Memoirs of an Early Arab Feminist: The Life and Activism of Anbara Salam Khalidi

 Memoirs of an Early Arab Feminist: The Life and Activism of Anbara Salam Khalidi
Publisher: Pluto Press
Published Date : 05 April 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0745333564

In 1928, Anbara Salam Khalidi stood up at a lecture in Beirut and removed her veil. She described the covering as a "prison, preventing women from advancing in the world". Her actions that day caused a storm for her family, and prompted acid attacks and the tearing of veils with razors on the streets outside.

This story, told in Anbara's autobiography, illustrates just one way in which the Arab feminist rebelled against society and being a woman, and was inspired by others who did the same. Thirty-five years after her memoirs were first published in Beirut they have been translated by her son Tarif from their original Arabic script for English speakers to enjoy.

Born in Beirut in 1897, Anbara was one of 12 children. She was also a beautiful writer. The book begins with a wonderful description of her father, mother and siblings which stretches for pages. The reader learns that her mother was from a family of scholars who read Arabic history and literature. Her father had a powerful personality and was both tender and gentle.

Anbara speaks of a trip to Cairo where an apartment was rented for her to stay in as it was inappropriate for her mother, who was veiled, to stay in a hotel. She believed Egyptian women to be more liberated as they "could see the world with their eyes unveiled, whereas we could only see the world through a black curtain."

Though she went to a girl's school, which believed progress began with female education, she believed society's idea was that a girl's education should not advance beyond basic reading and writing. Anbara went on to win a gold watch for coming first in all her classes.

Some supporters of education, explains Anbara, said that study would help a woman understand her husband and his demands. Ironically, she says it is education and gaining maturity about the world which saved her from an engagement to a relative, arranged by her parents, at the age of 12.

It was with her husband that Anbara entered Jerusalem for the first time and experienced the warmth of the people there. She attended her first Palestinian women's nationalist meeting in 1929 and from this point becomes passionate about the Palestinian cause, recording in her memoirs how they suffered from "British intransigence". She eventually left Palestine in 1948.

Though coverage of the Arab Spring may have you believe Arab women left the domestic realm and stood up for what they believed in politically and socially for the first time in 2011, Anbara's memoirs are proof that feminism and revolt in the Arab world began long before this.

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