Relations, Narrations, and Judgments: The Scholarly Networks and Contributions of an Early Female Muslim Jurist

in Islamic Law and Society
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Through an extensive analysis of early biographical dictionaries and histories, ḥadīth collections and commentaries, as well as legal texts, I reconstruct the life of a female jurist from the third generation of Muslims. It was through informal networks of kinship and scholarship that ʿAmrah bint ʿAbd al-Raḥmān (d. 106/724) contributed to the core of Islamic knowledge in ways similar to her male contemporaries, while she also served as a resource within the community for the gender-specific concerns of women. The depth of her knowledge established ʿAmrah’s narrations as reliable evidence of the Prophet Muḥammad’s conduct and endowed her own opinions and deeds with an authoritative weight respected by contemporaries and subsequent generations of Muslim scholars.

Relations, Narrations, and Judgments: The Scholarly Networks and Contributions of an Early Female Muslim Jurist

in Islamic Law and Society


  • 8

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt al-Kubrā8:350.

  • 9

    al-ʿUṣfūrīKitāb al-Ṭabaqāt438; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī al-Iṣābah 4:286; 5:37.

  • 11

    al-ʿUṣfūrīKitāb al-Ṭabaqāt438; al-Dhahabī Siyar 5:416 6:187; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī al-Iṣābah 4:286; 5:37.

  • 13

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt3:456–9; al-ʿUṣfūrī Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt 159; Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr al-Istīʿāb fī Maʿrifat al-Aṣḥāb4 vols. (Cairo: Maktabat Nahḍat Miṣr n.d.) 1:80–1; Ibn Qudāmah al-Maqdisī Istibṣār 56–8; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī al-Iṣābah 1:54–5; Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī Tārīkh 6 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah 1991) 2:9.

  • 14

    Ibn ʿAbd al-Barral-Istīʿāb2:591; Ibn Qudāmah al-Maqdisī Istibṣār 59.

  • 16

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt al-Kubrā3:372; idem al-Qism al-Mutammim 287; Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr al-Istīʿāb 1:306–7; Ibn Qudāmah al-Maqdisī Istibṣār 59–60; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī al-Iṣābah 1:618; idem Tahdhīb 3:624. In their collections of ḥadīth al-Bukhārī al-Nasāʾī Ibn Ḥanbal and al-Ḥumaydī record the Prophet’s commendation of Ḥārithah b. al-Nuʿmān’s kindness to his mother as exemplifying righteousness.

  • 17

    Ibn al-ʿImādShadharāt1:395.

  • 18


  • 19

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt2:286; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī al-Iṣābah 8:18; idem Tahdhīb 4:680–1. For a study of the literary and historical portrayals of ʿĀʾishah see Denise Spellberg Politics Gender and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of ʿAʾisha Bint Abi Bakr (New York: Columbia University Press 1994). Jamal Elias also explores ʿAʾishah’s ḥadīth as a form of self-narrative in “The Ḥadīth Traditions of ʿAʾishaas Prototypes of Self-Narrative” Edebiyât 7 (1997): 215–33.

  • 22

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt3:458; al-Mizzī Tahdhīb al-Kamāl 35:242; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī Tahdhīb 4:370 682; idem Taqrīb 593.

  • 24

    Ibn Saʿdal-Qism al-Mutammim124; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī al-Iṣābah 5:27.

  • 25

    Ibn ḤibbānKitāb al-Thiqāt7:367; al-Mizzī Tahdhīb al-Kamāl 35:242; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī Tahdhīb 4:682–3.

