In truth all praise is due to Allah alone and may the choicest peace and blessings of Allah be upon our Beloved Prophet Muhammad [sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam] - whose words men, as well as women, were and are ever ready to study and teach. Aameen
Around the world thousands flock yearly to the holy city of Makkah. The rich history behind this city illuminates a yearning within the hearts of the believers, inflaming a desire within them to visit its Haram [Holy Sanctuary] time after time again. Truly a blessed city, it has been -and still is- ripe in imparting knowledge for those who wish to learn. Yet, how many have heard of the famous Meccan female hadeeth scholar: Kareemah bint Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Hatim al Marwaziyyah?
She was one of Islaam’s leading women scholars and a famous narrator of Saheeh Al Bukhari, hence a great Muhaddithah [scholar of hadeeth]. Few indeed are those women have been able to combine within their personalities both knowledge and piety. And from these few shines forth the name of Kareemah Al Marwaziyyah.
The 5th century is indeed lucky to have her name included within its glowing pages.
Within the city of Makkah, in which the Prophet [sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam] was born, Kareemah [rahimahallah] brought with her a legacy unmatched before her and an example for those to come after her - for Muslim Women of all times. This is because until Kareemah bint Ahmed [rahimahallah] became distinguished in the 5th century, Makkah was not known to have Muhaddithaat who held such a high and famous status. It was only much later on in the 8th century and up until the 14th century, that Makkah was known to famously have female scholars of hadeeth, one of the last being Aaminah bint al-Habeeb [rahimaha Allah].
Kareemah bint Ahmed [rahimahallah] gained a high status within the realm of Islaamic knowledge in Makkah, and more specifically in the science of Hadeeth due to her being a specialised narrator of Saheeh al Bukhari. In fact, she would narrate Saheeh al Bukhari with such precision and authenticity that when it came to her male contemporaries, who were also famous for narrating Saheeh al Bukhari, her name was at the forefront with theirs. In fact, her name shines amongst the names of all those who are famously known for narrating Saheeh al Bukhari and it did not and does not matter, in this respect, that she was a woman and not a man. This is because knowledge is knowledge and it is not only men who are worthy and fortunate to study and teach the words of the Prophet Muhammad [sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam], from both the tablet of their hearts and their scrolls, but women too can share this supremely great blessing - if they are ready to strive in doing so, while prioritising their roles as daughters, wives and mothers.
The Muhaddithah Kareemah bint Ahmed [rahimahallah] is also remembered within the names of the 'aabidoon [the worshippers], since it has been narrated that she worshipped Allah [azza wa jall] profusely.
How lucky she was! She had two great blessings: the blessing of residing in Makkah and the blessing of teaching in Makkah.
Let's see how she travelled over both land and sea in order to gain this knowledge…
Her search for knowledge was done in a manner which is in accordance with Islaamic injunctions; therefore, she did not travel far distances without a mahram. This was because she was seeking knowledge to please Allah, so how could she use an unlawful means to achieve the pleasure of Allah?! This is why Kareemah [rahimahallah] – destined to be a Muhaddithah- travelled with her father in order to study the words of the Rasool [sallallahu a’lyhi wa sallam], the beloved of Allah [azza wa jall].
Unlike today, travelling in the 5th century meant there were no trains, automobiles, aeroplanes… so she fought the weaknesses that a woman encounters during the course of arduous journeys and she implemented the common saying in Arabic [the translation of which is]: ‘give knowledge everything - you’ll get a little back.’ And that is exactly what Kareemah [rahimahallah] did. Regardless of the fact that the path of knowledge stretched far and wide, she travelled over many a sea and land. We will come to see that her hard work and sacrifice did not go in vain. What a blessed goal… therefore what a special journey and what a blessed outcome...
Imaam Al-Dhahabi wrote,
‘Her father was from Kushmihaan then travelled with her to Jerusalem and returned with her to Makkah (...) She studied Sahih al-Bukhari with Abu al-Haytham al-Kushmihani; she studied also with Zahir ibn Ahmad Sarakhsi and ‘Abdullah ibn Yusuf ibn Yusuf ibn Baamuyah al-Asbahani.’
