Woman scholars of hadith

Since Islam's earliest days, women had been taking 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-traditionists, treated by their brethren with reverence and respect.
Biographical notices on very large numbers of them are to be found in the
biographical dictionaries.

During the lifetime of the Prophet, many women had been not only the
instance for the evolution of many traditions, but had also been their
transmitters to their sisters and brethren in faith.[3]

After the Prophet's death, many women Companions, particularly his wives,
were looked upon as vital custodians of knowledge, and were approached for
instruction by the other Companions, to whom they readily dispensed the rich
store which they had gathered in the Prophet's company. The names of Hafsa,
Umm Habiba, Maymuna, Umm Salama, and A'isha, are familiar to every student
of hadith as being among its earliest and most distinguished transmitters

In particular, A'isha is one of the most important figures in the whole
history of hadith literature - not only as one of the earliest reporters of
the largest number of hadith, but also as one of their most careful

In the period of the Successors, too, women held important positions as
traditionists. Hafsa, the daughter of Ibn Sirin,5 Umm al-Darda the Younger
(d.81/700), and 'Amra bin 'Abd al-Rahman, are only a few of the key women
traditionists of this period.

Umm al-Darda' was held by Iyas ibn Mu'awiya, an important traditionist of
the time and a judge of undisputed ability and merit, to be superior to all
the other traditionists of the period, including the celebrated masters of
hadith like al-Hasan al-Basri and Ibn Sirin [6]

Amra was considered a great authority on traditions related by A'isha. Among
her students, Abu Bakr ibn Hazm, the celebrated judge of Medina, was ordered
by the caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz to write down all the traditions known on
her authority [7]

After them, 'Abida al-Madaniyya, 'Abda bin Bishr, Umm Umar al-Thaqafiyya,
Zaynab the granddaughter of Ali ibn Abd Allah ibn Abbas, Nafisa bint
al-Hasan ibn Ziyad, Khadija Umm Muhammad, 'Abda bint Abd al-Rahman, and many
other members of the fair sex excelled in delivering public lectures on
hadith. 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. For example, Abida, who started life as a
slave owned by Muhammad ibn Yazid, learnt a large number of hadiths with the
teachers in Median. She was given by her master to Habib Dahhun, the great
traditionist of Spain, when he visited the holy city on this way to the
Hajj. Dahhun was so impressed by her learning that he freed her, married
her, and brought her to Andalusia. It is said that she related ten thousand
traditions on the authority of her Medinan teachers [8]

Zaynab bint Sulayman (d. 142/759), by contrast, was princess by birth. Her
father was a cousin of al-Saffah, the founder of the Abbasid dynasty, and
had been a governor of Basra, Oman and Bahrayn during the caliphate of
al-Mansur [9] Zaynab, who received a fine education, acquired a mastery of
hadith, gained a reputation as one of the most distinguished women
traditionists 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
traditions from the earliest period received many of them from women
shuyukh: 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 traditionists themselves mastered them, and delivered lectures to
large classes of pupils, to whom they would issue their own ijazas.

In the fourth century, we find Fatima bint Abd al-Rahman (d. 312/924), known
as al-Sufiyya on account of her great piety; Fatima (granddaughter of Abu
Daud of Sunan fame); Amat al-Wahid (d. 377/987), the daughter of
distinguished jurist al-Muhamili; Umm al-Fath Amat as-Salam (d. 390/999),
the daughter of the judge Abu Bakr Ahmad (d.350/961); Jumua bint Ahmad, and
many other women, whose classes were always attended by reverential
audiences [11]

The Islamic tradition of female hadith scholarship continued in the fifth
and sixth centuries of hijra. Fatima bin al-Hasan ibn Ali ibn al-Daqqaq
al-Qushayri, was celebrated not only for her piety and her mastery of
calligraphy, but also for her knowledge of hadith and the quality of the
isnads she knew [12]

