Female Jurists, Muftis and Sheikhs in the Islamic History

Female Jurists, Muftis and Sheikhs in the Islamic History*

Prof. Omaima Abou-Bakr**

Prof. Huda As-Saa’dy***

Part One

The Female Jurists and Muftis in Islam: The Forgotten History

Prof. Dr. Huda As-Saa’dy

Did woman play a role in the public religious work during the earlier and medieval Islamic ages? Did she effectively participate in this arena? The religious work, during these concerned ages, has been divided into many diverse branches, and it was a huge umbrella including many fields: the field of Hadith (Prophetic Sayings), jurisdiction, Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), Iftaa’ (Issuing verdicts), admonition, teaching, Al-Khatabah (rhetoric), sheikhdom of Rubaṭ and Zawyiah (leadership of Sufi monasteries and corners). All these fields were among public religious works. Which one of those fields witnessed woman’s influence and in which ones she had no presence? Some believe that woman is only qualified to work at the field of the theoretical sciences based on memorization and transmission, such as Hadith, and she is not qualified to work at the field of rational sciences requiring certain analytical and rational potentials and a wide knowledge! Is that true? We aim, through this research, to find answers for all these questions, and to highlight woman’s role in different religious fields, and we will discover whether this role was limited only to the science of Hadith or it did extend to reach all branches of the public religious work, the theoretical and the rational. Yet, before tackling woman’s role, we will provide brief definitions for those who participated and worked in these different religious works.

The Jurist (Al-Faqih):

A title describing a person who is well-versed in the Sacred-Law (Islamic) Ruling; the rulings of the acts of worshipping and practices, deduced from the method of Ijtihad (independent reasoning). It is not required from this person to teach such rulings, but it is enough to be well-acquainted with them to be qualified as a jurist. The one still in the stage of learning and teaching is not regarded as a jurist but a knowledgeable.1

The Scholar of Hadith (Al-Muhadith):

A person who is well-versed in all what is reported to us from the Messenger (ﷺ) including his sayings and actions. In fact, Muslims set many qualifications for the narrator of the Hadith or the specialist in the Hadith. Thus, a specific science dedicated for Hadith has been immerged. This science has a certain methodologies and ways in transmission that each transmitter and specialist in this field should follow. This strict way in transmitting the Hadith refers to the significance of Hadith for the Islamic legislation, as it is its second source of legislation. Thus, the scholar of Hadith bears a huge responsibility before the Muslim society and the Islamic Shariah (Legislation). (Hassan Hanafi 1998, p:337).

The Mufti:

The jurist is who successfully completed the studies of Sacred-Law rulings and is qualified to issue any solutions and opinions for legal (Shari’) dilemmas and controversial issues. He is the one who has “a talent to deduce the rulings from its legal indicators” (Ahmad ‘Esawy 1967, p: 255). There are specific characteristics for a qualified Mufti and a legal verdicts issuer. A qualified Mufti should be “mature, sane, upright and trustworthy, because a vicious person is not qualified to issue verdicts in the religious rulings.” (Al-Khateeb Al-Boghdady, p: 300). In addition, the trustworthy and upright Mufti has a prominent position in the Muslim society.

The Teacher (Al-Mudares):

The jurist who teaches the Shariah in one of the learning institutes. The teacher often assigns a representative when he is absent or a teaching assistant who repeats the teacher’s explanation to his students. The teacher, during these ages, was, like the academic professor, placed at the highest level of the academic learning hierarchy (Makdisi 1981, v. viii, p:12). The jurist who is dedicated for teaching should be well-acquainted with his subject and should depend on sound references and narrations (‘Eissa 1982, p: 360).

The Tutor and the instructor:

They are titles describing those working in the field of teaching and education in the primary stage which was performed at home or Al-Kuttab (the name of the elementary schools at these ages), to teach kids Quran and literacy basics (‘Eisa, p:247-255).

The Admonisher:

The admonisher is the person who, in the light of the Quran and Hadith, advices people and reminds them of their religious obligations and duties before Allah Almighty and the Divine Punishment and Wrath. There are three categories of admonishers: the first one is the orator who admonishes Muslims through Friday Sermon. He should be well-versed in eloquence and a person with clear voice. The second one is the admonisher who admonishes Muslims through private sessions or learning lessons. The third one is the narrator and the “the sitting narrator” who admonishes people through narrating a story of the pious forbears by reciting some Quranic Verses and Noble Prophetic Hadiths; encouraging people and guiding them towards the right path without tackling any issues or opening the door of discussion. Yet, there is a difference between the narrator and the sitting narrator concerning the place of narrating stories and secrets. The narrator narrates the stories in the streets and roads and has no specific place to deliver his admonition, and he also recalls the stories from his memory and does not read from a book. On the other hand, the sitting narrator delivers his admonition always when he is sitting in a certain place like a mosque, a school or a Khanqah (worshipping places) (Ibn Al-Haaj 1929, p: 144- 153).

Rubaṭ’s Sheikhs/ Sufi Sheikhs:

Rubaṭ or Khanqah or Zawyiah are all terms refer to the Sufi house. The Sheikh of this house is the person who helps the Sufis and trains the seekers and teaches them the Quranic recitation and Dhkir (Remembering Allah). He also manages the affairs of the house such as food preparation and helping the visitors and the needy2.

According to the books of Aṭ-Ṭabaqat (Classes), the number of female scholars of Hadith is larger than the number of women working in the field of rational sciences. For example, the books of Aṭ-Ṭabaqat are full of many examples about women in the field of Hadith; its narration, transmission and teaching. Thus, we decide, through our study therein, not to tackle woman’s effort in the field of Hadith because this issue is crystal clear and have grasped the attention of many researchers. Instead, we will focus only on the rational sciences and its basic skills such as the know-how, Ijtihad, and ruling deduction like in the field of Fiqh, Iftaa’, admonition as well as another religious fields in which woman played a significant role which is the sheikhdom of Rubaṭ and Zawayah3.

 By searching in the books of Aṭ-Ṭabaqat, we listed some women that worked in different religious fields, then, we classified them according to their professions or religions specialization. This is in order to reach an explicit image about woman’s religious work and her influence in its different fields. The following table shows the jobs assigned to women in different religious fields in a chronological order.

Teachers/ Organizers Rubaṭ’s Sheikhs Admonishers Tutors Knowledgeable Jurists
The freed maid of Aby Omamah

الجوزي،صفة الصفوة، جـ 2، ص 453

‘Aisha bt. Al-Mustanjed Al-Ferozegyiah (d. 640 H)

الصفدي، الوافي بالوفيات، جـ 16، ص 608

Samraa’ bt. Nahek

(the era 0f the Messenger (ﷺ))

ابن عبد البر، الاستيعاب، ق 4، ص 1863

Khadijah bt. Saḥnoun b. Saed At-Tanokhy (D. 270 H)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ 5، ص 311

Fatimah bt. Yahya b, Yusuf (D. 309 H)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ 4، ص 15

Zainab bt. Aby Salamah Al-Makhzomyyah (D. 7 H)

الذهبي، سير إعلام، جـ3، ص 200

Shuhdha known as Fakhr un-Nisaa’

ابن خلكان، الوافي بالوفيات، ج 2، ص 172.

Zain Al-Arab bt. Abdul-Rahamn b. ‘Umar ibn Al-Hussain (D. 704 H)

ابن حجر، الدرر الكامنة، جـ2، ص 117.

Maymonah bt. Saqolah (D. 393 H

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ5، ص 140

Um ‘Eisa bint Ibraheem Al-Ḥarby (D. 338)

الجوزي، صفة الصفوة، جـ 1، ص 651

Khadijah bt. Muhammad b. Ahmad Al-Khurjanī (D. 372 H)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ 1، ص 341

Hajmyyah bt. Ḥay Al-Oṣabyyah Ad-Demashqyyah (Died 90 H)

الذهبي، سهر إعلام، جـ 4، ص 277- 279

Sayedah bt. Abdul-Ghani b. Ali Al-‘Abadry (D. 647 H)

الصفدي، الوافي بالوفيات، ج 16، ص 65

Fa’edah (D. 827 H) 

السخاوي، الضوء اللامع، جـ 12، ص 114

Khadijah bt. Mousa b. Abdullah (D. 437 H)

الخطيب البغدادي، تاريخ بغداد، جـ14، ص 446

Amat-Al-Waḥed bt. Abdullah Al-Ḥussain Al-Maḥamlī (Died 437 H)

الخطيب البغدادي، تاريخ بغداد، جـ14، ص 446

‘Ain As-Shams bt. Al-Faḍl b. Al-Mutaher b. Abdel-Waḥed (D. 610 H)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ 3، ص 383

‘Amrah bt. ‘Abdul-Raḥman (D. 98 H)

ابن سعد، الطبقات، جـ 8، ص 480- 481

Um Al-Qasem (D. 860 H), the daughter of the maternal aunt of As-Sakhawī

السخاوي، الضوء اللامع، جـ12، ص 148

‘Aishah bt. Ali b. Abdullah b. ‘Atiah Ar-Rifa’y (D. 837 H)

السخاوي، الضوء اللامع، جـ12، ص77

Khadijah Ash-Shajanyyah (D. ?)

الخطيب البغدادي، تاريخ بغداد، جـ14، ص446

Fatimah  bt. Muhammad Ahmad As-Samarqandī (at the age of  the just king Noor Ad-Deen who died in 569 H)

كحالة، أعلام النساء، جـ4، ص

Khadijah bt. Al-Hasan b. Ali b. Abdel-Aziz Al-Qurashyyah (D. 640 H)

الصفدي، الوافي بالوفيات

Ḥafṣah bt. Sirin (D. 100 H)

الجوزي، صفة الصفوة، ق2، ص 247- 248

Asmaa bt. Mosa Ad-Daja’y (D. 902 H)

كحالة، أعلام النساء، جـ1، ص 65

Bint Al-Khawas (D. ?)

تحفة الأحباب، ص 155

Ḥamdah bt. Watheq b. Ali b. Abdullah, (born in 466 H)

الصفدي، الوافي بالوفيات، جـ13، ص 165

Fatimah bt. Muhammad b. makki Al-‘Amlī (lived during 786 H)

العاملي، أعيان الشمعة، جـ4، ص 42

Zainab bt. Aby Barakat Al- Baghdadiyah

(lived during the 16th HC)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ2 ص 57

Um ‘Eisa bt. Ibraheem b. Issac Al- Ḥarbī  (Died 328 H)

الجوزي، صفة الصفوة، ق 1، ص 651

‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah (D. 922 H)

الغزى، الكواكب السائرة، جـ1، ص 287


also Zainab bt. ‘Umar Kendy b. Saed b. Ali

(D. ?)

الصفدي، الوافي بالوفيات، جـ14، ص 66


Al-Mawardyyah, (D. 466 H)

الجوزي، صفة الصفوة، ق2، ص 264

‘Aishah bt. Ali b. Muhammad b. Aby Al-Fatḥ (D. 840 H) (Sit Al-‘Aish Al-Qayrriah)

السخاوي، الضوء اللامع، جـ12، ص 78- 79

Amat-Al-Waḥed bt. Abdullah Al-Ḥussain Al-Maḥamlī (D. 377 H)

الجوزي، صفة الصحوة، ق1 ص651

‘Aishah bt. Ibraheem b. Sedeq (D?)

ابن حجر الصقلاني/ الدرر الكامنة، ج 2، ص 345


Fatimah bt. Quzaymran

(D. ?)

