Torchbearers of knowledge in Islam

Female Scholars in Islam

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons) and al-Jamalullail

The transmission of hadith collections and even the compilation of new ones with very elevated isnads in the post-canonical era was an area in which women could excel. Because they often lived longer than men, women could become the most sought after transmitters of books. Major hadith scholars like al-Khatib al-Baghdadi traveled to Mecca to read Sahih al-Bukhari in the presence of Karima al-Marwaziyya (d. 463/1071, who had an especially elevated elevated isnad in the book, and Fatima al-Juzdaniyya was the main transmitter of al-Tabarani’s works. Until her death in 2008, Muslims students flocked to a small village in Yemen’s Hadramawt Valley to receive a hadith ijaza from the 105-year-old woman Safiyya al-‘Amdiyya.

Independent collections of hadiths by women were very rare; in the early period of hadith they were non-existent. But we know of at least two selections of hadiths from the post-canonical period compiled by women. A twelfth-century woman named Shuhda al-Katiba (d. 574/1178-9) put together a list of 115 hadiths that she picked from books she had been authorised to transmit, often with shorter isnads than the hadiths in the actual books themselves. The Musnad of Amat Allah Miryam al-Hanbaliyya of Nablus (d. 758/1357) has also survived until today.

(Jonathan A.C. Brown. Assistant Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Washington, Seattle) [1]

In the time of the companions the beloved wife of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w., Aishah r.a. soared prominently over both women and men as Cambridge scholar Timothy J. Winter(now Sheikh Dr. Abdul Hakim Murad) and John A. Williams of College of William and Mary cites a Sunni source that says, “‘A’isha was, of all the people, the one who had the most knowledge of law, the one who was most educated, and compared to those who surrounded her, the one whose judgment was the best.'” [2] Both men and women are obligated to search for and acquire knowledge as the hadith of the Prophet s.a.w. says:

في مسند أبي يعلى الموصلي عن أنس عن النبي (ص) :  طلب العلم فريضة على كل مسلم

 وهذا الحديث وإن لم يكن ثابتاً فمعناه صحيح  

“In the Musnad of Abu Ya’la al-Mawsuli, from anas who relates that the prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.”

The meaning of this hadith, though the hadith itself is not well authenticated, is true.” [3]

Hence it is no surprise that many of the greatest minds in Muslim history were women. Winter and Williams make mention of Bint al-Kamal who lectured in Damascus to several leading scholars including the celebrated Muslim jurist/scholar and traveller Ibn Batuta whose journeys spanned more than 75, 000 miles (unsurpassed by any other until 450 years later in the Steam Age). Other reknown female scholars mentioned by Winter and Williams include Karima al-Marwaziyya (who was one of the most famous scholars during her time), Fatima bint al-Hasan, Shuhda the Scribe, Ajiba bint Abi Bakr (Bint al-Kamal’s teacher) and Umm hani who in Winter and Williams’ words “mastered all the great academic disciplines of her time including theology, law, history and grammar, before taking up senior lectuering positions in many of the great academies of Cairo.”[4]

One of the great scholars in the Shafi’i madhhab or school of thought is Imam Al-Suyuti who is described as “…one of the Friends of God and His Signs to creation, the Mujtahid Imam and Renewer of the ninth Islamic century, foremost hadith master, jurist, Sufi, philologist, Ash’ari theologian, and historian, he authored works in virtually every Islamic science.” [5] Among his numerous teachers and instructors were over thirty female scholars. [6]

The following is a rather long, yet non-exhaustive list of more than 259 Muslim female scholars excluding those from among the Prophet’s companions and their successors taken from the Oxford scholar Mohammad Akram Nadwi’s preface to his magnum opus Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam [7] *:

