One of the greatest scholars from amongst the taabi’een was a man by the name of Muhammad Ibn Sirin. He was famous for dream interpretation where he combined his wisdom, experience and knowledge to become a teacher and an asset to his community, the same way Yusuf عليه السلام was to his people when he was in Egypt. Though he was known as Ibn Sirin, his real name was Abu Bakr al-Bassari.
It is said that his mother, Safiyyah, was one of the most prominent women scholars at the time. She would teach Ibn Sirin and her other children from her wealth of knowledge. Safiyyah herself, may Allah be pleased with her, was born into slavery, such that no person even knew the name of her father, neither did she know of her own parents. In Arab tradition and even in Islam, a person’s lineage plays an important role in forming their identity and determining their roots. A righteous lineage is important as it determines a person’s legacy and the fate of future generations. If the parents are righteous and on the straight path, it is highly likely the children will follow the same footsteps. Despite this, there is no doubt that what supersedes this, is an individuals taqwa and closeness to Allah. So though Safiyyah’s knowledge of her lineage was buried, her knowledge of Allah and her righteousness was not, and it was that which raised her rank in this world and InshaAllah also in the next.
When Islam began to spread, Abu Bakr رضي الله عنه freed Safiyyah and she became one of his rare female students. Even after he passed away, Safiyyah continued to learn and study from Ayesha رضي الله عنها . She was such a noble woman, that Ibn Katheer said [paraphrased], “There is no Janazah in history after the Janazah of Rasulullah ﷺ, where they had that many noble people attend than Safiyyah’s.” It is narrated that Ubayy ibn Ka’ab led her Janazah and three of the mothers of the believers who were alive at that time attended her funeral.
Safiyyah gave birth to a daughter called Hafsah Bint Sireen, who would learn so much from her mother. Due to this righteous upbringing, that she memorised the entire Qur’an by the age of 10, had mastered all the Qira’aa (modes of recitation) by the age of 12, and was so knowledgeable in hadith that even her brothers would study under her, including Muhammad Ibn Sireen, who is said to be the greatest scholar of that time.
A Taa’biee at that time said regarding Hafsah, that: “I’ve not met anyone more knowledgeable than Hafsah”
She was known to be a Faqiha, someone who was able to give out rulings concerning Fiqh. She would read one-half of the Qur’an each night and prayed and fasted incessantly. Her intelligence was considered to be more than her fathers and her brothers. She died at the age of 70/80 whilst being a hadith scholar and Faqiha. Abu Bakr Ibn Abi Dawud said:, “The masters of the women among the Tabi’un are Hafsa Bint Sirin and Amra Bint Abdurrahman. The third, who does not share the rank of the first two is Umm ad-Dharda (the younger).”
So what lessons can we learn from both these Muslim heroines – Safiyyah and Hafsah رضي الله عنهم ?
- Knowledge is for both men and women: We see that the thirst for seeking knowledge was quenched by all members of the Sirin family including the womenfolk. Today, women are looked down upon, frowned even turned away if they do more than just practice the deen. It is considered ‘extreme’, ‘too much’ or ‘too religious’ if a woman does anything more than pray, fast and seek knowledge here and there; basically it should only be lightweight. Yet, we see from these incredible women, how they dedicated their lives to the seeking and teaching of knowledge. They lived, breathed, memorised and revised knowledge for the sake of Allah and to preserve this treasure and inheritance of Rasulullah ﷺ.He ﷺ said: “Knowledge is obligatory upon every Musim.” [Ibn Majah].
Notice the Prophet ﷺ didn’t specify that is is only for males. Rather he said it is for ALL Muslims. Safiyyah and Hafsah understood that this obligation is no joke and they took it in their stride to fulfill this obligation with excellence and persistence till they became the creme de la creme of female scholars in their time.
- The Home is the first school: Hafsah bint Sirin’s first school was her mother and father. She learnt from her mother what her mother had learnt under her husband and other scholars. Let’s stop for a moment and imagine what their home must have been like. A home where knowledge is constantly being sought. You can hear the humming of Qur’an being recited, the sound of books being revised, the reminders and circles of knowledge come with their own commanding, forbidding and gentle reminding. Books piled upon each other, pages filled with lines of hadith. I can’t help but think that their home must have been a hub for the scholars and a child’s first school. For it must have been near her mother’s lap that she learnt her first Surah and in her fathers circles of knowledge where she was taught Fiqh and others subjects.The home is the first school and if we truly realize this, we will realize how powerful this is when it comes to raised and nurturing the generations of tomorrow. Instead of just placing our kids in schools and madrasahs without a second thought, thinking that what they learn there will be sufficient, we would actually sit and think about what we can do, what active role we can play as a family to seek knowledge, to recite the Qur’an and to raise the next scholars. It’s up to us as mothers and fathers and older siblings to understand the importance of being an example for those under our care. Hafsa رضي الله عنها knew nothing less than a household wherein Allah was the focus and where everyone, both male and female excelled in gaining Ilm.
- Consistency is Key: Hafsa رضي الله عنها would recite one half of the Qur’an each night. Such was her love for the Qur’an. But notice how this was only mentioned and known because it was something consistent and not a one off. This teaches us about the importance of being consistent in doing good actions. We may not have ample amount of time to sit studying hadith and fiqh rulings, we may have so many responsibilities, we may not even have the right environment. But that doesn’t mean we do nothing whilst waiting for an opportunity to come our way or a door to suddenly open. It means we do what we can, even if its small, even if it doesn’t seem a lot, but consistently. The habit is what is important. So unlike Hafsa, we may not be able to recite half of the Qur’an each night, but we can do 5 pages, or 10 or less than those. But the key is to be consistent.
May Allah allow us to take inspiration from the lives of these heroines and may they be a shining example for us and for our offspring, ameen.