Narrators, both men and women, both men and women, tended to frequently narrate to and from members of their family and/or household: children, spouses, siblings, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and domestic servants. For example, ʿĀʾishah bint Abi Bakr, the most prolific female companion narrator of hadith (and the second most companion narrator of hadith), frequently narrated to her sister Asmāʾ, her nephews ʿUrwah ibn al-Zubayr and al-Qāsim ibn Muhammad, and her niece ʿĀʾishah bin Ṭalḥah. In turn, ʿĀʾishah’s sister Asmāʾ frequently narrated to her granddaughter, Fāṭimah bint al-Munthir ibn al-Zubayr, who frequently narrated to her husband, Hishām ibn ʿUrwah. Similarly, Ḥafṣah bint ʿUmar frequently narrated to her brother’s sister, Ṣafiyyah bint Abi ʿUbayd, who narrated to her household servant, Nāfiʿ mawla ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿUmar. With the data I currently have, I cannot determine whether the tendency toward inter-family narration is more frequent among female narrators than male narrators.
However, one does not need a large dataset to observe that oftentimes, a woman’s hadith narrations get disseminated to later generations through a male narrator. For example, it is through ʿUrwah ibn al-Zubayr, ʿĀʾishah’s nephew, that many of her hadiths were narrated to later generations. Likewise, it is through Hishām ibn ʿUrwah, the husband of Fāṭimah bint al-Munthir, that most of her hadiths were preserved. This is part of another pattern: while there were several female hadith narrators in the earlier generations who narrated directly from the Prophet ﷺ or his companions, they become less visible as the generations move on. This is illustrated in the graphs: look at almost any of the narrators’ graphs, and one can notice that the color for women narrators is clustered closer to the Prophet ﷺ and that the nodes in later generations appear to be mostly men.
Another observation is the diversity of socioeconomic status among the narrators. As mentioned above, servants such as Nāfiʿ mawla ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿUmar often played major roles in hadith narrations. Khayrah Umm al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri, one of the muhaddithat selected in this project, was the servant of Umm Salamah, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ. Khayrah narrated several hadiths from Umm Salamah and then passed them on to her sons, one of whom was the famous scholar from Basra, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri. On the other hand, there were several wealthy hadith narrators, such as Muʿāwiyah ibn Abi Sufyān, who narrated from his sister, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ, Umm Ḥabībah. ʿAbdur-raḥmān ibn ʿAwf’s family is another example of wealthy hadith narrators: said to be one of the richest companions, he narrated several hadiths, and his son Abu Salamah ibn ʿAbdur-raḥmān narrated directly from ʿĀʾishah. It seems plausible, then, that at least in the earliest generations of Islam, accessibility to hadiths did not seem to be related to economic status. The true “elite” of the muhaddithin were those who narrated the most, which often meant the companions closest to the Prophet ﷺ and, later, the closest companions of those companions.
Finally, I would like to point out the narrators included in several of the graphs here: Imam Mālik, Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, and Ibn Isḥāq. The former two each founded one of the four major schools of thought in Sunni Islam, while the latter wrote a comprehensive biography of the Prophet ﷺ that is still considered an–if not the most– authoritative source today. They are certainly some of the most influential Muslims in history. The isnads that reach them, then, show the significance of what may seem to be small actions: one teacher quotes the Prophet ﷺ to her student. This hadith then gets passed on, generation after generation, informing Islam’s intellectual and practical tradition as it exists today.
If this project were to ever be expanded, or if someone wanted to build off of it, here are some potential future steps:
- A few analytical questions that can be explored include whether women narrated more frequently in certain time periods or cities than others, whether they narrated hadiths of certain topics more often than men, and how their role in hadith scholarship changed over time in comparison to men and in different locations and contexts. Based on the observations noted above, I would hypothesize that the percentage of female narrators among hadith scholars have declined over time, but I would need a more complete dataset to test this. An expanded dataset would include more narrators–both male and female, across the generations. This would allow me to study the inter-family narration trend further and compare whether or not it was more common with gender than the other, thereby illuminating teaching practices.
- There are multiple possibilities of graphs that could be created. As the Python script for parsing the data files and the web-app framework is already created, the only new entity to create is the data files with the hadiths and narrators–or, one can simply add entries for the hadiths and narrators in the corresponding files. The Jupyter notebook then reads them and outputs a graph onto GraphSpace, which can then be edited and uploaded to the web-app framework. One of many possibilities for a graph could be one based on a specific hadith collection, such as Imam an-Nawawi’s 40 hadiths that are often used as introductory material for new learners. While it may be complicated to make a graph of all of Imam Bukhari’s hadith (just due to the sheer number of them), it may be possible to make a graph of the hadiths in one of his chapters. These would It may also be interesting to
- The current dataset or an expanded one could be run through social network analysis programs in order to find certain patterns that may be otherwise unnoticeable at surface level. This can be used to answer more questions, such as: Did women tend to more frequently narrate certain topics of hadith than men? Were women narrators more concentrated in certain cities than others? This would require a dataset with locations, perhaps places of birth, living, and death. How did their role change over time, from the first generation (companions of the prophets) to the second (tabiʿīn, the followers) to the third (tabaʿ tabiʿīn, the followers’ followers)?
- For now, each node, when clicked, opens a little window in the top left part of the graph with a URL for their webpage on muslimscholars.info, which lists much information about them. In addition, I have included a resources page on my website which serves as both a bibliography and a list of materials for learning more about these women and the hadith tradition. In the future, I hope to add brief biographies about each of the selected muḥaddithāt to this website.