The following are some entries of famous Andalusi women taken from the famous Kitab al-Sila of Ibn Bashkuwal (d. 1183). They shed some light on the role of women in Andalusi society and indicate that, if one looks into the various biographical dictionaries, one can find important evidence for the participation of women in Islamic scholarship during the Middle Ages. All translations are my own.
Ghāliba b. Muhammad, the Professor. She was of Andalusi origin and narrated hadith from Asbagh b. Mālik, the ascetic.
Fāṭima b. Yahya b. Yūsuf al-Maghāmī. She was the sister of the great jurist Yūsuf b. Yahya al-Maghāmī. She was amongst the most knowledgeable, most magnanimous and wisest individuals in her era. She lived in Cordoba and died there around 319 A.H. [931 A.D.]. She was buried in the suburbs of the city and her funeral was among the greatest ever witnessed for a woman of the city.
Fāṭima b. Muhammad b. ‘Alī b. Sharī‘a al-Lakhmī. She was the sister of Abū Muhammad al-Bāhī al-Ishbīlī and joined her brother in many of his scholarly duties.
Lubna, the palace secretary of the caliph al-Hakam b. ‘Abd al-Rahmān. She excelled in writing, grammar, and poetry. Her knowledge of mathematics was also immense and she was proficient in other sciences as well. There were none in the Umayyad palace as noble as her. She died around 374 A.H. [984 A.D.].
Mazna, the palace secretary of the caliph ‘Abd al-Rahmān III. She was among the most knowledgeable and skilled women. She died in the year 358 A.H. [968 A.D.].
‘Ā’isha b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Qādim. She was from Cordoba. The famous historian Ibn Hayyān made mention of her and said: There was none in the entire Iberian peninsula in her era that could be compared with her in terms of knowledge, excellence, literary skill, poetic ability, eloquence, virtue, purity, generosity, and wisdom. She would often write panegyrics in praise of the kings of her era and would give speeches in their court. She was a very skilled calligrapher and copied many manuscripts of the Qur’an and other books. She was an avid collector of books, of which she had a very large amount, and was very concerned with the pursuit of knowledge. She was also very wealthy and died chaste, without having ever married. She died in the year 400 A.H. [1009 A.D.].
Khadīja b. Ja’far b. Nusayr b. Tammār al-Tamīmī. She was the wife of the renowned jurist ‘Abd Allāh b. Asad and narrated al-Qa’nabi’s Muwatta’ from him. After learning it, she even transcribed a copy of that book in the year 394 A.H. [1003 A.D.]. I heard my own shaykh Abū al-Ḥasan ibn al-Mughīth (may God have mercy upon him) mention this. He also mentioned that this book was actually in his possession, and I later saw it myself.
Safīyya b. ‘Abd Allāh al-Rabī. She was a great woman of letters and poetry. She is described as having good calligraphy skills. She died in 417 A.H. [1026 A.D.]
Rāḍiya. She was the slave-girl of the caliph Abd al-Rahmān III and was known as Najm. The caliph al-Hakam bought her freedom, after which she married a servant called Labīb. Together, Labīb and Rāḍiya made the pilgrimage to Mecca in 353 A.H. [964 A.D.]. They both excelled in reading and writing…Abū Muhammad b. Khazraj narrated hadith from her. He said that he was in possession of several of her books and that she had died in the 423 A.H. [1032 A.D.], when she was nearly 100 years old.
Fāṭima b. Zakariyya b. ‘Abd Allāh al-Kātib al-Shiblārī. She was an eminent secretary and lived for a very long time, over 94 years, and spent most of that time engaged in writing long epistles and books. She wrote well and was quite eloquent in speech. Ibn Hayyān made mention of her and said that she died in 427 A.H. [1036 A.D.].
Maryam b. Abī Ya’qūb al-Faysūlī al-Shalabī. She was a renowned and eminent poet and litterateur who would teach literature to women. She was meticulous in observing her faith. A poem written about her by Asbagh b. Abī Sayyid al-Ishbīli describes her as “possessing the piety and asceticism of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and having all the skill and poetic excellence of al-Khansā’.”
