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Amra bint Abdurrahman–15 Centuries of Female Scholarship

In this series, Shaykha Tamara Gray narrates the stories of great Muslim women through the centuries, who excelled in fields of Islamic knowledge, science, and philanthropy. This segment female scholarshipfeatures Amra bint Abdurrahman, from the first century of Islam.

Amra bint Abdurrahman was one of the closest students of our mother Aisha, wife of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace. This made her from among the Tabi’in, or the righteous predecessors. She was known to be an ocean of knowledge, and it was said that no one knew more Hadith than her.

She was also a defender of social justice. One day, she heard an unjust decision that had been passed in a court case. She wasted no time, and immediately protested against it. She sent a messenger declaring that, in her opinion, the ruling was not only unjust but illegal. Such was her high rank and prestige, that the ruling was immediately corrected.

Amra was the one of the first in the tradition of female scholarship. May Allah be pleased with her.


With gratitude to Shaykha Tamara Gray and Rabata.


Resources for Seekers

Ustadha Zaynab Ansari on Amazing Muslim Women: Umm Ma‘baad

Ustadha Zaynab Ansari, in partnership with Muslimah Media, speaks in a 5-part series about the amazing Muslim women who paved the way for others after them.

Umm Ma‘baad, whose real name was Atiqah bint Khalid al-Khuzaiya, was a very fascinating woman. She is most famous for being the first woman to narrate a comprehensive description of the Prophet in a hadith.

Unexpected Guests

Umm Ma‘baad was an archetype of the Bedouin people. She was strong, intelligent, and possessed a mastery of the Arabic language, which the Bedouins were known for. She lived in a tent outside of Mecca, and she would make a living by operating a “rest stop.” She would distribute dates, meat, and milk to the travellers passing by. Umm Ma‘baad

One day, she was sitting in her tent, when two men appeared. They seemed to be in a rush, but Umm Ma‘baad saw something very special.

Because all her sheep had gone out to pasture, there was no milk to feed to the guests. One of the men asked for an old sheep, which was not giving milk. He passed his hand over her udder and it became filled with milk, which everyone drank from.

The Hadith of Umm Ma‘baad

Of course, these two men were the Prophet and Abu Bakr, on their migration from Mecca to Medina. When her husband returned, she told him what had happened. She described the Prophet as very radiant, and handsome. She described his luminous eyes and beautiful speech, and how the ones in his company deferred to him with so much respect.

Umm Ma‘baad was just trying to tell her husband about her visitors, but her description became one of the most famous hadith about the Prophet. Anyone learning about the characteristics of the Prophet, or learning about the Prophetic biography, is sure to come across her narration.

Although this was the first and last time she met the Prophet, her description was so concise and eloquent that it became immortalized in history.

Resources for Seekers

Heroes and Heroines of Islam: Part Three – Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf

We regularly hear of the great heroes and heroines of Islam. However, we know little about what made these men and women so beloved to Allah and their people. In these series of talks, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf speaks about these famous men and women.heroes and heroines of Islam

In this segment, Habib Kadhim turns our attention to some of the heroines of Islam. He begins by speaking about Maryam, the mother of Isa, who underwent many challenges in her life. After her miracle pregnancy and the subsequent birth of Isa, she moved to Egypt, and then, when he was twelve years old, she moved back to their hometown.

She met life’s challenges with strength and faith, and after his ascension, she remained on Earth in worship for another six years.

Aminah, mother of the Prophet

Of course, when discussing heroines of Islam, we should never forget about Aminah, mother of the Prophet Muhammad. She is the means of the coming of the Prophet, and the connection we have to Allah. She was a very intelligent woman, and she was a poet with mastery of the Arabic language.

When she became pregnant, her face became illuminates with this light. She regularly saw various Prophets of previous generations. They would congratulate her, telling her that she was carrying the last Prophet.

Aisha, the Scholar

Our Lady Aisha was extremely intelligent and a scholar and eloquent. She was also very learned in the field of medicine, which she had learned from the Bedouin tribes, and was able to prescribe and prepare medications.

In addition, she was known as a scholar of Hadith, and after the death of the Prophet, many of the Companions would come to her, seeking her teachings about the Prophet and the Islamic sciences.


