Karima Al-Marwaziyya: One of Islam’s Great Hadith Scholars

A renowned female scholar of hadith in the 11th-century Islamic world, Karima Al-Marwaziyya established herself as a prominent authority in the field of hadith scholarship due to her exceptional knowledge and expertise in hadith.
by Ustazah Unaisah Adam 2024-02-20 • 18 min read
After spending 10 years in Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah, Ustazah Unaisah Adam pursued her Islamic studies at Al-Zuhri Institution of Higher Learning and received her Diploma in Islamic studies. She was also conferred a B.A. in Usuluddin (Al-Quran and Hadith) from the University of Malaya and has a Graduate Diploma in Counselling Psychology from the College of Allied Educators. Currently, Ustazah Unaisah is a member of the Singapore Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (SAC). She works in the social service sector, focusing on vulnerable families for cases of children, teens and youths at risk. In her leisure time, Ustazah Unaisah enjoys painting, reading and travelling.
2024-02-20 • 18 min read

Biography of Karima Al-Marwaziyya

Umm al-Kirām Karima bint Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Ḥātim al-Marwaziyya (969 – 1069) is a lesser-known inspirational Muslim figure in the 11th century who became a leading Islamic female scholar, and a great muhaddithah (female hadith scholar) of all time. In other literature, such as the book of Al-Muntazim, Karima was referred to as Ibn Abi Hatim.

Karima was known for her isnād (transmission) of Sahih Al-Bukhari – the most authoritative collection of hadith, which refers to a statement, action, or approbation of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. The reliability of an isnād or sanad (both bearing the same meaning, which refers to the chain of transmission) determines the validity of a hadith

Before the coming age of time, the hadith literature of the Prophet s.a.w. was not accessed as easily as today. Back then, the printing press was not yet developed. Great books of hadith were in the era of its immense compilation efforts. Karima contributed significantly during this time as a transmitter of hadith who held credible authority due to her scholarly prowess, the integrity of knowledge and virtuous personality.

Due to her expertise, she possessed a unique ability to narrate Sahih Al-Bukhari, which elevated her to a distinguished position in the realm of Islamic knowledge. Karima could actually narrate Sahih Al-Bukhari with accuracy and sincerity, leading to her reputation surpassing that of the scholar contemporaries of her time.

Read: The Importance of seeking knowledge in Islam

Birth of a Scholar

Karima was an inspirational scholar of hadith, managing to develop an impressive academic and intellectual ability among the range of scholarly development and progress at that time. Karima earned the honorific title “the musnidah” of the sacred precinct, which means apart from transmitting hadith, Karima was a competent hadith evaluator and authority.

She was born in the village of Kushmaihan[1], near the city of Merv in Central Asia. The city of Merv eventually progressed into a centre of Islamic learning rooted in its rich cultural heritage of Persia (modern-day Iran). The exquisite and refined city gathered scholars from all over the Muslim world and beyond, ranging from Christendom and Central Asia. They came down together for its magnificent libraries and to engage in one of the world’s greatest academic and knowledge discussions.

During Karima's time, the hadith collections became widely acknowledged and were frequently used to create laws, religious philosophy, and other devout interests. She was the ace of the hadith tradition, and one specific collection stood out – the Sahih of Al-Bukhari. She had learned it from Abu Abdullah Al-Firabiri, who had narrated the renowned hadith collection from Imam Al-Bukhari himself.

The mosque of Yusuf Hamadani, a historical site from the ancient city of Merv, situated in modern-day Eastern Turkmenistan

Karima’s Journey in Seeking Knowledge by Heart

Karima faithfully learned the Sahih from the transmission of Al-Kushmaihani[2] (d. 999) when she was twenty-four years old. As a newly certified muhaddithah (female hadith scholar), she now possesses a unique expertise. 

Before settling down to become a teacher, she embarked on a pilgrimage accompanied by her father, Ahmad. The Hajj journey was significantly different from today’s estimated 9-hour flight trip (from Singapore to Makkah). In the past, it would take months and, in some cases, years of travel. Our scholars of the past would often take this opportunity to not only perform their Hajj but also to seek knowledge from scholars who resided in these vibrant countries known for their great intellectual heritage along their journey.

As their journey passed through Persia (modern-day Iran), Karima and her father visited Sarakhs and Isfahan – two cities famed for their libraries. They then travelled to Al-Quds (present-day Old City of East Jerusalem) in Palestine. Finally, their journey took them to the holiest city of all, Makkah. 

