The following biographies of medieval Andalusi women are drawn from the Kitāb al-Ṣilah of Ibn Bashkuwal (d. 1183), the Takmilat Kitāb al-Ṣilah by Ibn al-Abbar (d. 1260), and the Kitāb Ṣilat al-Ṣila by Ibn al-Zubayr (d. 1308). They include women from various classes of society and different regions of al-Andalus who participated in scholarship and learning between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. These biographical works and accounts provide important insight into the social and intellectual history of al-Andalus and allow modern scholars to better understand the role of Andalusi women in the transmission of knowledge during the Middle Ages.
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 AH . She was buried in the suburbs of the city and her funeral was among the greatest ever witnessed for a woman of the city.
‘Ā’isha b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Qādim. She was from Cordoba. The famous historian [Abū Marwān Ḥayyān ibn Khalaf] Ibn Hayyān [d. 469/1075] said about her: “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 AH .
Khadījah 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 Muwattā’ from him. After learning it, she even transcribed a copy of that book in the year 394 AH . 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.
Rāḍiyah. She was the slave-girl of the caliph Abd al-Rahmān III [r. 300/912–350/961] and was known as Najm. The caliph al-Ḥakam [r. 350/961–366/976] bought her freedom, after which she married a servant called Labīb. Together, Labīb and Rāḍiya made the pilgrimage to Mecca in 353 AH . 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 423 AH , 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 AH .
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’.”
Khadījah b. Abī Muhammad ‘Abd Allāh b. Sa’īd al-Shantajiyālī. Along with her father, she learned Sahīh Bukhārī 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 484 AH [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].
Ṭawiyah b. ‘Abd al-Azīz b. Mūsa b. Ṭāhir b. Manā‘. She was known as Habībah and was the wife of Abū al-Qāsim b. Mudīr, the preacher and expert Qur’an reciter. She learned and transmitted many of the works and books of the eminent scholar Abū ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-Barr [d. 463/1071] directly from him. She also learned and transmitted many of the works of Abū al-‘Abbās Ahmad b. ‘Umar al-Udhrī al-Dalā’ī [d. 478/1085]. She was born in 437 AH  and died in 506 AH . I was told this information by her son Abū Bakr, may God bless and ennoble him.
[Ibn Bashkuwal, Kitāb al-Ṣilah (Cairo, 2008), Vol. 2: 323-327]
Al-Shifā’, the slave-girl of the emir ‘Abd al-Raḥmān [II] b. al-Ḥakam [r. 206/822–238/852]. He freed and married her. She was among the most intelligent, beautiful, pious, gracious and noble women. She built the mosque that is located in the center of the western suburbs of Cordoba. She raised and cared for her husband’s son, the [future] emir Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān [r. 238/852–273/886], when he was still an infant since his mother, Tahtaz, had died young. During one of his military campaigns, she fell ill so the emir ‘Abd al-Raḥmān arranged for her to be sent to al-Maniyyah located in the hills around Toledo. She died and was buried there. Her grave became a renowned place of visitation. Due to the great care and devotion of the people of that village to her grave, which they constantly renovated, the emir Muḥammad exempted them from all taxation.
Al-Bahā’ bt. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān [II] b. al-Ḥakam b. Hishām b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Mu‘āwiyah. She was the best of women and was very pious, ascetic and chaste. She wrote many manuscripts of the Qur’an which she would then donate to mosques and pious endowments. She was the very emdodiment of graciousness and kindness. According to Ibn Ḥayyān and [Aḥmad b. Muḥammad] al-Rāzī [d. 344/955], she was the founder of the al-Bahā’ mosque which was located in the Rusafah suburb of Cordoba. I read written in the Tārīkh of ‘Arīb b. Sa‘īd [d. 370/980] that she died in Rajab 305 AH  at the beginning of the reign of [‘Abd al-Raḥmān III] al-Nāṣir. Her funeral was attended by everyone.