  1. ‘Aishah bt. ‘Abd al-Hadi
  2. ‘Aishah bt. al-‘Ala’
  3. ‘Aishah bt. ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Zujaj
  4. ‘Aishah bt. ‘Ali al-Sinhajiyyah
  5. ‘Aishah bt. Badr al-Din al-Zarkashi
  6. ‘Aishah bt. Hasan al-Kinani
  7. ‘Aishah bt. Hasan b.Ibrahim
  8. ‘Aishah bt. Hasan al-Wa’izah
  9. ‘Aishah bt. Al-Najm al-Balisiyyah
  10. ‘Aishah bt. Ma’mar
  11. ‘Aishah bt. Muhammad al-Hanbaliyyah
  12. ‘Aishah bt. Sayf al-Din Qawaliji
  13. ‘Aishah bt. Umar b.Rushayd
  14. ‘Aishah bt. Al-Zayn
  15. ‘Aishah bt. Al-Zubayr b. Hisham b. Urwah
  16. Abidah al-Madaniyyah
  17. Adliyyah bt. Abi Bakr b. ‘A’idh
  18. Ajibah al-Baqdariyyah
  19. Alti bt. Nasir al-Din
  20. Amatullah ‘A’ishah
  21. Amat al-Ghafur bt. Ishaq al-Dihlawi
  22. Amat al-Khaliq bt. Zayn al-Din
  23. Amat al-Rahim al-Yuniniyyah
  24. Amat al-Salam bt. Al-Qadi Abi Bakr
  25. Amatullah al-Dihlawiyyah
  26. Amat al-Wahid bt. Al-Mahamili
  27. ‘Aminah bt. Abi Sa’id al-Naysaburi
  28. Aminah bt. Ahmad b. Rajih
  29. Aminah bt. Al-Mu’ayyad
  30. Aminah bt. Al-Habib al-Hibashi
  31. Aminah bt. Muhammad b. Qudamah
  32. Aminah
  33. Aminah bt. Muhammad b. al-Rar
  34. As bt. Ahmad b. Hassan
  35. Asma’ bt. Asad b. al-Furat
  36. Asma’ bt. Abi Bakr b. Yunus al-Dimashqiyyah
  37. Asiya bt. Jarullah al-Shaybani
  38. Asma’ bt Kamal al-Din Musa al-Daja’i
  39. Asiyah bt. Muhammad al-‘Irbili
  40. Asiyah bt. Muhammad al-Iskaf
  41. Asma’ bt. ‘Abdillah al-Mahraniyyah
  42. Asma’ bt. Abi Bakr b. al-Khallal
  43. Asma’ bt. Ahmad al-Bahraniyyah
  44. Asma’ bt. Ahmad al-Harrani
  45. Asma’ bt. Ibrahim b. Mandah
  46. Asma’ bt. Al-Mardawi
  47. Asma’ bt. Muhammad b. al-Hasan
  48. Asma’ bt. Muhammad b. al-Kamal
  49. Aymalik bt. Ahmad
  50. ‘Azizah bt. ‘Ali al-Tarrah
  51. Bay Khatun
  52. Biba
  53. Buran
  54. Bulbul
  55. Dunya bt. Hasan b. Balban
  56. Fatimah bt. ‘Abd al-Hadi
  57. Fatimah bt. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Qazwini
  58. Fatimah bt. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Harraniyyah
  59. Fatimah bt. Ahmad al-‘Anazi
  60. Fatimah bt. ‘Ali b. al-Husayn
  61. Fatimah bt. ‘Ali b. Musa al-Rida
  62. Fatimah al-Bata’ihiyyah
  63. Fatimah bt. Sl-Daqqaq
  64. Fatimah bt. Al-Tawusiyyah
  65. Fatimah bt. Ibrahim al-Ba’labakkiyyah
  66. Fatimah bt. al-Juzdaniyyah
  67. Fatimah (Sutaytah) bt. Kamal al-Din Mahmud b. Shirin al-Hanafi
  68. Fatimah bt. Al-Samarqandiyyah
  69. Fatimah bt. Al-Manshawiyyah
  70. Fatimah bt. Al-Aqra’
  71. Fatimah bt. Al-Malik al-Muhsin Ahmad b. al-Sultan Salah al-Din
  72. Fatimah bt. Al-Mubarak
  73. Fatimah bt. Al-Munajja
  74. Fatimah bt. Al-Hasan b. ‘Ali al-Mu’addib
  75. Fatimah bt. Al-Zayyat
  76. Fatimah bt. Ishaq al-Wasiti
  77. Fatimah bt. Ja’far b. Muhammad al-Sadiq
