Women's Contribution to Classical Islamic Civilisation (Continued)
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7. Making of astronomical instruments
In astronomy and related fields, the historical records kept just one name, that of Al-'Ijliya, apparently an astrolabe maker. Little information is available about her, and we know of only one source in which she is mentioned, the famous bio-bibliographical work Al-Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim.
In section VII.2 (information on mathematicians, engineers, practitioners of arithmetic, musicians, calculators, astrologers, makers of instruments, machines, and automata), Ibn al-Nadim presents a list of 16 names of engineers, craftsmen and artisans of astronomical instruments and other machines. Al-'Ijliya, of whom Ibn al-Nadim did not mention the first name, is the only female in the list. Several of the experts thus named are from Harran, in Northern Mesopotamia, and probably Sabians, whilst others may be Christians, as it can be concluded from their names. At the end of the list, two entries mentioned Al-'Ijli al-Usturlabi, pupil of Betolus, "and his daughter Al-'Ijliya, who was with [meaning she worked in the court of] Sayf al-Dawla; she was the pupil of Bitolus" (Al-'Ijli al-Usturlabi ghulâm Bitolus; Al-'Ijliya ibnatuhu ma'a Sayf al-Dawla tilmidhat Bitolus) .
The name of Al-'Ijli and his daughter is derived from Banu ‘Ijl, a tribe which was part of Banu Bakr, an Arabian tribe belonging to the large Rabi'ah branch of Adnanite tribes. Bakr's original lands were in Nejd, in central Arabia, but most of the tribe's bedouin sections migrated northwards immediately before Islam, and settled in the area of Al-Jazirah, on the upper Euphrates. The city of Diyarbakir in southern Turkey takes its name from this tribe. The Banu ‘Ijl, mostly Bedouin, located in al-Yamama and the southern borders of Mesopotamia .
Figure 8: Front cover of The Forgotten Queens of Islam by Fatima Mernissi, translated from French by Mary Jo Lakeland (University of Minnesota Press, 1993, hardcover).
From this, albeit too brief, quotation of Ibn al-Nadim, it turns out that Al-'Ijliya, of whom Ibn al-Nadim did not specify the first name, was the daughter of an instrument maker, and like her father, they were members of a rich tradition of engineers and astronomical instrument makers who flourished in the 9th-10th century. Ibn al-Nadim mentioned her in a section on "machines" but in it on astronomical instruments only. Therefore, we do not know if Al-'Ijliya was solely expert in this field. She worked in the court of Sayf al-Dawla in Aleppo (reigned from 944 to 967), and she was the pupil of a certain Bitolus, who taught her the secrets of the profession. Her father, and several scholars mentioned by Ibn al-Nadim, were apprentices to the same master, who seems to have been a famous astrolabe-maker. We do not know where she was born nor if she learned instrument making in Aleppo or elsewhere. Among the few extant Islamic astrolabes, none bears her name, and as far as the available classical sources can allow us to judge, she is the only woman mentioned in connection with instrument making or engineering work.
Muslim women have played a major role in promoting civilization and science in the Islamic world. Some have built schools, mosques and hospitals. The following are some examples of these women and their crucial impact on Islamic civilization.
8.1. Zubayda bint Abu Ja'far al-Mansur
Zubayda bint Abu Ja'far, the wife of Harun ar-Rashid, was the wealthiest and most powerful woman in the world of her time. She was a noblewoman of great generosity and munificence. She the developed many buildings in different cities. She was known to have embarked upon a gigantic project to build service stations with water wells all along the Pilgrimage route from Baghdad to Mecca. The famous Zubaida water spring in the outskirts of Mecca still carries her name. She was also a patron of the arts and poetry .
8.2. Fatima al-Fehri
Fatima al-Fehri has played a great role in the civilization and culture in her community. She migrated with her father Mohamed al-Fehri from Kiroan in Tunisia to Fez. She grew up with her sister in an educated family and learnt Fiqh and Hadith. Fatima inherited a considerable amount of money from her father which she used to build a mosque for her community. Established in the year 859, the Qarawiyin mosque had the oldest, and possibly the first university in the world. Students traveled there from all over the world to study Islamic studies, astronomy, languages, and sciences. Arabic numbers became known and used in Europe through this university. This is one important example of the role of women in the advancement of education and civilization .
