Thursday, September 14, 2023

The Fading Muslim Women Icons

By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam 14 September 2023 Did you know that a Muslim woman founded the world's first university? Maybe you did not. No popular sources beyond academic history books concerning the golden age of Islamic civilization have ever mentioned such a fact. Instead, people are generally inclined to think Islam would never allow women to attend classes in madrasas (schools), founded as early as the ninth century. Muslim women were very active in the academic studies of early Islam. Aisha, one of the Prophet Muhammad's wives, was among the prominent Islamic jurists of her time. She was also involved in several political events after the death of the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan. She was also the initial source of many habits, thanks to her well-known intelligence and memory. There are other examples, like Umm Waraqa, who knew the Qur'an by heart and was praised by the Prophet himself, or al-Shifa, "the Healer" bint Abdullah, the first Muslim woman to teach literacy and a folk medicine practitioner. Muslim women did not stop learning after this first generation, though the feudal dynasties succeeding the Great Caliphs applied certain restrictions to them. On the other hand, during the feudal dynasties, the majority of rich men's daughters and wives, though restricted socially to some extent, were allowed to receive education, teach others and even sponsor educational institutions. The Early Female Muslim Academics A magnum opus spread over a 43-volume biographical dictionary containing 10,000 entries detailing the lives of female hadith scholars written by renowned Islamic scholar Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi. As hadith narrators, teachers, jurists, wives, mothers and daughters, these women have contributed to the growth and development of the Muslim community on a social, moral and intellectual level. The profound 43-volume dictionary, titled "Al- Wafa Bi Asma Al-Nisa" (Biographical dictionary of women narrators of hadith) (also known as al–Muhaddithat — the female hadith transmitters) is the result of more than two decades of commitment that took Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi trawling through biographical dictionaries, classical texts, madrasa chronicles and letters for relevant citations. The Aghlabid dynasty ruled Qayrawan under the Abbasid Caliphate during the eighth and ninth centuries. They brought peace to the region of Ifriqiyya and conquered Sicily. Aghlabid palaces were also famous. In short, when Fatima al-Fihri left Qayrawan with her father for Fes in the West, they went to one paradise to create another. When Imam Zuhri, a famous scholar of the Sunna (the Prophet Muhammad's prescriptions), indicated to Qasim ibn Muhammad, a scholar of the Qur'an, a desire to seek knowledge, Qasim advised him to join the assembly of a well-known woman jurist of the day, Amara bin Al-Rahman. Imam Zuhri attended her community and later described her as "a boundless ocean of knowledge." Amra tutored several famous scholars, such as Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Hazama and Yahya Ibn Said. Amra was not an anomaly in Islamic history; it abounds with famous female narrators of jurisprudence, starting with Aisha, the youngest wife of Prophet Muhammed. Women scholars taught imams and judges, issued fatwas, and travelled to distant cities. They went on lecture tours across the Middle East. A conservative count would reveal at least 2,500 extraordinary women jurists, narrators of Muhammad's sayings (hadith), and poets. There is no other religious tradition in which women were so central, present, and active in its formative history. Yet, their stories are not always well-known or widely acknowledged. Aisha was known for her expertise in the Qur'an, Arabic literature, history, general medicine, and juridical matters in Islam. A top Islamic scholar, a military commander riding on camelback, an inspiration to champions of women's rights, and a fatwa-issuing jurist, Aisha's religious authority and intellectual standing were astonishing by the standards of our own time and hers. She was a primary source of authentic hadith, or traditions of the Prophet, which form part of the foundation of Sunni Islam. Modern Research Through the meticulous research of Islamic scholar Mohammad Akram Nadwi, the stories of accomplished Muslim female scholars, jurists, and judges have been unearthed. It has led to a listing of about 10,000 Muslim women who have contributed to various fields of Islamic knowledge over ten centuries. Umm al-Darda was a 7th-century scholar who taught students in the mosques of Damascus and Jerusalem. The caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan was one of her students. One of the most outstanding 8th-century scholars was Fatima al-Batayahiyyah, who taught in Damascus. During the Hajj, leading male scholars flocked to her lectures. She later moved to Madinah, where she taught students in the revered mosque of the Prophet. Fatimah bint Mohammed al Samarqandi, a 12th-century jurist, advised her more famous husband, 'Ala' al-Din al-Kasani, on how to issue his fatwas; she also mentored Salahuddin. However, that trend is now history. Nowadays, we hardly ever encounter female Islamic jurists. Women are all but absent from Islamic public and intellectual life. If