'A'isha al-Ba'uniyya: The sufi Master and Poet-medieval female Islamic mystic
ʿĀ’ishah bint Yūsuf al-Bāʿūniyyah (عائشة بنت يوسف الباعونية, died the sixteenth day of Dhū al-Qa‘dah, 922/1517) was a Sufi master and poet. She is one of few medieval female Islamic mystics to have recorded their own views in writing, and she "probably composed more works in Arabic than any other woman prior to the twentieth century". 'In her, the literary talents and Ṣūfi tendencies of her family reached full fruition. She was born and died in Damascus.
Life of ʿĀ’ishah bint Yūsuf al-Bāʿūniyyah
Her father Yūsuf (born Jerusalem, 805/1402 – died in Damascus, 880/1475) was a qadi in Safed, Tripoli, Aleppo, and Damascus, and a member of the prominent al-Bāʻūnī family noted through the fifteenth century for its scholars, poets and jurists.
Like her brothers ‘Ā’ishah was taught primarily by her father, along with other family members, studying the Quran, hadith, jurisprudence, and poetry, and by her own claim, by the age of eight, ‘Ā’ishah was a hafiza (she had learned the Quran by heart).
Meanwhile, her principal Sufi masters were Jamāl al-Dīn Ismā‘īl al-Ḥawwārī (fl. late ninth/fifteenth century) and his successor Muḥyī al-Dīn Yaḥyá al-Urmawī (fl. ninth-tenth/fifteenth-sixteenth centuries), whom she held in high regard. Probably in 1475, ‘Ā’ishah undertook the pilgrimage to Mecca.
She was married to Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad Ibn Naqīb al-Ashrāf (d. 909/1503), from the prominent ‘Alid family of Damascus, also noted for their scholarship; by ‘Ā’ishah's reckoning, Aḥmad was descended from Muḥammad's daughter Faṭimah and her husband ‘Alī, via their son al-Ḥusayn.
‘Ā’ishah and Aḥmad had two known children, a son, ‘Abd al-Wahhāb (b. 897/1489), and a daughter, Barakah (b. 899/1491).
Studies in Cairo and death
In 919/1513, ‘Ā’ishah and her son moved from Damascus to Cairo, returning to Damascus in 923/1517. ‘Ā’ishah's goal may have been to secure the career of her son. On the way, their caravan was raided by bandits near Bilbies, who stole their possessions, including ‘Ā’ishah's writings.
It appears that in Cairo, she and her son were hosted by Maḥmūd ibn Muḥammad ibn Ajā (b. 854/1450, d. 925/1519), who was personal secretary and foreign minister to the Mamluk sultan al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghuri (d. 922/1516). Ibn Ajā helped ‘Abd al-Wahhāb find work in the chancery and helped ‘Ā’ishah enter into Cairo's intellectual circles; ‘Ā’ishah went on to write him 'several glowing panegyrics'.
In Cairo, ‘Ā’ishah studied law and was granted a license to lecture in law and to issue fatwas (legal opinions); "she gained wide recognition as a jurist".
‘Ā’ishah left Cairo in 922/1516, with her son and Ibn Ajā, and alongside al-Badr al-Suyūfī (c. 850–925/1446–1519), al-Shams al-Safīrī (877–956/1472–1549), and several other noted scholars, was granted an audience with Sultan Qansuh al-Ghawri in Aleppo shortly before his defeat at the Battle of Marj Dabiq: 'an extraordinary event befitting her exceptional life'.
ʻĀ’ishah then returned to Damascus, where she died in 923/1517. ʻĀ’ishah "inherited an independence of mind and outlook which is seen in her companionship with her men contemporaries on equal terms".
Thus she was a close friend of Abu 'l-Thanā' Maḥmūd b. Ajā, who was the final ṣāḥib dawāwīn al-inshāʼ of the Mamluk era, and corresponded, in verse, with the Egyptian scholar ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-‘Abbāsī (b. 867/1463, d. 963/1557). 'It is quite apparent from biographies of ‘Ā’ishah and from her own comments in her writings that she was highly regarded as a pious woman and Sufi master.'
