Ghazali, Zaynab Al- (1917-)

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Zaynab al-Ghazali al-Jabili (b. 1917) is Egypt's prominent female Islamist, a leading figure as a lecturer, teacher, and propagator of Islam who describes herself as the "mother" of the Muslim Brotherhood. After a short interlude in Huda Sha˓rawi's Egyptian Feminist Union, she resigned and founded the Muslim Women's Association (1936–1964). Her Islamic upbringing molded her conviction that a secular and Western-oriented movement for women's liberation was not adequate for Muslim society. Moreover, she emphasizes that the rights of Muslim women were entirely guaranteed by Islam as long as they fulfill their duties as mothers and spouses.

Until 1945 she refused Hasan al-Banna's offer to incorporate her organization into the Muslim Brotherhood, but she asserted her readiness for cooperation. This refusal safeguarded her independence and leadership position, taking into consideration the patriarchal patterns and hierarchies within the Muslim Brotherhood. After the ban of the Brotherhood she gave al-Banna her oath of allegiance and formally joined the organization in 1948, becoming the driving force behind its secret reestablishment.

Her own organization was banned in 1964. In the course of the arrests of Brotherhood members she was imprisoned and tortured. Six years later, in 1971, she was released. Her memoirs from prison made her famous, even beyond Egypt's borders.

The fact that Zaynab al-Ghazali's own life as a religious activist appears to contradict women's primary duties (as mothers and spouses) should in no way diminish her significance.

See alsoBanna, Hasan al- ; Ikhwan al-Muslimin ; Political Islam .


Cooke, Miriam. "Zaynab al-Ghazali: Saint or Subversive?" Die Welt des Islams 34, no. 1 (1994): 1–20.

Ghazali, Zainab al-. Return of the Pharaoh. Memoirs in Nasir's Prison. Translated by Mokran Guezzou. Broushton Gifford, Wiltshire, U.K.: Cromwell Press, 1994.

Hoffman, Valerie J."An Islamist Activist: Zaynab al-Ghazali." In Women and the Family in the Middle East. Edited by Elisabeth Warnock Fernea. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985.

Ursula Günther