Education of Women by the Masoomeen (A.S.)
The Masoumeen’s (AS) contribution to women’s education has always been great, and whoever was closer to them and more eager was able to reap the most benefit. Apart from their wives and daughters, the names of many maidservants are also included within the group of those who benefited, such as: Salma and Khooleh; the maidservants of the Prophet (SAW); Fizza, the maid-servant of Hazrat Fatima (SA) and Imam Ali (AS), and Zubra, the maidservant of Imam Ali (AS) Saeeda and Salma, the maidservants of Imam Jafar Sadiq (AS), and others.
Now let us take a glance at the knowledge and wisdom of a few among these ladies.
a) Although Hazrat Fatima (SA) was without a maidservant during the first few years of her marriage, with the economic development of Medina, Hazrat Fatima (SA) also became able to attain a maidservant, named Fizza. She was a woman who after many years had traveled the course from the land of polytheism to an Islamic society,and had found an abode in the house of this erudite couple. Fizza had not stayed more than a few years in the house of Fatima (SA). During this period of time her duty was to help her mistress in a house with four small children, shortage of living facilities and regular absence of the head of the family due to his presence in the war, was very stressful. The question is how did Fatima (SA) deal with Fizza? The reply is vague; we only know such that during the period of her short stay, Fizza became such a master of the Qur’an that for more than 20 years, whatever people inquired of her, she, with a profound knowledge of the Qur’an, answered them by reciting a verse from the Qur’an regarding that question.
b) Regarding the life of Saeeda, the maidservant of Imam Sadiq (AS), it is said that she was a learned woman who was under the training of Imam Sadiq (AS). Imam Reza (AS) praises her and says: “Saeeda had a strong recognition for different thoughts and she used to distinguish the very minute and correct ideas.”1 c) It is said that an old lady who was one of Imam Askari’s (AS) maidservants, after hearing people’s questions, she would receive the answers from Imam Mahdi (AS) and present them to the people.2
In continuing this discussion it is necessary to make mention that women’s education by the Masoumeen (AS) in many cases, took place away from their home environment and the women who showed readiness to learn, with their help would acquire knowledge. It is said that once a lady came to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and requested him to teach the women whatever Allah (SWT) had taught him and he (SAW) replied: “Tell me the place and the time of your gathering.” After inquiring about the time and place the Prophet (SAW) went and started teaching them. The point to be noted is that according to the request of the women, the Prophet (SAW) taught the women whatsoever Allah (SWT) had taught him.
What had Allah (SWT) taught to His Prophet? Whatever it was, definitely His teachings were full of great educational and public instructions and this great knowledge had been produced to the women. 3
Women, apart from inquiring intellectual questions from the Masoumeen (AS) also acquired great knowledge by going to the mosques and listening to the Masoumeen (AS) from the pulpit and also attending the Friday and Eid prayers. Umm-e Senan says: “We women used to attend Friday and congregational prayers and the prayers of Eid-el-Fitr and Eid-el-Hajj with the Prophet (SAW).”4This excellent custom continued even after the demise of the Prophet (SAW), and whenever the Masoumeen (AS) gave a speech in the mosque, women also alongside the men, observing the Islamic limits and chastity, used to listen to the speech and improve their knowledge and learning.
Due to the struggle of the Masoumeen (AS) for the promotion of women’s education and the struggle of the women for acquiring knowledge, many women attained a high level of knowledge and they took the lead from the illiterate men of their time.
In the praise of these knowledgeable ladies, Imam Ali (AS) has said: “ O what a great number of women have a deep perceptibility in religious knowledge in comparison to men.” 5
It is narrated that the Prophet (SAW) also praising women who seek knowledge says: “What fine women are the women of the Ansars, whose modesty and prudence have not hindered their sound observance of religion.” 6
The women who acquired knowledge in the presence of these thoughtful personalities and were enlightened by the illuminative light of knowledge and wisdom, have also transferred their knowledge to others in different fields, and a collection of their preaching by the title of ‘Narration of the companion women’ have been included in the narration books. The writers, who have spent their energy explaining the life of the male narrators, have also included the names of these women and have included their narration.
Examples of Women’s Struggle for Knowledge:
Women’s struggle for knowledge in the center of Islam had many manifestations and with patient research many instances can be collected and produced. e.g.:
* We may find Umm-e-Warqa, who wrote down and collected the Qur’an. She in her heart cherished the wish for martyrdom and had also told the Prophet (SAW) about her wish and the Prophet would pray for her.7
* Umm-e-Salma is a researcher, who told the Prophet (SAW): “O Prophet of Allah (SWT)! May my parents sacrifice their lives for you! I have studied the revealed books and have found that every Prophet has his successor and he introduces his successor in his lifetime. Who is your successor?”8
* Umm-e-Aiman another learned lady who cried due to the death of Prophet (SAW). The Muslims who themselves were hurt due to the demise of the Prophet (SAW) give compliment to her grief. They questioned her regarding her regular crying and grief and she replied: “I knew that the Prophet (SAW) like others would die one day, but the grief of my heart is that, due to his death, the holy revelations will also stop.” 9
The dear grief of this lady about the parting and separation from Allah’s (SWT) revelation is the sign of her knowledge and insight.
