The contribution of female Muslim scholars in Islamic history

Suhaila Zain Al-Abideen

SOME Muslim historians, both old and modern, have tried to hide the contributions of Muslim women to the scientific and non-scientific advancement of Muslim societies throughout Islamic history. Such historians wanted the public to think that men have played the major role in all advancements and women have done nothing when in fact Muslim women have played a pivotal role in the evolution of Muslim societies ever since the revelation of the Holy Qur’an.

Female scholars learned from male scholars and taught male scholars as well. Many female scholars wrote books and acted as authorities on religious issues. Men who wanted to widen their Shariah knowledge used to attend the sessions of female scholars and some men even traveled for days to another city to attend the sessions of a certain female scholar. Therefore, Muslim women were not stay-at-home moms; on the contrary, they had strong roles in society. At the time, the West did not have any impact on Muslim societies. However, women have been marginalized since 1494. Because of this marginalization, the illiteracy rate among Muslim women has reached 66 percent.

Among the most prominent female scholars was Umm Al-Darda Al-Soghra, who died in 700 AD. She was an authority on “ahadith” (sayings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) and several great scholars at the time attended her classes such as Hasan Al-Basri, who died in 728 AD and was a great scholar, theologian and judge. The celebrated scholar Muhammad Ibn Sirin and Abu Bakr Ibn Hazm, a great judge of Madinah, also attended her classes. This great female scholar was known for her in-depth fatwas. She held classes inside Damascus Mosque where she explained complicated juristic viewpoints to her students, both male and female. Even the Umayyad Caliph Abdul Malik Bin Marwan attended her classes.

Another prominent female scholar was Nafisa Bint Al-Hassan, the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). She grew up in Madinah where she attended the sessions of great scholars, such as Imam Malik Ibn Anas and learned from them. She was an eminent scholar who taught two of the great scholars of the time: Abu Abdullah Muhammad Idris Al-Shafi’i and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, who were two of the four great imams. The former’s legacy on juridical matters and teaching led to the Shafi’i School of Jurisprudence while that of the latter led to the Hanbali School of Jurisprudence.

Men who wanted to widen their Shariah knowledge used to attend the sessions of female scholars and some men even traveled for days to another city to attend the sessions of a certain female scholar. Therefore, Muslim women were not stay-at-home moms; on the contrary, they had strong roles in society. At the time, the West did not have any impact on Muslim societies.