Resources for Seekers

Why Muslim Women Must Return To The Forefront Of The Islamic sciences – Dr. Rania Awaad

As a woman in a hijab, Dr. Rania Awaad gets funny looks in the hospital ward where she is a Muslim psychiatrist but few people know that at the age of fourteen she hopped on a plane and went to Damascus to formally study Islam.

The experience of studying scripture that was neither bound by culture nor politics inspired her so much that she decided to go back. After convincing her parents, she went back in her senior year. In the post-colonial era, women were no longer put at the forefront of the Islamic sciences as they had historically. After her perseverance, she was awarded ijazah, or permission to teach the proper recitation of the Quran.

Dr. Awaad takes us on a fascinating journey through her travels to Damascus and the making of a deeply rooted society that didn’t separate between secularism and religion, that empowered women.

Resources for Seekers

Our thanks so Muslim Student Union at Stanford.

 

“I Love Being a Woman!”

Away from ‘celebrity scholars’, Mahdia Sarfaraz identifies several women right within our inner circles, who consistently serve their communities like beacons of light.

My friend and I, two Muslim women, were sitting by the lake where we had created countless child memories, reminiscing about the past and wondering at how much we had changed over the years. Suddenly, my heart filled with such emotion and  excitement. With joy and pride I exclaimed “I love being a woman!”

Silence.

Who just said that? Did that just come out of my mouth? Did I truly love being a woman? 

The answer was yes…and it had taken me 23 years to realize that.

Always putting themselves down

The words caught me off guard. Those words felt so strange but yet felt so right. Never before had I even dreamed of saying those simple but empowering words. So why now? What had changed?

One of the oft-repeated stories in my family was about a cousin of mine who had exclaimed, “Then a girl should just die!” after being being confronted with narrow, shallow women’s roles. We would nod knowingly every time that story was narrated. Why wouldn’t we? We knew exactly what she was talking about.

Muslim women

Growing up, the women in my life seemed to lead unhappy lives. They were putting themselves down, constantly feeling the need to tweak and change themselves physically, and complaining about the responsibilities they were given as a woman.

These were strong women who had fled war, started life in a foreign country and raised their children with honour and dignity. Yet they just didn’t seem to be happy with themselves. Something was missing.

Muslim Women of perfection

Ten years later, I am blessed with the opportunity of meeting Muslim women who carry themselves with such honour, dignity and grace. These women are not only amazing wives but amazing mothers, and not only amazing mothers but amazing leaders, and not only amazing leaders but sincere, devout and pleased slaves of Allah (May Allah be pleased with them). Everything they do, they do with perfection, not because they are perfectionists but because they desire to do everything with Ihsan (excellence) purely for the pleasure of their Lord.

You might ask, “How do you know it is all sincere work?”

The fruits of their work are so clear that they can only indicate that the source was sincerity. May Allah increase them in all the good.

A beacon of light

Muslim womenI have had the blessing of spending some time with Ustadha Umm Umar,  the backbone of Seekershub Academy. Not only is she a beacon of light on her own home, but she is also facilitating the spread of the light of Islam in homes all over the globe.

“All over the globe,” is something extremely significant, influence that others will never even come close to reaching. One of the most impirtant things she taught me, was the importance of making every single action meaningful and intentional as a means of drawing closer to Allah. Even something as small as washing a cup, or giving salams to a fellow sister transformed from“just do it,” to“just do it for Allah.”

Modestly and strength for His sake

I have also had the honour of spending time with Ustadha Saiema Syed Din, who is a beautiful example of how to be a modest and strong woman. I have never seen her neglect one for the other. There is always a beautiful combination of both; modesty and strength solely for the sake of Allah.

Here is the example of a woman who not only fills the role of wife and mother, but also the role of a leader. She brings the light of the Prophetic Character into the hearts of the children she teaches at Lote Tree Foundation, as well as their families. In fact, Shaykh Faraz Rabbani has mentioned countless times that the most well-behaved kids in the community are students from Lote Tree.

