Pioneer of Islamic feminism, a prolific writer and intellectual, Zainab al Ghazali was born in Egypt on January 2, 1917 and lived until August 3, 2005. At a very young age of 18, she laid the foundations for Jamiat Al-Sayyidat-ul-Muslimeen (Muslim Women's Association) in 1936, an organisation established for the welfare of women. She claims that by the time the organisation was disbanded by the Egyptian government in 1964, it had an enrolment of three million women across Egypt.
An intellectual woman, she used her strengths for a noble and true cause. Her story is of facing torture and hatred in the face of activism. She spoke against authoritarianism and for justice and fair rule in accordance with what Qur'an had taught. In response, she faced trials with patience and courage - again something that can only be achieved with true faith in God. Today's women of Arab awakening and revolutions, perhaps owe an unrealized strength and will to speak up against all odds to the legacy of this woman - Zainab Al-Ghazali.
Giving daughters education and strength:
Her father being an an Al-Azhar educated religious teacher as well as a cotton merchant brought her up to adopt leadership qualities giving examples of Nusayba bint al-Kaab (Umm Umarah), the lady (whom we read about last week) fought alongside of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in the Battle of Uhud. Umm Umarah, indeed a great example of courage and patience to live by.
Inspired by Muslim Brotherhood's struggle in Palestine, Zainab al-Ghazali joined the Muslim Brotherhood under Hassan al-Banna Shaheed in 1948. She was a prominent writer in Egypt and a prolific speaker and teacher. held weekly lectures to women at the Ibn Tulum Mosque which drew a crowd of thousands. Her Muslim Women's Association had a political inclination, worked for the welfare of women, offered help to the needy and orphans and published a magazine with her articles on Islamic education and women empowerment to assist the cause of political Islam, .
Author of the book, Ayyam min Hayati (Days in my life), also translated into "Return of the Pharoh" is a popular book she wrote which disclosed for the first time to the Egyptian public the conditions in which female prisoners were kept in within their own jails. No amount of persecution or torture could waver her faith in Islam or her belief in her cause. The book is a proof of her patience, courage and resilience only seen and heard of before in the stories of the women from early Islam.
No torture can weaken a woman:
It was her association to Muslim Brotherhood that led to her arrest by Nasser in 1965. Here she was imprisoned for six years during the same time as Syed Qutb, sharing the same jails. She bore the torture because the authorities wanted her to falsely testify against Syed Qutb and other Muslim Brotherhood men that were also perceived by the government as arch enemies. She was even bribed with the reward of a ministerial post in the government if she gave this testimony.
It was while in imprisonment that she heard of Syed Qutb's martyrdom on August 29, 1965. In her book, Zainab al-Ghazali talks about the level of torture even men may find unthinkable to bear, beyond all expectations of human rights. Men of Muslim Brotherhood were called in front of her jail and and asked to humiliate her by hurling slanders at her which they obviously refused. However, she explains there visions and miracles from Allah in her dreams that kept her resolve strong during this period.
Following is an account in her own words from her book:
|During her imprisonment, Zainab was tortured and humiliated in every imagine way. The authorities used to bring group of young Ikhwan in front of her cell and ordered them to to curse Zainab, which either they refused or while weeping used to say: “How could we? She is just like our mothers.” Nasser’s regime even tried to bribe her by offering a cabinet post (Minister), if she become a witness against Sayyid Qutb and Ikhwan movement – which she refused, again and again.|
After one of such routine torture and humiliation, Zainab fell asleep and found herself in a big desert crowded by camels on each of which were riding four pious men. A long row of camels was passing through one end of the desert to another. At the end there stood a man with a glowing face that commanded respect too. He was holding the reins of numerous camels. I asked gently, “Is the Holy Prophet (pbuh) present?” Turning to me he replied: “O Zianab! You’re following the right path of Allah and His Prophet.” I asked him again whether I was on the right path?”Description of the persecution on her in prison:
"The next moment the door was locked and a bright light switched on. Now their purpose was revealed; the room was full of dogs! I could not count how many!
"Scared, I closed my eyes and put my hands to my chest. Within second the snarling dogs were all over me and I could feel their teeth tearing into every part of my body. Clenching my hands tight into my armpits, Ibegan to recount the Names of Allah, beginning with 'O Allah! O Allah!'…. I expected that my clothes would be thoroughly stained with blood, for I was sure the dogs had bitten every part of my body. But, incredulously, there was not a single bloodstain on my clothes, as if the dogs had been in my imagination only."
"I do not know how but I fell asleep while invoking Allah, and it was then that I experienced the first of four visions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that I was to see during my stay in prison. There in front of me, praise be to Allah, was a vast desert and camels with hawdahs as if made of light. On each hawdah were four men, all with luminous faces. I found myself behind this huge train of camels in that vast, endless desert, and standing behind a great, reverent man. This man was holding a halter, which passed through the neck of each camel. I wondered silently: Could this man be the Prophet (peace be upon him)?
"Silence has no safeguard with the Prophet, who replied: 'Zaynab! You are following in the footsteps of Muhammad, Allah's Servant and Messenger.'"`
"I remained in my cell for six consecutive days: from Friday 20th August to Thursday 26th August 1965. My cell door, during these six days was never opened. I was given neither food, drink, allowed to go to the toilet nor any contact with the outside world, except my warder who, now and then, peeped through the small hole in my cell door. You can imagine, dear reader, how a person can live in such circumstances."
"Write down the names of all your acquaintances on the face of this earth. If you don't, we will shoot you where you stand. Write down the names of all your Ikhwan acquaintances and everything about your relationship with them.
"They then left the cell, closing the door behind them. I wrote: 'I have many friends, in many countries, who have known me through Islamic da'wah. Our movements on this earth are for Allah, and He leads those who choose His path. This path is the same as that which the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions followed before us. Our aim is to spread Allah's message and to call for the implementation of His rule. I call you, in the Name of Allah, to leave your Jahiliyyah, renew your Islam, pronounce the Shahadah and submit and repent to Allah from this darkness that has swathed your hearts, and which prevents you from doing any good deed. If you do so, perhaps Allah will take you out of this abyss of Jahiliyyah and bring you to the light of Islam."