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From Practice to Polemic: Shared Saints and Festivals as 'Women's Religion' in the Medieval

Author(s): Alexandra Cuffel
Source: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol.
68, No. 3 (2005), pp. 401-419
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of School of Oriental and African
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From practice to polemic:
shared saints and festivals as 'women's religion'
in the medieval Mediterranean
Macalester College, St. Paul, MN

'Women ... are responsible for much of the imitation of the holiday customs
of the people of the book', (meaning Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians).1 So
asserted the Damascene Hanbalite jurist, Ahmad ibn Taym?ya (1263-1328 ce),
a man who made himself famous for his strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Yet a number of medieval Muslim writers echoed Ibn Taym?ya's disapproval
of both Muslim adoption of Jewish and Christian festivals, and women's
supposed role in them. That women participated in these rituals is clear from
the comments of other Muslim legalists and chroniclers who approved of the
celebration of many of these festivals and/or the practice of ziy?ra, literally
'visiting' of the graves of relatives and holy individuals. Jewish and Christian
pilgrims to the Holy Land likewise described these rituals and the presence of
women in them. Following the lead of medieval Muslim writers in particular,
several scholars have speculated whether these forms of piety were especially
attractive to women.2 I wish to take up this question for the Middle Ages,
and explore the roles not only of medieval Muslim, but also of Jewish and
Christian women in celebrating religious or agricultural festivals and venerat
ing the holy dead or living. I will examine women's involvement in festivals
or 'saints' that were either naturally 'shared', because of a common scriptural
tradition, or that were associated with only one faith, but nevertheless
attracted the attention of members of one or both of the other monotheistic
faiths in the medieval Mediterranean. That women were responsible for such
interfaith celebrations in a way that men were not, I argue, was an invention of
medieval Muslim men designed to denigrate these practices and discourage
women and men from participating in them.
This article maintains that women and men largely shared the same ideals,
behaviours, and rituals; however, not surprisingly, certain places or saints
became the focus of women's piety because of their association with childcare
and birth. Sometimes minority women had greater access to holy graves
because Muslim mores about women's dress and behaviour made it easier
for them to disguise themselves as a member of the majority. Muslim women
developed parallel but often separate practices from those of men, which alter
nately earned them praise or condemnation from legalists. Women fully
participated in these practices, and we can detect a level of what we could call
'gyno-sociability' among women, including between women of different faiths.
However, their motivations, behaviour and level of involvement equalled, but

1 elu?Jl l^jlt jc^i Uul ,Uj?? j fAjUcJ ^i lJj?]I Ja? CiI$jLL? ?^ jjjS j Ibn Taym?ya, Kitab 'iqtida,
p. 40; Ibn Taym?ya, Ibn Taimiya's Struggle against Popular Religion, p. ill.
2 Goldziher, 'Le culte des saints chez les Musulmans'; Fernea and Fernea, 'Variation in
religious observance among Islamic women'; Mernissi, 'Women, saints and sanctuaries'; Dhaouadi,
'Femmes dans les Zaouias: La f?te des exclues'; Bartels, 'The two faces of saints in the Maghreb';
Hambly, 'Becoming visible'; Shoshan, 'High culture and popular culture in medieval Islam';
Williams, 'The cult of 'Alid saints in the Fatimid monuments of Cairo'; M. Winter, 'Popular
religion in Egypt since the Mamluks'. See also J. W. Meri's objections to some of these arguments:
The Cult of Saints, p. 169.

Bulletin of SO AS, 68, 3 (2005), 401-419. ? School of Oriental and African Studies. Printed in the
United Kingdom.

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did not necessarily exceed, that of men. Some expressions of devotion were
peculiar to women, such as wailing at graves, cooking and feeding visitors to
shrines, or leaving jewellery at gravesites, but even these were not the provinces
of women alone.
This article also explores why women became so central to Muslim men's
discourse about saints and festivals in the Mediterranean. Scholars have long
noted that Muslim writers, even those who supported ziy?ra, worried about
sexual licence and improper motivation among women.3 While these issues
were an important concern, a number of the most vehement detractors of
ziy?ra and various festivals used the participation of women to mark these
practices as 'un-Islamic' and thus offensive to proper 'masculine' Muslim zeal.
This theme had a long history in Muslim writing associating women with
non-Muslim practices, innovations, and immorality, all of which would have
apocalyptic consequences. By focusing on women, Muslim legalists hoped to
shame their male co-religionists into abandoning these customs, and of course
to prevent female family members from engaging in them either. Western
Jewish and Christian men, on the other hand, did not focus on the partici
pation of women, either from their own faith or from another, as a way of
condemning shared religious practices. That women should also be found at
these holy places and festivals was taken as a matter of course, as was
the value or truthfulness of the information that they sometimes provided to
these men.

Devotional practices common to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women

Women of all three faiths went on pilgrimage, both locally and over long
distances. Numerous incidental comments in Jewish men's travelogues, and
letters and charity lists from the Cairo Geniza, indicate the presence of
female Jewish pilgrims and settlers.4 By the early modern period Jews were
writing guides directed at women, encouraging them as potential pilgrims
and contributors to the upkeep of holy tombs in Safed and its surroundings.5
Muslim legalists outlined the correct behaviour and manner of travel for
women wishing to make hajj, and, for those who condoned the practice,
ziy?ra.6 Within the Latin Christian tradition we are fortunate to have some
women's own accounts of their voyages and experiences.7 These women's

3 Langner, Untersuchungen, pp. 22, 32-3, 36-7, 58; Goitein, Mediterranean Society, 5: 21-3;
Lufti, 'Manners and customs'; Shoshan, Popular Culture in Medieval Cairo, pp. 17, 43, 46, 49;
Cornell, Realm of the Saint, p. 249; Meri, 'The etiquette of devotion in the Islamic cult of the
saints'; Meri, Cult of Saints, p. 128; Taylor, Vicinity, pp. 58, 77, 93-5, 211-12.
4 Jewish Travellers in the Middle Ages, pp. 95, 186, 212, 231, 235-6, 330; Mas 'ot 'Erets Yisra'el
shel 'olim Yehudim, pp. 58, 226; Meshullam, Mas a, p. 69; Obadiah Bertinoro in Otsar masaot,
pp. 108-09, 116, 117-18; Samuel b. David Ye'mashel in Ibid., p. 189; TS (= Taylor Schechter
collection) box K 15 f. 50 col. 2,1. 11, col. 3,1. 1, 3, 10; TS box K 15 f. 5, col 4 1. 23, 25; TS 12.299
in Goitein, ha-Yishuv be-'Erets-Yisrael, Arabic pp. 342-3, Hebrew trans, pp. 339^0; TS 8 J. 33 in
Mann, Jews in Egypt and Palestine under the Fatimid Caliphs, 2: 304-05, doc. 3; Gil, 'Erets-Yisra'el
ba-tequfah ha-Muslemit, 3: 92-5 (doc. 457,11. 25 ff.); Goitein, Mediterranean Society, 3: 177-8; Ilan,
Qivre tsadiqim, pp. 37, 81; Cuffel, 'Call and response'. I wish to thank Professor Mark Cohen
(Princeton University) for allowing me to use his transcriptions of TS box K 15 f. 50 and TS box
K 15 f. 5.
5 Ilan, Qivre tsadiqim, p. 37.
6 Such discussions began already in the hadlth. See: Al-Bukh?ri, Sahih, book 23: 1289, 1294,
1296, book 28: 1861-^4, 1866, book 56: 3006; For later medieval discussions of proper behaviour at
tombs and on hajj see: Al-Turtush?, Kit?b al-haw?dith wa-al-bida, pp. 336-7, no. 311; Idem, El libro
de las novedades y las innovaciones, p. 367; al-Subk?, Shifa al-saq?m fi ziy?rat khayr al-'anam,
pp. 82-8, 126-129; Al-Ghazz?l?, Kit?b ihya 'ul?m al-d?n, 4: 490^192; Idem, Remembrance of death
and the afterlife, pp. 112-119; Taylor, Vicinity, pp. 200-216. On the issue of correct behaviour
generally see: Meri, 'Etiquette'.
7 Utterback, 'Vision becomes Reality'.