Not from her tongue, but from her heart

Being someone who lacks adab, I was embarrassed to be given the task of serving our teacher Ustadha Shehnaz Karim at the Seekershub Toronto Retreat in September 2015. Despite my shame, I was very grateful for the fruits that came forth from that heavy task.

Muslim womanMy heart could sense that her every word flowed not from her tongue, but directly from her heart, where the love of Allah and His Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) resides. During our morning classes on the patio, the sisters would be transfixed, almost forgetting to go for breakfast as the words Ustadha Shehnaz spoke nourished them much more than food ever could. The main lesson she taught me was, “Be with Allah, fall in love with Him and all else will fall into place.”

Life changing? You bet!

Holding up the torches of light

Every moment with our beloved teachers has been fruitful. These teachers are amongst many other women, holding up the torches of light. It is up to us to take our candles to them, to light them up and start spreading that light to our hearts, homes, and communities.

May Allah increase our teachers in goodness (khair) and well-being (a’fiya) and gather us all together with our Beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in the gardens of Paradise. Aameen.

By Mahdia Sarfaraz

The Importance of Female Scholarship in Islam, by Habib Ali Al-Jifri

Habib Ali al-Jifri answers a question about the importance of female scholarship in Islam at the SeekersHub in Toronto, Canada. He describes female scholarship as “fulfilling the divine balance”.

“We are in need of women who are active within the Islamic discourse, so they can counter the oppressive filth created in the name of the shariah.”

Translated by Ustadh Amjad Tarsin

Creating & Sustaining North American Muslim Scholarship

Muslim Scholarship

One from the archives! Shaykh Faraz Rabbani at the 2007 Muslim Students Association National Continental Conference, with Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, on fostering home grown Muslim scholarship.

Creating & Sustaining North American Muslim Scholarship

Shaykh Yasir Qadhi (left) and Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

One from the archives! Shaykh Faraz Rabbani at the 2007 Muslim Students Association National Continental Conference, with Shaykh Yasir Qadhi (who can be heard in the question and answer session towards the end).

Feeling unmosqued, demosqued and no-thank-you-mosqued?


Are you a Muslim woman who feels unmosqued, demosqued and no-thank-you-mosqued? You’re not alone but you must be part of the change. Ustadha Anse Tamara Gray has some excellent advice on how to move forward, with healing and positivity, in this video for Muslimah Media.

Where did the shaykhas go? Afterthoughts on Female Scholarship from the SeekersHub Retreat

Sr Whittini Brown Abdullah reflects on her time at the SeekersHub Retreat, and how ti prompted her to recognise the female scholars in her community.

I don’t know when I first heard the term “shaykha”. I think my friend was joking with me about how maybe one day I’d become one given the zeal I had as a new Muslim. She and her older brothers had taken to affectionately calling me “shaykha” because of that zeal. We laughed and kidded around about the term, but she informed me that she was serious–I really could be a shaykha if I wanted to. Shaykhas had always existed and weren’t any innovation she was making up–they were key to the history of Islam from the beginning, though we don’t pay much attention to that history these days. That was ten years ago. And those were the days…full of that innocent vigor for the deen that many new Muslims have, until they mature into normalcy and complacency as the years pass by (thus the need to purify one’s heart by seeking knowledge and being in good company–thank you, SeekersHub Retreat)!

But I heard that term again four times this year after a resounding deafness of ten years–it must be a sign. Two of the times I heard (read) it were in the memoirs of Muslim women like myself who found themselves in other countries to perfect their ibadah (See G. Willow Wilson’s The Butterfly Mosque and Ethar El-Katatney’s Forty Days and Nights…in Yemen).

The other time I saw the term mentioned was in The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre (RISSC)’s 2010 publication of the The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims. There, I read about a certain Sheikha Munira Qubeysi of Syria who was listed as #24 in the Top 50 of the 5oo Most Influential Muslims of the World. According to the publication, Sheikha Munira is the head of the largest women-only Islamic movement in the world, offering Islamic education exclusively to girls and women focused on learning the Qur’an and hadith collections by heart. The women who are a part of the movement cater exclusively to the needs of Muslim women in their communities, functioning as scholars and teachers in a network of madrassas across the Middle East. And get this, members of the Qubaisiat movement identify themselves by the way they tie their hijabs at the neck and the color jilbab they wear.

