|Born||1 June 1894
|Known for||Women's education in Sudan|
Babikr Bedri was a Mahdist warrior who later became a social activist and laid the foundations for women's education in the Sudan. (His name is variously transcribed in Latin letters as "Babiker Badri", and so on.) Bedri began with a small school for his own daughters. Over time the school moved to the Sudanese capital and formed the basis for today's al-Afhad University for Women.
From a girls' school to a university for women
Bedri was present at the battle of Omdurman, where the Mahdist army was destroyed. After the battle he migrated to Rufaa, a small town in the region of the Blue Nile.
There he founded the first school for girls in Sudan in 1907 and named it “al Ahfad”. Initially, the classes were held at his home, and were attended by nine of his own daughters and eight of his neighbours' young girls. The school was inspected by Currie, the Condominium Director of Education, but he warned Bedri that the responsibility was entirely his, as would be the cost of running such a new establishment. A private donation was made that year by Currie's deputy, John Winter Crowfoot. Later the school began to receive funding from the Condominium authorities.
Babikr Bedri's ideas about girls’ education were strongly opposed by older Sudanese who were suspicious of the idea of sending girls to school; the colonial authorities were also wary of an innovation that might unsettle the wider population. Bedri's ideas about female education combined traditional Islamic devotion to learning while providing secular education and religious instruction for both girls and boys. At that time, the main aim of the schooling was to ensure better nutrition and healthcare, with a view to ensuring healthier children.
In 1943 the school moved from Rufaa to Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, and a companion high school for boys was established.
In 1991 the Al Ahfad girls' school was transformed into a college and then into the University of that name by Yusuf Badri, Babikr Bedri's son.
These memoirs have also been partially translated into English. A first volume (published in 1969) covers the years from Bedri's boyhood in the mid-19th century to the fall of Omdurman in 1898. The second volume appeared in 1980 and covers the period from 1898 to 1927.
Babikr Bedri himself commented:
"An autobiography contains stories of many kinds, some of no account except to amuse, and others of significance as examples to be followed or shunned."
Family and descendants
Babikr Bedri's son Yusuf Bedri continued his work, and a grandson, Gasim Badri, became president of Ahfad University for Women (AUW). In his long life, Babikr Bedri had five wives and 21 children. His grandaughter Balghis Badri is a feminist activist, and professor of social anthropology at Ahfad University for Women.
One of his many descendants is a great-granddaughter, the BBC news presenter and broadcaster Zeinab Badawi.
Legacy and significance
Babikr Bedri was "a pioneer of modern education in a traditional context" write the editors of his first volume of memoirs in English, "and a remarkable personality". From the beginning of the 20th century until his death in 1954—his age is uncertain, he was either 94 or 98—he was, in their words, "the outstanding figure in Sudanese education and one of the best known Sudanese intellectuals".
- Memoirs of Babikr Bedri Vol. 2 (1980), pp. 132-148.
- Badri, Amna E., "Educating African women for change", Ahfad Journal (June 2001): 24-34.
- Title page of Memoirs, vol. 1, 1969.
- Communication from a member of the Bedri family, 13 August 2017.
- The Memoirs of Babikr Bedri, translated from the Arabic by Yousef Bedri and George Scott, Oxford University Press: London, 1969 (text from dustcover).
- Babikr Bedri, My Life Story (1961), in 3 volumes, Khartoum: Egypt Press. (In Arabic)
- Bedri, Y. & G. Scott, translators (1969), The Memoirs of Babikr Bedri. Vol. 1. London: Oxford University Press.
- Bedri, Y. & P. Hogg, translators (1980), The Memoirs of Babikr Bedri. Vol. 2. London: Ithaca Press.