British Society for Middle Eastern Studies

Bint Al-Shati's "Wives of the Prophet": Feminist or Feminine? Author(s): Ruth Roded Source: British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 33, No. 1 (May, 2006), pp. 51-66 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20455425 . Accessed: 05/04/2011 21:52
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British Journal ofMiddle Eastern Studies, May 2006
33(1), 51-66

R Routledge
lz

Taylor&FrancisGroup

Bint

al-Shati's

Wives

of

the Prophet:

Feminist

or Feminine?

RUTH RODED*

ABSTRACT The Egyptian writerand Islamic scholarDr. CA'ishacAbd al-Rahman (b. 1913), who originatedfrom the countryside, was a pioneering woman inmany respects, although she did not consider herself to be afeminist. She was one of the first Egyptians towrite about theagrarian problems of the country and theplight of thepeasants; and of thepioneering generation offemale Arab literati. She was also the first Muslim woman to undertake Quranic exegesis. Writing under her pen name, Bint al-Shati', she was also one of thefirst women to deal with the life of the Prophet Muhammad through vignettes of thewomen in his life. Like many other modem Muslim biographers of the Prophet, she rendered classical Islamic materials in a new style. Although her book on theWives of the Prophet often portrays women in a negative light, content analysis indicates that thework also reflects feminist themes.

Introduction
The presence of Sawda, as the second wife of the man whom cAWisha loved with all her being, did not affect her. She knew that Sawda had no place in the Prophet's heart, but what worried her was that deep love which Khadija had, before her, won from the Prophet and the place she had with the Prophet... ... those who claim that in the end cAWisha swallowed the bitterness of this competition are wrong, and those who think that she got over the sorrow of being child-less are ignorant of female instinct1

In the same year thatNaguib Mahfouz published his allegorical and even feminist version of the life of theProphetMuhammad,2 Dr. cAWisha cAbd al-Rahman began
*The Department of Islam and Middle Eastern History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, for her careful reading and comments on an Jerusalem, 91905.1 would like to thank Professor Hilary Kilpatrick earlier draft of this article as well as for her encouraging me to publish this preliminary work. Any inaccuracies that remain are, of course, my own responsibility. ' 1 Bint al-Shati' [cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman], Nisa al-nabi (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-cArabi, 1406/1985), pp. 89,93. The first edition appeared in 1961. Although the book has been translated into English, I have frequently used my own translation. See: Dr. Bint al-Shati', The Wives of the Prophet, trans. Matti Moosa and D. Nicholas Ranson Ashraf, (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad 1971), pp. 74, 76. 2 (Beirut: Dar al-Adab, 1967), first published in 1959; Children ofGebelawi, Naguib Mahfouz, Awlad Haratina trans. Philip Stewart Press, (London: Heinemann, 1981); (Pueblo, Colorado: 1997). English Passeggiata references are to the 1981 edition. See: Ruth Roded, 'Gender in an Allegorical Life of Muhammad: Mahfouz's Children ofGebelawi; The Muslim World 93 (2003), pp. 117-134.

ISSN 1353-0194 print/ISSN1469-3542 online/06/010051-16 C)2006 British Society ofMiddle EasternStudies DOI: 10.1080/13530190600603915

RUTH

RODED

producing a series of popular works on thewomen in the Prophet's life.3 Several themes that characterize thiswoman' s perspective on thewives of the Prophet are reflected in the two excerpts above. Islamic scholarship firmly rooted in the fundamental classical sources is blended with a literary romanticism that fleshes out the inner thoughts and feelings of thewomen. The author seems to draw on her own life experience to identify with some of the Prophet's wives. Although there are stereotypical depictions of women's petty jealousy that would hardly be the considered feminist, the author raises a common feminist claim-that perception of women's lives by male authorswill always be lacking because they are 'ignorant of female instinct'. cAXishacAbd al-Rahman is also from the same age cohort asMahfouz (she was born in 1913 and he in 191 1).The historical developments inEgypt up to the time they first published theirworks on Muhammad (1959) were similar, and in fact theywere to be friends and colleagues.4 But cAbd al-Rahman was moulded by her origin in rural Egypt as opposed toMahfouz' s very urban perspective, and her career was immersed in the Islamic scholarly developments of the twentieth century. The long life, fascinating career and literary and scholarly oeuvre of this unique Egyptian woman have yet to be studied in depth, although in recent years there has been a growing interest in her Quranic exegesis, short stories, novels and autobiography. Strictly speaking, she did not compose a life of Muhammad as did numerous male authors, but ratherbiographies of themother, wives and daughters of the Prophet. This singular woman's voice is of interest, however, despite the fact that cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman is a self-declared non-feminist, her unique achievements for an Egyptian woman notwithstanding. Analysis of her view of Muhammad's family lifemay reveal awoman's perspective thatdiffers frommale perceptions of gender relations. The many editions and printings of her works on the women in the life of the Prophet attest to the popularity of this woman's gendered perception of the life of Muhammad.

Village Life, Women Literati and Developments

in Islamic Scholarship

cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman is part of a long tradition, going back to the eighteenth century if not earlier, of Egyptian scholars, literati and politicians who have rural origins.5 During the first half of the twentieth century, Egypt's countryside underwent dramatic changes. Agricultural landwas concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of large landowners and land companies while the proportion of land-less peasants or those with small, uneconomical plots increased. The major landowners were the members of the royal family and
5 vols: Banat al-Nabi (1959); [cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman], Tarajim Sayyidat Bayt al-Nabawiyya, al-nabi, Umm al-nabi, B?tala Karbala': (1961) (Cairo: Dar al-Hilal and Shirkat al Zaynab bint al-zahra' 1956-1985). 'Arabiyya, and Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-cArabi, 4 411 Al-Ahram 'Conversations remembered,' 1999), with (18-24 Weekly February Naguib Mahfouz, the 'dear friends' including Bint al remembers Mohamed Salmawy upon the death of Lutfi al-Kholi, Mahfouz it seems, only I am left.' remarks: 'Of the old generation, Shati' who have passed away recently, and poignantly and cAbd al-Rahman had offices near each other at Al-Ahram press. Apparently, Mahfouz in Ottoman Egypt?A Asian and 'Fellah and Townsman Gabriel Baer, Study of Shirbini's Hazz al-Quhuf Haim Shaked, 'The Biographies of 'Ulama' in the Khitat of 'Ali Pasha African Studies 8 (1972), pp. 221-256; as a Source for the History of the 'Ulama' in Egypt in the Nineteenth Mubarak Century,' Gabriel Baer, Ed. in the Muslim World The 'Ulama' and Religious Problems 1971). Some of the more (Jerusalem: Magnes, Bint al-Shati' Nisa' prominent Muhammad of the twentieth century whose village origins literati and politicians and Abd Taha Husayn (1889-1973) (1888-1956), Husayn Haykal have moulded their lives were al-Rahman Azzam (1893-). 3