Khadīja b. Abī Muhammad ‘Abd Allāh b. Sa’īd al-Shantajiyālī. Along with her father, she learned Sahih Bukhari from the illustrious scholar Abū Dharr ‘Abd Allāh b. Ahmad al-Harawī, and other books. She also learned from several other illustrious scholars in Mecca. She travelled to al-Andalus with her father and died there, may God have mercy upon her.
Wallāda b. al-Mustakfī billāh Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Ubayd Allāh b. Abd al-Rahmān III. She was a great litterateur and poet, very eloquent in speech, skilled in verse, and would keep the company of other litterateurs and poets. I heard one of my shaykhs, Abū ‘Abd Allāh ibn Makkī (may God have mercy upon him), describe her excellence and knowledge. He told me: there is no one to equal her in honor. He also mentioned that she died on Wednesday 2nd of Safar 484A.H. [26th March 1091], the same day that al-Fath b. Muhammad b. ‘Abbad was killed [and the same day on which the Almoravids conquered Cordoba].
Ṭawiya b. ‘Abd al-Azīz b. Mūsa b. Ṭāhir b. Manā‘. She was known as Habība and was the wife of Abū al-Qāsim b. Mudīr al-Khatīb al-Muqri’. She learned and transmitted many of the works and books of the eminent scholar Abū ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-Barr directly from him. She also learned and transmitted many of the works of Abū al-‘Abbās Ahmad b. ‘Umar al-Udhrī al-Dalā’ī. She was born in 437 A.H. [1045 A.D.] and died in 506 A.H. [1112 A.D.]. I was told this information by her son Abū Bakr, may God bless and ennoble him.
[Ibn Bashkuwal, Kitab al-Sila (Cairo, 2008), Vol. 2: 323-327]
The following are taken from a continuation of Ibn Bashkuwal’s biographical dictionary by Abū Ja’far Ahmad b. Ibrāhīm al-Gharnāṭī (d. 1309):
Layla, the freed-woman of the vizier Abū Bakr b. al-Khaṭṭāb. She was from Murcia. The eminent qadi Abū Bakr b. Abī Jamra praised her as being the most superior woman of her era in knowledge and understanding of various sciences. It was this fact, along with her magnanimity and piety, which led the chief judge (qadi) of Granada, Abū al-Qāsim b. Hishām ibn Abī Jamra, to marry her. She died shortly before 528 A.H. [1133 A.D.].
Hafsa b. Abī ‘Abd Allāh Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Salamī, commonly known as Ibn ‘Arūs. She mastered the seven readings of the Qur’an under the guidance of her father and also memorized many books of hadith, literature, and other subjects. She also studied the Muwatta’. Al-Mallāhī said: I was informed that she was very eloquent and very well-read. She died at the young age of 27 on the 15th of Ramadan 580 A.H. [December 20th 1184 A.D.].
Fāṭima b. Abī al-Qāsim ‘Abd al-Rahmān b. Muhammad b. Ghālib al-Ansārī al-Sharrāṭ. She was known as Umm al-Fath and was the mother of the eminent professor Abū al-Qāsim b. al-Ṭaylasān. She memorized innumerable books under the guidance of her father, including al-Makki’s Tanbīh, al-Qudā‘ī’s al-Shihāb, Ibn ‘Ubayd al-Ṭulayṭalī’s Mukhtasar, all three of which she knew by heart. She also memorized the Qur’an under the guidance of Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Madwarī, the great ascetic who is considered from among the abdāl [an important rank within Sufism]. With her father, she also learned Sahīh Muslim, Ibn Hishām’s Sīra [of the Prophet], al-Mubarrad’s al-Kāmil, al-Baghdādī’s Nawādir, and other works. She died in 613 A.H. [1216 A.D.].
[Abū Ja’far Ahmad b. Ibrāhīm al-Gharnāṭī, Kitāb Silat al-Sila (Beirut, 2008), pp. 455-460]