Umm al-Ḥasan bt. Abī Liwā’ Sulaymān b. Asbagh b. ‘Abd Allāh b. Wānsūs b. Yarbū‘ al-Miknāsī, the client (mawla) of [Umayyad caliph] Sulaymān b. ‘Abd al-Malik [r. 96/715–99/717]. She was one of the companions and students of Baqī b. Makhlad [d. 276/889], whom she narrated hadith from and recited the book Kitāb al-Duhūr in his presence. His son, Abū al-Qāsim Aḥmad b. Baqī [d. 324/936], was present during this recital and had with him this book (to ensure that she recited it correctly). During her journey in search of knowledge she made the pilgrimage to Mecca (Ḥajj). She was a righteous, intelligent, ascetic and gracious woman. She has been mentioned in the Book of the Virtues of Baqī b. Makhlad (Kitāb Faḍā’il Baqī b. Makhlad). She was also mentioned by al-Rāzī, who said: “She made the Ḥajj and accumulated knowledge of jurisprudence and hadith, with Baqī b. Makhlad narrating some hadith from her. During her second Ḥajj journey, she died in Mecca and was buried there.” This is his account of her life, but I believe he was mistaken in asserting that Baqī narrated hadith from her; it is more attested and accurate that she was his student and, thus, narrated from him.
The emir ‘Abd Allāh b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān [III] al-Nāṣir b. Muḥammad stated in al-Muskitah: “The pious scholar, the daughter of Abī Liwā’ would attend study sessions every Friday with Baqī b. Makhlad in the house of Abī ‘Abd al-Raḥmān. She was an exceptional scholar. ‘Abd Allāh, her father’s grandfather, was a noble and gracious individual. She also made the Ḥajj during her travels. During the Day of Strife [202/818], which happened on a Friday, he made a praiseworthy stand by allowing large numbers of people fleeing the violence to take refuge in his mosque. He then wrote to the emir al-Ḥakam [r. 180/796–206/822] to confirm their immunity [from prosecution and punishment], telling him that they had sought sanctuary within a sacred space. The emir confirmed their immunity and put their fears at ease in a subsequent letter that he wrote to them.”
Al-Rāzī said: “The Banū Wānsūs family were renowned for producing many intelligent, pious, noble, and excellent women. Six of them made the Ḥajj: Umm al-Ḥasan bt. Abī Liwā’; Kulaybah, the wife of Asbagh b. ‘Abd Allāh b. Wāsūs; Ummah al-Raḥman and Ummah al-Raḥīm, the daughters of Asbagh; Ruqayyah bt. Muḥammad b. Asbagh; and ‘Ā’ishah bt. ‘Umar b. Muḥammad b. Asbagh.”
According to Ibn Ḥayyān, Umm al-Ḥasan was a sister of the Chief Judge Mundhir b. Sa‘īd al-Kuznī al-Ballūṭī [d. 355/966], but I am not certain of her first name. She resided in the Faḥṣ al-Ballūṭ neighborhood of Cordoba and was one of the best women. She would often spend her time in worship at her mosque near her house. She would often be joined there by the elderly and other righteous women of her family. Together, they would constantly engage in the remembrance of God, study the biographies of the ascetics, and increase their knowledge of the faith. She was highly regarded and renowned in her own country.
Ruqayyah bt. Tammām b. ‘Āmir b. Aḥmad b. Ghālib b. Tammām b. ‘Alqamah, the client of ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b, Umm al-Ḥakam al-Thaqafī. She was employed in the royal palace in Cordoba as a secretary for the daughter of Emir Mundhir b. Muḥammad [r. 273/886–275/888].
Lubna, the palace secretary of the caliph al-Hakam [b. ‘Abd al-Rahmān] al-Mustanṣir billāh. She was also one of the assistants of Muzn, the palace secretary of [the caliph ‘Abd al-Raḥmān] al-Nāṣir. 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 376 AH. .
