All Praise be to Allah and all blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad ﷺ
Women have always played a great role in the Islamic sciences and they have contributed a lot. Although, many people criticize Islam and say that Islam subjugates a woman, the fact remains that women were always encouraged to study, to ponder, to analyze, to research the Islamic sciences. It can be true to say that Islam wouldn’t have such deep and profound teachings, if it hadn’t been for the women behind the scene who have narrated a magnanimous amount of narrations from the Prophet ﷺ.
In Jahiliyya, days before Islam, women were looked with a negative plight and when a girl was born, she was buried alive. Allah says in the Qur’an, “And when one of them is informed of [the birth of] a female, his face becomes dark, and he suppresses grief. He hides himself from the people because of the ill of which he has been informed. Should he keep it in humiliation or bury it in the ground? Unquestionably, evil is what they decide.” Islam came and changed the whole attitude of women and we see this from the first day the revelation came to the Prophet ﷺ.
The First Woman who accepted Islam, Khadija (May Allah be pleased with her) was the one who had consoled the Prophet ﷺ and had believed in him and knew of the message of the Prophet ﷺ even before the Prophet ﷺ and she was the one who took him to Waraqa. Similarly other women were also luminaries in their contribution to Islam, be it either physically, emotionally, via narration of the hadeeth, or other types of support to the believers.
One of them was Aisha bint Abi Bakr. She was the most beloved person to the Prophet ﷺ. She is the 4th most prolific narrator of hadith and if it hadn’t been for her and the other wives of the Prophet ﷺ, it would have been nearly impossible to know how the Prophet ﷺ was in the house, how he dealt with his wives, how he prayed at night at home, etc. She was a Muhaddithah (female narrator of hadeeth) in her own right.
This shows that she had a very good memory and she had memorized a large number of Arab poems, narrations and many a times she had corrected various understandings of the Sahaba. The Sahaba did not feel anything in their heart to go and learn from Aisha. They sought her legal advice on various issues. The question never arose during the time of the companions over the validity of learning Islam from the leading women scholars.
The Mushaf of Abu Bakr which he first compiled was kept with none other than Hafsa bint Umar after Umar passed away. When Uthmaan wanted to make a copy of the Qur’an according to the Quraishi dialect, then he called for the Mushaf from Hafsa’s house.
If we look further, into the books of Hadith we would find both men as well as women narrating the hadeeth. Imam Hakim Naisapuri stated that “One fourth of our religion depends on the narrations of women. Were it not for those narrations, we would lose a quarter of our religion.”
Abu Hanifa relied on the hadeeth of Umm Habiba instead of the hadith ob Ibn Umar regarding the Sunnah prayers being four rak’aat before Dhuhr prayer instead of two. According to the report of Abdullah ibn Umar, there are only two rak’aat. He argues that the hadeeth of Umm habibah is stronger since the Prophet ﷺ prayed the Sunnah prayers at his home. 
Another wife of the Prophet ﷺ was Umm Salamah (May Allah be pleased with her). She was a very wise woman. Her wisdom showed on the day of the treaty of Hudaibiyah when the Prophet ﷺ had ordered the companions to go back to Madinah, since they were unable to do Umrah this year. However since the Sahaba were so depressed, no one responded to his order. So the Prophet ﷺ sought the advice of his wife. She said that he should show it by his action and that he should be first one to shave his head and slaughter the animal. Hence the Prophet ﷺ heeded her advice and the Sahaba then readily followed him.
Umm Salamah is also remembered for narrating numerous ahadith from the Prophet ﷺ.. It can be truly said that along with Aisha, she was also the most prolific narrator of the hadeeth from among the wives of the Prophet ﷺ.
Another Sahabiyyah, was Rubiyya bint Mu’awidh bint Afra. Her family members had died on the day of Uhud and she was the expert in narrating and showing the Hadeeth about the Wudu. The Companions used to go her house to learn how to perfectly master it and even Abdullah ibn Abbas who was from the family of the prophet ﷺ never hesitated to learn from her. This clearly shows that knowledge is to be taken from anyone if it is authentic irrespective of gender.
Many a times, it so happened that the daughters of the scholars were the ones who went on to carry on the legacy of scholarship instead of their sons. Saeed ibn Musayyib, was exceptionally knowledgeable of the Prophetic hadith. His daughter learnt all the hadith by heart. Similarly Imam Malik’s daughter learnt all the hadith and the entire Muwatta. She used to stand behind the door and make corrections in the narration if the narrator made any mistake in the Isnaad or the Matn. 
Another great narrator is Umm Al Kiram Karimah binth Ahmad. She was a narrator of Sahih Bukhari. People used to come to her in Makkah and listen to the whole Sahih Bukhari from her. Al Dhahabi says that whenever she narrated, she would compare with the original. She had a good knowledge and good understanding combined with goodness and worship. 
She had also undertaken journeys for seeking knowledge to Sarakhs, Jerusalem, etc. Another female scholar who made journeys is Umm Abdul Karim Fatimah binth Sa’d. She had travelled extensively in pursuit of knowledge and she learnt from various great scholars. 
It is quite surprising to note that there is not a single hadith which has been rejected from a woman on account of her being a fabricator or a liar. Imam Dhahabi says: “There are many men who have fabricated hadith. However, no woman in the history of Islam has been accused of fabrication.” Hence women were always truthful in conveying the narrations of the Prophet ﷺ. The men are the ones who fabricated the hadeeth a lot for various reasons.
Hence we see throughout the history of the Islam that women have always played a great role in preserving the Islamic sciences. It is incumbent on the women of today’s generation too to study and ponder on the Qur’an and Sunnah. This is in accordance with the Proverb: “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation).”
And Allah knows best.
Nadwi, Muhammad Akram. Al Muhaddithat : The Women Scholars in Islam. InterFace Publications .
Philips, Dr. Bilal. “Usool Al Hadeeth.”
“Qur’an- Sahih International.”
Why Islam- Female Scholarship in Islam. http://www.whyislam.org/muslim-heritage/female-scholarship-in-islam/.
 (Philips n.d., 13)
 (Why Islam- Female Scholarship in Islam n.d.)
 (Why Islam- Female Scholarship in Islam n.d.)
 (Nadwi n.d., 52-54)
 (Nadwi n.d., 57)
 (Nadwi n.d., 76)