Today I am sharing a poem by the great Egyptian feminist Huda Sha’arawi. As we saw earlier, Sha’arawi’s work was immense in redefining the place of the woman in Egyptian society, and led to a new dawn for Egyptian women. This woman who influenced millions of Egyptian and Arabic women was also a poet with a great love for her country and its people. She dedicated her life for the betterment of women in the Egyptian society, and immensely loved the land of her forefathers.
The poem below ‘To My Homeland’ by Huda Sha’arawi shows her love for her country and the extent to which she is willing to fight for her country’s well-being, for her country’s dignity. Her poem was written at the time when Egypt was under British rule, or had just gained independence. In the poem, one senses Huda’s love for her homeland which she refers to as if it were a woman, a mother. Enjoy! The original in French was published in L’Egyptienne, Number 69 of May 1931. The translation to English is brought to you by Dr. Y. on Afrolegends.com
J’ai fait voeu de t’offrir tout ce qui m’appartient
O ma belle Patrie,
mon bras, mon Coeur, mon âme ainsi que tous mes biens
sans excepter ma vie.
J’ai fait voeu de peiner, de lutter, de souffrir,
de braver l’infamie.
Sans froncer le sourcil, sans poser au martyre,
sans même une aide amie.
J’ai juré de franchir les frontières des mers
si ton honneur l’exige,
afin de rehausser, aux yeux de l’univers,
ton nom et ton prestige.
J’ai juré d’oublier les affronts des déments
Et la haine et l’insulte
que l’envie incita, contre mon dévouement
à ta cause et ton culte.
Peu m’importe l’exil, leur courroux, la prison,
j’accepte la mort même.
Puisque leurs vils exploits n’auront jamaisraison
de l’humble coeur qui t’aime.
To my Homeland
I vowed to offer you all that is mine
O my beautiful homeland,
my arm, my heart, my soul, as well as all my belongings
not excepting my life.
I vowed to struggle, to fight, to suffer,
to brave infamy.
Without frowning, without asking for martyrdom,
without even using a friend.
I have sworn to cross the borders of the seas
if your honor depends on it,
to enhance, in the eyes of the universe,
your name and your prestige.
I have sworn to forget the offenses of the demented
and the hatred and insult
Which prompted envy, against my dedication
To your cause and your worship.
I do not care about exile, their anger, the prison,
Today, we will be talking about Huda Sha’arawi (also Hoda Shaarawi, or Hoda Charaaoui), one of Egypt’s top feminists. She was a pioneering Egyptianfeminist leader, nationalist, and founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union. Sha’arawi’s work was immense in redefining the place of the woman in Egyptian society, and led to a new dawn for Egyptian women.
Sha’arawi was born in a wealthy family in Minya on 23 June 1879. Her father was Muhammad Sultan, the first president of the Egyptian Representative Council, and the first Egyptian to rise through all the ranks of government at the time. Her father passed away when she was 4 years old. She was married at the tender age of 13 (very common in those days) to Ali Sha’arawi, a widower, cousin, and tutor with 4 children. The independent teen could not stand the austere life with her spouse and ran back to her mother where she stayed for the next 7 years. During those years of separation, she got further education and grew more independent. At the end of the 7 years, she returned to her husband with whom she later had 2 children. Her husband, Ali Sha’arawi was a political figure, and he associated his wife to his fight against British rule.
At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, women in Egypt were confined to houses or harems, and wore veils… This, in an Egypt which had seen Hatshepsut the female Pharaoh, Queen Cleopatra and Sultana Shajar al-Durr. As seen in all her pictures, Huda is wearing a Hijab. Sha’arawi resented such restrictions on women’s movements, and started organizing lectures for women on topics of interest to them. This brought many women out of their homes and into public places for the first time. Sha’arawi even convinced them to help her establish a women’s welfare society to raise money for the poor women of Egypt. In 1910, Sha’arawi opened a school for girls where she focused on teaching academic subjects rather than practical skills such as midwifery.
After World War I, as Egyptian men started to rise loudly for their rights, many women took part in political actions against the British rule as well. In 1919, Sha’arawi helped organize the largest women’s anti-British demonstration. In defiance of British orders to disperse, the women remained still for three hours in the hot sun. Such a thing had never been heard of in the history of Egypt and even of Islam.
Sha’arawi made a decision to stop wearing her veil in public after her husband’s death in 1922. In March 1923, Sha’arawi founded and became the first president of the Egyptian Feminist Union, after returning from the International Woman Suffrage Alliance Congress in Romeshe removed her face veil in public for the first time, a signal event in the history of Egyptian feminism.
She fought for the suppression of precocious marriage for young girls, giving them access to all levels of education. She led Egyptian women pickets at the opening of Parliament in January 1924 and submitted a list of nationalist and feminist demands, which were ignored by the Wafdist government, whereupon she resigned from the Wafdist Women’s Central Committee. The Egyptian Feminist Union campaigned for various reforms to improve women’s lives. Among them were raising the minimum age of marriage for girls to sixteen, increasing women’s educational opportunities and improving health care. Egypt’s first secondary school for girls was founded in 1927 as a result of this pressure. In 1933, a new law is agreed in parliament (through her push) regulating the work of women in industry: making sure a woman could not be made to work more than 9 hours per day, giving her a rest day, one month of maternity leave, and 15 days of leave at half-salary after delivery of a child. This was a victory for the Union.
She continued to lead the Egyptian Feminist Union until her death, publishing the feminist magazine L’Égyptienne (and el-Masreyya), and representing Egypt at women’s congresses in Graz, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Marseilles, Istanbul, Brussels, Budapest, Copenhagen, Interlaken, and Geneva. She advocated peace and disarmament. Even if only some of her demands were met during her lifetime, she laid the groundwork for later gains by Egyptian women and remains the symbolic standard-bearer for their liberation movement. In 1943, King Farouk decorated Huda Sha’arawi with the Order of Kamal. Sha’arawi wrote poetry in both Arabic and French. In 1944, she founded the All-Arab Federation of Women. Huda Sha’arawi died in 1947. Sha’arawi later recounted her early life in her memoir Harem Years: The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist, 1879-1924. To learn more about her, check out her memoir, read Casting Off the Veil: The Life of Huda Shaarawi, Egypt’s First Feminist by Sania Sharawi Lanfranchi, this article on Forbes, and this amazing chapter dedicated to her in Les Africains, Tome 10, ed. J.A. 1978, P. 107-141. With her strong personality, unique blend of western-style feminism with her own country’s customs, culture, and Egyptian nationalism, Huda Sha’arawi influenced millions of Egyptian and Arab women and people all around the world.