Egyptian women under patriarchal mentality-3

Islamic civilization in Egypt

News Center - The religions have a great and direct impact on the status of women in Egyptian society, such as Judaism and Christianity, but the Islamic religion has had the greatest influence since its entry into Egypt.

Islam religion entered Egypt with the entry of Muslim Arabs into the country in 641 AD, and Egypt was then under Roman occupation at that time the position of women was not the same as it had been during or before the Pharaonic civilization.

Before the end of the fourteenth century, Muslims became a majority in Egyptian society, and the authorities applied Islamic legislation to society and women.

The history of Egypt in the Islamic era is one of the richest dates, because it is written and documented important details of life in that period, and monitors the status of women in all aspects: social, economic, political, and religious, from freedoms and rights.

The status of women in the Fatimid state differs from that in the Abbasid state, as well as the condition of women in public life from that in palaces, between Muslim and non-Muslim women.

Islamic Caliphate

The Islamic caliphate, Rashid, Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Mamluk, Aubia, and Ottoman, successively passed over Egypt, and most of them have similarities in the role and status of women in Islam.

 During the Rashid caliphate, which is the first authority of Islam in Egypt, the rule of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah in terms of rights, property, social presence, and duties prevailed, so Islam restricted divorce and marriage and gave women the right to own property and work, and set age for child custody, the punishment for adultery, and imposing modest clothing on Muslim women and Others, such as Christians and Jews.

Muslim women had a role in politics and life and many women participated in the battles that Muslims fought to spread Islam in other countries that the armies of Muslims had reached during the conquest period. Prevention of dealing with males did not exist, as is the case today in the most strict Islamic societies.

Islam valued a share of the inheritance for a female, half of the share of a man, because a man has all responsibilities of the home and who's in it.

The period of the issuance of Islam, known as the time period extending from the advent of the Prophet Muhammad until the assassination of Caliph Ali bin Abi Talib, the last of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, lasted forty years, after that period the Umayyad state was established.

In the Umayyad state, women were sitting with men and throwing poetry, but what is unique in all caliphates and in the Umayyad caliphate is that the caliphs returned to pre-Islamic traditions that did not restrict them to have more than four wives, including the Umayyad caliph Abdu al-Malik bin Marwan, who had 15 wives.

 The position of women in Islam was affected by the camel battle, where the defeat of the city's army, which Aisha was one of his supporters and leaders, and the camel's battle, is the battle of revenge against the killers of Uthman ibn Affan. Aisha went with the Civilian Army on the back of a camel called the battle. As a result, that battle formed in the Arab and Islamic imagination the idea of the impossibility of women working in politics.

Women in the palaces (the wives of those with authority) were able to maintain a secondary but an important role in determining the state’s policies, so their indirect participation and the control of some of the caliph’s wives reached a limit influencing important decisions related to the legal heir of the caliphate. Such as Atika bint Yazid, the wife of the caliph Abdu al-Malik bin Marwan, had a strong personality to transfer Al-caliphate from Abdul Aziz bin Marwan to her children and she described her husband as he was merely a worker in the Umayyad state.

The Fatimid state

 The most important historical period for women since the introduction of Islam to Egypt was the period of the rule of the Fatimid state that extended in Egypt from 969 AD until 1171 AD. During that period, women obtained some of their rights to ownership and inheritance. The Fatimid are Shiites and they do not inherit the furthest with the presence of the closest, that a daughter of deceased parents inherits all the wealth of her parents even if there is a son's son, as they do not differentiate between sons of sons and daughters of sons in the entitlement of inheritance.

 Women had the right to own property, work, and trade. That led to appear many wealthy women in the Fatimid state, because the Fatimid state belonged to Imam Ali bin Abi Talib and his wife Fatima al-Zahra, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, held a high position,

 If we talk about the women of the ruling family, we find that the wives and sisters of the caliph had a prominent role in the various regions in which the Fatimid state expanded, and they had contributions to building religious establishments and schools of which a large part is still present, in addition to their assistance to the poor, and most importantly their role in the transmission of power.

