Our Unsung Ustadhat and
their teaching a 'mixed' class

By Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti

I just wanted to know in which areas is it permitted for a muslim woman to teach men. I have heard in talks that there were many great scholars who had women hadith teachers (e.g. Hafiz Ibn Hajar, I think). So is tajweed the only science in which a women can't teach men? Also, does the same ruling [if a woman cannot teach Tajwid to men] apply to a woman listening to a man reciting Qur'an in order to correct him?

Jazakallah [...]


bismillahi r-rahmani r-rahim nahmaduka ya Allah wa nashkuruka ya Allah bi-khayri mata'i d-dunya al-mar'ah as-salihah wa nusalli wa sallama salatan wa salaman da'iman ila d-dari l-akhirah wa 'ala alihi wa sahbihi wa man tabi'ahum ila yawmi l-qiyamah!

Rabbi zidni ilman, wa rzuqni fahman!

Just as in the case of a man, a woman would be permitted to teach in any subject in which she is an ahl and a specialist, subject to the minimum legal conditions (see below) and proper decorum of course, whenever possible.

And yes, it is a well known fact that Imam Ibn Hajar studied from not only one, but 58 women teachers (Shafi'iyya faqihat as well as muhaddithat, and in other subjects too). Our own Mujtahid Imam studied Hadith under Nafisa bint al-Hasan (d. 208 H), for example. Amat al-Muhamiliyya (d. 377 H) was a Shafi'iyya faqiha (but could not be a Qadi [judge], even when her knowledge surpassed the academic requirements required to be one*), who gave out fatwas in public along with a male Mufti [juriconsult], Ibn Abi Hurayra in Baghdad; and her son was the famous Qadi al-Muhamili, etc. etc. (may Allah be pleased with all of them!)

*A Mufti can be said to outrank a Qadi when it is a matter of having knowledge ['ilm] and reaching the level of Ijtihad. The opposite can be said, for example, when the ex-Hanafi and then Shafi'i jurist, Imam Ibn al-Sam'ani (may Allah be pleased with him!), states that the shart [condition] of being a Qadi is stricter [aghlaz] than that of being a Mufti, given the two conditions of being free [hurriyya] and being male [dhukura] (MS: Ibn al-Sam'ani, Qawati', folio 275a). That is why, in spite of the ideal, not all, indeed very few, judges reach the rank of a Mujtahid, whereas more jurists do. Although the standards decline as time goes by, the Mufti-Qadi ratio in the Ijtihad index remains pretty much the same.

As for your fiqhi question, "So is tajweed the only science in which a women can't teach men?"

Where is the 'ibara [source] in the fiqh manuals that backs this statement and who among our classical fuqaha' have said this and what is the 'illa [legal basis] to say that an ustadha cannot teach Tajwid to the opposite sex, if all of the legal limits and precautions are already met? At least some Tajwid can be taught, even unqualifiedly, as we will see below. This simplistic statement needs to be qualified, for a jurist could see that there is tafsil in this mas'ala, and insight is required here for students of fiqh.

Furu' A: There is no question, of course, that an ustadha can teach a boy who has not yet reached puberty (in any subject), even when Nazar [looking directly] is involved (and in fact, in my part of the world it is NORMAL for the women to teach boys reading the Qur'an along with the rules of Tajwid, even in a non-madrasa setting). [Hukm Shar'i = Jawaz Mutlaqan]

Furu' B: If the teaching involves Ikhtilat [a congregation composed of the two opposite sexes] among adults, then there is further tafsil in this mas'ala. [Hukm Shar'i = Jawaz bi-Shurutin]

Tafsil A of Furu' B: When the teaching does not involve Nazar, then it is allowed. However, there are measures to be taken to ensure proper decorum when a mature woman wants to seek learning or has to teach an Ikhtilat classroom. The three conditions required in the case for a male teacher teaching an Ikhtilat classroom or vice versa, are (in the example of a male teaching):

1. That the female student could not find any female/mahram teacher(s) in her area who could teach the particular subject or point in question (in any subject valid to teach, whether religious or secular), or that the qualified teacher in this case refused to teach.