Imaam Al-Dhahabi, the great scholar, mentions that her father was from Kashmihaan, which was a village in Merv in Turkmenistan; this village no longer exists. It is said that her mother was from the progeny of Al-Siyari.  From this we see that even though Kareemah [rahimahallah] and her parents were not originally Meccans, she is referred to and known as a Meccan scholar s because of her long period of stay in Makkah and also the great knowledge she brought to Makkah.
Below is a diagram, from which can be seen how far she travelled; just imagine how long this journey must have been! She travelled with her father to Sarakhs, Isfahan, Jerusalem and then back to Makkah [where she remained and died, at the age of a hundred]:
During her journeys she was blessed with great teachers, which is truly a great blessing indeed. They say that whoever has the book as his teacher then generally his mistakes are more than his correct knowledge- although this may not apply to everyone, the benefit of having teachers is of undisputed and paramount importance.
Because Kareemah bint Ahmed [rahimahallah] was an expert regarding the hadeeth of Saheeh Al Bukhari, I came across the names of her teachers from whom she studied Saheeh Al Bukhari:
- Abu al-Haytham al-Kushmihani
- Zahir bin Ahmad al-Sarkhasi
- Abd Allah bin Yusuf bin Bamuwiyah al-Asbahani
From Abu al-Haytham al-Kushmihani [rahimahullah] she heard the whole Saheeh Al Bukhari and she was the most famous woman to have heard the Saheeh from him and this is what made her famous in Makkah. Her version of Saheeh al Bukhari has always been particularly popular, because she compared her copy with her Shaykh al Kushmihani’s original.
It’s so true that studying contains a certain type of struggle and imparting knowledge holds a different kind of struggle. Now begins Kareemah’s [rahimahallah] next struggle – the struggle to return back to Makkah and spreading this treasure to the Muslimeen. So much so that in the years to come, Kareemah [rahimahallah] will come to be a central point in the transmission of this seminal and authentic text of Saheeh al Bukhari.
Someone once said to me,
“In Zakah [compulsory charity] you have to give a small part of your wealth, but as for knowledge, you must pass it on a hundred percent!”
When I was studying the life of the Muhaddithah Kareemah [rahimahallah], her example struck me to be the fulfilment of the above mentioned statement which contains so much wisdom. This is because Kareemah [rahimahallah] taught and narrated the Saheeh many many times over exactly as she had learnt the text from her teachers. In fact, she was extremely careful and wary when narrating the text, so much so that she did not allow anyone to narrate from her unless they had compared their copy with her original. Al-Dhahabi says,
"Whenever she narrated, she would compare with her original.”
And Ghanaa’im al-Narsi says:
‘Karimah brought for me her original copy of the Saheeh. I sat down in front of Kareemah and wrote down seven pages and read them with her. I wanted to compare (my copy) with her original by myself. She said: 'No, (I do not permit it) unless you compare it with me.' Then I did comparison with her.’
This is because she knew the following hadeeth very well, which is mentioned in the very text [Saheeh al Bukhari] of which she was an expert: The Prophet [sallallahu a’lyhi wa sallam] said, "Do not tell a lie against me, for whoever tells a lie against me then he will surely enter the Hell-fire."
In truth, this is how the female scholars of Islaam were as Mohammad Akram Nadwi wrote in his book ‘Al-Muhaddithaat',
‘It is remarkable that the women were so intent on finding out what the religion required of them and then so zealous in preserving and transmitting what they learnt. Equally remarkable is the degree of conformity between their different accounts – the minor variations serve as evidence of their truthfulness in reporting what they remembered.’
SubhanAllah, today people can easily record their voices in order to pass on knowledge in a precise, easy and convenient manner, yet Kareemah [rahimahallah] had no such facility. Therefore, she dedicated much of her time and energy in order to narrate the hadeeth mentioned in Saheeh Al Bukhari - just as she had learnt from her teachers. So much so that Al Sam’ani has stated that al-Khatib read the whole of Sahih al-Bukhari to Karimah al-Marwaziyyah in five days.
Such a mission is no easy matter! No wonder she was and is indisputably regarded as one of the leading authorities in Makkah for having transmitted this Saheeh al Bukhari. To narrate Saheeh al Bukhari is not a light matter; within it there are chapters pertaining to revelation, belief, knowledge, ablution, the different dimensions pertaining to purity, the types and times of prayer, zakah, hajj, wills, booty, medicine... To put it shortly, Saheeh al Bukhari is a seminal text of Hadith gathered by Imam Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari (d. 870/194 AH) and is usually narrated and taught by advanced students.