 We mention here the role of Set Al-Malak; she was the daughter of the Caliph Al-Aziz Bellah, and the sister of the Caliph Al-Mansur bin Abdul-Aziz, who received the caliphate from t 996 AD until 1021 AD.

 Set Al-Malak had a distinguished personality and did not marry but devoted her life to the interest of the state, participated indirectly in the country's policy as she continued to provide advice to the caliph and she worked as a mediator between the people and the caliph after she had filed many complaints against him.

The reign of the Caliph al-Mu’izz Allah became one of the most severe periods in the Fatimid state for women, It began by issuing the caliph orders to regulate the entry of women to the baths, preventing them from walking behind funerals, intoxicants, having fun, singing, anthem, and even sitting on the roads, looking at women, and them from meeting on the shores of the Nile River and dealing with men, and going out on the anniversary of the killing of Al-Hussein “Ashura day”, in addition, it issued decisions preventing women from going out at night or during the day, as well as looking from windows or surfaces with the exception of some women who were forced to leave. Those decisions met with widespread disapproval from the Egyptian people, so the sister of the Caliph Sultana Set Al-Malak lined up with the rights of women and she was eventually able to remove him from the throne and reach his son, less than 16 years old, to rule, so she ended seven years of the ban unfair to women, and the Fatimid state ruled indirectly, and she had a great role in managing the affairs of the state until her death in the year 415, and during that period, women returned their right to leave their homes and granted aid to widows and the poor.

History also mentions Mrs. Rusd, the mother of Al-Mustansir, who ruled directly the Fatimid state, because her son Al-Mustansir was too young when he titled the caliphate.

Religious tolerance was characterized by the Fatimid state. Mrs. Azizia, the wife of the Caliph Al-Aziz who was Christian, had an important role in history and attests to the consolidation of tolerance between Muslims and Christians in Egypt through several proposals, the most important of which was the appointment of a bishop in Jerusalem and another in Cairo.

In general, the upper classes were concerned with educating girls, but the general class became more closed on the pretext of religion and customs, so it was not favorable for girls or women to leave, and education was not as widespread as it is today.

All women, especially Jews women, participated greatly in economic life, such as buying, selling, and trading all kinds of products, and also they worked as midwives and decorators for women, washing the dead. Jewish and Christian women provided loans to the needy in exchange for interest, which was not done by Muslim women because usury was taboo.

During the period of the caliph Al-Mustansir, a starving took place and lasted for nearly seven years (457-464 AH), and it affected even the women of the palace, so women went out and spread their feelings of hunger, one of them said: "O people of Cairo, pray to Mawlana Al-Mustansir, who has made people happy in his days."  So the caliph threatened the governor to showbread in the markets, or else he struck his neck and the governor threatened merchants to provide bread for the people, and this ended the monopoly and the availability of bread in the market at cheap prices.

 Egyptian women, whether Muslim or "Christian, or Jewish", had the right to apply to the judiciary to resolve outstanding issues such as matters related to inheritance, marriage, alimony, and property rights.

Unfortunately, the phenomenon of the slave girl’s presence continued in the Fatimid state and the caliph and the ministers had a large number of slaves, such as Ibn Kelas, the minister of the caliph al-Aziz had 600 slaves, and Ibn Badr al-Jamali had eight hundred slaves, and he also bought many princesses from different nationalities to serve them.  Egypt was one of the largest markets for slaves in the fourth century; in addition, the slaves had the right to own money and some had great wealth after their death.

Slave girls didn’t work in service or as mistresses, singers, and dancers, but some of them participated in the main works in the palace and called the Qahramana that they were interfering in the affairs of armies, and some of them were the intellectuals who studied medicine, music, and astronomy, some worked as secretaries of the caliph.

The Fatimid followed the teachings of Islam in regard to the mother because Islam honored her and raised her position compared to the father, so the sons kissed her hands and asked for her consent. Islam emphasized the wife’s respect and treatment of her in a good way. The mother also had a special position with the Jews and they kissed her hands and called her madam in addition she had the right to choose education for her children.

The marriage, marriage of minors was continuous, and the girls did not have the right to choose their husbands in many cases. Similar marriage contracts for Muslims and Egyptians from other religions.