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pilgrimage narratives are sometimes more forthcoming about other women

travellers than those of male writers. The fifteenth-century 'autobiography'
of Margery Kempe contains several references to women who are going to
the Holy Land, besides the author herself.8 Chronicles and charity lists also
provide some insight into women's experiences and customs in the Mediterra
nean, especially the Holy Land and Egypt. Often these paralleled those of men,
though problems such as difficulty in finding escorts, appropriate transporta
tion or abandonment were greater for women than for men. Jewish women
from Byzantium, Iberia and Northern Europe, like their Muslim counterparts
from Persia, the Maghrib and parts of Turkey who immigrated to Jerusalem
and its surrounding areas, found themselves in need of charity, sometimes on a
permanent basis if they had lost male support through death or abandonment.
Foreign men, who were refugees or had come for pious reasons, likewise had
to resort to charity, but their situation was often temporary.9 What is clear,
however, is that Jerusalem and to a lesser extent the Levant and Egypt as a
whole, drew women of all faiths who willingly endured not only the hardships
of a temporary visit to holy cities (for Muslims, these would include Mecca
and Medina) and shrines, but chose to live in or near the holy land(s).
Certainly many of these women came with their husbands or other male family
members; however, Christian and Muslim sources attest to women embarking
independently, even against the will of their husbands.10
Muslim women also expressed their piety through charitable donations
(awq?f), either in support of pilgrims making hajj, or for the upkeep of tombs,
mosques, rubut (sing. Rib?t: retreats or hospices for the contemplative), or
khawaniq (sing, khanqa: Sufi hostels).11 We have less information on Jewish
women's involvement in charity or the patronage of holy sites, though inciden
tal evidence suggests that Jewish women, like their Muslim counterparts,
donated lamps, oil, candles, money, and food to synagogues and the shrines of
holy men and women. Often these contributions were prepared by the women
themselves. Sometimes the focus of these donations was the same for both

8 Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe (1996), ch. 27,11. 1506-9, p. 73, ch. 28,11. 1565
67, ch. 30, 11. 1787-1808; Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe (2001), ch. 27, p. 48, ch. 28, p. 50,
ch. 30, p. 57.
9 The Book of Margery Kempe (2001). ch. 26-31. Margery has trouble acquiring and keeping an
escort throughout her pilgrimage. That male as well as female pilgrims could find themselves in dire
straits becomes clear in the story of one of the escorts whom Margery employs. Richard, an
Irishman, was ill, abandoned by his countrymen, and forced to beg (ch. 30). Ibn Jubayr, Rihlat?
on women as pilgrims: pp. 107, 113-19, 153, 162, 164, 177, 206-07, 212, 259, 286, 295-6, 307, 315
16, on charity for Maghribi emigrants: pp. 16, 244-5, 250-51, 257, 270-71; Ibn Jubayr, Travels?on
women as pilgrims: pp. 128, 135-9, 180, 189-90, 192-3, 207-11, 239^0, 246, 300, 328, 337, 349-50,
360. On charity for Maghribi emigrants: pp. 34, 283, 289, 298, 322-3; Ibn Battuta, Travels, 1: 245,
2: 300; Al-Maqr?z?, al-Khitat, 1:266-7; On Jewish women travellers' experiences as revealed through
the Cairo Geniza and travel accounts, see note above; Frenkel, 'Muslim pilgrimage to Jerusalem in
the Mamluk period'.
10 Most of the pilgrimage narratives that we have by or about Christian women from the early
to the later Middle Ages indicate that the woman or women themselves instigated the journey.
Muslim literature about hajj or lesser forms of pilgrimage take into account the possibility that
women might wish to go when their husbands did not, or would need to make arrangements to
go without a male family member. Al-Bukh?n, Sahib 28: 1862. According to later traditions, the
famous female saint Sayyida Nafisa came to stay in Egypt because of such a conflict between
herself and her husband. See: Hoffman, 'Muslim sainthood'. For more on this personage, see
11 Ibn Jubayr, Rihlat, pp. 162, 164; Ibn Jubayr, Travels, pp. 190, 192-93; al-Maqriz?, al-Khitat,
2: 454 (in this case the donor is male, but the beneficiaries, or occupants of the ribat are older
women); Guthrie, Arab Women in the Middle Ages, p. 175; Fay, 'Women and waqf; Tolmacheva,
'Female piety and patronage in the medieval Hajj'; Humphreys, 'Women as patrons of religious
architecture in Ayyubid Damascus'; Sabra, Poverty, pp. 84?5. On the nature of rubut and khawaniq
see Taylor. Vicinity, pp. 33-4.

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Muslims and Jews, the most obvious example being that of Hebron (al-Khal?l),
the burial place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and
a major pilgrimage site for Jews, Christians and Muslims.12 A woman's perfor
mance of these services to the holy living (or dead) herself rather than hiring
another or simply paying for the food, oil or lamps brought her into closer
proximity to the saint and thus, presumably, the saint's blessing. Obadiah de
Bertinoro, a highly respected fifteenth-century rabbi and pilgrim and thus a
potential 'saint' (qadosh) in his co-religionists' eyes, noted that in Palermo, '...
many wanted from my garments a coat or turban as a remembrance; and
a woman who ... arrived at the terrace that she might enter and wash my
overcoat, [the rest of the] daughters counted her happy'.13 Ibn T?l?n (c. 1485
1546 ce) tells of a Muslim woman who sought to touch a living shaykh as he
walked past her, and another woman who built a small house for herself across
from the tomb of one al-Salihi so that she could light a candle every Friday
night on his tomb, one of the days on which the dead were said to be aware of
their visitors.14 Such expressions of piety brought blessing on the doers in two
ways: the women had performed a good deed toward the holy person(s)
whether living or dead, and they had come into close personal contact with the
saint or items that he/she touched, and thus the saint's holiness.15
The women described above sought personal blessings, but often women's
services to holy places or individuals were directed towards the living visitors,
some of whom depended on the charity they could receive there. One Muslim
woman restored the shrine of al-Ansari, one of the Prophet's companions, and
'... she retreated there and provided for the needs of the visitors who came
there all the time. She would feed them sweets and give them rosewater to
drink until she died. Some of her female slaves and her grandchildren remained
there attending the place...'.16 Likewise, Jewish, Muslim and Christian women
and men contributed to the money and food that was offered to pilgrims and
the poor, often regardless of the comers' religion, at a variety of shrines, syna
gogues, mosques and churches.17 In Damascus, Muslim men and women
greeted pilgrims with gifts. Women offered them bread, 'which if they bit the
women would snatch from their hands and hasten to eat it in order that they
might be blessed in the pilgrims' having tasted it. In place of it, they gave them

u Jewish Travellers, pp.95, 185-6, 193^, 233, 263-5; Masot 'Erets Yisra'el, p. 58; Obadiah
Bertinoro, in Otsar masaot, pp. 116-17; Meshullam, Mas'a, pp. 68-9, 75; Sipur David ha-Reuveni,
pp. 25-7; Ibn Jubayr, Rihlat, pp. 249-50; Ibn Jubayr, Travels, pp. 286-7; Harawi, Guide des Lieux
de P?lerinage, pp. 72-4; Ibn Shadd?d, Al-A'l?q, p. 53; Goitein, Mediterranean Society, 1: 130; 2: 85,
99, 105, 107, 113, 129, 251-2, 5: 146-7; Suriano, Trattato, ch. 84, 85, pp. 136-7; Suriano, Treatise
on the Holy Land, ch. 84, 85, pp. 150-51. On Hebron especially see: Elad, 'Pilgrims and pilgrimage
to Hebron'; Meri, Cult of the Saints, pp. 161-2, 195.
13 f mm o?Dntp nma1? nsnm nriDT n&w ntzwm ,nDT^ *psi ^? ^^M WP2 n^
mn rrntPX ^tP plVnn Obadiah Bertinoro, Otsar masaot, p. 109; My translation here differs
from that in Jewish Travellers, p. 213.
14 Ibn Tulun, al-Qalaid, 2: 396, 560; Meri, Cult of the Saints, pp. 106, 170. On the days most
beneficial to visit the dead according to Muslim tradition see Taylor, Vicinity, p. 71.
15 On baraka or 'blessing' conferred by contact with holy individuals see Taylor, Vicinity,
pp. 47-52; Meri, Cult of the Saints, pp. 17-18. Taylor and Meri are primarily referring to the
baraka brought by proximity to the holy dead, but the same principle applied to the holy living.
16 {j^l? j Cu?jj ?y J] t?i^laJl AjLaSj jlaJl A a* U"\ C?j j? ^ j\jji?>\ ?y* A^lc ?j? ?y* ?ju Culi j Aj?] Cudaii!
Aj fj?j ?ya 1$j??* j I4I0J ?u 4j Ibn Shadd?d, al A'l?q, p. 52; Translation and further discussion in
Meri, Cult of the Saints p. 171.
17 Jewish Travellers, pp. 75-9, 84-5, 89, 98, 185-6, 233-4, 263-4; Masot 'Erets Yisra'el, pp. 60
61; Petahiah of Regensburg, Sibuv, pp. 15-20, 33; Meshullam, Mas a, pp. 68-9; Obadiah Bertinoro,
in 'Otsar masaot, pp. 116-17; Sipur David ha-Reuveni, pp. 25-6; Ibn Battuta, Travels, 1: 44, 53, 77,
2:282, 285-6, 292, 300, 318, 479, 3: 927; al-Maqr?z?, al-Khitat, 2: 445 Meri, Cult of the Saints,
pp. 161-2, 195-8; Taylor, Vicinity, pp. 20, 99, 215-16. On the circumstances in which non-Muslims
could receive Muslim charity see Sabra, Poverty, pp. 34, 37, 67, 71, 78. On women giving to the
poor see Ibid, pp. 87, 90-93.