Even more distinguished was Karima al-Marwaziyya (d.463/1070), who was
considered the best authority on the Sahih of al-Bukhari in her own time.
Abu Dharr of Herat, one of the leading scholars of the period, attached such
great importance to her authority that he advised his students to study the
Sahih under no one else, because of the quality of her scholarship. She thus
figures as a central point in the transmission of this seminal text of Islam
[13] As a matter of fact, writes Godziher, 'her name occurs with
extraordinary frequency of the ijazas for narrating the text of this book
[14] Among her students were al-Khatib al-Baghdadi [15] and al-Humaydi
(428/1036-488/1095) [16]

Aside from Karima, a number of other women traditionists occupy an eminent
place in the history of the transmission of the text of the Sahih [17]

Among these, one might mention in particular Fatima bint Muhammad
(d.539/1144; Shuhda 'the Writer' (d.574/1178), and Sitt al-Wuzara bint Umar

Fatima narrated the book on the authority of the great traditionist Said
al-Ayyar; she received from the hadith specialists the proud tittle of
Musnida Isfahan (the great hadith authority of Isfahan). Shuhda was a famous
calligrapher and a traditionist 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'. But her father, Abu Nasr (d. 506/1112) had
acquired a passion for hadith, and managed to study it with several masters
of the subject [19] In obedience to the sunna, he gave his daughter a sound
academic education, ensuring that she studied under many traditionists 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 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 isnad [20] 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 [21]

Also known as an authority on Bukhari was Sitt al-Wuzara, who, besides her
acclaimed mastery of Islamic law, was known as 'the musnida 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 Amat al-Khaliq
(811/1408-911/1505), who is regarded as the last great hadith scholar of the
Hijaz [23]

Still another authority on Bukhari was A'isha bint Abd al-Hadi [24]

Apart from these women, who seem to have specialized in the great Sahih of
Imam al-Bukhari, there were others, whose expertise was centered on other

Umm al-Khayr Fatima bint Ali (d.532/1137), and Fatima al-Shahrazuriyya,
delivered lectures on the Sahih of Muslim [25]

Fatima al-Jawzdaniyya (d.524/1129) narrated to her students the three
Mu'jams of al-Tabarani [26]

Zaynab of Harran (d.68/1289), whose lectures attracted a large crowd of
students, taught them the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the largest known
collection of hadiths [27]

Juwayriya bint Umar (d.783/1381), and Zaynab bint Ahmad ibn Umar
(d.722/1322), who had travelled widely in pursuit of hadith and delivered
lectures in Egypt as well as Medina, narrated to her students the
collections of al-Darimi and Abd ibn Humayd; and we are told that students
travelled from far and wide to attend her discourses [28]

Zaynab bint Ahmad (d.740/1339), usually known as Bint al-Kamal, acquired 'a
camel load' of diplomas; she delivered lectures on the Musnad of Abu Hanifa,
the Shamail of al-Tirmidhi, and the Sharh Ma'ani al-Athar of al-Tahawi, the
last of which she read with another woman traditionist, Ajiba bin Abu Bakr

'On her authority is based,' says Goldziher, 'the authenticity of the Gotha
codex ... in the same isnad a large number of learned women are cited who
had occupied themselves with this work' [30]

With her, and various other women, the great traveller Ibn Battuta studied
traditions during his stay at Damascus [31]

The famous historian of Damascus, Ibn Asakir, who tells us that he had
studied under more than 1,200 men and 80 women, obtained the ijaza of Zaynab
bint Abd al-Rahman for the Muwatta of Imam Malik [32]

Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti studied the Risala of Imam Shafii with Hajar bint

Afif al-Din Junayd, a traditionist of the ninth century AH, read the Sunan
of al-Darimi with Fatima bin Ahmad ibn Qasim [34]

Other important traditionists included Zaynab bint al-Sha'ri
(d.524/615-1129/1218). She studied hadith under several important
traditionists, and in turn lectured to many students - some of who gained
great repute - including Ibn Khallikan, author of the well-known
biographical dictionary Wafayat al-Ayan [35]

Another was Karima the Syrian (d.641/1218), described by the biographers as
the greatest authority on hadith in Syria of her day. She delivered lectures
on many works of hadith on the authority of numerous teachers [36]

