Muslim women of today – not just the past – must be respected in Egypt, Syria
In Egypt and Syria, a shrine and mosque named for two of history's most prominent Muslim women are at the center of the conflicts there. These nations must be inclusive of Muslim women of today to help bring the healing peace taught by the Muslim women of the past.
(Page 2 of 2)
Unfortunately, today, too few Muslim men respect the capacity of Muslim women to guide and inspire. Aside from any questions about the legitimacy of President Morsi's ouster in Egypt, one can only hope that the recent change in government will help give all Egyptian women (along with other disenfranchised groups) more power to shape domestic policy, as well as Egypt’s role on the global stage.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery Monitor Political Cartoons
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Around the same time that the Muslim Brotherhood began surrounding the Rabia El-Adawiya mosque a couple weeks ago, skirmishes broke out in Syria at the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab – one of the most revered sites for Shiite Muslims in the world. Zeinab, as the granddaughter of the prophet Muhammad, is beloved by both Muslim women and men alike – and she even has a shrine in Cairo.
When I first visited the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab in Syria right before the war broke out, I was struck not only by the shrine’s majestic mirror mosaics, towering marble columns, and golden dome, but also by the immense spiritual and communal power of the women – from all over the world – packed within its walls (not to mention the men praying outside of them).
But now the shrine of one of Islam’s most revered women has become a prime target of Sunni rebel mortars. And with many Lebanese and Iraqi Shiite fighters killed in Syria being commemorated at home as “martyrs in the defense of the holy shrine of Sayyida Zeinab” – regardless of where they fought – the centrality of her symbolic presence in the conflict is clear.
One senior Shiite cleric, Ali al-Amin, has decried the violence committed in her name: “Sayyida Zainab does not want bloodshed in the name of defending her shrine, but rather unity and shunning sedition.”
The landscapes of Egypt and Syria are scattered with the splendid shrines of powerful Muslim women – women like Sayyida Ruqayya and Sayyida Nafisa, often called the patron saints of Cairo, and Shaggar al Durr, who ruled Egypt as sultan in the 13th century. Unfortunately, Egyptian and Syrian women today are struggling to have their voices heard above the gunfire and roar of the angry masses. This, in spite of their brave and consistent presence in places like Egypt’s Tahrir Square – where last week, at least 100 women were reportedly sexually assaulted, many of them raped in public.
With all the violence against women that the power struggles of battling political egos and civil war can bring, the visionary women of today – not just the women of yesterday, like Rabia el-Adawiya and Sayyida Zeinab – must be welcomed into the heart of the action to help resolve these brutal conflicts. Their presence is more essential than ever for ushering in much needed peace and prosperity – and perhaps even the healing compassion of the Beloved.
Emily O'Dell is the Whittlesey Chair of History and Archaeology at the American University of Beirut.