Sayyida Nafisa is the granddaughter of Al Hasan ibn Ali and the great granddaughter of the Prophet ﷺ. She was born in Mecca on the 11th of Rabi Al Awwal and moved to Madinah at the age of five when her father was appointed governor in the year 150 hijri.
From a young age, she memorized the whole Quran and was able to explain the Quran (tafsir) very well for her age. She also studied Islamic jurisprudence (fikh) in depth. She used to pray behind her father all five prayers in Masjid Al Nabawi starting from the age of six. Her father used to take her by the hand and visit the grave of her grandfather ﷺ.
The young Nafisa became well known for her piety, for fasting the day, and spending the nights in prayer. Her extreme devotion to worshipping Allah and her intelligence made her very loved by the people of Madinah. Some of the names she was known by are :The Rare Lady of Knowledge and Gnosis (Nafisat Al Ilimi Wal Marifat), The Rare Lady of Purity (Nafisat Al Tahira), Nafisat Al Abida (The Rare Worshipful Lady), and many more. (*Nafisa means rare)
At the age of 16, Nafisa married her cousin, Ishaq Al Mutaman. She had two children, Al Qasim and Umm Kulthum. Nafisa lived in Madinah the majority of her life. She went to Mecca 30 times to make Hajj.
At the age of 48, Nafisa moved to Cairo. She arrived in Ramadan in the year 193 H and was greeted by masses of people who were aware of her reputation, intelligence, and piety. After staying at the house of a merchant for many months, she moved to her own place in the house of the Mosque of Shajarat Al Dur. She was constantly having people form lines in front of her house for advice or blessing and she started to feel that her taking visitors all day every day was taking from her worshiping, so Nafisa decided to leave Cairo.
When the people of Egypt found out, they came out in throngs to try to convince her to stay. The governor of Egypt, Al Sirri bin Al Hakam, was able to convince her to stay by creating a ruling that she can only have visitors on Saturday and Wednesday. He also gave her a larger house to stay in as the house she was in was not able to accommodate as many people.
In addition to helping the people, Nafisa used to also hold scholarly gatherings for Jurisprudence, Quran and Hadith. One of her students was Imam Al Shafi. Imam Al Shafi moved to Egypt in 198 and was received by Nafisa. He used to lead the prayer in Masjid of Sayidda Nafisa and Nafisa herself would pray following him the entire Ramadan. Imam Al Shafi was briefly a student of Nafisa’s and he would learn hadith from her. When he passed away, she asked for him to be brought to her house so she could recite the funeral prayer for him. Then he was taken to the masjid for the Janaza prayer.
Other scholars who were her students included, Al Imam Uthman bin Saeed Al Misri., Dhunnun Al Masri, Imama Abu Baker Al Adfawi.
Nafisa was known for her incredible charity. She would give away all the gifts she gets to those in need and rarely kept anything for herself. Her niece Zainab was her assistant for over 40 years and would relate stories about her aunt.
Nafisa passed away in Ramadan in the year 208 hijri. Her husband made plans to take her to Madinah to have her buried there but the people of Egypt pleaded with him to have her buried in Egypt. She was mourned by all the people in Egypt, who had just lost a wonderful beacon of knowledge and blessings. Radiu Allahu Anha.
(There are many reports that Nafisa had certain miracles. I have researched this story for a long time and asked a few sources but it was hard to discern fact from fiction so I left that part out)
“The Biography of Imam Ash Shafii.” Shafii Fiqh.com. Web. 01 May 2012. <http://www.shafiifiqh.com/the-biography-of-imam-ash-shafii/>.
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