  78. Fatimah bt. Maik b. Anas
  79. Fatimah bt. Musa b. Ja’far
  80. Fatimah bt. Muhammad al-Dimashqiyyah
  81. Fatimah bt. ‘Abd al-Hadi
  82. Fatimah bt. Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Sharik
  83. Fatimah bt. Muhammad b. ‘Ali
  84. Fatimah bt. Muhammad al-Samarqandi
  85. Fatimah bt. Salim
  86. Fatimah bt. Sa’d al-Khayr
  87. Fatimah bt. Shams al-Sa’igh
  88. Fatimah bt. Muhammad b. Yusuf al-Dayruti
  89. Fatimah bt. Shukrullah al-Kuraniyyah
  90. Fatimah bt. Hamad al-Fudayli
  91. Fatimah Shams Jahan al-Jarkasiyyah
  92. Fatimah bt. Ibrahim b. ‘Abdullah b. Abi ‘Umar
  93. Fatimah bt. Al-Munajja
  94. Fawz bt. Muhammad
  95. Ghazal(slave of al-Qalqashandi)
  96. Ghazal al-Nubiyyah
  97. Ghufayrah bt. Waqid
  98. Habibah bt. ‘Abd al-Haqq al-Sanbati
  99. Habibah bt. Ibrahim b. Abi ‘Umar
  100. Habibah bt. al-Zayn
  101. Hadiyyah bt. ‘Ali b. ‘Askar
  102. Hafsah bt. Mula’ib
  103. Hajir bt. al-Sharaf al-Maqdisi
  104. Hasanah bt. Muhammad b. Kamil
  105. Hasnah bt. Abi l-Yumn al-Makkiyyah
  106. Hind bt. Ja’far b. ‘Abd al-Razzaq
  107. Hind bt. Muhammad b. ‘Ali al-Urmawi
  108. Humaydah al-Asbahaniyyah
  109. Husn(slave of Ahmad b. Hanbal)
  110. Husn al-Makkiyyah
  111. Ishraq al-Suwayda’
  112. Jahan Ara Begum
  113. Jumu’ah bt. Ahmad al-Mahmiyyah
  114. Juwayriyah bt. al-Hakkari
  115. Juwayriyah bt. al-Hafiz ‘Abd al-Rahim al-Iraqi
  116. Karimah al-Marwaziyyah
  117. Karimah bt. ‘Abd al-Wahhab
  118. Karimah bt. Hashas al-Muzaniyyah
  119. Khadijah bt. Abi ‘Abdillah al-Harraniyyah
  120. Khadijah bt. Nur al-Din ‘Ali al-Ansari
  121. Khadijah bt. Yusuf b. Ghunaymah
  122. Khadijah al-Dihlawiyyah
  123. Khadijah bt. ‘Abd al-Hamid b. ‘Uthman
  124. Khadijah bt. ‘Umar b. Abi Bakr
  125. Khadijah bt. Ahmad b. ‘Azzuz al-Fasiyyah
  126. Khadijah bt. Ahmad b. Jandan
  127. Khadijah bt. Abi Bakr al-Hamawi
  128. Khadijah bt. Abi Bakr b. ‘Ali
  129. Khadijah bt. Abi Muhammad al-Shatiyali
  130. Khadijah bt. Abi l-‘Abbas al-Razi
  131. Khadijah bt. Abi Ghanim
  132. Khadijah bt. Sahnun
  133. Khadijah bt. al-Mufaddal b. ‘Ali al-Maqdisi
  134. Khadijah bt. Abi Tahir al-Silafi
  135. Khadijah bt. Ibrahim al-Ba’labakkiyyah
  136. Khadijah bt. Muhammad b. Sa’d b. ‘Abdillah al-Maqdisiyyah
  137. Khadijah bt. Muhammad b. Abi Bakr b. ‘Abd al-Da’im
  138. Khadijah bt. Muhammad al-Wa’izah
  139. Khadijah bt. Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Muqri al-Hanafi
  140. Khadijah bt. Ibrahim b. ‘Abd al-Wahid al-Maqdisiyyah
  141. Khatun bt. ‘Abdillah
  142. Khayr al-Nisa’
  143. Khunathah bt. Bakkar b. ‘Ali al-Ma’afiri
  144. Lihaz al-Nisa’
  145. Lu’lu’ah
  146. Malikah bt. al-Jamal b. ‘Ali
  147. Maryam al-Adhra’iyyah
  148. Maryam al-Kashmiriyyah
  149. Maryam bt. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Nabulsiyyah
