HistoryWomen & Gender

Women in the Rasulid State: A History of Founding Schools in Yemen

A translated version of this piece is Available in: العربية (Arabic)

Scholarship on the Rasulid Sultans’ agenda

Scholarly schools in Yemen were established during the Ayyubid rule, under the reign of King al-Muizz Ismail bin Tughtakin bin Ayyub, who established the Saifi school in Taiz in 593AH and the Muizz school in Zabid in 594AH.[1] In 647AH, Omar Bin Rasul separated from the Ayyubid state and established the Rasulid state, which lasted from 626AH/1229AD to 858AH/1454AD. The culture of building schools in Yemen reached an unprecedented momentum during the Rasulids’ time, as kings, princes, princesses and ministers competed on building schools and allocating financial resources to maintain and support schools.

Scholarly schools were the universities of that era for they presented the highest rank of establishments providing scholarly education and research at the time. When the Abbasid Caliphate fell in 656AH/1258AD, only 30 years after the Rasulid state was established, Zabid and Taiz became destinations for scholars – students and teachers. Rasulid schools taught Islamic jurisprudence, linguistics, medicine, astronomy, agricultural science, chemistry, algebra, mathematics and geometry among other sciences. It is no surprise that schools in Taiz and Zabid became hubs for the sciences and for scholars in the Islamic world as the Rasulid sultans themselves were scholars who published in the fields of agriculture, astronomy, genealogy, history and trade. For instance, King Omar Bin Yusuf Bin Rasul’s books included al-Jamea Fi al-Teb (The Comprehensive Book on Medicine), al-Esterlab (The Astrolabe), al-Tabsora Fi al-Nojoum (The Insight of Astrology), and al-Tofaha Fi Ma’arifat al-Felaha (The Book of the Apple in Understanding Agriculture).[2] Additionally, King al-Mujahed Ali Bin Dawood Bin Yusuf al-Rasuli wrote a number of books such as al-Eshara Fi al-Emara (The Book of Sign in Architecture) as well as al-Kahyl Wa Sifatiha Wa Anwaeha Wa Baytaratiha (The Veterinary Book of Horses)[3] while Abbas Bin Ali Bin Dawood wrote Boghyat al-Falayhin (The Farmers’ Rationale) and al-Alghaz al-Fiqhyia (Jurisprudence Puzzles).[4] In 778AH, al-Afdhal al-Rasuli wrote the first multilingual thesaurus in the history of Arabic thesauri, known as Qamus al-Sultan (Sultan Dictionary) or Mo’ajam al-Sultan (Sultan Thesaurus), which includes the synonyms of 1200 Arabic words in Persian, Turkish, Greek, Armenian and Mongolian making it the first thesaurus of six languages.[5]

ِArtwork by Rofaida Ahmed

The Rasulid era was the brightest in Yemen’s history in terms of scholarship riches. Not only did the Rasulid dynasty dedicate their efforts and resources to making scholarship accessible but they also raised the status of scholars by rewarding them and welcoming them unconditionally to their palaces. All of this made scholars from all over the Islamic world seek Taiz, the hometown to the Rasulid state.[6] Zabid was not any different in terms of the quest of visiting-scholars from the Islamic world, such as Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani amongst others. One significant example was the linguist Majd Eldin al-Fairouzabadi (729-817AH). Al-Fairouzabadi came to Zabid to teach during the time of al-Ashraf al-Rasuli, who became al-Fairouzabadi’s student before eventually appointing him as the headmaster of educational facilities.[7] It was in Zabid that al-Fairouzabadi wrote his prominent dictionary Al-Qamus Al-Muhit (The Surrounding Ocean), and it was in Zabid that he settled and died.

Rasulid women’s foundational role in scholarship

History writing suffers from both a lack of and marginalization of women’s roles. In Yemen, the mainstream focus in writing about women does not pay enough attention to women’s historical struggles and achievements. For this reason, this article aims to shed some light on Rasulid women and the schools they built during the time of the Rasulid state.

