Women as Mothers Revisited: A mother is the first teacher of the child. It is through women that the next generation of Muslims learn about Islam and our duties towards our Creator.
Women were inspired to study the Qur’an and the Sunnah and the Arabic language in the time of Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. 'A'isha radi Allahu anha said, “In the time of Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, whenever any verse was revealed, we used to memorize the lawful and the unlawful contained in it even if we did not memorize its exact words.” (al ’iqd al-farid vol. 1 p 276) This fact may seem small, but it has great bearing on the Muslim Ummah as well as to the rest of the world, for we become bearers of the Truth, al haq.
Living in the west, we find ourselves looking at handbooks on parenting and even motherhood. Why should anyone, let alone a mother, need a handbook for the care of an infant? Mothers are supposed to be a guide to the nature of human nature itself! One would think that manuals were only for new pieces of machinery or new cars, but certainly not for newborn infants! It’s a bizarre fact of life nowadays at the thought that one needs lessons on how to raise a healthy child. It is more so a symptom of some sickness in society, or in the ways of the world.
As Muslims, our definition of education is to increase in knowledge in Islam in order that we may strengthen our faith and understanding of our purpose in this life. Education begins at the breast. It is the only way it could begin. Allah said in the Qur’an: “And we have enjoined on man to his parents. His mother bore him in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and his weaning is in two years-- give thanks to Me and to your parents. Unto Me is the final destination.” 31:14
“The carrying of the child to his weaning is a period of thirty months.” 46:15
These verses indicate the importance of the role and function of the mother in Islam. The following may shed some light on the verses. While nursing, the infant is held close, talked to or sang to. All five senses in the infant come alive simultaneously. As the baby remains attached to his/her first teacher, the learning process affects not just the baby’s future ability to speak, but in its potential to listen in a rhythmical way as a result of the mother’s heartbeat and breathing. These are ingrained on the infant’s consciousness.
Notice that inside the home on one ever teaches language to an infant? It does not matter whether it is an Arabic speaking or a Chinese speaking home. An infant learns by listening to the articulation of sounds being in close contact with the mother’s heart. The mother’s words and sentences are embedded in the infant’s mind. Each time the mother utters something, the infant mirrors those sounds. Each time the mother responds to the infant’s plea for aide, the infant absorbs his or her mother’s response as a form of trust. How is this related to education one might ask? Hikma, or wisdom, is highly dependent on trust, for a true wisdom can only be imparted through the trustworthiness of the teacher. This is learned for the very first time between mother and child.
Historically, we notice that as the mother increasingly moved out of the home especially during the arrival of the industrial revolution, institutions gradually took over the mother’s role in the child’s life. For example, by the late 19th century a kindergarten movement was already in full effect while preschool activity took place in World War II. In both time frames, mothers left the home for the workplace, an occurrence completely alien to Islamic tradition. This paved the way for the breakdown of literacy and what it meant to be truly literate. With the mother gone from the home, a disastrous break occurred. A crucial piece connecting the child to its ultimate development in learning falls apart. How could a teacher and a bottle possibly replace the mother and the breast?
Certainly Muslims have not been exempted from this disastrous break up between mother and child. Many Muslim countries have likewise befallen to the arrival of the industrial revolution. Therefore, we as Muslim women need to bear this in mind before we speak of seeking secular education. We need to re-examine our purpose in life and put before us a goal greater than to satisfy our never ending drive for recognition as being a “successful woman”.
Women and True Education: True success is fulfilling our roles as women and living up to Allah’s expectations of us as being mothers of steadfast Muslims. Those are the deeds truly worth bringing to our graves and the only deeds worthy of showing Allah on the final day. May Allah grant us mercy. Ameen.