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a handful of families that dominated the political institutions of the country.Most of the large landowners lived in the two main cities, Cairo and Alexandria, or settled there as their economic, political and social status rose and dominated the parliaments and all of the political parties.6Nevertheless, asRoger Owen correctly argues, landowners who lived in the cities (as well as other urban residents who migrated from the countryside) maintained constant contact with their rural
. . origins. 7

The socio-economic power of the village shaykhs declined throughout the first half of the twentieth century, although their political power was bolstered by the parliamentary system. Baer cited the reason for this as themigration of rich village notables to the cities and the restriction of the functions of those who remained or were replaced by a new provincial administration. During this period, he argued, the central government was weak but there was also no development of local government institutions.8Nevertheless, themore prosperous peasants and village leaders comprised a 'second stratum' that mediated between the ruling elite located in the cities and the rural population.9 Bint al-Shati' targeted the village shaykhs as responsible for the problems of the peasants in her writing on the subject. The landowning class permeated the political system from the village to the national level, in part because of their ability to deliver the votes of 'their' peasants. It is not surprising, therefore, that only modest steps were taken to try to improve the lot of the peasants and, in practice, these measures actually aggravated the situation.Moreover, despite the severe agrarian problem inEgypt and the agrarian reforms that were undertaken in various Eastern European countries between the world wars that received wide-spread attention, the problems of the peasantry and serious reformswere barely discussed inEgyptian intellectual or political circles until the late 1930s (except for the Communist Party whose influence was minimal). cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman was one of the first Egyptians to write about the Egyptian countryside and the 'problem of the peasant' (as we shall see), after the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 and the abolition of theCapitulations in 1937.10 As for the peasants themselves, the dissolution of the village communities had already taken place in the course of the nineteenth century, and the creation of large private estates replaced them with groups of tenant peasants totally dominated by the landlords. The landowners and their relatives often held crucial positions in the rural administration from that of village shaykh to provincial governors.11 In a controversial article, Gabriel Baer argued that despite the wretched conditions of the Egyptian peasantry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the frequently repeated stereotype of the 'submissive fellah' is
Gabriel Baer, A History inModern Egypt (London: Oxford University Press, 1962). of Landownership 1800-1970: An Overview Roger Owen, 'Large Landowners, Agricultural Progress and the State in Egypt, with Many Questions,' in: Alan Richards, Ed. Food, States, and Peasants: Analyses in of the Agrarian Question theMiddle East (Boulder: Westview, 1986), p. 75. 8 Gabriel Baer, 'The Village Studies in the Social History ofModern Egypt (Chicago and Shaykh, 1800-1950,' London: The University of Chicago Press, 1969), pp. 30-61. 9 Leonard Binder, In a Moment Political Power and the Second Stratum in Egypt (Chicago: of Enthusiasm: 7 of Chicago Press, 1978). University 10 inModern Egypt, pp. 201-202. Baer, A History of Landownership 11 Gabriel Baer, 'The Dissolution of the Village Community,' Studies in the Social History of Modern Egypt of Chicago Press, 1969), pp. 17-29; Roger Owen, (Chicago and London: The University 'Large Landowners, 1800-1970: An Overview with Many Questions,' Agricultural Progress and the State in Egypt, p. 71. 6

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inaccurate and peasant revolts did occur at this time, although they tended to be local and sometimes messianic.12 The effects of the agricultural boom of the early decades of the twentieth century were not evenly distributed throughoutEgypt; urbanization was generally retarded, but therewas some internalmigration. More than half of the population of Port Said, for example, originated from other parts of Egypt; about half of these from the town of Dimyat (Damietta) where CA'isha cAbd al-Rahman was born. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Damietta was a declining port of less than 30,000 inhabitants.13 The town in which CA'isha cAbd al-Rahman spent her childhood seems to have been something of a backwater. Formerly an important port, it was now overshadowed by the Suez Canal cities. In the course of the twentieth century, however, Egypt began to experience swelling urbanization, as peasants fled the countryside in search of a livelihopd but found few industrial opportunities in the cities. Egyptian cities were also attractive to villagers as the site of the expanding government administration and the centre of educational and cultural life. The agro-city Mansura in theDelta where cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman attended secondary school witnessed dramatic increases in population throughout the century accompanying the cotton booms.14 We know of Middle EasternMuslim women who were famous for their sacred or profane poetry and for their learning who lived before the nineteenth century, but little of theirworks have survived except for verses quoted in books composed by men.'5 The nahda Arabic cultural renaissance of themiddle and late nineteenth century was to a great extent centred inCairo andwas accompanied by awomen's awakening.16 In addition to poetry, women wrote in the press and in women's journals. A few contributed to new literary genres inArabic such as the novel, the short story and drama.17Many women continued the biographical tradition in Arab literature that had previously been restricted tomale authors. They wrote biographies of their contemporaries but also of prominent women of Islamic history.'8 The pioneering generation of Arab women literati faced numerous obstacles and had to employ a variety of strategies to overcome them. From the 1870s state schools for girls were established, but itwas only in 1925 that a handful of women were admitted to the university. 19 Many women writers were self-educated, privately tutored or attended foreign schools. Family members, whether parents, siblings or husbands, often objected towomen's literary endeavours, although a
in the Social History of the Fellah,' Studies 'Submissiveness and Revolt Baer, Egypt of Modern of Chicago Press, 1969), pp. 93-108. (Chicago and London: The University 13 Gabriel Baer, The Beginnings of Urbanization, Studies in the Social History of Modern Egypt (Chicago and of Chicago Press, 1969), pp. 133-148. London: The University 14 H. Halm, 'al-Mansura,' The Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed. 6 (1990), p. 440. 15 From Ibn Sacd to Who's Who in Islamic Biographical Ruth Roded, Women Collections (Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner, 1994). 16 in Egypt: Culture, Society and the Press (New Haven: Yale University Beth Baron, The Women's Awakening Years and Beyond The Formative Press, 1994); Joseph T. Zeidan, Arab Women Novelists: (Albany: State and Gender of New York Press, 1995); Marilyn Booth, May Her Likes Be Multiplied: Biography University of California Press, 2001). in Egypt (Berkeley: University Politics 17 list of plays produced In an annotated during the years 1848 through 1956, a small number of women appear, most of whom were noted feminists. See: Jacob M. Landau, Studies in the Arab Theater and playwrights Cinema 1958), pp. 216-274. (Philadelphia: 18 in depth in her May Her Likes Be Multiplied. Marilyn Booth studied this phenomenon 19 Badran' Feminists, Gender and the Making Islam, and Nation: (Princeton, NJ: of Modern Egypt Margot Princeton University Press, 1995), pp. 8-10, 142-164. 12 Gabriel

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supportive relative is frequently cited as encouraging women's aspirations.Many women writers used pseudonyms to hide their identity but this was not always a gender-specific strategy.20The emotional and domestic demands of marriage were frequently problematic for these women, and many remained single or their marriage ended in divorce. Some were only able to express their creative drives after the death of their husbands.21 Arab women literatiwere supported by a network of imagined and concrete ties with women of similar interests and propensity. They wrote biographies of their female predecessors to prove thatwomen throughout history had written Arab literature and perhaps to identify with them. They extolled thewomen of theArab cultural awakening. They exchanged letters and created bonds of friendship with their female colleagues. Moreover, despite a generally hostile environment that marginalized women's literary output, there were men in the Arab cultural establishment who encouraged them.22 Islamic scholarship also underwent a revival in form and content from about the mid-nineteenth century. Some of the prominent authorswho wrote Islamic works with a new character came from within the religious establishment, such as Muhammad Abduh andRashid Rida, while others were learned in other fields and autodidacts in Islamic scholarship, such as the Indian Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Husayn Haykal. They adopted a variety of new genres, and wrote essays in which chains of transmission were replaced by footnotes and bibliographies and contemporary scholarly discourse was employed. They related not only to the classical Islamic scholarship but toEuropean Orientalist studies as well, with which they carried on amulti-faceted polemic. The content of this neo Islamic writing has been studied extensively and variously dubbed 'modernist', 'reformist', salafi (asmany of them defined themselves), 'fundamentalist', etc.23 Women were not recognized as part of this new Islamic scholarly movement although many women employed an Islamic discourse in their writings in the press, in biographical collections, and perhaps in other genres as well. The 'woman's question', however, had a prominent place in the neo-Islamic writings of men such as the IndianMumtaz Ali, Abduh, Qasim Amin and others. The advent of feminism in the Muslim world combined with expanded educational and cultural opportunities forwomen would eventually bring women into the hallowed halls of Quranic exegesis, hadith criticism and biographies of the lives of the Prophet and his Companions. The firstwoman to undertake Quranic exegesis and aspects of the Prophet's life was cAWishacAbd al-Rahman.
20 Muhammad Husayn Haykal (1888-1956), for example, used a pseudonym when he published the novel Zaynab. 21 Zeidan, Arab Women Novelists, pp. 81-83. 22 Ibid, pp. 86-87. 23 A few noteworthy examples are: H. A.R. Gibb, Modern

Trends in Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 'Reformist Islam,' Egypt in Search of Political 1947); Nadav Safran, Community (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Press, 1961), pp. 62-84; Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 University (London: Oxford University Christian W. Press, 222-244; 1967), pp. 103-192, Troll, Sayyid Ahmad Khan: A in India and (New Delhi: Vikes, Reinterpretation 1978); Aziz Ahmad, Islamic Modernism of Muslim Theology 1857-1964 Pakistan, (London: Oxford University, 1967.); Charles D. Smith, Islam and the Search for Social Order in Modern Egypt: A Biography A Modern ofMuhammad Husayn Haykal (Albany, 1983); Antonie Wessels, A Critical Study ofMuhammad Arabic Biography of Muhammad: Husayn Haykal's Hay at Muhammad (Leiden, 1972).

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A Woman Who Crossed Many Bridges cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman was born in 1913 in the coastal town of Dimyat (Damietta) in the Delta.24 Her father was a conservative, dominating Azhari shaykh who taught at the town's madrasa. Her mother was herself illiterate, but was supportive of cA'isha's desire to learn. The mother used a number of subterfuges to first enrol the child in a local school at the age of ten and then send her to the provincial city of al-Mansura to continue her studies. In 1932, cAbd al Rahman moved on to Cairo University where she received her first degree in Arabic Language and Literature in 1939. She completed herM.A, in 1941 and her PhD on themedieval poet Abu al-cAla' al-Macari in 1950. From 1939 to 1942, she was a teaching assistant in theCollege of Arts of Cairo University, in 1943- 1944, she served as an inspector of Arabic Language in the Egyptian Ministry of Education, and from 1951, she held various positions at cAyn Shams University. She published her first article inAl-Ahram in 1936 under the pseudonym Bint al-Shati' (Daughter of the Shore), and published two books in the 1930s criticizing the social condition of the Egyptian peasantry: Al-Rif al-Misri (The Egyptian Countryside) and Qadiyyat al-Fallah (The Problem of the Peasant).25 The usual explanation for her use of a pseudonym was thewish to hide the author's identity from her conservative family. In 1942, she published a short story collection Sirr al-Shati' (Secret of theShore) and a novel Sayyid al- cIzba:Qissat Imra'a Khati'a (Master of theEstate: The Story of a Sinful Woman). At Cairo University, cA'isha cAbd al-Rahmanmet, fell in love with andmarried her professor Amin al-Khuli who was old enough to be her father,was married for the second time and actually had children her age. This relationship which lasted until Khuli's death in 1966 had an immense impact on her emotional, personal and professional life. The emotional impression of cA'isha's marriage to Khuli is reflected in 'Ala jisr: ustur al zaman (On a Bridge: A Myth of Time) which she wrote immediately after his death and published the next year. Although thework is an autobiography, it totally revolves around the connection with her husband, from the title-which implies that the author is at a transitional point in her life, between two shores as itwere, afterKhuli's death-to the elegiac poems dedicated to his memory that frame the narrative. Moreover, Bint al-Shati's life story is constructed around her relationship with Khuli as indicated by chapter titles such as 'BeforeWe Met', 'On the Road toHim', 'My First Appointment with Him', and 'Together on Our SolitaryWinding Road'. In an interview with Kooij in 1980,
information on cAbd al-Rahman derives from her autobiography, 'Alajisr: ustur al zaman biographical in 1967), with the exception of Kooij al-'Ama lil-Kitab, 1999, originally published (Cairo, Al-Hay'a al-Misriyya abandoned his projected biography), who interviewed her in 1978 and 1980 and her stepson (but unfortunately in Ibrahim A. El-Sheikh, C. Aart van de Koppel and A Suitable Case for Biography? C. Kooij, "Bint Al-Shati': East Studies at the University Rudolf Peters (Eds.) The Challenge of Amsterdam of the Middle East: Middle of Amsterdam, Institute for Modern Near Eastern Studies, University Zeidan, 1982), pp. 67-72; (Amsterdam: (Beirut: pp. 79-81; Al-Ab Rubert B. Kambil, Ed. Aclam al-Adab al-cArabi al-Mucasir: Siyar wa Siyar Dhatiyya Tetz Rooke, In My Markaz al-Dirasat Jamfat al-Quds, lil-cAlim al-cArabi al-Mucasir, 1996), pp. 360-363; and Wiksell Childhood: A Study of Arabic Autobiography International, (Stockholm: Almquist 1997), passim and as to whether Sirr al Shati (Cairo, 1952) is actually There is some disagreement pp. 261-268. especially an autobiography short stories based on autobiographical of eighteen since it is composed material, Kooij, Zeidan regards it as a literary critique of social problems, pp. 67-70. the blurred and the novel, recognizes relation between autobiography common he regards Sirr space', pp. 40-41.Thus, 'autobiographical as an autobiography, 'Ala p. 42. 25 jisr al-Wafd, 1936) and Qadiyyat (Cairo: Matba'at Al-Rif al-Misri Misriyya, 1939). p. 80. Rooke, who deals explicitly with the the two when both occupy border between of short stories and al Shati as a collection al-Fallah (Cairo: Maktabat al-Nahda al 24 Most

