Mohammed Akram Nadwi
Aisha's role in early Islam wasn't a one-off. Mohammad Akram Nadwi is a research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic studies, who's just completed
a groundbreaking 53-volume history of female Muslim scholars.
Nadwi "If you look at the earliest Islamic sources which contained the hadith and teachings of the Prophet, you can find actually they have been
transmitted through the women teaching the hadith of the Prophet are writing in books on them their number actually are more than 8500 women. For
one quarter of Islamic law the depend on the teachings of the women."
Where is that happening? Where are they holding these lessons?
Nadwi "These women basically were teaching anywhere where men used to teach. They are teaching in the houses, in the mosque of the Prophet Medina,
they are teaching in the great mosques of Syria, in Damascus, in Cairo and actually nobody questioned their authority and all the big imams and
leaders of the community they used to attend their lectures"
So your opinion from having studied this for over 35 years, this actually, if you look back to the roots of Islam, the Prophet Mohammad wanted
women to have an active role in the teaching of Islam, the promotion of it, and the understanding of what the faith was?
Nadwi "Yes, because the Prophet has said men and women, both are branches of the same tree. In the time of the Prophet the men and women both are
present together in learning and teaching and I never had any proof of any segregation. These barriers and this segregation they are not coming from
Islamic sources. "
It seems that women were incredibly influential in the early years of Islam. So why did this change?
Within just a dozen years of the Prophet's death, the fledgeling faith had conquered Persia and two thirds of the Byzantine Empire, transforming Islam
into a superpower.
So where did that leave the women?
Professor Ahmed "The critical thing was how quickly it expanded militarily. The Arabs became very, very wealthy. The conquest brought with it a lot of
slavery, so that a lot of very negative views of women were taken on from the neighbouring cultures which they had conquered. So compare the conditions
of women in Iraq, in Baghdad, 100 years after Muhammad's death to the women of early Arabia, like Khadija or Aisha, the contrast is dramatic and
appalling. I mean, women wear really in terrible conditions. The number of wives that rulers had were in the hundreds. The number of female slaves that
they had was all so vast. The seclusion of women became unimaginable. Women were thought of as so inferior and they need to be silent and they shouldn't
have any kind of rights whatsoever"
Today. The position of women in Islam is one of the most hotly debated topics from Baghdad to Bradford. Many see Muslim women as oppressed.
If you think of these great role models, Khadija and Aisha, what do you think they would think of Islam as it's developed in the 21st-century?
Myriam "I'm not entirely sure that they would recognise the practices that we have today. I'm certainly not sure that Aisha would take very well
to being told to move to the back of the room and not speak up. You know, she was very much used to teaching men, educating men. If she had something
to say, she would say it. And the idea that Khadija, again a very powerful figure, would somehow be curtailed in her voice, and her rights, I'm not
sure that this would be anything that they would be willing to accept or recognise."
It's easy to see how Aisha and Khadija can be role models for Muslim women. They were key to the early days of Islam and challenged many people's
perception of women's role in the faith. Shocking really that, outside Islam, so few of us have even heard their names and that the part played by
female Muslim scholars has been ignored.