al-Wafāʼ bi-Asmāʼ al-Nisāʼ

al-Wafāʼ bi-Asmāʼ al-Nisāʼ / الوفاء بأسماء النساء

A 43 volume biographical dictionary on the lives of 9,328 female scholars.

The long-awaited biographical dictionary of women hadith scholars was finally published in 43 volumes in January 2021. The author, Dr Akram Nadwi, mentioned in a book launch that he was urged to pause the project and send the work to print, otherwise it would not see its fruition. The work was published by Dar al-Minhaj from Jeddah, although it was initially planned to be published earlier from Morocco. A brief English language volume entitled ‘al-Muhaddithāt: the women scholars in Islam’ preceded the compendium in 2007 (BP136.485 .N33 2007), as an introduction to this larger work.

Cover page of the book: al-Wafāʼ bi-asmāʼ al-nisāʼ
al-Wafāʼ bi-Asmāʼ al-Nisāʼ

As it is a biographical work, it does not contain much analysis, consequently the author has not distinguished hadith narrators from hadith scholars. He has included individuals from other biographical and reference works and concedes that there are many works he was not able to access in Arabic and other languages, so the work is still ongoing and further volumes can be expected. Geographically he has attempted to include female hadith scholars from around the world, not just from the Middle East.

Women narrators of Mu'jam al-Tabarani
Women narrators of the collection al-Muʻjam al-Kabīr by al-Ṭabarānī (873-971)

The first volume consists of almost 800 pages, introducing aspects and methods of hadith narration and scholarship and the work of women narrators and scholars. This volume also includes some photos, diagrams, illustrations, maps of their travels in pursuit of hadith and facsimiles of some of their certificates. 

The biographical entries begin with the house of the Prophet in volume 2, then volumes 3-10 on the female narrators from the time of the Prophet (ṣahābīyāt); and volumes 11-13 on the those who followed the generation of the companions (tābiʿīyāt). Subsequent volumes are then divided chronologically in centuries. The work comprises of a total of 9328 biographies. The final volume, 43, consist of biographies from the recent decades (15th century hijrī), including some individuals still active.

License to transmit narrations (ijazah) by Sitt al-Wuzara bint `Umar (d. 1316)

The detail of each biography can vary greatly, depending on the information available, with one, the longest entry, covering over two hundred pages dedicated to her life and works. The author has included a comprehensive collection of her corrections of other, mostly male, narrators of hadith.

Since the collection has no indexes, to search for entries, it would be helpful to know which century the figure you are searching for was living in, then you will need to search the contents’ sections of each volume.  

Although a work of reference for researchers, it seems to be aimed at a general audience, so it is not highly specialised to be aimed solely at hadith and fiqh scholars. Albeit, there will certainly be some terminology that may be well be only familiar to those versed with hadith or fiqh sciences.

REF BP136.485. N33 2021