As soon as Islam came into origin during the medieval and early modern times it empowered women. Women were encouraged in Islam in the Arab peninsula and set an example that has never been seen before. Muslim women contributed as scholars, scientists, teachers, poets, mystics, warriors, and rulers throughout Islamic history. By defying all the odds, the woman has won their place in society by overcoming challenges and making names of themselves which were much appreciated by their fellow beings. Although unfortunately the contributions of the Muslim woman are not much known to us in spite of the fact that they played a vital role during the glorified era of Islam.
In this article, we will focus on some brave and amazing women of Islamic history and how their role revolutionized woman’s empowerment.
Sutayta al Mahmali
Born in Baghdad, Sutayta was the daughter of Judge Abu Abdallah al-Hussein. She was the celebrated mathematician and algebraist of the mid-tenth century. She was well noted for her mastery of mathematics, acknowledged for her intelligence, and adored by famous historians for her passion and talent. She studied Arabic literature, mathematics, and jurisprudence and learned the interpretation and translation of holy texts. Being a genius in mathematics earned her the title of ‘The Algebraist of Baghdad’.
Not only she was a math genius but she also memorized the Quran. People often consulted her for the problems of inheritance, estate and for creating her own logical solutions to the problems. As she followed the algebraic work of both Al-Khwarizmi and Abu Kamil, two great Arab mathematicians of the time, she reached an extraordinary level of algebraic tact. It is said also that many solutions to equations that have been cited by other mathematicians were invented by her, which denotes aptitude in algebra. Although the equations were very few, they demonstrated that her skills in mathematics went beyond a simple aptitude to perform calculations.
Al-ʻIjliyyah bint al-ʻIjliyy al Astrulabiyya
Al-ʻIjliyyah wasPopularly Known as Mariam Astrulabiyya. She was the 10th-century renowned female astronomer and an astrolabe-maker in Aleppo. Her father was an astrolabe. Sources mention that she and her father were apprentices of a famous astrolabe maker ‘Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Nastulus. Because of her brilliant mind, Mariam was hired in the court of the Emir of Aleppo ‘Sayf al-Dawla’. By using her knowledge, she developed and manufactured astrolabes (an astronomical and navigation apparatus).
Her brilliance was famous worldwide, In 1990, Henry E. Holt, an American astronomer and discoverer of minor planets discovered the main belt-asteroid and then named it ‘7060 Al-ljliyyah’ in her honor. Al-Ijliyyah also inspired a character in an award-winning science fiction horror novel ‘Binti’.
Al-Ijliyyah was named one of the most fascinating and remarkable women in the Golden era of Islamic history in the book ‘1001 Inventions’, which is about Muslim civilization and inventions.
Fatimah al Majritiy
Fatimah al Majritiya also known as Fatimah of Madrid was a famous mathematician, an astronomer, and an astrolabe manufacturer during the 10th Century. At the time of medieval Spain, Fatima not only gathered modern knowledge but also wrote about astronomy. Fatimah was born in Madrid, but she decided to live with her father in Cordoba, a city with 40,000 residents, a mosque, and a university. During the 10th century, the Muslims of Cordoba were known for their scientific, mathematical, and medical knowledge.
Her father Maslama al-Mayriti himself was an expert in mathematics and astronomy and scholars suggest that this inspired Fatimah to acquire knowledge of mathematics, geometry, and astronomy The night, moon & stars were important to medieval Muslims so at that time she learned about stars using an astronomical instrument. She worked alongside her father to improve astronomical tables. She is also said to be the owner of written texts about astrolabe which is equipment that is used to estimate the movement of stars and measure trigonometry.
Queen Bawran was one of the most exemplary and extraordinary historical figures of the 9th Century. She was a queen and an astrologer at the same time, who used her knowledge of astronomy to predict any uncertainty. Being a descendant of ‘Nawbakht’, she learned the art of craft from her family who were famed astrologers that sketched the graph for Bagdada at that time. She took the horoscope of his successor Al Mu’tasim after the death of her husband and then checked regularly to anticipate what the stars said.