In his work al-Durar al-Karima [37] Ibn Hajar gives short biographical
notices of about 170 prominent women of the eighth century, most of whom are
traditionists, and under many of whom the author himself had studied [38]

Some of these women were acknowledged as the best traditionists of the
period. For instance, Juwayriya bint Ahmad, to whom we have already
referred, studied a range of works on traditions, under scholars both male
and female, who taught at the great colleges of the time, and then proceeded
to give famous lectures on the Islamic disciplines. 'Some of my own
teachers,' says Ibn Hajar, 'and many of my contemporaries, attended her
discourses' [39]

A'isha bin Abd al-Hadi (723-816), also mentioned above, who for a
considerable time was one of Ibn Hajar's teachers, was considered to be the
finest traditionist of her time, and many students undertook long journeys
in order to sit at her feet and study the truths of religion [40]

Sitt al-Arab (d.760-1358) had been the teacher of the well-known
traditionist al-Iraqi (d.742/1341), and of many others who derived a good
proportion of their knowledge from her [41]

Daqiqa bint Murshid (d.746/1345), another celebrated woman traditionist,
received instruction from a whole range of other woman.

Information on women traditionists of the ninth century is given in a work
by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Sakhawi (830-897/1427-1489), called al-Daw
al-Lami, which is a biographical dictionary of eminent persons of the ninth
century [42]

A further source is the Mu'jam al-Shuyukh of Abd al-Aziz ibn Umar ibn Fahd
(812-871/1409-1466), compiled in 861 AH and devoted to the biographical
notices of more than 1,100 of the author's teachers, including over 130
women scholars under whom he had studied [43]

Some of these women were acclaimed as among the most precise and scholarly
traditionists of their time, and trained many of the great scholars of the
following generation. Umm Hani Maryam (778-871/1376-1466), for instance,
learnt the Qur'an by heart when still a child, acquired all the Islamic
sciences then being taught, including theology, law, history, and grammar,
and then travelled to pursue hadith with the best traditionists of her time
in Cairo and Mecca. She was also celebrated for her mastery of calligraphy,
her command of the Arabic language, and her natural aptitude in poetry, as
also her strict observance of the duties of religion (she performed the hajj
no fewer than thirteen times). Her son, who became a noted scholar of the
tenth century, showed the greatest veneration for her, and constantly waited
on her towards the end of her life. She pursued an intensive program of
learning in the great college of Cairo, giving ijazas to many scholars, Ibn
Fahd himself studied several technical works on hadith under her [44]

Her Syrian contemporary, Bai Khatun (d.864/1459), having studied traditions
with Abu Bakr al-Mizzi and numerous other traditionalists, and having
secured the ijazas of a large number of masters of hadith, both men and
women, delivered lectures on the subject in Syria and Cairo. We are told
that she took especial delight in teaching [45]

A'isha bin Ibrahim (760/1358-842/1438), known in academic circles as Ibnat
al-Sharaihi, also studied traditions in Damascus and Cairo (and elsewhere),
and delivered lectures which eminent scholars of the day spared no efforts
to attend [46]

Umm al-Khayr Saida of Mecca (d.850/1446) received instruction in hadith from
numerous traditionists in different cities, gaining an equally enviable
reputation as a scholar [47]

So far as may be gathered from the sources, the involvement of women in
hadith scholarships, and in the Islamic disciplines generally, seems to have
declined considerably from the tenth century of the hijra. Books such as
al-Nur al-Safir of al-Aydarus, the Khulasat al-Akhbar of al-Muhibbi, and the
al-Suluh al-Wabila of Muhammad ibn Abd Allah (which are biographical
dictionaries of eminent persons of the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries
of the hijra respectively) contain the names of barely a dozen eminent women
traditionists. But it would be wrong to conclude from this that after the
tenth century, women lost interest in the subject. Some women traditionists,
who gained good reputations in the ninth century, lived well into the tenth,
and continued their services to the sunna.

