“The Spotlight” brings to light the stories of Muslim women of the past and present. In this instalment, TMWT tells the stories of 5 historical Muslim women you need to know about
5 Historical Muslim Women You Need to Know About
The twenty-first century is the century of Muslim women. The tide is turning. Historical Muslim women are being excavated from the buried pages of history. And if there’s one salient message that this points at, it is that women aren’t just making history, they made history. It is delightful to note that this generation is giving justice to the thousands of women whose histories were buried for generations. It is more heartwarming that we are taking ownership of our past and present narratives and allowing the phenomenal women of the past to shape our present and future. According to Arzoo Ahmed, founder of Muslim Women Histories, “The story of Islamic scholarship is a story of men and women, in which women were left unacknowledged.” TMWT is committed to unearthing and spotlighting the stories of these women and while this is fundamentally the goal of this platform, we will be more focused on producing content centred around celebrating women’s history in women’s history month. Here are 5 historical Muslim women you need to know about.
Fatimah bint Sa’d Al-Khayr
In the 12th century, Fatimah bint Sa’d Al-Khayr was born to a Spanish Muslim father in the old city of Kashgar, East Turkestan. She started her scholarly journey in China at the age of four under the tutelage of her father, Sa’d al-Khayr. She journeyed and moved through madrasahs from the Far East, stopping at Samarkand, Bukhara, Merv, Tus, Nishapur, and Rayy for her studies until she reached Isfahan, where she learned with the renowned scholar Fatimah al-Juzdaniyyah. Fatimah’s journey traversed over 3000 miles, in a time when the only means of travel was camel or horseback, and she established a successful teaching career in Baghdad. She taught men and women in Damascus, Jerusalem and Cairo. At the age of 78, she died in Cairo and was buried below a mountain called ‘Muqattam‘
Kareemah bint Ahmad Al-Marwaziyyah
Originally from Turkmenistan, Kareemah bint Ahmad bin Muhammad Al Marwaziyyah was raised in the holy city of Makkah. She was famous in those days for traveling long distances with her father to acquire knowledge and study Hadith. Her journey for this knowledge took her to Sarkhas, Isfahan, Jerusalem, and finally to Makkah. She acquired knowledge under well-known scholars such as Abul Haitham al-Kusmihani, Abdullah ibn Yusuf, Yusuf ibn Baymuyah al- Isfahani and Zahir ibn Ahmad al-Sarkhasi.
She was known as Shaykha of Makkah, specialized in the teaching and narration of hadith, especially the collection of Bukhari Hadith. The most authentic version of the Sahih Al-Bukhari is traced to her. She taught both men and women from the knowledge she had acquired. Students came from all over to study with her, including the well-known historian, Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi (d. 1071) and Ali bin Hussain al-Farra (d. 1066). The well-known Shaykh Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Zahabi (d. 1334) commented on Kareemah, “She had a great deal of knowledge and was a very pious woman.” She is still well-known in the field of scholars for her piety, pure creed, and profound knowledge. Kareemah (Rah.) was a shining example for the Muslim community and she is still fondly remembered as the “Mother of Generosity”.
Amrah bint Abd-al-Rahman
In the eighth century, Amrah bint Abd-al-Rahman belonged to the tabi’een generation which followed the generation of the Prophet (PBUH)’s companions. In fact, her grandfather, As’ad ibn Zurarah, was one of the very first people from Madinah to accept Islam. She grew up under the care of Aishah, the Prophet’s wife, and she learned much from Aishah, particularly her reported Hadiths.
It is well-known that Aishah was one of the most prolific reporters of Hadith among the Prophet’s relatives and companions. Hence, Amrah’s close association with Aishah benefited her so as to become one of the best and most reliable transmitters of Hadiths reported by Aishah. Amrah also transmitted Hadiths reported by Hamnah bint Jahsh, the Prophet’s cousin and sister-in-law, as well as Umm Salamah, the Prophet’s wife, Habeebah bint Sahl, Rafi’ ibn Khadeej, and she also transmitted Hadiths from her half-sister, Umm Hisham bint Harithah. Numerous are the scholars who transmitted Hadiths from her. Among these was Urwah ibn Al-Zubayr, her brother Muhammad ibn Abd Al-Rahman, her grandson Harithah ibn Abu Al-Rajjal, Muhammad ibn Amr ibn Hazm, Amr ibn Dinar and the stalwart of Hadith scholarship at the time, Al-Zuhri. Her standing is such that all Hadith scholars who classified reporters and transmitters according to their reliability rate her very highly.
Of all her achievements in the field of scholarship, an incident that stands out was when she intervened in a court case in Medina and prevented a miscarriage of justice by presenting textual evidence which forced the judge to overturn his decision, without requiring a second opinion. According to Arzoo Ahmed “With all the controversy that surrounds reports on the unequal status of women in Islam, we see examples in the formative years of Islam, when a woman’s testimony was given equal, and sometimes more worth, than that of their counterparts.“
Fatimah bint Al-Mundhir
An 8th-century hadith scholar from Madinah, Fatimah bint Al-Mundhir belonged to the generation of tabi’een. She obtained her knowledge of hadiths from Asma bint Abu Bakr and Umm Salamah. As evidence of the transmission of the knowledge from them in the chain of transmitters in the six collections of the hadiths, the name of Fatima bint Mundhir occupies the second place. Many great Imams narrated hadiths from her including Muhammad bin Ishaq. Her husband, Hisham bin Urwah who was one of the teachers of Imam Abu-Hanifah and Imam Malik also learned a great deal from her.
Interestingly enough, she memorized a greater number of the hadiths than her husband, due to her learning from Asma bint Abu Bakr. Despite being a hadith scholar, she became one of the great female representatives of the tabi’een generation and she achieved the title of faqih (jurist).
Razia Sultan was a thirteenth-century ruler of the Delhi Sultanate in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. She is notable for being the first female Muslim ruler of the Subcontinent, and the only female Muslim ruler of Delhi. Razia’s ascension was challenged by a section of nobles, some of whom ultimately joined her, while the others were defeated. The Turkic nobles who supported her expected her to be a figurehead, but she increasingly asserted her power. She established law and order, built infrastructure, encouraged trade and founded schools. She uplifted the underserved and pushed for minority rights. This, combined with her appointments of non-Turkic officers to important posts, increased her detractors’ resentment against her, which ultimately led to her dethronement four years later.
Call for Essays
Women’s history is happening around us every day, from the first Muslim woman to launch a spacecraft to the first Muslim woman to become a senator to the teachers, homeschooling mums, doctors, and helpers helping us get through the day. We are creating the futures we want to see and that future is now.
Who are the awesome women in your lives? The phenomenal yet unsung heroes who shaped you into the women you are today. Do you lean on advice given by a beloved woman? Is there a quote from a Muslim woman that inspires you to keep going? Have stories of heroic Muslim women to share? Join @tmwt_com in celebrating Women’s history month by sending in your stories or pitching ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org along with your bio, social media handles and favourite headshot. We look forward to your contributions.
TMWT is an online media platform spotlighting the stories of Muslim women of the past and present. We aim to be one of the most authoritative and informative guides to what is happening in the world of Muslim women. We hope to cover key issues, spark debates, progressive ideas and provocative topics to get the Muslim world talking. We want to set agendas and explore ideas to improve the lives and wellbeing of Muslim Women.