Now we understand why the scholar Al-Sam’ani used to wonder whether anyone had seen her like among women . Abu Bakr bin Mansur Al-Sam’ani relates his father mentioned her saying, ‘has anyone seen the like of Karimah!’ This is because she had surpassed many a woman, even those in her field - the field of hadeeth - so much so that she is referred to as ‘the famous expert of Hadeeth’ and the famous narrator of Saheeh al Bukhari.
Al-Safadi mentioned her saying,
'She had a long life and a high isnaad [chain of narration].'
and it is said she was ‘Much sought after for her high isnaad [chain of naration].’ What Al Safadi [rahimahullah] meant by ‘high isnaad’ is that in comparison to others, she had very few narrators between her and the Prophet [sallallahu a’lyhi wa sallam], which added to her status and gives her an even higher ranking within the scholars of hadeeth. That is why Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi mentions her in his book ‘Hadith Literature, Its Origins, Development & Special Features’ by saying,
'...Even more distinguished was Karima al-Marwaziyya (d.463/1070), who was considered the best authority on the Sahih of al-Bukhari in her time.”
Further, Abu Dharr of Herat, one of the leading scholars of the period, attached such great importance to her authority that he advised his students to study the Sahih under no one else, because of the quality of her scholarship.
Ibn Jawzi says in his account of Karimah al-Marwazziyah that Imaams like al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Ibn al-Muttalib, al-Sam’ani, and Abu Talib al-Zaynabi read to her.
Therefore, amongst the luminaries and great scholars that narrated from her were:
- Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi: NB: Abu Bakr bin Mansur Al-Sam’ani relates his father mentioned that al-Khatib [al-Baghdadi] read the Sahih to her in five days during the days of Hajj.
- Abu al-Ghana’im al-Nursi
- Abu Talib al-Husayn bin Muhammad al-Zaynabi
- Muhammad bin Barakat al-Saeedi
- Ali bin al-Husayn al-Fara'
She resided in Makkah for a great portion of her life and spent her blessed scholarly days as a neighbour of the Haram [Holy Sanctuary] in Makkah. She never married and her days were spent teaching the words of the Rasool [sallallahu a’lyhi wa sallam] in the presence of the ka’bah, worshipping Allah [azza wa jall] and being amongst the believers. For the student of knowledge and the teacher this is a kind of Jannah in this temporal life, as those who have sat in the circles of knowledge can testify. This is because the angels descend to the presence of those who sit together remembering Allah, the Most High…
In fact, not only was she a specialist of the hadeeths mentioned in Saheeh al Bukhari but Imaam Al-Dhahabi said,
“She had knowledge and good understanding (combined) with goodness and worship.”
By Allah! For Imaam Adh-Dhahabi to say this is no light matter since he was very knowledgeable about the scholars of Islaam and its predecessors, as can be testified by anyone who has read his book ‘Siyar A’laam an Nubalaa’.
It is true that death does not differentiate between the scholar and the layman, just as Allah [azza wa jall] has said: "Every soul shall taste death…” So it was that death approached her at the age of a hundred; her soul was taken up to the heavens from the blessed city of Makkah in 463AH/1070 or 465AH. Her memories live on even after hundreds of years; truly, she sought to remind people of the authentic hadeeth of the Prophet [saws], therefore she can’t be forgotten in the scrolls which lay in the hearts of people. The great Muhaddithah Kareemah [rahimahallah] has left behind her an amazingly great legacy which is undisputed; an example that we are in dire need of today. How many women do we find today who are authorities in narrating Saheeh al Bukhari? Very few hidden gems indeed.
If only Europe would remember the words of Goldziher, the Jewish Hungarian orientalist who is considered one of the founders of Islamic studies in Europe, as he wrote,
‘As a matter of fact her name occurs with extraordinary frequency in the ijazas for narrating the text of this book'.
Many today are unaware of the legacies of the great female scholars of Islaam and we must make them aware of the great status that women, the likes of Kareemah, enjoyed in the history of Islaam.
Don’t forget her! She is the great Muhaddithah [female scholar of Hadeeth]: