One of the most famous Sufis of the ninth century was a woman named Fatima (d.838) who lived in Nishapur. She was a Shaykha and gnostic who abandoned her life of luxury for the Sufi path. She spent all her wealth on serving the poor. She spent many years in Mecca, far from her home in eastern Iran, and travelled widely in Palestine and Syria.
The daughter of one of the nobles of Balkh she offered herself in marriage to Sheikh Ahmad bin Khidruya, another Sufi, asking him to request her hand in marriage from her father.
Ahmad refused, whereupon she sent another message in the following terms: “ O Ahmad, I thought you would have been too manly to attack those who travel on the way to God. Be a guide(rahbar) not a brigand (rahzan)? Ahmad asked her in marriage of her father, who gave her to him in the hope of receiving his blessing.
They spent their life in seclusion and in pursuit of religious and spiritual matters.
She became respected as a master of esoteric interpretation of the Quran and tasawwuf (Sufism).
She was also acquainted with great Sufi saints including Hazrat Bayazid Bastami and Hazrat Abu Hafs al-Haddad, and is also credited for being the teacher of the great Hazrat Dhul-Nun al- Misri. The latter said, ”She is a saint from among the friends of God, the Glorious and Mighty. She is also my teacher (ustadhi).”
A master once asked Hazrat Dhul-Nun, “Who, in your opinion, is the highest among the Sufis?” He replied:
“A lady in Mecca, called Fatima Nishapuri, whose discourse displayed a profound comprehension of the inner meanings of the Quran which were astounding.”
Abu Yazid al-Bistani said: ”In all of my life, I have only seen one true man and one true woman. The woman was Fatima of Nishapur. Whenever I informed her about one of the stages of spirituality, she would take the news as if she had experienced it herself.”
Dhul-Nun said to her when they were together in Jerusalem: ”Advise me.” So she said to him: ”Make truthfulness obligatory and mortify yourself in your actions and your words. God Most High has said: ‘And when a matter is resolved, it would be best for them if they were true to God’ [Qur’an, 47: 21).”
Once she sent a gift to Dhul_Nun who returned it saying, ”Accepting the gifts of Sufi women is a sign of humiliation and weakness.”
Fatima replied: ‘There is no Sufi in this world more lowly than one who doubts another’s motives.”
When Ahmad went to visit Bayazid she accompanied him, and on seeing Bayazid she removed her veil and talked to him without embarrassment. Ahmad became jealous and said to “Why dost thou take this freedom with Bayazid ?”
She replied, “ Because you are my natural spouse, but he is my religious consort ; through you I come to my desire, but through him to God. The proof is that he has no need of
my society, whereas to you it is necessary.”
She continued to treat Bayazid with the same boldness, until one day he observed that her hand was stained with henna and asked her. She answered, “O Bayazid, so long as you did not see my hand and the henna I was at my ease with you, but now that your eye has fallen on me our companionship is unlawful.”
It is related that a woman from Balkh once visited Fatemah and declared, “I wish to attain nearness to God through serving you.” Hazrat Fatima responded, “Why not seek proximity to me through serving God?”
Al-Sulami: Early Sufi Women
Camille Adams Helminski, WOMEN of SUFISM: A Hidden Treasure
Data Ganj Baksh al- Hujwiri, Kashf al-Mahjub