The contribution of women to the field of education in the Islamic world is foundational and crucial. The history of education in the Islamic world cannot be discussed without mentioning the roles of women like Fatima al-Fihri, who built the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco, in 254AH, and Khawand Tatar al-Hijaziyya, Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad Bin Qalawun’s daughter, who built al-Madrasa al-Hijaziyya in Cairo in 748AH. However, it is important to mention that these efforts remained individual in comparison with those of the Ayyubid and Rasulid women. And the Rasulid women still surpassed the Ayyubid women in regards to the far larger number of schools they built during more than 230 years of Rasulid rule. For Rasulid women, education and school building was a more regular collective phenomenon rather than an exceptional individual act.

Rasulid princesses built 34 schools,[8] ahead of Rasulid kings who built a total of 20 schools.[9] Furthermore, the princesses provided generous financial support to scholarly institutions, libraries, book collections and copying, student and teacher housing as well as sufi khankas and ribats,[10] which were buildings designated for sufi gatherings and retreats. This support was not restricted to Taiz, the Rasulid summer capital, and Zabid, the Rasulid winter capital, but also included Ibb, Jibla and other villages that were then considered centers for scholarship. As the documented number of schools built by the Rasulid princesses reached 34, it is difficult to discuss all of them here, and so this article will provide examples of the most prominent.

Al-Fateniya School in Zabid is named after Jihat[11] Faten Ma’a al-Sama’a Bint al-Moayyad al-Rasuli who died in 768AH. Attached to the school is a public water pipe, known as al-Fateni standpipe, a prayer area with space for an imam, as well as shelter for orphans studying the Quran.[12] This waqf (chariatable endowment) stands to this day. Another waqf she dedicated to the poor was known as al-Ber al-Moayyadi (Moayyadi Charity Endowment).[13] Faten Ma’a al-Sama’a Bint al-Moayyad al-Rasuli also built Faten’s Mosque, which became known as Gilani’s Mosque after some Gilani sufi tariqa followers began using it as a space of worship and learning.

Artwork by Rofaida Ahmed

Al-Yaqutiya School was founded by Ikhtiyar el-din Yaqut, King al-Zaher Yahya Bin al-Ashraf al-Rasuli’s wife. Ikhtiyar el-din Yaqut, who died in 850AH, founded a number of schools including al-Yaqutiya School in Hays, its waqf for an imam, as well as a qari, Quran reciter, to teach the seven qira’at, the seven Quran recitation methods.[14] She also founded al-Yaqutiya School and waqf in Dhi Sufal[15] and al-Yaqutiya School in Aden, where she also included a waqf for imams, teachers and orphans.[16]

Al-Sabqiya School is located in Zabid, and is also called and currently known as al-Afifiya, or the School of Mariam. The school was founded by Mariam Bint Shams al-Afif, who died in 713AH. She was married to King Mozafar Yusuf Bin Omar al-Rasuli who died in 694AH.[17] Mariam Bint Shams al-Afif also built the New School in al-Maghraba in Taiz as well as Dhi Oqaib School in Dhi Oqaib, where she also built a guesthouse.[18]

Al-Awmaniyah School was one of the very first schools built by Rasulid princesses, built by al-Hurra Loloah who was married to the founder of the Rasulid state, Ali Bin Rasul.[19] “Had she had no other legacy but this school, where she was buried, this alone would have been enough for everlasting remembrance, recognition and gratitude.” This is how the prominent Yemeni historian and judge Ismail al-Akwa’a described al-Hurra Loloah in his documentation of Islamic schools in Yemen.[20]

Mudyah School in Zabid was founded by Jihat Dinar al-Shihabi Aisha Bint Mohammed Bin Ali Bin Rasul. The princess was married to King al-Muzafar Yusuf Bin Omar, and in addition to the school, she gave away property for waqfs.[21]

