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Women Sufis

In Sufi reports, when there is talk of the rijal (men, notables) of Sufism – rijal Allah, ahl Allah – just as is done by Ibn al-`Arabi, it is also meant to include women Sufis. In fact, many prominent women Sufis figure in the lists of biographical works: 16 in Nafahat al-uns of Jami, 33 in the Tabaqat of Sha`rani, and 134 in Sifat al-sifwa. Abu `Abd al-Rahman Salmi, the author of the most famous work of tabaqat on Sufis, in his work, has devoted a separate section to women Sufis, examples of which may be found in Sifat al-sifwah and Hilyat al-awliya’. Many of these women were initiated into the Sufi path as a result of their passion for worship or fear of God. Some were the daughters or wives of prominent Sufi masters. They include the sisters of Bishr Hafi, Umm `Ali, the wife of Ahmad Khidrawayh, Hurrah Daqqaqiyyah, the daughter of Abu `Ali Daqqaq, and Umm Muhammad, the aunt of Shaykh `Abd al-Qadir Gilani. Some of these women Sufis have left behind a number of incisive remarks regarding mystical experiences and stations. Rabi`ah `Adawiyyah made several deserved criticisms about the Sufis of her day. Also of interest are the conversations between Sufyan Thawri and Umm Hisan, and Dhu ’l-Nun Misri and Fatimah Niyshaburiyyah. 

There are many instances of women Sufis criticizing or rectifying the statements of prominent Sufi shaykhs. Rabi`ah `Adawiyyah played a crucial role in the transformation of Sufism from an asceticism based on fear (khawf) to a mystical love based on spiritual proximity (uns) and hope (raja’). Some, like the Fatimah Bard`iyyah, are known for their ecstatic expressions. Among the disciples of Mawlana Jalal al-Din there ranked a number of Sufi women. These included Gumaj Khatun, the wife of Sultan Rukn al-Din, and Gurji Khatun, the wife of Mu`in al-Din Parwanah. Amin al-Din Mika’il Nayib Sultan was a woman Sufi of Quniyah who was known as Shaykh al-Nisa’ (the master of women) and who organized religious preaching and sama’ sessions at her house in the honor of Mawlana. Ibn al-`Arabi speaks highly of women mystics. For instance, in his Futuhat he gives accounts of several women Sufis who were instrumental in initiating him into the mystic path. The way in which he refers to those such as Fitimah Bint Abi ’l-Mathna, Shams Umm al-Fuqara’ and Umm al-Zahra’ is an indication of their immense spiritual stations. In fact, Ibn al-`Arabi is quite unequivocal in his position regarding the equality of men and women in terms of spiritual achievement. 

This equal ability of women was not merely confined to the realm of the spiritual. There existed women who were considered as reliable transmitters of traditions. One such traditionist of the late `Abbasid period lists 400 traditionists from whom she had received the license for transmission of hadiths. There were also khanaqahs devoted exclusively to women Sufis and traditionists, which were also presided over by women Sufi masters.

 source: Zarrinkoob , Abdol Hossein "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.480- 481


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