Qasim Amin

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Qasim Amin

Qasim Amin (pronounced [ˈʔæːsem ʔæˈmiːn], Arabic: قاسم أمين) born on 1 December 1863 Alexandria[1] died April 22, 1908 Cairo[1] was an Egyptian jurist and one of the founders of the Egyptian national movement and Cairo University. Qasim Amin (1863–1908) was considered by many as the Arab world's "first feminist". An Egyptian philosopher, reformer, judge, member of Egypt's aristocratic class, and central figure of the Nahda Movement, Amin advocated Egyptian women's rights declaring they were "slaves of their husbands," with no identity of their own and that this refusal of natural rights kept the nation in the dark.[2]

Greatly influenced by the works of Darwin, Amin is quoted to have said that "if Egyptians did not modernize along European lines and if they were 'unable to compete successfully in the struggle for survival they would be eliminated," by the works of Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill who argued for equality of the sexes and believed was analogous to the "evolution of societies from despotism to democracy, Amin believed that heightening a women's status in society would greatly improve the nation.[3] His friendships with Mohammad Abduh and Sa'd Zaghlul also influenced this thinking. Amin blamed traditional Moslems for Egyptian women's oppression saying that the Quran did not teach this subjugation but rather supported women's rights. His beliefs were often supported by Quranic verses.[4] Born in an aristocratic family, his father was a Kurdistan governor, and his mother the daughter of an Egyptian aristocrat. Amin finished law school at 17 and was one of thirty seven to receive a government scholarship to study at the University of Montepellier, in France. It was said that there he was influenced by Western lifestyles, especially its treatment of women. This would soon be his role model in his struggle to liberate the Egyptian women. His crusade began when he wrote a rebuttal, "Les Egyptiens. Response a M. Le duc d'Harcourt" in 1894 to Duke d'Harcourt's work (1893), which downgraded Egyptian culture and its women.[5] Amin, not satisfied with his own rebuttal, wrote in 1899 Tahrir al mara'a (The Liberation of Women), in which he blamed Egyptian women's "veiling," their lack of education, and their "slavery," to Egyptian men as being the cause of Egypt's weakness.[2] He believed that Egyptian women were the backbone of a strong nationalistic people and therefore their roles in society should drastically change to better the Egyptian nation. Amin is known throughout Egypt as a member of the intellectual society who drew connections between education and nationalism leading to the development of Cairo University and the National Movement during the early 1900s.

Early life[edit]

Born to an aristocrat Ottoman Turkish father,[6] Amin lived a sheltered life among Egypt's political and wealthy elite. His father, Muhammed Bey Amin Khan, served as governor of Kurdistan before moving the family to Alexandria, Egypt where Amin was born. Qasim's father settled in Egypt and became the commander of Khedive Isma'il Pasha's army. Qasim's father held large feudal estates in Alexandria and Kurdistan.[7] Qasim's mother was the daughter of Ahmad Bey Khattab an Egyptian member of Muhammad Ali Pasha's family.[8] Qasim is recorded as a hereditary Bey both paternially and materinally in the 'Imperial and Asiatic quarterly review and oriental and colonial record'.[9][10]

Education[edit]

As a youth, Amin was enrolled in many of Egypt's most privileged schools. He attended primary school in Alexandria, and then in 1875, attended Cairo's Preparatory School. The curriculum at the school was said to be strict and heavily Europeanized. By 1881, at the age of 17, he received his law degree from the Khedival School and was one of thirty seven to receive a government scholarship to continue his education at Frances' University de Montepellier. His mission in France lasted four years.[11]

Marriage[edit]

In 1894, Amin married the daughter of a Turkish Administer by the name of Ibrahim Pasha Khitab, joining him to an Egyptian aristocratic family. His wife was raised by a British nanny. Therefore, he felt it was necessary for his daughters to be raised by a British nanny as well. Amin's advocacy of resisting women's wearing of the niqab was said to have perpetuated within his own family. A daughter, Fahima, upon visiting her uncle in a frock and hat, was said to have caused the uncle to buy his niece a niqab. Upon returning home, Amin, was said to have taken off the niqab and given it away. Although, he could not change his wife from her wearing of it, his plan was to teach the younger generation of females, like his daughter, to not wear it again.[13]

Career[edit]

After his accomplishment in France, Amin became a part of the British empire's civil servant class. In 1885, he was appointed a juror in the Mixed Courts. This court was said to be "saturated" in foreign western influence.[14] The Mixed Courts created in 1875, was a mixture based on Napoleonic judicial system and Islamic Law. The judicators were foreigners from England, Austria, Germany, and France. Amin held a successful tenure with these foreign based law officers. The goal of the Mixed Courts was to control the commercial life of Egypt during its chaotic control by foreign governments and people. The court's governmental tribunal often competed with the religious courts in its decision making. It was noted for its true reflection of the "right way" because it based its judgments on valid and sound reasoning.[15] By 1887, he entered a predominately western- run Egyptian office of the Government Division of Legal Affairs. Within four years, he was selected one of the National courts' Egyptian judges.

Cairo University[edit]

Qasim Amin's was one of the founders of the first Egyptian University, known then as the National University, it formed the nucleus of the present Cairo University, he was a member of its constituent committee.[16] Qasim Amin insisted that Egypt needed a Western style university.[17]

Posts[edit]

Qasim was appointed the first secretary general of Cairo University[20]

Charis Waddy an Islamic scholar and writer, and the first woman graduate of Oriental Languages at Oxford University states that Qasim was 'a brilliant young lawyer'.[21]

The Nahda (Awakening) Influence[edit]

A central figure of the Nahda Movement that was said to have trickled down to Egypt during the latter part of the 19th century and into the early part of the 20th century during a period of "feminist consciousness',[13] Amin was greatly influenced by several pioneers of the movement particularly the exiled Muhammad Abduh whom he had become a translator for, while in France. Abduh blamed Islamic traditionalists for the moral and intellectual decay of the Islamic world which he believed caused the colonization of the Islamic society by western forces. Egypt at the time was a colony of the British Empire and partly of France. Islamic traditionalist, Abduh believed, had left the true Islamic faith and had followed cultural habits rather than the religion which would have given them greater intellect, power, and justice. Furthermore, he criticized the patriarchal domination of women within the family maintained in the name of sharia law.[22] Abduh advocated for all Muslims to unite, return to the true message sent by Allah which gave women equal status, and resist Western Imperialism that had occupied the Moslem World. Greatly impacted by the influence of Mohammad Abduh and though a trained student of the colonial powers, Amin accepted with intensity Abduh's philosophies which he generated into his own. He too believed that traditional Moslems had created an inferior society by not following true Islamic laws, that advocated the right of females in society, but instead followed cultural values to keep Egyptian women in submission. To him, this created an inferior society of men and women compared to the young men and women of the Western World. Amin spent a great portion of his life advocating the change of women's role in Egyptian society through his belief that a freer and more educated Egyptian woman would improve society for the better.

Works[edit]

Qasim was heavily influenced by the works of Darwin, Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill.[23] And he was friends with Mohammad Abduh and Sa'd Zaghlul.[24] Amin is perhaps most noted as an early advocate of women's rights in Egyptian society. His 1899 book The Liberation of Women (Tahrir al mara'a) and its 1900 sequel The New Woman (al mara'a al jadida) examined the question of why Egypt had fallen under European power, despite centuries of Egyptian learning and civilisation, and concluded that the explanation was the low social and educational standing of Egyptian women.