  150. Maryam bt. Ahmad al-Asadiyyah
  151. Maryam bt. Jahsh
  152. Mu’minah bt. Muhammad b. Abi zayd
  153. Nafisah bt. al-Hasan b. Zayd
  154. Nudar bt. Abi Hayyan
  155. Nur Sitti bt. ‘Abd al-Karim al-Razi
  156. Qatlu al-Rumiyyah
  157. Quraysh al-Tabariyyah
  158. Rahmah bt. al-Jinan al-Miknasiyyah
  159. Rabi’ah bt. Sa’d al-Khayr
  160. Rabi’ah ‘Ali b. Mahfuz b. Sasra
  161. Rayhanah(wife of Ahmad b. Hanbal)
  162. Ruqayyah bt. Dawud
  163. Ruqayyah bt. ISma’il al-Anmati
  164. Sabirin al-Nubiyyah
  165. Safiyah bt. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. al-Farra’
  166. Safiyyah bt. Ahmad b. Qudamah
  167. Safiyyah al-Makhzumiyyah
  168. Salihah bt. ‘Inayat Rasul
  169. Samanah bt. Hamdan
  170. Sarah bt. ‘Umar al-Hamawiyyah
  171. Sarah bt Numayr
  172. Sarah bt Taqi al-Din al-Subki
  173. Sayyidah al-Maraniyyah
  174. Sayyidah bt. ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Ghirnatiyyah
  175. Sayyidah bt. Musa al-Maraniyyah
  176. Shams al-Nisa’ bt. Amir Hasan al-Sahsawani
  177. Shaqsiyyah
  178. Sharaf al-Ashraf al-Tawusiyyah al-Hasaniyyah
  179. Shuhdah al-Baghdadiyyah
  180. Sitt al-‘Arab bt. Ibn al-Bukhari
  181. Sitt al-‘Arab bt. al-Sulami
  182. Sitt al-‘Arab bt. Yahya al-Kindi
  183. Sitt al-‘Arab Zaynab bt. ‘Ali b. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Abd al-Jabbar al-Maqdisi
  184. Sitt al-Ahl bin ‘Alwan
  185. Sitt al-Fuqaha’ bt. Ibrahim al-Wasitiyyah
  186. Sitt al-Jalil bt. Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-warkani
  187. Sitt al-Katabah bt. ‘Ali
  188. Sitt al-Muluk Fatimah bt. ‘Ali b. ‘Ali b. Abi l-Badr
  189. Sitt al-Sham bt. Khalil b. Nasr
  190. Sitt al-Taraf
  191. Sitt al-Wuzara’
  192. Sitt Fatimah
  193. Sitt Khanum
  194. Sitt Quraysh Fatimah bt. Taqi al-Din b. Fahd
  195. Sutaytah bt. al-Zayn
  196. Tajanni al-Wahbaniyyah
  197. Taqiyyah bt. ‘Ali b. ‘Abdillah al-Qurashi
  198. Taj-Khatun
  199. Umm ‘Isa al-Jazzar
  200. Umm ‘Abd al-Hakam Sitt al-‘Ibad
  201. Umm ‘Abdillah Zaynab al-‘Ijiliyyah
  202. Umm al-Baha’ Fatimah
  203. Umm al-Dalal Amat al-Rahman
  204. Umm al-Fadl Zaynab bt. Ibrahim al-Qaysi
  205. Umm al-Fityan Hantamah
  206. Umm al-Hana’ Asma’ bt. al-Muraghi
  207. Umm al-Karim b. Ahmad al-Lakhami
  208. Umm al-Khayr Amat al-Khaliq al-Dimashqiyyah
  209. Umm al-Khayr bt. ‘Abdillah b. Zahirah
  210. Umm al-Khayr Fatimah bt. Abi l-Hasan ‘Ali
  211. Umm al-Khayr Jamal al-Nisa’
  212. Umm al-Khayr Halimah
  213. Umm al-Raja’ Zubaydah
  214. Umm al-Hasan al-Harazi
  215. Umm al-Hasan bt. Muhammad al-makhzumi
  216. Umm al-Hasan Fatimah bt. Khalil al-Kinani
  217. Umm al-Hasan Fatimah bt. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Farra’
  218. Umm al-Hasan Karimah bt. Ahmad al-Abiwardi
