The Role of Muslim Women Throughout History and Their Contributions to Society

role of muslim women in islam

Islam made women such an essential element of a husband’s faith that without honouring his wife, his faith remained incomplete. When women became mothers, Islam put paradise under their feet; they became the reason why dads would join paradise. In order to not be forgotten when the greats of Islam were celebrated, women rose to great heights and left their distinctive marks on history with their newly gained position.

The father would have a shiver down his spine even as he was notified of the birth of a girl, as the piercing cries of a newborn filled a Makkan home. There was no worse fate he could imagine. He leaves in the dead of night to bury his daughter in a deep grave, never to be heard from or seen again. Before 621 CE, in Arab society, a female wasn’t even worth preserving. Even if she did survive, it would be an opportunityless existence; in other words, a living death. Muhammad, may Allah (swt) bless him, then appeared in the Year of the Elephant as a mercy to mankind and a light for humankind. The day “when the female infant buried alive shall be asked about the sin for which she was killed,” he made men realise, was something they ought to fear. Islam emerged as a source of direction for all people and as a catalyst in the lives of women, instantly changing their status. Women’s rights were being respected and safeguarded, an idea that had never before been mentioned or even considered. Wives evolved from being only a domestic commodity to a source of dignity. The Companions were astounded to learn that it was even possible to treat women with such devotion after witnessing the Prophet (saws)’s love for his daughters and his cordial behaviour with them.

They were taught by the Prophet (saws) that believers of both genders are equally valuable. Both have an equal opportunity to learn and teach. Women have the same responsibility as males to deter others and themselves from evil and to inspire them to do good. When they gave birth, Islam put Paradise under their feet. When they became mothers, they became the reason that dads would reach Paradise. They also became such a crucial component of a husband’s faith that his faith would be incomplete without honouring his wife. Women were able to soar high and leave their distinctive stamp on history thanks to their newly gained status, which allowed them to be recognised alongside Islam’s greatest figures.

Muslim women made significant contributions to Islam’s history as intellectuals, jurists, rulers, benefactresses, fighters, businesswomen, and legal professionals. All of the Prophet’s Companions looked up to the Prophet’s home as a source of wisdom. When he was given prophetic authority, his wife Khadija (ra), who was more than just his confidante and companion and a wealthy businesswoman and trader, supported him morally and financially. Aisha bint Abu Bakr (ra), who received vast amounts of knowledge from him and became a great jurist and scholar; Umm Salama (ra), whose advice was accepted by the Prophet himself at the time of the treaty of Hudaibiyyah; and the written Qur’an was initially given to Hafsa (ra), Umar ibn Al-Khattab’s daughter, following her father’s passing.

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Preservation of the “Ahadith”

Women have made a significant contribution to the preservation of the ahadith. A review of the texts shows that the majority of significant ahadith compilers from the early period obtained many of them from female teachers, who served as the immediate authorities. As-Sakhawi had ijazas from 68 women; As-Hajar studied from 53 women; and As-Suyuti studied from 33 women, or one-fourth of his shuyukh.

We find Fatima bint Abdur-Rehman, known as As-Sufiyyah because of her great piety, Fatima bint Abdur-Rehman’s grandaughter, Abu Dawud of the Sunan fame, Amat al-Wahid, the granddaughter of the illustrious jurist al-Muhamili, Umm al-Fath Amat As-Salam, the daughter of the judge Abu Bakr Ahmad, and Jumuah bint e Ahmad, whose classes were attended by reverential audience.

In the fifth and sixth century, Fathima bint al-Hasan ibn Ali Ad-Daqqaq al-Qushayri was a renowned hadith scholar who was praised for her ahadith knowledge as well as the calibre of the isnads (chains of narrators) she was familiar with. Karimah al-Marwaziyyah, who was regarded as the top authority on the Sahih of Al-Bukhari in her own time, was even more illustrious. One of the most eminent scholars of the time, Abu Dharr of Herat, placed such a high value on her authority that he counselled his students to study Sahih under no one else due to the calibre of her learning. Al-Humaydi and Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi were two of her pupils.

The honourable moniker Musnida Asfahan (the renowned hadith authority of Asfahan) was bestowed upon Fatima bint Muhammad, also known as Shahdah, the Writer. She established a Sufi lodge, which her husband generously funded. Many students attended her lectures on Sahih al-Bukhari, and some even made up stories about being her pupils.