'A'isha radi Allahu anha used to praise women of the Ansar in the following words, “How good were the women of the Ansar that they did not shy away from learning and understanding religious matters.” (Muslim, kitab al hayd)
Malik ibn Huwayruth and a group of young men had come to live near Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam to take knowledge from him. When they deiced to return to their homes, Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam told them “Return home to your wives and children and stay with them. Teach them what you have learned and ask them to act upon it.” ( al Bukhari)
Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam made it a duty for every father and mother to make sure that their daughters did not remain ignorant of Islam knowing that after marriage they would have to play important roles as housewives and as mothers of Muslim children. In case the parents had failed to give such knowledge to their daughters, it was compulsory upon husbands to teach their wives the basic principles so that they would lead their lives according to the teachings of Islam.
Ibn al hajj said, “If a woman demands her right to religious education from her husband and brings the issue to a judge, she is justified in demanding this right. It is her right that either her husband should teach her or allow her to go elsewhere to acquire education in Islam. The judge must compel the husband to fulfill her demand in the same way that he would in the matter of her worldly rights since her right in matters of religion are most essential and important.” (al mudkhal vol.2 p 277)
The women of Arabia, who until the advent of Islam had been completely unaware of learning and literature, became the protectors of learning and offered guidance to others in this respect. The following are only a handful of the many hundreds if not thousands of women scholars in Islam. They are examples of women who placed their religious obligations first before any material aspirations in this life.
'A'isha Bint Abu Bakr, Wife of Rasulullah: 'A'isha radi Allahu anha, the wife of Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, lived long after his death and provided great guidance to the first Muslim community, even to the renowned Sahabah and the Rashidun Khalifs. Her student ‘Urwah ibn az-Zubayr said, “I did not see a greater scholar than 'A'isha radi Allahu anha in the learning of Qur’an, obligatory duties, lawful and unlawful manners, poetry, literature, Arab history and genealogy.” (tadhkirah al huffaz)
Her cognizance in many fields of learning were praised highly by many others. Ibn Abi Malikah said, “We should not be surprised by her authority in the matter of poetry since she was the daughter of Abu Bakr who was a very eloquent and a great literary figure.” What is surprising is her profound knowledge of medicine. Whenever individuals came to Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam and discussed many remedies for illnesses, she used to remember them. She was excellent in mathematics that the Sahabah used to consult her on the problems concerning mirath ( inheritance) and the calculation of shares.
'A'isha radi Allahu anha had a very sharp memory and remembered the teachings of Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam very well. Ibn Hajar names 88 great scholars who learned from her and then says that there were a large number of others. These include Amr ibn al -As, Abu Musa al Ash’ari, and Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr; great jurists and scholars of hadith like Abu Hurayrah, Abdullah ibn Abbas and Abdullah ibn Umar; and great scholars among the tabi’een like Sa’id ibn al Musayyab and ‘Alqamah ibn Qays.” (Ibn Hajar fath al bari vol vii p 82-83)
Her reputation as a scholar reached many wherein people come from different places to ask about hadith of Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. She was among the great hafiz of ahadith and narrated 2210 hadith in all. No other sahabi narrated so many hadith except Abdallah ibn Umar, Anas and Abu Hurayrah radi Allahu anhum. The great sahaba of Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam usually referred to 'A'isha radi Allahu anha whenever they had any difficulty in understanding any juristic problem.
Knowledge gained from 'A'isha radi Allahu anha was so authentic that the famous jurist of Medina, ‘Urwah ibn az-Zubayr and the famous muhaddith Qasim ibn Muhammad always gave juristic opinions on the authority of the narrations of 'A'isha radi Allahu anha. Imam Ahmad said: “These were the two among those who relied on the authority of the narrations of 'A'isha radi Allahu anha and did not disgress from her statements, and gave their juristic opinions based on narrations of 'A'isha radi Allahu anha.”
