• Book Title:
 Women And The Transmission Of Religious Knowledge In Islam
  • Book Author:
Asma Sayeed
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Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam Asma Sayeed’s book explores the history of women as religious scholars from the first decades of Islam through the early Ottoman period (seventh to the seventeenth centuries).

 Focusing on women’s engagement with had¯ıth, this book analyzes dramatic chronological patterns in wome_n’s had¯ıth participation in terms of developments in Muslim social, inte_llectual, and legal history. Drawing on primary and secondary sources, this work uncovers the historical forces that shaped Muslim women’s public participation in religious learning. In the process, it challenges two opposing views: that Muslim women have been histor- ically marginalized in religious education, and alternately that they have been consistently empowered thanks to early role models such as ‘A¯ ’isha bint Ab¯ı Bakr, the wife of Prophet Muhammad. This book is a must-read for those interested in the history of Muslim women as well as in debates

about their rights in the modern world. The intersections of this history with topics in Muslim education, the development of Sunn¯ı orthodoxies, Islamic law, and had¯ıth studies make this work an important contribu- tion to Muslim so_ cial and intellectual history of the early and classical eras.

Asma Sayeed is Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has published articles in Studia Islamica and Islamic Law and Society and has contributed a number of encyclopedia articles’s history in early and classical Islam.


The participation of women on the battlefield as nurses or as fighters boosted the reputation of some female Companions as traditionists.134 Umm Ayman, discussed earlier, is one such example. Biographers also laud

Nusayba bint Ka‘b for taking part in several raids and minor battles (ghazawa¯ t) with Muhammad.135 Ibn Sa‘d reports that she was present at

the momentous occas_ions of Uhud, al-Hudaybiyya (6/628), the expedition to Khaybar, the first completed_ ‘umra _(7/628), and the battles of Hunayn (8/630) and Yama¯ ma (11/632). At Uhud, she courageously de_ fended Muhammad while others around him fl_ed. And at Yama¯ ma, she persev- ered_ in fighting even after losing her hand in combat.136 Yet only one of

Nusayba bint Ka‘b’s twenty traditions pertains to her military efforts. Instead, her had¯ıth mostly touch on ritual purity and the pledge women, discussed below. Nevertheless, biographers focus on her military achievements perhaps as a means to enhance her reputation as a had¯ıth transmitter. _

women’ s pledge of allegiance (bay‘at al-nisa¯ ’)

A recurrent theme in the biographies of female Companions is the formal pledge of allegiance to the Prophet. The following Qur’a¯ nic verse outlines the prerequisites for women desiring to convert to Islam:

O Prophet! If believing women come unto you, taking pledge of allegiance unto you that they will ascribe nothing as partner unto God, and will neither steal nor commit adultery nor kill their children, nor produce any lie that they have devised by their own effort [lit. between their hands and feet], nor disobey you in what is right, then accept their allegiance and ask God to forgive them. Lo! God is Forgiving, Merciful.137

Ibn Sa‘d begins his section on the biographies of women with an excursus on the topic of their pledge of allegiance to the Prophet. While the accounts indicate that on at least one occasion, the Prophet entered into a formal covenant with women after the hijra, there is no consensus as to who may have been present for the pact(s). It may also have been that such pacts were a routine in which Muhammad outlined the demands of the new religion to women and offered them a chance to accept it.

The specific circumstances of these pledges aside, later biographers viewed reports of pledging as a mark of distinction.138 Many of the women included in this study are said to have offered allegiance to the Prophet. For some women, it is their only claim to fame. Salma¯ bint Qays, for example, is known for only one tradition, in which she seeks clarification from Muhammad on a stipulation of the pledge: that women should not…

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