Amin pointed out the plight of aristocratic Egyptian women who could be kept as a "prisoner in her own house and worse off than a slave".[25] He made this criticism from a basis of Islamic scholarship and said that women should develop intellectually in order to be competent to bring up the nation's children. This would happen only if they were freed from the seclusion (purdah) which was forced upon them by "the man's decision to imprison his wife" and given the chance to become educated.[26]

Some contemporary feminist scholars, notably Leila Ahmed, have challenged his status as the supposed "father of Egyptian feminism". Ahmed points out that in the gender-segregated society of the time, Amin could have had very little contact with Egyptian women other than immediate family, servants, and possibly prostitutes. His portrait of Egyptian women as backward, ignorant, and lagging behind their European "sisters" was therefore based on very limited evidence. Ahmed also concludes that through his rigorous critique and generalizations of women in Egypt along with his zealous praise of European society and colonialism, Amin, in effect, promoted the substitution of Egyptian androcentrism with Western androcentrism, not feminism.[27]

Books by Qasim Amin[edit]

1894-Les Egyptiens. Respone a M. le duc D'Hartcourt was written as a response to Duke Hartcourt's staunch criticism of Egyptian life and women. Amin did not defend the Egyptian women in his rebuttal but did defend Islam's treatment of women. 1899- Tahrir al- mar'a (The Liberation of Women)- Unsatisfied with his rebuttal, Amin called for the education of women only to primary level. He maintained his belief in patriarchal domination over women yet advocated modifying legislation affecting divorce, polygamy and abolution of the veil . The book was co-written with Muhammad Abduh and Ahmad Lufti al-Sayid. The book used many Quranic verses to support his belief. 1900- al-Mar'a al-jadida (The New woman) in his book, Amin envisioned 'the new woman' emerging in Egypt whose conduct and actions were modeled from the Western woman. This book was considered more liberal in nature, but used social Darwinist as his argument. In his book he states "A woman may be given in marriage to a man she does not know who forbids her the right to leave him and forces her to this or that and then throws her out as he wishes: this is slavery indeed."

Other Works[edit]

  • "Huquq al-nisa fi'l-islam"("Women's rights in Islam")
  • "Kalimat ("Words")
  • "Ashbab wa nata if wa-akhlaq wa-mawa. Iz ("Causes, effects, morals, and recommendations").
  • "Al-a'mal al-kamila li-Qasim Amin: Dirasa wa-tahqiq" ("The Full Works of Qasim Amin: Study and Investigation")
  • Al-Misriyyun ("Egyptians")'
  • "The Slavery of Women"
  • "They young Woman, 1892"
  • "Paradise"
  • "Mirror of the Beautiful"
  • "Liberation of Women"

Intellectual Contribution[edit]

An advocate for social reform in his native country of Egypt, during the latter part of the 19th century when it was a colony under the British Empire, Amin called for the establishment of nuclear families similar to those in France, where he saw women not placed under the same patriarchy culture that subjugated Egyptian women. Amin believed that Egyptian women were denied their Quranic rights to handle their own business affairs and marry and divorce freely. He refuted polygamy saying it "implied an intense contempt of women," and that marriage should be a mutual agreement.[28] He opposed the Egyptian custom of "veiling" the woman, saying it was the major pronunciation of woman's oppression. The niqab, Amin said, made it impossible to identify women. To him, when they walked with their niqab and long dresses, it made them more noticeable to men and more distrusted. Furthermore, he exclaimed that men in the West treated women with more dignity allowing them to go to school, walk without a veil, and speak their mind. This freedom, he insisted "contributed significantly" to the foundation of knowledge in the nation. He supported the idea that educated women brought forward educated children. When women were enslaved in the home, without a voice and without an education, they tended to spend their time wastefully and bring forth children that would grow to be lazy, ignorant, and mistrustful.[29] Once educated, these women could become better mothers and wives by learning to manage their homes better. Amin gave an example of the situation. He said "Our present situation resembles that of a very wealthy man who locks up his gold in a chest. This man," he said "unlocks his chest daily for the mere pleasure of see his chest. If he knew better, he could invest his gold and double his wealth in a short time."Therefore, it was important to the Egyptian nation that women's roles should be changed. Although, he maintained his view that Egypt remain a patriarchal society, its women should remove the veil and be given a primary education. This he believed was a stepping stone to a stronger Egyptian nation that which was free of English colonialism.

