Nafisa bint Hassan
Nafeesah bint Al-Hassan was born in Makkah in 145 A.H., corresponding to 762 CE, into a household known for its tradition of scholarship. Her ancestry reads as follows:
Nafeesah bint Al-Hassan ibn Zaid ibn Al-Hassan ibn Ali ibn Abu Talib. Thus, her great grandfather was Al-Hassan, the Prophet’s grandson born to his youngest daughter, Fatimah. Nafeesah was married to Ishaq ibn Jaafar Al-Sadiq, who was also a descendent of the Prophet through his daughter Fatimah and her other son, Al-Hussain. Jaafar was a leading scholar of high renown, as were many of the members of that household. Nafeesah was a scholar in her own right, and many scholars sought to read under her, or attended her as she taught. Apparently, Al-Shafie was a frequent visitor of Nafeesah, and he sometimes prayed at her place and she prayed with him. When he died, she asked for his funeral to be brought into her home so that she could pray the special janazah prayer for his soul.
It is reported that she traveled with her husband, or with her father, to Egypt where she settled. Her father was appointed Governor of Egypt by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mansoor. However, after staying five years in that post, the caliph sacked him and put him in jail in Baghdad. After the caliph’s death, his son who succeeded him, Al-Mahdi, released her father and returned to him all his confiscated property.
Nafeesah memorized the Qur’an at an early age, and she studied the Hadith, attaining a very high standard. It is reported that when Imam Al-Shafie settled in Egypt, he attended her circle and listened to her as she taught Hadith. Another well known figure, Bishr Al-Hafi, renowned for his ascetic lifestyle, denying himself all worldly pleasures, used to visit her. However, when he fell ill, she went to visit him. As she was there, another visitor came to see him who was none other than Ahmad ibn Hanbal. He asked Bishr to introduce the lady visiting him. When Imam Ahmad learned that she was Nafeesah, he said to Bishr: ‘Would you request her to pray for us.’ When he did, she prayed thus: “My Lord, Bishr ibn Al-Harith and Ahmad ibn Hanbal seek refuge with You from the fire of hell. Please grant them Your refuge.”
A woman held in such high esteem by the founders of two of the four major schools of Fiqh must have achieved a very high standard indeed. Her learning made her very courageous in stating the truth loud and clear. Ahmad ibn Toloon was the governor of Egypt and he started his reign pursuing heavy-handed policies. People were very angry but they needed someone to speak for them. They went to Nafeesah complaining. They also informed her of the time when he habitually rode into the city. She wrote a few lines on a piece of paper and went out at the right time. As he passed close to her, she called out to him by his name: “Ahmad ibn Toloon!” He looked at her and recognized her. Therefore he dismounted and took her paper from her to read.
She had written:
“As you are in power, you follow a policy of injustice and oppression, and you fire people unfairly, ruining their livelihood. Yet you know that prayer at night, before dawn, is always answered by God, particularly when they are addressed by hearts that you have hurt and bodies that you have left hungry and without proper clothing. It is impossible that the oppressed vanish and the oppressor remains. You may do as you please, and we will bear that with patient perseverance. You may continue with your injustice, but we will seek God’s justice. Certainly, the unjust will come to rue their injustice.”
Her appeal touched the right cord with Ahmad ibn Toloon, and he immediately began to change his policy direction. From that moment onward, he became very keen to establish justice.
Nafeesah was great in her voluntary worship. She spent long hours in night worship, and she fasted voluntarily so often, praying to God that she would be fasting on her day of death. Her husband was away at the time, but he arrived back in Egypt on the day she died in 208 A.H. He announced his intention to take her body to Madinah so that she would be buried in its cemetery with her ancestors and the Prophet’s companions. The people of Egypt were very upset, and they raised a large amount of money and presented it to him if he would only let her be buried in Egypt, but he refused. However, the following day they went to him to try again, only to be surprised that he immediately accepted their request. When they wondered about this change of heart, he told them that he saw the Prophet
in his dream that night, and he said to him: “Return the money to the people of Egypt and bury her in their city.” He actually buried her in her home.
Today, the place is attached to a large mosque known as the Lady Nafeesah Mosque. People always visit the mosque and her grave. Many are those who attribute to her some miracles that they claim she performed after her death. This is totally against Islam. Nothing of this is true. She was a great woman in her learning and her piety. May God shower His mercy on her.