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dirhams...'.18 These women not only followed their impulse towards charity
but also sought to bring upon themselves the benefits derived from intimate
contact with a holy individual or, by proxy, with the sacred places the pilgrims
had visited.
Going to 'serve' (khadama) Sufi shaykhs, either by gifts of money or by
personal service, likewise combined charity with the desire to be near the
saint.19 This practice is similar to the behaviour displayed by the women so
eager to assist R. Obadiah. In the Islamic world, however, the possibility of
aiding a holy man or woman, and even abandoning one's family to do so,
seems to have been more institutionalized than in the Jewish community,
where most women are depicted as proffering such help in conjunction with
their husbands.20 The basic root of the behaviour of both Muslim and Jewish
women seems to have been the same, however.21 The options open to Christian
women and men were similar to those available to Muslims: they could,
if wealthy enough, be secular patrons of holy places, be pilgrims, seek out a
particularly revered teacher with whom to study, or join a monastery.
Another way in which pilgrims sought to demonstrate their humility, devo
tion, and, perhaps literally make the power of a holy object or person 'rub
off on them, was to kiss, roll and/or prostrate themselves on a grave or on
the ground near a grave or holy object. Margery Kempe portrays her own
behaviour as weird and extreme in the eyes of her fellow pilgrims, yet when she
'fell down' on Mt. Calvary, 'so that she might not stand or kneel, but wallowed
and twisted with her body, spreading her arms abroad, and cr[ying] with a loud
voice...1 she was behaving much like her fellow Jewish and Muslim pilgrims,
male as well as female.22 Jewish pilgrimage accounts and letters from Jews
living in Egypt and Palestine abound with references to men prostrating them
selves on graves or rolling and weeping in front of the Torah in supplication.23
Again from Obadiah of Bertinoro, we have a description of such behaviour by
women in a more ritualized context than that of Margery or even the Jewish
male pilgrims: 'On the evening of the Day of Atonement and of the Seventh
Day of Tabernacles (Hoshanna Rabba)... women come there in family groups
to kiss the roll of the Torah and to prostrate themselves before it'.24 In their
turn, many Muslim legalists, even those who generally approved of ziy?ra,
railed against Muslims rolling on graves, taking dust from them, and weeping
loudly.25 Other Muslim writers took such behaviour as a matter of course.26

18 fAlj? <xa Uiajfr <? ?xij j A? ^UJl JSb ISjii aKV Jj?b2 j ^j?jI ^> <?iL?J <j? ?UJl J?c \?\? Ibn
Jubayr, ?/?/a/, p. 259; Ibn Jubayr, Travels, pp. 299-300.
19 Sulami, Early Sufi Women, 84/85, 114-15, 116-17, 132-3, 138-9, 154-6, 158-9, 164-5, 168-9,
198-9, 236-7, 248-9, 254-5.
20 For example: Jewish Travellers, p. 243. Obadiah Bertinoro, in Otsar masa'ot, p. 121.
21 Jewish men, on the other hand, could and did join in 'study circles' not only of rabbis, but of
Sufi shaykhs. See: Goitein, 'A Jewish addict to Sufism in the time of Nagid David II Maimonides'.
22 'And whan thei cam up onto the Mownt of Calvarye sehe fei down that sehe mygth not
stondyn ne knelyn but walwyd and wrestyd hir body, spredying hir armys abrode, and cryed wyth
a lowde voys...' Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe (1996), ch. 28,1. 1574, p. 75; Idem.,
The Book of Margery Kempe (2001), ch. 28, p. 50.
23 Goitein, Mediterranean Society, 2: 156; Ilan, Qivre tsadiqim, p. 19, and the edited document
on pp. 94-9 MS p. 3,1. 9, and on pp. 133-36,1. 8, and pp. 153-75, MS p. 16 Ilan p. 174. Some of
these are early modern rather than medieval texts. Jewish Travellers, p. 105; in Samuel b. Samson
in Otsar masa'ot, p. 63.
24pt?:m rmnrMrn nnDtwi nnDtpn wmr\ man ... Kiytsnn T?m omDDn nv y?a
.rmn *HD0n Obadiah Bertinoro, Otsar masa'ot, pp. 108-09; Jewish Travellers, p. 212.
25 Al-Ghazz?l?, Ihya , 4: 490-92; Idem, Remembrance of Death, pp. 112-14; Uthm?n, Murshid,
1: 37; al-Subk?, Shifa, pp. 126-31; Wanshar?s?, al-Miy?r, 6: 419 (my thanks to Professor Olivia
Remie Constable (University of Notre Dame) for this reference); Taylor, Vicinity, pp. 73, 211, 213;
Guthrie, Arab Women in the Middle Ages, pp. 189-93.
26 Sakhaw?, Tuhfat, pp. 248, 249. Weeping at graves was considered appropriate: 'Uthman,
Murshid 1: 446; Ghazzal?, Ihya 4: 490-92; Idem, Remembrance of Death, pp. 112-14; Ibn Jubayr,
Rihlat, pp. 20, 62; Idem, Travels, p. 37, 80; Taylor, Vicinity, pp. 122-3.

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Whether or not all legalists approved of such emotional displays at gravesites,

sources from all three traditions indicate that Jewish, Christian and Muslim
women and men alike engaged in them.
Women, like men, could become saints, at least after their death. Valerie
Hoffman has noted that (dead) female saints in the Muslim world usually
obtained their status either by being a quranic personage, the wife of a quranic
figure or a male saint, or by their own pious actions, teachings and/or
miracles.27 Female saints from the Christian communities likewise attained
their status either by virtue of their presence in the Bible, such as the Virgin
Mary or her mother, or through their own merits, whether real or imagined,
as in the case of St. Barbara.28 Jewish women whose graves became the object
of veneration were usually either women of the Bible or wives of talmudic
rabbis.29 In contrast to the Muslim and Christian traditions, no tales of con
temporary or near contemporary holy women seem to have developed among
indigenous, emigrant or visiting Jews of the medieval Mediterranean.30 Since
sanctity and learning?whether bookish, or more directly divine?were closely
connected in all three faiths, Jewish women, who often had relatively little
opportunity to study holy books beside the Bible itself, were at a distinct
disadvantage when compared to their Muslim and Christian counterparts.31
The narrative of Petahiah of Regensburg's voyage in the Holy Land in the late
twelfth century contains the closest approximation to a tale of a female 'saint'.
There, the unnamed daughter of the exilarch, R. Daniel, is depicted as being
learned in both Torah and Talmud, and as teaching her male students while
hidden from their sight.32 This legendary woman, like her better-known
Muslim and Christian counterparts, was the possessor of divine knowledge,
so much so that she became a teacher of men. Nevertheless, to the best of my
knowledge, no tradition arose regarding miracles, the site of her grave, or any
other focus of veneration or visitation for later generations of Jews.33

