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Qasim Amin

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Qasim Amin.

Qasim Amin (pronounced [ˈʔæːsem ʔæˈmiːn], Egyptian Arabic: قاسم أمين‎; 1 December 1863 – 12 April 1908)[1] was an Egyptian jurist,[2] Islamic Modernist[3] and one of the founders of the Egyptian national movement and Cairo University. Qasim Amin has been historically viewed as one of the Arab world's "first feminists", although he joined the discourse on women's rights quite late in its development,[4] and his "feminism" has been the subject of scholarly controversy. Amin was a philosopher, a reformer, and a judge, besides being a member of Egypt's aristocratic class, and a central figure in the Nahda movement. His advocacy of greater rights for women catalyzed debate over women's issues in the Arab world.[5] He criticized veiling, seclusion, early marriage, and lack of education of Muslim women.[5] More recent scholarship has argued that he internalized a colonialist discourse on women's issues in the Islamic world, regarded Egyptian women as objects serving to achieve national aspirations, and in practice advocated reforms that diminished the legal rights of women in marriage contracts.[6][5][7]

Greatly influenced by the works of Darwin, Amin is quoted as saying: "If Egyptians did not modernize along European lines and if they were unable to compete successfully in the struggle for survival they would be eliminated". He was also influenced by the works of Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill who argued for equality of the sexes. Amin believed that heightening women's status in society must greatly improve the nation.[8] His friendships with Muhammad Abduh and Saad Zaghloul also influenced this thinking. Amin blamed traditional Moslems for Egyptian women's oppression, saying that the Quran does not teach this subjugation but rather supports women's rights. His beliefs were often supported by Quranic verses.[9]

Amin was born into an aristocratic family. His father was a governor of Diyarbekir Elayet, and his mother was the daughter of an Egyptian aristocrat. Amin finished law school when he was seventeen and was one of 37 to receive a government scholarship to study at the University of Montpellier in France. He is said to have been influenced by Western culture, especially its treatment of women, and this became a role model in his struggle to liberate Egyptian women. His crusade began in 1894 when he wrote "Les Egyptiens. Response a M. Le duc d'Harcourt", a rebuttal to Duke d'Harcourt's work (1893), which downgraded Egyptian culture and its women.[10] Amin, not satisfied with his own rebuttal, wrote "Tahrir al mara'a" (The Liberation of Women) in 1899, in which he blamed Egyptian women's "veiling", their lack of education, and their "slavery" to Egyptian men as the cause of Egypt's weakness.[11] He believed that Egyptian women were the backbone of a strong nationalistic people and, therefore, their roles in society should drastically change to better the nation. Amin is known throughout Egypt as a member of the intellectual society who drew connections between education and nationalism leading to the development of Cairo University and the National Movement during the early 1900s.

Early life


Amin was born to a Kurdish father and an Egyptian mother.[12][13] His father, Muhammad Amin Bey, served as governor of Diyarbekir Vilayet before moving the family to Alexandria where Amin was born. Qasim's father settled in Egypt and became the commander of Khedive Isma'il Pasha's army; he also held large feudal estates in both Alexandria and Diyarbekir.[14] Qasim's mother was the daughter of Ahmad Bey Khattab, a son of Tahir Pasha, himself a nephew of Muhammad Ali Pasha.[15] Qasim is recorded as a hereditary Bey, both paternally and maternally, in the 'Imperial and Asiatic quarterly review and oriental and colonial record.'[16][17]



Amin attended primary school in Alexandria, and then in 1875 attended Cairo's Preparatory School. The curriculum at the school was said to be strict and heavily Europeanized. By 1881, at the age of seventeen, he received his law degree from the Khedival School and was one of 37 to receive a government scholarship to continue his education at Frances' University of Montpellier. His mission in France lasted four years.[18]

  • University of Montpellier 1881-1885[19]
  • Khedivial Law School[19]
  • Cairo preparatory school[19]
  • Alexandria palace school[19]