8.3. Dhayfa Khatun
Dhayfa Khatun, the powerful wife of the Ayyubid ruler of Aleppo al-Zahir Ghazi, was the Queen of Aleppo for six years. She was born in Aleppo in 1186 CE. Her father was King al-Adel, the brother of Salah al-Din Al-Ayyubi and her brother was King al-Kamel. She was married to king al-Zahir the son of Salah al-Din. Her son was King Abdul-Aziz. After her son's death, she became the Queen of Aleppo as her grandson was only 7 years old. During her 6-year rule, she faced threats from Mongols, Seljuks, Crusaders and Khuarzmein. Dhayfa was a popular queen; she removed injustices and unfair taxes throughout Aleppo. She favored the poor and scientists and founded many charities to support them. Dhayfa was a prominent architectural patron. She established large endowments for the maintenance and operation of her charitable foundations .
Figure 9: Front cover of Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam by Shaykh Mohammad Akram Nadwi (Interface Publications, 2007). This book is an adaptation of the Muqaddimah or Preface to M. A. Nadwi's multi-volume biographical dictionary in Arabic of the Muslim women who studied and taught hadith. The huge body of information reviewed in Al-Muhaddithat is essential to understanding the role of women in Islamic society, their past achievements and future potential.
In addition to her political and social roles, Dhayfa sponsored learning in Aleppo where she founded two schools. The first was al-Firdaous School which specialized in Islamic studies and Islamic law, specially the Shafi'i doctrine. Al-Firdaous School was located close to Bab al-Makam in Aleppo and had a teacher, an Imam and twenty scholars, according to the structure of the educational system at that time. Its campus consisted of several buildings, including the school, a residential hall for students and a mosque. The second school, the Khankah School, specialized in both Sharia and other fields. It was located in Mahalat al-Frafera. Dhayfa died in 1242 at the age 59 and was buried in the Aleppo citadel .
8.4. Hürrem Sultan
Hürrem Sultan, also called Roxelana, was born in year 1500 to an Ukrainian father. She was enslaved during the Crimean Turks raids on Ukraine during the reign of Yavuz Sultan Selim, and presented to the Ottoman palace. She was the most beloved concubine of Süleyman the Magnificent and became his wife. During her lifetime, Hürrem Sultan was concerned with charitable works and founded a number of institutions. These include a mosque complex in Istanbul and the Haseki Külliye complex, which consists of a mosque, medrese, school and imaret (public kitchen). She also built çifte hamam (double bathhouse with sections for both men and women), two schools and a women's hospital. She also built four schools in Mecca and a mosque in Jerusalem. Hürrem Sultan died in April 1558 and lies buried in the graveyard of the Süleymaniye Mosque .
9. Rulers and political leaders
In addition to the roles played by women in Islamic history, as surveyed in the previous sections, we can not finish this introductory article without pointing out the role of some Muslim women as rulers and political leaders in various regions and phases of Islamic civilisation. We have already referred to Queen Dhayfa Khatun and Princess Hurrem Sultan as patrons of great buildings and institutions in the previous section. In the following, we refer to a few outstanding women in management and governance.
9.1. Sitt al-Mulk
In Muslim civilisation, no woman who had held power had borne the title of caliph or imam. Caliph has been a title exclusively reserved to a minority of men. However, although no woman ever became a caliph, as such, there have been women who became Sultanas and Malikas (queens). Sitt al-Mulk, the Fatimid Princess in Egypt, was one of them. Intelligent and careful enough not to violate any of the rules and requirements that govern politics in the Islamic society, and while she carried out virtually all the functions of caliph, she directed the affairs of the empire quite effectively as Regent (for her nephew who was too young to rule) for few years (1021-1023). She had the title of ‘Naib as-Sultan' (Vice Sultan).
