Faces & Traces
Bint Al-Shati’a, Aishah Abdul-Rahman
(A Brilliant Female Scholar in the Islamic and Arab World)
April 21, 2008
Prepared by Eyad N. Al-Samman
Faces & Traces is a cultural series of concise biographies of local or international famous and obscure personalities in fields such as literature, arts, culture and religion in which these individuals contribute affirmatively. It is a short journey in contemporary history, attempting to tackle numerous effective characters in human civilization.
Abdul-Rahman, Aishah Muhammad, also known widely as Bint Al-Shati’a, Egyptian scholar, intellectual, journalist, and professor of literature. Bint Al-Shati’a was born in November 1913 in Damietta (Arabic Dumyat), city in northern Egypt, in the Nile River delta. Bint Al-Shati’a started her study in the Kuttab by memorizing the Holy Qur’an and books of tradition and poetry at the age of 5. She was able to convince her father, who was a scholar of Al-Azhar, with the help of her grandfather to let her join the school. At last, she got her elementary study and then joined the Teachers’ School in Tanta, city in northeastern Egypt, despite her father’s opposition. After her graduation in 1929, she moved to Cairo and worked as a clerk in the girls’ faculty in Giza, a southwestern suburb of Cairo. She also continued her study and got the baccalaureate in 1931 and later she enroll in the King Fuad I University (now Cairo University) and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in Arabic in 1939. She pursued her higher education in Cairo University and obtained her master and doctorate of arts degrees in 1941 and in 1950 respectively.
Due to her strong interests in the Islamic studies, Bint Al-Shati’a continued her study in literary, Qur’anic and Islamic studies for the coming 20 years after the graduation. Starting in 1939, she worked in many posts including: a lecturer in Arabic department in Cairo University, an Arabic supervisor in the Egyptian Ministry of Education in 1943, and a lecturer and then a professor assistant in Ain Shams University in Cairo in 1951. She was appointed president of the Arabic and Islamic Studies Department in the same university in 1962. Bint Al-Shati’a also held other positions including: a delegated professor for supervising theses of master and doctorate degrees in Al-Azhar University (1968), and a visiting professor in the Cairo University’s branch in Khartoum, Sudan, (1968). In 1970, she became a professor of the Holy Qur’an’s Explanation and Higher Education Affairs in Faculty of Law in Fès, Morocco, at Al-Qarawiyin University. She worked also as a visiting professor in Beirut’s University (1972), Emirates’ University (1981), and Faculty of Education in Riyadh (1983). Bint Al-Shati’a had eminent Islamic and literary contributions which made her a prominent historian and an experienced researcher. She is considered a renowned Islamic scholar and a unique pioneer of the Women's Islamic Liberation Movement in the Arab world.
In the early 1930s, she contributed her articles in local Egyptian newspapers such as “Al-Nahdha Al-Nisa’aiya” (The Feminine Renaissance) and “Al-Ahram” (The Pyramids) under the pen name “Bint Al-Shati’a” (Daughter of the Riverbank) referring to her life as a child playing in the Nile’s bank in her birthplace. She had also to use this epithet because of traditions in that time which did not allow girls’ names to be shown overtly in public life and she continued using it for the rest of her life. She wrote articles about different social, literary, and intellectual causes. Her lifelong articles published in “Al-Ahram” tackled the Egyptian peasant and countryside, the role of a woman in advancing her family and society, and other issues about social reforms. Her article, entitled “The Problem of the Peasant” (1935), dealt with the social disadvantages of Egyptian peasants and later in 1936 she wrote a relevant book entitled “The Egyptian Countryside”.
She also wrote several fictional works including the two Egyptian true-life novels: “Lady of the Manor” (1944), “The Reversion of Pharaoh” (1949), the biographical collection entitled “Views of their lives” (1953), and the short-story collection entitled “The Riverbank’s Secret” (1958). In her novel entitled “Ala Al-Jisr: Rihla Bayn Al-Hayah Wa Al-Mawt” (On the Bridge: A Journey Between Life and Death, 1968), Bint Al-Shati’a told literary part of her autobiography up to the point of her husband’s death in the early 1966. Bint Al-Shati’a authored also more than 60 theses in which 40 of them became well-known books tackling literary, historical, jurisprudent, and Islamic issues. Among these books: “The Rhetorical Explanation of the Holy Qur’an” (1962), “New Values for the Old and Contemporary Arabic Literature” (1969), “With the Islam’s Prophet (pbuh)” (1970), “Isra'iliyat in the ideational Invasion” (1975), and “The Miracles’ Land” (1977). One of her most famous biographical works entitled “Tarajim Sayidat Bayt Al-Nubooah” (Biographies of the Prophet’s Honorable Women (pbuh)) which tackled literary and in detail different aspects of those honorable women’s lives and their relations with the prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The book, which she started writing it in the mid-1960s, consisted of 5 separated volumes: “The Prophet’s Mother”, “The Prophet’s Honorable Wives”, “The Prophet’s Honorable Daughters”, “Zainab Bint Khuzaimah; the Heroine of Karbala”, and “Sukaina Bint Al-Husayn”.
Her book entitled “A Perusal in the Documents of Bahaism” (1986) contained many documents about the religious faith known as Bahai and its relation with the international Zionism. Bint Al-Shati’a also received many awards and decorations among them the Decoration of Intellectual Qualification (Morocco, 1961), the Literature’s Award of Kuwait (1988), the Order of Merit for Islam’s Scientists (Egypt, 1989), and King Faisal’s Award for Literature and Islamic Studies (Saudi Arabia, 1994). Bint Al-Shati’a passed away on December 1, 1998, of a heart attack at the age of 85. She occupies for several decades a high-ranking position among numerous renowned Islamic scholars and scientists in the Islamic and Arab world. She was also a brilliant figure who adopted the Islamic conception of liberating Muslim women drawn from the two main Islamic law’s resources.