her teacher Abul-Haytham Al-Kushmihani. Kareema later traveled with her father and settled in Makkah where students would travel from far and wide to learn the Sahih of Al-Bukhari from her. Akram notes, Her version of it has always been particularly popular. Imam Al-Dhahabi stated about her, Whenever she narrated, she would compare with her original. She had knowledge and good understanding [combined] with goodness and worship.
Another famous Shaykhah was Fatimah bint Saeed Al-Khair (sixth Hijri century). Her father was a scholar and she married one of her fathers greatest students. Although she was born in China, her father migrated from Valencia (in the western side of the world) possibly due to the upheaval caused by the Christians of the Spanish region at that time. Her father took her to learn from many scholars in different places. In fact, the map that appears on the cover of this particular book under review shows the study journeys of Fatimah. Fatimah had too many students to mention, so Akram left them out of the Muqaddimah. Her teachings were very influential and far reaching. In Akrams biographic dictionary about the Muhaddithat, he composed 20 pages alone on Fatimah bint Saeed Al-Khair.
The author gives name after name such as Aasia bint Muhammad AlIrbili. She received Ijaazahs (permission to teach a text or subject) from over two hundred of her teachers male and female. Many of our great male Scholars such as Ibn Taymiyah and Ibn Al-Hajr had numerous female scholar teachers. For example, Al-Mizzi, Ibn Taymiyah and Al-Dhahabi had Zaynab bint Makki ibn Ali ibn Kaamil Al-Harrani as one of their teachers. Abdul-Malik ibn Marwan (the Caliph) used to attend Fiqh classes with Umm Ad-Dardaa (a Muhaddithah and Taabiiyyah) etc. Although it is only the introduction, this book demonstrates great research in isolating the significance of these invaluable scholars in our illustrious history. It is also very well referenced.
Akram also makes such points in his preface that the correct Islamic etiquette was present such as no intermixing which will lead to forbidden relationships and Islamic attire such as Hijab was worn -as it is commanded from the Most-High. These women were upright adherents to the way of Islam as it was revealed.
Out of 8000 biographical accounts, Akram notes that there were no complaints from any of these women with respect to the position of women in Islam. They did not get the impression of inferiority or show disdain for the teachings of Islam and family life etc. Rather, they were firm defenders of the Sunnah and their scholarship attests to that. One of the women considered to be one of the reformers of her time (seventh Hijri century) was Umm Zaynab, Fatimah bint Abbas Al-Baghdadiyyah. When we say reformer, it is not in reference to changing the religion, rather it is in reference to reviving it back to the way it was. She was praised by the scholars of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaah such as Ibn Taymiyyah who said she was a great scholar, jurist, leader of the women of her time etc. Al-Dhahabi commented that the women of Damascus and Egypt were reformed by her. She had a lot of popularity and influence over the hearts [of people]. Ibn Kathir mentioned that she commanded good and forbade evil, spoke out and opposed deviant sects and opposed the people of bidah, in [all] that she did what men were unable to do.
The believing men and believing women are protecting friends (awliya) of one another, they bid to good (al-maruf), and forbid from evil (al-munkar); they establish the prayer and give the alms (zakah) and obey God and His Messenger.[Qur'an: 9:71]