Al-Assadiyya School is located in Taiz. It was built by Princess Dar al-Assad, whose father was Prince Assad al-Deen Mohammed Bin al-Hassan Bin Ali Bin Rasul; her husband was King al-Muzafar.[22]

Al-Farhanyia School was founded by Jihat al-Tawashi Jamal al-deen Farhan, who died in 836AH. The princess was married to King al-Ashraf Ismael, with whom she had her son, King al-Zaher Yahya Bin Ismail al-Rasuli.[23]

Al-Shamsiya School was founded in Taiz by al-Dar al-Shamsi Bint Omar Bin Ali Bin Rasul who died in 695AH. The princess, who was King al-Muzafar sister, ensured that the school had an imam, a headmaster, a teacher and resources for orphans who wanted to learn Quran and Shafei Islamic jurisprudence.[24] Al-Dar al-Shamsi built a similar school under the same name in Zabid.[25]

Al-Salahyiat Schools were founded by Amina Bint Sheikh Ismail al-Halabi who died in 762AH. Schools included one in al-Mujaliya village in east Taiz, one in al-Salama village, a school known for its outstanding architecture and generous waqf in Zabid, one in al-Musalab village, as well as a school in al-Turabiya village near Zabid valley.[26] The princess, who was King al-Mujahed al-Rasuli’s mother, also built Om al-Sultan School in Zabid, one of the largest schools, with spacious facilities, many teachers and various specializations.[27]

Al-Jiha al-Moatibyia is a school in Taiz named after al-Tawashi Jamal al-Deen Moatab Bin Abdullah al-Ashrafi whose sons were Kings al-Nasser, al-Afdhal and al-Ashraf Ismail. [28]

Artwork by Rofaida Ahmed
Artwork by Rofaida Ahmed

Al-Ashrafiya School was founded by Nabilah, King al-Muzafar’s daughter, in Zabid. Nabilah, who died in 718AH, dedicated financial resources that covered all the school’s needs.[29] One of al-Ashrafiya’s teachers was Abu al-Hassan Ali Bin Abi Bakr al-Nashiri (died in 844AH), who wrote a number of books including Rawdat al-Nazer (The Meadow of the Spectator), Akhbar al-Malik al-Nasser (On King al-Nasser), al-Thamar al-Yanea (Prospering Fruit) and Tohfat al-Nafea (The Exquisite Favorable).

Al-Watheqiya School was built in Zabid by Ma’a al-Sama’a, who died in 724AH. It was named after her brother, King al-Watheq, as it was next to his residence. Ma’a al-Sama’a was one of King al-Muzafar’s daughters, and dedicated significant resources for waqfs, teachers and students.[30]

Al-Dar al-Najmi Mosque, or al-Najmiya School, was founded and generously supported by al-Dar al-Najmi Bint Ali Bin Rasul in Jibla. This school was home to Ibn al-Moualim, and it was named after her husband.[31] The school hosted several famous teachers, such as Abbas Bin Mansour al-Saksaki, who wrote al-Burhan Fi Maarifat Aqaed Ahel al-Adyan (The Proof in Knowing Faiths of the Religious).[32] She also founded al-Sharafiya School, named after her brother Sharaf al-Deen Mousa Bin Ali Bin Rasul in Ibb.[33] Another school she founded, in Ibb, was al-Zatiya School, named after the architect of the school.[34] In Jibla, she founded al-Shihabyia school, and named it after her brother Shihab Mohammed Bin Ali Bin Rasul; it was both a school and a residence for rulers.[35]

