niqaab1The gates of knowledge are open to the Muslim woman, and she may enter whichever of them she chooses, so long as this does not go against her feminine nature, but develops her mind and enhances her emotional growth and maturity. We find that history is full of prominent examples of remarkable women who sought knowledge and became highly proficient.

Foremost among them is the Mother of the Believers 'A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), who was the primary source of Hadeeth and knowledge of the Sunnah, and was the first Faqeehah (Female Jurist) in Islam.

Imaam az-Zuhri said,

"If the knowledge of 'Aa'ishah were to be gathered up and compared to the knowledge of all the other wives of the Prophet (PBUH) and all other women, 'A'ishah's knowledge would be greater."[1]

How often did the greatest of the Sahaabah refer to her, to hear the final word on matters of the fundamentals of Islam and precise meanings of the Qur'an.

Her knowledge and deep understanding were not restricted only to matters of religion; she was equally distinguished in poetry, literature, history and medicine, aswell as other branches of knowledge that were known at that time. The Faqeeh (Jurist) of the Muslims, `Urwah ibn al-Zubayr, was quoted by his son Hisham as saying,

"I have never seen anybody more knowledgeable in fiqh or medicine or poetry than 'Aa'ishah."[2]

Imaam Muslim reports that she heard her nephew al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr (RAA) make a grammatical mistake, when he and his (paternal) cousin were talking in front of her, and she told him off. Imam Muslim commented on this incident by writing, "Ibn `Atiq said, `Al-Qasim and I were talking in front of 'Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), and al-Qasim was one who made frequent mistakes in grammar, as his mother was not an Arab. `Aa'ishah said to him,

"Why do you not speak like this son of my brother? I know where the problem comes from: he was brought up by his mother, and you were brought up by your mother . . ."[3]

Among the reports in which the books of literature speak of the vast knowledge of 'Aa'ishah is that which describes how 'Aa'ishah bint Talhah was present in the circle of Hisham ibn 'Abd al-Malik, where the shaykhs of Banu Umayyah were also present. They did not mention any point of Arab history, wars, stars and poetry but she contributed to the discussion. Hishaam said to her, "As for the first (i.e., knowledge of history etc.), I find nothing strange (in your knowing about it), but where did you get your knowledge about the stars?" She said,

"I learnt it from my (maternal) aunt `A'ishah."[4]

'Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) had a curious mind and was always eager to learn. Whenever she heard about something she did not know, she would ask about it until she understood it. Her closeness to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) meant that she was like a vessel full of knowledge.

Imaam Bukhaari reports from Abu Mulaykah that if 'A'ishah, the wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him) ever heard anything of which she did not know, she would keep going over it until she understood it. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Whoever is brought to account will be punished." `A'ishah said, "I said, `But does Allah (the Most High) not say {Soon his account will be taken by an easy reckoning} (Qur'an 84:8)" He said, "That refers to al-`ard (when everyone is brought before Allah (SWT) on the Day of Judgement); but whoever is examined in detail is doomed."[5] In addition to her great knowledge, `A'ishah (May Allah be pleased with her) was also very eloquent in her speech. When she spoke, she captured the attention of her audience and moved them deeply. This is what made al-Ahnaf ibn Qays say,

"I heard the speeches of Abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman, `Ali and the Khulafaa' (Caliphs) who came after them, but I never heard anyone's speech more eloquent and beautiful than that of 'Aa'ishah's."

Musa ibn Talhah said:

"I never saw anyone more eloquent and pure in speech than 'Aa'ishah."[6]

Also, another woman who achieved a high level of knowledge was the daughter of Sa'eed ibn al-Musayyab, the scholar of his age, who refused to marry his daughter to the Caliph of his time, 'Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, and instead married her to one of his righteous students, 'Abdullah ibn Wada`ah. Just married, 'Abdullah went to his wife, and found her to be one of the most beautiful of women, one of the most knowledgeable regardiing the Qur'aan, the Sunnah and the rights and duties of marriage. In the morning, 'Abdullah got up and was preparing to go out. His wife asked him, "Where are you going?" He said, "To the circle of your father Sa`id ibn al-Musayyab, so that I may learn." She said,

"Sit down; I will teach you what Sa`id knows."

For one month, 'Abdullah did not attend Sa'eed's circle beacuse the knowledge of this beautiful young girl, which she had learnt from her father was sufficient for him.