  219. Umm al-Haya Zuhra bt. Muhammad al-Anbari
  220. Umm al-Haya’ Umamah
  221. Umm al-Husn Kamal
  222. Umm al-Zayni b. Muzhir
  223. Umm Janub bt. Numaylah
  224. Umm Kulthum bt. Musa b. Ja’far
  225. Umm Kulthum ‘A’ishah bt. Muhammad al-Murshidi
  226. Umm Salamah Aminah
  227. Umm al-Shafi’i
  228. Umm Habib Safwah
  229. Umm Zaynab Fatimah bt. ‘Abbas al-Baghdadiyyah
  230. Umm a-Fadl Nafisah
  231. Uns bt. ‘Abd al-Karim
  232. Wajihah bt. ‘Ali al-Ansariyyah
  233. Zahidah bt. Ibrahim al-Khabbaz
  234. Zahidah bt. Muhammad al-Zahiri
  235. Zahrah bt. Kamal al-Din al-Hanafi
  236. Zayb al-Nisa’
  237. Zayn al-‘Arab bt. Kamal al-Din
  238. Zayn al-Sharaf bt. ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Tabari
  239. Zaynab al-Shi’riyyah
  240. Zaynab bt. ‘Abdillah b. ‘Abd al-Jabbar
  241. Zaynab bt. ‘Abdillah al-Yafi’i
  242. Zaynab bt. Ahmad b. Shukr al-Maqdisi
  243. Zaynab bt. Akta
  244. Zaynab bt. al-‘Alam ahmad b. Kamil
  245. Zaynab bt. ‘Ali al-Wasiti
  246. Zaynab bt. al-Is’ardi
  247. Zaynab bt. Isma’il b. Ahmad
  248. Zaynab bt. Isma’il b. Anmati
  249. Zaynab bt. al-Kamal
  250. Zaynab bt. al-Khatib al-Harastani
  251. Zaynab bt. al-Khabbaz
  252. Zaynab bt. al-Khatib Yahya al-Sulami
  253. Zaynab bt. Makki
  254. Zaynab bt. Muhammad al-Ghazzi
  255. Zaynab bt. Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Mu’ayyadi
  256. Zaynab  bt. Muwaffaq al-Din ‘Abd al-Latif
  257. Zaynab bt.Muhibb al-Din Abu b. Zahrah
  258. Zaynab  bt. Shukr
  259. Zaynab bt. ‘Umar al-Kindi

*The above is a rather short list compared to the 8000 names listed alongside their biographies in Nadwi’s massively complete 40-volume Al-Muhaddithat whose title means ‘female scholars of hadith’.


[1] Brown, J.A.C. (2009). Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications. pp. 49

[2] Winter, T.J. & Williams, J.A. (2002). Understanding Islam and the Muslims. Louisville, Kentucky: Fons Vitae. pp. 36

[3] Ahmad Ibn Naqib Al-Misri (1994). Reliance of the Traveller (Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Trans.). Beltsville, Maryland: Amana Publications. (Original work published 1800). pp. 8-9

[4] Op. Cit. pp. 38-39

[5] Jalal al-din al-Suyuti (2008). The Remembrance of God (Sajeda Maryam Poswaal, Trans.). England: Amal Press. pp. 1


[7] Nadwi, M. A. (2007). Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam. Oxford, London: Interface Publications. pp. 305-308

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2 Responses to “Torchbearers of knowledge in Islam”

  1. Anon says:

    Salam. Do you have a pdf of Jonathan Brown’s book ?

    • Ibn Anwar says:

      Ws wr. No, I’m sorry, I do not have a pdf of his book brother. I have a copy of the book in printed form only.

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