الغزى، الكواكب السائرة، جـ2، ص 238

Yasminah As-Serawindyyah (D. 502 H)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ5، ص 295

  Um Hany Maryam bt. Noor Ad-Deen Abu Al-Hasan Ali (D. 871)

السخاوي، الضوء اللامع، جـ12، ص 157


‘Aishah bt. Al-Faḍl b. Ahmad Al-Kasani (born before 460 H)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ3، ص 185

Asmaa bt. Al-Fakhr (The Mamluk Court)

ابن حجر / الدرر الكامنة، ج 1، ص 360



  Zainab bt. Aby Al-Barakat Al-Baghdadyyah

 (6th HC)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ2، ص 57

  Zubaidah bt. Asa’ad Al-Qustantinyyah (D. 1194 H)

المرادي، كتاب سلك الدرر، جـ2، ص 117


Fatimah  bt. Muhammad Ahmad As-Samarqandī (at the age of  the just king Noor Ad-Deen who died in 569 H)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ4، ص 94

ج17، ص 169   Zainab bt. Ma’bed b. Ahmmad Al-Maruzī -“Zain An-Nisaa'” (D. 543 H)

الصفدي، الوافي بالوفيات، جـ15، ص 64


    Fatimah bt. Ahmad Ar-Rafe’ī Al-Kabeer, (D. 609 H)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ4، ص 27

    Daw’ Al-Misbaḥ bt. Al-Mubarak b. Ahmad b. Abdul-Aziz -“the elite of all scholars” (D. 585 H)

الصفدي الوافي بالوفيات، جـ16، ص 370

    Um Al-Baqaa’ Khadejah bt. Hasan (D. 641 H)

الصفدي، الوافي بالوفيات، جـ13، ص 297297

    Daw’ Al-Misbaḥ bt. Al-Mubarak b. Ahmad b. Abdul-Aziz -“the elite of all scholars” (D. 585 H)

الصفدي، الوافي بالوفيات، جـ16، ص 370


    Um Al-Baqaa’ Khadejah bt. Hasan (D. 641 H)

بالوفيات، جـ13، ص 297

    Taj An-Nisaa’ bt. Rostom b. Aby Ar-Rajaa’ Al-Asbahany (D. 611 H)

الصفدي، الوافي بالوفيات، جـ1، ص 374


    Fatimah bt. ‘Aiyash b. Aby Al-Fatḥ Al-Baghdadiyah (D. 714 H)

ابن حجر، الدرر الكامنة، جـ3، ص 266

    Zainab bt. Fatimah bt. ‘Aiyash Al-Baghdadiyah   (D. 796 H)

ابن حجر، الدرر الكامنة،


    Fatimah bt. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Abdullah Al-‘Akbarī (D. 776 H)

العاملي، أعيان الشيعة، جـ4، ص 42

          Fatimah bt. Muhammad b. makki Al-‘Amlī ( lived during 786 H)

العاملي، أعيان الشيعة، جـ4، ص 42

          Zainab bt. Fatimah bt. ‘Aiyash (D. 796 H)

ابن حجر، الدرر الكامنة، جـ3، ص 266

          Dahmaa’ bt. Yahya Al-Murtaḍa (D. 837 H)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ1، ص 420

          ‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah (D. 922 H)

الغزى، الكواكب السائرة، جـ1، ص 287

          Khadijah bt. Muhammad Al-Baylounī (D. 930 H)

الغزى الكواكب السائرة، جـ1، ص 92


          Khadijah bt. Muhammad Al ‘Ameri (D. 935 H)

الغزى، الكواكب السائرة، جـ2، ص 141

          Bai Khatun also was a Shafi’ite jurist (D. 942 H)

الغزى، الكواكب السائرة، جـ1، ص 109

          Bint Ali An-Nashar (D. 1031 H)

العاملي، أعيان الشيعة، جـ13، مجلد 14، ص 169

          Quraiyysh bt. Abdul-Qader Aṭ-Ṭabaryyah (D. 1107 H)

كحالة، إعلام النساء، جـ4، ص 91

According to this table, it is obvious that women worked in the field of Fiqh as jurists or knowledgeable (students). They also worked in the field of Iftaa’, admonition, sheikdom of Rubaṭ and Zawayah, teaching and education.

 Yet, the previous table does not include their efforts in Hadith due to the same reason mentioned above. In addition, the previous table does not include their efforts in jurisdictions, because we do not want to discuss such issue because it is controversial and is already a settled issue4. Thus, we limited the study to focus on the six religious fields presented in the previous table.

First-Fiqh is a field in which woman has a great influence as a practicing jurist or a knowledgeable student, according to many sources. According to this table and by reflecting on the death year of those jurists, we find their participation in the arena was from the beginning of the first Hijri century / the seventh Georgian century till the twelfth Hijri century / eighteenth Georgian century.

The female jurists of the first three Islamic centuries: The earliest female jurist, according to this table, is Zainab bt. Aby Salamah Al-Makhzomyyah (d. 73 H). She was the most knowledgeable woman in her age in Al-Madinah (Adh-Dhahabī 1996, v.3, p:200). Hajmyyah bt. Ḥay Al-Oṣabyyah Ad-Demashqyyah (d. 81 H), is a prominent female jurist who was ascetic, erudite, wise and smart (Adh-Dhahabī, v. 4, p:207- 279). There was also ‘Amrah bt. ‘Abdul-Raḥman who belongs to the second generation of the female companions and Ḥafṣah bt. Sirin who died in the year 100 H (Al-Jawzī 1141 H, S. 2, p: 24-247). Because ‘Amrah bt. ‘Abdul-Raḥman was close to ‘Aishah, the wife of the Messenger (ﷺ), and many other companions, she was well-versed in the Quran and Sunnah (Prophetic Tradition) and the sources of the Islamic Fiqh. Thus, the dwellers of Al-Madinah used to request from her rulings of the worshipping acts and practices. she also was regarded as an authenticated source of many of the legal rulings like the ruling of selling unripen fruits, as the crops can be destroyed before ripening and negatively affecting the process of selling the agricultural products (As-Sewouty 1951, v. 2, p:51), and excepting dates as the permissible fruits. This issue was mentioned by Malek in his book Al-Muwatta’: “‘Amrah used to sell her fruits except few of them” (As-Sewtī, v.2, p: 52). In addition, she also advised her maternal nephew not to punish a man who had stolen rings made of iron saying: ” ‘Amrah is telling you that there is no cutting off except in case of (stealing) quarter of Dinar and more” (As-Sewoutī, v.2, p: 177). ‘Amrah was trusted and respected in the society of Al-Madinah, and scholars and historians pay tribute to her. For example, Ibn Sa’d described her in his book Aṭ-Ṭabaqat Al-Kubra (The Major Classes) as “an expert” (Ibn Sa’d 1321 H, v. 8, p: 480- 481).

After mentioning the female jurists of the first three Islamic centuries, the table moves to the fourth Hijri century mentioning Um ‘Eisa bt. Ibraheem b. Issac Al-arbī (Al-Jawzī, v. 1, p: 651) (d. 328 H), and Amat-Al-Waed bt. Abdullah Al-ussain Al-Moamelī (d. 377 H) who was “the best in memorizing Shafi’ī school of thought”. In fact, Amat-Al-Waḥed was skillful in studying the Shafi’ī school of Fiqh and the science of Farā’iḍ (Ordained Quotas) and Mathematics. She also was among the sources of legal rulings concerning inheritances in her age. (Al- Jawzī, v.1, p: 652).

As for the female jurists of the fifth and the sixth Hijri centuries, the table lists ‘Aishah bt. Al-Fal b. Ahmad Al-Kasani, an expert female jurist known for her piety and religion who was born before 460 H (Kaḥālah 1991, v.3, p: 185). In addition, there was Fatimah bt. Muhammad Ahmad As-Samarqandī, a female jurist from Aleppo who studied Fiqh of Ḥanafi and composed many writings in Fiqh. She was a source of the legal rulings in Aleppo.One of the jurists in Aleppo said about her: “She was the one who issued the verdict of paying Kaffarah (expiation) to compensate the missing fasts in Ramadan for the jurists in the school of Al-Halawiyah. She sold her two golden bracelets she was wearing and allocated the eighth for each missing day.” (Kaḥālah v.4, p: 94).

Moving to the seventh and eighth Hijri century, the table mentions many female practicing jurists like Fatimah bt. Ahmad Ar-Rafe’ī Al-Kabeer, the jurist, righteous, obedient (d. 609 H) (Kaḥālah v.4, p:27), and Um Al-Baqaa’ Khadijah bt. Hassan (d. 641 H) who was righteous and ascetic; and who was specialized in Fiqh (As-Ṣafdy 1931, v. 13, p: 297), and Khadejah bt. Al-Qayym Al-Boghdadiyah (v. 13, p: 296). In addition, the eighth Hijri century witnessed two prominent jurists; Fatimah bt. ‘Aiyash b. Aby Al-Fatḥ Al-Boghdadiyah and her daughter Zainab. Fatimah, the mother, (d. 714 H) studied Fiqh very well, as Ibn Taymiyyah praised her and was astonished by her devotion and intelligence. After people of Damascus benefited from her knowledge, she moved to Cairo where she became very famous and respected (Ibn Ḥajar Al-‘Asqalanī 1993, v. 3, Pp: 266). Then, her daughter Zainab (d. 796 H) received education in the field of Fiqh from her. Thus, she became also a woman of righteousness and religion. Surprisingly, Zainab was referred to in the books of Aṭ-Ṭabaqat as Zainab bt. Fatimah bt. ‘Aiyash Al-Boghdadiyah; through matrilineality because of her mother, the prominent female jurist, and not through patrilineality as her father may be not of the same level of knowledge and fame as her mother. Moreover, the female jurist Um-Al-Ezz Nasr bt. Ahmad (d. 730 H) received education from a number of Cairene sheikhs till she became a genius. She was famous in the field of Fiqh and her father was proud of her and felt sorry for her brother who failed to reach the same level of her studies and knowledge (Ibn Ḥajar Al-‘Asqalanī, v. 4, p: 942). In addition, there was Fatimah bt. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Abdullah Al-‘Akbarī who was a Shiite female jurist (d. 776 H), and Fatimah bt. Muhammad b. Makki Al-‘Amelī who was a Shiite female jurist also during the Hijri year of 786, her father praised her and ordered women to follow her footsteps (Al-‘Amelī 1938, v. 4, p: 42). Another female jurist worthy of attention is Dahmaa’ bt. Yahya Al-Murtaa, a prominent scholar and a jurist who composed some books in the field of Fiqh. For example, she composed an explanation for the book Shar Al-Azhaar in four volumes and Mandhomat Al-Kufī fil Fiqh wal Farā’iḍ (Kaḥala, v. 1, p: 420). This Dahmaa’ is a very prominent figure, as she is one of the few female jurists whose writings and legacy were recorded5.

In addition, one of the few female jurists whose legacy was recorded too is ‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah (d. 922 H.), a tenth Hijri century female jurist who was recognized, according to the sources, as a Damascane female Sufi Sheikh, and a literary figure, and a practicing scholar. She went to Cairo and received a wide knowledge and attained a certificate in Iftaa’ and teaching. In addition, she composed a number of books which will be mentioned later in the second part. ‘Aishah was contemporary with al- Sultan al Mamluk al Ghuri, , and she, according to the sources, met a lot of sheikhs6. Among the female jurists of the Tenth Hijri century too is Khadijah bt. Muhammad Al ‘Ameri (d. 935 H) who was recognized, according to the sources, as “the righteous jurist” (Al-Ghazzi, v. 2, p: 141). In addition, there was Khadijah bt. Muhammad Al-Baylounī (d. 930 H) the Ḥanafi female sheikh who was a specialist in the Fiqh of Ḥanafi and memorized a Book in the Ḥanafi school of thought, although her father and bothers were Shafi’ites (Al-Ghazzi, v. 1, p: 192). Bai Khatun also was a Shafi’ite jurist (d. 942 H) who studied An-Nawawi’s Al-Minhaj and Al-Ghazali’s Iḥyā′ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn (The Revival of the Religious Sciences) (Al-Ghazzi, v. 1, p: 109). At the beginning of the eleventh Hijri century, there was Bint Ali An-Nashhar (d. 1031 H), a Shiite female jurist who was known as “a virtuous jurist”. She inherited from her father four thousand volumes of precious books (Al-‘Amely, v.13, vol. 14, p: 169).