2. That the activity be free from fitna (what is meant by ‚'fitna' here is 'to commit fornication/adultery or their preludes' [al-zina wa-muqaddimatihi]: a standard example of a prelude to Zina given by Imam Ibn Hajar, for example, is to be in a state of unlawful seclusion [khalwa] - and in our school, a woman alone with two or more non-mahram men in a closed enclosure where an untoward incident could happen without the outside world knowing directly (so a woman passenger driven by a male driver in a London black cab in broad daylight will not count, for example) constitutes a khalwa, but not if two women are with one non-mahram man).

3. That the teaching is done 'from behind the hijab' [wara' al-hijab], that is, steps are taken to ensure that decorous norms of behaviour are maintained between the opposite sexes which can be achieved either, as is usually achieved as in the case of an Ikhtilat congregation of a prayer in a mosque or anywhere else, by there being a simple partition (even if transparent), or that the Hijab/Niqab is worn by the women if there is no partition and so on.

Tafsil B of Furu' B: When the teaching is difficult without Nazar. Then, the only time when this is allowed is, when the rare occasion arises such as when the subject matter/point being taught is a Fard 'Ayn knowledge. It goes without saying here that the rest of the measures above must be met.

This is made clear by Imam Nawawi al-Jawi (may Allah be pleased with him!) in our dedicated manual on male-female relations, the 'Uqud al-Lajin:

"Looking directly [Nazar] at her is also permitted only in the case of teaching what is obligatory for her, as mentioned by [Imam] al-Subki and other [Shafi'i jurists]. That [allowance] is (1) when she is deprived from those of her Mahram [such as her husband] and women who could teach her, as an analogy [Qiyas] with the case of seeking medical treatment; and (2) when it is difficult to teach from behind the Hijab. It is not permitted to look directly at her on account of teaching what is recommended." [al-Nawawi al-Jawi, Sharh 'Uqud al-Lajin, 3].

#Notes for students of fiqh#: Tafsil B is in effect a Takhfif [Alleviation] of Tafsil A because it is an istithna' [legal exception] of the third shart owing to the 'udhr [legal excuse] of teaching Fard 'Ayn knowledge. It falls under one of the 7 Takhfif categories, namely, that of Takhfif Isqat [Alleviation due to Omission].

Now, at most, the Tajwid of the Fatiha is Fard 'Ayn knowledge according to our school [al-Saqqaf, Fawa'id Makkiya, 14]. So we have qualified for you the statement: "tajweed [is] the only science in which a women can't teach men"; wisdom is required here and in spite this being a rare thing indeed, it is legally possible as such, and may even be necessary (for this is the minimum fiqhi ruling in this mas'ala which we know is far from what is perfect and Ihsan): for given a particular place and time, there may be occasions, let alone Ikhtilat but even Nazar is allowed, in the teaching of the Tajwid of Fatiha for adults. The wise jurist will know that in this mas'ala, each case is unique, and each is to be decided case by case.

##Further notes for students of fiqh## Although the original legal ruling [al-asl] in our school for an adult female reciting the Qur'an aloud (whether during or outside the Salat), such that a non-Mahram man could hear her recitation is Makruh, and not Haram [al-Mihi, Hashiya 'ala Sharh al-Sittin al-Ramli, 63] (while it is Mubah of course for her to recite the Qur'an in front of the Mahram man and it is Haram for her to do the Adhan even in front of a Mahram man), but in the rare case when the above happens (that an ustadha has to end up teaching the Tajwid of Fatiha in an Ikhtilat classroom), then it is no longer Makruh for the non-Mahram men to hear her recitation following the qa'ida [legal maxim]: mA lA yatimmu l-wAjibu illA bi-hi fa-huwa wAjibun [that without which something obligatory cannot be completed, itself becomes obligatory].

++Fa'ida++ There is a famous discussion in Imam Ibn al-Salah's Muqaddima on the question of hearing a teacher transmitting a Hadith from behind a Hijab. Although the Qawl Mu'tamad is that the transmission is valid, the background to this discussion was the Qawl related by one of the Wadi'un of 'Ilm Hadith, Qadi al-Ramhurmuzi (may Allah be pleased with him!) of Shu'ba (may Allah be well pleased with him!), who held the opinion that someone who hears a Muhaddith/a without seeing the face may not relate from that Muhaddith/a (and among the 'illa offered is that it may be Shaytan who has taken the Muhaddith/a's form!) [Ibn al-Salah, Muqaddima, 261]; and all this fuss when dealing with non-Fard 'Ayn knowledge, for 'Ilm Hadith is not Fard 'Ayn knowledge.