Sitt al-Mulk (970–1023), was the elder sister of Caliph Al-Hakim. After the death of her father Al-Aziz (975-996), she tried with the help of a cousin to force her brother from the throne, and she became Regent for his son and successor Al-Zahir. She continued to wield influence as an advisor after he came of age, as evidenced by the very generous apanages that came her way.
After the assumption of power, she abolished many of the strange rules that Al-Hakim had promulgated in his reign, and worked to reduce tensions with the Byzantine Empire over the control of Aleppo, but before negotiations could be completed she died on 5 February 1023 at the age of fifty-two.
9.2. Shajarat al-Durr
Another Queen bearing the title of Sultana was Shajarat al-Durr, who gained power in Cairo in 1250 CE. In fact, she brought the Muslims a victory during the Crusades and captured the King of France, Louis IX.
Shajarat al-Durr (whose name means in Arabic ‘string of pearls'), bore the royal name al-Malikah Ismat ad-Din Umm-Khalil Shajarat al-Durr. She was the widow of the Ayyubid Sultan as-Salih Ayyub who played a crucial role after his death during the Seventh Crusade against Egypt (1249-1250). She was regarded by Muslim historians and chroniclers of the Mamluk time as being of Turkic origin. She became the Sultana of Egypt on May 2, 1250, marking the end of the Ayyubid reign and the starting of the Mamluk era. She died in Cairo in 1257.
In the course of her life and political career, Shajarat al-Durr, played many roles and held great influence within the court system that she inhabited. She was a military leader, a mother, and a sultana at various points throughout her career with great success until her fall from power in 1257. Her political importance comes from the period in which she reigned, which included many important events in Egyptian and Middle Eastern history. The Egyptian sultanate shifted from the Ayyubids to the Mamluks in the 1250s. Louis IX of France led the Sixth Crusade into Egypt, took Damietta and advanced down the Nile before the Mamluks stopped this army at Mansura. In the midst of this hectic environment, Shajarat al-Durr rose to pre-eminence, reestablished political stability and held on to political power for seven years in one form or another .
9.3. Sultana Raziya
On the other extremity of the Muslim world and almost in the same time as Shajarat al-Durr, another woman held power, but this time in India. Razia (or Raziyya) Sultana of Delhi took power in Delhi for four years (1236-1240 CE). She was the only woman ever to sit on the throne of Delhi. Razia's ancestors were Muslims of Turkish descent who came to India in the 11th century. Contrary to custom, her father selected her, over her brothers, to be his successor. After her father's death, she was persuaded to step down from the throne in favour of her stepbrother Ruknuddin, but, opposed to his rule, the people demanded that she become Sultana in 1236.
She established peace and order, encouraged trade, built roads, planted trees, dug wells, supported poets, painters, and musicians, constructed schools and libraries, appeared in public without the veil, wore tunic and headdress of a man. State meetings were often open to the people. Yet, she made enemies when she tried to eliminate some of the discriminations against her Hindu subjects.
Jealous of her attention to one of her advisors, Jamal Uddin Yaqut (not of Turkish blood), her governor, Altunia, rebelled. Razia's troops were defeated, Jamal was killed in battle, Razia was captured and married to her conqueror in 1240. One of her brothers claimed the throne for himself, Razia and her new husband were defeated in battle where both died .
Figure 10: Front cover of Al-Mu'allifat min al-nisa' wa-mu'allataftuhunna fi al-tarikh al-islami by Muhammad Khayr Ramadhan Yusuf (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 1412 H).
Firishta, a 16th-century historian of Muslim rule in India, wrote about her: "The Princess was adorned with every qualification required in the ablest kings and the strictest scrutinizers of her actions could find in her no fault, but that she was a woman. In the time of her father, she entered deeply into the affairs of government, which disposition he encouraged, finding she had a remarkable talent in politics. He once appointed her regent (the one in control) in his absence. When the emirs (military advisors) asked him why he appointed his daughter to such an office in preference to so many of his sons, he replied that he saw his sons giving themselves up to wine, women, gaming and the worship of the wind (flattery); that therefore he thought the government too weighty for their shoulders to bear and that Raziya, though a woman, had a man's head and heart and was better than twenty such sons ."