Then, the table moves to the twelfth Hijri century / the eighteenth Georgian century which witnessed the Meccan female jurist named Quraiyysh bt. Abdul-Qader Aabaryyah (d. 1107 H) who received Fiqh from her father (Kaḥālah, v.4, p: 91). It is obvious that this jurist belongs to the latest ages of the Islamic history, although the subject of our study does not include this age, but we mention it in order to show the time when women disappeared from the Fiqh arena. In fact, we did not find, after this female jurist, any sources mentioning women working in the field of Islamic Jurisprudence except in the books of Shiite Fiqh.

According to this timeline of the female jurists mentioned in the previous table, we notice, in general, that there was a gradual decline of their presence in the scientific and practical arena till their complete disappearance in the twentieth Hijri century/ the eighteenth Georgian century, when the jurist, after being independent in deducing and issuing the legal rulings, became an employee controlled by state institutions and its ruling system (Roded 1994, p: 84). These examples mentioned prove the presence of a rich legacy or a cultural context establishing a continuous chain of development which allowed those female jurists to work in the arena during these long centuries. We notice that those female jurists deduced some legal rulings, and had a rational and analytical potential, and left an oral and written legacy and writings in the field of Fiqh. In addition, scholars and historians pay tribute to them and regard them a sound legal source in many matters, verdicts, rulings with no doubt or satire, but they trust their qualifications, and also used to show the feelings of respect and glorification when mentioning their names.

Beside women who worked in the field of Fiqh and deduced the legal rulings, there was a group of knowledgeable women; in the stage of studying Fiqh. The knowledgeable women become most probably qualified to work in the field of Fiqh once completing the stage of studying. In addition, a single woman sometimes can be described as a jurist and knowledgeable together (Makdisi 1981, p:172). Thus, it is most likely that the jurist and knowledgeable has the same meaning. Yet, to be more accurate, we say that there was a group of women who studied Fiqh but the sources did not describe them as jurists and did not mention that they deduced rulings or left a jurisprudential legacy. Thus, they were not included in our table as jurists. Instead, we recorded them as knowledgeable and students of Fiqh, such as Fatimah bt. Yahya b, Yusuf (d. 319 H) who was described by the sources as the scholar and knowledgeable female in the field of religion (Kaḥālah, v. 4, p: 15). There was also Khadijah bt. Muhammad b. Ahmad Al-Khurjanī who was a Ḥanafi knowledgeable woman (d. 372 H) (Kaḥālah, v. 1, p: 341), and Khadijah bt. Al-Hasan b. Ali b. Abdel-Aziz Al-Qurashyyah Ad-Demashqyyah (d. 640 H) who was among the memorizers knowledgeable women (As-Ṣafdy, v. 13, p: 297). There are also Zainab bt. Aby Al-Barakat Al-Boghdadyyah who studied Fiqh beside literature and was living during the sixth Hijri century (Kaḥālah, v. 2, p: 157), and ‘Ain Asshams bt. Al-Faḍl b. Al-Mutaher b. Abdel-Waḥed (d. 610 H) who was knowledgeable in the field of religion (Kaḥālah, v. 13, p: 382), and ‘Aishah bt. Ali b. Muhammad b. Aby Al-Fatḥ (d. 840 H) who was called as (Sit Al-‘Aish Al-Qahyrriah) and who was raised in a scientific atmosphere where she recited the Quran and attained Ijazah (recognition of academic achievement) from a huge number of sheikhs in both Egypt and Syria. She used to read books of Ḥanbali Fiqh and was well acquainted with this school of Fiqh. Her contemporaries paid tribute to her intelligence and rational and analytical potentials (As-Sakhawy 1934, v. 12, p: 78-79). There was also Um Hany Maryam bt. Noor Ad-Deen Abu Al-Hassan Ali (d. 871) who was raised also in a scientific atmosphere, as her father was a prominent scholar and her maternal grandfather, who raised her, was a judge. Thus, this atmosphere inspired her to study Fiqh. Moreover, she dedicated her life to rise up her four children and encouraged them to study Fiqh. As a result, each one of her sons was specialized in one of the four schools of Fiqh (As-Sakhawy, v. 12, p: 157). Finally, the last woman we found who was acquainted with the science of Fiqh and interested in reading its books is Zubaidah bt. Asa’ad Al-Qustantinyyah (d. 1194 H) who belongs to a late period which not included in our study like Quraiyysh Aṭ-Ṭabaryyah, the previously mentioned female jurist. Yet, we included her in the table too to show the time when females abandoned the seeking Fiqh and its knowledge (Al-Murādī 1874, v.2, p: 117). All those are the names of female jurists and knowledgeable women who are paragons of the woman’s activity in the public side of the religious life. In fact, those women exerted their utmost effort to be effective in the religious work, and they really had a great influence.

Second– There is another religious field in which women had a great influence too which is the field of (Iftaa’) issuing verdicts. Iftaa’ is the process of issuing verdicts in the religious rulings and Shariah. The person who issues such verdicts is called Mufti/Muftiah. There are certain characteristics which the scholars agreed upon for a qualified Mufti. They all agreed that a qualified Mufti should be “a mature, sane, upright and trustworthy person because a vicious person is not qualified to issue verdicts in the religious rulings …whether he is free or a servant, because freedom is not a condition the soundness of the verdict. He should also be well-acquainted with the legal rulings” (Al-Khateeb Al-Boghdady, v. 11, p: 156). In addition, scholars agreed that the person who issues the verdicts should have wide knowledge, and should be erudite and well versed in Fiqh, its branches and fundamentals. He should also be well acquainted with the sayings of the Companions (of the Prophet), their successors and scholars in Fiqh and Tafsir (Quranic Exegesis); contemplating on what they accept from the Sunnah and what they left and their disagreements in authenticating and interpreting the Quran and Sunnah. In addition, he should be full acquainted with Arabic language and the fundamentals of Arabic grammar and syntax (Naḥw and Ṣarf) (Al-Qourṭuby 1967, v. 2, p: 207). Because the characteristics of a qualified Mufti do not indicate that the person should be a male, woman was encouraged to engage in this field and achieve a success. In fact, there are many examples of female Muftis whom people used to seek for religious rulings regarding dilemmas and religious controversial issues in their daily life.

Iftaa’ in Islam started when Muslims used to request from the Messenger rulings regarding their religious and worldly matters, as Allah Almighty says in his Noble Book:

“يَسْتَفْتُونَكَ قُلِ اللَّهُ يُفْتِيكُمْ فِي الْكَلَالَةِ..

They request from you a [legal] ruling. Say, “Allah gives you a ruling concerning one having neither descendants nor ascendants [as heirs]……[1]” (Surat An-Nisaa’ (The Women): 176).

After the death of the Messenger (ﷺ), people used to seek the companions, males and females, who accompanied the Messenger to learn from them the sound Islamic lifestyle and to ask about what they find ambiguous in the religious matters. In fact, Iftaa’, during this Islamic period, was influenced by the tendency to preserve the Honorable Prophetic Sunnah. Thus, ‘Aishah played a pivotal role in this field due to her closeness to the Messenger (ﷺ). For example, Muslims used to ask her about the Messenger’s actions during his daily life. Yet, after the death of this generation of Companions, males and females, Muslims lost a significant source which was directing and guiding them towards the detailed information about the Messenger’s life and honorable traditions. Thus, Muslims started, at the beginning of the second Hijri century/ the eighth Georgian century, to seek wise, trustworthy, pious, uprightness persons, with a wide knowledge in the religious rulings and its fundamentals and branches, for consultation and advice. Then, these mentioned qualities become the required qualities for a qualified Mufti and, then, Iftaa’ started to crystalize in the Islamic society and became a recognized activity governed by certain conditions and rules. In Fact, these conditions are agreed upon and set by people of science and religion and not by the people of state and politics. Since its emergence, Iftaa’ was not under the power of the state, but it was an independent activity for any person who meets the qualifications mentioned above (Massoud 1996, p: 409).

Therefore, woman worked in this field and had a great influence. We succeeded in including a number of female Muftis and arranging them in a chronological order through the previous table. There was Khadijah bt. Saḥnoun b. Saed At-Tanokhy (d. 270 H), who was the most famous female jurist in the third Hijri century in the Moroccan lands and who was known for her “wisdom, independent reasoning, knowledge and virtue”. She received knowledge from her father, the leader of the Maliki school in Morocco, who used to consult her in his important matters. People also used to ask her about their religious issues (Kaḥālah, v. 5, p: 311). In addition, there was Um ‘Eisa bint Ibraheem Al-Ḥarby (d. 338 H), a righteous scholar who issues verdicts in the field of Fiqh (Al-Jawzī, S. 1, P. 651). Also Amat Al-Waḥed (d. 377 H) who was the daughter of the judge Aby Abdullah b. Ismael Al-Maḥamly, was a righteous jurist. According to the sources, she “issued verdicts with Aby Ali ibn Hurairah) (Al-Jawzī, v. 1, p: 652). Furthermore, Fatimah bt. Muhammad Ahmad As-Samarqandī, who was contemporary to Noor Ad-Deen, the just king who died in 596 H, was a female jurist with wide fame and, as mentioned before, she was one of the jurists in the field of Ḥanafi school (Kaḥālah, v. 4, p: 94). As previously mentioned, there was also Fatimah bt. Muhammad b. makki Al-‘Amelī, the Shiite, who was known for her wisdom and piety. Thus, people used to request from her consultation and verdicts, and women also used to ask her about the rulings of menstruation period and prayer (Al-‘Amelī, v. 4, p: 42).

We notice from the previous examples to what extent Iftaa’ is related to Fiqh, as female jurists known for their knowledge, piety and good character, were sought for verdicts and consultation. It is crystal clear that the two fields are attached to each other. ‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah (d. 922 H) is another paragon of a righteous jurist who reached a certain level in knowledge and piety qualifying her for the field of Iftaa’. According to the sources, she “received an Ijazah in Iftaa’ and teaching”, and the word “received an Ijazah ” in Iftaa’ indicates that Iftaa’ was an official activity and the verdict should be official and not just an individual verdict or a consultation by any pious and knowledgeable person. In fact, ‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah was the first among the female jurists whose verdict was certified. At the same time, she is the last jurist mentioned in the historical sources, as after her name in the tenth Hijri century, we did not find any other female jurists in the historical records.

 Accordingly, we notice that when the issued verdicts were unofficial and not under the control of the state and the official restrictions, we found a huge presence of women in the field of Iftaa’. As previously mentioned, most of the female Companions and successors in the first Islamic century were jurists who were sought for religious issues. Yet, Iftaa’, over time, started gradually to be under the control of the state and thus have a more official form. This is because some of those who worked in the field of Iftaa’ were affiliated to the juridical administration in the Islamic countries. However, the unofficial verdicts were still spreading and accepted, and the independent Mufti was still an important source for the populace. The feminine presence was still in the field of Iftaa’, but their presence was not as obvious and huge as their presence in the first Hijri century. She had no role or opportunities in the field of official Iftaa’ under the supervision of the judicial administration for example. Her role, in general, was gradually declining and decreasing over the ages till it was totally disappeared, as shown in the table, after the tenth Hijri year. ‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah, as mentioned before, was the last female jurist to be recorded in the sources. During her century, Iftaa’ started to have more official form which gradually spread till Iftaa’, by the beginning of the thirteenth century, became totally an official activity with no room for personal reasoning or individual effort. Ottoman empire in this century started to “officialize the Iftaa’“. The Ottoman Sultan established an official authority for issuing verdicts with  official employees headed by an observer or a general supervisor called “Fetwa emini” (Secretary for Fatwa), “and all of them are headed by “Shiekhul-Islam” who was at the top of the religious hierarchy in the whole Ottoman empire7.