Controversy[edit]

Critics of Amin's philosophies are quick to point out that Amin had no association with women other than aristocratic woman or prostitutes and they therefore question his stance of condemning all Egyptian women. Furthermore, Leila Ahmad, a novelist and reformer, suggests in her book, Women and Gender in Islam, that Amin's attempt to discredit the veil as a reason for Egyptian weakness is clearly a Western view. She illustrates how Westerners tend to use the veil as a reason to colonize Islamic nations by correlating the veil with inferiority. In addition, Ahmad points out that Amin's Egyptian woman, would not have control over her own body but instead it would be used to build up the nation. To her, this is hypocrisy because the Egyptian woman would still be the slave of her husband, her family, and her nation.[30] In addition, history professor, Mona Russell further challenge Amin's description of the new woman saying that it was "one of the fruits of modern society." She argues that she is not "new", does not care to be "synonymous" with Western woman, and is her own being. Amin, they believe, was influenced by his foreign education and upper middle class position which looked to foreign colonialism as superior rule. It was his way of integrating into foreign colonialism that held power of Egypt. His quote in which he says "We today enjoy a justice and a freedom the like of which I do not think Egypt has ever witnessed at anytime in the past [31] is proof to this admiration. They, therefore, feel his opinions were based on bias rather than truth.

Famous Quotes[edit]

"Our laziness has caused us to be hostile to every unfamiliar idea."

    Qasim Amin as quoted in Nergis, Mazid. "Western Mimicry or Cultural Hybidity:    
    Deconstructing Qasim Amin's Colonized Voice." 
    Gale Biography. Accessed March 15, 2011. Last modified    
    March 3, 2011. http://i-epistemology.net/ 
    .../726-western-mimicry-or-cultural-hybidity-  
    deconstructing-qasim-amin-colonized-voice.html.

"The number of children killed by ignorant women every year exceeds the number of people who die in the most brutal wars."

    Qasim Amin as quoted in Nergis, Mazid. "Western Mimicry or Cultural Hybidity:    
    Deconstructing Qasim Amin's Colonized Voice." 
    Gale Biography. Accessed March 15, 2011. Last modified    
    March 3, 2011. http://i-epistemology.net/ 
    .../726-western-mimicry-or-cultural-hybidity-  
    deconstructing-qasim-amin-colonized-voice.html.

"A good mother is more useful to her species than a good man, while a corrupt mother is more harmful than a corrupt man." Darwin's influence on the survival of the fittest and species.

    Qasim Amin as quoted in Nergis, Mazid. "Western Mimicry or Cultural Hybidity:    
    Deconstructing Qasim Amin's Colonized Voice." 
    Gale Biography. Accessed March 15, 2011. Last modified    
    March 3, 2011. http://i-epistemology.net/ 
    .../726-western-mimicry-or-cultural-hybidity-  
    deconstructing-qasim-amin-colonized-voice.html.

"It is impossible to be successful men if they do not have mothers capable of raising them to be successful." Exposes the limitations of feminism.

    Qasim Amin as quoted in Nergis, Mazid. "Western Mimicry or Cultural Hybidity:    
    Deconstructing Qasim Amin's Colonized Voice." 
    Gale Biography. Accessed March 15, 2011. Last modified    
    March 3, 2011. http://i-epistemology.net/ 
    .../726-western-mimicry-or-cultural-hybidity-  
    deconstructing-qasim-amin-colonized-voice.html.

"There is no doubt that the man's decision to imprison his wife contradicts the freedom which is the woman's natural right."

    Amin, Qasim. "Al--Marat Al Jadidah." Translated by Ted    
    Thornton.NMH Middle East Resource Center. Accessed March 17, 2011. 
    http://www.mediterraneas.org/article.php3?ed.article=73-.