All Muslims who are able are obliged to complete the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in their life (for abled Muslims). One can imagine that after having learned the Sahih by heart and studied in libraries throughout West Asia, Karima was elated to finally arrive in Makkah and witness the place where Prophet Muhammad s.a.w grew and received revelation for the first 13 years as a prophet.

Read: Hajj: The Meaning of Pilgrimage

The Diligent Muhaddithah

Karima began attracting students due to her speciality in the knowledge of hadith, but it was her natural talent as a teacher that made her reputation. Karima had extremely high standards that students must adhere to before she granted them permission to transmit any hadiths that were narrated from her. These hadiths are considered Sahih (authentic) because of the strong chain of narration and strict requirements to uphold it with integrity. 

Beyond her reputation for her scholarly stature, she was also widely known for her piety and kindness. She devoted herself as an active learner. As the years went by, Karima was admired, and she was sought after by students and seekers of knowledge. 

The Women of Hadith

Although she walked the path of a scholar while still young in her twenties, Karima continued to be consistent in her journey until she departed from this world, reaching the long age of 100 years old.

During her incredible life, transmissions of hadith by Karima were valued more than any of her male counterparts of her time. She paved the way for future muhaddithah, who were recognised as equals with men in their ability to impart divine knowledge. 

Today, we often hear about our classical scholars as being predominantly men. Little did we know about the great female scholars from our heritage. Their ability to learn and transmit long texts with great accuracy was appreciated by the likes of Karima Al-Marwaziyya. Some individuals transmitting the hadith of the Prophet s.a.w. were criticised for their inapt capacity to memorise or display exemplary qualities like intellectual integrity but this is almost unheard of in regards to our female scholars.

As the mediaeval scholar Al-Khatib Baghdadi wrote, "After all, the early scholars accepted the narrations of women, slaves, and those who were not known for their legal expertise even if they narrated merely one or two hadith." 

Lessons We Can Learn from Karima Bint Ahmad

Karima's contribution to the field of Islamic knowledge has highlighted the importance of the isnad system that allows scholars to verify the reliability of channel transmitters. By examining the authentic information of the messengers, scholars can determine the authenticity of a particular hadith. Sanad is a mechanism for faithful transmission of texts, and Muslims gain knowledge of the rules of Sharia by studying hundreds of literary works with a trustworthy sanad.

Here are 5 important points to learn:

1. Sincerity in Seeking Knowledge

Karima was known for her sincerity, which means being deeply devoted to Allah s.w.t. by heart. A sincere person has a deep love and reverence for Allah s.w.t. and advocates righteousness in the best way. Sincerity can only be experienced with a resolute faith and confidence in Allah s.w.t. It is shifting your whole entire focus by making Allah the centre of your paradigm.

It is one of the most important components in seeking, attaining, and maintaining the knowledge that you have learnt. Every part of knowledge and skill comes from God alone. If Allah s.w.t. wants good for somebody, He will bestow it.

مَنْ يُرِدِ اللَّهُ بِهِ خَيْرًا يُفَقِّهْهُ فِي الدِّينِ

"If Allah wants to do good to a person, He makes him comprehend the religion."

(Sahih Al-Bukhari)

2. The Importance of the Chain of Narrators

Imam Al-Shatibi mentioned that the most beneficial and effective way of gaining knowledge is by learning it from those who are masters in their fields. It is necessary to have a teacher in aspects of knowledge that need explanation and interpretation. It is not impossible for one to gain knowledge without a teacher; however, normally, it is observed that a teacher is of utmost importance. This is mostly agreed upon by the scholars.

Imam Al-Shatibi also said: “Sacred knowledge was in the hearts of men, then it moved into the books, and the keys to these books are in the hands of scholars (rijal).” This implies the necessity of acquiring knowledge from the people who master it.

Ibn Taymiyya stated: “Isnad is a unique feature of this Ummah and Islam. Then, from among the Muslims, it is a speciality of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah (Sunni Muslims).

3. Acquire Knowledge from Trusted Scholars

Imam Al-Shatibi mentioned three signs and characteristics of an expert ideally qualified to be a religious teacher:

a. One practises what he/she teaches,
b. One personally has been trained by a qualified scholar,
c. One's students follow and pursue in their footsteps, for if their students generally tend to not follow them, then this is a sign that there is something inherently wrong with them.

There are many benefits and wisdom in learning from a teacher, such as receiving correct interpretation, being free from errors in understanding the texts (as each science has its own specific terminologies), practical application of knowledge, and obtaining barakah (blessings).

