In our second Women’s History post, we highlight the contributions two inspirational muslim women Fatima al-Fihri and Lubna of Cordoba, have made to society. With an aim to increase appreciation of the role Muslim women played in their time periods and respective fields and hope to encourage other muslim women to take inspiration and become masters in their fields.
Fatima al Fihri
Fatima al-Fihri was born in 800 A.D into a wealthy family in Tunisia. Her father was Mohammed Bnou Abdullah Al-Fihri who was a rich merchant during the rule of Idris II. She was married but both her father and husband died soon after her marriage.
Fatima is known to be the founder of the first university in the world according to UNESCO and Guinness World Records, dating back over 1000 years ago. When her father died, he left behind a huge fortune for her, which she invested back into her community by building a masjid and university in Fez, naming it al-Qarawiyyin after her hometown.
This became an educational hub for people all over the world, coming to study many subjects from religion, to the sciences, to languages. From the 10th century onwards, al-Qarawiyyin masjid became the largest Arab university in North Africa. Some well-known people associated with the university were Ibn Khaldun, Abu Walid Ibn Rushd and Gerbert of Aurillac (Pope Sylvester II).
Lubna of Córdoba
Lubna of Córdoba, an Andalusian born in the 10th century, was an intellectual known for her proficiency in mathematics, grammar and in writing poetry. Some narrations say that she was born a slave girl – this only makes it more inspiring to know that she rose to be one of the most important figures at the Andalusian court of Caliph al Hakam II.
Lubna held two main roles at the court: a scribe and a secretary. Her role as a scribe meant that she was in charge of writing and translating many manuscripts in the library of Córdoba. Additionally, she went above and beyond her role to provide her own annotations to important texts including those written by Euclid and Archimedes. She was the driving force behind the creation of the library of Medina Azahara – this famous library was home to more than 500,000 books.
Later she became the personal secretary of Caliph al Hakam II. To top this off, some sources narrate that she would give up her time to roam the streets of Córdoba teaching children mathematics.
Women like Lubna were not necessarily ordinary or unique during the reign of al Hakam II; there were many female scholars that existed during this time who were skilled in multiple disciplines, in fields such as politics, administration, social, intellectual and literary arts, during 10th Century Al-Andalus.
The many, varied contributions of women in the Andalusian Muslim civilisation, highlights the active role that they played in the advancement of a society rich in culture, education, tolerance and more