The following biographies of medieval Andalusi women are drawn from the Kitāb al-Ṣilah of Ibn Bashkuwal (d. 1183), the TakmilatKitāb 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.
One of the many overlooked figures of the pre-modern Islamic tradition is Abū al-Ma’ālī ‘Abd Allāh b. Abī Bakr (d. 525/1131), better known as ‘Ayn al-Quḍāt Ḥamadhānī. Born in Hamadhan in Seljuk Iran around 490/1098 to a family of prominent Shāfi’ī scholars, by the age of 20 he had mastered Arabic, Persian, jurisprudence, ḥadīth, Qur’ān, poetry, kalām (dialectical theology), philosophy and various strands of mystical thought. A student of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī (d. 520/1126), the brother of the great theologian Abū Hāmid Muḥammad al-Ghazālī), he became an eminent scholar and mystic in his own right, composing various works in both Persian and Arabic, the most important of which were Tamhīdāt and the Zubdat al-Haqāʾiq fī Kashf al-Khalāʾiq. Much of his mystical philosophy was focused on the concept of divine love.
‘Alī ibn Mūsa al-Riḑa (d. 818), a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad through his grandson al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī, is recognized as the eighth Imam within the Twelver Shī‘ī tradition and is also highly revered within the Sunni tradition. The following is a translation of one of the many pieces of wisdom attributed to him. This specific passage is preserved within the Tuḥaf al-ʿuqūl of the 10th-century scholar al-Ḥasan ibn ʿAli ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn Shuʿba al-Ḥarrānī (d. after 991 A.D.).
One of the most important Qur’anic injunctions (and one which is usually flaunted and ignored by many Muslims today) is the following: “And pursue not that of which you have no knowledge” or (alternatively translated) “Do not follow or accept that of which you have no knowledge” (17.36)
وَلا تَقْـفُ ما لَـيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْـمٌ
According to the great Qur’an commentator, Qatada (d. 735), the essential meaning of this verse is: “Do not say, `I have seen’, when you did not see anything, or `I have heard’, when you did not hear anything, or `I know’, when you do not know, for God Almighty will hold you accountable for all that.” Continue reading →