In 1894, Amin married Zeyneb, the daughter of Admiral Amin Tafiq, and so he joined an Egyptian aristocratic family. His wife had been raised by a British nanny. Therefore, he felt it was necessary for his daughters to be raised by a British nanny as well. Amin's advocacy of resistance to women wearing the niqab was said to have perpetuated within his own family. Although he could not dissuade his wife from wearing it, his plan was to teach the younger generation of females, like his daughter, that they should not wear it.[20]



After his accomplishment in France, Amin became a part of the British Empire's civil servant class and, in 1885, he was appointed a jurist in the Mixed Courts, which had been created ten years earlier. These courts had western influence as they were based partly on the Napoleonic judicial system as well as on Islamic Law. Also, the jurists tended to be from England, Austria, Germany, or France.[21] Amin had a successful tenure. The court's governmental tribunal often competed with the religious courts in its decision making, and it was noted for its true reflection of the "right way" because it based its judgments on valid and sound reasoning.[22] By 1887, Amin had entered the predominately western-run Egyptian office of the Government Division of Legal Affairs. Within four years, he was selected as one of the National Court's Egyptian judges. He was also the Chancellor of the Cairo National Court of Appeals.[23]

Amin was one of the founders of Cairo University, known then as the National University, and was a member of its constituent committee.[24] He insisted that Egypt needed a Western-style university.[25] He was appointed as the university's first secretary-general,[26] and also its Vice-President.[27]

Influence of the Nahda (Awakening)


Amin became a central figure of the Nahda movement that achieved prominence in Egypt during a period of "feminist consciousness" in the latter part of the nineteenth century.[20] He agreed with his mentor, the exiled Muhammad Abduh, in blaming Islamic traditionalists for the moral and intellectual decay of Islam which, they believed, had caused its colonisation by western forces. Egypt, at the time, was a colony of the British Empire and partly of France.[28]

Abduh called for all Muslims to unite, to recognise the true message sent by Allah which gave women equal status, and to resist Western imperialism. Amin accepted Abduh's philosophies as he too believed the traditionalists had created an inferior society by not following true Islamic laws. Like Abduh, Amin advocated the right of females in society, and rejected the cultural values that kept Egyptian women in submission.

In his book The Liberation of Women (1899), Amin argued for the abolition of the veil. He thought that changing customs regarding women and changing their costume, abolishing the veil in particular, were key to bringing about the desired general social transformation.[29] To answer the conservatives who argued that abolition of the veil would have an influence on women's purity, Amin replied not from the perspective of gender equality but from the standpoint of following the superior Western civilization. He wrote: "Do Egyptians imagine that the men of Europe, who have attained such completeness of intellect and feeling that they were able to discover the force of steam and electricity...these souls that daily risk their lives in the pursuit of knowledge and honour above the pleasure of life, ... these intellects and these souls that we so admire, could possibly fail to know the means of safeguarding woman and preserving her purity? Do they think that such a people would have abandoned veiling after it had been in use among them if they had seen any good in it?"[6]

Some contemporary feminist scholars, notably Leila Ahmed, have challenged Amin's status as the supposed "father of Egyptian feminism". Ahmed points out that in the gender-segregated society of the time, Amin could have had very little contact with Egyptian women other than immediate family, servants, and possibly prostitutes. His portrait of Egyptian women as backward, ignorant, and lagging behind their European "sisters" was therefore based on very limited evidence. Ahmed also concludes that through his rigorous critique and generalizations of women in Egypt along with his zealous praise of European society and colonialism, Amin, in effect, promoted the substitution of Egyptian androcentrism with Western androcentrism, not feminism.[30]

Although he saw women as inferior to men, Amin supported the legislation of divorce. According to tradition, divorce is valid if the husband verbally announces it three times. Amin thought such oral agreement was not serious enough and that the lack of legality in the process contributed to the high rate of divorce in Cairo. Many men, he argued, accidentally divorced from their wives through jokes or quarrels.[31][32][33]

