28 Oct. - 3 Nov. 1999
Issue No. 453
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Plain talkBy Mursi Saad El-Din
The Supreme Council for Culture has just celebrated a hundred years since the publication of Qassim Amin's daring book "The Emancipation of Women." The conference was under the patronage of Mrs Mubarak, who attended the inaugural session and gave an inspiring speech. The celebration included talks and round table discussions about women's affairs, by both men and women.
To Qassim Amin goes all the credit for the campaign against the "veil" which, more than anything else, gave the West a distorted idea about the position of women in Egypt.
Having finished his higher studies in Egypt, Qassim Amin went to France to pursue further studies. It was there that he came across writers and intellectuals who embraced issues of freedom and human rights. On his return to Egypt Qassim Amin started his campaign which centred around three main issues: the veil, polygamy and divorce.
In dealing with these three topics, Qassim drew on the liberal interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence embraced by Sheikh Mohamed Abdou. He pointed out that religion never demanded the covering of women's faces or hands. He gave instances from the rulings of the Prophet and quotations from the sayings of his disciples. From the social point of view Qassim Amin dwelt upon the evils the veil brought. Women grew in an entirely female atmosphere, having seen nothing of males, other than the closest of relations, and having not been seen by men. All their ideas about the masculine world were legendary and fantastic. Qassim pointed out that healthy friendships between men and women were not conducive to immorality as was generally believed. Education and not segregation was the basis of morality.
This friendship and the happy relations between the sexes, he advocated, were the foundations on which marriage should be based. He wanted a family atmosphere of love, honour and understanding. This, if faithfully observed, would limit divorce and polygamy. He pointed out that the Koran put men and women on a par and that, by virtue of the conditions laid down, polygamy was not advocated by Islam.
Divorce, as such, was in Qassim Amin's view a social necessity. Where there is marriage there will always be divorce. But even necessities can be abused. There are checks laid by religion on divorce. These, he said, must be observed. He advocated that divorce must not be entrusted to husbands, as indeed it was in his days, but it should be a question for the courts to settle, as is the case nowadays.
Qassim Amin advocated compatibility between husband and wife in the widest sense of the word. Unless man and wife are of the same standard of education, wealth and breeding, a marriage cannot be expected to be successful for long.
Besides his many articles and books on social reform written in Arabic, Qassim Amin made it his business to challenge the vitriolic attacks made by European writers on Egyptian women. Such books as L'Egypte et les Egyptiens by le Duc d'Harcourt and William Lane's Manners and Customs of Modern Egyptians -- both 19th century publications, roused Qassim Amin's patriotism and prompted an enthusiastic reply: Les Egyptien-Response a M. le Duc d'Harcourt. The preparation of this reply gave Qassim Amin insight and revealed to him all the intricacies of the subject that interested most social reform.
Qassim Amin was unique in the success he achieved right through his life. As man, public prosecutor, judge, writer and social reformer he was unequalled. And like all men who think years ahead of their time, he was the subject of attack and was held to ridicule by some of his more die-hard contemporaries.