Building schools was not exclusive to princesses, as many of the women who served as maids in the Rasulid palaces at the time also made a significant contribution to education. Hajja Qandil’s Mosque (known as Salloum Mosque), Hajja Ghusoon Mosque (known as al-Ghasilyia Mosque), and Hajja Samah (known as al-Hai Mosque) were built by Qandil, Ghusoon and Samah, who served as maids in King al-Mujahed al-Rasuli’s palace.[36] Similarly, King al-Mansour’s wife’s hairdresser designated, in her will, her husband’s house as well as some land attached to it to become a school. The school was indeed built after her death, and named al-Shuqairiya School, derived from her husband’s name, Shuqair.[37]

Rasulid princesses ensured a personal and complete supervision of the schools they founded. They followed up the processes of teaching, selecting and hiring teachers. Their husbands, kings and princes, who were also scholars in linguistics, literature, jurisprudence and history, provided assistance when needed. One example was when King Muzafar al-Rasuli called for the scholar Mohammed al-Shara’abi (died in 702AH) to teach in al-Sabqiya School, which was founded by King Muzafar’s wife Mariam Bint Shams al-Afif. The appointment of al-Shara’abi was Mariam’s decision. When al-Shara’abi requested the appointment of his son to be his successor in managing the school and waqf, the King agreed to ensure that Mariam’s vision was implemented.[38]

Reading Rasulid women’s history opens up wide horizons to learn about the schools they founded, of which only a few have been mentioned. These few examples do not cover what Rasulid women contributed to the mosques and schools that already existed at the time. Those contributions call for a separate article, as they were numerous and full of details.

In the end, we hope that this article contributes to a further focus on the Rasulid women’s faith in education and the critical role they played in that field, not only in Yemen but also in the entire Islamic world whose most important schools and scholars were integrally connected to Zabid, its schools and scholars, as well as the knowledge and artists it produced.


Bachir Zendal is Assistant Professor in Translation and French Literature at the University of Dhamar. Bachir is a translator and short story writer. He has a number of publications, both in translation and literature.





[1]  إسماعيل بن علي الأكوع، المدارس الإسلامية في اليمن، مؤسسة الرسالة، بيروت، ط2، 1986، ص 6م

[2] عبد الله الحبشي، حكام اليمن   المؤلفون المجتهدون،  دار القران الكريم، بيروت، 1979، ص 117، 118،  119

[3] عبد الله الحبشي، حكام اليمن   المؤلفون المجتهدون،  دار القران الكريم، بيروت، 1979، ص 154

[4] عبد الله الحبشي، حكام اليمن   المؤلفون المجتهدون،  دار القران الكريم، بيروت، 1979، ص 158

[5]  يوسف عبد العزيز الحميدي، الملك الأفضل الرسولي وجهوده السياسية والعلمية، رسالة دكتوراه، قسم الدراسات العليا التاريخية والحضارية، كلية الشريعة، جامعة أم القرى، المملكة العربية السعودية، 2008، ص 165

[6]  إسماعيل بن علي الأكوع، المدارس الإسلامية في اليمن، ص 7م

[7] See the previous reference.

[8] محمد علي العروسي، العلماء الملوك في اليمن في عصر الدولة الرسولية، مجلة جامعة الملك سعود، السياحة والآثار، الرياض، 2010، ص 47

[9]  محمد علي العروسي، عظيمات اليمن.. نساء خلدهن التأريخ بنشر الإسلام والعلوم والثقافة، مقالة منشورة في الرابط التالي: http://www.alealamy.net/showdetails.php?id=55553

[10] A place for solitude during worshiping.

