Role of Muslim women in the development of the Islamic sciences

“In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful”

An African proverb says, “Educate a boy and we educate one person. Educate a girl and we educate a family, a whole nation.”

Islam stresses education more than any other religion and considers it an essential right of every human without discriminating on the basis of gender. Women’s education is as important as men’s for the sustainability and progress of a society. The world is surprised to find that there are many Muslim women scholars who played an active role in the intellectual and social development of Muslim communities. Although the role of women scholars in Hadith Sciences is highlighted, studies show that women also contributed significantly to fields like theology, jurisprudence, literature, technology, calligraphy, medicine and many crafts that we recognize and admire as Islamic. Below is an overview of the contributions made by female Muslim scholars over the Islamic period.

Early Islamic Era: From the earliest days of Islam, women played a vital role in preservation and cultivation of Hadith. They attended prayers and sermons in Prophet’s ﷺ mosque and learnt from him in public gatherings. After his death, Sahabah used to approach Ummhat-ul-Momineen who never felt shy to guide them with their knowledge. In this regard, names of A’ishah , Hafsah, Umm Habibah, Maymunah, Umm Salamah, and Safiyah bint Huyay are renowned (May Allah be pleased with all of them, Ameen). A’ishah R.A has an eminent place in the Islamic history as a major narrator of ahadith. She praised Ansari women for being open to asking issues related to women that keep benefiting the Ummah. Other female companions of Prophet ﷺ also left their mark in history. Among the successors, women remained dynamic contributors to the Muslim civilization. Umm-ud-Darda Sughrah (Death: 81/700 CE) was a taba’iyyah (who was Muslim follower and contemporary of sahaba and born after Prophet’s ﷺ death) and a prominent jurist from Damascus of the 7th century who is considered to be superior to prominent hadith scholars like Ibn Sireen and Hasan al-Basari. She was fiqh teacher of caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. Hafsah bint-Sireen [1] learned many ahadith from sahabi Anas ibn Maalik and was very proficient in Tafseer and Quran recitation. A’bida Al-Madaniyah (8th-century scholar) was a freed slave and wife of the Spanish hadith scholar Habib Duhan. She had a prominent place by memorizing traditions from great hadith scholars of Madina and related more than 10,000 ahadith on the authority of her teachers [2]. Fatima Al-Batayahiyyah [3] was a well-known scholar of the 8th century and taught Sahih Bukhari in Damascus. Leading male scholars of the time came from afar to attend her lectures. A’ishah bint Sa’d bin Abi Waqas, daughter of the famous Sahabi, was so learned that Imam Malik, Hakim ibn Utaybah, and Ayyub as Sakhtiyani were among her students.

10th – 12th century: History witnessed many exceptional women who participated in the society and actively reformed it. Zainab bint Kamal [4], a 12th-century scholar taught more than 400 books of Hadith. Her “camel loads” of texts attracted numerous students. With this intellectual reputation, her gender was no obstacle to her teaching in significant academic institutes of Damascus. Fakhr an-Nisa Umm Muhammad Shuhdah Al-Baghdadiyah was the daughter of Famous hadith scholar Abu Nasr Ahmad Ibn al-Faraj Al-Dinawari (d. 574 A.H). She was among the descendants of traditionalists in Abbasid era. She was eloquent in Hadith and skillful in calligraphy[5]. Similarly, Umm al-Kiram Karimah bint Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hatim al-Marwaziyyah (d. 465 A.H) was a famous narrator of Sahih Bukhari. She would not permit anyone to narrate from her unless they had compared with her original copy. Humaydah bint Muhammad Sharif ibn Shams ad-Din al-Asbahaniyyah (d. 1087)  was known for her Hadith writings among which are her marginal notes on al-Istibsar of Shaykh al-Tusi that were commonly referred by scholars. She also compiled a book named Rijal Humaydah on the narrators of Hadith [6].