27 Hoffman, 'Muslim sainthood'. She is including modern as well as medieval or quranic women
in this statement. Also see: Meri, Cult of the Saints, pp. 80-81, 188-9. For lists of graves of Muslim
women saints see al-Haraw?, Guide des Lieux de P?lerinage, pp. 21, 32, 82, 126; al-Maqr?z?,
al-Khitat, 2: 428, 440-42; Uthm?n, Murshid, 1: 159-80; Ibn Jubayr, Rihlat, pp. 21, 91; Ibn Jubayr,
Travels, pp. 38, 39, 110-11; Ibn Battuta, Travels, 1: 74, 76, 79, 85, 142. Often, authors will extol the
deeds of post-quranic saints in their lists (see al-Khitat, 2: 440-42 and Murshid, 1: 159-80),
however, biographies of the lives of Sufis or other important individuals frequently included the
deeds of noteworthy women. For a particularly rich text in that regard see: Sulam?, Early Sufi
28 On St. Barbara as a saint venerated not only by Christians but by Muslims as well see Dajani
Shakeel, 'Natives and Franks in Palestine'.
29Jewish Travellers, pp.95, 97, 98, 104, 115, 119-21, 124-25, 129, 186, 191, 193, 233^1, 262;
Meshullam, Masa, pp. 69, 73, 74; Jacob b. Nathani'el ha-Cohen, Samuel b. Samson, R. Jacob,
Shliah me-yeshivah rabbenu Yehiel me-Paris and Obadiah Bertinoro, in Otsar masaot, pp. 60, 61,
63, 66, 68, 116-17 respectively; Sipur David ha-Reuveni, p. 24; Moses b. Mordecai Bassola, Masaot
'Erets-Yisra'el, pp. 47, 54, 56; Ilan, Qivre, pp. 47, 79, document on pp. 94-99: MS p. 2, 1. 6, p. 4, 1.
8, p. 5, 1. 15, p. 6, 1. 4, document on pp. 116-18: 11. 11, 13, 17, 19, 29, 40-41, 59, document on
pp. 126-28: p. 1,11. 6, 8, p. 2,11. 9, 15, p. 3,11. 12, 13, document on pp. 133-6: 11. 9, 27.
30 Since this article focuses on the Mediterranean, the status of the Jewish martyrs, female or
male, of the first crusade, or any that followed is beyond its scope. However, it should be noted
that many of the Hebrew sources attribute 'saintly' qualities to them. In these texts, individual
women's deeds are described, sometimes at length. For a good survey of the sources and
scholarship on the Hebrew crusade chronicles and a translation of most of them see Chazan,
European Jewry and the First Crusades. See also Einbinder, Beautiful Death and 'Jewish women
martyrs: changing representations'.
31 On Jewish women's education in the Near East see Goitein, Mediterranean Society, 2: 183-85,
3: 321-2, 353, 356.
32 Jewish Travellers, p. 11. Petahiah, Sibuv, p. 10.
33 It is doubtful that she even existed. However, that need not have been a hindrance. See for
example, Ragib, 'Al-Sayyida Nafisa, sa l?gende, son culte et son cimeti?re'.

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Muslim and Christian women attained the status of revered religious teach
ers while still alive, though of the two, Muslim women seem to have been able
to obtain and hold such status with less challenge from the male religious elite.
Men did not hesitate to study with a shaykha (a female shaykh/holy teacher),
extolling their female teachers for their knowledge, whether of the hadlth or
mystical matters. Once a woman had attained such status, she was often
treated little differently from male teachers or 'saints'.34 While women 'served'
'khadamaf, their Sufi teachers, they were far from passive.35 Rather, they
taught in their own right and upbraided those men or women with whom they
disagreed.36 Likewise, in the Latin and Byzantine Christian traditions, women
who had dedicated their lives to God are often portrayed as chastizing or
directing men. In the Latin West, however, these women frequently depended
on male confessors to record their teachings and were nominally, at least,
under male direction.37 While some evidence suggests that Muslim women
sought out other women as teachers, or that all-women study circles existed
in the Middle Ages, that Muslim women learned from men is equally true.38
Christian women, of course, possessed an institutionalized 'study circle',
namely the monastery. Indeed, one detractor compared Sufi women and
women who frequented rubut to Christian women and their churches.39 Disap
proval aside, what these examples demonstrate is that the ideal for a female
saint was very similar in all three faiths during the later Middle Ages. Further
more, medieval Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women and men's acts and
expectations of piety strongly paralleled one another in the Mediterranean.

Crossing the lines of faith and community: shared devotional practices among
Jewish, Christian, and Muslim women

Having outlined the commonalities between Jewish, Christian and Muslim

women's pious activities, I now will turn to their intersections, namely indica
tions of women of different religious communities joining together within a
single religious celebration. Sources from all three traditions suggest that such
cross-faith sociability among women was widespread. For example, R. Moshe
Basulah wrote:
A little ways from the area of the village is the marker of R. Yehudah bar
'U'ai and R. Yosi his son. And on the marker is an almond tree, which is

34 Ibn Battuta, Travels, 1: 157; Sulam?, Early Sufi Women, pp. 74^83, 96-97, 106-07, 134-5,
138-145, 150-51, 168-71, 182-83, 186-9, 204-05, 226-9, 232-3, 276-89, 298-305; Hoffman,
'Muslim sainthood'. Hoffman points out that the famous Andalusian mystic, Ibn 'Arab? was
taught by a woman. On the education of women and women as teachers in the Islamic world in the
Middle Ages see Berkey, 'Women and Islamic education in the Mamluk period'; and Idem, The
Transmission of Knowledge in Medieval Cairo', Guthrie, Arab Women, pp. 171-5; Cornell, Realm of
the Saint, pp. 267-68; Sabra, Poverty, p. 84. All of this is not to say that there was no resistance.
Berkey notes that certain areas of study were not open to women; they could not become qadis,
and some of the comments recorded by al-Sulam? suggest that some men were reluctant to accept
women's authority. See for example, Sulam?, Sufi Women, pp. 168-9.
35 On the use of this verb to describe pupil-teacher relations among Sufis see note to Sulam?
36 Sulam?, Sufi women, pp. 84-5, 168-71.
37 'Pelagia of Antioch' and 'Anastasia' in Holy Women of the Syrian Orient, pp. 40-62, 142-9
respectively. The literature and scholarship on late medieval female mystics in the Latin West is too
extensive to list comprehensively here, however. See Petroff, Body and Soul, esp. pp. 139-60;
Kempe, Book of Margery Kempe, book 1 and the essays in L. Staley's 2001 translation, pp. 225
301; Jacques de Vitry, Life of Marie d'Oignies; The Life of Christina of Markyate, a Twelfth
Century Recluse.
38 Ibn al-Hajj, al-Madkhal, 2: 141-2, 3: 200-03; Sulam?, Sufi Women, pp. 84-5, 88-9, 102-03,
126-7, 148-9, 156-61, 164-5, 168-73, 196-9, 212-13, 226-9, 234-47, 250-51, 254^5; Hoffman,
'Muslim sainthood'; Lufti, 'Manners and customs'.
39 Ibn al-Hajj, al-Madkhal, 2: 141.