* At times the narrator narrates that I used to teach Qur’an to a lady in the mosque in the presence of Imam Baqir (AS). This act was acceptable due to the silence shown by the Imam (AS). Although if this act were contaminated by unlawful and illegal relations between man and woman or even jesting among ‘non-mahram’ the Imam, who is the source of knowledge, would condemn such contaminated learning. 10
* Hubbub Albia says: “I was present at the place in Mecca where Imam Baqir (AS) used to teach; he answered approximately a thousand detailed questions which were all witnessed and I, in turn learnt from this.” 11
Several other examples can be quoted. Although with the passage of time and changes within the society, women’s knowledge has seen many ups and downs. In the society where there was the domination of pure Muhammadan Islam, women were seekers of knowledge and they were even teachers. But when the society came under the power of greedy rulers and was directioned towards fulfilling the desires of the powerful, the progress of women’s education and knowledge was hindered and it didn’t have the previous acceleration. In an environment where the intellectuals valued women on the bases of virtues such as level of intelligence, increased knowledge, etc. and the rulers also used their power as a tool in establishing and stabilizing these values, women’s knowledge was developed both in quantity and quality. But when the noble class of the society, after the fulfilling of their lust and passions, in losing themselves to the tainted culture of Rome and Persia, or east and west, they summarized the value of women on the bases of her coquettishness and charm.
Due to this, the learned women were put down and even their knowledge decreased badly. Therefore, through the centuries our Muslim society has faced many problems such women’s ignorance, superficial attitudes towards women and even a shortage of women intellectuals.
We should not forget the fossilized holy concepts have also contributed to this great calamity. Those who have been overzealous as regards the relations of men and women have founded their own religious laws for women. They have gone to such an extent that the religious duties like Amr-bil-Marouf and Nahy-al-Munkar have been abundant by them, saying that it is possible that a non-mahram might hear the voice of a woman even at a far off distance, or he might see the shape of a woman’s body although properly covered by Hijab.
This group has forgotten that if half of the society is placed in the darkness of ignorance, the other half will also be affected by this calamity. How will the children who are brought up by such ignorant women, develop into a new Muslim generation? If the talented ladies of the Muslim society aren’t given the possibility for intellectual development, what deprivations will the Muslim society face? With extreme disappointment a few people in the society, especially in the field of science, have taken the lead from the Muslims, in the field of knowledge and art, and the Muslims are compelled to face the disgrace of begging others to fulfill their needs.
What a difference there is between this fossilization and acting upon Allah’s (SWT) commandment where He says: “…and to Allah (SWT) belongs the might and to His Apostle..” Surah 63: 8. We should not think that the “might and honor” mentioned here relates to the hereafter because this religious law deals both with this world and the next and are recommendations for the development and improvement of the Muslim world.
The honor and independence of the Muslims from the non-believers (kuffar) necessitates adequate knowledge and the tools for a healthy life. It is therefore a duty upon everyone, according to his or her capabilities and aspirations to bring honor to the Islamic society.
This group using the pretext of a few narrations consisting of a few minute points and neglecting the sayings of the Prophet (SAW) and the seerat of the infallibles, rejected the educational participation of women and even the smallest ability to write and acquire education was known as unlawful (Haram) by them. They forgot the speech given by Hazrat Fatima (SA) to the Muslim gathering, and the only thing that they acquired from that great lady and have stuck to it was her avoidance of non-mahrams... .
In all fairness it should be accepted that lawlessness and existent moral deviation in the society, also supported this group’s ideas. On the other hand if we take a look at the difficulties of women in Islamic countries, we will find that weak aspirations is the main factor regarding this problem. Women due to their household activities, taking care of a husband and children and maintaining a peace of mind, were less successful in acquiring an education and on the other hand, in the ruling period of the Ummayid, Abbasid and Ottoman empires and under the westernized secular government, women were not socially secure to attend educational gatherings. Observance of cultural modesty is known as the one of the foremost essentials for a Muslim woman and the societies under the rule of these governments had failed to observe such a culture.
All these factors are related to each other and for centuries, except in a few cases history was devoid of the names of great scholarly women.
1. Rijal Kushi, p. 366
2. Bihar, vol. 52, p. 20
3 Targheeb, vol. 3, p. 76; Sahih Bukhari, vol. 8, p. 149; Sahih Muslim, vol. 8, p. 39
4. Al-Isteeab, vol. 4, p. 464; Al-Isaba, vol. 4, p. 462
5. Wasa’il, vol. 8, p. 125
6. Narrated from Al-Marafi al-Qur’an wal Sunnah, p. 39
7. Al-Bayan, Ayatullah Khoi, p. 253; Al-Itqan-e-Suyuti, vol. 1, p. 250
8. A’ilam-un-Nisa-el-Moiminan, p. 128; Bihar, vol. 25, pp. 185-90
9. Al-Isaba, vol. 4, p. 433
10. Wasail, vol. 20, p. 198
11. Bihar, vol. 46, p. 259