Islam had a glorious past. The golden age of Islam started in the 7th century and lasted to the 18th century and ended when the European powers took control of the Muslim region.
It is interesting to note that so many women rulers, scholars and Sufis were in a period when scholarship in Islam, sciences and all other fields was at its height. The decline in the role of women appears to happen when a deficit in the knowledge of Islam among its followers occurred. Deficit in Islamic knowledge when combined with lack of respect for civil liberties and justice for all creates a breeding ground for ignorance, hate and radical groups. This can only be eliminated with high quality education available to all and nurturing values such as inclusiveness, respect for civil liberties and sense of fairness and justice for all.
Here is a brief overview of women’s role as Sufis, scholars and rulers. Khaliq
1. Muslim Women Sufies and Scholars
Rabia Al Basri and Fatima Naishapuri, born in the 8th century, were the early scholars and Sufis. As-Sulami (died in 1021) in his publication on early Sufi women* mentions that between the 8th and 11th century there were 80 respected Sufi teachers and spiritual guides. Some known figures were Lubna of Cordoba (Spain) who died in 984, who was a scholar and a mathematician. She presided over the famous Library of Cordoba that had about 500,000 books. Fatima b Al Qasim died in 1216. She was also from Andalusia and is regarded as one of the most learned scholars of her time. Zainab B Ahmed died in 1339 and was an eminent Islamic scholar of the 14th century. Bibi Hatati Kirmani and Aisha of Damascus were known Sufi teachers in the 15th century. Jahan Ara (1592-1666) daughter of Emperor Shahjahan was a Sufi and a writer.
(Women of the Prophet’s family, and some other women of that period had a very important role in Islam and it cannot be dealt with in the short space here. This period is very well covered by Professor Timothy Winters of Cambridge University in a video lecture called “Legacy of early Muslim Women”. A link is provided here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DO4bjD9JHTc&index=9&list=PLrUVYwHUHtYAdo7cjSYIWChB2dFT76uYy.)
2, Muslim women rulers (excludes queens who were not rulers)
Among the well known rulers were Queen Razia Sultana of India in 1236 and Queen Shajaratul-Durr, ruler of Egypt in 1249. King Louis IX of France who led the 7th crusade** was defeated and captured under the rule of Queen Shajaratul-Durr. Women rulers were in Yemen (Malika al Hurra in12th century who also had co – rulers). In Nigeria Amina (Aminatu) ruled Zaria in 1576 and Abuja and Kano in 1580. The Mongols had converted to Islam and had several ruling queens in their Khanates (Princedoms).
Muslim women rulers were in princely states and sultanates in India, Central Asia, Indonesia, Kenya, Mali, Patani Kingdom **** in Thailand from 1516 to 1902 had female only rulers), and in the Philippines (Sulu Sultanate 1405 to1915).
A number of Muslim women regents in several countries ruled between successions. There were also a number of powerful queens who were not rulers such as Empress Noor Jahan (1577-1645) a very able wife of the Emperor Jahangir who was the power behind the throne.
* 1. Dhikr an-Niswa al-Muta’abbidat as-Sufiyyat translated by Rkia Elaroui Cornell of Duke University.
-An excellent section on Muslim women Leaders and rulers – http://www.guide2womenleaders.com/Muslim_Leaders.htm.has
2. Camille Helminski. Article on women and Sufism in the The Threshold Society website.
3. “Women’s contribution to Classical Islamic Civilization, Sciences Medicine and Politics by Salim Al Hassan U of Manchester. http://www.muslimheritage.com/…/womens-contribution-clasical-islamic-civili..
** Crusades started in 1095 and came in 9 major waves. They were urged on by Popes starting from Pope Urban the 2nd. The crusade movement led to the demise of Muslims in Spain. Their destruction in the heartland was restricted to their travel routes. They did occupy cities like Aleppo in Syria and Jerusalem from 1099 and were expelled by Saladin in 1187. By 1291 Mamelukes of Egypt (slave dynasty) defeated the 9th crusade and expelled them from Palestine, the last of the strongholds in the heartland. The crusade movement continued in Europe and resulted in the expulsion of Muslims from Hungary and other East European countries.
***Patni Kingdom in Thailand is a Muslim majority enclave next to the Malaysian border. Like the Patani kingdom, Bhopal in India was ruled by Begums (female successions).
Please note that the role of an imam as compared to a minister or a priest in a church is minor. A non-imam can lead the prayers and perform other rituals in a mosque. Whereas in a church service, baptism, communion and other rituals cannot be performed without a minister or a priest. Khaliq