by Kimberly Harper & Ryan Hilliard
For her forthcoming publication Our Mother ‘Aisha: A Collection of 40 Hadith, Ustadha Nuriddeen Knight curated an array of 40 Prophetic narrations (Arabic: arba’in) that adds gravity to the body of modern women’s scholarship in Islam. The timeliness of this publication comes at a time of renewed interest in gender issues and a focus on representation of women in Islamic scholastic conversations.
Many scholars over the centuries have collated 40 narrations in hopes of fulfilling a promise from Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s blessed peace be upon him): “Whoever safeguards 40 narrations for my nation in the matters of this religion; God will raise him as a scholar and I shall be an intercessor and witness for him on the day of resurrection.” Scholars such as Imam al-Nawawi, Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari and Imam al-Suyuti are renown for their arba’in collections, which are widely available today and translated from Arabic into English and other languages.
This is an affirmation of a truth that the Black Muslim community knows all too well: that women are the natural teachers and transmitters of education, and their trusteeship with knowledge must be empowered and supported for all of us to continue to benefit therefrom.
What makes this contribution from Ustadha Nuriddeen unique is that it is one of the few collections offered by an American in the 21 century. Most of the well-known arba’in collections were published in 15 century CE or earlier. The theme also speaks to the acceptance of Lady ‘Aisha bint Abi Bakr as one of the most reliable hadith narrators and a paragon of female Islamic scholarship, even if it is to a fault. “I’d heard so much about what a great scholar ‘Aisha, the daughter of the great Companion Abu Bakr, had been, but never heard much evidence of it,” says Nuriddeen. “In fact, the only time she’d come up was as a defense. Someone would ask ‘Why are there no female scholars in Islam?’ or some version of that question, and male scholars would retort by citing that ‘Aisha was a great scholar. It was used as a pacification tool and not much more.”
Ustadha Nuriddeen’s arba’in collection is, in a sense, a self-reflecting testament. What she presents is an “endeavor of the heart” that demonstrates her efforts to acquire and share applied religious knowledge as a Black American Muslimah. Her choice of Lady ‘Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) as the criterion of this work highlights the interdependence between the wife and companion of the Prophet (may Allah’s blessed peace be upon him) and the rest of the community.
In this collection, we read examples of how Lady ‘Aisha leveraged her veracity and vulnerability to share applicable Prophetic habits and experiences that benefited everyone, qualities that are intrinsically feminine and rooted in divine mercy. This is an affirmation of a truth that the Black Muslim community knows all too well: that women are the natural teachers and transmitters of education, and their trusteeship with knowledge must be empowered and supported for all of us to continue to benefit therefrom.
To read more about the book, visit Ustadha Nuriddeen’s website Fig & Olive. Our Mother ‘Aisha: A Collection of 40 Hadith will be published in late Spring 2018, insha’Allah.