Introducing: Sitt al-Wuzaraʾ

The second biography of a woman in Ibn Ṭūlūn’s work al-Ghuraf is longer than the first. It is also concerned with a woman whose very name (as given in the text) already implies reverence towards her: Sitt al-Wuzarāʾ al-Māridāniyya al-Ḥanafiyya. In fact, it almost appears as if this biography was meant to be the center piece of Ibn Tulun’s short chapter on women.

Sitt al-Wuzarāʾ (659-737) is further an interesting case as she disappoints so many expectations we might carry with us when reading about medieval Middle Eastern women. She authored books and led sessions of oral/aural transmission, which was made possible (partly and in addition to her own talents and abilities, mind you) by her father’s insistence on her receiving an education equal or superior to what most of her male contemporaries would have received. 

Ibn Ṭūlūn was certainly not the first to acknowledge her achievements and contributions to the transmission of knowledge. Little surprising, he owed much of the information he conveys in the entry to earlier authorities. One could say that Sitt al-Wuzarāʾ was somewhat of a household name in Mamluk Damascus. Here is the biography in its entirety (fols. 358b-359a):

ست الوزرا ابنة الشيخ الامام مفتي
المسلمين عماد الدين محمد بن عبد الكريم بن عثمن الماردانية الحنفية قال البرزالي كانت
تكتب وتقرا وتلازم الحلواة في المصحف ولها ورد من التلاوة والذكر وحفظت مختصر 
القدوري في الفقه وحلت وجمعت حواشي عليه واعتنى بها ابوها واسمعها في سنة
ثلث وستين وتسعماية من الصفى اسماعيل بن الدرجي والنجم محمد بن التشي/التسثي(؟) وسالتها عن
مولدها فلم تحققه وذكرت ان والدها تزوج بامها بعد ودقة عين جالوت فيقتضى 
ذلك وتقضى تاريخ السماع يكون مولدها في سنة تسع وخمسين وستماية وتوفيت ليلة 
الخميس رابع شوال سنة سبع وثلثين وسبعماية بارض المزة ودفنت يوم الخميس قبل 
العصر بسفح جبل قاسيون وكانت جنازتها حافلة لانها كانت شيخة صالحة جليلة
وتكنى ام محمد ويعرف والدها بابن السماع وكان من اعيان الحنفية وفي عام وفاتها وجد

[fol. 359a]

بالقاهرة بالقرب من المشهد كلمه ميته ولها جروان وان يرضعان منها نحو اربعة
وعشرين يوما بعد موتها ويلعبان حولها واللبن يخرج من ابزازها من الجانب
الاعلا واما الجانب الاسفل فانه يبس(؟) وكان الناس يحرون(؟) بها وتيعجبون فسجان
من لا يعجزه شي انتهى والله اعلم

Here is my selective translation of the entry as it regards her biography:

Sitt al-Wuzarā al-Māridāniyya al-Ḥanafiyya, daughter of the shaykh, the imām, the muslims’ muftī ʿImād al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Karīm b. ʿUthmān.

Al-Birzālī said she used to write and recite and attended public readings of the Quran and she did readings and dhikr and she knew by heart the Mukhtaṣar al-Ghudhūrī fī al-fiqh. She analyzed and collected glosses/commentaries on it.

Her father provided for her and made her recite in the 663 […]. Her birth date is uncertain. She said her father married her mother after the battle (?) at ʿAyn Jālūt. What is certain from the date of the Samāʿ is that her birthday fell in the year 659.

She died 4.10.737 in al-Mizza and was buried on the slopes of Mt. Qāsyūn. She had the Kunya Umm Muḥammad; her father was one of the notable Ḥanafites.

What I have left out is the final hagiographic detail that after her death, one of her breast continued to give milk. That is something the reader should discover for themselves.

Cite this article as: Torsten Wollina, "Introducing: Sitt al-Wuzaraʾ", in Damascus Anecdotes, June 23, 2019,

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