This year’s Islamic Law- Shafi’i Fiqh- class is truly unique. Allah SWT clearly has a special plan in store for us this year! I must first mention that is really an honor to be the first female instructor of the Islamic Sciences of Zaytuna College. It is further my honor to be teaching one of the most widely taught modern fiqh books, Fiqh al-Ibadat on the Shafi’i Madhhab, in Damascus where I studied the Sacred Sciences. You see, the book was written at a time when the seeking of classical Islamic knowledge had greatly dwindled and the wave of secularism had left its devastating marks on post-colonial Damascus. Perhaps the population most greatly affected by this phenomenon was the womenfolk whose already limited access to serious Islamic scholarship became virtually non-existent during this era. As the numbers of women entering college followed by graduate studies increased, the women who held on to the once rich tradition of Islamic scholarship became few and far in between.It was in this era that Hajjah Durriah al-Aytah took on the task of studying the Sacred Sciences with hopes to reach out to the women of Syria and help in bringing back to them the relevance of studying the rulings of Allah, ‘azza wa jal, and implementing these rulings in their daily lives. She studied fiqh at the hands of the late eminent scholar, Shaykh Abdul-Karim ar-Rifa’i, may Allah SWT grant him mercy. It is said that Shaykh ar-Rifa’i bucked the trend of his time and welcomed a group of women to study fiqh with him, the foremost of those students being Hajjah Durriah who would then author the book we are currently studying. The sources Hajjah Durriah used in compiling this book are the core, classical texts of the Shafi’i madhhab that she studied with Shaykh ar-Rifai'i: al-Muqademah al-Hadramiya, Sharh al-Bayjouri, Sharh al-Tahrir , Mughni al-muhtaj, Rowdat at-Talibeen , and al-Majmu'.
One might ask why would she decide to write a modernized book on Shafi’i fiqh when she had studied the classical texts and was granted ijaza, licensing, to teach them? The answer lies in the fact that fiqh was a discipline largely neglected by people; particularly by women. She dreamed of reaching the women of Shaam, educated or not, by writing a book that conveyed the classical rulings but in language that was accessible to the modern reader. She felt that this would be the key to ensure that women studied their fard 'ayn, religiously obligatory knowledge. Surely she was gifted with Tawfiq illahi, Divine Success, for her book has not only educated the women of Damascus in the science of fiqh, but reached the entire Syrian society and beyond. The book gained so much acceptance in Syria that you can find it in just about every bookstore and on the bookshelves of students and non-students alike. In fact, it is said because of its immense popularity, publishing companies have published the book even without permission! Yet when the author would be told of these many pirated copies, she would just say that she had made du'aa that Allah accepts her work and hopes this a sign of qubool, Divine Acceptance.
The book is set up like a college textbook and suits our Zaytuna College class perfectly. It is unique in that just about every ruling is accompanied by its supporting evidence from Hadith or Qur’an- providing true aid to its student by giving them these references at their fingertips! Furthermore, being a female author, Hajjah Durriah has taken great measures to provide clear and in-depth discussion on rulings pertaining to female-related fiqh issues- something that is lacking in many works of fiqh. I pray that the students taking this class and studying this book will carry on the tradition of its author and spread the Light of Islam on their life’s journey. I pray that our religion’s long lost tradition of strong and serious female scholarship will once again resurface- at the hands of the Zaytuna College students. May Allah SWT grant us all sincere intention, elevate the status of our teachers, use us in the service of His Deen and protect the blessed lands of ash-Shaam and its people.