Who were the Colorful, Powerful, Influential, Educated Women of Ancient Islam?

Who were the Colorful, Powerful, Influential, Educated Women of Ancient Islam?

The evolution of ‘higher education’ in the ancient world led to variations of standards in different cultures. In ancient Egypt, higher education originated from copying religious texts for use in temples which led to the development of theology and medical practices, as medicine was closely associated with religion at the time. Later, the ancient Greeks developed a somewhat more inclusive system of education aimed mostly at freemen for the sake of knowledge itself in the areas of mathematics, music and astronomy. In the fourth century BC, the philosopher Plato put forth the idea that education should not only be public and obligatory, but also that women should be allowed full access to it.

"Woman Triumphant"; the story of her struggles for freedom, education, and political rights. Dedicated to all noble-minded women by an appreciative member of the other sex by Rudolf Cronau (1919.) (Public Domain)

"Woman Triumphant"; the story of her struggles for freedom, education, and political rights. Dedicated to all noble-minded women by an appreciative member of the other sex by Rudolf Cronau (1919.) (Public Domain)

In the early history of Islam, from the Prophet Muhammad's first revelations in 610 AD until the disintegration of the Rashidun Caliphate in 661 AD, women were allowed full access to higher education in which they were very active. For example, Aisha bint Abi Bakr (613 – 678 AD), one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, was among the prominent Islamic jurists of her time. She was involved in a number of political events after the death of the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (579 – 656 AD), and was also the initial source of many hadiths (record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, revered and received as a major source of religious law and moral guidance). Although certain restrictions were later applied to them by the feudal dynasties succeeding the Great Caliphs, many daughters and wives of rich men were still allowed to receive educations, teach others and sponsor educational institutions. One such woman was Fatima Al-Fihri, the founder of the University of Al-Qarawiyyin (in modern Fes, Morocco) - a university founded in 859 CE and recognized today by UNESCO as the oldest existing and continuously operating university, as well as the first institution to issue educational degrees.


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