Zainab Al-Ghazali groomed generations of female preachers, who defended the status of women in Islam

By Sahba Mohammad

CAIRO, August 3, 2005 ( – Leading Muslim female preacher and activist Zainab Al-Ghazali died Wednesday, August 3, at the age of 88, leaving her indelible mark on da`wah.

Born in the Egyptian governorate of Al-Bihira in 1917, Ghazali is the descendent of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Muslim caliph, and Al-Hassan Bin Ali Ibn Abi Talib.

Ghazali showed early signs of brilliance and was known for her eloquence at the very young age of 10. Throughout the years she has set herself up as a paradigm for self-educated people.

Her vaulting ambitions and staunch resolve have helped her move up the educational ladder at a time when female education was something of a rarity if not a taboo.

She was keen on striking the right balance between modern and religious subjects, receiving her religious education from prominent scholars in Al-Azhar like Sheikh Ali Mahfouz and Mohammad El-Naggar.

Early in her youth, she was an active member of the Egyptian Feminist Union, founded by Huda Sharawi in 1923.

At the age of twenty in 1937, she founded the Muslim Women’s Association in order to organize women’s activities according to Islamic norms and for Islamic purposes.

She resigned her membership in disagreement with the secular ideas of the women’s liberation movement, though she held Sharawi in high esteem and hailed her as a faithful and committed woman.

No sooner had she established her association than she swung into action and secured licenses from the Minister of Waqfs (religious endowments) to build 15 mosques along with dozens of self-financed mosques.

Her association groomed generations of female preachers, who defended the status of women in Islam and firmly believed that their religion permitted women to play a pivotal role in public life, hold jobs, enter politics and speak their minds out.

She was influenced by the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna and was firmly of the view that religion did not conflict with politics.

She was an outspoken defender of Shari `ah and often ran into trouble with the regime of late Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Naser.

Imprisonment and torture, however, never broke her staunch will and emerged stronger than ever.

She left behind a legacy of uphill struggle to defend Islam and a reputation of a Muslim feminist, who undoubtedly replaced secular and liberal ideologies with Islamic values.