Another of these prominent female scholars was Faatimah, the daughter of the author of Tuhfat al-Fuqaha', 'Ala' ad-Din as-Samarqandi (d. 539 AH). She was a Faqeehah (Female Jurist of Islaam) and scholar in her own right. She had learned Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) from her father and had memorized his book al-Tuhfah. Her father married her to his student 'Ala' al-Din al-Kasani, who was highly distinguished in the fields of al-Usool (Islamic Principles) and al-Furoo' (Its Branches). He wrote a commentary on Tuhfat al-Fuqahaa' entitled Bada'i' al-Sana'i', and showed it to his Shaykh, who was delighted with it and accepted it as a mahr (dowry) for his daughter, although he had refused offers of marriage for her from some of the kings of Byzantium.. The Fuqahaa' (Jurists of Islaam) of his time said,

"He commentated on his Tuhfah and married his daughter."

Before her marriage, Faatimah used to issue Fatwah (Juristic Rulings) along with her father, and the Fatwah would be written in her handwriting and that of her father's. After she married the author of al-Bada'i', the Fatwah would appear in her handwriting and that of her father and husband's. Her husband would make mistakes, and she would correct them.[7]

flower'Aa'ishah, the other wives of the Prophet (PBUH), the daughter of Sa'eed ibn al-Musayyab, Fatimah as-Samarqandi and other famous women scholars were not something unique or rare among Muslim women. There were innumerable learned women, who studied every branch of knowledge and became prominent in many fields. Ibn Sa'd devoted a chapter in his book, at-Tabaqaat, in which he included reports of narrations transmitted by women, in which he mentioned more than seven hundred women who reported Hadeeth from the Prophet (peace be upon him) and/or from the trustworthy narrators from among the Sahaabah. In turn, many prominent Scholars and Imaams narrated from these women of knowledge.

Al-Haafidh ibn 'Asaakir (d. 571 AH), one of the most reliable narrators of hadith, who was so trustworthy that he was known as Haafidh al-Ummah, counted eighty-odd women among his Shaykhs and teachers.[8] If we bear in mind that this Scholar never left the eastern part of the Islamic world, never visited Egypt, North Africa or Andalusia - which were even more crowded with women of knowledge - we will see that the number of learned women he never met was far greater than those from whom he did receive knowledge.

One of the phrases used by scholars in the books of hadith is:

"Ash-Shaykhah al-Musnidah as-Saalihah, so-and-so, the daughter of so-and-so told me . . ."

Among the names mentioned by Imaam all-Bukhaari are, Sitt al-Wuzara' Wazirah bint Muhammad ibn 'Umar ibn As'ad ibn al-Munajji al-Tunukhiyyah and Karimah bint Ahmad al-Marwaziyyah. They are also mentioned by Ibn Hijr al-'Asqalaani in his introduction to Fath al-Bari.[9]

The position of these great women is enhanced by the fact that they were sincere and truthful, far above any hint of suspicion or doubt - a status that many men could not reach. This was noted by Imam al-Haafidh adh-Dhahabi in Mizaan al-I'tidaal, where he states that he found four thousand men about whose reports he had doubts, then follows his observation with the comment,

"I have never known of any woman who was accused (of being untrustworthy) or whose hadeeth was rejected."[10]

The modern Muslim woman, looking at the magnificent heritage of women in Islamic history, is filled with the desire for knowledge, as these prominent women only became famous and renowned throughout history by virtue of their knowledge.

Our minds can only be developed, and our characters can only grow in wisdom, maturity and insight, through the acquisition of useful, beneficial and correct knowledge, just as they did.


1 al-Isti'ab, 4/1883; al-Isabah, 8/140.
2 Tarikh al-Tabari: Hawadith 58; al-Samt al-Thamin, 82; al-Isti'ab, 4/1885.
3 Sahih Muslim, 5/47, Kitab al-masajid, bab karahah al-salat bi hadrat al-ta'am.
4 Al-Aghani, 10/57.
5 Fath al-Bari, 1/196, Kitab al-'ilm, bab man sami'a shay'an fa raji' hatta ya'rifuhu.
6 Reported by Tirmidhi, 5/364, in Kitab al-munaqib, bab min fadl 'A'ishah; he said that it is hasan sahih gharib.
7 Tuhfat al-Fuqaha', 1/12.
8 Tabaqat al-Shafi'iyyah, 4/273.