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Nāṣif, Malak Ḥifnī

By:
Margot Badran
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Nāṣif, Malak Ḥifnī

Malak Ḥifnī Nāṣif (1886–1918) was an Egyptian feminist and writer known as Bāḥithat al-Bādiyah (Searcher in the Desert). Daughter of a scholar and littérateur, Nāṣif entered the ʿAbbās Primary School when the state opened a girls’ section in 1895. Receiving her diploma in 1901, she began to teach while enrolled in the Teachers’ Training Program at Sanīyah School, where she received her certificate in 1905. She left her teaching post two years later upon marriage to ʿAbd al-Sattār al-Baṣṣāl, a Bedouin chief, and settled with him in Fayyûm oasis. Although obliged by the Ministry of Education as well as personal circumstances to stop teaching after marriage, Nāṣif continued to write, publishing under the name Bāḥithat al-Bādiyah. She spoke in the women's lecture series begun in 1909 and held at the Egyptian University and in the offices of the liberal newspaper, Al-jarīdah. Her essays, newspaper articles, and speeches were collectively published in Al-nisāʿīyat (Women's/“Feminist” Pieces), a pioneering feminist book.

A reformer in the Islamic modernist tradition focusing on gender, Nāṣif inveighed against men's abuses relating to divorce and polygamy. Appropriating a male Muslim nationalist forum, the Egyptian Congress meeting in Heliopolis in 1911, she sent a list of feminist demands, insisting specifically that women be allowed to participate in congregational worship in mosques, to study in all fields, and to enter all occupations and professions, and, more generally, that women be permitted to develop themselves (as enjoined by Islam upon all believers) and to contribute to the welfare of the ummah (the community and nation). She also called for reform of the Muslim Personal Status Code. Unswerving in her goals but cautious in her methods, Nāṣif did not advocate uncovering of the face (although she knew this form of veiling was not ordained by Islamic religion) until society was better prepared to accept this change. Following the Italian invasion of Libya in 1911, Nāṣif initiated a program in Cairo to train women as nurses. In 1914 she participated in founding the Women's Refinement Union (al-Ittiḥād al-Nisāʿī al-Tahdhībī) and the Ladies Literary Improvement Society (Jamʿīyat al-Raqy al-Adabīyah li-al-Sayyidāt al-Miṣrīyat). When Nāṣif died in 1918 at the age of thirty-two, women and men alike paid her homage. In commemorating her life and work, future feminist leader Hudā Shaʿrāwī publicly pledged to continue her struggle on behalf of women.

See also FEMINISM; and SHAʿRāWī, HUDā.

Bibliography

  • Abu-Lughod, Lila. Remaking Women. Princeton, N.J., 1998. Find it in your Library
  • Badran, Margot. Feminists, Islam, and Nation: Gender and the Making of Modern Egypt. Princeton, N.J., 1995. Find it in your Library
  • Badran, Margot. “From Consciousness to Activism: Feminist Politics in Early Twentieth-Century Egypt.” In Problems of the Middle East in Historical Perspective, edited by John P. Spagnolo, pp. 27–48. London, 1992. Find it in your Library
  • Goldschmidt, Arthur, Amy T. Johnson, and Barak A. Salmoni, eds.Re-Envisioning Egypt, 1919–1952. Cairo, 2005. Find it in your Library
  • Kurzman, Charles. Modernist Islam, 1840–1940: A Sourcebook. New York, 2002. Find it in your Library
  • Nāṣif, Malak Ḥifnī. āthār Bāḥithat al-Bādiyah Malak Ḥifnī Nāṣif, 1886–1918 (Works of Bāḥithat al-Bādiyah). Edited by Majd al-Dīn Ḥifnī Nāṣif. Cairo, 1962. Find it in your Library
  • Ziyādah, Mayy. Bāḥithat al-Bādiyah: Dirāsah Naqdīyah (Bāḥithat al-Bādiyah: A Critical Research). Beirut, 1983. Originally published in 1920. Find it in your Library
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