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Qasim Amin and the education of women Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Saladin, Egypt Mar 20, 2007
Human Rights , Education , Culture   Opinions
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The 19th century represented the boiling point of social, political, economic and religious reform in the Middle Eastern region in general, and Egypt in particular. The Islamic renewal principles of Muhammad 'Abduh (1849-1905), the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, were a source of great inspiration to the reformist currents Egypt witnessed during the late 19th century, including Islamic feminism. Highly influenced by 'Abduh, Qasim Amin (1863-1908) composed his book The Liberation of Women in 1899 (Sha'rawi, p.15). Not only did The Liberation of Women constitute one of the earliest attempts in the Middle East to improve the conditions of women, but it was also a crucial and accurate account of the circumstances that led to the emergence of Islamic feminism (whose main focus has been the reinstitution of the spirit of Islamic principles concerning women's issues, by putting all improper cultural influences aside).

Amin believed deeply that God's unchanging law was the continuous change in traditions and customs. Hence, he called for the liberation of women from all sorts of entanglement imposed on them by traditions and norms. From this standpoint, while impressed by the status of women in the West and employing an Islamic scholarly analogy, Amin courageously advocated for the education of women at a time when nobody else dared to touch such a sensitive issue for fear of being accused of heresy. It is not astonishing that more than thirty books were produced to rebut The Liberation of Women by writers contemporary with Amin (Sha'rawi, p.15).

During Amin's lifetime, it was generally held that there was no point of educating anyone other than "those who will be employed", or in other words, men (qtd. in Amin, p. 11). As such, Amin called for the need to provide women with decent education, even if they would not have the chance to be employed. At this stage, the reader might think -while maintaining that Amin promoted the education of women- that Amin held the same prevalent notion of the late 19th century Egypt, ie that women should not work. However, Amin clarified his position later when he argued that women, being half of the population, should not be a burden on the other half, by being deprived of their right to earn their living. In addition, Amin related male dominance over females’ financial rights to the exemption of the latter party from the possession of an independent source of income, and its total dependence on the former party.

Tracing the roots of the decline in women's conditions in Egypt, Amin named some key factors. He cited the long centuries of secluding women from outer society and the provision of men with generous opportunities to acquire the highest levels of education as the two main causes of male scientific and intellectual supremacy at that time. Furthermore, the combined effect of male supremacy and female ignorance deprived women of their basic "freedom" due to the fact that they "lost the basis for sound, forceful judgment", leading to their incapacity to- for example- deal with their own financial documents or to comprehend their significance without the help of a male guardian (whose good intentions could not always be taken for granted -qtd. in Amin, p. 16). As a result, wives became experienced in the skill of treachery while dealing with their husbands, mirroring the way a prisoner would act with his prison guard. Amin added that one of the reasons for the conservative views regarding education of women was, ironically, the fear that they would exploit education to enhance their trickery skills (Amin, p.31).

Proper education and upbringing and of women, as Amin put it, led to the solution of all sorts of family problems. Amin explained this statement by addressing some of the main features of an ‘ignorant wife’. In his opinion, during the upbringing of this type of woman, intensive indoctrination took place. The woman's perception of a good husband was strictly tied to his ability to entertain, feed and shelter. From this particular perception stemmed the inability of an ignorant wife to be a partner and a good listener to her educated husband as soon as mutual sensual desire diminished between them. Lack of comprehension between the spouses inevitably created hatred. Amin contrasted this tragedy with another scenario, featuring an educated wife, whose appropriate knowledge and education enabled her to move the temporary stage of sensual desire into a permanent stage of "spiritual attraction" (qtd. in Amin, p. 19).

Amin strongly rejected any hope for the future development of children brought up by ignorant mothers. He equated the immature behavior of children who lied to get what they desired to the behavior of an ignorant mother who was dishonest in her dealings with her husband. Accordingly, Amin associated the adequate upbringing of children to the adequate upbringing of their mothers. He specified the proper upbringing of a mother as one that included “both the intellectual and behavioral facets”. Therefore, not only did he assert that an educated mother would be able to formulate her children's characters based upon inherited features- as any ignorant mother would have done- but he also confirmed that she would be capable of nurturing their minds with acquired knowledge and science, and not on mythology and "fear of jinn and evil spirits" (qtd. in Amin, p. 27).

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My name is Ayman el-Hakea, I am a Construction Engineering graduate from the American University in Cairo. My origins date to an interesting mixture of Yemeni, Moroccan, Albanian, and Egyptian ancestors. I always try to be a moderate Muslim, I like animation, geopolitics, comparative religion, and football. I like to be with "people"...and I hope my writing isn't boring for anyone.
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