13th century onwards: This period is considered a time of the revival of Hadith. Fatimah bint Al-Juzdanniyah (d. 524) was an outstanding hadith scholar of Isfahan. Zaynab bint Umar Al-Kindi [7] of Damascus was also one of the most eminent Islamic scholars of the 13th century. She belonged to the Hanbali school and acquired a number of ijazas in various fields, most notably Hadith. She taught books like Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Muwatta Malik, the Shama’il of al-Tirmidhi and al-Tahawi’s Sharḥ Ma‘ani al-Athar. The famous North African traveler Ibn-Battuta (d. 1369), Taj al-Din al-Subki (d. 1355) and ad-Dhahabi (d.1348) were among her students. Her name appears in numerous isnads (chains) of Ibn Ḥajar al-Asqalani (d. 1448) [8].

Among more recent figures is Umm Salamah As-Salafiyyah, a leading scholar from Yemen. She is a wife of Shaykh Muqbil Ibn Haadi, a late Yemeni scholar, and the founder of Madrassa in Dammaj. She taught from At-Tihfat As-Sunniya, Al-Mutamama, Al-Baa’ith Al-Hadith, Al-Qawlul-Mufeed, etc. through memorization and studying the explanations. Her work on al-Adaab al-Mufrad includes discussion of narrators in the chains of narration. She also highlights beneficial points from the fiqh of hadith and authentication of sources. Her daughter A’ishah bint Muqbil, Al-Wadi’eeyah is a strong researcher who has a valuable commentary on Bulugh Al-Maraam by Ibn Hajar [9].

Many female hadith scholars [10] were teachers of well-known male scholars. Among them was Zainab bint Al-Makki Al-Khuzai, teacher of Ibn Taymiyyah, Al-Mizzi, al-Birzaali. Nafeesa bint Ibraheem was the teacher of ad-Dhahabi. Hafidh Abu Tahir Salafi narrated from the chain of around ten muhaddithat (women Hadith scholar). Ibn Jawzi learned from 3 muhaddithaat while Ibn-ul-Qayyim learned Sahih Bukhari from `Aisha bint Muhammad ibn Ibrahim. Ibn Hajar narrated in his Bulugh al-Maram from nearly 20 muhaddithaat and benefited incredibly from his sister, Sath Al-Rakab Ali. She was the commentator of Sahih Bukhari. Likewise, Imam ibn Asakir studied Muwatta Imam Malik from Zainab bint Abdur Rahman.

Finally, Imam Dhahabi noted that none of the female narrators of hadith fabricators. Women’s scholarly integrity and independence were impeccable. Most outstanding was the high quality of their intellectual achievements and the respect that they received for it. Naturally, a chauvinist male would have a problem admitting these facts. Women today partake so little in the teaching of Hadith and issuing fatwas that there is a common misapprehension that they never played this role. The discussion above shows that women scholars truly played a huge role in the development of Islamic learning since the time of the Prophet ﷺ. Some conservative Muslim societies have twisted their laws to hinder women from participating in scholarly public gatherings & acquiring knowledge easily. It is necessary to promote contributions from women in societies to benefit generations.


“15 Important Muslim Women in History.” Ballandalus. March 09, 2016. Accessed December 20, 2017.

Bilal Philips, Abu Ameenah. “Women Scholars of Hadith.” In The Fundamentals of Hadeeth Studies, 88-92.

Cornell, Vincent J. Voices of Islam. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2007, 138

Nadwī, Muḥammad Akram. Al-Muḥaddithāt: the women scholars in Islam. Oxford: Interface Publications, 2013.

“The Final Revelation.” MUHADDITHAAT – WOMEN SCHOLARS OF HADITH OF ISLAM. January 15, 2013. Accessed December 25, 2017.

“The Lost Female Scholars of Islam.” Emel Magazine RSS. December 26, 2017. Accessed December 25, 2017.

Other Sources:

[1] Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, “Women Scholars of Hadith,” in The Fundamentals of Hadeeth Studies.

[2] Vincent J. Cornell, Voices of Islam (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2007), 138.

[3] “The Lost Female Scholars of Islam” Emel Magazine RSS.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Muhammad Akram Nadwi, Al-Muḥaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam (Oxford: Interface Publications, 2013), 55.

[6]  Muḥammad Akram Nadwi, Al-Muḥaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam, 227.

[7] Ibid. 118.

[8] “15 Important Muslim Women in History,” Ballandalus


[10] Ibid.


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