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Fatwas Part One-Hundred-and-Fourteen
Waking Up The Dead
The Egyptian Mistress of the House in the Quranist Vision

The Egyptian Mistress of the House in the Quranist Vision

Published in Arabic in November 5, 2016

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy

 

Introduction:

1- Within desert environment of Bedouins, there is no ''house''; rather, it is a mobile ''tent'' that is moved and pitched as per needs of grazing animals, hunting animals for food, finding a safe location away from raids, or to prepare for raids on others. Hence, within such environment, and the sense of belonging is for the tribe, which is akin to a mobile State whose military army is all of its men, whereas women are mere 'goods' or 'items' owned by men, and whose ownership would be changed from one man to another as per raids and enslavement performed by the stronger and victorious men. Such was the culture of Arabians in Arabia for most of their history for centuries. 

2- Within the agricultural environment, there is no moving from one place to another; rather, there is stability in one rural location, with the sense of belonging to it, mostly within a stable tyrannical deep State. Within such environment, a house is one major stable item among the staples of such culture; a firmly established spacious house in which the family members live: grandparents, fathers, mothers, offspring, and grandchildren. The women in such houses are the real controller of them; the wife there is the mistress of the house, especially in the Egyptian culture for centuries. We know from Ancient Egyptians' Pharaonic mythology that the supreme trinity consisted of the father/husband Osiris/Osir, the mother/wife Isis/Iset/Uzza, and the son Horus. The hero-role in this myth is to Isis, the mother/wife, and this reflects the veneration, reverence, and sanctification for centuries to the Mistress who reflects the image of the goddess Isis. Of course, such worship of the mother-figure (''Sayeda'' literally in Arabic: Lady or Mistress) or the goddess has been passed on to the Christian Coptic religion in Egypt in the figure of Mary, mother of Jesus, and then later on to the Shiite religion in Egypt to Sayeda Zeinab. Of course, more details on that topic are found on our books that we have published in print in Egypt in 1984 to teach them to our students in the History Department, Al-Azhar University; one of them is published here on our website, titled "The Character of Egypt after the Arab Conquest", and the other one is yet to be published online, titled "Research in Sources of Religious History".            

3- Until now, the Egyptian mothers have their own stature inside their houses and among their offspring; the control and dominant aspect of the mother-figure in Egypt are still practiced in Egyptian houses, reflecting the notion of the Mistress of the House. In Egypt in the 1950s and the 1960s, married women of our birth-place village (Abou Herez, near the rural city of Kafr Saqr, Al-Sharqiyah Governorate, in Lower Egypt) were of two types: the one type of women that would help their peasant husbands in their work in agricultural land fields in addition to her chores inside the house that include caring for offspring and for domestic animals. The other type is the mistress of the house who rarely got out of it, as she resided in the house of a well-off father, waiting for a rich husband if she would be unmarried still, or in the house of a husband, waiting for his return home after a workday. Of course, the wife who worked in land fields with her husband and inside her house would be honored as the main dynamo controlling and managing the house, as she was the mistress of the house. When her son would get married and live in the same spacious house of his parents, the bride would have to pass under the leg of her mother-in-law, raised before the gate. This gesture in the 1950s indicated that the daughter-in-law would learn to be obedient to the real and only mistress of the house: her mother-in-law. Growing old, the mistress of the house would no longer work inside the house; rather, she would keep all money and plan budgets and issue commands and orders to all those inside the house (younger women and grandchildren) about how to manage it; the house would be still her sphere and kingdom. We wonder now about the changes occurring to this high stature of the Egyptian mistress of the house after the social, economic, and political changes in Egypt since the 1980s until now.     

4- Of course, the Quranic stories mention Egypt through the story of Joseph and that of Moses, and we discern from these verses about both prophets some features of the Egyptian mistress of the house.  

 

Firstly: the Egyptian mistress of the house in the story of Joseph:

1- The story of Joseph ends with Jacob/Israel and his children coming to Egypt from the Bedouin area in which they used to live, and the story of Moses ends with the exodus of the Israelites along with Moses from Egypt into the Bedouin deserts. Between both stories, we can distill  the features of the Egyptian mistress of the house.