Books by Qasim Amin

  • 1894: "Les Égyptiens : réponse à M. le duc d'Harcourt" was written as a response to Duke d'Harcourt's criticism of Egyptian life and women. Amin did not defend Egyptian women in his rebuttal, but he did defend Islam's treatment of women.
  • 1899: "Tahrir al- mar'a (The Liberation of Women)". Dissatisfied with his rebuttal, Amin called for the education of women only to primary level. He maintained his belief in patriarchal domination over women, yet advocated modification of legislation pertaining to divorce, polygamy, and abolition of the veil. The book was co-written with Muhammad Abduh and Ahmad Lufti al-Sayid. It used many Quranic verses to support his belief.
  • 1900: "al-Mar'a al-jadida (The New Woman)". In this book, Amin envisioned 'the new woman' emerging in Egypt whose conduct and actions were modelled on the Western woman. The book was considered more liberal in nature, but he used social Darwinism as his argument. He states: "A woman may be given in marriage to a man she does not know who forbids her the right to leave him and forces her to this or that and then throws her out as he wishes: this is slavery indeed".

Other works

  • "Huquq al-nisa fi'l-islam"("Women's rights in Islam")
  • "Kalimat ("Words")
  • "Ashbab wa nata if wa-akhlaq wa-mawa. Iz ("Causes, effects, morals, and recommendations").
  • "Al-a'mal al-kamila li-Qasim Amin: Dirasa wa-tahqiq" ("The Full Works of Qasim Amin: Study and Investigation")
  • Al-Misriyyun ("Egyptians")'
  • "The Slavery of Women"
  • "They young Woman, 1892"
  • "Paradise"
  • "Mirror of the Beautiful"
  • "Liberation of Women"

Intellectual contribution


An advocate for social reform in his native country of Egypt, during the latter part of the 19th century when it was a colony under the British Empire, Amin called for the establishment of nuclear families similar to those in France, where he saw women not placed under the same patriarchy culture that subjugated Egyptian women. Amin believed that Egyptian women were denied their Quranic rights to handle their own business affairs and marry and divorce freely. He refuted polygamy saying it "implied an intense contempt of women," and that marriage should be a mutual agreement.[34] He opposed the Egyptian custom of "veiling" the woman, saying it was the major pronunciation of woman's oppression. The niqab, Amin said, made it impossible to identify women. To him, when they walked with their niqab and long dresses, it made them more noticeable to men and more distrusted. Furthermore, he exclaimed that men in the West treated women with more dignity allowing them to go to school, walk without a veil, and speak their mind. This freedom, he insisted "contributed significantly" to the foundation of knowledge in the nation. He supported the idea that educated women brought forward educated children. When women were enslaved in the home, without a voice and without an education, they tended to spend their time wastefully and bring forth children that would grow to be lazy, ignorant, and mistrustful.[35] Once educated, these women could become better mothers and wives by learning to manage their homes better. Amin gave an example of the situation. He said "Our present situation resembles that of a very wealthy man who locks up his gold in a chest. This man," he said "unlocks his chest daily for the mere pleasure of see his chest. If he knew better, he could invest his gold and double his wealth in a short time." Therefore, it was important to the Egyptian nation that women's roles should be changed. Although, he maintained his view that Egypt remain a patriarchal society, its women should remove the veil and be given a primary education. This he believed was a stepping stone to a stronger Egyptian nation that which was free of English colonialism.



Critics of Amin's philosophies are quick to point out that Amin had no association with women other than aristocratic women or prostitutes and they therefore question his stance of condemning all Egyptian women. Furthermore, Leila Ahmed, a novelist and reformer, suggests in her book Women and Gender in Islam that Amin's attempt to discredit the veil as a reason for Egyptian weakness is clearly a Western view. She illustrates how Westerners tend to use the veil as a reason to colonize Islamic nations by correlating the veil with inferiority. In addition, Ahmed points out that Amin's Egyptian woman, would not have control over her own body but instead it would be used to build up the nation. To her, this is hypocrisy because the Egyptian woman would still be the slave of her husband, her family, and her nation.[36] In addition, history professor, Mona Russell further challenges Amin's description of the new woman saying that it was "one of the fruits of modern society." She argues that she is not "new", does not care to be "synonymous" with the Western woman, and is her own being. Amin, they believe, was influenced by his foreign education and upper middle class position which looked to foreign colonialism as superior rule. It was his way of integrating into foreign colonialism that held power of Egypt. His quote in which he says "We today enjoy a justice and a freedom the like of which I do not think Egypt has ever witnessed at anytime in the past" [37] is proof of this admiration. They therefore feel that his opinions were based on bias rather than truth.


