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A Woman Scholar of the Quran
(Verily Knowledge is taken away by the Death of the Scholars)

Umm Al-Sa’ad Al-Iskandraniyyah (Alexandria)

[D. 17th Ramadhan 1427(Around October 10th, 2006)]


After Umm Al-Sa’ad completed her memorization of the Quran at the age of 15 she went to the Shaykha Nufaysa bint Abu Al-Alaa, who was known as “The Shaykha of her time” to request from her to learn the 10 Qira’aat (recitations). Nufaysa agreed on an peculiar condition; that Umm Al-Sa’ad never marry. She used to refuse to teach girls because they would marry, become busy(with husband and kids), and neglect the Quran.

What was even more amazing was that Umm Al-Sa’ad accepted the condition from her Shaykha who was known for her strictness and harshness against those whom she did not feel were proper for this honorable task. But Umm Al-Sa’ad was encouraged by the fact that her Shaykha herself had never married, even though there were many of the great scholars who had sought her hand, and she died in that state while in her eighties, having secluded herself to the Quran!

Umm Al-Sa’ad said, “It is from the blessings of my Lord that anyone who has obtained an ijaaza in the Quran, in any Qiraa’ah, in Alexandria either received it directly from me (munaawala) or from someone whom I had given an ijaaza to.

And what proved her unique status was that she was the only woman to whom recitors and huffadh of the Quran would travel to receive ijaaza in the ten qira’aat.

Umm Al-Sa’ad Ali Najm,age 77, is considered to be the most well known woman in the world of recitations of the Quran. The only woman to specialize in the ten qira’aat, and has spent over fifty years granting ijaazas in the ten qira’aat.

Waves of people could be seen entering and leaving her humble apartment, students who dreamed of memorizing the Quran, comprised of different age groups and both genders.

Classes for the women and girls would begin from 8 AM until 2 PM after which the classes for men and boys would start until 8 PM. Umm Al-Sa’ad would continue all day with no breaks except for salah and a light meal to sustain her.

Umm Al-Sa’ad was born into a poor family in a town called Bandaariya, one of the towns of the larger city Munofiyya (north of Cairo). She was afflicted by blindness shortly after her first year and, as was the practice of many in rural areas in dealing with blindness, her family sent her to learn the Quran. She completed her memorization in Alexandria at the age of 15. She then completed the memorization of the ten recitations of the Quran from Shaykha Nufaysa when she had reached the age of 23.

Umm Al-Sa’ad mentioned that when she had completed her memorization of the qira’aat the number of huffaadh were few. Families used to request from her, as they had requested from her Shaykha before her, to recite Quran for them at occasions and religious festivals. It was acceptable at that time for a woman to recite the Quran with tajweed in the presence of men who- as she recounted- used to praise her recitation and the beauty of her tajweed. She mentioned however that this practice disappeared after Quranic recitors became widespread, as well as the spread of radios and televisions, and the most that could be done by a female recitor now is to recite at occasions that were females only. She believed that the real reason for this however was the belief that had increased in the recent years that the voice of the woman is awrah.

She had one of the highest Isnaads (chains of narration) in the world. Her isnaad in the recitation of Hafs from Aasim had 27 Shaykhs in between her and the Messenger of Allah Sal Allahu Alayhi wa Sallam. This put her on the same level with well known Shuyukh of recitation such as Shaykh Abdul Basit Hashim and Shaykh Muhammad Abd Alhameed Abdullah.

Many different types of people would return to her, seeking the completion of the Quran or ijaazah in a Qiraa’ah, from all ages and levels in society. In a day she would teach old and young students, men and women, engineers, doctors, teachers, university professors, college students, high school students, etc.

She would single out for each student a time, not more than an hour in a day, in which the student would recite what they had memorized and she would correct their mistakes bit by bit, until they memorize the Quran in one of it’s qira’aat.

Umm Al-Sa’ad once commented:

“Sixty years of memorizing the Quran and it’s recitations has made me unable to forget any of it. I can recall every ayah, it’s surah and its juz, I know the ayaat that are similar (mutashabih) and how to recite the same ayah in different qira’aat. I feel like I know the Quran like my name, I cannot imagine forgetting a letter of it or making a mistake in it. I don’t know anything other than the Quran and its recitations. I never learned a science, listened to a lecture, or memorized anything other than the Quran and the mutoon that were related to the Quran and tajweed. I don’t know anything other than that.”

Her students:

When asked about her students Umm Al-Sa’ad said:

“I remember every one of them, there were some who received Ijaaza in one of the recitations, and there were some (and they were very few) who received ijaaza in all ten recitations. They are the ones who receive an ijaaza with a special seal that I have that I always keep with me, I never give it to anyone no matter how much I have trust in them.”

The happiest days for Umm Al-Sa’ad are the days of khatma, when she would grant a student an ijaaza, even though she has experienced this day over 300 times! She keeps a copy of every ijaaza, the most recent one being to a sister in the recitation of Qaloon from Nafi’.

On the day of khatma, a waleema is normally done, or a tea party with sweets. The student who is receiving the ijaaza normally gives a gift to the Shaykha; a jilbab, a ring, golden earrings, all according to what they can afford. As for the most beautiful gift that the Shaykha received was a Hajj and Umrah trip accompanied with being hosted in Saudia for an entire year! The best part of the trip, after the hajj and umrah, was that she reviewed the Quran, and granted ijaazas in all ten recitations to students from all over the world; Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, Palestine, Lebanon, Chad, Afghanistan…

The most beloved of those ijaazas that she granted was to a student from Saudi Arabia who received it when she was seventeen years old!

The wives of her students become jealous…

And from the most interesting things that Umm Al-Sa’ad recounts is that some of the wives of her students became jealous and fearful that she might “snatch” their husbands. Especially since their husbands would continually speak about their Shaykha with pride and endearment. To the extent that some of the wives would accompany their husbands to the class to ensure that their fear had no real cause, for the Shaykha was old and blind!

“And some of the men hesitated to recite to me considering that I’m a woman, and some refused, but Shaykh Muhammad Isma’eel (the most well known shaykh of Qur’an and Sunnah in Alexandria) gave a fatwa that they could when he learned of my age, and he sent his entire family to me to recite to me!”

And what about her marriage?

When she was asked about the closest student to her, she replied “My husband, Shaykh Muhammad Fareed Nu’man.”

Shaykh Muhammad Fareed, who- before his death some years ago-was the most well known recitor on Alexandria radio. He was also the first one to receive an ijaaza from Umm Al-Sa’ad.

She said about the story of her marriage, “I was not able to keep my promise to my Shaykha Nufaysa. He used to recite to me the Quran in all ten recitations, I became comfortable with him, and he was like me in that he was blind and memorized the Quran at an early age. I taught him for five years, and when he finished he asked me for my hand in marriage and I accepted.”

She was married to him for forty years and had no children.

But she had students who were huffadh and recitors of the Quran, so all praise is due to Allah.

She commentated on that saying, “Alhamdullilah, I feel like Allah chooses for me the good always. Maybe if I had children I would have become busy with them and neglected the Quran or forgot it.”

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