Table of Contents
- About the Project
- Project Background & Historical Context
- GitHub Links
About the Project
I am a graduate student studying World History and Digital Humanities at Northeastern University. Having graduated from UMass Boston in 2021 with a BSc in Computer Science and minor in Arabic Studies, I decided to pursue my interests in history, especially Muslim history, Muslim women’s lives, hajj, the Hijaz, the Ottoman Empire, and colonialism. I enjoy using my software background to develop digital history projects such as this. Learn more about me here.
I designed this website as my capstone project for the Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities at Northeastern University. The main goal is to visualize relationships between narrators as teachers and students, focusing especially on muhaddithat, women narrators. This is achieved through the interactive network graph visualization here.
Project Background & Historical Context
The centuries following the death of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in 632 A.D. were a foundational period for the intellectual tradition of Islam. In an attempt to preserve and verify the authenticity of the Prophet’s hadith (verbal and practical teachings), thousands of them and their narrators have been recorded across the centuries. These records, which exist in volumes of hadith collections and biographical dictionaries, indicate the isnads, or chains of hadith narrators from the Prophet to his students, from one scholar to the next over the first generations of Muslims. A visual representation of this data makes it both more accessible to a wider audience and illuminates intellectual relationships that might not be clearly noticeable otherwise, leading to new possibilities in analysis, research, and learning.
This project is therefore a digital history project aimed at digitizing and visualizing this transmission data, making it accessible to the public via two ways: downloadable spreadsheets and user-interactive network visualization graphs. Muhaddithat is the Arabic term for women scholars of hadith, whose work and lives I emphasize in the data sheets and graphs. Although muhaddithat make up a minority in hadith scholarship, their role has had a lasting, integral impact. By creating open access datasheets specific to the muhaddithat, their teachers, students, and teachings, as well as visualizing their scholarly relationships and teachings in the form of a network graph, this project not only affirms the role they have played in Islamic scholarship since its earliest times, but it also uncovers the nuances of their roles–the kinds of people they taught and learned from, the trends in the types of hadiths they narrated, the cities in which their scholarship thrived the most, and so on. Moreover, I hope that it will encourage women today to continue to take part in this cultural and religious tradition, and also prevent the formation or exacerbation of misogynistic assumptions regarding the historically significant roles they played.
Choosing the muhaddithat
I have selected 14 muhaddithat for this project. Some were from the generation of the ṣaḥābah (companions, or contemporaries of the Prophet ﷺ), and some were from the tābiʿi generations (followers, or the 2-3 generations that succeeded the ṣaḥābah). These muhaddithat were chosen due to their relatively high numbers of hadith narrations in comparison to other muhaddithat, and therefore had the most information preserved about their biographies and teachings.
The muhaddithat I have chosen for this project are listed as follows:
- Companions (contemporaries, direct students) of the Prophet ﷺ
- ʿĀʾishah bint Abi Bakr
- Ḥafṣah bint ʿUmar
- Umm Salamah
- Umm Ḥabībah Ramlah bint Abi Sufyān
- Asmāʾ bint Abi Bakr
- Asmāʾ bint ʿUmays
- Asmāʾ bint Yazīd
- Umm ʿAṭiyyah al-Anṣāriyyah
- Followers (second generation, those who learned from the companions):
- Ḥafṣah bint Sīrīn
- Fāṭimah bint al-Munthir
- ʿAmrah bint ʿAbdur-Raḥmān
- Ṣafiyyah bint Shaybah
- Umm ad-Dardāʾ al-Ṣughrā
- Khayrah Umm al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri
Each of the listed muhaddithat has her own graph of hadith narrations, all of which are now live on the project website. Therefore, there are several narrators (both male and female) included in the datasets and graphs beyond just the ones listed here.
Each of the muhaddithat will have short entries written about their biographies and teachings that will be accessible on the website. In addition, most of the narrators in the datasets and graphs (not just the selected muhaddithat, but also those in their networks) will have 1-2 short sentences describing them in context of the hadith tradition and scholarly network. This information is based on multiple sources, including, among others:
- Early Arabic records digitized on muslimscholars.info, which include:
- Al-Iṣābah fī Tamyīz al-Ṣahābah by Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani, 14th-century volumes with commentary on hadiths and their narrators.
- Kitāb aṭ-Tabaqāt al-Kabīr by Ibn Saʿd, an 8th-century multivolume biographical dictionary about the companions and followers.
- Siyar A`lām al-Nubala by Imam al-Thahabi, a 13th-century biographical dictionary.
- Secondary scholarship, including Al-Muḥaddithāt: The Women Scholars of Islam by Mohammad Akram Nadwi, and other books and articles that listed on the resources page of this website.
In order to make a network graph for each of the selected muhaddithat, I first created a CSV file containing a list of hadiths with their corresponding isnads (narration chains). A second CSV file lists information about the hadith narrators (their full names in Arabic and English, gender, and brief one-line bios).
All of the hadiths selected are checked for authenticity via their label (determined by Muslim scholars of hadith over the centuries) as sahih (sound) or hasan (good). For each of the narrators, I selected a few of the hadiths they narrated, favoring hadiths with other women narrators in their isnads. Therefore, this dataset overrepresents hadiths narrated by Muslim women, as these are the scholars whose work, lives, and contribution to the hadith tradition I aim to emphasize. Therefore, any social network analysis done on this data will not be telling the full picture, since my data does not equitably represent the entire community of hadith scholars.
The ID numbers I use for the scholars in my dataset are still the same as the ones used in muslimscholars.info for the sake of consistency and ease of looking up the scholars. All of this data is stored in a GitHub repository, which includes a data dictionary in the readme file.
Making the network graph visualizations
To make the social network graphs, I used Graphspace, which offers both a Python library and a web-based platform. I used the Python library to read the data from the CSV files, create it into graph objects, and export them to the web-based platform. There, I can visualize the graphs and decide how to position the nodes and edges so that they are easily understood. Graphspace records the positions and edges of these nodes, along with the other information initially received from the Python portion, and exports them into JSON files. The JSON files therefore contain all the nodes, the information associated with them (such as the names, hadiths, position, and other information added), and the edges between the nodes. These JSON files are then inputted into the web-app framework.
For a complete bibliography, see the Resources page.
Thank you to my digital humanities professors! It was in Jessica Linker’s Introduction to Digital History class that the idea for this project first sparked in my mind. Julia Flanders and Sarah Connell’s Digital Humanities Workshop classes have provided me with the support and guidance needed to turn it from an idea into reality. Thanks also to all of my classmates in these classes who were generous with their kind and helpful feedback!
I would also like to thank the Muslim scholars who worked to preserve the hadiths of the Prophet ﷺ–from those in the earliest period of Islamic history who took handwritten records to those today who digitize the hadiths and teach them using contemporary technology. Jazākum Allāhu khayr.