Asma bint Kamal al-Din (d.904/1498) wielded great influence with the sultans
and their officials, to whom she often made recommendations - which, we are
told, they always accepted. She lectured on hadith, and trained women in
various Islamic sciences [48]

A'isha bint Muhammad (d.906/1500), who married the famous judge Muslih
al-Din, taught traditions to many students, and was appointed professor at
the Salihiyya College in Damascus [49]

Fatima bint Yusuf of Aleppo (870/1465-925/1519), was known as one of the
excellent scholars of her time [50]

Umm al-Khayr granted an ijaza to a pilgrim at Mecca in the year 938/1531

The last woman traditionist of the first rank who is known to us was Fatima
al-Fudayliya, also known as al-Shaykha al-Fudayliya. She was born before the
end of the twelfth Islamic century, and soon excelled in the art of
calligraphy and the various Islamic sciences. She had a special interest in
hadith, read a good deal on the subject, received the diplomas of a good
many scholars, and acquired a reputation as an important traditionist in her
own right. Towards the end of her life, she settled at Mecca, where she
founded a rich public library. In the Holy City she was attended by many
eminent traditionists, who attended her lectures and received certificates
from her. Among them, one could mention in particular Shaykh Umar al-Hanafi
and Shaykh Muhammad Sali. She died in 1247/1831 [52]

Throughout the history of feminine scholarship in Islam it is clear that the
women involved did not confine their study to a personal interest in
traditions, or to the private coaching of a few individuals, but took their
seats as students as well as teachers in pubic educational institutions,
side by side with their brothers in faith.  The colophons of many
manuscripts show them both as students attending large general classes, and
also as teachers, delivering regular courses of lectures.

For instance, the certificate on folios 238-40 of the al-Mashikhat ma
al-Tarikh of Ibn al-Bukhari, shows that numerous women attended a regular
course of eleven lectures which was delivered before a class consisting of
more than five hundred students in the Umar Mosque at Damascus in the year
687/1288. Another certificate, on folio 40 of the same manuscript, shows
that many female students, whose names are specified, attended another
course of six lectures on the book, which was delivered by Ibn al-Sayrafi to
a class of more than two hundred students at Aleppo in the year 736/1336.
And on folio 250, we discover that a famous woman traditionist, Umm Abd
Allah, delivered a course of five lectures on the book to a mixed class of
more than fifty students, at Damascus in the year 837/1433[53]

Various notes on the manuscript of the Kitab al-Kifaya of al-Khatib
al-Baghdadi, and of a collection of various treatises on hadith, show Ni'ma
bin Ali, Umm Ahmad Zaynab bint al-Makki, and other women traditionists
delivering lectures on these two books, sometimes independently, and
sometimes jointly with male traditionists, in major colleges such as the
Aziziyya Madrasa, and the Diyaiyya Madrasa, to regular classes of students.
Some of these lectures were attended by Ahmad, son of the famous general
Salah al-Din [54]

[Chapter 6, pp. 142-153, in Hadith Literature: Its Origin, Development,
Special Features & Criticism by Dr. Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi (Sir Ashutosh
Professor of Islamic Culture, Calcutta University; published by Calcutta
University, 1961)]

NB. This original book contains illustrations of ijazas issued by respective
scholars. A revised edition is now available, rearranged and modified under
the title, Hadith Literature: Its Origins, Development & Special Features
published by Islamic Texts Society (Cambridge, 1993)


