ʿĀ’ishah bint Yūsuf al-Bāʿūniyyah (died the sixteenth day of Dhū al-Qa‘dah 922/December 1517) was a Sufi master and poet. She is almost the only medieval female Islamic mystic to have recorded her 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.
Her father Yūsuf (born Jerusalem, 805/1402 – died Damascus, 880/1475) was a qadi in Safed, Tripoli, Aleppo, and Damascus, and a member of the prominent Ba'uni 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 had already 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 Bilbeis, who stole their possessions, including ‘Ā’ishah's writings. It appears that in Cairo the mother and 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-Ghawri (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 license to lecture in law and to issue legal opinions (fatwas); 'she gained wide recognition as a jurist'.
She 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 Al-Ashraf Qansuh al-Ghawri in Aleppo shortly before his defeat at the Battle of Marj Dabiq: 'an extraordinary event befitting her exceptional life'. ‘Ā’ishah then returned to Damascus, where she died in 923/1517.
‘Ā’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. Ādjā (who was the final ṣāḥib dawāwīn al-inshā' of the Mamluk period) 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:
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:
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 Prophet. 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, as yet unpublished, in which ʿĀ’ishah 'described mystical states and praised variously the Prophet 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.