I just finished reading a great set of notes on the women scholars of hadith (Al-Muhaddithat; pdf file), written by Mohammad Akram Nadwi - jazakallah to DrJash for the heads up.

Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

The idea is widespread that Islam, if practised in any social order, enforces the inferiority of women. In fact this idea is so widespread that the very concept of women Islamic scholars sounds like a contradiction – as if to say, you can’t have both in the same society – you can’t have both Islam and women Islamic scholars or, if you can, the women scholars could never have the respect and authority, the public recognition, accorded to men scholars.
I am here to inform and assure you that women Islamic scholars did exist in Islamic society and that, fortunately, they are beginning to emerge again in good number. I have just finished writing in Arabic a biographical dictionary of some 8000 women scholars in just one field of the Islamic sciences, namely the hadith – the study of the words and deeds, the teaching and practice, of the Prophet, salla-llahu `alayhi wa-sallam. This dictionary spans the whole period from the first to the fifteenth (the present) centuries of Islam

The preface to said dictionary is available for pre-order, from Interface Publications.

One of the most remarkable facts mentioned in the lecture notes, was saved right till the end:

It is worth noting that throughout all the centuries, the women’s scholarship, as far as accurate and intelligent transmission of the hadiths is concerned, is regarded as more reliable than that of men. It is well-known that a good number of male narrators of hadith have been accused of inaccurate reporting and some even of fabrication. No woman hadith scholar has ever been accused of such wrongs and weaknesses. Imam Dhahab‚ comments on this point by declaring that he knew of no women who had been accused of any willed or unwilled aberrance from the strict standards of the scholarly tradition. Ibn `Arraq al-Kinani‚ has devoted an entire chapter of his famous book Tanzih al-shariah al-marfu’ah ‘ani l-ahadith al-shari”ah al-mawdu’ah to listing hundreds of fabricators; no woman’s name crops up, not even once.

I found that revelation pretty amazing, mashallah, and i am left wondering about the disparity; why were the Muhaddithat so much more reliable, than their male counterparts? Do you suppose they had less personal ambition to become “famous” within their community, and in effect, less desire for all the benefits that fame brings? I have little idea what drives anyone to fabricate hadiths, but it is not hard to imagine that if a person was in possession of an ‘exclusive’ narration, it would bring them some notoriety, and perhaps favour, if the content was convenient for influential members of society.

Whatever the reason, may Allah reward the Muhaddithat for their piety, and allow the women of this Ummah to continue their inspiring legacy, Ameen.

Go to following link for the full pdf text of Dr. Akram's article.