Muslim Women Jurists and Scholars
By: Ayatullah Fadhil Milani
There has never been a time, throughout Islamic history, when women were faced with discrimination in their pursuit of Islamic knowledge. From the time of the Prophet (S), women played prominent and highly respected roles in the collection and dissemination of Hadith - and this has also been the case in every subsequent period of history. Biographies of a large number of women are recorded in tomes such as Ayatollah Khoei's 24-volume Encyclopaedia of Hadith Narrators – Mu’jam Rijal al-Hadith.
The most notable women at the time of the Prophet (S) were the Lady
Fatimah•;Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr; her sister ‘Aisha; Um Salamah; Anas bin Malik's mother Um Salma; and Amamah daughter of Abul ‘As. In later generations, many prominent lady scholars are also recorded as having taught the Qur’an, ahadith, Arabic literature, etc.
Towards the end of the first Islamic century, "Amra, daughter of "Abd al-Rahman, Hafsa, daughter of Ibn Sirin, and Umm al-Darda were acknowledged to be the most prominent traditionalists of their time. "Amra's reputation was so distinguished that the Caliph "Umar ibn "Abd al-"Aziz ordered Abu Bakr ibn-Hazm,the celebrated judge of Madinah, to notate all the traditions of which she was the recognized leading authority.
Zaynab, daughter of Sulayman - whose father was cousin to Al-Saffa, the founder of the "Abbasid dynasty - a most celebrated traditionalist, was mentor to many renowned scholars. Another famous woman scholar of the seventh century AH known simply as Karimah the Syrian', is described by biographers as the supreme Syrian teacher of ahadith.
In his work Hidden Pearls - Al-Durar al Kamina, Ibn Hajar names and provides brief biographies of 170 prominent women of the eighth century AH.
In mentioning Juwayriya, the daughter of Ahmad, he records that many of his contemporaries, as well as some of his own teachers, attended her discourses. Umm Hani(d. 778 AH), who learned the Qur’an by heart as a child, later became learned in all the Islamic sciences, including Theology, Law, History and Grammar. She pursued her study of ahadith under the renowned Hadith scholars of Cairo and Makkah. She is also celebrated for her mastery of calligraphy, her command of the Arabic language and her poetry. She carried out a rigorous programme of lectures at the great colleges of Cairo, where she had the authority to grant licenses of competence to many of the scholars of the time.
Throughout Islamic history there have been many women who took their seats as students and teachers in public educational institutions - along side male counterparts at the highest levels. In the last century, a renowned jurist - mujtahid - from Isfahan in Iran, Mrs Amin, taught Islamic Law, Jurisprudence, Exegesis and Arabic Grammar for many decades. Many still refer to her legal opinions for guidance.
In contemporary times, there are colleges and religious centres headed by women in Qum, Mashad and Tehran, in addition to those beacons of illumination and guidance, the women professors at the University of Tehran.