[11] Jihat is a title that was given to royal women in the Rasulid Era. See: نور المعارف في نظم وقوانين وأعراف اليمن في العهد المظفري الوارف” تحقيق محمد عبدالرحيم جازم، المعهد الفرنسي للآثار والعلوم الاجتماعية، صنعاء، 2003 .ج 1، ص 525

[12] عبد الرحمن بن عبد الله الحضرمي، زبيد مساجدها ومدارسها العلمية في التاريخ، المركز الفرنسي للدراسات والبحوث، صنعاء، المعهد الفرنسي للدراسات العربية، دمشق، 2000 م، ص 159

[13]  عبد الرحمن بن علي الديبع، الفضل المزيد على بغية المستفيد في أخبار مدينة زبيد، تحقيق يوسف شلحد، مركز الدراسات والبحوث اليمني، صنعاء، 1981، ص100

[14]  عبد الرحمن بن عبد الله الحضرمي، زبيد مساجدها ومدارسها العلمية في التاريخ، مرجع سابق، ص 161

[15] عبد الله الحبشي، معجم النساء اليمنيات، دار الحكمة اليمانية، صنعاء، 1988، ص 53

[16] – إسماعيل بن علي الأكوع، المدارس الإسلامية في اليمن، مرجع سابق، ص 310

[17] عبد الرحمن بن عبد الله الحضرمي، زبيد مساجدها ومدارسها العلمية في التاريخ، مرجع سابق، ص، 166

[18]  إسماعيل بن علي الاكوع، المدارس الإسلامية في اليمن، مرجع سابق ص 160

[19]  المرجع السابق، ص 65.

[20]  إسماعيل بن علي الاكوع، المدارس الإسلامية في اليمن، مرجع سابق ص 65

[21]  إسماعيل بن علي الاكوع، المدارس الإسلامية في اليمن، مرجع سابق ص 168

[22]  إسماعيل بن علي الاكوع، المدارس الإسلامية في اليمن، مرجع سابق ص 137

[23] عبد الرحمن بن عبد الله الحضرمي، زبيد مساجدها ومدارسها العلمية في التاريخ، مرجع سابق، ص 174

[24]  إسماعيل بن علي الاكوع، المدارس الإسلامية في اليمن، مرجع سابق، ص 152

[25]  علي بن حسن الخزرجي، العقود اللؤلؤية في تاريخ الدولة الرسولية، مطبعة الهلال، القاهرة، 1911، ج 1، ص 293

[26] عبد الرحمن بن علي الديبع، الفضل المزيد على بغية المستفيد في أخبار مدينة زبيد، مرجع سابق، ص 99

[27] فضل محمد صالح، الحياة العلمية في اليمن في القرن الثامن الهجري/ الرابع عشر الميلادي (عصر الدولة الرسولية)، رسالة ماجستير، قسم التاريخ، كلية الآداب، جامعة عدن، 2006، ص 64

[28] عبد الله الحبشي، معجم النساء اليمنيات، مرجع سابق، ص 54

[29]  إسماعيل بن علي الاكوع، المدارس الإسلامية في اليمن، مرجع سابق، ص 196 -197

[30] المرجع السابق، ص 201

[31] عبد الله الحبشي، معجم النساء اليمنيات، مرجع سابق، ص73

[32]  إسماعيل بن علي الاكوع، المدارس الإسلامية في اليمن، مرجع سابق، ص 70

[33]  فضل محمد صالح، الحياة العلمية في اليمن في القرن الثامن الهجري، مرجع سابق، ص 57

[34]  فضل محمد صالح، الحياة العلمية في اليمن في القرن الثامن الهجري، مرجع سابق، ص 58

[35]  إسماعيل بن علي الاكوع، المدارس الإسلامية في اليمن، مرجع سابق، ص 72

[36] عبد الله الحضرمي، زبيد مساجدها ومدارسها العلمية في التاريخ، مرجع سابق، ص 82-83

[37] عبد الله الحضرمي، زبيد مساجدها ومدارسها العلمية في التاريخ، مرجع سابق، ص 68

[38] علي بن حسن الخزرجي، العقود اللؤلؤية في تاريخ الدولة الرسولية، مرجع سابق ، ص 348

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Bachir Zendal

أستاذ مساعد في الترجمة والأدب الفرنسي بجامعة ذمار. بشير كذلك مترجم وكاتب قصة قصيرة. له عدد من المؤلفات في الترجمة والأدب.

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