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῾Abd Al‐raḥmān, ῾Ā'ishah

Valerie J. Hoffman‐Ladd
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World What is This? Provides global coverage of the Muslim experience from the end of the eighteenth century through the twentieth century

῾Abd Al‐raḥmān, ῾Ā'ishah

(b. 1913), Egyptian writer and professor of Arabic language and literature and Qur'ānic studies.

Under the pseudonym Bint al‐Shāṭi' ῾Abd al‐Raḥmān was the author of more than sixty books on Arabic literature, Qur'ānic interpretation, the lives of women of the early Muslim community (especially members of the Prophet's family), contemporary social issues, and fiction.

Raised in the Delta port city of Dumyat (Damietta), she was taught the Qur'ān and classical Arabic literature by her father, an al‐Azhar‐educated teacher at a mosque‐based religious institute. Although he educated her in the traditional style at home, mosque, and Qur'ānic school (kuttāb), he objected to her attendance at public schools. With the assistance of her mother and maternal great‐grandfather, she managed to get a secular education despite her father's objections. ῾Abd al‐Raḥmān began her literary career by writing poems and essays for Al‐nahḋah, a women's magazine, and became a literary critic for the semiofficial newspaper Al‐ahrām in 1936, the same year she entered the Faculty of Letters at Fu'ād I University. At this time she assumed the pen‐name Bint al‐Shāṭi' (“Daughter of the Shore”) in order to conceal her identity from her father. Her first articles for Al‐ahrām focused on conditions in the Egyptian countryside, but she is best known for her later works on religious and literary topics. She received her doctorate in 1950 with a thesis on the poet Abū al‐῾Alā' al‐Ma῾arrī (d. 1058). In 1951 she became professor of Arabic language and literature at ῾Ayn Shams University in Cairo. Throughout the 1960s she participated in international literary conferences, served on several government‐sponsored committees on literature and education, and was a visiting professor at the Islamic University in Ummdurman (Sudan), the University of Khartoum, and the University of Algiers. After retiring from her position at ῾Ayn Shams University, she became professor of higher Qur'ānic studies at al‐Qarawīyīn University in Fez, Morocco. Her regular articles for Al‐ahrām, her biographies of the women of the Prophet's household, and especially her exegesis of the Qur'ān have brought her recognition and distinction in Egypt and throughout the Arab world.

῾Abd al‐Raḥmān's pursuit of public education offered her little challenge after her early education at the hands of her father, until she met Professor Amīn al‐Khūlī when she was a student at Fu'ād I University (later Cairo University). He introduced her to the literary analysis of the Qur'ān that became her trademark. In ῾Alā al‐jisr she describes her entire life as a path to this encounter with Amīn al‐Khūlī, whom she married in 1945. Her work is seen as the best exemplification of his method, and she has been much more prolific than her teacher, who died in 1966.

῾Abd al‐Raḥmān's “rhetorical exegesis of the Qur'ān” makes a plea for removing the Qur'ān from the exclusive domain of traditional exegesis and placing it within literary studies. Whereas some earlier exegetes allowed for a multiplicity of interpretations of any single Qur'ānic verse, seeing in this multiplicity a demonstration of the richness of the Qur'ān, ῾Abd al‐Raḥmān argues that every word of the Qur'ān allows for only a single interpretation, which should be elicited from the context of the Qur'ān as a whole. She rejects extraneous sources, particularly information derived from the Bible or Jewish sources (Isrā'īlīyāt), the inclusion of which in traditional Qur'ānic exegesis she sees as part of a continuing Jewish conspiracy to subvert Islam and dominate the world. She also argues that no word is a true synonym for any other in the Qur'ān, so no word can be replaced by another. Whereas many scholars believe certain phrases in the Qur'ān were inserted to provide the text with its characteristic rhythm and assonance, ῾Abd al‐Raḥmān insists that every word of the Qur'ān is there solely for the meaning it gives.

῾Abd al‐Raḥmān is both deeply religious and very conservative, despite her active public life. On the subject of women's liberation, she affirms the principle of male guardianship over women but firmly rejects male responsibility for the behavior of women. She insists that a proper understanding of women's liberation does not abandon traditional Islamic values. She has been consistently supported and honored by successive Egyptian regimes.


  • Umm al‐nabī (Mother of the Prophet). Cairo, n.d. (1961?).
  • Nisā' al‐nabī (Wives of the Prophet). Cairo, n.d. (1961?). Translated into Persian, Urdu, and Indonesian.
  • Al‐Tafsīr al‐bayānī lil‐Qur'ān al‐Karīm (The Rhetorical Exegesis of the Noble Qur'ān). 2 vols. Cairo, 1962–1969. Her most important work, reprinted in a number of editions.
  • Banāt al‐nabī (Daughters of the Prophet). Cairo, 1963.
  • Al‐Sayyidah Zaynab, baṭalat Karbalā' (Sayyida Zaynab, Heroine of Karbalā'). Cairo, n.d. (1965?). Life of the granddaughter of the Prophet, who is credited with heroism at the battle of Karbala in which her brother Husayn and other male relatives were killed.
  • ῾Alā al‐jisr: Usṭūrat al‐zamān (On the Bridge: A Legend of Time). Cairo, 1966. Autobiographical work that centers on the author's education, culminating in her encounter with Amīn al‐Khūlī. Written in the year of his death, her entire life is seen as a path leading to this meeting, as a result of which she is “born again.”
  • Al‐Qur'ān wa‐al‐tafsīr al‐῾aṣrī (The Qur'ān and Modernist Exegesis). Cairo, 1970. Written against a book on “modernist” or “scientific” exegesis by the physician and television personality Muṣṭafā Maḥmūd.
  • Al‐Isrā'īlīyāt fī al‐ghazw al‐fikrī (The Israelite Tales in the Intellectual Conquest). Cairo, 1975.

Works by ῾Ā'ishah ῾Abd al‐Raḥmān (Bint al‐Shāṭi')

Works on ῾Ā'ishah ῾Abd al‐Raḥmān (Bint al‐Shāṭi')

  • Boullata, Issa J. Modern Qur'an Exegesis: A Study of Bint al‐Shāṭi”s Method. Muslim World 64 (1974): 103–113. Positive evaluation of Bint al‐Shāṭi”s contribution to Qur'ānic exegesis.
  • Hoffman‐Ladd, Valerie J. Polemics on the Modesty and Segregation of Women. International Journal of Middle East Studies 19 (1987): 23–50. Analyzes Bint al‐Shāṭi”s stance on women's social roles.
  • Jansen, J. J. G. The Interpretation of the Koran in Modern Egypt. Leiden, 1974. Chapter 4, on “philological exegesis,” deals primarily with Bint al‐Shāṭi”s exegesis, which he believes to be the best example of contemporary exegesis focusing on language analysis.
  • Kooij, C. Bint al‐Shāṭi': A Suitable Case for Biography? In The Challenge of the Middle East, edited by Ibrahim A. A. El‐Sheikh et al., pp. 67–72. Amsterdam, 1982. Critical description of Bint al‐Shāṭi', which includes impressions gained from personal interviews with her, as well as interviews in Arabic literature. The author depicts her as both charming and domineering, and stresses Bint al‐Shāṭi”s self‐centeredness, claiming that her autobiography, ῾Alā al‐jisr, romanticizes and distorts reality.
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