9.4. Amina of Zaria
In Muslim Africa, several women excelled in various fields. Among them, Queen Amina of Zaria (1588-1589). She was the eldest daughter of Bakwa Turunku, who founded the Zazzau Kingdom in 1536. Amina came to power between 1588 and 1589. Amina is generally remembered for her fierce military exploits. Of special quality is her brilliant military strategy and in particular engineering skills in erecting great walled camps during her various campaigns. She is generally credited with the building of the famous Zaria wall.
Amina of Zaria, the Queen of Zazzua, a province of Nigeria now known as Zaria, was born around 1533 during the reign of Sarkin (king) Zazzau Nohir. She was probably his granddaughter. Zazzua was one of a number of Hausa city-states which dominated the trans-Saharan trade after the collapse of the Songhai empire to the west. Its wealth was due to trade of mainly leather goods, cloth, kola, salt, horses and imported metals.
At the age of sixteen, Amina became the heir apparent (Magajiya) to her mother, Bakwa of Turunku, the ruling queen of Zazzua. With the title came the responsibility for a ward in the city and daily councils with other officials. Although her mother's reign was known for peace and prosperity, Amina also chose to learn military skills from the warriors.
Queen Bakwa died around 1566 and the reign of Zazzua passed to her younger brother Karama. At this time Amina emerged as the leading warrior of Zazzua cavalry. Her military achievements brought her great wealth and power. When Karama died after a ten-year rule, Amina became queen of Zazzua.
She set off on her first military expedition three months after coming to power and continued fighting until her death. In her thirty-four year reign, she expanded the domain of Zazzua to its largest size ever. Her main focus, however, was not on annexation of neighbouring lands, but on forcing local rulers to accept vassal status and permit Hausa traders safe passage.
She is credited with popularizing the earthen city wall fortifications, which became characteristic of Hausa city-states since then. She ordered building of a defensive wall around each military camp that she established. Later, towns grew within these protective walls, many of which are still in existence. They are known as "ganuwar Amina", or Amina's walls .
9.5. Ottoman women.
We finish this section with a note on Ottoman women, a field of investigation that began to attract the attention of scholars. In the 16th and 17th century, harems played an important role in the government of the Ottoman Empire . Unlike the common perception, the Harem was an administrative centre of government, run by women only . This is a field of research in which a systematic investigation will be rewarded by great results.
In addition to the specialties and social roles mentioned above, other fields knew the contribution of Muslim women. Two examples show how much a serious investigation will progress our knowledge of their contribution. In chemistry, historical sources quote the name of Maryam Al-Zinyani. Some scholars suggested that Maryam Al-Zinyani is Maryam bint Abdullah al-Hawary who died in year 758 CE in Kairouan. In addition to writing poetry, Maryam was skilled in chemistry .
11. By way of a conclusion
Muslim women participated with men in constructing Islamic culture and civilization, excelling in poetry, literature and the arts. In addition, Muslim women have demonstrated tangible contributions in mathematics, astronomy, medicine and in the profession of health care. However, the study of the role of Muslim women in the advancement of science, technology and medicine is difficult to document as there are only scant mentions of it. New light might arise from the study of not yet edited manuscripts. There are about 5 million manuscripts in archives around the world. Only about 50,000 of them are edited and most of these are not about science. Editing relevant manuscripts is indeed a strategic issue for discovering the role of Muslim women in science and civilization.
This work would have not been completed without the assistance of a number of colleagues, amongst whom I particularly like to thank Prof. Mohammed Abattouy, Dr Mehrunisha Suleman, Professor Nabila Dawood, Mohammed Kujja, Dr Suhair Al-Qurashi, Dr Rim Turkmani, Arwa Abde-Aal, Margaret Morris and Sundoss Al-Hassani.