Nizām, the Secretary. She resided in the caliphal palace in Cordoba during the reign of Hishām al-Mu’ayyad b. al-Ḥakam al-Mustanṣir billāh [r. 366/976–399/1009, 400/1010–403/1013]. She was very learned, eloquent and particularly skilled at writing epistles. One of the official documents that she authored on behalf of al-Muẓaffar ‘Abd al-Malik b. al-Manṣūr b. Muḥammad Abī ‘Āmir [r. 392/1002–399/1008] was the elegy for his father [al-Manṣūr] in which he was also confirmed as holding the offices which his father had held. This was in Shawwāl 392 [August 1002]. She was mentioned by Ibn Ḥayyān in his Tārīkh al-Kabīr and it is from that work that I have taken her biography.
Ishrāq al-Suwaydā’ al-‘Arūdiyyah, the servant of Abū al-Muṭarrif ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Ghalbūn al-Qurtubī al-Kātib. She resided in Valencia and learned the Arabic language, grammar, and literature from Abū al-Muṭarrif during her time in Cordoba. She then left that city when he departed from it. Although he was her teacher in many subjects, she soon surpassed him in knowledge in many of these fields and excelled in all of them. She was particularly knowledgeable about the theory and presentation of poetry. Abū Dāwūd Sulaymān b. Najāḥ, an expert reciter of the Qur’an, said: “I studied poetry under her and in her presence recited Abū ‘Alī’s Nawādir and Abū al-‘Abbās al-Mubarrad’s al-Kāmil. She had fully memorized both works and would often provide elaborate commentary on both.” She died in Denia while in the service of al-Sayyida bt. Mujāhid, whose name was Asmā’, the wife of al-Manṣūr Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Abd al-Azīz b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Abī ‘Āmir al-Manṣūr, who was the ruler of Valencia after the death of her master Abū al-Muṭarrif. [Ishrāq] died in Valencia in 443 AH . I have read and abridged this biography from a work about women by the Qur’anic recitation expert Abū Dāwūd, which was written in the hand of Ibn ‘Ayyād.
The daughter of Fā’iz al-Qurtubī and the wife of Abū ‘Abd Allāh b. ‘Uttāb. Her name has not been preserved. She was among those who were renowned for her vast knowledge, literary skill and memorization abilities. She studied exegesis, grammar, Arabic and poetry with her father and studied jurisprudence and mysticism with her husband. She traveled from Cordoba to Denia in order to meet and study with the famous scholar and Qur’anic recitation expert Abū ‘Amr [al-Dānī], but he had fallen seriously ill and died. After attending his funeral, she asked about his students and was referred to Abū Dāwūd. She met him after he arrived in Valencia and learned the seven readings of the Qur’an from him. She had these fully memorized by 444 AH . Shortly thereafter, she journeyed to the East to make the Ḥajj but she died in Egypt in 446 AH , during her return journey to al-Andalus. I have read all this in the handwriting of Ibn ‘Ayyād.
Zaynab bt. Abī ‘Umar Yūsuf b. ‘Abd Allāh b. Muḥammad b. ‘Abd al-Barr al-Numayrī. She studied with her father and resided with him in Sharq al-Andalus. She was among the most righteous women. She was the mother of Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr’s grandson Abū Muḥammad ‘Abd Allāh b. Alī al-Lakhmī. I am uncertain whether she died during the lifetime of her father or afterwards.
Fāṭimah bt. Abī ‘Alī al-Ḥusayn b. Muḥammad al-Ṣadafī. Although her family was originally from Zaragoza, she resided in Murcia. Her father left her when she was still an infant to join the military campaign in Cutanda [514/1120]. She was one of the righteous ascetics who memorized the Qur’an and lived her life in accordance with its precepts. She would also frequently recite many hadith, especially in her supplications. She had beautiful handwriting and was an avid reader of books. She married Abū Muḥammad ‘Abd Allāh b. Mūsa b. Burṭulah, the prayer leader of Murcia. They had several children, including a son named Abū Bakr ‘Abd al-Raḥmān. She died after 590 AH  by which point she was over eighty years old.
