Zaynab Al-Ghazali

by- Mahmudul Hasan

Zaynab Al-Ghazali (b. 1917) is the prominent writer and the teacher of 
the Muslim Brotherhood and founder of the Muslim Women's Association
(1936-64). Her father is an Al-Azhar-educated independent religious 
teacher and cotton merchant. He encouraged her to become an Islamic leader citing the example of Nusaybah bint Ka'ab al-Maziniyah, a woman fought alongside the Prophet (SAWS) in the Battle of Uhud. For a short time she joined Egyptian Feminist Union only to find it a mistaken path for women. At her eighteen, she founded the Jama'at al-Satyyidat al-Muslimat (Muslim Women's Association), which, she claims, had a membership of three million throughout the country by the time it was dissolved by government order in 1964. 

Although she had acquaintance with Shaikh Hasan Al-Banna, the founder 
of Ikhwan, since the late 30s and actively participated in many Islamic 
programs, she formally joined the Muslim Brotherhood (Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimun) in 1948. Her weekly lectures to women at the Ibn Tulum Mosque drew a crowd of three thousand, which grew to five thousand during holy months of the year. Besides offering lessons for women, the association published a magazine, maintained an orphanage, offered assistance to poor families, and mediated family disputes. The association also took a political stance, demanding that Egypt be ruled by the Qur'an.

In Islamic history ladies have not lagged behind in the struggle to 
establish truth and eradicate falsehood, to uphold Islamic values and 
principles, and for that matter establish Islam as a living, thriving, 
and forward-looking religion. Zaynab Al-Ghazali is one of such dynamic 

After the assassination of Hasan al-Banna in 1949, Al-Ghazali was 
instrumental in regrouping the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1960s.
Imprisoned for her activities in 1965, she was sentenced to twenty-five 
year of hard labor but was released under Anwar Sadat's Presidency in 1971. She describes her prison's experience, which included sufferings of many heinous forms of torture, in a book entitled Ayyam min hayyati (Days from my life). 

She depicts herself as enduring torture with strength beyond that of 
most men, and she attests to both miracles and visions that strengthened her and enabled her to survive. She sees herself as the object of President Gamal Abdul Nasser's hatred.

After her release from prison, al-Ghazali resumed teaching and writing 
first for the revival of Muslim Brotherhood's magazine, Al-Dawah. She was editor of a women's and children's section in Al-Dawah, in which she 
encouraged women to become educated, but to be obedient to their husbands and stay at home while rearing their children. God had given her the "blessing"-although not viewed such by most people-of not having conceived any children (interview, 13 September 1988). This gave her a great deal of freedom. Her husband was also quite wealthy, so she had servants to do her house-works. 

She believes that Islam allows women to be active in all aspects of 
public life, as long as it does not interfere with their first and most sacred duty. Her second husband died while she was in prison. Having fulfilled her duty of marriage, she feels free to devote all of her energies to the Islamic cause.

In addition to being very active in Dawah work, Zaynab al-Ghazali has 
been a prolific writer, contributing regularly to major Islamic journals and magazines on Islamic and women's issues. Although the Islamic movement throughout the Muslim world today has attracted large number of young women, especially since 1971s, Zaynab al-Ghazali stands out thus for as the only woman to distinguish herself as one of its major leaders.

Her book Ayyam min Hayati, which is entitled "Return of The Pharaoh" in 
its English version, is simply a proof of her "towering personality who 
stood like a rock, successfully thwarting mighty waves of torture and 
temptation. No amount of persecution and persuasion could weaken her faith and resolve in Islam." The book is a manifestation of "her perseverance for the cause of Islam, her patience in the face of all kinds of affliction and persecution. 

Her many qualities of head and heart remind us of the life and time of 
many of the Companions of Prophet and virtuous people in earlier generation of Muslim history."

"The hardships and severe tests which Zaynab al-Ghazali was subjected 
to, her firmness and bravery in facing the enemies of Islam, her deep iman in Allah and Islamic cause, serve as examples for all who strive for the establishment of a state ruled by Divine Law. The story of Zaynab al-Ghazali is a story of right against wrong, justice against injustice and dignity against humiliation. The glory of Muslim Ummah has faded a little. It is, however, the likes of Zaynab al-Ghazali in their firmness and dedication who will restore it, no matter how great the sacrifice."

The events Zaynab related in her book "Return of the Pharaoh" (in 
Bangla "Karagare Rat Din") took place more than a quarter century ago. But what is happening today in many parts of the Muslim world is exactly the same as happened to Zaynab, her Muslim brothers and sisters in Islam. For the kind perusal of the respected readers we are quoting some excerpts from "Return of The Pharaoh" ("Ayyam min Hayati" in Arabic):

The condition that she made to her husband prior to their marital bond 
is as follows:

"However, I believe one day I will take this step that I wish and dream 
of. If that day comes, and because of it, a clash is apparent between your personal interests and economic activities on the one hand, and my 
Islamic work on the other, and that I find my married life is standing in the way of Da'wah and the establishment of an Islamic state, then, each of us should go our own way."