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dried up for three years. And there is a large field of olive trees and they
are sacred to the saint (ha-hasid). They say that a Muslim woman went up
to the almond tree that is on the grave to take almonds, and the other
women told her she should get permission from the hasid. And she blas
phemed with her words and fell from the tree, and all of her limbs were
broken until she dedicated the gold that was on her hands. The olive trees
were bought from them. After that others were dedicated until now there
are four hundred olive trees. And the act of this woman was sixty years
Leaving aside for a moment the passage's clear rhetoric of religious dominance
or 'rightness' of Jew over Muslim, in this tale a Muslim woman, knowingly
or otherwise, goes to the grave not of a biblical or quranic figure but of a
talmudic rabbi. In her quest for almonds, she does not evince the necessary
level of respect and is warned by 'other women'?their faith unspecified?that
she must get the saint's permission to take anything from the grave. If these
women are supposed to be Muslims then the story implies that already this
rabbi's grave was the object of veneration not only of Muslims, but specifically
of Muslim women. If the women were Jewish, or perhaps a combination of
Jewish and Muslim, again the story portrays women as the dominant, indeed,
sole devotees, who pass on to one another the correct protocol for visiting the
grave, regardless of the others' faith.
Christian pilgrims depicted similar levels of sociability in relation to the
veneration of the Virgin Mary. The sixteenth-century author Greffin Affagart
described women from the 'Turks, Moors, and Christians' travelling to the
Milk Grotto, a place where the nursing Mary dripped milk while she and her
family hid from Herod. According to him, barren women or those who could
not produce milk, cured themselves by pulverizing the scrapings from the cave
wall and drinking them in water.41 According to a late medieval emigrant to
the Holy Land, Friar Francesco Suriano, at the place where Mary gave birth,
Muslim women baked bread to distribute to expectant mothers to ease their
While Mary, unlike talmudic rabbis, might seem like an obvious focus for
shared devotion since she figures in the New Testament and the Quran, certain
Muslim 'saints' outside any scriptural tradition seem to have been similar mag
nets for cross-faith veneration.43 One of these was Sayyida Naf?sa (Nafisa bint
al-Hasan, 762-824) who, according to legend, made her home in Egypt after

40 fra rpsn *?s7i .in or m nw^K nn min1 n p^s nDDn ta rwp nnooD pimi
Dnaw .7't ron? trrpn Dm ?tit ^tk w Vni ?tw Din .on& pw Ht wm ,anpt2?
mm nprw rvnnan nV nom .anptp op1?1? nnpn Vytr? fr?? Vs; nn1?? nna n^nr?tr?
pHS1? rrorTprro is; ,Dnan 7D nhirom trxn p n?Dri rrnmn nD-n mm ,Tonn p
sm? iV ?r? nnw iv ,onn? wnpin D'nm ,o'nt 'sVw ano upai mr Vyp am o^T?sn
.Hl? D*WD HT mn nt^Xn TlTO?l ??T? ?iV? ma? 'Masa' R. Moshe Ba'sulah' in Mw'o/ '?rett
Yisra'el, pp. 139-140. Also in: Moses b. Mordecai Basolla, Masa'ot 'Eretz Yisra'el, pp. 45-6.
41 Greffin Affagart, Relation de Terre Sainte, pp. 136-7. Francesco Suriano also mentions
Muslim women adopting this practice: Suriano, Trattato, ch. 66, p. 124; Idem, Treatise, ch. 66,
p. 137. Other Christians mention the cave and the practices surrounding it but do not include
Muslim women in their descriptions: Jean Adorne, Itin?raire d'Anselme Adorno en Terre Sainte,
pp. 288-9; Niccol? da Poggibonsi, Voyage, ch. 107, p. 55; Santo Brasca, Viaggio in Terrasanta di
Santo Brasca, pp. 104-5, ?192.
42 Suriano, Trattato, ch. 66, p. 124; Idem, Treatise, ch. 66, p. 137.
43 On Muslim Marian devotion see Quran 3: 42-8, 4: 156, 19: 16-40, 21: 19, 66: 12, and
generally Abd-el-Jalil, Marie et l'Islam; Basetti-Sani, Maria e Gesu figlio di Maria nel Corano;
McAuliffe, 'Chosen of All Women'; Schleifer, Mary the Blessed Virgin of Islam; Smith and
Haddad, 'The Virgin Mary in Islamic tradition and commentary'; Stowasser, Women in the Qur'an,
pp. 59-80; T. Winter, 'Pulchra Ut Luna\ On Christian views of Muslim Marian devotion see
Cuffel, '"Henceforward"'.

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coming from Arabia.44 Stories of her aiding Jewish and Christian women
became quite popular among late medieval Muslim authors.45 While Sayyida
Nafisa did assist Muslims in general?for example she is asked to pray for the
Nile to rise?most of her miracles involved women.46 Some of these women
were Muslims, as in the case of a woman whose yarn is stolen by a bird, but is
reimbursed manifold through the prayers of Nafisa.47 More commonly women
from other faiths turned to her for assistance; the dhimmi wife of a Muslim
man asked that Nafisa intercede so that her son be rescued from a Byzantine
prison; Nafisa healed the crippled daughter of her Jewish neighbours by
splashing water on the girl while preparing for her prayers.48 As with Christian
representations of Muslim religious behaviour, the Muslim authors of these
tales had particular agendas in portraying dhimmi behaviour as they did.49
Nevertheless, these tales depict Sayyida Nafisa as garnering female followers in
particular, much like the Virgin Mary. Also like Mary, Nafisa attracted and
aided women of all faiths, not just those from her own. To these Muslim, male
authors, that a Jewish woman should ask a Muslim to watch her daughter, or
that a dhimmi woman would request the prayers of a Muslim, seemed perfectly
natural. Like R. Moshe Basulah, or the Christian writers describing practices
surrounding Mary, these authors portray women as teaching and aiding one
another in religious matters, regardless of faith.
More common still are accounts by Jewish, Christian and Muslim men of
Muslim women, men, and children joining in a variety of Christian and Jewish
holiday celebrations or fasts such as Christmas, Epiphany, Palm Sunday,
Easter, Passover, and Yom Kippur, among others.50 Certain Muslim holy
days, such as the voluntary fast of 'Ashura seem to have been long associated
with Christian, or in this case, Jewish, practices or holy days.51 Other festivals,
such as Nawruz, originally related to the Persian New Year but transformed
in Egypt into a celebration of the Nile's rising, had their origins outside any
of the three faiths, but were celebrated by all.52 Many of these celebrations
involved not only the adoption of 'un-Islamic' practices, but high degrees of
sociability between members of different faiths?exchanging Christmas gifts,
colouring eggs, or cooking together, for example. Because many of these

44 On whom see Abu 'Alam, al-Sayyidat Nafisa. For a source collection devoted to her, see
Kit?b al-Ma'ath?r al-Naf?sa.
45 Sakhaw?, Tuhfat, pp. 129-35; al-Maqr?z?, al-Khitat, 2:440-42; 'Uthman, Murshid, 1: 159-79;
Hoffman, 'Muslim sainthood'; Ragib, 'Al-Sayyida Nafisa'.
46 Maqr?z?, al-Khitat, 2: 442; Uthman, Murshid, 1: 166
47 Sakhaw?, Tuhfat, pp. 133-4; Uthman, Murshid, 1: 167-9; Taylor, Vicinity, pp. 131-2.
48 Sakhaw?, Tuhfat, pp. 130-32; al-Maqr?z?, al-Khitat, 2: 442; Uthman, Murshid, 1: 163-5, 169
70; Taylor, Vicinity, pp. 133, 153. Al-Maqr?z? does not specify the religion of the family with a sick
daughter. Instead he merely calls them 'ahl al-dhimma.
49 On Christian manipulation of Muslim religious ritual see Cuffel, '"Henceforward"'; Bowman,
'Pilgrim narratives of Jerusalem and the Holy Land'; Grabo?s, 'Islam and Muslims as seen by
Christian pilgrims'; Daniel, Islam and the West, pp. 163-75, 195-207.
50 al-Maqr?z?, al-Khitat, 1: 265-6; Ibn al-Hajj, al-Madkhal, 2: 55, 56, 59-60; Ibn Taym?ya, Kit?b
iqtida, pp. 210-15, 227; Idem, Ibn Taimiya's Struggle, pp. 208-13, 222; al-Turkuman?, Kit?b
al-luma' 1: 293-8; de la Granja, 'Fiestas cristianas en al-Andalus' I and II; Meshullam, Mas'a,
p. 72; Jewish Travellers, p. 190; Suriano, Trattato, ch. 41-2, 51, 132, pp. 93-6, 105-06, 183-1, 195;
Idem, Treatise, ch. 41-2, pp. 106-08, 118; Langner, Untersuchungen, pp. 52-5; Kaptein,
Muhammad's Birthday Festival, pp. 81-3, 91-2.
51 Ibn al-Hajj, al-Madkhal, 1: 290-91; de la Granja, 'Fiestas cristianas en al-Andalus' I and II;
Kaptein, Muhammad's Birthday Festival, pp. 63-4, 87; Fierro, 'The celebration of 'Ashura' in
Sunni Islam'.
52 al-Maqr?z?, al-Khitat, 1: 264^75; Ibn al-Hajj, al-Madkhal, 2: 48-51; Ibn Taym?ya, Kit?b
iqtida', p. 215, Idem., Ibn Taimiya's Struggle, pp. 173-74, 213, 227; al-Turkuman?, Kit?b al-luma' 1:
299-302; de la Granja, 'Fiestas cristianas en al-Andalus' I and II; Shoshan, Popular Culture,
pp. 40-51; Langner, Untersuchungen, pp. 55-7, 61-2; Kaptein, Muhammad's Birthday Festival,
p. 78.

