Aisha Taymur was an Ottoman era poet and feminist. She was born in Cairo to a Turkish father, who was part of the royal entourage, and Circassian mother. She was interested in learning to read and write, despite her mothers objections and attempts to teach her embroidery. Her father provided her with an education and from an early age she was taught Quran and Islamic Jurisprudence as well as Arabic, Turkish and Persian. She was also taught composition and started to write poetry in all three languages. Aisha came from a literary family and spent a lot of time in her father’s library. Her brother was also a novelist and her nephews were novelists and playwrights.
In 1854, at the age of fourteen, Aisha married her second cousin and moved with him to Istanbul. There she had a daughter, Tawhida, and put her literary pursuits on hold. Around 1875, she lost both her husband and daughter and ended up moving back to Cairo and living with her brother. Her grief at losing her daughter was reflected in her poetry. She continued to study poetic composition with some female tutors.
It was during this time that she started to produce writings advocating for women’s rights. This was during the socioeconomic transformation of Egypt in the early 19th century when some women started to realize that they were not being granted the same rights as men. This realization, coupled with the fact that they were also being deprived of rights that Islam granted them, prompted the early growth of Egyptian feminism. Aisha started to correspond with many other women intellectuals of the time who were advocating the same.
Mervat Fayez Hatem, who’s book Literature, Gender, and Nation-Building in Nineteenth-Century Egypt: The Life and Works of Aisha Taymur provides a fascinating analysis of Taymur’s work. She has this to say about Aisha:
“Taymur used her work of fiction, social commentary and poetry to expand the definition of the nation-building process to include different social classes, ethnic groups and women of different generations and nationalities. In this sincere effort, she was able to transform her very narrow social class roots putting them into the service of the larger community. As such, she deserved, not just her poetry, the title of the “Finest of Her Class”, which was one translation of the title of her poetry, Hilyat al-Tiraz”
Wikipedia,. ‘Aisha Taymur’. N.p., 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.
Sis.gov.eg,. ‘State Information Services Aisha Taymur (B. 1840 – D. May 2, 1902)’. N.p., 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.
Goldschmidt, Arthur. Biographical Dictionary Of Modern Egypt. Boulder, Co.: L. Rienner, 1999. Print.
Hatem, Mervat Fayez. Literature, Gender, And Nation-Building In Nineteenth-Century Egypt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.
04 Jan 2016