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 See Eric J.Hanne, "Women, Power, and the Eleventh and Twelfth Century Abbasid Court", Source: Hawwa (Brill), vol. 3, No. 1, 2005, pp. 80-110; Sa'd ibn ‘Abd al-'Aziz Rashid, Darb Zubaydah: the pilgrim road from Kufa to Mecca. Riyad, Saudi Arabia: Riyad University Libraries, 1980; Women Building Masjids; and Zubaydah the Empress.
 FSTC, Wed 20 October, 2004, "Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University"; Abdeladi Tazi, Al-Mar'a fi tarikh al-gharb al-islami, Casablanca: Le Fennec, 1992; "University of Al-Karaouine", in Wikipedia.
 Ibn al-'Adīm, Zubdat Al-Halab fi Tareekh Halab, Dar al-kutub al-'ilmiya, 1996; Terry Allen, Madrasah al-Firdaus, in Ayyubid Architecture, Occidental, CA: Solipsist Press, 2003 [accessed 12.05.2008]; Yasser Tabbaa (1997), Constructions of Power and Piety in Medieval Aleppo. The Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 46-48,142,168-171; Abdul Qader Rihawi (1979), Arabic Islamic Architecture in Syria, Damascus: Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, p. 138; Manar Hammad, (2003), "Madrasat al-Firdaws: Paradis Ayyubide de Dayfat Khatun" (Unpublished paper). Available online: click here.
 Yasser Tabbaa, "Dayfa Khatun: Regent Queen and Architectural Patron," in Ruggles, Women, Patronage, and Self-Representation, 17-34; Taef Kamal el-Azhari, ": Dayfa Khatun, Ayyubid Queen of Aleppo 634-640", Annals of Japan Association for Middle East Studies No. 15 2000.
 Thomas M. Prymak, "Roxolana: Wife of Suleiman the Magnificent," Nashe zhyttia/Our Life, LII, 10 (New York, 1995), 15-20; Galina Yermolenko, "Roxolana: The Greatest Empresse of the East," The Muslim World, 95, 2 (2005), 231-48; "The Islamic World to 1600: Roxelana" (University of Calgary); Amy Singer 1997. "The Mülknames of Hürrem Sultan's Waqf in Jerusalem", in Muqarnas XIV: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World. Edited by Gülru Necipoglu. Leiden: E.J. Brill, pp. 96-102. Online here. See also "Roxelana" in Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
 See on Shajarat al-Durr the classic work of Götz Schregle Die Sultanin von Ägypten: Sagarat ad-Durr in der arabischen Geschichtsschreibung und Literatur (Wiesbaden, O. Harrasowitz, 1961) and the recent articles by David J. Duncan, "Scholarly Views of Shajarat Al-Durr: A Need for a Consensus" published in Chronicon vol. 2 (1998), no. 4: pp. 1-35 and in Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), vol. 22, January 2000. Read also Amira Nowaira, Shajarat Al-Durr, From the Harem to Highest Office (9 Jun 2009).
 Sultana Razia by Lyn Reese in Her Story: Women Who Changed the World, edited by Ruth Ashby and Deborah Gore Ohrn, Viking, 1995, pp. 34-36.,
 Quoted in "Muslim Women Through the Centuries" by Kamran Scot Aghaie, Nat'l Center for History in the Schools, University of California at Los Angeles,1998, p. 32.
 Danuta Bois, Amina Sarauniya Zazzua (1998). See also Amina Zazzua profile by Denise Clay in Heroines. Remarkable and Inspiring Women/An Illustrated Anthology of Essays by Women Writers (New York: Crescent Books, 1995) and Queen Amina – Queen of Zaria.
 Caroline Finkel, Osman's Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire. Hardcover: 704 pages. New York: Basic Books, 2006.
 Leslie P. Peirce, The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (Studies in Middle Eastern History), Oxford University Press, 1993.
 Hasan Hosni ‘Abd-Wahab, Shahīrāt Tūnusiyāt, Tunis, 1934.
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* Emeritus Professor at the University of Manchester and Chairman of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation (FSTC), Manchester, UK.
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by: FSTC Limited, Wed 14 April, 2010