24 April 2011

Women’s hidden role writing Islam’s rules

Women’s hidden role writing Islam’s rules, by Carla Power (The Sunday Times [UK], 14 April 2007)

Abstract:
A Muslim scholar is rewriting history by revealing the extent of women’s influence on the formation of Sharia.
Excerpts:
Mohammed Akram Nadwi is an unlikely champion for a Muslim gender-quake. Soft-spo-ken and shy, he is a graduate of madrassas in his native India, and an unabashed religious conservative. But the current work of this Oxford-based alim, or religious scholar, could shatter the stock notions of Muslim women’s roles, both in society and Islamic scholarship. Hunting through classical texts, Akram, 43, a researcher at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, has uncovered a tradition of female Muslim scholars dating back to the 7th century.

Muslim women’s religious scholarship is seen as sort of a cottage industry: if women study, it is pretty much in the purdah of their own homes or in segregated rooms in mosques or madrassas. If they teach, they usually teach only women. But trawling through centuries of biographical dictionaries, madrassa chronicles, letters and travel books, Akram has found evidence of thousands of muhaddithat, or female experts in Hadith, the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. He has found accounts of women teaching men and women in mosques and madrassas, touring Arabia and the Levant on lecture circuits, issuing fatwas, and making Islamic law. Who knew that in the 15th century, Fatimayah al-Bataihiyyah taught Hadith in the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, and that the chief male scholars of the day, from as far afield as Fez, were her students? (Such was al-Bataihiyyah’s status that she taught at the grave of the Prophet, the mosque’s most prestigious spot.) Who knew that hundreds of girls in medieval Mauritania could recite al-Mudawwana, a key book of Islamic law, by heart? Or that Fatimah bint Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Samarqandi, a jurist in medieval Samarkand, used to issue fatwas and advised her far more famous husband on how to issue his?
Link: Women’s hidden role writing Islam’s rules


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