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The Women Scholars of Madinah

By Bintus Sabeel . Posted in Women Scholars . Hits: 15115

MadinahpinksunsetMadinah, a city situated in the Hijaaz region of Western Arabia, is where the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) did hijrah (migrated), settled down and was later buried. Madinah was a safe haven from the persecution the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) and his Companions faced in Makkah.

For many of us, when we remember the noble city of Madinatul Munawwarah (The Enlightened City), memories of the green dome, the white marble tile surrounding the Masjid, the cool winds, peacefulness and tranquillity occupy our minds. Certainly, blessed moments spent in Madinah can’t be forgotten by souls which reside so far away, surrounded by the darkness of inequity and materialism.

Th e city of the Messenger of Allah (Madinatur-Rasool) has an amazing impact upon the heart of every believer and more specifically, on the heart of every person who loves the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam).  Of course, this is because the Noble Messenger ( sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) is buried there, but evermore so because of the legacy this city holds within its history.

Madinah is a city which has witnessed great scholars. In his book ‘Al Muhaddithaat’, Mohammad Akram Nadwi writes:

‘Madinah was the first centre for Hadeeth scholarship in the world for the good reason that the Companions were based there. Students travelled to Madinah from Iraaq and Syria in order to learn the Sunnah from the Companions, men and women. Madinah remained an active locus for Hadeeth study until the end of the second century. After that only a small number of Muhaddithaat were based there until the ninth century, when the revival for hadeeth scholarship started in Madinah and continued until the fourteenth century. The traditionists, including women, who visited Madinah as part of their Hajj or U’mrah jouneys, also sometimes taught hadeeth there…' (Al-Muhaddithaat by Mohammad Akram Nadwi, pg 264.)

Maalik ibn Anas

Ialmadi1maam Maalik’s name shines forth in the annals of history, as he was a prominent scholar of Islaam and the founder of one of the four famous schools of thought: the Maaliki judicial school of thought. This is why amidst the rich literature disseminated by our scholars we find his name repeatedly mentioned.

His full name was Maalik bin Anas bin Maalik bin Abu Amir Al-Asbahi and he is famously referred to and better known as "Imaam Maalik", the "Shaykh of Islam", the "Proof of the Community", and "Imaam of the Abode of Emigration". He was born 92 years after the Hijrah (the migration of the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam)) and died in 179A.H. Regarding his appearance, Imaam al-Dhahabi described,

“Imaam Maalik was tall, muscular and blonde. He had a large light beard and did not trim his moustache short. Green eyes. Clean clothes.” (Siyar A'lam al-Nubala', p. 8/48.)

Imaam Maalik lived most of his life in the city of the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam). Therefore, Imaam Maalik received his education in Madinah, which was the most important seat of Islamic learning and where the immediate descendants and followers of the companions of the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) lived. Therefore, it is not surprising that he sought out over three hundred Tabi'een (Successors) in order to study and sit with them. His knowledge grew, so much so that people from far and wide came to learn from him.

In the following Hadeeth we find that the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said, "Soon people will beat the flanks of camels seeking knowledge, and they shall not find a single person more knowledgeable than the erudite scholar of Madinah." (Jami al-Tirmidhi)

Great scholars, the like of Sufyaan ibn ‘Uyaynah, Imaam al-Dhahabi and others interpreted and considered Imaam Maalik to be the one mentioned in this Prophecy due to his calibre, deep knowledge and distinguishing features. In fact, Imaam Al-Shaaf’i said:

"When scholars are mentioned then Maalik is like the star among them." (Abu Na’eem, Hilyah, vol 6, pg 318)

One of the distinguishing features Imaam Maalik possessed, which made him stand out from amongst other scholars, was that although he was both knowledgeable and qualified he would still exercise great caution when issuing fataawah (juridical rulings). So much so that Ibn Wahb, one of his students, said:

“If I were to fill my tablets (alwaah) with Maalik’s statement ‘I don’t know’, I surely could.” (Siyar, vol 8, pg 108)

Today this should be a great reminder for those of us who haven’t studied under the shade of scholars, nor travelled through their books nor exhausted our efforts in order to refine that which we do know. We must exercise great caution when speaking about religious matters, especially when it comes to scholarly discussions.