  • 26

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt2:295; Ibn Saʿd al-Qism al-Mutammim 286–7; Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal Kitābal-ʿIlal 1:192 (#178) 2:150 (#1834); al-Bukhārī al-Tārīkh al-Kābīr 1:148–50; Ibn ʿAsākir Tārīkh Madīnat Dimashq 54:85–90; al-Dhahabī Siyar 6:181–2; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī Tahdhīb 3:625–6 4:683; idem Taqrīb 266 415 492; Ibn al-ʿImād Shadharāt 2:99. Al-Khaṭīb makes a point of correcting those who conflate this Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān with her son who shares the same name in the report quoted above and transmitted by Shuʿbah b. al-Ḥajjāj (d. 160/777). Genealogically Ibn Saʿd Ibn ʿAsākir al-Dhahabī and Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī affirm that his name is Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān and that he is the son of ʿAmrah’s nephew.

  • 32


  • 33


  • 34

    Ibn al-ʿImādShadharāt2:44.

  • 35


  • 36

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt8:325–6; al-Mizzī Tahdhīb al-Kamāl 35:241–2; al-Dhahabī Siyar 5:416; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī al-Iṣābah 8:200 320; idem Tahdhīb 4:682 703; Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 6:398; Aḥmad b. Shuʿayb al-Nasāʾī Sunan al-Nasāʾī9 vols. (Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifah 1991) 1:495; Abū Dāwūd Sunan 1:331; Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal Musnad 45:600–1. It is rarely mentioned that Umm Hishām was ʿAmrah’s half-sister through the same mother (cf. Sa­­y­eed Women 67). Ibn Saʿd indicates different mothers for each: Umm Khālid bint Khālid for Umm Hishām and Sālimah bint Ḥakīm for ʿAmrah. The only ʿAbd al-Raḥman b. Ḥārithah b. Nuʿmān mentioned in the biographical collections is the full brother of Umm Hishām. Thus if ʿAmrah were the half-sister of Umm Hishām she would also have to be the half-sister of ʿAbd al-Raḥman. Since ʿAmrah and ʿAbd al-Raḥman were married we can reasonably reject this possibility. Moreover Ibn Saʿd and Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī report that Umm Hishām had a full sister by the name of ʿAmrah bint Ḥārithah. Hence the confusion between her and ʿAmrah bint ʿAbd al-Raḥmān must arise from the popularity of their shared name ʿAmrah among the Anṣār as even a cursory glance at Ibn Saʿd’s “Kitāb al-Nisāʾ” reveals.

  • 37

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt8:327–8; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī al-Iṣābah 7:576–7; idem Tahdhīb 4:668; idem Taqrīb 133; al-Nasāʾī Sunan 6:481; Abū Dāwūd Sunan 2:134–5; Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal Musnad 45:432–3; Mālik b. Anas al-Muwaṭṭa⁠ʾ ed. Muḥammad Fuʾād ʿAbd al-Bāqī 2 vols. (Cairo: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah 1986) 2:564; al-Dārimī Sunan 2:8.

  • 44

    al-DārimīSunan1:214; Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal Musnad 43:369–70.

  • 45


  • 46

    al-DhahabīSiyar6:123; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī Tahdhīb 2:310; Ibn al-ʿImād Shadharāt 2:156.

  • 52

    Mālikal-Muwaṭṭa⁠ʾ2:89–90. Similarly ʿAmrah corroborates the report of ʿAbd Allāh b. Wāqid (d. 129/747) the grandson of Ibn ʿUmar concerning the Prophet’s instructions not to store the sacrificial meat (luḥūm al-ḍaḥāyā) after the pilgrimage. However she also clarifies that the Prophet later reversed that initial policy and allowed the meat’s preservation; in the year that the Prophet had prohibited storing sacrificial meat there was widespread hunger and he had wanted to encourage the distribution of the meat among the needy. Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 13:131–2; Mālik al-Muwaṭṭa⁠ʾ 2:484–5; Muwaṭṭa⁠ʾ Mālik Riwāyat Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī 215; al-Bājī al-Muntaqā 4:181–4; al-Zurqānī Sharḥ 2:99–100.