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she reiterates the romantic destiny thatdrew her to this older, married man, but she also admits to some guilt at the effect on his other family:
Iwas very unhappy for the other family, I realized that itwas cruel for them. Iwould have been miserable, had I been in their place. But what could I do? He was my destiny, and I was his destiny. It was not a matter of happiness or unhappiness. Only my ideals were 26
important.

cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman's destiny is preordained in her autobiography by a dream she has when she is ten years old that an angel descends and gives her a copy of theQuran.27Of course, when Bint al-Shati' wrote of this dream, she had already studied Quran exegesis with her professor, mentor and husband, so in a sense, she was retroactively prescient. Amin al-Khuli was considered one of the outstanding modem experts on Quran interpretation and some scholars regard cAbd al-Rahman' s exegesis as a reflection of Khuli' s theory. In fact, in thepreface to the firstvolume of herQuranic exegesis, shewrites of her 'attempt' to applyKhuli's method to a few short chapters and compares the usual method of Quran interpretation to 'our new way'.28 Although there have been numerous learned women and scholars throughout Islamic history, Dr. cAWisha cAbd al-Rahman seems to be the first female to deal with Quranic exegesis.29 It is not surprising, therefore, that she and some scholarswould present her ground-breaking, ambitious work as a mere extension of the theoretical framework of hermale mentor. Actually, cAbd al Rahman published the first of two volumes of Quranic exegesis in 1962, several years before the death of her husband.30 If thiswork was merely a reflection of her husband-mentor's ideas,why did he not publish ithimself or at least in collaboration with her? The academic connection between Khuli and CAbd al-Rahman undoubtedly influenced her professional career, but the choice of difficult, theological Quranic verses with no social implications whatsoever seems to be the strategy of an ambitious woman carefully invading a traditionally male domain. It is also no accident that this innovation emerged from Cairo's Department of Arabic Language and Literature rather than from awoman studying atAl-Azhar. In 1962, Dr. cAWisha cAbd al-Rahman was one of the delegates to the Conference of Popular Forces which was convened to discuss Abd al-Nasir's proposal for a pact to serve as themajor ideological basis for Arab socialism in Egypt. Her credentials to serve on this body were sound; she was a woman, from the countryside, who had written on the plight of the peasants and had impressive academic achievements. Nevertheless, she would not have been selected if the Nasirist establishment had not been certain that any criticism would be carefully circumscribed. During the sessions of the conference thatwere broadcast on the radio, she introduced herself as a 'daughter of the village', and criticized the agrarian reform for not recognizing women as independent legal persons rather thanpart of aman's household. At another point, she emphasized that the equality of women would not bring damage to Islam, but that awoman was responsible for her acts.31 In other words, cAbd al-Rahman voiced what may be considered
71-72. 26Kooij,pp. 21 pp. 43-44. 28 cAlajisr, Johannes J. G. Jansen, The Interpretation Modern Egypt (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1974), pp. 68-69. of the Koran in 29 Cf. Roded, Women in Islamic Biographical Collections. 30 (Cairo: Dar al-Macarif, li-l-Quran al-Karim 1962). 31Al-Tafsir al-Bayani to the Conference 'Comments by the Delegates of Popular Forces, Cairo, May-June 1962,' trans. Amnon Cohen.

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a feminist point of view consistent with Islamic values. Margot Badran has commented that 'widely, differing regimes through the years have considered her both safe and useful', and that she has received decorations from Abd al-Nasir, Sadat andMubarak. She has even been considered one of the fuqaha al sultan (the sultan's men of jurisprudence),32 who would use her learning to provide legitimacy to the regime. By the late 1950s and early 1960s when Bint al-Shati' began writing about the women in the Prophet's life, the 'Daughter of the Shore', cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman, had crossed many bridges in her personal and her professional life. Some indication of the views she brought to her work on the women in Muhammad's family may be gleaned from a glance at her earlier writings.

