There are some things history textbooks will never give us. Let us help you in finding out about the most important figures, yet unheard.
Muslim women have been very pivotal to Islamic history. They not only participated in politics and kinship but were also educators.
Here are five Muslim women in history that many world history books never taught us about, and no mainstream feminist ever referred to.
1. Fatima al-Fihri (?-880)
Fatima al-Fihri is credited with establishing the world’s oldest and still-operating university – the University of al-Qarawiyyin. She belonged to the Shia al-Firhi family which migrated from Tunisia to Morocco. After inheriting a lot of wealth, she vowed to build a madrassa for her community. It later became a mosque and is now a functioning university in Islamic education.
The world’s oldest library (which reopened after restoration this May 2016) has a collection of 4000 manuscripts. Yep, thanks to Fatima al-Fihri.
2. Mariam al-Ijliya
An astrolabe was an ancient instrument used to detect the position of the Sun and other celestial objects in the sky, a kind of extremely primitive form of GPS. Marian al-Ijliya apprenticed with the famous astrolabe-maker, Bitolus (or Nastulus), in 10th century Syria.
Her designs were so innovative and accurate that Sayf al-Dawla (944-967), the ruler of Aleppo, employed her. Though many of her astrolobes have not been signed or marked by her. We only know about her from the accounts of ibn al-Nadeem, a Muslim scholar, and bibliographer. She wasn’t called “al-Asturlabi” for no reason.
3. Dhayfa Khatun (12th century)
Not much is known about her. She was the queen of Aleppo for six years, and the wife of Aleppo’s ruler – al-Zahir Ghazi. She took a special interest in architecture and is the founder of two Islamic schools – al-Firdaus and Khankah School.
Dhayfa Khatun passionately funded all the scientists in her kingdom. Added to that, she removed all unfair taxes prevalent. Khatun also maintained large endowments for charitable organisations. Reasons why women should be given the chance to become head of the state.
4. Nana Asma’u (1793-1864)
Asma’u was a poetess, teacher, and a princess of the Sokoto Caliphate. Her poems were used to teach the Caliphate’s founding principles. She is often regarded as a pioneering figure in African feminism.
Asma’u taught girls and boys together, like many women in her family. One way in which she made a huge impact on women’s education was by training a network of women as educators (jajis) who traveled around, educating masses. The title of her biography beautifully sums up her life – One Woman’s Jihad.
5. Amina of Zaria (1533-1610)
She was born in 1533 and was the eldest daughter of Bakhwa Turunku, who founded the Zazzau Kingdom in 1536. Aged 16, she became the queen of the kingdom. In her 34-year reign, she participated in the battlefield and expanded Zazzau to its largest size ever. Fun fact: her aim was not to expand territory, but concentrated on forcing the rulers a safe passage for traders of her kingdom.
There is a large discourse on feminism, and it is important that we bring up women in history, especially from a community that has been deeply misunderstood and always associated with the oppression of women and terrorism.
True, Islam has its problems, but we can always look back at the past and redefine our beliefs. Especially when the past is so testimonial to women’s rights.
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