List of works
According to Th. Emil Homerin, the chronology of ʿĀ’ishah's work is not yet known, and indeed the majority has been lost, but ʿĀ’ishah's known original works are:
- Dīwān al-Bā‘ūniyyah (collection of poems)
- Durar al-ghā’iṣ fī baḥr al-Mu‘jizāt wa ’l-kha-ṣā’iṣ (The Diver's Pearls, on the Sea of "The Miracles and Virtues")
- al-Fatḥ al-ḥaqqī min fayḥ al-talaqqī (True Inspiration, from the Diffused Perfume of Mystical Learning') (lost)
- al-Fatḥ al-mubīn fī madḥ al-amīn (Clear Inspiration, on Praise of the Trusted One)
- al-Fatḥ al-qarīb fī mi‘rāq al-ḥabīb (Immediate Inspiration, on the Ascension of the Beloved) (lost)
- Fayḍ al-faḍl wa-jam‘ al-shaml (The Emanation of Grace and the Gathering of the Union)
- Fayḍ al-wafā fī asmā’ al-muṣṭafā (The Emanation of Loyalty, on the Names of the Chosen One) (lost)
- al-Ishārāt al-khafiyyah fī ’l-Manāzi al-‘aliyyah (The Hidden Signs, on the "Exalted Stations") (lost)
- Madad al-wadūd fī mawlid al-maḥmūd (The Aid of the Affectionate God, on the Birth of the Praiseworthy Prophet) (lost)
- al-Malāmiḥ al-sharīfah min al-āthār al-laṭīfah (Noble Features, on Elegant Reports) (lost)
- al-Mawrid al-ahnā fī ’l-mawlid al-asnā (The Most Wholesome Source, on the Most Exalted Birthday)
- al-Munktakhab fī uṣūl al-rutab (Selections on the Fundamentals of Stations)
- al-Qawl al-ṣaḥīḥ fī takhmīs Burdat al-madīḥ (Reliable Words, on the Quintains of the "Mantle of Eulogy")
- Ṣilāt al-salām fī faḍl al-ṣalāh wa ’l-salām (Gifts of Peace, on the Merit of Blessing and Salutation) (lost)
- Tashrīf al-fikr fī naẓm fawā’id al-dhikr (Noble Thought, on the Benefits of Recollection in Verse)
- al-Zubdah fī takhmīs al-Burdah (The Fresh Cream Quintain of "The Mantle") (lost)
In addition to these, ʿĀ’ishah adapted a range of other texts. Homerin has also published some of the only translations of ʿĀ’ishah's work into English:
- Th. Emil Homerin, 'Living Love: The Mystical Writings of ʿĀ’ishah al-Bāʿūniyyah (d. 922/1516)', Mamluk Studies Review, 7 (2003), 211-34
al-Fatḥ al-mubīn fī madḥ al-amīn
ʿĀ’ishah's best known work is her al-Fatḥ al-mubīn fī madḥ al-amīn (Clear Inspiration, on Praise of the Trusted One), a 130-verse Badī‘iyya (a form designed to illustrate the badī or rhetorical devices in the poetic repertoire, with each verse illustrating a particular device) in praise of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Making reference to nearly fifty earlier poets, the work emphasises the breadth of ʿĀ’ishah's learning. This text 'no doubt' inspired ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī's Nasamāt al-Azhār; both writers accompanied their respective badī‘iyyas with a commentary.
Fayḍ al-faḍl wa-jam‘ al-shaml
Fayḍ al-faḍl wa-jam‘ al-shaml (The Emanation of Grace and the Gathering of the Union) is a collection of over 300 long poems in which ʿĀ’ishah 'described mystical states and praised variously Muhammad, the founder of her order 'Abd al-Qadir Jilani, and her own Sufi shaykhs. She used technical Sufi terminology and typical Sufi poetic motifs such as wine and love in her poems'. They seem to date from throughout ʿĀ’ishah's life up to her move to Cairo, and show her command of almost all Arabic poetic forms of the time.
al-Mawrid al-ahnā fī ’l-mawlid al-asnā and al-Fatḥ al-mubīn fī madḥ al-amīn, in ‘Ā’ishah al-Bā‘ūniyyah al-Dimashqiyyah, ed. by F. al-‘Alawī (Damascus: Dār Ma‘add, 1994).
Dīwān Fayḍ al-faḍl wa-jamʻ al-shaml, ed. by Mahdī Asʻad ʻArār (Bayrūt : Dār al-Kutub al-ʻIlmīyah, 2010). ISBN 9782745167637