The queen one day observed a ‘cut’ a sign of forthcoming danger. She by using her knowledge at once alarmed her father that the Caliph’s life was in danger from a stiff wooden material. As her father was appointed in the Caliph court, he saw a servant passing the Caliph a comb and a toothpick. Her father quickly stepped in and asked the servant to use these objects on himself. The servant followed the order and applied himself and died. The items were poisoned. The Caliph was impressed and rewarded both the queen and her father.
Lubna was born and raised as a slave in Spain. Lubna of Cordoba was well known for being a celebrated mathematician, and poet during the second half of the 10th Century. She was famous and notable for her knowledge, her heart-touching poetry, and syntax. Her knowledge of mathematics was so vast not only this but she was also an expert in science. She served the Umayyad court and was later positioned as the secretary of Caliph Abd Al-Rahman III, and his son Al-hakam II, who valued culture, poetry, and education for women.
Lubna was the force behind the establishment of the library of Medina Azahara. She administered the royal library which comprised of over 500,000 books. Her love of books led her to travel across the middle east Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad in search of books that were to be included in her library. As stated by the famous Andalusian scholar Ibn Bashkuwal, Lubna is an expert in writing, grammar, and poetry. Because of her expertise, she was given the role of playing, writing, and translating manuscripts.
Umm Al-Darda Al-Kubra
Umm Al-Darda was a renowned jurist and scholar during the early rise of Islam. She was born as an orphan and then Al Darda was taken under the supervision of Abu Darda. Even in her early childhood, she used to visit mosques, meet with male scholars, and learn Quran and Hadith. When reached a certain age, she became a teacher of hadith and fiqh and gave lectures to men. Umm, al-Dara learned the literal meaning and sciences of hadith. She sits and transcripts Hadith from Aisha (RA), the cherished wife of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H).
She left Medina and then moved to Damascus, where she taught and gave lectures to hundreds of students male as well as female. Abd Al-Malik Ibn Marwan was one of her students who later became the Caliph. Because of her passion and deep knowledge of hadith, she was charged as a scholar of hadith, raking above all the other famous scholars of that time, and anointed as a judge. Scholars mention her as an expert theologian, an excellent scholar, at the same time religious and devout.
Fatima al-Batayahiyyah was a renowned female scholar of the 8th Century that used to teach men and women and was sought out by the great scholars of that time repeatedly to speak. She used to teach and gave lectures on hadith to a number of students in Damascus. Her celebrated works of Sahih Bukhari were attended by the famous male scholars of that era. Her worth was known all around, and during the Hajj, male scholars from all over the Arab gathered to hear her sermons personally.
In her old age, she decided to move to Madinah where she taught her students. When tiredness would overcome her, she would rest her head upon the Prophet’s grave and continue to teach her students as the hours passed by. Anybody who now visits the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) will know the resentment for not being allowed to see the beloved Prophet’s grave whereas Fatima al-Batayahiyyah let her head rests on its side wall.
Rabia Al-Adawiyya Al-Qaysiyya
She was popularly known as Rabia of Basra. Rabia has the honor of being the first female Sufi Saint of Islam. She was notable as the single most influential woman who calls no man her master. Because of this, her reputation transcends that of many Muslim men during the early years of Sufism. After gaining her freedom, she spent years in a desert outside Basra, she get the privilege of performing Hajj in Mecca where she focused on Allah’s love and chose her path towards Allah. There she then wrote the revolutionary philosophy of the ‘Divine Love’. Feminism, women’s perception, and role in the society were main targets of Rabia’s Sufism ideology. Her life as an independent and influential woman defied the dominance of men. She had a firm belief in the fact that respect, wealth, and values weren’t achieved by financial assets but rather through determination, spiritual value, and control of self-pride. Rabia lived a life isolating her from all worldly desires but the love of Allah. She showed that this devotion is something every man and woman can acquire.
Sayyida Nafisa or Lady Nafissa was the great-great-granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H). She was born in Mecca and took religious classes as well as visited religious sites alongside her father. Being an intellectual, she memorized the Quran and Hadith and studied Islamic jurisprudence. She extended her knowledge and religious instructions to many women and girls. She was married to Isaq Ibn Jafar and had two sons, who later went to Egypt with him. She was recognized in Egypt for her chastity and devotion.