The Muwatta’

Imaam Maalik called his famous book of hadeeth "Al-Muwatta’", which literally means "the well-trodden path". The reason he chose this name for his book is because he intended to make his book easy (watta’a) for the people, i.e., easily accessible to them.  Without a doubt this has indeed been the case, for the Muwatta’ has been a stepping-stone for many years for students who are into the sciences of Hadeeth and Islamic Jurisprudence.  The reason why Imaam Maalik composed his book was because Abu Ja’far al-Mansoor (the second Abbasid Caliph) said to Imaam Maalik:

“O Maalik, make a book for the people that I can make them follow, for there is no one today who is more knowledgeable than you.”

Imaam Maalik responded to his request, but he refused to force the people into adhering to it as penal law. (Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (may Allaah have mercy on him) has mentioned this in al-Istidhkaar (1/168).)

Amuwatt1l-Muwatta’ then became the first formulation of Islamic Law based on the behaviour of the people of Madinah during the time of the great Companions - a blueprint for the just and radiant society of Madinah. It is divided into 61 books on different subjects, each book containing many ahaadeeth.

Maalik's Muwatta’ is a collection of two items:

  1. The sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam)
  2. The legal opinions and decisions of the Prophet's Companions, their successors, and some later authorities.

The Muwatta’ is a book full of barakah (blessings) – a book till today taught in the Noble Messenger’s Mosque. For, Imaam Maalik did not write this book over a short period of time, rather he steadily revised and edited his Muwatta’ by reading it to and with the people of knowledge over a span of 40 years! In this time he would add to it, take away from it, improve it and refine it. Therefore, the Muwatta’ reflects over forty years of this great Imaam’s learning and knowledge. What further adds to the veracity and uniqueness of the Muwatta’ is that Imaam Maalik showed it to seventy of the fuqahaa’ (Jurists) of Madinah and all of them agreed upon it.

Imaam Maalik held great insight; when he was asked as to why he is writing another Muwatta’ as there were other books present in his time with the same name, he replied:

“We will surely know what was intended for the face of Allah, the Most High.”

And it was as if he had thrown the rest (of the Muwatta’s present in his time) in the wells. (At-Tamheed of Ibn Abdul Barr, volume 1, pg 86.) It is also reported that Imaam Maalik said regarding his Muwatta’:

“If your life is stretched (i.e. you live long) you will see what Allah intended for it.”“What was done for Allah will remain.” (Tadreeb Ar-Raawee by Suyooti.)

How true were his statements! Today when the other Muwatta’s cease to remain, Imaam Maalik’s one is the only one which famously remains amongst the people...

The great scholar Ibn Khuldoon said,

“And the Ummah has received this book (the Muwatta’) with acceptance, in the East of the land and its West ...” (Muqaddamah Ibn Khuldoon, vol 7, pg 684).

Imaam Adh-Dhahabi mentions:

“And surely for the Muwatta’ there is a settlement in the souls and haybah (veneration, awe) in the hearts. Nothing outweighs it…” (Siyar,vol 18, pg 203.)

The conditions he followed in his book are among the most reliable and strongest of conditions. He followed a method of choosing only sound reports. It was narrated that al-Rabee’ said: ‘”I heard al-Shaaf’i say: ’

If Maalik was uncertain about a hadeeth he would reject it altogether.’” (Al-Istidhkaar (1/166); al-Tamheed (1/68).)

Sufyaan ibn ‘Uyaynah said:

“May Allaah have mercy on Maalik, how strict he was in his evaluation of men (narrators of hadeeth).” (Ibid.)

Therefore many of the isnaads (chains) of Maalik are of the highest standard of authenticity. Because of this, the two Shaykhs al-Bukhari and Muslim narrated most of his ahaadeeth in their books. Imaam al-Bukhari actually said that the soundest of all chains of transmission was:

"Maalik, from Nafi`, from Ibn `Umar"

The scholars of hadith refer to this as the ‘Golden Chain’, and there are eighty narrations with this chain in the Muwatta’.