Zaynab, the daughter of the [Almohad] caliph Abū Ya‘qūb Yūsuf b. Abī Muḥammad ‘Abd al-Mu’min b. ‘Alī [r. 558/1163–580/1184]. She was born in al-Andalus and married her cousin Abū Zayd b. Abī Ḥafṣ. She studied dialectical theology (‘ilm al-kalām) and other scholarly disciplines with Abū ‘Abd Allāh b. Ibrāhīm. She was an excellent scholar, highly intelligent, thoughtful in her opinions and undoubedly the most learned woman of her era. This is how Ibn Sālim described her to me. He did not mention the date of her death.
Fāṭima bt. Abī al-Qāsim ‘Abd al-Rahmān b. Muhammad b. Ghālib al-Ansārī al-Sharrāṭ. Originally from Cordoba, she was known as Umm al-Fath. She memorized the Qur’an and learned the Qur’anic recitation of Nāfi‘ from her father. Moreover, she mastered innumerable books under the guidance of her father, including al-Makki’s Tanbīh, al-Qudā‘ī’s al-Shihāb, and [Ibn ‘Ubayd] al-Ṭulayṭalī’s Mukhtasar. She also studied Sahīh Muslim, Ibn Hishām’s Sīra [of the Prophet], al-Mubarrad’s al-Kāmil, al-Baghdādī’s Nawādir, and other works with her father, who also taught her numerous other subjects. She even memorized the verses of his poetry dealing with the virtues of asceticism. She also memorized the Qur’an under the guidance of the great ascetic Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Andūjarī and the ascetic Abū ‘Abd Allāh b. al-Mufaḍḍal. Her son Abū al-Qāsim b. al-Ṭaylasān narrated hadith from her and with her guidance memorized the Qur’an in the Warsh recitation. He also studied with her many of the works that she had memorized and studied with her father. Her son also studied various other works with her. She wrote him a certificate of audition (ijāzah), confirming his mastery of these works, in her own handwriting. He said: “I think that Abū Marwān b. Masarrah was among those that had provided her with a certificate [of transmission]. He was the one who named her, prayed for her and the individual to whom her father carried her [for blessings] on the day of her birth. She died in 613 AH  and was buried in the cemetery of Umm Salamah alongside her father and brothers.
Zaynab bt. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Zuhrī, known as ‘Azīzah. Her father was known as Ibn Muḥriz. She was from Valencia and studied with Abū al-Ḥasan b. Hudhayl, her maternal grandfather, memorizing Abū ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-Barr’s Kitāb al-Taqaṣṣī under his tutelage. She only had a few students but many came to learn from her knowledge. She had bad handwriting. She lived longer than most and died on the night of Monday 15th of Jumāda I 635 AH [January 3rd 1238]. She was buried in the afternoon in the cemetery of Bāb Bayṭālah near the grave of the renowned Qur’an reciter Abū Dāwūd. I attended her funeral. She was born in 555 AH  and had surpassed the age of eighty.
Sayyidah bt. ‘Abd al-Ghanī b. ‘Alī b. ‘Uthmān al-‘Abdarī, known as Umm al-‘Alā’. She was from Granada but her father—the cousin of Abū al-Ḥajjāj Yūsuf b. Ibrāhīm b. ‘Uthmān al-Thaghrī—lived in Murcia. Her family was originally from Lleida. Her father Abū Muḥammad served as a judge in Orihuela but died, leaving her orphaned while she was still young. She was raised in Murcia and learned the Qur’an and becoming proficient in its study. Her handwriting wa excellent. She taught in the residences and palaces of kings throughout her life until she was struck by a chronic illness that left her confined to her home for more than three years. Even in this incapacitated state, she focused on educating her two daughters, one who had reached maturityand the other who was still a young girl. She met Abū Zakariyyah al-Dimashqī in Granada. It was in Granada where she began teaching the Qur’an to others. Shortly thereafter, she briefly moved to Fez before returning to Granada and then traveled to Tunis where she was also appointed as a teacher in the royal palace. She transcribed a manuscript of Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī’s Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn in her own hand based on a copy that was in possession of the aforementioned Abū Zakariyyah. She was constantly engaged in the remembrance of God, the recitation of the Qur’an, promoting the good and giving charity. She devoted whatever she could spare from her wealth to freeing captives, until she was struck with a serious illness. She died from this illness on the afternoon of Tuesday 5th of Muḥarram 647 AH [April 20th 1249]. She was buried after the noon prayers on Wednesday close to the mosque on the outskirts of Tunis. May God have mercy upon her.