Early Writing Bint al-Shati' first achieved prominence by publishing articles (in the leading daily Al-Ahram) and books in the 1930s on the plight of the peasants. She made a passionate plea for improving the abysmal conditions of the peasants who had been exploited through the centuries, in fact, since Pharaonic times. Barely surviving on insufficient and contaminated food and water, in mud huts and ragged clothing, the peasant not only supplied the sustenance of Egypt but was first to be conscripted to the army because he could not pay the redemption fee. The central government was interested in increasing the agricultural yield rather than helping the agriculturist, and the local political leadership (the 'umda) only make demands on the peasant to further his own economic and political interests.33Not surprisingly considering her own background, Bint al-Shati' calls for improved education in the villages, but she decries academic studies for the rural population and promotes learning that she believes is more appropriate to their needs.34 By the late 1930s, the conditions of the peasants had taken a place on the public agenda inEgypt, as we have seen, and itwas only natural thatBint al-Shati' was considered an authentic voice speaking out on this subject. She does not seem to go to the root of the problem, however, nor does she offer any real solution such as land reform. In fact, Bint al-Shati' reflects the voice of Egypt's urban elite in her disdain and even mockery of the peasant. For a woman who had climbed the ladder to national prominence by academic excellence, it is astounding that she would limit the rural curriculum to new agriculturalmethods and home economics for girls. History lessons would only be wasted on them, she feels, and only raise their expectations. Moreover, the peasants are repeatedly depicted as passive animals-milch cows, crows, beasts of burden-who silently toil for the benefit of their country, a different breed from the residents of the cities and industrial areas, likeMahalla al-Kubra and Damietta. To be fair, this patronizing attitude to the peasantry was prevalent among intellectuals and politicians in Egypt and in other countries as well. But Bint
32 in: Deniz Islam and the State in 19th and 20th Century Egypt,' 'Competing Agenda: Feminists, Margot Badran, Ed. Women, Islam & the State (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), pp. 219, 227; Kooij, Kandiyoti, p. 70. 'The Village Shaykh.' For a scholarly study on the 'umdas during this period, see: Gabriel Baer, 34 pp. 118-131. Qadiyyat al-Fallah, 35 pp. 50-52. Qadiyyat al-Fallah,

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al-Shati's conservative, almost reactionary, approach to the increasingly severe agrarian problems of Egypt brought her prominence but also did not challenge the establishment. Also, despite her own unique educational achievements for an Egyptian woman at that time, she still sees most women's main role as awife and mother who should study 'domestic science'.36 InBint al-Shati's 1942 novel, the exploitation by landlords and by patriarchal society are conflated. A young woman is victimized by her father (and stepmother) who forces her towork as amaid in the landlord's house, and by themaster who exploits her sexually, leaving her pregnant.When she finallymanages to extricate herself from a forced marriage and returns to her village, she is ostracized as a sinful woman. She finally achieves freedom from her ordeal in death. Bint al Shati' sees destiny (al-qadar) as the prime mover behind the actions of the people who victimize the young woman,37 which to some extent absolves individuals and society of responsibility. On the other hand, women use magic and superstition as tools to affect their destiny. This novel reveals a feminist side to Bint al-Shati's social criticism. The collection of eighteen short stories Sirr al-Shati'-Secret of the Shore or perhaps Secret of al-Shati' the author-is based on autobiographical materials. Bint al-Shati' reveals the tragedies of women ranging from repudiation to incest to poverty and disease and religious hypocrisy in a romantic, sentimental and moralizing style.38 Seven of the pieces are about drowning, a typical fate for tragic heroines in the literature of the time. Following Kooij and Kilpatrick, the female victims in these stories and the countryside in general aremetaphors for suffers from political, social and cultural Egypt which economic, backwardness.39 Kooij also believes that Bint al-Shati' regards herself as one of these victims.40 These various layers of secrets that are revealed-of the shore, of thewhole country, of the author-all have some validity, but it is important to emphasize that at this point in her life Bint al-Shati' seems to have highlighted woman as the victim. Her literary achievements notwithstanding, it was Dr. cAWisha cAbd al Rahman's Quranic exegesis that brought her prominence in Egypt and theArab world. She focuses on understanding the text of theQuran in the context of the Quran itself, free of any extraneous additions. But this method clearly has its limits, and she (like others of this school) may revert to classical Arabic dictionaries and verse or philological commentaries to clarify themeaning of a word. She does not directly negate the validity of commentaries based on stories transmitted from the Prophet's Companions, and in fact quotes many sources on the 'occasion of the revelation' (asbab al-nuzul) of the verses, but she careful avoids those thatdo not seem credible. Similarly, although she seems to accept the principle of reading theQuran against the background of the history and society of the time of its revelation, she avoids citing historical material which may seem objectionable tomore conservative Muslims. Moreover, she employs her literary
36 Qadiyyat al-Fallah, pp. 137-138. the influence of European middle Structured Play: Child Rearing (Princeton: Princeton University 37 Zeidan, p. 81. 38 p. 68. 39 Kooij, p. 68. 40 Kooij, Kooij, p. 68. This view was prevalent in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, under class values; 'Schooled Mothers and see, for example: Omnia Shakry, in Turn-of-the-Century in: Remaking Women, Lila Abu Lughod, Ed. Egypt,' Press, 1998), pp.?

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skills to analyze the style of what she considers the greatest book in theArabic language.41 The literary focus of Dr. cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman' sQuranic exegesis is attested toby the fact that itwas published by one of the largestpublishing houses inCairo in a series devoted to literary studies of Arab poetry and other genres as well as non Arabic literature.42 This was also the natural venue for an author of Bint al-Shati' s background and perhaps an additional strategy to avoid conflict with the religious establishment. Nonetheless, Bint al-Shati's scholarly Islamic knowledge as well as her literary experience were to inform her approach to the life of the Prophet. The Prophet's Family Life In 1959, Bint al-Shati' combined her scholarly and literary talents to embark on a series of vignettes of the women in the life of Muhammad, beginning with his daughters (Banat al-Nabi), and followed by his wives, his mother and his granddaughter, the heroine of Karbala' (1961). The book devoted to TheWives of the Prophet (Nisa' al-nabi) is of special interest because it ismost revealing of Bint al-Shati's approach to gender relations. In introducing thework, Bint al-Shati' roots her narrative in a large number of classical Islamic sources, some modem Muslim works as well as some books by Orientalists (primarily those translated into Arabic). The bibliography is quite impressive and the footnotes follow careful academic procedure.43 From the outset, the author is establishing her encyclopedic knowledge to justify her version of the life of the Prophet. She admits, however, that inwriting the book, she let her pen portray the life of theMothers of the Faithful in theHouse of the Prophet as she envisioned it. The rationale for writing yet another work on the life of the Prophet is that themajority of previous writings is prejudiced. Yet, if the reader has assumed that the author's gender resulted in a feminist reading of these materials, this preconception is immediately undermined when she writes of 'femininity (unutha)-whose delicacy, weakness and emotion we know'. 44 Obviously, the domestic life ofMuhammad and the gender relations that derive from it are by the definition of the title the focus of thiswork, but some other themes are addressed aswell. Foremost among these is the idea that Muhammad is amortal Prophet as attested to by the first chapter epigraph from theQuran and explicated in the text.Nonetheless, even theProphet's private life-his marital relations and the behaviour of his wives-were predestined by divine will.45 This concept of predetermination even in everyday life had already appeared in Bint al-Shati's
41 42 43 Jansen, pp. 69-76. Jansen, p. 71. Bint al-Shati', Nisa'