"The woman who is forbidden to educate herself save in the duties of the servant, or is limited in her educational pursuits is indeed a slave, because her natural instincts and God-given talents are subordinated in deference to her condition, which is tantamount to moral enslavement." Amin, Qasim. "Al--Marat Al Jadidah." Translated by Ted

    Thornton.NMH Middle East Resource Center. Accessed March 17, 2011. 
    http://www.mediterraneas.org/article.php3?ed.article=73-.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Political and diplomatic history of the Arab world, 1900-1967, Menahem Mansoor
  2. ^ a b Tahrir al-mar'a ("The Liberation of Women"), Cairo 1899.
  3. ^ Smith, Charles D. "Islam and The Search for Social Order in Modern Egypt: A Biography of Muhammad Husayn Haykal."Middle Eastern Studies. New York: State University of New York Press,1983 : 233.
  4. ^ "The Liberation of Women and The New Woman. Two Documents in the History of Egyptian Feminism," trans. S. Sidhom Peterson, Cairo 2000.
  5. ^ Les Egyptiens. Response a M. le Duc D'Harcourt, Cairo 1894.
  6. ^ Doria Shafik, Egyptian feminist: a woman apart, Cynthia Nelson
  7. ^ Amin, Qasim. The Liberation of Women: Two Documents in the History of Egyptian feminism. Tr. Samiha Sidhom Peterson. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2000, p. xi.
  8. ^ Gendered nations, nationalisms and gender order in the long nineteenth century, Ida Blom, Karen Hagemann, Catherine Hall
  9. ^ The Imperial and asiatic quarterly review and oriental and colonial record, Oriental Institute (Woking, England), East India Association (London, England)
  10. ^ The international who's who, Europa Publications, 1956
  11. ^ al-A mal al-kamila li-Qasim: Dirasa wa-tahquiq ("The collected works of Qasim Amin. Study And research"), ed. Imara, Beirut 1976.
  12. ^ a b c d The liberation of women and The new woman, two documents in history, Qasim Amīn
  13. ^ a b Baron, Beth. "The Women's Awakening in Egypt: Culture Society and The Press." The American Historical Review 100, no. 5(Dec 1995): 1637-1638.
  14. ^ Huquq al-nisa fi l-islam ("Women's rights in Islam"), Cairo 1900.
  15. ^ Hoyle, Mark S. "The Mixed Courts of Egypt: 1906-1915." Arab Quarterly." 2, no1 (May 1987).
  16. ^ Louis Awad ,The literature of ideas in Egypt, Volume 1, Scholars Press, 1986.
  17. ^ Philip Mattar, Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East & North Africa: A-C, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004
  18. ^ Biographical dictionary of modern Egypt, Arthur Goldschmidt
  19. ^ Cairo University and the Making of Modern Egypt, Donald Malcolm Reid
  20. ^ The Egyptian upper class between revolutions, 1919-1952, Magda Baraka, St. Antony's College (University of Oxford). Middle East Centre
  21. ^ Women in Muslim history, Charis Waddy
  22. ^ Badron, Margot. "Unveiling in Early Century Egypt: Practical and Symbolic Considerations." Middle Eastern Studies 25, no. 3 (July 1989): 370-386.
  23. ^ Islam and the search for social order in modern Egypt, Charles D. Smith
  24. ^ Between two empires: Ahmet Ağaoğlu and the new Turkey, Ada Holland Shissler
  25. ^ Qasim Amin by Ted Thornton, from History of the Middle East Database, retrieved 29 December 2004.
  26. ^ A Century After Qasim Amin: Fictive Kinship and Historical Uses of “Tahrir al-Mara '”, Malek Abisaab and Rula Jurdi Abisaab, Al Jadid, Vol. 6, no. 32 (Summer 2000), retrieved 29 December 2004.
  27. ^ Ahmed (1992). Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05583-8. 
  28. ^ Kalimat ("Words"), Cario 1908.
  29. ^ al-Mar a al-jadida (The New Woman), Cairo 1900.
  30. ^ Ahmad, Leila, "Women and Gender in Islam.
  31. ^ El Saada, Hoda. "Amin Qasim."Encyclopedaia of Islam 3. Ed. Gunrun Kramer. Et al. Brill Online The University of Texas at Austin 17April 2011.