But where are the shaykhas here?!?

They are hidden.

Right. under. our. noses.

…in the least expected of places.

The last time I heard the word “shaykha” was last week at the SeekersHub Retreat. All the scholars, who included men and women alike, emphasized the need for more female participation in Muslim events such as these…more female scholarship to be exact. I expected that girl power rhetoric from the women, but it was really inspiring to hear it from the men. There were two female scholars assigned to lead some of the adult lectures at the retreat, but one of them could not make it because of the ignorance of the U.S. government. Perhaps bigotry would be a better word to describe it. A lot of Muslim scholars seem to have a hard time getting into the U.S. these days, but whichever spin you put to it, basically it wasn’t meant to be. However, in her place popped up two female scholars straight from the audience, invited by the sole woman on the stage, Ustadha Zaynab Ansari. No one saw it coming. Where are the shaykhas? Again, I tell you: Hidden. Right. Under. Our. Noses.

[Ustadhas Zaynab Ansari and Rukayat Yakub at the SG Retreat, photo by Nadiya El-Khatib]

To begin with, Ustadha Zaynab Ansari led her sessions as informal discussions with the audience members, opening the floor for our input. This mode of learning reached its peak in the Time Management for Mothers class, where each woman in the audience seemingly had advice to give. For a moment there, I almost felt like a shaykha. Almost. I need more knowledge. I was asking more questions than giving knowledge. My one sole piece of advice was for people to enroll in Ustadha Shireen Ahmed’s Islamic Parenting class at SeekersHub. But as the hadith says, the one who points to good…

But I digress. During that same session for mothers, Ustadha Zaynab invited Ustadha Rukayat Modupe Yakub (Shaykh Muhammad Mendes’ wife) to the stage for her expertise. Then at another session, Dr. Mona Hassan, a Professor of Islamic Studies and History at Duke University took the stage with her, straight from the audience. MashAllah. These women were unprepared, but being the learnéd women that they were, they could present on the topics at hand right on the spot in several sessions. Now that’s scholarship.

Thing is, it only got better after that. The men were extolling the virtues of seeking knowledge from women. They reminded us that many of the hadiths of the Prophet were transmitted by the women around the Prophet. Shaykh Yahya Rhodus mentioned that A’isha alone transmitted at least 50% of the ahkam of sharia we have today, and taught men and women alike. Shaykh Yahya also advised that both men and women need to learn the fiqh of menstruation, and he also mentioned a book I have yet to read: Aisha Bewley’s Islam: The Empowering of Women.

He then went on to say men need to get over any issue they have of learning from women. We all learn from women–our mothers are women! He also mentioned that there is something special about visiting the graves of the Mothers of the Believers, and we should not skip the female awliya when visiting their cities and the graves of their husbands, brothers, sons, etc. There is a special connection to them because they are our spiritual mothers–and he’s right, I had a much stronger connection at the grave of Sarah (ra) in Al-Khalil/Hebron (Palestine) than I had at the tombs of her son or husband, the Prophets Isaac and Ibrahim (peace be upon them both) located only a few feet away!

But one of the most fascinating highlights of the SeekersHub Retreat was the time that sisters got to spend one-on-one (or actually, five-on-one) with shaykhs.  You know the story–with high profile shaykhs, a possé of brothers will form around a shaykh so much that a woman is too shy to hang around to ask her questions. So a mealtime was dedicated for sisters to eat lunch with the various shaykhs at their reserved tables and ask them any questions. It was a sister who suggested the idea and I’m forever indebted to her for that–and the pen she gave me when both of my pens died. I had so many questions that I had to write them down, but alhamdulillah, I got my answers and felt that I had each shaykh’s undivided attention at the time of questioning.