  • "I do not advocate the equality between men and women in education for this is not necessary"[38]
  • "Our laziness has caused us to be hostile to every unfamiliar idea."[39]
  • "The number of children killed by ignorant women every year exceeds the number of people who die in the most brutal wars."[39]
  • "A good mother is more useful to her species than a good man, while a corrupt mother is more harmful than a corrupt man."[39]
  • "It is impossible to be successful men if they do not have mothers capable of raising them to be successful."[39]
  • "There is no doubt that the man's decision to imprison his wife contradicts the freedom which is the woman's natural right."[40]
  • "The woman who is forbidden to educate herself save in the duties of the servant, or is limited in her educational pursuits is indeed a slave, because her natural instincts and God-given talents are subordinated in deference to her condition, which is tantamount to moral enslavement."[40]

See also



  1. ^ Political and diplomatic history of the Arab world, 1900-1967, Menahem Mansoor
  2. ^ ^ Nelson, Cynthia (1996), Doria Shafik, Egyptian feminist: a woman apart, American Univ in Cairo Press, p. 27, ISBN 977-424-413-3
  3. ^ Kurzman, Charles, ed. (2002). "The Emancipation of Woman and the New Woman". Modernist Islam, 1840-1940: A Sourcebook. Oxford University Press. pp. 61–9. ISBN 9780195154689. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  4. ^ Hatem, Mervat F. (2004) "The Nineteenth Century Discursive Roots of the Continuing Debate on the Social-Sexual Contract in Today's Egypt." HAWWA, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 64-66.
  5. ^ a b c John L. Esposito, ed. (2014). "Amin, Qasim". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-512558-0.
  6. ^ a b Ahmed, Leila (1992). Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 160. ISBN 0-300-05583-8.
  7. ^ Hatem, Mervat F.: The Nineteenth-Century Discursive Roots of the Continuing Debate on the Social-Sexual Contract in Today’s Egypt. Hawwa, 2004, 2:1, pp82-86.
  8. ^ Smith, Charles D. "Islam and The Search for Social Order in Modern Egypt: A Biography of Muhammad Husayn Haykal."Middle Eastern Studies. New York: State University of New York Press,1983 : 233.
  9. ^ "The Liberation of Women and The New Woman. Two Documents in the History of Egyptian Feminism," trans. S. Sidhom Peterson, Cairo 2000.
  10. ^ Les Egyptiens. Response a M. le Duc D'Harcourt, Cairo 1894.
  11. ^ Tahrir al-mar'a ("The Liberation of Women"), Cairo 1899.
  12. ^ Nelson, Cynthia (1996), Doria Shafik, Egyptian feminist: a woman apart, American Univ in Cairo Press, p. 27, ISBN 977-424-413-3, Qasim Amin, the son of an aristocratic Turkish father and respectable middle-class Egyptian mother...
  13. ^ Doria Shafik, Egyptian feminist: a woman apart, Cynthia Nelson
  14. ^ Amin, Qasim. The Liberation of Women: Two Documents in the History of Egyptian Feminism. Tr. Samiha Sidhom Peterson. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2000, p. xi.
  15. ^ Gendered nations, nationalisms and gender order in the long nineteenth century, Ida Blom, Karen Hagemann, Catherine Hall
  16. ^ The Imperial and Asiatic quarterly review and oriental and colonial record, Oriental Institute (Woking, England), East India Association (London, England)
  17. ^ The international who's who, Europa Publications, 1956.
  18. ^ al-A mal al-kamila li-Qasim: Dirasa wa-tahquiq ("The collected works of Qasim Amin. Study And research"), ed. Imara, Beirut 1976.
  19. ^ a b c d The Liberation of Women and The new woman, two documents in history, Qasim Amīn