Sitt al-Wuzra, a well-known expert on Sahih al-Bukahri, not only possessed a thorough understanding of Islamic law but also gave courses on the Sahih in Egypt and Damascus. Likely the last outstanding hadith scholar of the Hijaz is Umm al-Khayr Amat al-Khaliq. Umm al-Darda was a well-known jurist in seventh-century Damascus who taught Abdul Malik ibn Marwan, the Caliph at the time. At the mosque, she had previously taught hadith and fiqh. She was regarded as being above all other hadith scholars of the time by Ilyas-ibn-Mu’awiyah, a significant scholar and judge of undeniable merit at the time.

Aisha bint Sa’ad bin Abi Waqqas was a jurist and scholar who also served as Imam Malik, the founder of the Maliki School of Fiqh, and Imam Malik’s instructor. Imam Shafi’i, a distinguished scholar and the creator of the Shafi’i School of Fiqh, was one of Sayyida Nafisa’s pupils who journeyed from far locations to study with her. The Prophet Muhammad (saws)’s great-granddaughter Sayyida Nafisa is the daughter of Hassan bin Ali bin Abu Talib. She supported his academic endeavours financially.

Scholar Women

The first Muslim woman to hold the position of market manager and inspector was Ashifa bint Abdullah, who was chosen by Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab. One of the greatest thinkers of the eighth century was Amra bint Abdurrehaman, an ahadith, mufti, and jurist. She was regarded as a leading authority on traditions related by A’isha (ra), the Prophet (saws)’s wife, during the reign of Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz. One of her pupils was Abu Bakr ibn Hazim, a renowned Madina judge who had been given the task by Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz to compile all of the hadith under her supervision.

The scholar Aisha bint Muhammad ibn Abdul Hadi in Damascus had the shortest line of narrators leading back to the Prophet Muhammad (saws). She also educated several notable Muslim male scholars. The greatest thinker of her time, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, was a student of hers. A notable old woman from the eighth century named Fatima al-Batayahiyyah spent days on end instructing her students in the revered writings of Sahih al-Bukhari inside the mosque of the Prophet.

Fatima al-Fihriyya, from Fez, Morocco, founded the al-Qarawwiyyin mosque in the ninth century.

The Qarawwiyyin mosque, which dates back to the year 859 and is still in operation, is where Arabic numerals first came to be understood and used in Europe. It also has the oldest and conceivably first university in the entire world. International students came here to study Islamic studies, languages, and sciences.

In the eleventh century, Fatima of Cordoba administered 70 public libraries with 400,000 books. Banafshaa ar-Rumiyya, who lived in the eleventh century, renovated public housing for homeless women in Baghdad as well as schools and bridges.

Shuhadah bint Ahmad al-Ibrii, regarded as the “Pride of Women,” was an outstanding scholar and jurist who studied with eminent ahadith scholars in Baghdad in the twelfth century. More than 400 books of ahadith were taught by Zainab bint Kamal in some of Damascus’ most esteemed academic institutions, and she was known for her extraordinary patience, which won over her pupils. A legal expert named Fathima bint Muhammad al-Samarqandi counselled her more well-known husband on how to issue Fatwas. More recently, in the nineteenth century, Nana Asma’u of Nigeria, a poet, teacher, scholar, and father’s advisor, saw growth and success.


Arwa al-Sulayhi, a Yemeni woman who ruled for 71 years and was dubbed the Noble Lady, and Sultana Shajarat al-Durr, an Egyptian woman who assumed power following her husband’s death in the thirteenth century, are two notable examples of female monarchs. After the passing of her son, King Abdul Aziz, Dhayfa Khatun, Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi’s niece and daughter-in-law, took over as queen of Aleppo for six years. She was threatened by the Crusaders, Khuarzmein, Mongols, and Seljuks during her reign. In addition to her political and social responsibilities, she founded two schools in Aleppo to support education. Egyptian Fatimid princess Sitt al-Mulk was a skilled administrator who followed Islamic law.

The ninth-century Caliph Harun Ar-Rasheed’s wife, Queen Zubayda, is renowned for her contributions to the construction of water resources and guest homes for pilgrims along important roads leading to Makkah. She was an academic who publicly shared her political opinions and even backed writers and poets of all faiths, religious professors, and the less fortunate. She is still remembered by the name of the renowned Zubayda spring on the outskirts of Makkah.

Closer to home, in India, there was Razia Sultana, the only woman to rule the country for four years in Delhi around the thirteenth century. According to historian Firishta from the seventeenth century, Razia was superior to 20 such sons despite being a woman and possessing a man’s heart and mind.