 The era of the Fatimid state was distinguished by tolerance, so the Christian women practiced their worship and prayed in the church urging them to show morality, and obey their husbands, and Jewish women continued to go to the synagogue and do charitable work.


 When talking about Egyptian women in the Islamic era, we should talk about an important period of Egyptian history in general, which is the period of the Mamluk rule that extends between the years (1250 - 1517 AD).

 The women of the palaces lived a more luxurious life than women in the Fatimid state, while the status of women in public life varied according to the moods of the sultans, some of them were appreciated and some of them insulted them, and those who appreciated them were Sultan Al-Zahir Baybars who denied one time and came down to inspect the conditions of the public found a group of men was trying to attack a woman, so he issued the right of governors and those with authority to cut their hands for their negligence in preserving the women of the city, and Sultan Qansuh Al-Ghuri beat three Mamluks who dared to kidnap three women.

The slave women were not spared from the bad- because they belonged to their owners and they had the right to dispose of them as they like, such as for Sultan Haji bin Sultan Al-Ashraf Shaaban who was severely beating his slaves and insulting them with obscene words.

That was in the life of palaces, but for society, women could attend the councils of religion and science in a separate place from men. Some of them worked in translation, grammar, and poetry, such as Fatima, known as Sittah and Nidhar.

 Many women had worked in jobs that were specific to women, such as combs, tattoos, and midwives. Female singers and playlists had spread, and many prostitutes spread in the Mamluk state called "girls of error and beaches", and the state recognized their work and imposed taxes on them, but apparently, Baybars tried to limit that phenomenon, he prohibited prostitution in the rest of the country and ordered prostitutes to be imprisoned until they married.

Women in the Mamluk state obtained wide freedoms, and they went out at times of day and night, they were also able to go to the Nile shore, but jurists and clerics complained about that to the sultans, so Cairo calculated (a position similar to the Ministry of Economy at the present time) called Sadr Al-Din Ahmad Bin Al-Ajmi, issued decisions to prevent women from going to the streets, markets and picnics.

It was followed by a decision prohibiting all women from leaving their homes and from violating the decision to facing the death penalty, and the result was that the goods related to women were broken, and worsened living for those who live to seek charity in the streets and elderly women who have no breadwinners.

With the poor conditions in the public continuing, it was permitted for the slaves to leave to the markets and purchase their needs, as well as for the elderly to go out to their jobs, and to go to the bathrooms, just during the day.

For the issue of marriage in Middle Eastern and Muslim societies, the parents controlled the fate of the girls who didn’t have the right to choose their husbands and their opinion wasn’t taken even. The Egyptians continued to marry two, three, and four women and continued the rulers owned slaves in addition to their wives.

Women were used as a tool in politics through what was known as political marriage, such as the marriage of Al-Zahir Baybars to the daughter of a Mongol leader; In order to strengthen the relations between the Mamluks and the Mongols to stand in the face of their alliance with the Crusaders, which formed a threat to the presence of the Mamluks in Egypt and Al-Sham.

 We also mention the marriage of Sultan Al-Mansur Qalawun of Ashlon Khatoon, the Mongolian who is later known as Umm Al-Nasser, and the marriage of King Al-Nasir Muhammad to the sister of Azbek Khan, called Touloubi, with the aim of completing a march of his predecessors from the Sultans to consolidate the relationship between the Mamluk state and the Turkish tribes called the Qafqak.

One of the most famous names for women in the Mamluk state was Shajarat Al-Durr, who ruled Egypt for only eighty days because of the great rejection that she met because she was a woman, she assumed power after the death of her husband and the country was going through a difficult time, Louis IX had mobilized his forces and headed towards the Egyptian border, Shajarat Al-Durr could manage the battle with great skill and victory after she detained Louis IX and ended the Crusader's presence in the country located under her rule.

Despite that great achievement, the male mentality overthrew her rule, the Abbasid Caliph sent a provocative message to the Mamluks saying: "If you do not have men in Egypt, we send one of our men", a phrase that continues to chase women to this day.

 With the exception of Shajarat Al-Durr, many of the women of the sultans ruled the country through advice such as Sultana Amira.

Tomorrow: Egyptian women during the Ottoman, French, and British occupation