cited are: The Quran; Ibn Hisham, Al-Sira al-nabawiyya; al-Tabari, al-nabi, p. 9Works Ibn 'Abd al-Barr, Al-Isti'ab fi ma'rifat Sahih al-Bukhari; al-ashab; Muhibb al-Tabari, Tarikh, Sahih Muslim, Ibn Sayyid al-Nas, Uyun al-atharfi funun ummahat al-mu'minin; Kitab al-simt al-thaminfi al-Wakidi, manaqib Ibn Hazm, Ibn Hajar al-cAsqalani, Ibn Habib, Al-Muhabbar; al-Isabafi Tamyiz al-Sahaba; al-maghazi wal-siyar, Jamharat Ansah al-cArab\ Mus'ab The Messenger: Life of al-Zubayri, Nasab Quraysh; R. V. C Bodley, trans, into Arabic; Muhammad The Life of al-Sahhar, Dermenghem, Muhammad, Faraj and 'Abd al-Hamid trans, into Arabic; 'Adil Zu'ayter, Ibn Sa'd, Kitab al-Tabaqat; D.S. Margoliouth, Muhammad and Muhammad, Le Probl?me Ibn Hajar al-cAsqalani, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib; de Mahomet', the Rise of Islam; Regis Blach?re, al Abi dar al-mustafa', bi-akhbar al-Musnad, al-Samhudi, al-Qasim Tafsir al-Tabari; Wafa' al-wafa' Abi al-Qasim Al-Suhayli, Muhammad Zamakhshari, Husayn Haykal, Hayat Muhammad; Tafsir Al-Kashshaf; Rawd al-Unuf 44 Bint al-Shati', Nisa* al-nabi, pp. 9-10. 45 Bint al-Shati', Nisa' al-nabi, pp. 17-18.

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work, aswe have seen, as regards ordinary people; thenormative life of theProphet of Allah would certainly be determined by the Almighty. Divine intervention notwithstanding,Muhammad is repeatedly referred to as the idealman, a greatman and a hero (with the traditional, unique eulogy appended to his name). Another theme that Bint al-Shati' relates to is the 'errors' and 'foolish fanaticism' of certain Orientalists andmissionaries. On the problem of polygamy, she takes a socio-historical approach claiming thatpolygamy was still prevalent in Arabia at the time of Muhammad. In seeming contradiction to this stand, she also relates apologetically to the 'modem slavery' of one legal wife and other mistresses. In yet a thirdargument, she plumbs women's thoughts and feelings and comes to the conclusion that 'awoman may contently prefer to have half of one man's life rather than thewhole life of another'. 46Admittedly, cA'isha cAbd al Rahman experienced a similar situation in her own life and could speakwith some authority. But how many women are willing to share a great man's life with anotherwife? Another issue on which Bint al-Shati' takes theOrientalists to task is themarriage of a young girl to an older man, justifying it by cultural relativism.47 But on the traditional 'Zaynab affair' she assails not only theOrientalists but her Egyptian predecessor Muhammad Husayn Haykal as well.48 Dismissing the Orientalists whom Haykal attacked, she returns to the classical Islamic authorities and comes to the conclusion thatMuhammad, a human being, was attracted to Zaynab while shewas stillmarried to his adopted son but attained the highest level of chastity, self-control and restraint.Unfortunately, Bint al-Shati' undermines her logical if perhaps exaggerated argument by adding a further reason for Muhammad's marriage toZaynab after her divorce fromZayd. She claims that the prestigious marriage protected Zaynab from the dishonour and insecurity of becoming a divorcee. InWives of theProphet, the holy war and individual battles arementioned only incidentally toMuhammad's domestic life in a sort of reversal of IbnHisham's focus.Nevertheless, Bint al-Shati' glorifies warfare and death, and describes warring heroes as noble.49The great battles thatpromoted Islam are regardedby the author as natural and even essential. The peace achieved by the Treaty of Hudaybiyya, however, is portrayed asmore important than anymilitary victory for Islam.50 Considering cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman's reputation as an anti-Semite, 5 in this work, she adheres closely to the sources in describing Muslim-Jewish relations. Nevertheless, some of the negative comments and anecdotes about the Jews seem superfluous considering her main subject.52 Twice, fear that the Jews of Syria would harmMuhammad is gratuitously expressed in the context of his business for Khadija.53 Also, 'thewicked Jews' must be eradicated in the battle of Khaybar54 (although Safiyya, the Jewish captive who Muhammad married is repeatedly distanced from her Jewish origins in keeping with Islamic tradition.)By contrast,
46 47 48 49 Bint Bint Bint Bint al-Shati', al-Shati', Nisa' Nisa' Nisa' al-nabi, al-nabi, al-nabi, al-nabi, pp. 24-25. pp. 74-75. pp. 159-163.

al-Shati',

pp. 50, 86, 112, 141-142. 50 Bint al-nabi, p. 149. 51 William M. Brinner, 'An Egyptian Anti-Orientalist,' in: Islam, Nationalism in Egypt and the and Radicalism and U. Kupferschmidt Eds. (New York: Praeger, Her stepson also Sudan, G. Warburg 1983), pp. 228-248. mentioned her anti-semitic views, Kooij, p. 71. 52 Bint al-Shati', Nisa' al-nabi, pp. 34, 36, 174-175, 182, 183, 186, 188, 189, 190, 196, 197. 53 Bint al-Shati', Nisa' al-nabi, pp. 34, 36. 54 Bint al-Shati', Nisa' al-nabi, pp. 182.

al-Shati', Nisa' al-Shati', Nisa'