Third-Beside Iftaa’, there is another religious field in which woman have worked which is the field of admonition and guidance. Admonition and guidance to the right path are among the significant Islamic teachings. The admonisher is responsible, as mentioned at the beginning of the research, for reminding people of their religious obligations and duties before Allah Almighty and the Divine Punishment and Wrath and giving them good tidings about the reward and the paradise. We mentioned before that there are three categories of admonishers; the orators who admonishes Muslims through the Friday Sermon, the admonisher who admonishes Muslims through private sessions or learning lessons, and the “the sitting narrator”. Woman had a great influence in the field of admonition except admonition through Friday Sermon. The previous table shows many examples of female admonishers mentioned in the sources. For example, Samraa’ bt. Nahek, mentioned in the sources as among “the pioneers of admonition and guidance”, was an example of the strong woman who bears the responsibility of admonishing Muslims. She used to pass by the markets during the age of the Messenger (ﷺ) to admonish people and advise them to enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and she used to beat people with her whip (Ibn Abdul-Bar 1972, v. 4, p: 1863). This important example shows us that admonition in the early Islamic age, during the era of the Messenger (ﷺ), was by utterance and action, as she used to verbally admonish then beat those who do not obey. Yet, over time, beating those who refrain from enjoining the good and forbidding the evil in the markets was a mission assigned to the Muḥtaseb (the market inspector).

Thus, we found that all female admonishers who came after Samraa’, mentioned in the table, followed a verbal way of admonition only. For example, Maymonah bt. Saqolah (d. 393 H) was, according to the sources, one of “the pioneers of admonition and guidance” (Kaḥālah, v. 5, p: 140). Then, we move to the fifth Hijri century which witnessed Khadijah bt. Mousa b. Abdullah (d. 437 H), who was, according to the sources, known as the “Admonisher” as well as Khadijah Ash-Shajanyyah (Al-Khateeb Al-Boghdady 1931, v. 14, p: 446). In addition, Al-Mawardyyah, a pious old woman (d. 466 H) used to admonish “women” (Al-Jawzī, Ṣifat al-ṣafwah, p: 264). While she addressed women only, an admonisher called Ḥamdah bt. Watheq b. Ali b. Abdullah, born in 466 H, was very famous, so her lessons were attended by all people “males and females” (As-Ṣafdy, v. 13, p: 165). Furthermore, we moved to the sixth Hijri century who witnessed Yasminah As-Serawindyyah (d. 502 H) who was famous for her admonition and Quranic Exegesis. There was also Zainab bt. Aby Al-Barakat Al-Boghdadyyah who was, according to the sources, a sixth Hijri century female admonisher who used to address women in the Ribat Al-Boghdadyyah (Kaḥālah, v. 5, p: 295, v. 2, p: 57). There was also Zainab bt. Ma’bed b. Ahmad Al-Maruzī known as “Zain An-Nisaa’” (d. 543 H) and who, according to the sources, was a righteous eloquent woman whose lessons were held in Baghdad and Makkah. The sources did not mention whether her sessions were for women only or not. Thus, we think that her sessions were open for both males and females (As-Ṣafdy, v 15, p: 64). In addition, there was Daw’ Al-Misbaḥ bt. Al-Mubarak b. Ahmad b. Abdul-Aziz who was known as “the elite of all scholars” from Baghdad (d. 585 H). She was an admonisher who was known for her honesty and piety. She used to hold her sessions in her own Ribaṭ like Zainab bt. Aby Al-Barakat mentioned above (As-Ṣafdy, v 16, p: 370).

After that, there was Shams Ad-Duḥa bt. Muhammad Abdul-Jaleel Al-Boghdadyyah who was an admonisher and a devoted worshipper (d. 588 H). However, sources did not mention any information about the hosting place of her sessions or her addressees (As-Ṣafdy, v. 16, p: 184). Then, the table shows the admonisher of the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth Hijri century. The sources also, in this period, did not record any specific details about both the hosting place of the sessions and the attendees. However, there was also Taj An-Nisaa’ bt. Rostom b. Aby Ar-Rajaa’ Al-Asbahany, Um Ayman, (D. 611 H) who was “the sheikh of the Sacred Mosque” in Makkah (As-Ṣafdy, v 10, p: 374). The position of sheikhdom of the Sacred Mosque definitely required special characteristics and assigned huge responsibilities for its holder. It is a very significant position to which we should bear attention because it is related to the central hub of the Islamic World where woman reached a religious authority (leading position in the religious field) although the modern era, as far as we know, have not witnessed any woman who was in such position in such central hub of a special position in the hearts of Muslims. There was also another admonisher worthy to be mentioned who is Zainab bt. Fatimah bt. ‘Aiyash Al-Boghdadiyah (d. 796 H), mentioned before as the jurist, knowledgeable and Mufti, who was a righteous admonisher. We mentioned before that she inherited both knowledge and lineage from her mother Fatimah bt. ‘Aiyash Al-Boghdadiyah, a female famous jurist, (Ibn Ḥajar Al-‘Asqalani, v. 3, p: 266).

According to the table, if we reflect on the female admonishers mentioned and arranged in a chronological order, we will notice that the female advocators, contrary to the female jurists, had no huge influence during the early Islamic age, yet, their influence became higher during the medieval Islamic ages. This may be because, during the early Islamic ages, the society did not need admonition, as the female Companions and successors reached a very high level of knowledge and religious devotion to the extent that they used to issue verdicts in both the religious and earthly matters and deduce specific rulings. However, when some forms of political and social corruptions started to sneak into the Islamic society, over time, an intensified direct moral and religious admonition for all members of society, males and females, was a must. In addition, it is obvious that the order of our table stopped at the tenth Hijri century, because we failed to find any other female admonishers throughout the next centuries. We also did not find in the sources any reason for this disappearance or absence, but we deduce that it was due to the same reasons that caused the disappearance of the female Muftis from the religious arena. Admonition probably was, like Iftaa’, affiliated to the state, and the admonisher became an employee working for the government or the state. This led to the decline of the role of the independent admonisher played by the female admonishers. There is another reason to cause the disappearance of the female admonishers relates to the first reason. It is that some admonishers, females and males, in the Mamluk era, deviated from the right path of admonition, so heresies, superstitions and tales started to sneak into the sessions. This pushed the state to set restrictions for those who work in the field, putting the admonition under its control and supervision. This is the reason of the appearance of the official admonisher affiliated to the state and its representative and the disappearance of the independent admonisher8.

Fourth– Beside all the previous religious fields, there is a very significant religious field which witnessed a feminine influence which is the sheikhdom of Rubaṭ and Zawayah. We mentioned at the beginning of the research a definition of this significant religious work including managing and supervising theses religious facilities. Women who worked in this field were called female sheikhs “Shaikhat”. When reflecting on the table, we will find that the early Islamic age did not witness a feminine presence in the position of sheikhdom. In fact, all women mentioned belong to the medieval Islamic ages, the period from the sixth till the ninth Hijri century, the period when Sufism spread and established its Rubaṭ and Zawayah across the Islamic world. Although the number of women we succeeded in recording them in this field is few; only eleven women. It revales the characteristics of a qualified female Sheikh of the Ribaṭ and her activities, duties or responsibilities assigned to her. In fact, all those women were pious, righteous, learned, Allah-fearing, rightouse, and philanthropic who held sessions for Quranic recitation, Tasbeeh (saying Subhana-Allah) and Dhikr (Remembering Allah). They used to spend their time in teaching and admonishing the residents at the Ribaṭ beside their administrative responsibility which they effectively performed, such as providing food, clothes, shelters for those widows, elders and the poor coming at their doors. This grasps our attention towards the administrative potentials of women at this age and also their effective and widely-spread social and educational interwoven activity. Rubaṭ and Zawayah and Khanqahs were shelters for women who have no breadwinner or money; they were similar to semi-educational and training institutions. In addition, reciters and tutors were sometimes assigned to held sessions for Tajweed and Quranic recitation.

Through these sheikhs of the Rubaṭ introduced to us, we found that some of them established and supervised the Ribaṭ at the same time, while others were responsible only for the mission of supervision. For example, ‘Aishah bt. Ali b. Abdullah b. ‘Atiah Ar-Rifa’y (d. 837 H) established a Ribaṭ down Makkah which was named after her and dedicated a house for endowment in front of the gate of As-Safa with a view on the Mosque. At the same time, she effectively managed the Sheikhdom (As-Sakhawy, v. 12, p: 77). There was also Bint Al-Khawwas whose father established the Ribaṭ and assigned its management to her, which, then, she effectively managed (As-Sakhawy 1986, v. 2, p: 155). There was also ‘Aishah bt. Al-Mustanjed (d. 640 H) established a Ribaṭ which was named after her and managed by her (As-Ṣafdy, v. 16, p: 608). In addition, there was also Zainab bt. ‘Umar Kendy b. Saed b. Ali, Um Muhammad bt. Al-Haaj Zaki Ad-Deen Ad-Demashqī who, according to the sources, established a Ribaṭ and dedicated it for endowment. Yet, the sources did not mention whether she managed it by herself or assigned someone for its management (As-Ṣafdy, v. 14, p: 66). Beside women who established and managed the Rubaṭ, there were women who managed the Ribaṭ without being its owner. This is very important and very inspiring, as it shows that the management of Ribaṭ for woman was a paying job and not volunteer work. According to the sources, Zain Al-Arab bt. Abdul-Rahman b. ‘Umar ibn Al-Hussain (d. 704 H) “was assigned for the position of sheikhdom of Ribaṭ As-Saqlaṭony”, “And became in charge of the sheikhdom of the Ribaṭ of the Sacred Mosque” in Makkah (Ibn Ḥajar Al-‘Asqalanī, v. p: 117). Fa’edah (d. 827 H) also “was assigned for the sheikhdom of the Ribaṭ of Ad-Dhahriyah down Makkah” which is the same Ribaṭ established and headed by ‘Aishah bt. Ali b. Abdullah b. ‘Atiah Ar-Rifa’y (d. 837 H), mentioned before (As-Sakhawī 1934, d. 12, p: 114). The words “became in charge of” or “assigned for” emphasize that the sheikhdom of Ribaṭ was a job for woman. We notice, sometimes, that the woman was responsible for managing two Khanqahs or Rubaṭ at the same time like Fatimah bt. Quzaymran which was a successful leader of both Khanqahs, Al-‘Adleah and Ad-Dajajeah (Al-Ghazzi, v. 2, p: 238).

All the female sheikhs of Rubaṭ and Zawayah played their role efficiently, leading to a great influence in the religious and social life such as providing the widows, divorced women and the elders and admonishing them and teaching them the fundamentals of the religion. This role could be an interesting topic for the researchers in the future, especially by comparing it with the role of the Nuns in the monasteries of the medieval Europe and their participations in the social and religious life there.

Fifth– The last field mentioned in the table, although it is the most significant field among the religious fields, is the field of teaching and education. It is a broad field with different levels. As previously mentioned, there are two levels of Islamic education; the primary education through which kids learns Quran and the basics of literacy, and the higher education which is dedicated for teaching Fiqh and the fundamentals of Shariah. We will focus, here, on the female jurist who taught Fiqh and not the female scholar of Ḥadith who taught Ḥadith (Makdisi 1981, p: 129). Woman played an important role in the field of education in both levels. Since the early Islamic period, woman has become effective in the field of education. For example, the first generation of the female Companions and the Messenger’s wives acquired a deep religious knowledge, so they participated in issuing verdicts and admonishing and educating people. The feminine activity continued, in this field, till the medieval ages that witnessed women in the field of teaching with a more official form. Although woman was not employed in any educational position at school, their value was not decreased, yet, she gained more respect and credibility, as people, during these ages, believed that the educational positions and benefiting from their endowments sometimes lead the scholar towards the path of deviation and doubt his credibility. Therefore, they used to pay tribute to the scholar who rejects his position at school (Chamberlain 1957, p: 140- 143).