  • 57

    al-Tirmidhīal-Jāmiʿ al-Kabīr2:443–4; Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Mubārakfūrī Tuḥfat al-Aḥwadhī bi-Sharḥ Jāmiʿ al-Tirmidhī (Cairo: Dār al-Ḥadīth 2001) 4:10–12. In his commentary on al-Tirmidhī’s ḥadīth collection al-Mubārakfūrī (d. 1353/1935) remarks that this notation on the strength of ʿAmrah’s legal precedence is attributed either to Aḥmad (which is the apparent reading of the text) or to al-Tirmidhī himself.

  • 60

    Aḥmad b. ḤanbalMusnad40:466–7.

  • 61

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt2:289 295; al-Wāqidī Kitāb al-Maghāzī 2:692.

  • 62

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt2:295.

  • 63

    al-DhahabīSiyar5:417; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī Taqrīb 506.

  • 64

    al-DhahabīSiyar5:359; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī Taqrīb 241.

  • 65

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt2:291–2 295; al-Dhahabī Siyar 5:357; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī Tahdhīb 3:93.

  • 67

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt2:292 295; al-Dhahabī Siyar 5:357; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī Tahdhīb 3:93; Sayeed Women 94–5. The specification of the grammatical subject (ḥadīthuʿAmrah) in most transmissions clarifies the meaning understood and conveyed by classical ­Muslim traditionists as in the version translated above: idhā ḥaddathanī ʿUrwah thumma ḥaddathatnī ʿAmrah ṣaddaqa ʿindī ḥadīthu ʿAmrah ḥadītha ʿUrwah fa-lammā tabaḥḥartu­humā idhā ʿUrwah baḥr lā yunzaf. One narration of this report merges the subject (ḥadīthu ʿAmrah) into the verb (yuṣaddiqu) which is best translated into English as “it would confirm ʿUrwah’s narration to be correct” (idhā ḥaddathanī ʿUrwah thumma ḥaddathatnī ʿAmrah yuṣaddiqu ʿindī ḥadītha ʿUrwah). Sayeed’s translation and interpretation of this particular version must be revised in light of the parallel narrations. Another transmission transposes the order of narrators in the first part of the ḥadīth in parallel with the second half: “When ʿAmrah would narrate to me and then ʿUrwah would narrate to me ʿAmrah’s narration would confirm ʿUrwah’s narration” (idhā ḥaddathatnī ʿAmrah thumma ḥaddathanī ʿUrwah ṣaddaqa ʿindī ḥadīthu ʿAmrah ḥadītha ʿUrwah).

  • 74

    Mālikal-Muwaṭṭa⁠ʾ1:386; al-Bājī al-Muntaqā 4:20; al-Zurqānī Sharḥ 2:444.

  • 76

    Mālikal-Muwaṭṭa⁠ʾ1:341; al-Zurqānī Sharḥ 2:349.

  • 77

    Ibn Saʿdal-Ṭabaqāt8:358; al-Dārimī Sunan 1:214 (with the ommission of the word bi-durj).

  • 78

    al-DārimīSunan1:213. For the specific mention of Rayṭah’s name see the following footnote.

  • 80


  • 82

    Ibn al-QaysarānīKitāb al-Jamʿ2:610; Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī Tahdhīb 4:683.

  • 83


  • 84

    Aḥmad b. ḤanbalMusnad41:60–2.

  • 85

    Ibid.; Mālikal-Muwaṭṭa⁠ʾ2:840; al-Bayhaqī 8:444–5; Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Ṭaḥāwī Sharḥ Maʿānī al-Āthār (Beirut: ʿĀlam al-Kutub 1994) 3:165–6.

  • 87

    al-Bājīal-Muntaqā9:233–4. irsāluhu al-nabaṭī ʿindamā intahā ilayhi min qawlihā dalīl ʿalā ṣiḥḥat fatwā al-nisāʾ wa-ṣiḥḥat al-akhdh bi-aqwālihinna idhā kunna min ahl al-ʿilm.


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