Some of us men from the Far East have teachers in knowledge whether religious (such as fiqh/tawhid) or secular (like Arabic/miqat), who were ustadhat, and it is not uncommon for us to hear stories, for example, that a young talib al-'ilm's three- or two-year course on the Fath al-Qarib was cut short before having nearly completed the whole Hashiya because he had sadly reached puberty. And it stands to reason that it is the faqiha who is best at teaching Bab Mahid, for example (and that one acquires a good reputation in our part of the world amongst scholars if one were fortunate enough to have learnt it from them), and that is why the late Musnid al-Dunya, Shaykh Muhammad Yasin al-Fadani al-Makki (may Allah be pleased with him!) would warn a student not to miss his opportunity learning Ahkam al-Nisa' from them when it does not have to be a dispensation, and that he would also encourage a student to learn as much as possible at the tender age before reaching puberty from our 'akhira mothers' - if not from our own biological mothers - so that we may acquire their hilm and forbearance. And this is what is practiced in systematic Shafi'i colleges (these often having the reputation among the locals of being 'strict' (because of always seeking the wara') and 'orthodox' [i.e., salaf]), namely the well established (some have taught for hundreds of years uninterrupted) pedigree madrasats, li-l-banin wa-l-banat, in Southeast Asia.

The fact remains that both what our history shows and what our living scholars do offer us the legal precedent of having, when the practical need arises, a Majlis Ta'lim (religious or otherwise) that is Ikhtilat in nature (whether conducted by a male vis-a-vis a classroom comprising both sexes, or vice versa). It may be that we in the Far West (i.e., bilad al-Afranj) feel uncomfortable and may even object if an ustadha be allowed to teach an Ikhtilat classroom, even after the respective party has exhausted all options and after having gone through the due legal process; if this is so then ask oneself, what is the point of the Niqab or the Hijab? Moreover, especially for those adults/mukallafs who have attended modern secular co-educational universities and schools whether in the West or in the East, should think twice as hard before raising their voices or having a bad opinion of an Ustadha teaching an Ikhtilat class in Fard 'Ayn that does meet the minimum requirements of our Sacred Law. The least one could do then is to give to a class that the Shari'a has clearly exonerated the benefit of our husn al-zann and hope to Allah that in the face of the widespread decline today in the institutions of our scholastic learning, her class will continue to burn the candle of that dying tradition. It will be the more ironic if we who criticize might ourselves have sat in a majlis conducted by a non-Muslima in the ever expanding modern institutions, listening to what might at most be Mandub knowledge. Must we remind ourselves that the ones being criticized in this case are not only protected by their respective Hijabs but more importantly by their relevant 'udhr? If there should be any double standards here, then li-maslahat al-'ilm (bal li-ifadat al-'ilm al-daruri), it is only right that the 'ulum diniyya take priority over the 'ulum dunyawiyya, and the single Fard 'Ayn over the Mandubat.

All of the scholars (excluding Shu'ba, of course) who are mentioned in the above, including our teachers, are Shafi'is: members of a law school known for their strictness [tashdid] in the hukm shar'i relating to the ikhtilat between males and females.

wa akhiru kalimatina wa ja'ala-ha Allahu nafi'atan, amin!

al-faqir in Oxford,

Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti
28 Muharram 1425
20 III 2004

Select Bibliography:

Ibn al-Salah. Muqaddimat Ibn al-Salah wa Mahasin al-Istilah [of Shaykh al-Islam al-Bulqini]. Edited by 'A'isha 'Abd al-Rahman bint al-Shati' [the Professor of Qur'anic Studies in the Qarawiyyin, Morocco]. Cairo: Matba'at Dar al-Kutub wa l-Watha'iq al-Qawmiyya, 1974. [A noteworthy Arabic edition, and by far, the best text available so far].

al-Mihi al-Shaybini. Hashiya 'ala Sharh al-Ramli 'ala al-Sittin Mas'ala [by Imam al-Zahid]. Bulaq, 1306 H.

Nawawi al-Jawi. Sharh 'Uqud al-Lajin fi Bayan Huquq al-Zawjayn. Bulaq, 1302 H.

al-Saqqaf. al-Fawa'id al-Makkiyya fi-ma Yahtajahu Talabat al-Shafi'iya min al-Masa'il wa-l-Dawabit wa-l-Qawa'id al-Kulliya. In Majmu'at Sab'at Kutub Mufida. Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1358 H.


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