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less than there is very little reference toChristians inWives of theProphet-even the relatively small amount of material in IbnHisham. Only in the story of Maria, the Coptic maiden sent to the Prophet, is brief reference made toMuslim Christian relations. The Copts are called to embrace Islam but when they decline, their 'sin' ismitigated by their status asmonotheists and by the honour their chief bestows upon the Prophet.55 Bint al-Shati' apparently has no need to answer traditionalChristian calumnies against the Prophet that focused to a great extent on his relations with his wives. Nor doMuslim-Christian relations seem relevant for her. This position is in stark contrast to the defensive and polemic attitudes of other influentialMuslim authors of biographies of the Prophet such as the Indian Amir Ali andMuhammad Husayn Haykal. True, Bint al-Shati' iswriting first and foremost for an Egyptian audience, so her animosity to Jews may be explained as an outcome of Egyptian-Israeli relations from 1948 and the general distribution of anti-Semitic materials in theArab world in the twentieth century. Her lack of interest in the Muslim-Christian polemic ismore difficult to understand since the West political, military, economic and especially cultural threat to Islam from the was hardly diminished in her lifetime. Surprisingly, writing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, at the height of Nasirist Pan-Arabism, Bint al-Shati' totally ignores any reference toMuhammad's role in uniting the Arabs and creating an Arab nation. On the contrary, the major reference of collective identity after family and tribal solidarity is Egyptian nationalism and even Pharoanism. Maria the Copt is not only an Egyptian but a beautiful young village girl. Moreover, she had 'the charm of Egypt' associated with Isis, Nefertitti, Hatshepseth and Cleopatra. The Islamic element is linked to Egyptian symbolism when Maria recalls Hagar, her predecessor who came from Egypt and was themother of Abraham's son who built the Kacba. But Muslim Coptic solidarity, a foundation stone of Egyptian nationalism, is referred to in the epigraph to the chapter on Maria.56 Social equality among the community of believers is also only briefly mentioned in the context of the Prophet arranging themarriage of Zayd ibnHarith and Zaynab bint Jahsh. In thismatch, the Prophet destroyed the barriers between the classes as the bridegroom was a freed slave and the bride of noble descent.57 One would expect the theme of social justice and equality in Islam to be more prominent in a work produced at a time that these subjects were on the public agenda in Egypt. Gender is obviously themajor theme inBint al-Shati's Wives of theProphet but the combination of the author's literary and scholarly background as well as her own life experience and anti-feminism produce some surprising results. 'Femininity' and Feminism Bint al-Shati's Wives of the Prophet consists of an introductory chapter on Muhammad as a husband, followed by chapters devoted to each of the twelve women whom the classical Islamic sources regard asMothers of the Believers. The overall format of twelve individual biographies as well as the chronological order of the Prophet's wives is drawn from Ibn Sacd's classic 'Book ofWomen,'
Bint 56 Bint 57 Bint 55 al-Shati', al-Shati', al-Shati', Nisa' Nisa' Nisa' al-nabi, al-nabi, al-nabi, pp. 215-216. pp. 213, 214, 213, 218. p. 154, 157.

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the concluding section of his Book of Classes.58 Although the information in each biography is derived from classic sources, the style resembles twentieth-century academic and literary works. Each chapter, for example, is preceded by an epigraph and assiduously footnoted, and only rarely is the hadith chain of transmission methodology adapted.59 The literary style makes the stories about thesewomen less dry and standardized thanmedieval Islamic biographies, but at the same time, the chapters are limited to some extent by the information available in the classic sources. The shared theme of the biographies is the great honour bestowed upon these women at being married to the Prophet, the ideal husband. Another common motif is the jealousy among thewives (which will be dealt with in greater detail below). The individual biographies differ in length, to some extent as a function of the classical material available. Most of the twelve wives, however, are characterized by an epithet that succinctly highlights their uniqueness in Bint al-Shati's view, such as Hafsa 'the memorizer of a copy of theQur'an' or Zaynab bint Jahsh 'the noblest of thewomen'. Also, epigraphs drawn from thewords ofMuhammad and his female andmale companions provide the readerwith a preview of each wife's individuality. Umm Salama and Juwayriyya bint al-Harith, for example, are characterized by cA'isha bint Abi Bakr by theirbeauty, while she deemsMaymuna bint al-Harith as 'themost pious of us all'. Two of thewives-the motherly Khadija and the vivacious cAWisha-seem to stand out among the rest. Khadija, Muhammad's firstwife, is the second longest life-story as befitting the first Muslim woman who supportedMuhammad when he received the revelation and bore him his only surviving children. Bint al-Shati' describes the great affection between the two as a surrogatemother's love,60 and Khadija's image is primarily as a help-mate and mother, rather than as a mature, widowed businesswoman. A second short chapter is devoted to Sawda bint Zamca, the widow of an emigrant, whom the Prophet married after the death of Khadija. The third and longest life-story is of cAWisha bint Abi Bakr, the young girl who was to become theProphet's most beloved wife and a prominent figure in Islamic history in her own right.Moreover, the character of cAWisha infuses the whole book, repeatedly appearing in the chapters devoted to the subsequent wives of the Prophet. The chapter on cAWisha bint Abu Bakr opens with a quote from the classical Islamic sources inwhich Umm Ruman states: 'My daughter, take it easy, for by Allah, it is seldom that a beautiful woman married to a loving husband having rival wives will not have problems'. 61The identity between the author and the subject of the beloved wife is evident not only in name-cA'isha is probably one of the most popularwoman's name in the Muslim world-but seems to emerge from the cAWishathatBint al-Shati' portrays. Bint al-Shati' dwells on the jealousy between CA'isha and the other wives, which she terms 'excessive female foolishness', 'petty plots', and 'coquetry'.62 The rivalries between Muhammad's wives is a
Ibn Sacd, Kitab al-tabaqat ed. Ihsan al-cAbbas. vol. 8. For al-kubra, (Beirut, 1960-1968), married after Khadija's example, Tabari as well as Ibn Sacd cite Sawda bint Zamca as the first woman Muhammad death preceding cA'isha bint Abi Bakr. 59 Bint al-Shati', Nisa' al-nabi, pp. 49,158. the only 'isn?d' supports the story of Zaynab bint Jahsh Interestingly, being partially undressed when the Prophet came to her house to look for her husband Zayd. 60 Bint al-Shati', Nisa' al-nabi, p. 45-46. 61 Bint al-Shati', Nisa' al-nabi, p. 69. 62 Bint al-Shati', Nisa' al-nabi, pp. 97-99. 58 Muhammad