But I’d like to share the convo I had with Shaykh Muhammad Mendes during that mealtime. We had just finished reading Imam Ahmadu Bamba’s poem on the recitation of the Qur’an, and it sounded good and well, but the excerpt we read did not address my concerns over the complexities of keeping connected to Allah while a woman is on her menses. Shaykh Muhammad Mendes advised that the period is not the time for a vacation from Allah–one can and should still honor the times of prayer, making dhikr and fikr instead. Women should pick up the scholarly books, make dhikr, and make du’a. Better yet, you could still have the benefit of reading Qur’an via technology or through a book which has less Qur’an in it than commentary or translation. During Ramadan or when one would normally fast and can’t because of menses, eat less and feed a poor person instead. And then for my most eager question: How do we find the shaykhas?! Shaykh Muhammad said sometimes one must talk to the men to find the women who are teachers or go to the women’s halaqas to find the learned among women in your area because the shaykhas don’t really put themselves out there.

I spent that day chasing the male scholars, because I knew I wouldn’t really have another opportunity to (though I had my husband Hassan flag down Shaykh Yahya Rhodus the very next day at Buck Bald Summit for twelve questions on Shafi’i fiqh in relation to perfecting prayer). But I spent the remaining days with some one-on-one time with Ustadha Zaynab Ansari, whose youngest child actually shares the same birthday as my Noora (down to the hour, only 12 hours apart), mashAllah. I asked her where the shaykhas are, and where women in positions like ourselves (English-speaking married mothers with lots of ambition) can go to learn comfortably without neglecting our families. These were her answers in case you, yourself, were also wondering how to find the hidden shaykhas in the U.S. and abroad, and inshAllah become one yourself:

There are several online schools that are excellent options…

  • SunniPath/Qibla, which has an accredited 2-year program leading to an AA (Associate’s Degree)
  • SeekersHub, the dually-online and ground, Toronto-based Islamic school that offers classes and spectacular free online webinars on great topics…not to mention lectures, seminars, intensives, and retreats across North America and beyond…(need I say more?)–this is the baby of Shaykh Faraz Rabbani and Ustadha Shireen Ahmed, a dynamic duo, mashAllah.
  • The Rahma Foundation, a California-based women-centered hifz program, growing out of the Sisters Deen Intensives of Zaytuna and including some online classes
  • Meadows of Al-Mustafa, a completely free online sacred learning program for women only (with some of the same teachers from The Rahma Foundation!)

And a ground school for when the kiddies grow up or a babysitter is in tow…

  • Zaytuna College, a California-based Islamic university–the hub of Shaykhs Hamza Yusuf, Zaid Shakir, and Yahya Rhodus–need I say more?

Now I must kick myself. I was already a part of Meadows of Al-Mustafa, and one of the teachers there, Ustadha Eiman Sidky, who has studied under the Haba’ib of Tarim, taught right in my backyard at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, Virginia for twenty years. And um, my in-laws have either studied, taught, and/or worked there for the past twenty years AT LEAST!!! Subhanallah! I must have bumped into her at some point during the past years…and never even knew it.

So you see, there have always been shaykhas in Islam. There have always been scholarly women in the forefront. We just don’t notice them enough or give them their due. We have become blind to what is already apparent.

But now a veil has been lifted from my sight. And I’m going to allow myself to once again imagine walking the streets of Jordan with  a symbolic scarf tied around my neck denoting my status as a part of the sisterhood of the traveling hafizas.  And if I let myself travel further back in my mind, I’m in the women-only masjids of China among the Hui people, who have the earliest history of female imams since 1820. And right after that, I find myself in the company of Shaykha Nana Asma’u bint Shehu Usman dan Fodiyo, who has sent her poems to accompany me along with her cadre of female teachers–young, unmarried, and older sisters–who have sacrificed their free time to teach those of us isolated in our homes being shaykhas to our children.

So where did the shaykhas go? Apparently, Nowhere. They are right under our noses hidden in plain sight working for the ummah at large. Most of them are too modest to call themselves shaykhas and instead prefer the term teacher, sister, mother, wife, friend.
A very special thank-you to all the women I learned from at the SeekersGuidance Retreat…and especially to Ustadha Zaynab, Ustadha Rukayat, and Ustadha Mona, who allowed themselves to be put in the spotlight for the benefit of the ummah. May Allah preserve you and keep you on your path, whether you choose to remain hidden or not:)
Shared with permission from and thanks to Sr. Whittni Brown Abdullah’s THE SANDAL blog