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activities involved young children, and other aspects of domestic life, even
when the gender of the participants is not specified, women were probably the
primary agents.53 Sometimes clearer indications are forthcoming. Ibn Taym?ya
complained that during Epiphany, 'Many ignorant [Muslim] women have
begun to bring their children to the bathing pool at this time'.54 The four
teenth-century Maliki jurist, Ibn al-H?jj, describes the Coptic and Muslim
custom of coming to a place known as al-Matariya to bathe and ablute
on Palm Sunday. While in the beginning of his account Ibn al-H?jj does
not specify the gender of those involved, he ends the passage by focusing
on women: 'But in this is an increase of another scandalous matter and it
is that the dhimmi woman looks at the body of a Muslim woman. And it is
Polemic aside, the picture that emerges from these texts is one in which
women from various faiths had similar customs, engaged in common rituals,
and frequently joined together, sometimes with their children, in play and
religious devotion. Yet polemic is an integral part of all of these texts. In the
quotations that I have given from Ibn Taym?ya and Ibn al-H?jj, the authors
clearly condemned these practices. For Ibn al-H?jj, that a dhimmi woman
should see a Muslim woman naked clearly violated the desired hierarchy
between Muslim and the subordinated people of the book. In the tale of the
Muslim woman attempting to pluck almonds from R. Yehudah bar Il'ai's tree,
she is scornful of the Jewish holy man, and only makes her donation because
he breaks her arms. Ultimately the tale is one of Jewish resistance to Muslim
claims of dominance; the holy dead can do what living Jews cannot: punish
members of the religious majority who are disrespectful. By contrast, the
accounts of Sayyida Naf?sa interceding with God on behalf of non-Muslims
served to demonstrate the superiority of Islam and a Muslim holy person
over those of other faiths. The dhimmi woman whose son is imprisoned went
to churches and synagogues before turning to Nafisa, or, in some accounts,
asking her husband to do so.56 By making Nansa the woman's last resort,
the authors emphasize the ineffectiveness of the holy spaces and relics of
other religions besides that of Islam, which, in this instance, is embodied by
Sayyida Nafisa. As with other Muslim stories of similar encounters between
non-Muslim men and male shaykhs (living or dead), the non-Muslims invari
ably convert in gratitude and wonder at the holy person's intervention.57
Meshullam de Volterra, another fifteenth-century Jewish traveller and com
panion to Obadiah of Bertinoro, recounted with pleasure Jewish women's
ability to inform the community of the inner sanctuary of Hebron because

53 See for example: Ibn Taym?ya, Kit?b iqtida , p. 215; Idem., Ibn Taimiya's Struggle, p. 213.
Such behaviour was common to most celebratory events. For more examples see texts and passages
listed in the notes above.
54 CjSjJI ija ^ fUaJi JS QkSiji ?k.11 ety?Jl <> jjj? jL^> ja j Ibn Taym?ya, Kit?b iqtida , p. 227; Idem.,
Ibn Taimiya's Struggle, p. 222.
55 fija. jAj 4 J>,lJ| w> Jl ^?ll jkj ^ j iSjiS b,^?A jbj I?a ^ ??] Ibn al-Hajj, al-Madkhal, 2:
56 Al-Sakhaw?, rwA/?i, p. 132; al-Maqr?z?, al-Khitat, 2: 442; Uthm?n, Murshid, pp. 169-70.
57 al-Sakhaw?, Tii?/fli, pp. 253^1, 354-5, 357; Uthm?n, Murshid, pp. 328-9, 352-1; 'Att?r,
Muslim Saints and Mystics, pp. 23-5, 53-7, 119, 130, 158-60, 204-05, 274-5, 283^1; Taylor,
Vicinity, pp. 118-20. If dhimmi do not convert, often the saints punish or kill them. See for example
Ibn T?l?n, Qal?'id, 1: 100 and Meri, Cult of the Saints, pp. 184-6, 188. That non-Muslims should
almost invariably convert or come to a bad end according to Muslim sources closely parallels the
pattern of Jews and Muslims in northern European and, to a lesser extent, Iberian Christian
exempla literature. See for example John of Garland, The Stella Maris of John of Garland, no. 7,
p. 106; Gautier de Coinci, Les Miracles de Nostre Dame, 3: 23-6; Alfonso X, King of Castile and
Leon, Cantigas de Santa Maria, also Idem, [Cantigas de Santa Maria. English.] Songs of Holy Mary
of Alfonso X, cantigas nos. 34, 46, 108, 286; Cuffel, ' "Henceforward"'; Trivison, 'Prayer and
prejudice in the CSM'.

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women could disguise themselves as Muslims more easily than men; what
stands out is that Jewish women had to take these measures to engage in the
same activities as Muslim women and men.58 Even Latin Christian writers,
who were often the most effusive in their expressions of delight that Muslims
also venerated 'their' holidays and saints, couched their comments in what
was ultimately anti-Muslim polemic, or, at the very least, pro-Christian
Yet for European Christian and Jewish authors, the fact that it was women
who were their sources of information or who were engaging in these practices
is secondary; many parallel stories circulated in which men are the dominant
players.60 Any polemic in their writings was directed towards religious rather
than gender difference. Muslim and, to a lesser extent, Egyptian Jewish men,
however, singled out women, and men who were swayed by them, for particu
lar censure. In so doing they placed gender at the centre of their condemnation
of Muslims' participation in Jewish and Christian rituals.

From al-Andalus and the Maghrib to Egypt and Syria: Muslim men s fears
and feminizing polemic
Muslim sources clearly indicate that all sectors of Muslim society participated
in 'shared' celebrations, for they specifically mention the presence of men and
children, as well as women.61 Nevertheless, we have already seen that Ibn
Taym?ya particularly attributed bida (innovations) involving the adoption or
participation in what he saw as Jewish or Christian practices to 'ignorant'
women. Earlier Maliki authors from al-Andalus or the Maghrib likewise
'blamed' women for bida. The twelfth-century author al-Turtush? placed Mus
lim and Jewish women at the centre of a lengthy discussion about undesirable
innovations prohibiting women from going to the mosque regularly on the one
hand and, on the other, women's habit of raising their hands to pray, using
perfume, or other forms of adornment when they did go to the mosque.62 From
the same period and region, Ibn 'Abdun singled out women and prohibited
them from entering Christian churches or consulting with Christian priests.63
One thirteenth-century author chided Muslim men for 'obeying women and

58 Meshullam, Mas'a, pp. 69-70; Jewish Travellers, p. 186.

59 Cuffel, '"Henceforward"'; Grabo?s, 'Islam and Muslims as seen by Christian pilgrims';
Daniel, Islam and the West, pp. 163-75, 195-207. Also compare with: ITrivison, 'Prayer and
prejudice in the CSM'.
* Jewish Travellers, pp. 74-5, 89, 98, 107, 185-6, 188-9, 193^; Petahiah, Sibuv, pp. 13-15, 33;
Jacob b. Nathani'el ha-Cohen and Samuel b. Samson, in Otsar masa'ot, pp. 59, 63-64, respectively;
Bassola, Masa'ot, pp. 45, 48-51, 56-9 and Idem in Masa'ot 'Eretz Israel, p. 147; R. Issac b. Alfara
of Malaga in Ibid, p. 109; Meshullam, Mas'a, pp. 68-9, 71, 75; Felix Fabri, Fratris Felicis Fabri
Evagatorium, 2:3 48-54, 454^-9, 540 (fols. 8a-10a, 44h>-46a, 72b), 3: 5, 50-51 (fols. 75b, 92a); Idem,
Voyage en Egypte de Felix Fabri 1483, 1: 185-94, 353, 371, 2: 464-65; Niccol? da Poggibonsi,
Voyage, ch. 115, pp. 58-9; Jean Adorne, Itin?raire, pp. 249-51; Bertrandon de La Broqui?re,
Voyage d'outremer, pp. 6-18; Affagart, Relation, p. 138; Symon Simeonis, Itinerarium, pp. 80/81
82/83; Western Pilgrims, p. 31; Suriano, Trattato, ch. 41, pp. 93-4; Idem, Treatise, ch. 41, pp. 106?
08, 118. Some of these Muslims attending Jewish and Christian holy sites and festivals may have
been predominantly women, for example in Felix Fabri's account of 'Sarracens' bringing their
children and joining Christians coming to bathe in a church's pool to be cured. However, Felix, as
with many of the other authors, does not specify the gender of the participants.
61 al-Maqr?z?, al-Khitat, 1: 266-7; Ibn al-Hajj, al-Madkhal, 1: 308-09, 2: 51-3; al-Turkuman?,
Kit?b al-luma 1: 293.
62Turtush?, Kit?b al-haw?dith wa-al-bida, nos. 46-51, pp. 118-22.
63 Ibn 'Abdun, 'Risalah', 48-9; Idem, Sevilla a comienzos del siglo XII no. 154, pp. 150-51. My
thanks to Professor Olivia Remie Constable (University of Notre Dame) for referring me to Ibn