Saffiyah, Wife of Rasulullah: Saffiyah radi Allahu anha was also very learned in fiqh. Imam an Nawawi said; “She was the most intellectual among the learned women.” (tahdhib asma was sifaat vol 2 p 349)
Umm Salamah, Wife of Rasulullah: Ibn Hajar has given he names of at least 32 great scholars who learned ahadith fro her and then narrated them on her authority. Marwan and many like him turned other her to learn various fiqh issues. He used to say “Why should we turn to others when Rasulullah’s sallallahu alayhi wa sallam wives among us?” (musnad Ahmad vol. 6 p 323)
Rabi’ah Bint Mu’awwad: She was a great scholar of fiqh. They intellectual scholars of Madina like Abdullah ibn Abbas, Abdallah ibn Umar, Salman ibn Yasar, Abbad ibn Walid and Nafi’ use to go to her to learn from her. (tahdhib at tahdhib vol.12 p 444)
Umm ‘Atiyyah: Some Sahabah and learned scholars among the tabi’een used to come to her to learn various aspects of Islamic jurisprudence from her in Basrah. She also narrated many ahadith of Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. Imam Nawawi said, “She was a scholarly Sahabiyah and one of those who went on jihad with Rasulullah sallallahu alayhi wa sallam. (taghib al asma was sifaat vol w p 364)
‘A'isha bint Sa’d bint ibn Abi Waqqas: She was the daughter of a great Sahabi. She was very learned in Islamic sciences to the point that Imam Malik, Hakim ibn Utaybah and Ayyub as Sakhtiyani, the famous jurists and scholars of ahadith were her pupils.
Sayyida Nafisa, Granddaughter of Hasan: A large number of pupils came to her from different places to learn from her. Imam Shafi’i was one of her pupils. (wafayat al-a’yan vol 2 p 169)
Umrah Bint abdu Rahman: She was one of the best students of 'A'isha radi Allahu anha. Imam Ahmad said, “She was an eminent theologian and a great scholar. She was tutored in the lap of 'A'isha radi Allahu anha, narrated many ahadith from her and she is very reliable, had an excellent memory and is one whose narration can be accepted.” ibn Habban says the same about her.
‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, the great Umayyad Khalif, who is rightly described by historians as one who was of the caliber of the khulafa ar rashidun, respected her narrations to the point that he asked Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Hazm to record them. Great scholars like Abu Bakr ibn Hazm, Imam az-Zuhri and Yahya ibn Sa’id, all of whom were great jurists went to her to learn hadith.
Zaynab, daughter of UmmSalama: Like her mother, she was also an expert in jurisprudence. ibn Abdul Barr said, “She was a theologian of greater status than others of her contemporaries.” (al isti’ab fi asma’ al as hab)
Umm ad darda: She was the wife of the famous sahabi Abu darda’ and was learned in the sciences of hadith. Imam Bukhari referred to her as an authority in sahih al Bukhari: “Umm darda used to sit in tashahhud in her prayers like a man ( in worship) and she was an expert theologian.” ibn Adbul Barr calls her “an excellent scholar among women, and a woman intellectual, being at the same time extremely religious and pious.” (al isti’ab fi asma’ al as hab)
Fatimah bint Qays: Her learning was so deep that she discussed a juristic point with ‘Umar and 'A'isha radi Allahu anha radi Allahu anha for a long time and they also could not change or challenge her views. Imam Nawawi said, “She was one of those who migrated in the early days, and possessed great intellect and excellence.” (tahdhib at tahdhib vol.2 p 353)
Umm salim, Umm Anas: She was the mother of the famous sahabi Anas. She was a highly respected Sahabiyah. ibn Hajar says, “Her laudable qualities are too many to mention and she was very famous.” Imam an Nawawi calls her an excellent scholar among the Sahabiyah.” (tahdhib at tahdhib vol.2 p 363)
The list of learned women in Islam is endless. It shows that women were not kept illiterate and ignorant but were fully encouraged to participate in the process of learning Islam and its scholarship for the purpose of being the first teachers to their children. There were instances to show that some women even challenged great scholars of their times if they said something which was against the rights granted to women by the Qur’an and Sunnah. Muslim women may not only acquire knowledge but also combine it with the high moral qualities that Islam seeks to imbue in the future mothers of the Ummah.
It is time that Muslims gave up their inferiority complex to the kafir with regards to our women and remain strong in our convictions of fulfilling the obligations toward Our Creator. May Allah forgive us all. Ameen.