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major theme in classical sources, particularly in Quranic exegesis,63 but one cannot escape the impression that cAWisha cAbd al-Rahman is expressing, perhaps unconsciously, deep-seated personal feelings from her life with Amin al Kholi. When the authorwaxes romantic, cAWishais described as gentle, intelligent, possessing fresh, radiant, youth and overflowing with gaiety.64 By contrast, Bint al-Shati' only succinctly mentions cAWisha's scholarly and political achievements, a no less important subject for Muslim legists and historians. In depicting CA'isha bint Abu Bakr, Dr. CA'isha cAbd al-Rahman minimalizes her scholarly accomplishments and her public role, a strategy that she employed frequently in her life. Also, Bint al-Shati' augments cAWisha'srole in the hijra by [re]placing her in events that occurred around her. It seems that the author's purpose is to amplify cAWisha'simportance at a crucial spiritual and public turningpoint in theProphet's career to offset similar contributions by other women such as Khadija and Asma bint Abi Bakr who actually helped Muhammad and her father flee. Moreover, cAWishainfuses thewhole book even after her lengthy biography. True, cAWishais described in all the classical Islamic sources asMuhammad's favourite wife and the one who spent the most time with him. She is also the narrator of much information on the life of the Prophet and his wives. Nevertheless, some modern authors of biographies of Muhammad chose to highlight Khadija as the woman whose life was most intertwined with Muhammad's, even after her death.65 The Mothers of the Believers in Bint al-Shati's Wives of the Prophet are incoherent role-models for Muslim wives in the second half of the twentieth century. They may be supportive, obedient and caring, but they are also bothersome, demanding and jealous. This depiction is true to the classical Islamic sources on the Prophet's domestic life, but one may wonder if cAWishacAbd al Rahman was not projecting amessage on the realities of married life for Egyptian women of her time. Frequently, Bint al-Shati' departs from her scholarly sources to reveal the thoughts and feelings of the main characters in this domestic story in rather romantic terms.Muhammad won over Khadija's heart, long closed to all men. When she greeted him upon his return from Syria, her voice overflowed with sweetness and compassion. Sawda bint Zamaca was awed by her husband, the Prophet Muhammad. When Muhammad (and Abu Bakr) left for Medina, cAWisha'sfeelings of anxiety yet trust inAllah are described in detail; she spent all day long counting theminutes which passed as if theywere years, and listening for any fresh news. Later as a co-wife, she suffered bitter feelings because of her barrenness and sought an outlet for her frustrated motherhood. During the accusation of her infidelity, she initially did not confront the Prophet, because she felt his distress in her heart. The thoughts and judgment of Umm Salama upon her arrival at a polygamous household are basically imagined by the author, presumably based on her feminine instinct. Umm Habiba realized by her natural insight and her familiarity with her husband's character thatMuhammad would
An in-depth analysis of the image of cA'isha in a wide variety of classical found in: D. A. Spellberg, Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy Columbia University Press, 1994). 64 Bint al-Shati', Nisa' al-nabi, pp. 74, 77, 93. 65 is Naguib Mahfouz's An outstanding allegory, Awlad Haratina/ example 63 and modern Islamic of 'A 'isha bint Abi Bakr sources may be (New York:

Children

of Gebelawi.

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not tolerate the violation of the pact of Hudaybiyya by theQuraysh, and therefore attackMecca where her family resided.66 By imagining the thoughts, feelings andmotivations of thewives of theProphet, Bint al-Shati' makes her storiesmore dramatic and lively. She also creates a bond with her readerswho may identify more easily with the characters. At the same time, she has given a voice towomen whose lives were recorded by male Muslim scholars.Moreover, she tries to plumb the psyches of thesewomen. Empowering women through female literary devices is undoubtedly high on the feminist agenda. Consciously or unconsciously then, cA'isha cAbd al-Rahman has produced a more feminist biography of the Prophet than most of her male contemporaries. But her 'feminine instinct' results in depictions of women in the most negative light. In Bint al-Shati's stories of the lives of the Prophet's wives, no opportunity is missed to dwell on the envy, pettiness and intrigues among thewomen. This theme even overshadows their spiritual and religious achievements which are usually mentioned rather briefly. Stories of the jealousy and factionalism among Muhammad's wives are in fact prominent in the classical Islamic sources. A woman dealing with thesematerials, however, could have teased out real human conflicts and serious thoughts, feelings and actions. 'Harempolitics' were not as shallow as male historians have described them. The stakes were high in real terms, and seemingly frivolous gifts or signs of proximity to the head of the household, the leader of the community, had great symbolic ramifications. The women involved in these struggles required quite a degree of acumen tomaintain and improve their status and influence.Moreover, recent studies have shown that harem politics reflect the structure and legitimacy of a dynasty.67 Female andmale scholars have dwelled upon the outstanding qualities of many of the women who were married to the Prophet. Khadija was in fact the first believer in the divine revelation, supportingMuhammad when he was in doubt. Sawda bint Zamaca sacrificed her proper due as a wife for her husband's preferences. Other wives were noted for their asceticism, philanthropy and other good deeds. cA'isha, as we have mentioned above, gained renown for her scholarly accomplishments as well as her admittedly controversial political involvement after the Prophet's death. Nabia Abbott, a twentieth-century female scholar of Islamic history of Arab origin and biographer of cA'isha, reminds us of the poise and acumen required of a teenage girl placed in such a complex and 68 influential situation. Yet cA'isha CAbd al-Rahman does not elicit from the classical Islamic material the positive achievements of thesewomen but ratherdwells on the negative side of their domestic life. She uses her literary license to depict them in almost misogynist stereotypes. The Wives of the Prophet are empowered women who have been given a voice, but they use it for harmful 'feminine' purposes rather than for feminist principles.
al-Shati', Nisa' al-nabi, pp. 19-20, 36, 64, 81, 90, 143-144, Peirce, Leslie Penn, The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty Press, 1993). University 68 Nabia Abbott, Aishah (Chicago: Arno Press, 1942). 67 Bint 66 204. in the Ottoman Empire (New York: Oxford

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Popular Impression in the Arab World Bint al-Shati's lives of the wives of the Prophet have clearly appealed to the Arabic-reading audience, appearing in numerous editions and printings for decades. The book and its companion pieces have gained popularity not only in Egypt, but in other Arab countries as well. Her prestigious academic reputation and her pleasing writing-style have combined to produce a series of popular vignettes. (TheWives of theProphet was even published inEnglish in Pakistan in 1971, with some inconvenient stylistic devices and details omitted, but the book does not seem to have had much success outside the Indian sub-continent.) The popularity of Bint al-Shati's stories of thewomen in theProphet's life in the Arab world has an unfortunate outcome. The descriptions of women's vices fit in with stereotypes and conventions that are all too prevalent in this society. The fact that these negative images of women are portrayed by a woman, and an Islamic scholar as well, provides added legitimacy to their validity. Itwould be left for otherMiddle Eastern women to present overtly feminist versions of the life of the Prophet Muhammad.69

69 in the is an explicitly feminist rendition of the lives of the women The Algerian Assia Djebar's Loin de Medine life as told by authentic female transmitters and one fictional rawiya, (Paris: Editions Albin Michel, Prophet's 1994). In contrast to Bint al-Shati', Djebar focuses on women (London: Quartet Books, 1991); Far From Medina have been she believes on the margins of early Islamic history rather than the wives of the Prophet, women overlooked by male historiography.

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