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children' by consenting to join Christian celebrations.64 Later in his condemna

tion he cited Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit out of obedience to Eve as
proof of the Prophet's remark that 'obeying women [leads to] regret'.65 That
this author, Muhammad ibn Ahmad 'Azafi (1162-1236), should cite this story
is ironic, for in the quranic version of humanity's fall, Eve was not any more to
blame than Adam; al-Azafi has adopted a Judaeo-Christian scriptural and
exegetical tradition to condemn the adoption of Jewish and Christian rituals.66
Nor is the hadith he cites an attested or accepted one.67 Similarly, Ibn al-H?jj,
who was born in Fez, Morocco, but immigrated to Cairo, attempted to goad
men into preventing women from ziy?ra by appealing to the 'manly' or 'chiv
alrous' (murud) among them, or those 'jealous' for the law of what is permit
ted.68 Within the same chapter, he described in graphic detail the extra-marital
affairs in which some women indulged under the pretext of ziy?ra and the
familiarity with which some of the male guides would touch or view women's
bodies.69 Such details were designed to anger or frighten men into action by
appealing to sexual jealousy and identification between ideal masculinity and
knowledge and defence of Islamic law. The repeated insinuations that those
who participated in or tolerated such practices would suffer in the world to
come were an added incentive!70 Like 'Azafi , but in greater detail, Ibn al-H?jj
suggests that women's thought processes were different from those of men and
that women were innately more prone to religious error, as well as by virtue of
their upbringing and lack of education in Islamic law.71
Even those, such as al-Ghazzal? and Taq? al-D?n al-Subk?, who staunchly
defended the practice of ziy?ra and certain 'beneficial innovations', felt obliged
to address women's participation as a separate issue.72 Al-Subk? (1284-1355),
who was one of Ibn Taym?ya's major opponents, cited arguments that men
were more suited to visit graves:
A distinction between the man and the woman is that the man possesses
restraint and strength, in as much as he does not weep and he does not
become saddened in contrast to the woman. And those in favor of prohib
iting [ziy?ra] defend [this] by his (the Prophet's)?may God's blessing and
peace be upon him?saying, 'God cursed women who visit graves'.73

64 al-Azafi, Kit?b al-durr al-Munazzam in de la Granja 'Fiestas cristianas en al-Andalus V. The

remark is on pp. 19 (Arabic), 33 (Spanish) 215-17.
652ul?3 elu?ll ?^Ualbid. pp. 28 (Arabic), 47 (Spanish).
66 Quran 2: 30-39; 5: 30-34; 20:1 20-21. In fact, in the last of these passages, the 'blame' is
clearly assigned to Adam. On al-Azafi (in fact there were two, a father and son who authored this
text) see Kaptein, Muhammad's Birthday Festival, pp. 76-96.
67 De la Granja, Fiestas cristianas en al-Andalus. (Materiales para su estudio). I, p. 47, n. 3.
68 Ibn al-Hajj, al-Madkhal 1: 251. Compare with al-Turkum?ni, in Kit?b al-luma' 1: 101, 296
who calls those who engage in practices of which he does not approve 'qalil al-murud! 'little of (or
lacking in much) chivary/manliness'. For a discussion of murua see Hoffman, 'Muslim sainthood'.
69 Ibn al-Hajj, al-Madkhal, 1: 267-70. Two centuries earlier, Ibn 'Abdun was likewise
preoccupied with legislating against opportunities for promiscuous behaviour by women, including
at tomb sites. Risalah, pp.26, 48-49, 50-51; Tratado, nos. 53, 154, 155, 168, pp. 96-7, 150-51,
70 Descriptions of women's licentious behaviour and appeals to men to be more vigilant about
their wives' fidelity and rigour in following true Islamic law is quite common in al-Madkhal See
Lufti, 'Manners and customs'.
71 Al-Madkhal, 1: 241, 3: 282, 4:104; Lufti, 'Manners and customs'. Some authors from the
western Mediterranean were less fierce in their denunciations; al-Turtush? at once cited legal
opinions that forbade women from following funeral processions, and explained where in the
procession a husband might direct his wife to follow to protect her reputation. He also advised
against divorcing her since the damage caused to her by divorce would be greater than that
caused by visiting graves. al-Turtush?, Kit?b al-haw?dith wa-al-bida', no. 311, pp. 336-7; Spanish
translation, p. 367.
72 al-Ghazzal?, Ihya 4: 490; idem, Remembrance, p. 112.
73 (jj*-^^ .31 J-ail <??LaJ ? jau V j (mJLu V ^UV1 ,?j?!j JafJal! ?y* 4jl-o (Ja.jJl ?)b ?\jA\ j (Ja.j?l ?jjj j?? j
'.jjj?il CjIjIjj M <>]' fLij 4jk M ^^ iij?j Subki, Shif?', p. 84.

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Al-Subki's source does not go quite so far as to state explicitly that women's
physiology condemned them to bad religious behaviour; nevertheless, the mas
culine ideal of knowledge and control is contrasted to women's emotionalism,
much as in Ibn al-H?jj. That men also engaged in dramatic displays of devo
tion or sorrow, as I described earlier, is conveniently ignored. Opponents of
religious customs seen as 'un-Islamic' attempted to create the illusion that the
religious practices of men and women were different, the better to denigrate
those rituals of which they disapproved?and the men, as well as the women,
who participated in or allowed them. Ultimately al-Subk? defended women's
ziy?ra; however, he clearly had much against which to fight.
The strong association between women and innovation (bida') has its roots
in hadith and Muslim apocalyptic traditions. Many of the hadith that relate to
the visiting of graves or to practices which might be traced to Jews or Chris
tians have women as their source or focus: either the Prophet's daughter
Fatima, Aisha, one of the Prophet's other wives, or anonymous women whom
the Prophet encounters.74 More ominous are a series of traditions in which
women have a substantial or central role in the religious decline of Islam
during the end days, or of one of the people of the book. Muhammad ibn
Isma'il Bukhar? (810-870) recorded several versions of a hadith in which the
Israelites are 'destroyed' because Jewish women frequently used false hair
extensions.75 Presumably such a practice constituted deceit and efforts to make
themselves sexually alluring. Other traditions deal with the number of women
who will follow the Dajjal, the Muslim equivalent of the Antichrist, or
women's role in bringing the apocalypse, either through their own immorality
or by giving birth to him.76
In what David Cook has dubbed 'moral apocalypses' from the Umayyad
or early Abbasid period, the increase of women's immorality?in the form of
sexual license, men and women wearing beautiful clothing, singing, encourag
ing bida\ women becoming the teachers or employers of men, and women and
men cross-dressing?constitutes signs and causes of the tribulations that will
come in the last days. Many of these early apocalyptic texts or themes seem to
have resurfaced during the Crusades because they also dealt with Muslim
battles with the Christians.77 Late collectors of apocalyptic traditions adopted,
repeated, or elaborated upon the themes established in the Umayyad and
Abbasid periods, to the detriment of women.78 For example al-Munad?, writing
in Iraq in the tenth century ce, stated that during the period of the Dajjal 'The
woman traded with her husband, desiring worldly goods, and women mounted
the minbar, and they resembled the man, and the man resembled the woman'.79
These sentiments were repeated by his Shii contemporaries, Al-B?b?wayh