Because woman did not have a chance to enroll in formal schools, the circles of knowledge and teaching were held in houses and Mosques and were attended by men and women. In the books of Aṭ-Ṭabaqat and biographies, historians did not feel ashamed to say that they learnt from female scholars and benefited from their experiences (Tritton 1957, p: 140- 143). Through the group listed in the table, we notice that it is divided into female teachers of Fiqh and female educators or instructors who teach Quran and the basics of literacy. Regarding female teachers, there is a probability that all the previously mentioned female jurists was working as teachers also, as all those female jurists completed their study of Fiqh and attained a wide knowledge in this field so that they were qualified to teach its rulings. However, we notice that the sources explicitly mention that they worked as teachers. Despite accepting the fact that most of the female jurists worked as Fiqh teachers, we, following the sources and achieving accuracy and honesty, only include in this table those who were mentioned as Fiqh teachers. Throughout the table, we notice that all of them belonged to the medieval ages, the period which witnessed the crystallization of the Islamic Jurisprudence to be a well-defined knowledge9.

Among the female teachers mentioned was the freed maid of Aby Omamah whose name is unknown. It has been said that she taught women “Quran, Sunnah, science of Farā’iḍ, and Fiqh” at a Mosque in Ḥoms. This proves that besides holding knowledge circles at homes, they used to teach inside Mosques also (Al-Jawzī, v. 2, p: 453). There was also the female sheikh Shuhdha known as Fakhr un-Nisaa’ (The pride of womanhood) (d. 574 H). According to the sources, she “held circles including the ordinary people and prominent figures” (Ibn Khallikan 1948, v. 2, p: 172). There was also Fatimah bt. Ahmad As-Samarqandī, the virtuous jurist mentioned before, who worked in the field of Fiqh teaching during the era of Noor Ad-Deen, the just king. There was also ‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah the female jurist and admonisher who, as mentioned before, attained “an Ijazah in teaching”. In addition, Bint ‘Ali An-Nashar (d. 1031 H) was a female Shiite jurist who taught Fiqh and Quran (Al-‘Amely, v. 17, v. 14, p: 169).

Regarding the female educators, they were responsible for the primary education including Quranic memorization and the basics of literacy. The female educator who taught the girls of the wealthy families at their houses was called the instructor. It is interesting that the education in such stage was a job or a profession which was a source of income for women. According to the sources, Sayedah bt. Abdul-Ghani b. Ali Al-‘Abadry (d. 647 H) was a virtuous female scholar in Tunisia whose father “dedicated his life for raising her and educating her to be qualified for the profession of teaching women to guarantee a source of income” (As-Ṣafdī, v. 16, p: 65). There were also ‘Aishah bt. Ibraheem b. Sedeq, who was a Quranic teacher for women and who taught a huge number of women (Ibn Ḥajar Al-‘Asqalanī, v. 2, p: 435), and Um Al-Qasem (d. 860 H) who was the daughter of the maternal aunt of As-Sakhawī’s father who said about her in Ad-Daw’ Al-Lami’ that she taught girls (As-Sakhawī, v. 12, p: 148). There was also Asmaa bt. Al-Fakhr, the maternal aunt of the judge Noor Ad-Deen As-Sa’igh, who belongs to the Mamluk age, as the family of As-Sa’igh was well-known for its successful path in the field of knowledge and jurisdictions. Asmaa was an ascetic who “taught women Quran, knowledge and devotion (to Allah)” (Ibn Ḥajar Al-‘Asqalanī, v. 1, p: 360). Asmaa bt. Mosa Ad-Daja’y (d. 902 H) who was among the virtuous women who recited the Quran and taught women Quran and admonished and instructed them (Kaḥālah, v. 1, p: 65).

Finally, after introducing those women listed in different religious fields, we can say that woman was effective and played a pivotal role in the public religious field with all its branches during the early and the medieval Islamic ages. We saw, contrary to the spreading concept, a female jurist with excellency and wide rational and analytical potentials. She also was a skillful Mufti qualified for deducing rulings from its legal evidences, so she was able to issue solutions and opinions for the legal dilemmas and religious controversial issues. In addition, she was an admonisher who delivered advises and exhortations for people and reminded them of their duties before Allah and society. She also became the sheikh of the Ribaṭ or Zawyiah with high administrative potentials. In addition, she was an effective teacher and educator in the field of education with its different stages; as she taught Quran, Sunnah, the science of Farā’iḍ and Fiqh. After all these examples, we can say that the Islamic society in the early and medieval Islamic ages, with its prevailing traditions and customs, did not prevent women from engaging and participating in the public religious field (although they did not reach prominent positions in the field of Jurisdiction and official administrations). On the contrary, this presence was very normal. We have noticed how the historians and scholars during this specific period always pay tribute to those women; praising them and regarding them a legal reference in many affairs with no doubt or satire but with trust and appreciation.

Part Two

Topics under Analysis and Comparison

Prof. Dr. Omaima Abou-Bakr

  • Critical Dilemmas in Analyzing the Chronicles of Medieval Women:

Different aspects of women’s life, the nature of their livelihood and their professions during the medieval ages, especially in the west, recently grasp the attention of many of the researchers and theorists in the light of two schools of thoughts or movements in specific.

 The First movement  is the issue of re-reading and re-analyzing the old chronicles by regarding them imaginative or “theatrical” contexts unveiling the mechanisms of the social and cultural development of individuals and members of the society, and in this case women is the intended. This is known as the field of the studies of “New Historicism” or “The New Cultural History” (Bynum 1992, Berkhofer 1995, Kawthrany 2001)10.

 The Second movement is the school of thought of the feminine theories dedicated for searching, through known and unknown sources, for details about women’s life in the previous ages to shed a new light on them to prove their effective and positive presence in different fields even during these ancient ages. On the other hand, its objective is to develop the old analytical and theoretical frames which are applicable till now, and that help in the study of those women and these sources. This can be achieved through a new perspective to re-analyze and re-explain this subject. In another words, the significance of studying medieval women’s history for the current feminine schools of thoughts are summarized in three points:

  • It demonstrates the positive historical presence of women in a way different than the traditional frameworks which usually refrain from including women’s activities when mentioning the men’s achievements in the public official chronicles. It supposes that the old history in particular was set and controlled by men of the state and authority or religious scholars.
  • Surprisingly, the modern historians found that both medieval men and women showed a humanitarian “nature” different from our “modernist” awareness about this stable eternal nature of masculinism and feminism or men and women. They also discovered that the socially and culturally permissible, in many aspects of life, were not designed with the same level of restrictions and rigidness we imagined about these ages or even in comparison with the same limitations of our modern age. Therefore, this supports the prevailing theory nowadays which states that the system of the relationship between the two genders and the nature of each one of them and their roles are formed according to cultural and social standards and it encountered changes over the centuries and ages, especially in the European west. Through this, the historical facts and hypotheses are changed, leading the researchers to re-evaluate these hypotheses about the past and perhaps about the present too (Stuard 1978).
  • The third field which helps in studying these medieval ages is the field of studying the public and private scope of the society. Many studies in the west started to re-consider the titles of the historical ages in Europe such as the “Dark Ages”, or The “Age of Renaissance” or the “Modern Age” and even the course of the western civilization itself. Perhaps, it was not entirely “Dark” ages for women in Europe, as they were allowed to participate in the collective or individual religious activities, ascetism, memories writing and mystical revealed inspirations. Perhaps, there was no “Renaissance” for them during the centuries following the beginning of the sixteenth century, which witnessed the first flame of the transformation of the means of production and consumption, till reaching the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century and, consequently, the formation of the market and its mechanisms and movement apart from the family private (Buchanan 1996; Stuard, 7) 11. In addition, the researchers and analysts proved that these was the beginning of the division of the European history into public and private which was followed by limiting women’s role to the private sector; the house, family, kids and maids. On the other hand, men were assigned for the public sector and its activities in the external society; what is more difficult, appreciated, distinctive and powerful12. This development continued till reaching its peak in the Victorian age at Britain (19th Century) which promoted the concept of “the real woman or female” to establish certain patterns of the feminine manners or the true feminine character based on the moral excellency promoting passiveness, submission, weakness, surrender and limited rational potential13.

We notice a similar development in the field of historical studies of the Middle East. In fact, many valuable researches focusing on the history of women in the Islamic and Arab societies before the modern age in particular have recently appeared. They proved that the wide opportunities in the public field besides practicing the lawful legal rights witnessed a decline by the beginning of the “Modernism” which promoted the idea of “The Nation State” with its rigid administrative, legal, social and political frameworks and systems as an imitation of the western paradigm of the modern state institutions. Some significant contributions, such as the researches of Amira Sonbol and Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid-Marsot, Nelly Hanna, Judith Tucker, Nikki Keddie and Beth Baron (see the list of reference), represent such tendency towards reconsidering the hypotheses of stagnation and backwardness during specific periods in our history such as the Ottoman era, from the beginning of the sixth century till the nineteenth century and the beginning of the reign of Muhammad Ali in Egypt.

Amira Sonbol (1996 /1999) 14 demonstrates the reason of such hypotheses and generalizations: “Supposing that the historical period is contrary to the “traditional” period leads to a misunderstanding of many topics regarding the history of Muslim Woman. Researches tackling the history of woman in the Middle East during its ancient ages are rare, because these studies focused on the modern age. In fact, feminist historians prefer focusing on the study of the emergence of modernism in the Middle Eastern societies” (p: 14). The studies of Amira Sonbol in the field of family and divorce laws, in particular, prove that although the apparent changes of the statue of Muslim woman achieved by Modernism, “woman inside the traditional Muslim society was quietly active and she participated in decision making regarding the personal and legal status….and the social relationships and the relationships between the two genders.” In addition, the modernist historical transformations which occurred in the last two centuries “caused a deterioration in the potential of social activity especially for woman…During the stage of establishing the nation state, the state controlled the family, and personal status laws by setting, reforming and modernizing their standards; imposing a great impact on women’s status” (p: 19).

Rediscovering the Arab and Muslim societies such as Egypt or others with its different members, especially women, paves the way towards a better understanding of the current situation and the emergence of the modern age which depends on the course of the history. For example, Dr. Raouf Abbas explains to us, through the preface of his (Arabic) translation of Nelly Hanna’s book “Tujjar Al-Qaherah fil ‘Asr Al-Othmany” (Making Big Money in 1600: The Life and Times of Isma’il Abu Taqiyya, Egyptian Merchant) (1997), the dilemma of neglecting the Ottoman history and accusing it with decline and insular traditionalism by orientalists: “Societies can develop through a historical context different that the western approach, unveiling the false conclusions of the orientalists through their studies about the Ottoman age, in general, and the Egyptian progress in that age in particular….(emphasizing) that the Muslim Arab national culture had, during this age, the factors of progress and that the western invasion was not a revival for our societies, yet, it was among the obstacles hindering its progress” (p: 15). Throughout this book, the author re-narrates the biography of the leader of the merchants in the late sixteenth century and the early seventeenth centuries depending on different sources collected from the Shariah court records. Through this, she depicts a real image of the economic and social life of this class during this period and proves, using supporting evidences, that the generalizations about the complete separation between the public and private fields are not reliable, as “the flow between the private and public field was not broken, and the obstacles between both fields were not invulnerable. Between white and black, there was always a wide space for the shades of grey. Thus, the flow between both fields depended on the difference of standards and situations” (p: 232). In addition, women were not isolated; yet, they managed the affairs of their own businesses, properties, family endowments and worked at the court. There were no invulnerable obstacles separating between their own doors or isolating them from the eternal world. Therefore, we see that the word detention (or isolation) used by the researchers in many contexts talking about wives in the Middle Eastern societies, which connotes the meaning of arrest, is misleading when examining the situation closely. Although the house was the center of the family life, women had many connections with the external society. In fact, the statue of the Cairene women was better than the statue of their contemporary French and English women. For example, the English woman, during the Stuart period, was deprived from her right in ownership once she got married, as her husband was responsible for managing all her related businesses. Thus, she became totally dependent, because law placed her after marriage in the category of the underage. In addition, the statue of woman in France before the revolution was not much better, as marriage allowed the husband to have the right of total guardianship over all his wife’s properties” (p: 235).

