Islam’s Female Scholars

The Shaykha of Makkah: Kareemah bint Ahmad Al Marwaziyyah

Kareemah bint Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Hatim Al Marwaziyyah was raised in the Holy City of Makkah where she lived to be 100-years-old before her death in 461(3) H.

She remains renowned for her teaching and knowledge of Islam and her narrations in the famous Sunni Hadith collection, Sahih Al Bukhari.

She also taught and narrated the Sahih. Abu Dharr of Herat, one of the leading scholars of the period, attached such great importance to her authority that he advised his students to study the Sahih under no one else because of the quality of her scholarship.

Kareemah was also part of the 5th century female Muslim scholarship, and an integral contributor to the legacy and service of Muslim women, earning the placement of her biography in the collection “Al-Muhaddithat”: The Women Scholars in Islam by Mohammad Akram Nadwi, published in 2013.

Traveling to Seek Knowledge

Kareemah was originally from modern-day Turkmenistan. She lived in the 11th century of the common era (5th c. Hijri). Accompanied by her father, she was known to travel long distances in her quest for knowledge and to study Hadith.

Her studies carried her to Sarakhs, Isfahan, Jerusalem, and finally to Makkah. She studied under well-known scholars such as Abu Al Haytham al Kushmihani, Abdullah ibn Yusuf ibn Yusuf ibn Baaymuyah Al Asbahani, and Zahir bin Ahmad al Sarkhasi.

A Great Scholar

On settling in Makkah, Kareemah bin Ahmad Al Marwaziyyah became known as the Shaykha of Makkah.

She specialized in the teaching and narration of Hadith, particularly the Bukhari collection; she taught both men and women from the knowledge she had gained.

The great scholar Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Dhahabi (died 1348 CE) related about Kareemah that she was a woman of great knowledge, piety and goodness.

Anse Tamara Gray from Rabata commented that he gave, thus, testimony that she was a woman of great worship, of wisdom and of great and beautiful faith.

Kareema was a shining example for our Muslim community, and affectionately known as “mother of the generous.”

A Passionate Teacher to All

Anse Tamara Gray, who compiled a series on female Muslim scholars, further describes Kareemah as a teacher of careful assessment; and students who came to study with her were required to work hard to receive their ijazah (license), but would even be present during the student evaluation process to guide them.

In short, she was not a pushover. She made sure that they really knew what they thought they knew and what they were supposed to know.

She did not allow anyone to narrate from her unless they had compared their copy with her original while she was present.

This impressive tenacity concerning the narration of the Hadith illustrates her scholarly rank, further contributing to Kareemah being considered the best authority on the Bukhari hadith collection of her time.

Many later well-known Muslim scholars were taught by Kareemah, including: Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (died 1071 CE) and Ali bin al-Husayn al-Farra’ (died 1066 CE).

An Example to Be Followed

This luminous teacher never married, but dedicated her entire life to teaching the words of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him). This fact also demonstrates that a woman’s worth is not based solely on being a wife and mother. In fact, Kareemah left a great legacy and stands as an example for us to follow.

Her name appears frequently in the ijazahs of later Muslim scholars narrating the Sahih Bukhari.

Her example teaches us that this life needs to be lived to the fullest by being of service to our communities and worshipping Allah.

Kareemah did this by studying, seeking, teaching and spreading sacred Islamic knowledge.

Although we might not become like Kareemah, as Muslim women, we should strive to make seeking and/or teaching sacred knowledge an essential part of our daily life.

We can start by telling our children, family, friends, and colleagues about these amazing Muslim women like Kareemah, that are part of our Islamic heritage.

References:

1. Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Dhahabi: Siyar A’lam al-Nubala. Republished by Al Resala Publishers, Beirut (2014).

2. Mohammad Akram Nadwi (2013): Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam. Interface Publications

3. Anse Dr. Tamara Gray: Talk about Kareemah bint Ahmad Al Marwaziyyah.

4. Ideal Muslimah

5. WISE Women Profiles

About Claudia Azizah
Claudia Azizah is originally from Germany and mother of two children and writer. She served as Assistant Professor at the International Islamic University in Malaysia until August 2019. She is co-founder of the Ulu-Ilir-Institute in Indonesia. She regularly writes for the German Islamic newspaper. She is interested in Islamic spirituality, art and Southeast Asia. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram: #clazahsei