May Her Likes Be Multiplied: Biography and Gender Politics in Egypt

By Marilyn Booth | Go to book overview

8
Famous Wombs
and Women's Memories

Gender, Nation, and Life Writing
in Today's Egypt

For she is al-tahira, the pure—she of good parentage and property, comely and consummate [dhat al-hasab wa-al-mal wa-al-jamal wa-al-kamal]…. Khadija grew up in a noble home, and her growth to adolescence was founded on praiseworthy morals and virtuous conduct. Khadija was beautiful, light-skinned, tending to plumpness. She had fine black hair and large eyes.

… Her relationship with the Messenger was at first a business relationship, but Lady Khadija noticed that Muhammad differed from the general run of shabab [youth]. For he was a good person, and he stood out for the beauty of his person and his soul. She fell in love with him and longed to marry him. Yet how could that happen? For she was some years the older. But nothing can obstruct God's will…. Muhammad lived in Khadija's house. He loved her, and his wife loved him…. [After his first revelation] Khadija believed, and was the first woman to submit to Islam. She was the best of companions and helpers to her husband, for she was a sincere believer and a loyal and courageous woman…. Khadija stood firmly beside the Messenger of God, encouraging and supporting him, and strengthening his heart.

Khalid Muhammad al-Sa'dawi,Nisa' mithaliyyat, 1992

Throughout Muslim-majority societies today, advertising life histories of the earliest Muslim women is one potent way to articulate visions of what gender ought to mean in a modern society. The message is anything but hidden: the life history of Khadija bt. Khuwaylid that yields this chapter's epigraph appeared in a volume entitled Exemplary Women, published in Cairo in 1992. 1

Today, as competing groups seek to control, in Deniz Kandiyoti's words, the “'true' message of Islam… [as] the only legitimate ideological terrain on which issues pertaining to women can be debated, ” 2 early Muslim women emerge in print as female role models. The prominence of one figure or another may be traceable to the dominance of a certain political agenda. Fatima al-Zahra' was advanced as the sole figure of authority over

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May Her Likes Be Multiplied: Biography and Gender Politics in Egypt
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Technical Note xi
  • Prologue xiii
  • 1 - Zaynab Fawwaz, Arabic Biographical Writing, and a Canon of Female Visibility 1
  • 2 - A Politics of Address 35
  • 3 - Biography in the Journal for Women 62
  • 4 - Readers, Writers, Teachers 109
  • 5 - Discursive Domesticities 171
  • 6 - Community, Identity, and Difference 233
  • 7 - Women's Biography as Spectacle 270
  • 8 - Gender, Nation, and Life Writing in Today's Egypt 281
  • Notes 311
  • Selected Bibliography 427
  • Index 443
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