And even after about a century and a half, during the late eighteenth century before the reign of Muhammad Ali in Egypt, women played a pivotal role in the financial sector. Moreover, the studies of Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid-Marsot (1995) of this era and its decentralized economic situations demonstrate that woman’s participation in trade and investment in the field of agriculture (especially the woman of the bourgeoisie middle class) was very effective and was distinguished with liberty and independence which she was deprived from after that. In addition, the role of women from the working class as suppliers of goods was limited due to the spread of alternative imported goods and the European systems for life, stores and labor market. The freedom given to women to have a total control over their moneys, properties and trades allows them to reach a level of sovereignty which completely disappeared in the modern age during the dominance of the central economical system and value system of the British colonialism: “After the end of the century (the Nineteenth) and the English colonial rule in Egypt, the marginalization of woman of elite classes became worse due to the dominance of the British concept regarding the female “silly”, “sensitive” and “irrational”. The Egyptian man followed his British leader in this perspective he found persuasive (Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid-Marsot in the book An-Nisaa’ wal-Osrah Wal-Qawaneen At-Talaq (Women, Family and the Divorce Laws), P. 57).

I think that this image is similar, in a general sense, to the early and medieval Islamic ages starting from the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties until the Mamluk era in Egypt and Levant during the fifteenth and sixteenth century which is the center of this study. The researches of Huda Lutfi are dedicated for this era, but they are regarded among the few historical studies shedding light in details on the women’s history several centuries before modernity by depending on the neglected sources, in consideration with the wide opportunity given to women in the public life and the difference of social standards controlling the life of both men and women.

However, these historical eras, the early and medieval ages, need further study and theorization. For example, if those researchers, including this current research about the female jurists and Muftis, prove the contribution of women in the intellectual and religious life in the medieval Islamic ages, which totally disappeared in the following centuries till the modern age, they refute the claim that women and men always have equal opportunities in the public cultural life, education or writing in the field of religious sciences. However, the reason could be because of the delinquency of women and their nature and the difficulty of attaining religious knowledge or the legitimacy of engaging in a specialized religious debate. Is it possible that they achieved a high position as scientific religious references in a certain age then disappeared after this age till now?! This calls for a study of the historical changes and its impact on women and “Gender” tracing the early Islamic ages and then the Mamluk and Ottoman till the modern age during and after colonization. However, it has been known that the difficulty of obtaining documents and writings in Islamic legacy, during this era, written by women themselves and also the historical subject, transmitted to us about female prominent figures and scholars written by male historians quoting their sayings, poets and writings, do not encourage many of the researchers to produce a new cognitive subject in this field.

Therefore, the female researcher should choose between two theories:

  • Considering these texts as examples of cultural and social concepts about women produced by the writers whether these texts reflect accurate and correct historical events or not. Thus, this approach aims to apply a new perspective in dealing with the known sources and discovering new meanings and connotations from the old texts. Most of the western researches are adopting this perspective nowadays, whether that which tackles the history of European women, such as the studies of Caroline Bynum and Susan Stuard, on the Middle Eastern women, such as the famous book of Deniz Spellberg about ‘Aishah bt. Aby Abakr (1994) and the book of Fedwa Malti-Douglas on the portrayal of woman during the history of the Arabo-Islamic culture (1991). For example, Stuard, through the preface of her book, grasps our attention towards the historical dilemma of Western medieval women, whose actions and sayings were transmitted through historical records written by male historians and writers. Thus, it is important to focus on “the understanding of those historians; when they do reflect the true historical image and when they do ignore the evidences or when they do reflect and form their modern perspectives and personal concepts, which reflect their cultures, in a specific topic” (P. 15).
  • The second approach does not negate the dilemma of “Citation” which is the principal feature of these old texts. A female researcher explains it saying: “the voices or the narrations of women in such situations are not definitive but ambiguous. In fact, these characters do not totally represent the character of the writer only, but they also reflect collective cultural concepts. Yet, we could not, at the same time, maximize the value of these voices by regarding them the marginalized real/ actual voices coming from the past.” (Evans 1994, p: 2). In another words, despite all the doubts surroundings the historical records about women, reviving the voices, narrations and literatures of women scattered in the encyclopedias and historians’ books is an important step in demonstrating and then inserting the historical contribution of women in the collective cultural memory.

Mohja Kahf commented on this trouble: “Are we, in these early Islamic ages, reading the actual wordings of the early Muslim women with no distortion or interference or most of them are fabricated by male writers and historians?” she added that most of the Arab studies definitively adopt the first view, while most of the western studies definitively adopt the second one. Yet, she believes that the sole explanation of any view of the two is not enough; raising an important question: Why it is hard for the researchers to believe in the authenticity of women’s creation of certain wordings or narrations and speeches; doubting their potentials, and at the same time they acknowledge men’s efforts in the field of recording, transmission and creativity? This tendency rejects the first research approach which regards all these texts as masculine concepts and fantasies around those women or just fabrications. It also supports the ability of filtering and discovering the traces of real speeches of women in the field of literature, poetry, Sufism and politics. In addition, Mohja Kahf calls these literatures “The speech traces of women” (Webb 2000, p: 150- 152). Therefore, it is important to consider the study of the traces of female jurists, Muftis, Hadith scholars and mystics who were prominent in the public religious life as a trial to revive this significant part of the women’s history in the Islamic culture or civilization.

The previous discussion shows its results when reflecting on what we demonstrated from the forgotten history of whole different categories of women who worked in the fields of religious sciences, Fiqh and Shari’ verdicts. Through this, we can analyze their biographies by applying the two approaches together: by reviving these feminine speeches and at the same time putting into consideration the cultural and social concepts adopted by the historians within the context of their ages; which witnessed the production of these writings and chronicles about female scholars.

  • The Comparative Dimension and the Religious Life of Women in Europe:

What is the benefit of setting a comparison here between the public religious life of women in the Islamic societies and its counterpart for women in Europe during the medieval Christian ages? This research trend belongs to the modern interest mentioned before regarding the relationship between women in different societies and cultures and their religious legacy. This can be achieved by setting a comparison among different chronicles to discover the available choices for women in each legacy; what are the aspects of religious life available for them, and are they available with the same level and with equal proportions? And what are the prohibited fields for them? Then, this standard is used as an analytical element and a primary tool for the comparison. The point of intersection is to focus on the effective participation of woman and her presence as an active factor in history or a history maker and not just a symbol or a passive creature. In fact, this approach does not compare religions from the point of “the female religious figures” or “the feminine images” unveiled by talented scholars and writers. Ironically speaking, some western studies interested in such perspective arrange religions and its legacy according to its progression to determine the most and the least systems accepting religious activities for women. Through the preface of the book entitled Women Saints in World Religions (Sharma 1987), Katherine Young suggests an order which sets Islam in the fourth grade after Judaism, Hinduism, and Confucianism, as its legacy has no effective feminine presence. On the other hand, Rita Gross, in her book Feminism and religion (1996), rearranges this order placing Islam in the third grade after Judaism and Confucianism, stating that it should be placed in the least grades compared to those two religions in accepting the woman’s independence and achieving a real feminist presence. Then, she declares in another paragraph that Christianity and Buddhism deserve a bad reputation because of their negative view towards woman by regarding her as “less spiritual and more materialistic than men” (p: 93). Some of us may disagree with this evaluation or the previous one or these generalized conclusions, yet the way of refuting any of such conclusions is through cross-cultural research, without being limited to one legacy, to measure the different or approximate and similar degrees of women’s role. Arsola King, a female researcher, (King 1995) stated that such comparative studies proved that the statue of woman in any religion or doctrine is usually a reflection, even if it is indirect, of the statue of women in such society. Sociologists pointed out repeatedly that the religious and doctrinal systems “reflect and re-establish the cultural values and social behavioral models” inside any society (p: 15).

This is an issue which most of the researchers have not yet determined their stance on. There is a group, adopting the same previous view, which believes that there is a relatively complete identicality among the cultural/ religious concepts prevailing in any society about woman and the actual statue of woman in this social reality. If the concepts, images and symbols prevailing in a certain age are negative and biased, this means that the statue of women in this age was extremely terrible. Yet, the majority of the researchers, especially a large sect of the current female researchers, have started to reconsider this hypothesis when they discovered that although women’s life was affected by such concepts and suppositions, this does not reflect the whole picture. How to explain the presence of women in these ages who succeeded in controlling their lives and played positive roles; contrary to the image of passiveness and total submission imposed on them and formed theoretically by the surrounding culture. One of the significant studies in this scope of the Western legacy is Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols (Bynum 1986) by a group of researchers, females and males, who noticed that the religious cultural symbols about the masculine and feminine often do not reflect or show the reality of all actual social models in the daily life. In addition, King claimed that there is often an inverse relationship between these two poles: the multiplicity of symbols and figurative images of “feminine” in the religious imagination of a certain legacy and the contradictory declining social situations of woman and a very bad treatment in the family life and public religious life on the practical ordinary level (p: 16)15. This is what deduced by the new research on both the Christian and Islamic legacy in the medieval ages and the pre-modernist period. In fact, the Western studies started to emphasize the independent leading roles played by woman at the beginning of the Christian era as a manifestation of the liberal values of the original Christian message compared to different restrictions imposed by the strict patriarchal system of the Church. In fact, researchers find female figures during those ages, especially nuns and ascetics (devoted for worshipping) and mystics, who enjoyed self-independence and moral authority based on individuation and spiritual intelligence.

We aim, here, to present briefly the roles of women in the religious life during the so-called period the middle of the medieval ages (12-15 C); focusing on both the roles crystalized under the supervision of the official Church or outside; tracing the field of the dissidents. Regarding women’s activity under the supervision of the Church, it has been known, according to the sources, that they were not assigned in religious professions inside these institutions, as they did not reach any position inside it, and they were prevented from working as priests practicing the rituals and public prayers. Therefore, the religious activities for them were limited inside the nunneries. The position of nuns was a kind of self-empowerment even if was under the supervision of the official institution. Some researchers believe that the surrounding environment or the cultural context opposing woman, which spared no effort in belittling the feminist gender as a whole, regard reaching heaven, spiritual salvation, is harder for women than men. Thus, woman needed to exceed her “sinful” innate nature, as depicted in the prevailing culture, and double her effort to achieve self-affirmation and competence in communicating with God (Almighty). Consequently, the opportunities of choosing the track of the devoted religious life inside the nunneries spread; encouraging women to dedicate their lives for the sake of God and devoted worshipping. This is from the side of the religious motive. Regarding the social side, the life of nunnery was probably a way of escapism from the inferiority in case of marriage, hard domestic services and the health risk of delivering a baby. (Larrington 1995, p: 115).