[Ibn al-Abbār, Takmilat Kitāb al-Sila (Tunis: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 2001), Vol. 4, pp. 222–247]
Dhūnah bt. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz b. Mūsa b. Ṭāhir b. Mutā‘, known as Umm Ḥabībah. She was the wife of Abū al-Qāsim b. Mudīr. She studied under Abū ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-Barr and transcribed a few manuscripts of his works. She also studied under Abū al-‘Abbās al-‘Udhrī. Her husband, in turn, studied with her. She had elegant handwriting and was a noble, gracious and pious lady. She was born in 437 AH  and died in 506 AH . She was mentioned by the shaykh [Ibn ‘Abd al-Malik] in his Dhayl: “Ibn Bashkūwāl referred to her not in his Kitāb al-Ṣila but in one of the commentaries on one of its volumes. I was informed of this by her son Abū Bakr. I transcribed this from a manuscript written in the hand of Abū al-Qāsim b. al-Maljūm, who himself stated that he had transcribed it from a manuscript written in the hand of Ibn Bashkūwāl.”
Layla, the freed-woman of the vizier Abū Bakr b. al-Khaṭṭāb. She was from Murcia. The eminent judge (qāḍī) Abū Bakr b. Abī Jamra praised her as being the greatest women of her era in knowledge and understanding of the various sciences. It was this fact, along with her magnanimity and piety, which led the chief judge of Granada, Abū al-Qāsim b. Hishām ibn Abī Jamra, himself an individual of noble lineage, immense knowledge and great piety, to marry her. Various people had previously sought her hand in marriage, but she had rejected them all. She did, however, agree to marry the judge Abū al-Qāsim, who fell deeply and passionately in love with her. Many of his opponents and critics rebuked him for this and said:
Tell Ibn Jamrah that the people say that Layla has enticed you or that you have been struck by madness
That he has parted with loyalty, piety and faith. Verily, he will be most remorseful for having been so deceived.
She died shortly before his accession to the judgeship of Granada, which he assumed in 528 AH .
Ḥafṣa, daughter of the jurist and judge Abū ‘Imrān Mūsa b. Ḥammād al-Sanhājī. Al-Malāḥī said about her: “She was married to the judge Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. ‘Alī al-Ghassānī al-Marshānī. She was one of the best and most noble women. She had the Qur’an memorized and was quite skilled in handwriting. She also had an immense knowledge of the law and the obligations of faith. She would often quote many of her father’s fatwas on any given matter. She was born in 519 AH  and died in Granada. She was buried in the Bāb Elvira cemetery.
Hafsa bt. 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 scholarly disciplines. She also studied the Muwattā’. Al-Malāhī said: “I was informed that she recited the Muwattā’ in the presence of her father’s maternal uncle Abū Bakr Yaḥya b. ‘Arūs al-Tamīmī. She was very eloquent and one of the most well-read people. She could even read difficult handwriting and manuscripts that omitted vowels and diacritical marks with relative ease. She died at the young age of 27 on the 15th of Ramadan 580 AH [December 20th 1184].”
‘Ā’ishah, the daughter of the esteemed judge Abū al-Khaṭṭāb Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Khalīl. We have already mentioned her father, paternal uncles and several of his ancestors in this work. She narrated hadith from her father and studied with her father (may God have mercy upon him). She also received certificates of transmission from other scholars, but she would not refer to any of them [in her writings]. She was one of the righteous women who narrated a significant amount of the history of her own ancestors and other families. She was attentive, vigilant, and brilliant. She only had a few students.
[Abū Ja’far Ahmad b. Ibrāhīm ibn al-Zubayr al-Gharnāṭī, Kitāb Ṣilat al-Ṣila (Beirut, 2008), pp. 455-460]