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Asma Sayeed Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam

Cambridge University Press, 2013

by Matt Long on May 22, 2015

Asma Sayeed

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Studies on the subject of women's participation in religious and intellectual life in Islam have been few. Women and the Transmission of Religious Knowledge in Islam (Cambridge University Press, 2013) by Asma Sayeed, professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA, is a much needed addition to the fields of early and classical Islamic history, the study of hadith and its transmission, and women's studies. Professor Sayeed leads readers through nine centuries, from the seventh to sixteenth century CE, of religious, social, and intellectual history of women's participation as transmitters of hadith, the words and actions of Muhammad. Women's participation within this area was not static, but ebbed and flowed throughout history as demonstrated in this book's four chapters. Women were critical in the dissemination of hadith in the first century of Islam. As the study of hadith became more specialized from the fourth to tenth century, women were marginalized as transmitters which Sayeed validates through biographical dictionaries and chronicles as well as quantitative data from chains of transmissions, isnads, from numerous hadith collections. By the tenth century, the canonization of hadith was by and large complete. This ushered in a new phase in which women again became important actors in the reception and propagation of hadith. This period would last until the end of the Mamluk period and the rise of Ottomans in the sixteenth century, but this second decline would be for different reasons. Throughout each phase of this history, Professor Sayeed provides case studies on different women to further her argument on the participation of women, even at the least active moments, as propagators of hadith. Professor Sayeed has brought new understanding of women's intellectual lives in the history of Islam and has opened the door for further inquiry into this subject.


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