Imaam Al-Shaaf’i (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:

“There is nothing on earth after the Book of Allaah that is more correct than the Muwatta’ of Maalik ibn Anas.”

It is important to note that Imaam al-Shaaf’i made this comment before al-Bukhari and Muslim wrote their books, as was noted by al-Haafiz Ibn Katheer (may Allaah have mercy on him) in his summary of ‘Uloom al-Hadeeth (pp. 24-25). But in its time it was considered the best book, as it combined both Hadeeth and fiqh (jurisprudence). Therefore it is not surprising to learn that even Imaam Shaaf’i’s daughter memorised the whole Muwatta’. (Pg 123, Al-Muhaddithaat: the women scholars of Islam by Mohammad Akram Nadwi.) There were many other women who studied the Muwatta’, in fact Imaam Maalik himself narrated from a woman scholar of hadeeth…

‘Amrah bint ‘Abd al-Rahmaan

In the Muwatta’ of Imaam Maalik we find that he has referred to the fataawaa (juristic rulings) of the great taabi’yyah (successor) ‘Amrah bint ‘Abd al-Rahmaan on issues related to Hajj (Al-Muhaddithaat, Mohammad Akram Nadwi, pg 283.). This is because Imaam Maalik had heard ahaadeeth from her and she was hence his teacher.

‘Amrah was from among the most famous women narrators in the generation of the Successors, a great scholar of Hadeeth, a scholar of jurisprudence, a Hujjah (proof).  In the Six Books and other major collections, the ahaadeeth she narrated are plentiful. She grew up in the house of ‘Aaishah and learnt a lot of ahaadeeth from her and others. Imaam adh-Dhahabi wrote,

’She was a scholar, jurist, proof, and holder of abundance of knowledge.” (Siyar, iv, 508.)

She was an Ansaariyyah (from the women of Madinah who helped the Muslims who migrated from Makkah). She had studied under the Mother of the Believers ‘Aaishah and was given tarbiyyah (refinement of character) by her. She had also narrated from Umm Salamah, Raaf’i bin Khadeej and her sister from her mother’s side: Umm Hishaam bint Haarithah (At-Tahdheeb, vol 12, page 438.) It is said that her father was from the Sahaabah and that her grandfather was from the qudamaa (old) of the Sahaabah, the brother of the great chief, As’ad bin Zuraarah.

Among those who narrated from her was her son Aboo Ar-Rijaal Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Ansaaree, a number of whose narrations are recorded by al-Bukhari, Muslim, al-Nasaai and ibn Maajah. (Al-Mizzi, Tahdheeb al-Kamaal, xxxv. 242.)

She was so knowledgeable that ‘Abdullah bin Deenaar (rahimahullah) said:

“’Umar bin ‘Abdul ‘Azeez (the Caliph) wrote by means of bareed (post/mail) to Abu Bakr bin Muhammad bin Amr bin Hazm to Madinah that search what is from the Prophetic narrations of the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) or a past Sunnah or Hadeeth of (i.e. narrated by) ‘Amrah, then write it, for surely I fear loss of the lessons of knowledge and its people.” (Tabaqaat, vol 8, pg 480.)

Also, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azeez said to her brother Muhammad ibn ‘Abdur-Rahmaan:

“There remains none that is more knowledgeable regarding the Hadeeth of (i.e. Prophetic Narrations narrated by) ‘Aaishah than ’Amrah.”

That is why ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azeez would ask her questions and seek juridical rulings from her. (At-Taareekh wal Ma’rifah, vol 2, page 108.)

Great leading scholars praised her and ascertained her great repute. For example the great Muhaddith, Yahya ibn Ma’een, said: “

’Amrah bint Abdur-Rahmaan is thiqqah (reliable) and a hujjah (proof)” (Al Mizzi, Tahdheeb al-kamaal, xxxv. 152.)

And Alee ibn Al Madanee, the teacher of Imaam al-Bukhari, who was one of the great leading scholars of Islaam and a distinguished and prominent hadeeth scholar, when ‘Amrah would be mentioned before him he would praise her much and say,

“’Amrah is one of the thiqaat of the scholars regarding ‘Aaishah and evidence/confirmation pertaining to her (ithbaat feehaa).”

