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`ABD AL-RAHMAN, A’ISHAH (b. 1913), Egyptian writer and professor of Arabic language and literature and Qur’anic studies. Under the pseudonym Bint al-Shati’ `Abd al-Rahman was the author of more than sixty books on Arabic literature, Qur’anic interpretation, the lives of women of the early Muslim community (especially members of the Prophet’s family), contemporary social issues, and fiction.

Raised in the Delta port city of Dumyat(Damietta), she was taught the Qur’an and classical Arabic literature by her father, an al-Azhar-educated teacher at a mosque-based religious institute. Although he educated her in the traditional style at home, mosque, and Qur’anic school (kuttdb), he objected to her attendance at public schools. With the assistance of her mother and maternal great-grandfather, she managed to get a secular education despite her father’s objections. `Abd al Rahman began her literary career by writing poems and essays for Al-nahdah, a women’s magazine, and became a literary critic for the semiofficial newspaper Al-ahrdm in 1936, the same year she entered the Faculty of Letters at Fu’ad I University. At this time she assumed the pen-name Bint al-Shati’ (“Daughter of the Shore”) in order to conceal her identity from her father. Her first articles for Al-ahrdm focused on conditions in the Egyptian countryside, but she is best known for her later works on religious and literary topics. She received her doctorate in 1950 with a thesis on the poet Abu al-`Ala’ al-Ma`arri (d. 1058). In 1951 she became professor of Arabic language and literature at `AynShamsUniversityinCairo. Throughout the 1960s she participated in international literary conferences, served on several government-sponsored committees on literature and education, and was a visiting professor at the Islamic University in Ummdurman (Sudan), theUniversityofKhartoum, and theUniversityofAlgiers. After retiring from her position at `AynShamsUniversity, she became professor of higher Qur’anic studies atalQarawiyinUniversityinFez,Morocco. Her regular articles for Al-ahrdm, her biographies of the women of the Prophet’s household, and especially her exegesis of the Qur’an have brought her recognition and distinction inEgyptand throughout the Arab world.

`Abd al-Rahman’s pursuit of public education offered her little challenge after her early education at the hands of her father, until she met Professor Amin al-Khuli when she was a student at Fu’ad I University (later Cairo University). He introduced her to the literary analysis of the Qur’an that became her trademark. In `Alaal-jisr she describes her entire life as a path to this encounter with Amin al-Khuli, whom she married in 1945. Her work is seen as the best exemplification of his method, and she has been much more prolific than her teacher, who died in 1966.

`Abd al-Rahman’s “rhetorical exegesis of the Qur’an” makes a plea for removing the Qur’an from the exclusive domain of traditional exegesis and placing it within literary studies. Whereas some earlier exegetes allowed for a multiplicity of interpretations of any single Qur’anic verse, seeing in this multiplicity a demonstration of the richness of the Qur’an, `Abd al-Rahman argues that every word of the Qur’an allows for only a single interpretation, which should be elicited from the context of the Qur’an as a whole. She rejects extraneous sources, particularly information derived from the Bible or Jewish sources (Isra’Mydt), the inclusion of which in traditional Qur’anic exegesis she sees as part of a continuing Jewish conspiracy to subvert Islam and dominate the world. She also argues that no word is a true synonym for any other in the Qur’an, so no word can be replaced by another. Whereas many scholars believe certain phrases in the Qur’an were inserted to provide the text with its characteristic rhythm and assonance, `Abd al-Rahman insists that every word of the Qur’an is there solely for the meaning it gives.

`Abd al-Rahman is both deeply religious and very conservative, despite her active public life. On the subject of women’s liberation, she affirms the principle of male guardianship over women but firmly rejects male responsibility for the behavior of women. She insists that a proper understanding of women’s liberation does not abandon traditional Islamic values. She has been consistently supported and honored by successive Egyptian regimes.


Works by `A’ishah `Abd al-Rahman (Bint al-Shiti’)

Umm al-nabi (Mother of the Prophet).Cairo, n.d. (1961?).

Nisd’ al-nabi (Wives of the Prophet).Cairo, n.d. (1961?). Translated into Persian, Urdu, and Indonesian.

Al-Tafstr al-bayani lil-Qur’an al-Karim (The Rhetorical Exegesis of the Noble Qur’an). 2 vols.Cairo, 1962-1969. Her most important work, reprinted in a number of editions.

Banatal-nabi (Daughters of the Prophet).Cairo, 1963.

Al-Sayyidah Zaynab, batalat Karbald’ (Sayyida Zaynab, Heroine of Karbala’).Cairo, n.d. (1965?). Life of the granddaughter of the Prophet, who is credited with heroism at the battle ofKarbalain which her brother Husayn and other male relatives were killed.

`Aid al jisr: Usturat al-zamdn (On the Bridge: A Legend of Time).Cairo, 1966. Autobiographical work that centers on the author’s education, culminating in her encounter with Amin al-Khuli. Written in the year of his death, her entire life is seen as a path leading to this meeting, as a result of which she is “born again.”

Al-Qur’an wa-al-tafstr al-`asri (The Qur’an and Modernist Exegesis).Cairo, 1970. Written against a book on “modernist” or “scientific” exegesis by the physician and television personality Mustafa Mahmud.

Al-Isra’iliyat ft al-ghazw al-fikri (The Israelite Tales in the Intellectual Conquest).Cairo, 1975.

Works on `A’ishah `Abd al-Rahman (Bint al-Shati’)

Boullata, Issa J. “Modern Qur’an Exegesis: A Study of Bint al-Shati”s Method.” Muslim World 64 (1974): 103-113. Positive evaluation of Bint al-Shati”s contribution to Qur’anic exegesis.

Hoffman-Ladd, Valerie J. “Polemics on the Modesty and Segregation of Women.” International journal of Middle East Studies 19 (1987): 23-50. Analyzes Bint al-Shati”s stance on women’s social roles. Jansen, J. J. G. The Interpretation of the Koran in ModernEgypt. Leiden, 1974. Chapter 4, on “philological exegesis,” deals primarily with Bint al-Shati”s exegesis, which he believes to be the best example of contemporary exegesis focusing on language analysis.

Kooij, C. “Bint al-Shati’: A Suitable Case for Biography?” In The Challenge of theMiddle East, edited by Ibrahim A. A. El-Sheikh et al., pp. 67-72.Amsterdam, 1982. Critical description of Bint alShati’, which includes impressions gained from personal interviews with her, as well as interviews in Arabic literature. The author depicts her as both charming and domineering, and stresses Bint alShati”s self-centeredness, claiming that her autobiography, `AlaalJ jisr., romanticizes and distorts reality.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/abd-al-rahman-aishah/

  • writerPosted On: October 5, 2012
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