we scan the centuries of Islamic history records, we find many women active in all areas of life, only to see them marginalized dramatically later. So, what happened? How and why have things changed in the last 300 years to the extent that it is unusual to find women involved in Islamic sciences. Unlike in the past, significantly few Muslim men would even consider being taught by a Muslim woman. Many female figures throughout Islamic history have been admired for their lives, knowledge and morals. The history of women's movements, collected under three waves, manifested in various ways in every field, from politics to art. Therefore, the issue of Islam and women comes to the fore frequently. It is also one of the often-studied themes in culture and art. Many highly respected female figures are among the Prophet Muhammad's companions. These friends, called companions, saw or met the Prophet during his lifetime and followed and continued his path as Muslims. In Arab cinema, some productions have shed light on these women. In Ottoman literature, a biographical study titled "Meşahirü'n-Nisa" stands out. The work "Meşahirü'n-Nisa," which means famous women, contains the biographies of women that Islamic scholars have examined. Look at this vital publication and some prominent women in Ottoman literature. In Islamic historiography, the texts about the biographies of people living in the same period or region, dealing with the same discipline and performing the same art are called "Tabakat." These books present relevant biographies of successive generations according to their chronological order. They feature thousands of figures, especially poets, artists and scholars. This is where we initially meet famous women. Unique to the Islamic world, these works started to be written about the first Muslims, so they developed parallel to the first century of Islam. In this deep-rooted tradition of work, we do not come across a remarkable book written only for women. New Status The Qur'an enshrined a new status for women and gave them rights that they could have only dreamed of before in Arabia, so why the seeming disparity between what once was and what now appears to be. Historically, Islam was incredibly advanced in providing revolutionary rights for women and uplifting women's status in the seventh century. Many of the revelations in the Qur'an were by nature reform-oriented, transforming critical aspects of pre-Islamic customary laws and practices in progressive ways to eliminate injustice and suffering. Still, it is not enough to merely flaunt these values. We must act on them. The reforms that took place in the early years of Islam were progressive, changing with the needs of society; however, the more detailed rules that the classical jurists laid out only allowed many pre-Islamic customs to continue. These rules reflected their society's needs, traditions, and expectations, not the progressive reforms that started during Muhammad's time. Hence, the trajectory of reform that began during Muhammad's time was halted in the medieval period through further elaborating Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), which was then selectively codified in the 19th and 20th centuries. Muslims need to look at themselves realistically instead of their imagined selves. The Prophet was centuries ahead of the men of his time in his attitudes toward women, and not surprisingly, right after he died, men started rolling back his reforms. The Prophet may have been too advanced for the mindset of seventh-century men, but his compassion for women is precisely the model that Muslims in the 21st century need to emulate today. Twenty-four women appear in the Qur'an in various forms and for multiple purposes; 18 appear as minors, the primary five being Mary, mother of Jesus. Bilquis, the queen of Sheba, Mary's mother, Hannah, Hawa (Eve), and Umm Musa, the mother of Moses. All of them are potent examples of the tremendous potential of women. Women Empowerment In the 21st century, the combined spread of literacy, the availability and promotion of public education for both girls and boys and the expansion of job opportunities for women have added to Muslim women's desire for greater empowerment in practising and interpreting their faith. We have hundreds of examples of women who defied culturally defined gender norms to assert their right to be different and to be agents of change in their society. While many Muslims worldwide learn about such exceptional Muslim women in school, their relevance to the contemporary context is largely overlooked. Most critical aspects of their personalities are glossed over. Through learning and celebrating their examples, men and women can better understand and build upon notions of the role of Muslim women in a culturally authentic paradigm. The stereotype of a Muslim woman as a passive victim is a dangerous myth. It is promoted by the opponents of gender equality within and outside Muslim societies. It has to be challenged, debunked, and laid to rest. Without completely shattering it, Muslim women will keep fearing to speak out for their rights, afraid of being treated as the 'other,' as someone who has imported these 'problematic' and 'negative' ideas from foreign cultures. ----- Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades. URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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