Among the advantages of living inside the nunnery is attaining an adequate education and literacy, an opportunity which the majority of the medieval women outside the Church were deprived from, and a having a chance to read the religious books and obtaining the necessary tools for recording some writings by themselves. With the exception of the two famous nuns, Hildegard Bingen and Hurd Landsberg in the twentieth century whose writings tackles topics other than the religious topics, all the writings of the nuns followed them had a mystical spiritual feature presenting a self-discovery journey of the author inspired by the Bible, rituals and writings of the early church scholars. Surprisingly, if a female author sometimes could not record her autobiography, she would dictate it to another nun, who is more qualified in transcription, or even a priest or a monk. This is the way adopted by Hildguard (12 C), a German nun, and Margery Camp, an English nun (15 C). However, we can say at least that documents and long scripts of the writings of those nuns were transmitted to us in the modern age; recoding the mystical visions, commentaries, comments and feminine mystical views. This was a golden opportunity for the researchers in the west that allowed them to deeply reflect on these texts; analyze and study them from the historical, cultural, social and religious side. Thus, they can deduce certain features, images and expressions used by those women and put them in a cultural historical context of this age, such as the famous writings of the nuns of Helfta (13 C), a famous nunnery in Germany, such as Hildguard, previously mentioned, and Julian Norwich, an English nun (14 C). All are writings which are distinguished by a mutual feature, grasping the attention of the researchers, which is the metaphorical depiction of the “motherhood” of Jesus Christ and focusing on the characteristics of “maternal care” of Jesus Christ, the “Saviour” (Bynum, 1982). Without indulging in further details which we have no room for, the researchers could link these writings and symbols with their context and discussed whether they are a reflection of the modern cultural environment or a reaction, whether they are concepts which do not reflect the reality or they affected the real life, whether they have a remarkable impact on the development of the Christian legacy in its view of Divinity and its nature or not….etc.

In another words, those researchers were luckier as they had the opportunity to obtain certain writings even if some of them were dictated or preserved and published by priests, monks and religious men. As we mentioned, we should depend in (studying) the Islamic legacy on some scattered sayings quoting the female jurists and mystics.

The second category of women engaged in the religious life was the category of the anchoress living an ascetic life. They, originally, did not live inside institutions or nunneries, but they devoted their life during the early Christian centuries (before 11 C) as worshippers who seclude themselves in remote caves or desert apart from any collective congregations. After a period of time, it was safer to live inside a separate secluding cell even if it is attached to a certain Church or nunnery. The devoted nun totally secluded herself for sole worshipping, contemplation and praying. She should follow the law of solitude and total separation, so that she was prevented from communicating with the outside world or leaving this “anchorage”/ “anchor hold” except through a window allowing access to the church or through some servants who provided her with her necessary needs. And over time, this life chosen by many turned to be like a profession, as some of them gained a reputation for their piety and mysticism, and attracted many travelers, pilgrims and visitors who sought them for spiritual consultation, blessing and asked them in the field of worshipping and religiousness. One of the most famous English anchoresses is Julian Norwich (1342-1429) who left for us a famous written narration including fourteen mystical revealed insights called Revelations of Divine Love. Similarly, groups of famous female saints and mystics in the Christian legacy were emerged from this category.

Regarding the third category, it is the category that engaged in the preaching religious life but outside the Church and its cadres. Among the most famous women were those called Beguines “who were emerged during the end of the eleventh century and the beginning of the twelfth century in the Northern Europe, especially Belgium. They are groups of women living in special residential areas whose objective is to achieve the daunting equation in the medieval ages which is to lead a religious life inside countries; a life based on piety, prayer, public preaching and philanthropic activities. In fact, their aim was to practice their religion and religious guidance and to be a prominent part in the life of their community at the same time. They used to manifest their religiousness through charitable activities and practical services for people, to be a role model for a true philanthropic Christian life but without being subjected to the authority of the Church and its supervision and regulations. Some researchers described this category saying that they form the first Feminist separatism in the Western history (Bynum, 1982). Although this trial succeeded for many years, they faced an intensified attack and criticism from the priests and the Church to the extent that they were accused and deemed officially as polytheists and their gatherings was dissolved. Researchers believe that the problem is that they created for themselves an “intermediate” space, neither under the control of the Church, as the nuns and anchoresses of the nunneries, nor under the control of the husband inside the house, practicing the traditional marital role of a husband and a mother. Those two roles, the nun or the wife/ widow, were the roles prescribed for women or the allowed spaces for the medieval woman to live inside. For the Beguines, they did not follow the regulation of seclusion of the life of nunneries, and at the same time they did not give up their right in practicing the religious life freely inside the society of the country and in public (Stoner). The historical context, at that time, did not accept this ambiguous situation especially the idea that they practiced the active preaching in the public life independently; without the control of the Church. This matter raised a huge disapproval to the extent that these institutions and their activities were dissolved by an order from the Council of Vienne (1312 A.D.).

In comparison with the female sheikhs of Rubaṭ and Zawayah, mentioned in the first part, which were also feminist institutions or congregations of female sheikhs and worshippers and also activists in the charitable social work, we expect that there was no problem in being knowledgeable sheikhs and a part of the public scope at the same time. Yet, the sources pay special tribute for their good management of these Rubaṭ. There was no official banning or dissolution to those institutions because the circumstances were different, although it is obvious that the Sheikhs of Rubaṭ have been disappearing gradually till the modern age after the establishment of the frameworks and institutions of the modern state with its restrictions and stereotypes. Is it possible also to regard these Rubaṭ with its female Sheikhs and managers as an example or an early paradigm of collective Islamic feminist initiatives that succeeded in creating a private space or scope for women inside the wide Muslim society to solve their own problems, such as orphanage, widowhood, divorce or desertion, and the provision of moral, social, educational and financial support?

The fourth group is the categories of “heresies” or the totally deviated from the Christian doctrine recognized and set by the medieval Church. They are categories belonged to certain sects or school of thoughts which are dissidents from the Church and the authority of the Pope. It has been noticed that a huge number of the followers of these schools of thought and heresies were among women. Some of these schools of thought allowed effective participation for women, a participation that they never found inside the Church because they were deprived from reaching its positions. We have no room for further discussion after this brief presentation of this category, because it is a wide topic and beyond the scope of this study.

According to the previous presentation, although these medieval Christian women are similar to the contemporary Muslim feminist communities in benefiting from the religiousness and the religious life to achieve their self-realization and moral and emotional independence, self-confidence and empowerment, and although some of them reached a high position as female saints, they did not reach the position of “scholars”. In another words, they did not specialize in official or traditional religious sciences such as issuing rulings, jurisprudential views and verdicts to be transmitted and taught and applied among a wider group of people, men and women. In fact, they did not reach an advanced level in studying and legal independent reasoning in religious issues.

  • ‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah

She was a female scholar, jurist, Mufti, poet and an author who wrote these series of religious and mystical writings: Al-Mamalek Al-Sharifah wal Aathar Al-Manefah,and Al-Fatḥ Al-Ḥanafy, and Diwan Mawled Jalel lel-Naby (ﷺ) (A collection of poems: the birth of the Prophet (ﷺ)). Some of them were written in poetic form while others were written in prose and published in Cairo in 1883 A.D. beside many other writings and poems. I choose her specifically because she is a paragon of a female Muslim scholar and an activist or, as mentioned, a “practicing” jurist in the public life, traveling across many countries and communicating with the contemporary scholars and engaging in an intellectual discussion with them about religious topics, Iftaa’ and literature. However, she is, at the same time, an example of many dilemmas, previously mentioned, especially the issue of the authenticity of lost writings or sayings or narrated poems attributed to her in the books of history and dictionaries. However, what is transmitted to us about her deserves to be analyzed and studied because it is a historical voice and presence representing the Muslim female jurist and scholar.

In fact, ‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah shared poems of praise, quizzes in linguistics and literature with Abu ul-Thanā’ Maḥmoud b. Ajā, who was the head of Dawāwīn al-Inshā’ (The Chanceries) in the Egyptian lands at that time during her visit to Cairo, and with also Mr. Sharif Abdul Rahim Al Qaheri, Shaikhul Udabaa’ (The master of the literary men) who addressed her saying “Oh the garden of the knowledge” and praised her “prose” and “poetry”. Among her writings are wonderful mystic erotic poems through which she used meanings and symbols of the old lasting mystical legacy especially the depiction of the worried lover, the manifestation of the Divine Beauty and the figurative connection and intimate conversations with the Divine beloved who drives away any fear, illness and sorrow. These depictions remind us with the famous poems of Rabe’ah Al-A’dawyah, who was followed by many female mystics after her death, and also mystic poets who demonstrates the feelings of affection, passion and Ghazal (eroticism) and the direct conversation with Allah Almighty by using sentences which strengthen the spiritual personal connection between the poet, male or female, and the Highest Companion. Among the poetic lines of ‘Aishah are:

يا مقصودي يا موجودي يا محبوبي يا مطلوبي
واغني فقري بالتداني والوصال كن لي كن لي وأجبر كسرى

English Translation:

O my Objective O my Creator

O my beloved O my Goal

Enrich me from my poverty though intimate conversation and communication

Be with me Be with me and heal my weakness.

Regarding the issue of the historical depiction, mentioned at the beginning, we will see, for example, that this significant character was mentioned by three main sources. The Two sources Al-Ghazzi’s Al-Kawakeb As-Sae’rah and Ibn ‘Emad’s Shadharat Adh-Dhahab focused on the scientific jurisprudential mystic side of her writings and character. On the other hand, Zaynab Fawwaz in her encyclopedia Ad-Dor Al-Manthour Fi Tabaqat Rabat Al-Khdour (1896) shed light on ‘Aishah “The gifted poet ….the literary woman who is reasonable and wise” (p: 293) described by scholars and sheikhs like Abdul-Ghanī An-Nabulsī, a famous Syrian scholar, as “the master of morality and literature”. Thus, we notice that the historical image of Zaynab Fawwaz shows ‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah as a peerless literary figure who is known for her eloquence and rhetoric poetry. Regarding other personal features, many emphasized her wisdom, intelligence and understanding from one side and her great impact on many fields on the other side. These attributes and descriptions carry many connotations because they contradict the affirmation of some scholars and exegetists that women are inferior in the field of Fiqh and Tafsir from a rational and intellectual side or the idea of Divine preference of the gender of males over the gender of females.

Furthermore, we read at biography of ‘Aishah in Ad-Durar Al-Manthour that “she had a glance of beauty in her face from the literature and sweetness from the Arab’s eloquence”. This means that Zaynab Fawwaz was interested in transmitting this detail from one of the sources she used to present. This proves that the appearance of a scholar like ‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah and her interaction with contemporary male scholars and historians was possible and normal. Ad-Durar Al-Manthour also mentions that men used to request from her verdicts in a form of poetry and she used to answer in the same form. Someone began his question saying:

“…. ما قولك يا ستنا العالمة “

(what is your opinion our master scholar..?),

 till the last lines,

she answered saying:

” قالت لكم ستكم العالمة….”

(your master scholar is telling you….),

and so on. It is obvious that she lived in this social and cultural atmosphere where she gained acceptance and greeting and did not face criticism, satire or even an effort from historians to justify her wordings, lifestyle and literary, scientific and religious activity.

We notice that ‘Aishah left a huge literary production including many poems, then commentaries, comments and summaries of her works or poems and works of other poets, which we can regard as a literary criticism. According to Encyclopedia of Islam, she composed a poem from the book of Al-Suyutī’s Al-Mu’jezat wal-Khasai’s An-Nabawiah, and an ode entitled Al-Isharat Al-Khafehah fel Manazel Al-‘Alyyah (hidden signs in the high positions), and an ode summarizing Manazil as-Sa’ireen (Stations of the Travelers), the message of the mystic Al-Harawī.(v.6,p:99) She also composed another ode entitled Al-Qawl Al-Badee’ Fis-Salah ‘Ala Al-Ḥabib (The commendable doctrine concerning the sending of blessings upon the beloved), the book of As-Sakhawī, a famous scholar, historian and Hadith scholar (v. 6, p:99). Her most famous poem is Al-Fatḥ Al-Mubeen fi Madḥ Al-Ameen which she wrote a commentary on it. Abdul-Ghanī An-Nabulsī in his masterpiece Basamat Al-Azhaar (1888 A.D.) was inspired by her. ‘Aishah’s work competed with many other literary works. It was said that the poem and the commentary were published in Cairo in 1915 A.D. in the footnote of the Ibn Ḥujjah’s Khizanat Al-Adab. In addition, ‘Aishah Al-Ba’uniyyah was a married woman and a mother of one son.