74 Al-Bukh?r?, al-Sah?h, vol. 2, book 16, ch. 9, ?1052; book 23, ch. 31, ?1283; ch. 37, ?1296; ch.
40, ?1299; ch. 64, ?1334; ch. 70, ?1341; vol. 3, book 46, ?2479. An important exception to the
predominantly female sources for hadith having to do with Muslims adopting Jewish (or Christian)
practices, is Ka'b, an early Jewish male convert to Islam who is listed as the source for a substantial
number of the traditions about Jewish practice and Islam. On Ka'b and his role see Rubin, Between
Bible and Quran, pp. 18-25, 56-7.
75 al-Bukhar?, al-Sah?h, vol. 4, book 60, ch. 54, ?3468; vol. 7, book 77, ch. 83, ?5932 and 5938.
76 Nu'aym, Kit?b al-Fitan, pp. 57, 74, 207, 235-6, 245, 248-9, 327-30, 333, 390; Cook, Studies,
pp. 13-14, 43, 100 and note 45 on that page, 181, 333-5, 338-43.
77 Cook, Studies, p. 49
78Nu'ayim, Kit?b al-Fitan, p. 390; Al-Muttaqi, Kanz al-ummal, vol. 14, 226 no. 38, 499, 246
no. 38, 585, 248 no. 38, 588, 249 no. 38, 598; Cook, Studies, pp. 13, 333-44. On cross-dressing as an
issue of concern in Muslim chronicles and anti-bida' texts see Shoshan, Popular Culture in Medieval
Cairo, pp. 43, 46, 49.
79 ?L-o?lb JIa.j?I AjJjj j 9Jla.j?lj ?ft \ > m*? j , jAlaSl eLi?ll 4-&J j ,L??^l ?J^ L-aja. t$A.j j ?* ?iy?\ tlljaJl j
Ibn al-Mun?d?, al-Malahim, p. 301.

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and al-Kulayn? and much later in the sixteenth century by al-Muttaqi al-Hindi
and al-Suy?tL80 Many of the activities outlined in these apocalyptic texts
are strongly echoed in the writings of those polemicizing against ziy?ra and
shared festivals. Al-Mun?d? and the other apocalyptic authors who followed
suit feared that women would equal, or indeed usurp, men. The reference to
women mounting the minbar alludes to women taking over the religious
teaching or preaching, something against which Ibn al-H?jj had protested in
his discussion of Sufi study circles.81 Frequently in both the apocalyptic and
bid a texts authors objected to singing the Quran, or otherwise chanting in
or decorating the mosque or playing music at funerals. As with condemned
practices at gravesites and festivals, authors sometimes pinpointed women as
the primary offenders.82 Apocalyptic texts predicted and condemned same-sex
and heterosexual promiscuity among men as much as women, whereas
bidd tractates focused primarily on the dangers posed to and by women's
unchecked sexuality.83 Yet some authors of the anti-W?fa' texts drew directly
from hadith and apocalyptic material condemning women as the seducers, both
religiously and sexually, of men. For example, Ibn Taym?ya quoted a hadith
parallel to the one by al-Bukh?r? blaming women's choice of long hair for the
Israelites' religious failures.84 To a certain extent, similarities between the two
genres may be accounted for by their function as social commentaries reflect
ing the tensions within the periods of their composition. However, some
authors of anti-?/rfa' tractates, such as Ibn Taym?ya, seem to have consciously
drawn from material that simultaneously reminded their readers of the final
judgement and of women's perfidy in relation to religious practice.85 Whether
or not the author of a particular bidd text cited these sources directly or
merely included their general themes, any Muslim familiar with these
eschatological traditions who then read the axi?-bidd texts could not fail to
notice the parallels and be disturbed.
In her article on Ibn al-H?jj's discussion of Muslim women's practices in
fourteenth-century Cairo, Lufti points out that the persecution of women, or
at least the severe curtailing of their freedom of movement, was sparked by
times of crisis, such as plague and famine, and that this period was character
ized by increased anxiousness to control morality.86 When one adds crusading
to the mixture, and its aftermath of distrust and anxiety regarding the Chris
tian population especially, the connection between Iberia, the Maghrib and
Egypt becomes clearer. In Iberia and North Africa, Muslims had long been

80 Ibn B?b?wayh, 'Ikm?l al-din, p. 490; al-Kulayn?, Al-K?fi, 8, 38-41; al-Muttaqi, Kanz al
'umm?l, vol. 11, no. 30868, vol. 14, no. 39709; al-Suyut?, al-Durr al-manth?r 6: 52-5; Cook, Studies,
pp. 333-8, 340-42.
81 Al-Madkhal 2: 12, 3: 200; Lufti, 'Manners and customs'. Ibn al-Hajj is also worried about the
immorality that might result from men and women mixing.
82 al-Turtush?, Kit?b al-haw?dith wa-al-bida', nos. 133-8, pp. 184?9 = Spanish trans., pp. 264-7;
Al-Madkhal 1: 268, 2: 309-11; Qummi, Tkm?l al-d?n, p. 490; al-Muttaqi, Kanz al-umm?l, vol. 14,
no. 39639; al-Suy?ti, al-Durr al-manth?r, p. 53. Cook, Studies, pp. 338-9.
83 al-Kulayn?, Al-K?fi, p. 38; al-Muttaqi, Kanz al-umm?l, vol. 14, nos. 38598, 39639, 39640;
al-Suyut?, al-Durr al-manthur, pp. 52, 53, 55, 61. On anti-bida' texts condemning ziyara, festivals,
and study circles as an opportunity for women's sexual promiscuity see above. A few did mention
the issue of 'effeminate' men, cross-dressing, or same-sex love. See: Ibn Taym?ya, Kit?b iqtida,
p. 98 and Ibn Taimiya's Struggle, p. 149; Ibn 'Abdun 'Risalah' p. 51 and Tratado, no. 170, pp. 157
8. Levi-Proven?al and Garcia Gomez translate \j*A\ as 'putos' but the word seems to refer to an
effeminate man, as they indicate?see Tratado, p. 157, n. 2.
84 Ibn Taym?ya, Kit?b iqtida', pp. 39^0 and Ibn Taimiya's Struggle, p. 111.
85 Ibn Taym?ya constantly reminds his readers of the potential consequences of engaging in
'un-Islamic' innovations and that these practices are harbingers of the Last Day: Kit?b iqtida',
pp. 39-40, 55, 59, 95, 148 and Ibn Taimiya's Struggle, pp. 110-11, 118, 122, 148, 174.
86 Lufti, 'Manners and customs'.

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struggling with the tensions caused by a strong dhimmi population and mil
itarily threatening Christian neighbours, a situation recently faced by their
co-religionists in Egypt and the Levant, and which remained a potential threat.
Yehoshua Frenkel notes that there was a sharp increase in the number of
North African Muslim immigrants to the Holy Land and neighbouring areas
after the rise of the Almohads.87 Anne Broadbridge has suggested that fear of
external enemies such as the Ilkhans and the crusaders turned inwards towards
those Muslims deemed threatening to the moral and social order. For legal
reasons, 'apostates' were tried by Maliki, rather than any of the other three
legal schools, suggesting, perhaps, that this school had a particular stake in the
'reinforcement' of morality in Egypt and the Levant.88 Scholars focusing on
sainthood in medieval Islam, particularly the practices surrounding the visita
tion of graves and other forms of 'popular' religion, have emphasized the
dominant role of Hanbalite legalists in opposing these practices, in large part
because of the voluminous protests of Ibn Taym?ya and his students. Yet I
would argue that the initial impetus for this literature came from al-Andalus
and the Maghrib, whose Malikite authors projected onto women much of their
anxiety about Jewish and Christian influences on Islam. The Christian and,
secondarily, Jewish threat, triggered new interest in apocalyptic traditions that
depicted the last battles between Muslims, Christians and Jews, and the moral
decline of Islam with women at its centre. This is not to say that Muslims did
not participate in shared festivals with Jews and Christians, or that members of
more than one faith venerated saints from shared, or even a single faith; too
much evidence exists to the contrary. And I would argue that women in the
Mediterranean did socialize freely, and periodically joined together, apart from
men folk, in religious and agricultural celebrations. Yet the onus of women's
particular involvement with these practices, and suggestions that they are the
result of ignorance rests with certain Muslim men fearful of what their world
might become.

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