  20. ^ a b Baron, Beth. "The Women's Awakening in Egypt: Culture Society and The Press." The American Historical Review 100, no. 5(Dec 1995): 1637-1638.
  21. ^ Huquq al-nisa fi l-Islam ("Women's rights in Islam"), Cairo 1900.
  22. ^ Hoyle, Mark S. "The Mixed Courts of Egypt: 1906-1915." Arab Quarterly." 2, no1 (May 1987).
  23. ^ Biographical dictionary of modern Egypt, Arthur Goldschmidt
  24. ^ Louis Awad, The literature of ideas in Egypt, Volume 1, Scholars Press, 1986.
  25. ^ Philip Mattar, Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East & North Africa: A-C, Macmillan Reference USA, 2004.
  26. ^ The Egyptian upper class between revolutions, 1919-1952, Magda Baraka, St. Antony's College (University of Oxford). Middle East Centre
  27. ^ Cairo University and the Making of Modern Egypt, Donald Malcolm Reid
  28. ^ Badron, Margot. "Unveiling in Early Century Egypt: Practical and Symbolic Considerations." Middle Eastern Studies 25, no. 3 (July 1989): 370-386.
  29. ^ Ahmed, Leila (1992). Women and Gender in Islam. New Heaven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 145. ISBN 0-300-05583-8.
  30. ^ Ahmed (1992). Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05583-8.
  31. ^ Cuno, Kenneth M. (2009). Family, Gender and Law in the Globalizing Middle East and South Asia. Syracuse University Press. p. 10.
  32. ^ Amin, Qasim (2000). The Liberation of Women and The New Women. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press. p. 94. ISBN 977-424-567-9.
  33. ^ Amin, Qasim (2000). The Liberation of Women and The New Women. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press. p. 95. ISBN 977-424-567-9.
  34. ^ Kalimat ("Words"), Cario 1908.
  35. ^ al-Mar a al-jadida (The New Woman), Cairo 1900.
  36. ^ Ahmed, Leila, "Women and Gender in Islam.
  37. ^ El Saada, Hoda. "Amin Qasim."Encyclopedaia of Islam 3. Ed. Gunrun Kramer. Et al. Brill Online The University of Texas at Austin 17 April 2011.
  38. ^ Hatem, Mervat F.: The Nineteenth-Century Discursive Roots of the Continuing Debate on the Social-Sexual Contract in Today’s Egypt. Hawwa, 2004, 2:1.
  39. ^ a b c d Qasim Amin as quoted in Nergis, Mazid. "Western Mimicry or Cultural Hybidity: Deconstructing Qasim Amin's Colonized Voice." Gale Biography. Accessed March 15, 2011. Last modified March 3, 2011. http://i-epistemology.net/v1/gender-studies/726-western-mimicry-or-cultural-hybridity-deconstructing-qasim-amins-colonized-voice.html Archived 2015-11-17 at the Wayback Machine
  40. ^ a b Amin, Qasim. "Al--Marat Al Jadidah." Translated by Ted Thornton. NMH Middle East Resource Center. Accessed March 17, 2011. http://www.mediterraneas.org/article.php3?ed.article=73- Archived 2013-06-20 at the Wayback Machine .

Further reading

  • Ahmed, Leila. (1992). Women and Gender in Islam.
  • Drewes, G. W. J. (1958). "Qasim Amin, Egyptisch feminist (1865-1908)." Bijdragen tot de taal-, land-en volkenkunde/Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia 114.1: 55–71. online
  • McLarney, Ellen. (2018). "Reviving Qasim Amin, Redeeming Women’s Liberation." in Arabic Thought against the Authoritarian Age: Towards an Intellectual History of the Present, 262+ online.
  • Mazid, Nergis. (2012). "Western Mimicry or Cultural Hybridity: Deconstructing Qasim Amin's 'Colonized Voice'." American Journal of Islam and Society 19.4: 42–67.
  • Moradi, Fateme, and Nasrin Shokrpour. (2020). "Freedom and Education of Women in the Works and Ideas of Qasim Amin Mesri and Parvin Etesami." International Journal of Multicultural and Multireligious Understanding 7.5: 176-188 online.