"I cannot ask you today to share with me this struggle, but it is my 
right on you not to stop me from jihad in the way of Allah. Moreover, you should not ask me about my activities with other Mujahideen, and let trust be full between us. A full trust between a man and a woman, a woman who, at he age of 18, gave her full life to Allah and Da'wah. In the event of any clash between the marriage contract's interest and that of Da'wah, our marriage will end, but Da'wah will always remain rooted in me."

"I accept that ordering me to listen to you is amongst your rights, but 
Allah is greater than ourselves. Besides, we are living in a dangerous 
phase of Da'wah."

The response of her husband was: "Forgive me. Carry on your work with 
Allah's blessing. If only I could live to see the establishment of an 
Islamic state and the Ikhwan's goal achieved! If only I was still in my 
youth to work with you!"

Description of the persecution on her in prison:

"The next moment the door was locked and a bright light switched on. 
Now their purpose was revealed; the room was full of dogs! I could not 
count how many!

"Scared, I closed my eyes and put my hands to my chest. Within second 
the snarling dogs were all over me and I could feel their teeth tearing 
into every part of my body. Clenching my hands tight into my armpits, Ibegan to recount the Names of Allah, beginning with 'O Allah! O Allah!'…. I expected that my clothes would be thoroughly stained with blood, for I was sure the dogs had bitten every part of my body. But, incredulously, there was not a single bloodstain on my clothes, as if the dogs had been in my imagination only."

"I do not know how but I fell asleep while invoking Allah, and it was 
then that I experienced the first of four visions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that I was to see during my stay in prison. There in front of me, praise be to Allah, was a vast desert and camels with hawdahs as if made of light. On each hawdah were four men, all with luminous faces. I found myself behind this huge train of camels in that vast, endless desert, and standing behind a great, reverent man. This man was holding a halter, which passed through the neck of each camel. I wondered silently: Could this man be the Prophet (peace be upon him)?

"Silence has no safeguard with the Prophet, who replied: 'Zainab! You 
are following in the footsteps of Muhammad, Allah's Servant and

"I remained in my cell for six consecutive days: from Friday 20th 
August to Thursday 26th August 1965. My cell door, during these six days was never opened. I was given neither food, drink, allowed to go to the toilet nor any contact with the outside world, except my warder who, now and then, peeped through the small hole in my cell door. You can imagine, dear reader, how a person can live in such circumstances."

"Write down the names of all your acquaintances on the face of this 
earth. If you don't, we will shoot you where you stand. Write down the names of all your Ikhwan acquaintances and everything about your relationship with them.

"They then left the cell, closing the door behind them. I wrote: 'I 
have many friends, in many countries, who have known me through Islamic 
da'wah. Our movements on this earth are for Allah, and He leads those who choose His path. This path is the same as that which the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions followed before us. Our aim is to spread Allah's message and to call for the implementation of His rule. I call you, in the Name of Allah, to leave your Jahiliyyah, renew your Islam, pronounce the Shahadah and submit and repent to Allah from this darkness that has swathed your hearts, and which prevents you from doing any good deed. If you do so, perhaps Allah will take you out of this abyss of Jahiliyyah and bring you to the light of Islam."

"Then, at the Adhan of Fajr, I prayed, raising my hands and invoking 
Allah: "O Allah! If You are not angry with me I don't care, but Your grace is more befitting to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your Face, That which has enlightened darkness and on Whom the matters of this life and the Hereafter have settled, that Your Curse does not befall me. To You is our obedience until You are pleased and there is no might or strength except with You."

"His whips found every part of my body, the cruelest thing that 
Jahiliyyah had known both in terms of cruelty and bestiality. As the torture and pain intensified, I could not suppress my creams any longer; I raised my voice to Allah. I repeated His great Name: 'O Allah! O Allah!' Whilst the whips tore into my body, my heart found contentment and affinity with Allah. I lost consciousness but they tried to arouse me to take more punishment. Blood poured from my feet, and unable to pull myself up, I tried to lean on the wall. Safwat persisted with his whip. I begged to be allowed to sit on the floor but Shams Badran shouted: "No! No! Where is your God now? Call Him to save you from my hands! Yet call Nasir and you'll see what will happen! Answer me, where is your God?

'Answer me, you B…'

My voice, faint with exhaustion, was barely audible: 'Allah, may He be 
exalted, the Doer, the Mighty, the Firm.'"


   1.The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Modern Islamic World, Oxford 
University Press
   2.The Return of the Pharaoh, Islamic Foundation, UK.

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