In Egypt, she fasted all day, prayed all night, and performed the pilgrimage thirty times in her life. When she felt her death was close, she dug her grave with her bare hands inside her home. After digging her grave, she visits her grave every day and prays for forgiveness in the afterlife. She was adored by her people for her extensive Islamic knowledge. She was known by many names as; the Rare Lady of Knowledge and Gnosis, the Lady of Miracles, the Leading Lady in deriving rulings and verdicts, and the Rare Lady of the Egyptians.
Fakhr-un-Nisa or Shuhdah al-Baghdadiyya was a famous hadith scholar and an expert calligraphist of the 11th century. She was born in the Iranian city of Denver, was the daughter of a known scholar, and was supervised by her father to study and learn calligraphy at an early age. She perfected the art that even the calligraphist master of the time adored her. Therefore, she was called ‘Pride of Womanhood’. Even though her name ‘Fakhr-un-Nisa’ itself means the ‘Glory of Womanhood’. She also earned the name Shuhdah al-Baghdadiyya or Writer of Bhaghdad.
She had received extensive education from some of the most famed scholars of the time. She was in charge of hadith sessions at that time. Scholars from different places felt pride in joining her sessions of Dars. Many scholars and poets were said to be regular listeners at her sessions of Dars and required her approval to transcript hadith on behalf of her. She not only had religious knowledge but Fakhr-un-Nisa also delivered lectures on history, linguistics, and literature.
Fatima al Samarqandi
Fatima was born in the 12th Century in Samarkand. She was a well-known figure in Islamic history, a scholar and an expert in Islamic law as well as an adept calligrapher. She was the daughter of a famous scholar and a jurist Mohammed ibn Ahmad al-Samarqandi, who was well known for writing the famous ‘Tuhfat al-Fuqaha’. Fatima learned her father’s work, studied the Quran, hadith, and jurisprudence, and also issued Fatwas. The fatwa was written in her handwriting with her father’s signature.
Fatima was born when the city of Samarkand was under Mongol rule and people were oppressed but she was such an extraordinary woman who managed to make her name in history through her bravery. Because of her intellect and knowledge, many rich and powerful men sent proposals. She married Ala al-Din Abu Bakr ibn Massud al-Kassani, who was a former student of her father, and also wrote a volume on Tuhfat al-Fuqaha called ‘Badai al-Sanai’
Fāṭima bt. Abi al-Qasim ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad b. Ghalib al-Ansari al-Sharraṭ
Fatima was the most educated woman in Andalusia during the late 12th century and early 13th century. She was well-versed in various religious sciences and learned jurisprudence, legal theory, and mysticism. She memorized the Quran and numerous books under the supervision of her father and many great scholars of her time.
Fatima was the mother of Abu al-Qasim B. al-Ṭaylasan, who later became a prominent Andalusi scholar. Under the guidance of her father, Fatima also learned the Sahih Muslim, al-Baghdadi’s Nawadir, al-Mubarrad’s al-Kamil, and Ibn Hisham’s sira of the Prophet. She even memorized her father’s poetry, raising the concerns of asceticism. Apart from Quran she also learned other famous books including Makki’s Tanbh, al-Quds al-Shihab, Ibn ‘Ubayd al-Ṭulayṭali’s Mukhtasar, all of which she knew by her heart and soul.
Zaynab bint al-kamal
She was known among her people as Zaynab b. Ahmad was the most influential scholar of the fourteenth century. Residing in Damascus, she went to the Hanbali School of jurisprudence. At an early age, she started learning and received many certificates and diplomas in the fields of science and hadith. As a child, she was granted permission for the transmission of hadith by great scholars from Alexandria, Aleppo, and Cairo.
As Zaynab was sharp and intelligent in learning, she started teaching Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari. Among her students were the famous North African Traveler Ibn Battuta and Taj al-Din al-Subki. Sources cited an excess number of hadiths transmitted by Zaynab. Zaynab’s name was mentioned in several isnads of Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalani. It also reveals that she never married. She was an extraordinary muhadditha, admired by scholars and earned the title ‘musnidat al-Sham’.