1. Maura O'Neill, Women Speaking, Women Listening (Maryknoll, 1990CE), 31:
"Muslims do not use a masculine God as either a conscious or unconscious
tool in the construction of gender roles."
2. For a general overview of the question of women's status in Islam, see M.
Boisers, L'Humanisme de l'Islam (3rd. ed., Paris, 1985CE), 104-10.
3. al-Khatib, Sunna, 53-4, 69-70.
4. See above, 18, 21.
5. Ibn Sa'd, VIII, 355.
6. Suyuti, Tadrib, 215.
7. Ibn Sa'd, VIII, 353.
8. Maqqari, Nafh, II, 96.
9. Wustenfeld, Genealogische Tabellen, 403.
10. al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Tarikh Baghdad, XIV, 434f.
11. Ibid., XIV, 441-44.
12. Ibn al-Imad, Shsadharat al-Dhahah fi Akhbar man Dhahah (Cairo, 1351), V,
48; Ibn Khallikan, no. 413.
13. Maqqari, Nafh, I, 876; cited in Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 366.
14. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 366. "It is in fact very common in the
ijaza of the transmission of the Bukhari text to find as middle member of
the long chain the name of Karima al-Marwaziyya," (ibid.).
15. Yaqut, Mu'jam al-Udaba', I, 247.
16. COPL, V/i, 98f.
17. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 366.
18. Ibn al-Imad, IV, 123. Sitt al-Wuzara' was also an eminent jurist. She
was once invited to Cairo to give her fatwa on a subject that had perplexed
the jurists there.
19. Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil (Cairo, 1301), X, 346.
20. Ibn Khallikan, no. 295.
21. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 367.
22. Ibn al-Imad, VI. 40.
23. Ibid., VIII, 14.
24. Ibn Salim, al-Imdad (Hyderabad, 1327), 36.
25. Ibn al-Imad, IV, 100.
26. Ibn Salim, 16.
27. Ibid., 28f.
28. Ibn al-Imad, VI 56.
29. ibid., 126; Ibn Salim, 14, 18; al-Umari, Qitf al-Thamar (Hyderabad,
1328), 73.
30. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 407.
31. Ibn Battuta, Rihla, 253.
32. Yaqut, Mu'jam al-Buldan, V, 140f.
33. Yaqut, Mu'jam al-Udaba, 17f.
34. COPL, V/i, 175f.
35. Ibn Khallikan, no.250.
36. Ibn al-Imad, V, 212, 404.
37. Various manuscripts of this work have been preserved in libraries, and
it has been published in Hyderabad in 1348-50. Volume VI of Ibn al-Imad's
Shadharat al-Dhahab, a large biographical dictionary of prominent Muslim
scholars from the first to the tenth centuries of the hijra, is largely
based on this work.
38. Goldziher, accustomed to the exclusively male environment of
nineteenth-century European universities, was taken aback by the scene
depicted by Ibn Hajar. Cf. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 367: "When reading
the great biographical work of Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani on the scholars of the
eighth century, we may marvel at the number of women to whom the author has
to dedicate articles."
39. Ibn Hajar, al-Durar al-Karima fi Ayan al-Mi'a al-Thamina (Hyderabad,
1348-50), I, no. 1472.
40. Ibn al-Imad, VIII, 120f.
41. Ibind., VI, 208. We are told that al-Iraqi (the best know authority on
the hadiths of Ghazali's Ihya Ulum al-Din) ensured that his son also studied
under her.
42. A summary by Abd al-Salam and Umar ibn al-Shamma' exists (C.
Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur, second ed. (Leiden,
1943-49CE), II, 34), and a defective manuscript of the work of the latter is
preserved in the O.P. Library at Patna (COPL, XII, no.727).
43. Ibid.
44. Sakhawi, al-Saw al-Lami li-Ahl al-Qarn al-Tasi (Cairo, 1353-55), XII,
no. 980.
45. Ibid., no. 58.
46. Ibid., no. 450.
47. Ibid., no. 901.
48. al-Aydarus, al-Nur al-Safir (Baghdad, 1353), 49.
49. Ibn Abi Tahir, see COPL, XII, no. 665ff.
50. Ibid.
51. Goldziher, Muslim Studies, II, 407.
52. al-Suhuh al-Wabila, see COPL, XII, no. 785.
53. COPL, V/ii, 54.
54. Ibid., V/ii, 155-9, 180-208. For some particularly instructive annotated
manuscripts preserved at the Zahiriya Library at Damascus, see the article
of Abd al-Aziz al-Maymani in al-Mabahith al-Ilmiyya (Hyderabad: Da'irat
al-Ma'arif, 1358), 1-14.

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