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Book Review (From Saudi Gazette By Rahla Khan)

WHENEVER I’m asked to recommend a good read to someone, I’m often stuck for choices after the classics. There are not many contemporary books that can be read without reservations, and which give one good value for the time invested in reading them.

However, this is one book that I would recommend with equal enthusiasm to Muslim and non-Muslim readers – and most of all to Islamophobes who perpetuate the myth of how ‘Islam subjugates Muslim women’ and keeps them ‘oppressed and ignorant.’ This brief history of six Muslim women scholars from the ‘Dark Ages’ – the period of history notorious for the ignorance, superstition and intellectual debilitation that permeated most of the ‘civilized world’ – is a definitive negation of the aggressive propaganda.

The author, who goes by the pen-name ‘Bint-us-Sabeel’ says in the introduction: ‘’I can almost feel the shock when your eyes fell upon the title: ‘Muslim Women Who Taught Their Husbands’!? This shock most probably stems from the sad state of affairs many Muslims find themselves in today.

“Muslim women today may not teach their husbands because:

  • They don’t have that sort of knowledge to teach their husbands, full stop.
  • The husband does not want to learn from his wife (“how embarrassing my wife teaching me!”)
  • One or both parties are just too busy to take time out to sit together and learn the Deen of Allah.
  • One or both parties have no or little interest in studying Islam.
“Yet the Muslims of yesterday were very different from the Muslims of today. […] the scholars of the past were such that they would travel for months in pursuit of just one Hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). For such men, having a scholar as a wife was one of the greatest blessings in this world and a source of respect and honor.”

The very first scholar mentioned in the book, Fatimah Bint Al-Mundhir Bin Al-Zubayr Bin Al-‘Awwam, granddaughter of Asma Bint Abi Bakr, illustrates this point.

A prominent Ta’biyah (from the generation succeeding the Prophet’s Companions) and jurist, she was married to her cousin, Hisham Bin ‘Urwah Bin Al-Zubayr. Interestingly, Fatimah learnt more from Asma Bint Abi Bakr than her cousin, and so, he would memorize narrations from his wife, before passing them on to his students who included scholars like Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Shu’bah and Sufyan Ath-Thawri. Thus, there is a whole line of scholars who learnt Ahadith which are included in Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim on her authority, led by her own husband.

The author writes at the end of Fatimah’s story:

“For some of the leading scholars of Islam to record these Ahadith where women have narrated the Hadith and a man has narrated from his wife, holds great lessons for those who claim that the scholars of Islam were misogynists and androcentric.”

Among other delightful vignettes, the book mentions how the Mahr for one of the women scholars was a book of commentary!

The story goes that the scholar Muhammad Bin Ahmad Bin Abu Ahmad ‘Ala-Al-Din Al-Samarqandi, author of ‘Tuhfat Al-Fuqaha’, had a daughter named Fatimah, who was so knowledgeable that she would issue fatwas (religious edicts and verdicts) along with her father. One of her father’s students, ‘Alaa Al-Din Abu Bakr bin Mas’ud Al-Kasaani wrote a commentary on ‘Tuhfat Al-Fuqaha’ called ‘Bada’i` Al-Sana’i`’, which made such an impression on the Sheikh that he accepted the book as dowry for his daughter – when he had earlier refused a proposal for her from the kings of Byzantium!

One noteworthy feature of the lives of these women scholars is the lack of domestic strife and “ego problems” between them and their spouses – although some of them were more knowledgeable than their husbands and even corrected them on occasion.

Maryam Bint Jahsh, a scholar of classical Arabic helped her husband, the Yemeni scholar Jamal Al-Deen ‘Ali Bin Abee’l-Fawaris Al-Hamdani resolve a debate with members of the Murji’ sect; while Al-Mutahhar Bin Muhammad who was married to the famous Mujtahidah Fatimah Bint Yahya used to consult her on juristic matters while she sat behind a curtain, such that when he came up with the answer, his students would say:

‘This is not from you. This is from behind the curtain!’

The book concludes with an account of Amat Al-Ghafoor Bint Ishaaq Al-Dihlawi, a Muhaddithah from Delhi, India, who helped her husband so that ‘’whenever he faced any difficulty in Hadith or Fiqh, he benefited from her.’’

The husband of Sa’eed Bint Al-Musayyib’s daughter, who brought ‘the knowledge of Sa’eed’ to her husband and taught him right from the first day of her marriage, famously praised his wife:

“She was among the most beautiful people, and most expert of those who know the Book of Allah by heart, and most knowledgeable of the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and most aware of the right of the husband.”

What is it that stops us from raising women like these, who will be assets to their families and communities and continue to benefit the cause of Islam for centuries? – SG

The book can be downloaded in pdf format at

Permission is granted to circulate among private individuals and groups, to post on Internet sites and to publish in full text and subject title in not-for-profit publications.

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