Pari Khan Khanum
Pari Khan Khanum was a Safavid princess, and the most prominent woman in Iran during the 16th Century. She was the daughter of Shah Tahmasp I. She was noted as an educated woman, an expert in Islamic sciences, jurisprudence and an influential poet. She participated in many state affairs during her father’s reign. She was given the authority and legal status by her father, and played an important role in securing her brother’s succession to the Safavid throne.
During the fight between her brothers Haydar and Ismail II for the throne, Pari became an effective ruler to the Safavid throne. It was that time she gathered all the princes, nobles and top-ranking members of the state to the Qazvin’s main mosque and asked the cleric to read a sermon in favor of Ismail II as the new ruler to Safavid throne. Yet her brother’s reign was short so after her brother’s death, she was offered the throne by the nobles which Pari officially declined. Yet her influence grew among people.
A’isha bint Abu Bakr
Hazart Ayesha is the daughter of a companion of Hazart Muhammad (PBUH) and the youngest wife of the prophet (PBUH). She was an ideal wife and support Prophet in every thick and thin of his life. Hazrat Ayesha (RA) was famous for his never-ending knowledge, wisdom, and intelligence. She was considered one of the intelligent scholars of the time and many companions of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) seek her help in various Islamic matters to be sought.
In her lifetime, she contributed so much to the spreading of Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) messages through her narration of 2210 hadiths and continued to serve the Muslim community for 44 years after his death. In addition to her dedication to Islam, A’isha was also skilled in various other fields, including poetry and medicine, and was highly admired by early luminaries such as al-Zuhri and her student Urwa ibn al-Zubayr. Indeed she was Islam’s great scholar and spent her money on the building of mosques and religious institutes.
Among the first people in Medina to accept Islam, Rufaida Al-Aslamia was born into the Bani Aslem tribe of the Kazraj tribal confederation in Madina, and she gained fame for her contribution with other Ansar women who at time welcomed the prophet Muhammad on his arrival in Medina. Rufaida holds the honor of being the first Medinan Muslims, the world’s first nurse and the first female surgeon in Islam.
Rufaida was kind, empathetic and an expert in her field. She trained many other women including Muhammad’s (SAW) wives Khadijah (RA) and Aisha (RA) in how to work in the area of health care. Rufaida was not only a dedicated scholor but also a social worker, she helped children in need and took care of orphans, those who were handicapped and the poor. Once the wars were over, Muhammad gave Rufaida permission to erect a tent inside the Prophet’s mosque (Al-Masjid an-Nabawi) in Madina to keep providing nursing care, and to train more Muslim women and girls as nurses.
Amra bint Abdul-Rahman
Amra bint Abdul-Rahman was a brilliant scholar of her time and had the best knowledge of the hadith that were passed down to her from A’isha (RA). She was an influential hadith transmitter. Regarded as an authority of hadith and fiqh, she was the grand daughter of one of the famous companions of prophet named Asad ibn Zararah Ansari.
During her time under the tutelage of A’isha (RA), Arma acted as her secretary and was responsible for all correspondence. Amra was likewise considered an authoritative and reliable voice of hadith during her time and was often relied upon by Islamic scholars for her depth of knowledge as a jurist and scholar.
Strong determined Muslim women have made a lasting remark on our communities. Whether we talk about all fields of studies from social studies to the sciences or from the birth of Islam to the inspiration emerging from our younger generation today, Muslim women are taking over the world and named themselves in every field of life. With the birth of Islam, women were empowered and encouraged in the fields of education, science, mathematics, religion, poetry, and calligraphy. Muslim women were granted titles and given high-ranking roles equal to men. Their biographies and chronicles work gives an insight into the intellectual brilliance of Muslim women scholars. Despite this remarkable work of women, unfortunately, most of them are forgotten.
As we embrace more new generations of inspiring young women in the years to come, we see that the legacy of the Muslim women scholars has been carried on and is even brighter than ever.