Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt

Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt

Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt

Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt

Synopsis

The emergence and evolution of Egyptian feminism is an integral, but previously untold, part of the history of modern Egypt. Drawing upon a wide range of women's sources-- memoirs, letters, essays, journalistic articles, fiction, treatises, and extensive oral histories--Margot Badran shows how Egyptian women assumed agency and in so doing subverted and refigured the conventional patriarchal order. Unsettling a common claim that feminism is Western and dismantling the alleged opposition between feminism and Islam, the book demonstrates how the Egyptian feminist movement in the first half of this century both advanced the nationalist cause and worked within the parameters of Islam.

Excerpt

I first heard of Huda Sha̔rawi when a fellow American graduate student suggested I study her. Who was Huda Sha̔rawi, I silently wondered. He confessed that he too had never heard of her until he moved into a flat on Huda Sha̔rawi Street in the center of Cairo. After making inquiries he discovered that she had led the first feminist movement in Egypt early in this century. I instantly became interested. This was in the 1960s, when “women's history” had scarcely been imagined. I had no idea how to go about researching this feminist leader except by “asking around,” as one would seek out a lost friend. One day I met two women who had been close to Huda Sha̔rawi: her lifelong feminist associate Saiza Nabarawi and her niece Hawwa̔ Idris, also a committed feminist. They became the first women in a long chain who over the months and years led me to far corners of Cairo, to Alexandria, to Minya, and beyond Egypt. These many women unlocked their memories, shared their personal papers, and opened up their private libraries to me.

Newly armed with names of women writers and titles of books, I marched to the old Dar al-Kutub in Port Sa̔id Street where I discovered a cache of women's magazines and newspapers from the 1890s. At al-Azhar, where I was studying Arabic, I borrowed books on women and Islam and debated at great length with my teacher, Shaykh Yahiya Hashim. A few years later I began graduate studies at Oxford University where I continued my historical investigation of Egyptian feminism under the supervision of Albert Hourani, writing a dissertation entitled “Huda Sha̔rawi and the Liberation of the Egyptian Woman.” By this time women's studies and women's history were taking shape as disciplines, and I eagerly plunged deeper and deeper into more research, continually thinking and rethinking Egyptian feminism as I moved between Egypt and the West. Earlier fruits of this labor have appeared in two books and numerous articles I published in the 1980s and 1990s.

With the completion of this book the pleasurable moment has come to remember those who helped me along the way and to offer my thanks. I start with Bruce Craig, then a graduate student in Cairo and now Bibliographer for Middle Eastern Studies at the Joseph Regstein Library of the University of Chicago, for introducing me to Huda Sha̔rawi. I am deeply grateful to the women in Egypt who started me on my journey into Egyptian feminism, who accompanied me along the way, and without whom this book, which tells their story, would not have existed. Hawwa̔ Idris and Saiza Nabarawi opened their personal archives of correspondence, memoranda, and photographs, and their collections of books and journals. Hawwa̔ Idris loaned me her copy of Huda Sha̔rawi's memoirs. Mary Kahil, one of the last of the old salonnieres, placed me in contact with numerous women and also turned . . .

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