In brief, such historical models like the female scholars and jurists in the Islamic legacy seems to be contradicting the image depicted by the guiding and educating literatures presented by some other sources among the books of Tafsir or jurisprudential rulings or views from a theoretical perspective. In fact, they also reflect a sense of bias towards the rational and intellectual or even the religious potentials of women. However, those female scholars and jurists were praised for their wisdom and distinctiveness compared to the contemporary men and women in the advanced religious and rational sciences. Amira Sonbol explains for us that this contradiction between the official discourse of the scholars about women and the historical or social reality may refer to “a situation which is totally different than what was presented by this official discourse. This means that the life of women actually pushed the male jurists to interpret the Shariah with a more conservative view, as the more women longed for liberty, the more the interpretation became conservative.” (p: 16). In another words, we notice in the sources and old chronicles a kind of conflict or dispute between two opposing trends; the so-called theoretical standard level of the scholar’s discourse from one side and the actual social and political reality from the other side. Muhammad Fadel, in his thorough study about analyzing the discourse in the field of Fiqh, deduced that jurists and scholars were aware of this issue or this contradiction: accepting the equal intellectual participation of woman and acknowledging her production of an authentic religious cognitive subject from one side then marginalizing her in the political field and the official positions such as Jurisdictions and other fields from the other side! (1997, p: 191).

This is right if we accept that the presented historical image about those female jurists and Muftis is real. As we noticed before, there is no evidence to doubt the authenticity of this effective presence and manner supported by other researchers’ conclusions about women’s life in the public scope and the participation of their legal rights during the pre-modernist period. Even the dilemma of the authenticity of the writings and wordings of those women in particular is re-discussed, Mohja Kahf sees that even if we suppose that these claims are out of male’s imagination about women, when historians and writers presented “their concepts” and “their depictions” about female scholar and jurist, they presented her as a positive speaker with charisma, effective presence, boldness and interaction with people around her. In fact, this mechanism carries a connotation and represents an objective in itself (p: 159).

  • Other conclusions

When comparing between the female scholars in the Islamic history and the nuns and female saints in the Christian history in Europe, we find points of similarities such as:

  1. The wide medieval religious life granted women golden opportunities in each legacy to achieve self-realization and self-independence, apart from or before the nationalization and sovereignty of the central state authority in the Islamic societies, and the authority of the Church and the domination of religious men over its positions, rituals and systems in the European Christian societies.
  2. This guides us to the similarity in the dilemma of marginalization by the official institutions in both legacies.
  3. The limitations between the public and private scope were more flexible and its fields which were intersected in a way that allows more opportunities for women in the public scope inside their societies. Yet, the polarization or the strict separation between both fields is a modern phenomenon that appeared in the last two centuries in the west due to the industrial revolution.
  4. In both legacies, there are traces and writings of women which are worthy to be under study and comparison from the contextual side: the literal study of the religious images and symbols, and then its relationship with the historical and cultural contexts and the role of those women in formulating the chronicles of the intellectual and religious legacy.

On the other hand, the points of difference, as we deduced, are:

  1. The medieval women in Europe did not reach the position of scholars which means that they were not “specialized ” in branches of the official religious sciences, rulings and verdict issuing etc.. although they reached a high statue as female saints and mystical nuns.
  2. In the medieval Islamic societies, dedicating their lives for the religious and intellectual arena in the field of teaching, admonition and Ifta’ probably drove most of their attention away from recording their detailed autobiography. On the other hand, European women were interested in self-discovery journey and self-contemplating. Due to the prescribed social external obstacles, they focused on expressing deep self-religious experiences and devote themselves to the life of contemplating the nature of the Creator and evaluate their relationship with Him. In fact, these are the long writings transmitted to us which we have been studying till now.

Translated by: Rehab Jamal Bakri****

Revised by: Prof. Neamat Mashhour*****



*  The Article is published (in Arabic) in:

(هدى السعدي، أميمة أبو بكر (2001). المرأة والحياة الدينية في العصور الوسطى بين الإسلام والغرب. القاهرة: ملتقى المرأة والذاكرة. (سلسلة أوراق الذاكرة؛ 2). 54 ص)

**  A professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Cairo University and a co-founder of the Women and Memory Forum (WMF)

 ***A professor in the Islamic History at the American University

1  Many studies tackling the etiquettes of the jurist and the relationship between the jurist and the knowledgeable appeared. Read:ابو بكر احمد بن على بن ثابت الخطيب البغدادى، كتاب الفقيه المتفقه وأصول الفقه، (القاهرة، مطبعة الامتياز، 1977)

2   For more information about these religious facilities, check:

Encyclopedia of Islam, Ribat, (Lieden, Brill: 1995), vol. VIII, pp. 493- 509.

3  Many studies appeared tackling the female scholar of Hadith through study and analysis. Read in Arabic:

أميمه أبو بكر، «المحدثات في التاريخ الإسلامي (القرن 14 و الـ 15م)»، هاجر 5/6 (القاهرة: دار نصوص للنشر 1998) ص 125- 140.

Read also in English:

Huda Lutfi, «Al-Sakhawi Kitab al-Nisa as a Source for the Social and Economic History of Muslim Women during the fifteenth Century A.D, «The Muslim World, LXXI (1981). Jonathan Berkey, «Women and Islamic Education in the Mamluk Period». In Nikki Keddie (ed.), Women in Middle Eastern History, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991).

4  Although a scholar and historian like At-Ṭabarī allowed woman to work in the field of jurisdictions equal to the man, and Abu-Ḥanifah allowed her to work in the field of Jurisdictions in certain affairs in which her witness is accepted and that Umar ibn Al-Khattab appointed Ash-Shifaa’ bt. Abdullah Al-Makhzumyyah for the position of the Ḥisbah (market inspection), which is an obvious example of assigning her to judge in certain affairs. In fact, we did not see one single woman who actually participated in the field of Jurisdictions in the Islamic society. This could be because jurisdictions, from the beginning of the Islamic society, have become a position attached to the military political authority. see:

موفق الدين أبو محمد عبد الله بن أحمد بن محمد بن قدامه، المغني، تحقيق عبد الله التركي وعبد الفتاح الحلو، (القاهرة: هجر للطباعة والنشر، 1986)، جـ 14، ص 12.

5  Regarding the issue of legacy or the writings of the female jurists, it is a significant topic which needs more research and analysis, as the sources are few and almost rare. In addition, if we find titles of some books of the female jurists, we discover that they were lost or disappeared over ages and are unreachable. There are two female jurists among the Shiites female jurists mentioned by Al-‘Amilī in his A’ayan Ash-Shi’ah (The Supporters of the Shiites) I could not add them to the table because their time period during which they lived is not clear, as Al-‘Amilī’s book covers a very long period; from the beginning of Islam till the beginning of the twentieth century. Because those two female jurists left a huge legacy in Fiqh, it was necessary to highlight their significance hopefully to encourage more research in the legacy of female jurists which is generally neglected or omitted by the sources. The first jurist is the daughter of Aziz-u- Allah Al-Ḥalabī who composed {comments on the book man  Yahḍuruhū Al-Faqīh} (For Him Who is Not in the Presence of a Jurist) and Rasa’il Fee Masail Fiqhiyyah (Messages on Fiqh Issues). The second one is the daughter of Tahmasp, the Safavid Shah, for whom a group of scholars “composed” messages on Usul Al-Fiqh Al-‘Amilī (A’ayan Ash-Shi’ah, p: 14, v. 15, p: 168, p: 6, p: 112). The word “composed” for her means that it is likely that the scholars collected the Fiqh views or the verdicts spreading through the circles of knowledge and compiled them in a form of jurisprudential messages. This proves that women were engaged in written participation in forming the history of Fiqh, and their roles were not minor or limited to the oral participation only which deal with the Rulings related to women, but they discussed theoretical and practical jurisprudential issues. Many of the researchers do not notice these hidden signs in the Qawamees Al-A’laam (Encyclopedias of Prominent Figures) and books of Aṭ-Ṭabaqat (the books of Classes) such as the wordings of “composed for her and produced for her”.

6 نجم الدين الغزي، الكواكب السائرة بأعيان المئة العاشرة، حققه وضبط نصه د. جبرائيل سليمان صبور، (جونيه: مطبعة المرسلين اللبنانيين، 1949) جـ 1، ص 287 .

Sources did not mention explicitly that ‘Aishah was a jurist, but since she issued verdicts in jurisprudential issues, this means that she was a scholar of Fiqh.

7  Affiliating Iftaa’ to the government and the state may be the reason behind our failure to find any female jurists during the Ottoman Caliphate. Since this age till our modern age, Iftaa’ has become limited only to men. (Masud, Islamic Legal Interpretation, pp. 11- 12).

[1] (Translation retrieved from: https://qurano.com/en/4-an-nisa/verse-176/).

8  Ibn Al-Ḥaaj criticized the heresies and superstitions that sneaked into the admonishing sessions during the Mamluk era and prohibited informing the populace with the ambiguous wordings and merging heresies and superstitions with the religious discourse.

. ابن الحاج – المدخل، جـ2، ص 144- 153.

9  Makdisi: The Rise of Colleges, p: 239.

Makdisi said in his book that the sixteenth Hijri century/ the fifteenth Georgian century is the century which witnessed a transformation of the schools of thoughts of Fiqh to become a specialized job and a field of proficiency affiliated to the sects/ professional unions.

10  See, in particular, Robert Berkhofer’s Beyond the Great Story. It includes a thoroughly detailed study about the new concept of the historical criticism in the light of the postmodernist schools of thoughts.

11  When reading all the current western studies on the culture and history of the period before the industrial revolution and modernization during the nineteenth century, we notice a consensus stating that women in the West were deprived from many rights of participation in the public field: trade, agriculture, and the freedom to participate in the field of religion beside others, since the crystallization of the Victorian age in England for example, and the obstacles imposed during such period due to the separation occurred between the public and private scope. In fact, the medieval ages had never witnessed such strictness before, as no one believed that women “rebelled against” or “exceeded” their usual fields when working in trade and financial transactions. On the other hand, the next ages witnessed a limitation and promotion of the ideas promoting psychological and moral submission of women and their dependence on others.

12 See the book entitled Becoming Visible: Women in European History (1977). The preface of the book shows a survey on the historical development of woman in Europe. The female author concluded that this separation caused by the industrial revolution led to the downsizing of the productive role of women especially of the middle classes and limiting them to the private domestic field including the caring and emotional responsibility apart from the activities and professions of the public life outside the house which were designed mainly for men.

13  There are speculations about the relationship between these concepts inside and outside the modern western legacy and the way of its transmission to the Islamic Arab societies at that time when they were spreading around, then the way of understanding and secretly adopting them by all the western cultural elites and the advocates of the “modernist” enlightenment. They discussed the innate nature of women; an inferior nature and reason abiding woman with a certain pure emotional behavior.

14  Testimonies mentioned here are from the Arabic translation of the book Women, the Family, and Divorce Laws in Islamic History:

النساء والأسرة وقوانين الطلاق (1999)، مراجعة وتقديم رؤوف عباس، القاهرة: المجلس الأعلى للثقافة.

15  For example, regarding the images and symbols of “motherhood” and “maternal care” of Jesus Christ (to be mentioned later) used by priests and nuns, as well as the thoughts of the depiction of the character of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the symbol of immaculate purity and sublime, all these positive literary concepts did not succeed in demolishing the actual practical obstacles hindering women from official participation in the public religious life and the Church. On the other hand, the thought of the “Right Woman”, emerged in the 19th century in Europe and America, by which the scholars exaggerated in depicting the image of the chaste woman who is perfect in her manners and gentleness regarding her as a symbol of care and kindness, did not protect her from being deemed as trivial and superficial and that her delicacy prevents her from bearing the responsibility of any series relationship with the external world such as business and higher education.

**** Egyptian Researcher and Translator.

***** Professor of Islamic Economics and Islamic Finance. Faculty of Commerce, Al-Azhar University.

عن رحاب جمال بكري

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