in category Sciences

Was Islamic scholarship dominated by men?

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Increasingly claims are made that patriarchy and misogyny are the causes for lack of Muslim women in Islamic history and scholarship...
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in a Nutshell:
Islamic scholarship was not dominated by men. Women played a significant contributory role. Abu Bakr ibn Mas'ud al-Kasani was one of the greatest Hanafī scholars producing a unique work of fiqh "Bada'i al-Sana'i fi Tartib al-Shara'i". His wife was a famous scholar, daughter of his teacher, contributing signifcantly to his scholarship and works.

Muhammad al-Samarqandi wrote a book on Hanafi fiqh called 'Tuhfah al-Fuqaha'. Samarqand is a city in present day Uzbekistan. His daughter Fatima was known for her proficiency at fiqh having learnt it from her father. She would often issue fatwa and had even memorized her father's book. A number of rulers had asked for her hand in marriage, but her father rejected their proposals.

Abu Bakr al-Kasani studied under Muhammad al-Samarqandi, exceling in the sciences of usūl and furū'. Kasan (or Kashan) is a land close to Turkistan. He wrote his magnum opus, Bada'i al-Sana'i fi Tartib al-Shara'i, a commentary on his teacher's book, presenting it to his teacher, who was elated at its remarkable scholarship. He married his daughter and her dowry was his book.

Before the marriage, whenever a fatwā was needed on any issue, it would contain two signatures, that of Imam Muhammad al-Samarqandi and his daughter, Faqihah Fatimah al-Samarqandiyah.

After the marriage, it would contain three signatures, the two above and the son in law, Imam Abu Bakr al-Kasani.

When Imam Kasani would have an issue on solving a fatwā, he would present it to his wife. She would then correct it and inform him of his mistake and he would rely on her understanding.

Dawud ibn Ali, a scholar present in Halab, present day Syria, at the time commented:

"Imam Kasani's wife, Fatimah al-Samarqandiyah started the tradition of iftar for the jurists of Halawiyah, Halab. She sold her bangles in the market and used that money to feed them every night in Ramadan, he then said, 'it is a practice continuing till today.'"

When she passed away, Imam Kasani visited her grave every Friday, continuing till he passed away and was buried next to her. The people of Halab when visiting their graves would refer to them as 'the graves of a woman and her husband.'

Women's Role in Preserving Sahih al-Bukhari

Sahih Bukhari is the most influential book in the Islamic literature after the Qur'an. Bukhari narrated a number of ahadith that urge women to learn and pursue hadith studies.

He included a chapter entitled "Is it allowed to specify (teaching) a day for women?" citing a number of ahadith promoting the notion of education.

He narrated that Abu sa'id al-Khuduri said:

قالَتِ النِّسَاءُ لِلنَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم غَلَبَنَا عَلَيْكَ الرِّجَالُ، فَاجْعَلْ لَنَا يَوْمًا مِنْ نَفْسِكَ‏.‏ فَوَعَدَهُنَّ يَوْمًا لَقِيَهُنَّ فِيهِ، فَوَعَظَهُنَّ وَأَمَرَهُنَّ.

"Some women requested the Prophet (ﷺ) to fix a day for them as the men were taking all his time. On that he promised them one day for religious lessons and commandments." (Sahih al-Bukhari 101)

These ahadith encouraged women to take a role in learning and teaching Bukhari's Sahih.

For example, Fatimah Razali's version of it was the most accurate, authoritative copy and her isnad of the book was one of the highest, if not the highest, chain of narrators, so students used to seek her hadith sessions. Due to her devotion to Sahih al-Bukhari, some people thought that she was one of Bukhari's teachers.

Karimah Marzuyah, a female hadith scholar, was also one of Bukhari's Sahih narrators with a very strong isnad to Bukhari. Many scholars and jurists studied and heard Bukhari's Sahih from her.


Examples like this abound in Muslim history. The contribution of women to Islam is substantive and significant. If it is not popular or commonly known, this does not negate its existence.


Jawahir Mudhiyah fi Tabaqat al-Hanafiyah, volume 4, pg. 25-28 and pg. 122-124.

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