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Ghazali, Zaynab al-

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Ghazali, Zaynab al-

    1917 – Founder of Muslim Women's Association

    Zaynab al-Ghazali, an influential writer and teacher on the subject of women's rights and duties in Islam, was born in Egypt in 1917 . She attended public school through the secondary level and also studied religion at home, obtaining certificates in hadith, preaching, and the Qur'an. Her father encouraged her to become an Islamic leader, and for a short time, al-Ghazali supported the Egyptian feminist movement. Nevertheless, she soon abandoned this affiliation, believing that Islam itself guaranteed women's rights.

    In 1936 , when she was only 18 years old, al-Ghazali founded the Muslim Women's Association. She claimed that the organization had three million members at its height. Al-Ghazali gave weekly lectures on Islamic values. The association published a magazine, operated an orphanage, provided assistance to poor families, and mediated family disputes.

    The Muslim Women's Association took a political stance, insisting that Egypt adopt Islamic law. Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, recognized that al-Ghazali's group had similar goals to those of his organization. He asked al-Ghazali to merge the association with the Muslim Sisters, the women's branch of the brotherhood. Al-Ghazali initially rejected this idea, but yielded in 1949 , when she realized the importance of all Muslims uniting behind al-Banna. During the 1950s, the government of President Gamal Abdel Nasser suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Women's Association worked with the Muslim Sisters to help families who had lost relatives and property as a result of the persecution.

    During the 1960s, al-Ghazali helped the Muslim Brotherhood to reorganize. As a result of her activities, she was arrested in 1965 , and sentenced to 25 years of hard labor. In the book about her prison experience, Days from My Life, al-Ghazali describes being tortured and writes that she endured suffering with more strength than most men. She was released from prison in 1971 by President Anwar el-Sadat .

    Al-Ghazali has continued to write and teach. She believes that Islam permits women to participate in all aspects of public life, as long as these activities do not interfere with their first and most sacred duty: to be wives and mothers. In her opinion, women should submit to their husbands and stay at home while their children are young. Al-Ghazali's own life seems to contradict this. She divorced her first husband because he interfered in her Islamic activities and threatened to divorce her second husband for similar reasons. When asked about this discrepancy, al-Ghazali says that her case is special because she did not have any children. This gave her the freedom to devote her energies to the Islamic cause. She notes that she remained obedient to her husband. Al-Ghazali has become a model for the increasing numbers of women who have embraced the Islamic movement since the 1970s. See also Egypt; Muslim Brotherhood; Women and Reform.

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