4. The Importance of Critical Thinking in Seeking Knowledge

The Islamic perspective of critical thinking states that the goal is to find the truth in every matter and to reject falsehood. This effort must be rooted in credible sources and also based on the Divine guidance provided in the Quran and the Sunnah (the main normative source of Islam).

خَلَقَ ٱلْإِنسَـٰنَ. عَلَّمَهُ ٱلْبَيَانَ

“(He) created the human being, (And He) taught them speech.”

(Surah Ar-Rahman, 55:3-4)

“The human being” in this verse refers to all of humanity. He taught them speech such that they became distinguished from all other animals. 

‘Bayan’ (speech) is that by which meanings are clarified. Bayan means the articulation of speech and the ability to understand, comprehend and analyse. Thus, the ability to seek clarification and analyses[3] is a distinct human ability that we should not take for granted, but to honour this gift by developing it and putting it to good use in our path to seek knowledge.

5. Transmitting The Truth and Only The Truth

Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud r.a. reported Rasulullah s.a.w. said: 

عَلَيْكُمْ بِالصِّدْقِ فَإِنَّ الصِّدْقَ يَهْدِي إِلَى الْبِرِّ وَإِنَّ الْبِرَّ يَهْدِي إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ وَمَا يَزَالُ الرَّجُلُ يَصْدُقُ وَيَتَحَرَّى الصِّدْقَ حَتَّى يُكْتَبَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ صِدِّيقًا

“It is obligatory for you to tell the truth, for the truth leads to virtue and virtue leads to Paradise, and the man who continues to speak the truth and endeavours to tell the truth is eventually recorded as truthful with Allah”

(Sahih Muslim)

Five Practical Ways to Identify A Quality Read 

Acknowledging Karima’s commendable endeavours in the scholarly tradition, here are five practical ways to identify a quality read:

Identify the author; Do a thorough background check on his/her family, education, contributions, past publications, year, and the country they live in (to give us a sensing or a lens for socioeconomic context setting).

Identify the publication house; The past genre of books that they have published.

Skim through the content page of the book to analyse issues on hand and the general framework of the author in placing certain topics of discussion in a certain manner.

Observe the use of language and certain words' emphasis.

Read with the intention of understanding, with empathy and humility in balancing with criticality.


The Prophet s.a.w. called our attention to the obligation of seeking fundamental knowledge for both men and women, which becomes an emphasis of its importance in our religion. Karima's inspiring contribution to our intellectual heritage is a testimony to fulfilling that honourable task.

As Muslims continue on their lifelong journey to understanding the religion better, it is necessary for us to strive and prioritise learning our religion from reliable and trustworthy sources. 

May Allah s.w.t. bless us with wisdom, guidance and consistency, just as Karima remained steadfast in seeking Islamic knowledge.

And Allah knows best.


[1] https://islamic-content.com/location/9247
[2] Abu Al-Haitham Muhammad Al-Marwazi Al-Kushmaihani, a muhaddith (hadith scholar) who is known for his reliability and credibility of knowledge. He was also known to have learnt and narrated Sahih Al-Bukhari a number of times
[3] In another verse, Allah s.w.t. commands believers to verify information. The same root word with ‘bayan’ is used to describe this act of verification. “Believers, if a troublemaker brings you news, check it first (fatabayyanu), in case you wrong others unwittingly and later regret what you have done” (Surah Al-Hujurat, 49:6) 


1.    Imam Syamsuddin Muhammad bin Ahmad bin Uthman Az-Dzahabi, Siyar A’lam An-Nubala, Jilid 18, page 233-234
2.    ‘Amru ‘Abdil Mun’im Muslim, Taysir Dirasatil Asaanid lil Mubtadi-in, Daaru Dhiya’
3.    Muhammad Abul Layth al-Kheyr Abaadiy, ‘Ulumul hadith usuliha wa ma’aasiruhaa, Daarul Syaakir, Malaysia

4.    Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam (islamicstudies.info) Al-Muhaddithat, The women of hadith, page 169
5.    islam-and-education.pdf (researchgate.net) Rabia Ismail Ph.D scholar, Jamia Millia Islamia “Acquisition of knowledge is binding on all Muslims (both men and women without any discrimination”. (Ibn-Maja), page 376-377
6.    Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, The nature of man and the psychology of the human soul, Malaysia.

7.    Dr Muhammad az-Zahrani, Ensiklopedia Kitab-kitab rujukan hadits, Darul Haq, Jakarta


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