The Other Half

Teaching of the Muhaddithaat

Teaching both men and women

The teaching offered by the muhaddithaat was not restricted to other women, but extended to male students as well. Since the time of the Companions, it has been a well-established practice that women modestly obscured behind the screen may teach hadeeth to male students. Al-Suyuti records this: ‘The ancestors learnt ahadeeth from Aishah and other mothers of the believers, while they narrated hadeeth from behind the curtain.’  {Suyuti, Tadreeb al-Rawi vol. ii, p. 28}

Al-Sakhawi relates how Aishah and other women Companions used to teach from behind the screen.’ {Sakhawi, Fath al-Mughith, vol. ii, p. 211}

On certain occasions, however, where there was no possibility of any private interaction, they could teach directly, without a screen. This is illustrated in the account of how Ibn Rushayd studied under Fatimah al-Batayhiyyah in the mosque of the Prophet.

Teaching in homes

Students would also gather in the homes of many women scholars. Usually the female students would be inside the house directly in front of the teachers, while the male students would remain outside, positioned so as to be able to hear and put questions. One famous teacher who conducted her teaching in this way was Zaynab bint al-Kamaal, who narrated from a large number of teachers. One of her students, Imam Dhahabi, describes her as soft-spoken, patient and polite in manner. He tells how the students of hadeeth crowded around her house, and how she would teach them through most of the day. {al-Durar al-Kaminah, vol. ii, p. 117}

Teaching in mosques and schools

Schools and mosques were also used as teaching venues. One muhaddithah who taught in the mosque of the Prophet in Madina was Umm al-Khayr Fatimah bint Ibrahim bin Mahmud al-Batayhi. Among her teachers were: the famous narrator of Sahih  al-Bukhari, Abu Abdillah al-Husayn ibn al-Mubarak bin Muhammad al-Zabidi (546–631 AH); the Hanafi shaykh, Mahmud bin Ahmad bin Abd al-Sayyid al-Bukhari known as Ibn al-Haasiri (546–636 AH); and Abul-Qasim `Abdullah bin al-Husayn bin Abdillah ibn Rawahah al-Ansaari (560–646 AH). She taught hadeeth in Damascus and other places. Imam Dhahabi, Imam Subki, Ibn Rushayd Sabti and many other great scholars studied under her. Ibn Rushayd came all the way from Fez to do so at a time when she taught in the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah. He recounts how she would lean on the wall of the tomb of the Prophet facing the head of the Prophet. Here she wrote ijazah for him with her own hand. Ibn Rushayd studied under her the  in the treatise Juz Abil-Jahm and others. {Mil al-`aybah, vol. v, p. 21–25}

[Based on notes from al-Muhaddithaat: Women scholars in Islam; Akram Nadwi]


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