Hurrem Sultan, also known as Roxelana, was captured by the Crimean Turks during the rule of Yazuz Sultan Salim, and she was later given to King Suleyman in the Ottoman court where he later wed her. She is the founder of a number of organisations, including two schools, a women’s hospital, and an Istanbul mosque complex that houses a Madrasa and a community kitchen. She also constructed a mosque and four schools in Makkah.

The Education of Girls

In the sixteenth century, Amina ruled over the Nigerian region of Zazzua. She took up the role as her mother’s heir apparent when she was sixteen years old. Amina decided to pursue a career in the military and eventually became the cavalry’s top warrior for the Zazzua. She extended the region to its biggest size ever during her 34-year rule. Her major goal was to persuade local leaders to provide Hausa traders safe passage and accept vassal status. She is credited for spreading awareness of the clay wall defences that have subsequently come to characterise Hausa states. She gave the order for protective barriers to be built around each military camp she constructed. These walls allowed for the later growth of communities, many of which are still around today and are referred to as Amina’s walls.

From 1819 through 1924, a family of female monarchs, the last of whom was Begum Kaikhursau Jahan, ruled over Bhopal. This family was credited with enhancing the local waterworks, railway, postal service, and transportation networks.

Muslim women made sure to leave a legacy of intellectual and academic accomplishments. Mathematician Sutayta al-Mahamili was born into a well-educated Baghdad family in the second half of the tenth century. She was a master in a variety of subjects, including Arabic literature, hadith, and law. She came up with answers to numerous equations that other mathematicians have referenced, demonstrating her proficiency for algebra. Ibn al-Jawzi, Ibn al-Khatib Baghdadi, and Ibn Kathir were among the historians who lauded her.

Doctors and Physicians

Muslims are required under the Sharia to care deeply about society in all facets of life. Women were able to practise medicine and cure both men and women after Islam arrived, especially on the battlefields. Rufayda bint Sa’ad al-Aslamiyya, who lived at the same time as the Prophet (saws), is attributed as being the first nurse. On March 13, 624 CE, during the Battle of Badr, she cared for the sick and injured on the battlefield. She gained the most of her expertise working alongside her medical father, Sa’ad al-Aslami.

One of the sage ladies of the time was Al Shifa bint Abdulla al-Quraishiyya al-Adawiyah. She had experience in health and public administration. Layla was her name, but she was given the honorific title “Al Shifa,” which translates to “The Healing.”

During the Battle of Uhud, Nusayba bint Ka’ab al-Mazneya offered her medical assistance; Umm-e-Sinan Al-Islami asked the Prophet for permission to enter the battlefield and assist the wounded soldiers and give thirsty people water; and Umm Warqa bint Harith, a contributor to the Qur’an, provided nursing care to the wounded at the Battle of Badr.

Nusayba bint al-Harith, also known as Umm al-Athia, was in charge of caring for the wounded on the battlefield, giving them food, drink, and first assistance while also treating them.

Political Rulers

Islam was the focus of the scholar Zainab al-Ghazali’s life. She was an activist who was strongly allied with the Muslim Brotherhood and was born in Egypt in 1917. She established the Muslim Women’s

Association (Jama’at al-Sayyidat al-Muslimaat) at the age of 19, and by the time the government ordered its dissolution in 1964, it had three million members. She turned down Hassan al-Banna’s proposal to combine the Jama’at with his group, but she swore personal devotion to him. Approximately 5000 people attended each of her weekly presentations.

The Jama’at ran an orphanage, helped underprivileged families, published a magazine, and arbitrated family conflicts. She was crucial in the 1960s in reorganising the Brotherhood following the death of Hassan al-Banna. She was detained in 1965 and given a 25-year prison term, but during Anwar Sadat’s administration, she was freed. Al-Ghazali and members of the Brother Dr. Akram Nadwi, the author of a 40-volume anthology of female Islamic thinkers titled Al-Muhaddithat, have uncovered the biographies of other such academics whose contributions and legacies have long since been lost. His research has shown that since the time of the Prophet (PBUH), there have been at least 8,000 biographical narratives of Muslim women who have contributed significantly to the establishment and maintenance of Islamic traditions.

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These women succeeded well beyond their male contemporaries and were far from average when compared to men. What was most noticeable was how highly accomplished they were intellectually and how well they were respected and honoured for it.

Similarly, this is true with Muslim women. 8,000 may very well turn out to be a considerably undervalued assumption for the number of female intellectuals Islamic civilisation may, and can, put forth if given the correct kinds of opportunity and a respectable amount of drive.

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