And Ibn Habbaan mentioned her in the thiqaat (reliable) and said regarding her:

“She was from the most knowledgeable of people with regards to the hadeeth of ‘Aaishah” (Tahdheeb at-Tahdheeb, volume 12, page 439.)

The great Muhaddith, Sufyaan ibn ‘Uyaynah said,

“The most knowledgeable of people regarding the hadeeth of ‘Aaishah were three:
1. Al Qaasim, the son of Muhammad, the son of Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq (i.e. the nephew of ‘Aaishah)
2. ‘Urwah, the son of Az-Zubayr (the son of Asma’, the sister of ‘Aaishah, hence her nephew)
3. ‘Amrah, the daughter of Abdur-Rahmaan.” (Tahdheeb Al Asmaa wa al-lughat by Nawawi, volume 1, page 332.)

Ayyoob ibn Suwayd narrated from Yunus, from Ibn Shihaab, from Al Qaasim ibn Muhammad (the nephew of Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him) that he said to me:

“O Lad (ya ghulaam)! I see that you are eager upon seeking knowledge, shall I not guide you to its vessel?” I said, “Of course!” He said: “It is a must for you to associate with/stick to (‘Alayka bi) ‘Amrah, for certainly she was in the guardianship (Hijr) - Hijr means: ‘To be under the care and protection of someone from a young age.’( See William Lane’s lexicon, volume 2, page 517) - of ‘Aaishah.” He said: “So I went to her and I found her an ocean (which) does not dry up.” (Siyar A’laam an-Nubalaa.)

She was also strong in enjoining good, forbidding evil and sincerely advising. She intervened in a court case in Madinah to prevent a miscarriage of justice. Imaam Maalik narrates from Yahya ibn Sa’eed that he said:

‘Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Amr ibn Hazm [the qaadee of Madinah] informed me that he was holding a Nabtee who had stolen iron rings in prison [and intending] to cut off his hand. Then ‘Amrah bint ‘Abd al-Rahmaan sent to me her client called Umayyah. […] He came to me while I was among the people and said: Your aunt ‘Amrah says: O nephew, are you holding a Nabtee [in custody] for a minor thing that has been mentioned to me, and do you mean to cut off his hand? I said: Yes. He said: ‘Amrah says to you that there is no cutting off of the hand except for stealing something worth a quarter of a dinar or more than that. […] Then I released the Nabtee.’

Akram Nadwi writes:

‘This intervention by ‘Amrah happened at the time when the city was graced by the residence of the much renowned ‘Seven Jurists of Madinah.’

And, ‘…it is remarkable enough that she knew that the case was in progress and the circumstances of it and what sentence the qaadee (judge) had passed but not yet carried out. Many famous men jurists were resident and active in the city but none of them intervened. What is astonishing is that she did intervene, and no one questioned her right to do so. The defendant was a non-Muslim, not known to ‘Amrah except as the defendant in the suit, in which she had no personal, private interest. The qaadee reversed his decision and released the defendant only because he could have no argument against the authority of the hadeeth she was able to cite. He did not know or remember it, or simply failed to bring it to bear when reaching his judgement: once he knew the hadeeth, he did as a Muslim should - he acted upon it.

The distance is huge between a society in which some men held womanhood in such contempt that they could countenance burying infant daughters alive, and one in which they would defer to the authority of a woman just because she had knowledge that they did not. It is an extraordinary distance to have covered within a single generation.” (Al-Muhaddithaat, Akram Nadwi, pg 7.)

May Allah shower His blessings on her and elevate her status. For today, many of the books of hadeeth shine forth her name, not to forget the book written by her student: Maalik ibn Anas.

She died in the year 103AH, at the age of 77. (Al-Kaamil by Ibn Al Atheer, vol 4, page 106.)

