Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Forgotten Heroes Behind #ForgottenHeroines

"Behind every great man is a woman,” the saying goes. The truth is, neither heroes nor heroines are created in a void. Neither men nor women are able to succeed and achieve greatness without the support of their loved ones, family and friends, teachers and mentors.

The forgotten heroines of our Ummah are no exception. For every female scholar, for every woman warrior, for every devout worshipper there was a loving guardian, a firm mentor or a supportive spouse.

The sahabah and tabi’een were well aware of their duties towards their womenfolk. Keeping in mind the hadith that they were shepherds who will be held accountable for their flocks on the Day of Judgement, they made every effort to empower their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and anyone else under their guardianship.

The Sahabi Who Raised a Scholar

It is narrated from Ibn Jabir and ‘Uthmaan ibn Abi al-‘Aatikah that:

“Umm ad-Dardaa’ was an orphan under the guardianship of Abu ad-Dardaa’; she used to come to the mosques with Abu ad-Dardaa’ in two garments (i.e. her head was not covered; she had not yet attained puberty) and she prayed in the men’s rows and used to sit in the circles of the teachers learning the Qur’an.” This continued until she reached puberty and she then joined the women’s rows in prayer. (Al-Muhaddithaat; Jaami’ al-Hanabilah al-Muzaffaari).

This young orphan girl grew up to become a scholar of such knowledge that she would teach in the Grand Mosque of Damascus and the khalifah of the Islamic Empire, Abdul Malik ibn Marwaan, would sit at her feet as a student.

Without the foresight of Abu ad-Dardaa’, without his deliberate and conscious choices not only to teach her himself but also to create opportunities for her to study from others, Umm ad-Dardaa’ would never have become one of the greatest of the tabi’een. She was known not only for her depth of knowledge, but for the keenness of her mind and the intensity of her worship, even as an old woman.

Awn ibn Abdullah said of her, “We used to come to the assembly of Umm ad-Dardaa’ and remember God there.” Yunus ibn Maysarah reports, “The women used to worship with Umm ad-Dardaa’ and when they became weak from standing they would lean on ropes.”

Who was the man who raised such a prodigious woman? Abu ad-Dardaa’ was a sahabi of Rasul Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) - an Ansari man who was bound to Salmaan al-Faarsi when Rasul Allah r established the brotherhood (al-Mu’aakhaa’) between the Muhajiroon and the Ansaar.

The stories about his life are many: he was known for being dedicated to worshipping Allah with such fervor that Salmaan al-Faarsi grew alarmed and had to remind him that his wife and his body had a right over him as well. He was known to be courageous in battle, never forsaking an opportunity to offer his life for the sake of Allah I. He valued knowledge and is quoted as having said, “Be a scholar or a student or a person who loves [the scholars] or a follower [of the scholars], but do not be the fifth.” Humayd (one of the reporters) asked Al-Hasan (Al-Basri, who reported this from Abû Al-Dardâ`), “And who is the fifth?” He replied, “A heretic (mubtadi’, religious innovator).” (Ibn ‘Abd Al-Barr, Jâmi’ Bayân Al-‘Ilm 1:142.)

Who else but such a man as Abu ad-Dardaa’ could have raised a woman such as Umm ad-Dardaa’?

The Father of a Faqeeha, the Husband of a Shaykhah

The name Fatimah as-Samarqandiyyah is one that is known based on her personal accomplishments rather than because of the menfolk who surrounded her. When powerful women are linked to famous men, their own merits are usually put to the side in favour of emphasising their position in relation to those men: “the President’s wife”, “the Professor’s daughter”, “the Shaykh’s sister.”

In the case of Fatimah as-Samarqandiyyah, however, we have the opposite case. Fatimah was born in the region of modern-day Uzbekistan, approximately 500 years after the Hijrah. Her father, Muhammad ibn Ahmad, was an imam of the Hanafi madhhab; he was so prominent that other scholars would travel to seek knowledge from him. He is perhaps most well-known for the fact that he wrote a book titled Tuhfat al-Fuqahaa’ and, of course, being the father of Fatimah.

While many knowledgeable men today would elect to devote their attention towards fellow males, Muhammad ibn Ahmad’s priority was his family and his daughter Fatimah in particular. After teaching her all that she knew, to the point where she memorised his book, he ensured that she studied under other famed scholars who excelled in other fields of the Islamic Sciences. When it came to furthering his daughter’s education, Imam Muhammad spared no expense and soon, even as a young woman, Fatimah’s knowledge and intellect were so keen that her father began to refer his students to her.

When Fatimah decided that it was time for her to marry, her criteria for a suitable spouse was exacting. Wealthy men and men of power and nobility came alike to propose to Fatimah; one by one, she turned them away. Eventually, a sincere and earnest young man with neither riches nor influence to his name came forward. Intrigued by his own dedication to seeking knowledge, Fatimah chose her dowry: that the young man write and present to her a book - specifically, a commentary and explanation of her father’s book, Tuhfat al-Fuqahaa’.

This young man’s name was Abu Bakr al-Kasani and he soon became a formidable jurist himself. The father and husband of Fatimah as-Samarqandi worked together as a team, often issuing religious edicts together, but not without first consulting Fatimah, having her review their work and then ensuring that she would hand write the fatwahs and sign her name along with their own.

When Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad died, Fatimah and Abu Bakr moved to Syria, where they established themselves as a powerhouse couple who not only taught thousands of students, but also built schools and were advisors to the leading scholars of the area. Nur ad-Deen Zinki, the leader of the Islamic Empire at the time, hand-chose Fatimah to be one of his political and religious advisors.

Fatimah’s accomplishments were her own: it was her knowledge, wisdom, understanding and brilliant intellect that commanded attention and influenced an empire. However, it was her father who first cultivated her education and, later, it was her husband who ensured that her career flourished. Without Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad and Abu Bakr al-Kasani, Fatimah would not have been able to achieve her full potential.

The Sunnah of the Salaf

To celebrate female scholarship in Islam is also to recognise and honour the men who undertook the task of supporting them and pushing them to even greater heights. The Salaf as-Saalih, the pious predecessors, are remembered for their piety and quoted for their knowledge, but few men today are willing to follow in their footsteps and push their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters to achieve excellence.

Looking back to our Islamic history, it is admirable that we find the greatest of Muslim men being those who did their best to encourage their womenfolk in all aspects of life. In truth, there continue to be excellent Muslim men – fathers, brothers, husbands and sons – who tirelessly support the women in their lives to achieve their dreams and ambitions. These are the men who are most conscious of the responsibility they wield as “qawwaamoon,” who understand that Allah I will hold them to account on the Day of Judgement for how they chose to practice their authority. These are the forgotten heroes of the Muslim Ummah; the men who are fostering the next generation of Muslim heroines.
May Allah I bring about yet another era of heroes and heroines in this Ummah; men and women who support each other, encourage each other and push each other to grow stronger in their faith and in their knowledge.

Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyaat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ameen to your dua'. And may Allah reward you in your exploration of Islamic history and for sharing on your blog, ameen.
I particularly loved the reference to Fatimah as- Samarqandi and her life. Very enlightening to say the least. Can't wait for your next post on the Sahabiyaat and next time I see my teacher; I'll mention your site, insha'Allah.