Faatimah bint Maalik ibn Anas

Imaam Maalik, taught his daughter Faatimah the whole of his Muwatta’. Not only did she memorise the whole of the Muwatta’, but she learnt all the ahaadeeth her father knew, from him. Al Zubayr (d.256) says,

‘Maalik had a daughter who knew his knowledge (the Muwatta’) by heart, and she used to be behind the door. When the reader made a mistake, she would correct him.’ (Al-Qaadi ‘Iyaad, Tartib al madaarik, 1. 109-10.)

She would also inform the people regarding the pious traits of her father, for example it is reported that she said,

“Maalik would pray every night his portion (hizb), but when it was the night of Friday, he would stay awake all of it.” (Tarteeb al Madaarik wa taqreeb al Masaalik by Al Qaadi ‘Iyaad, pg 54.)

Mohammad Akram Nadwi said in his book ‘Al Muhaddithaat’:

“…women continued to study hadeeth, and there is no indication that people paid less attention to the education of their daughters. It will be remembered that Maalik’s daughter Faatimah memorized the whole of his Muwatta’ and became a narrator of hadeeth, while his son did not.” (Al-Muhaddithaat, Mohammad Akram Nadwi, pg 250.)

Allah had decreed such, that the son of Imaam Maalik was not drawn to study and scholarship. Indeed this is something gifted by Allah in the heart. Sometimes he would pass by with his clothes in disarray. Imaam Maalik would say to his students:

‘Good manners are in the Hand of God. This is my son and this is my daughter.’ (Al-Qaadi ‘Iyaad, Tarteeb al-Madaarik, i. 109-10.)

A Slave in the Household of Imaam Maalik

Even a slave girl in Imaam Maalik’s house had the ability to correct someone of established reputation. Al-Ash’ab, a jurist of the school of Maalik, narrates that he was in Madinah, and he wanted to buy vegetables from a girl, and the people at that time would not sell their vegetables except in exchange for bread, for that is what they needed. He told her to wait till the evening, then come and he would make the exchange. She said:

‘That is not permissible’. Ash’ab asked why and she explained: ‘Because it is selling of food for food [which must be done directly, hand over hand, whereas what you are proposing is] not hand over hand.’ (Mash-hoor, Inaayat al-Nisaa’, 122.)

Others

  • In the 14th century the most important expert of hadeeth was Amatullah bint al-Imaam ‘Abd al-Ghanee al-Dihlawiyyah (d. 1357) in Madinah. She studied with her father, many times over, all the Six Books, as well as many ajzaa’ and thabats (notebooks containing details of one’s narrations or teachers). She also received from him all the Mursalaat. Her father took a lot of interest in her education and obtained high ijaazah’s for her from the leading traditionists of that time. (Al-Kattaanee, Fihris al-fahaaris, ii. 1115). At her home in Madinah she taught Qudoori as well as books of hadeeth. She was from the last major female scholars of Madinah.
  • Not only did the daughter of Imaam Maalik gain great knowledge, but another Madinan who narrated extensively from Imaam Maalik was ‘Aabidah al-Madaniyyah. Her fame spread and she was known for narrating a lot of ahaadeeth by heart. Ibn al Abbaar says: ‘She narrated a lot of ahaadeeth.’ (Mash-hoor, ‘Inaayat al-nisa’, 75.)
  • From the most important women scholars of hadeeth that was visiting Madinah, and not a native, was Faatimah al-Bataa’ihiyyah, who came there from Syria. She taught in the Masjid of the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) and great scholars studied with her.
  • A woman who indirectly benefited from Imaam Maalik was Asmaa’ bint Asad ibn al-Furaat, who studied with her father, a student of Abu Hanifah and Maalik ibn Anas. (Kahhaalah, A’laam al-Nisaa’, 1, 45.)
  • Daw’ al-Sabah, Ajibah al-Baqdariyyah studied Muwatta’ in the narration of al-Qa’nabi from Yahya ibn Thabit (d.566). (Diya’ al-Din al Maqdisi, Dhayl al-taqyid, ii. 383.)
  • Khadija (d. 873) bint Nur al-Din Ali al-Ansari from Egypt studied Muwatta’ in the narration of Yahya ibn Yahya, with al-Izz ibn Abil-Yumn al-Kuwayk. (Al-Sakhawi, al-Daw’ al-lami, xii.29.)

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