2- In the story of Joseph, we can see within Bedouin environments, women are barely visible in any role. Between lines of the Quran, we deduce that Joseph had a brother born of the same mother, while the rest of elder brothers were born from other mothers, as those elder ones in particular had said the following: "When they said, "Joseph and his brother are dearer to our father than we are, although we are a whole group. Our father is obviously in the wrong." (12:8). Yet, in such desert-Bedouin environment, we know nothing about the mother of Joseph; she is not mentioned in the Quranic story until one scene when she along with Jacob and the elder brothers came together to meet Joseph toward the end of the story: "Then, when they entered into the presence of Joseph, he embraced his parents, and said, "Enter Egypt, God willing, safe and secure." And he elevated his parents on the throne, and they fell prostrate before him. He said, "Father, this is the fulfillment of my vision of long ago. My Lord has made it come true. He has blessed me, when he released me from prison, and brought you out of the Bedouin wilderness …" (12:99-100). Hence, we discern here that there was no ''mistress of the house'' in the Bedouin environment where Jacob lived; there was no prominent role for women.   

3- Such case changed totally when the scene moved to Egypt in the story of Joseph; the mistress of the house played a prominent role in that stage of the story.

3/1: At first, the child Joseph was bought and brought into the house of the Potiphar in Egypt: "The Egyptian who bought him said to his wife, "Take good care of him; he may be useful to us, or we may adopt him as a son…" (12:21). The Potiphar had given Joseph to his wife and told her to take care of him; a sign indicating that the Potiphar's wife was in full control of the house, as she was really the mistress of the house. 

3/2: Growing up as a very attractive, handsome young man, Joseph was loved one-sidedly by the Potiphar's wife, who desired to have sex with him: "She in whose house he was living tried to seduce him. She shut the doors, and said, "I am yours." He said, "God forbid! He is my Lord. He has given me a good home. Sinners never succeed." " (12:23). We notice here that in this verse, God as the Supreme Witness has said the phrase "She in whose house he was living…", a clear miraculous indication in the Quran that within the Egyptian culture, women had high stature and full control of their houses; each was the mistress of the house, owning and managing it, as well as having all keys to the gates to open and close them. She is all-in-all in the house and the essence and soul of it; she was the mistress of her house.     

3/3: The mistress of the house, the Potiphar's wife, could not imagine that her servant joseph would rebuff her and reject her sexual advances, as she used to deliver commands and orders and be obeyed inside her house; that was why she chase him, and when her husband caught her red-handed in this scene, we know from the Quran that she had accused Joseph of trying to assault her sexually. Investigations on that case proved her guilty and proved that joseph was innocent of her accusations: "As they raced towards the door, she tore his shirt from behind. At the door, they ran into her lord and husband. She said, "What is the penalty for him who desired to dishonor your wife, except imprisonment or a painful punishment?" He said, "It was she who tried to seduce me." A witness from her household suggested: "If his shirt is torn from the front: then she has told the truth, and he is the liar. But if his shirt is torn from the back: then she has lied, and he is the truthful." And when he saw that his shirt was torn from the back, he said, "This is a woman's scheme. Your scheming is serious indeed." "Joseph, turn away from this. And you, woman, ask forgiveness for your sin; you are indeed in the wrong."'' (12:25-29). We focus here on the phrase ''… At the door, they ran into her lord and husband …'', as it indiacres that her husband was her lord; yet, he was like queens and kings of England; enthroned as monarch but cannot rule. Potiphar was her lord and husband formally and nominally, but in reality and indeed, she was the mistress of the house, and what proves this proposition from this Quranic story is the fact that when she was proven guilty, her ''lord and husband'' did not punish her; in fact, she was only slightly reproached by the judge of the case, and her 'lord' and 'valiant' husband strangely did not utter a word at all. 

3/4: Because the Potiphar's wife owned, ruled, and controlled everything in her house, she managed to firmly deal with rumors that tarnished her reputation in the city in which she lived, by getting the affluent women who had backbitten her into her house in a banquet, showing them Joseph, and all of these women felt like devouring him and declared that to her. The 'respectable' husbands dealt with this trouble in the way corrupt courts would adopt: to punish the wronged party and to kneel before the unjust; thus, Joseph the chaste was imprisoned; see 12:25-35. 

3/5: Later on, this Egyptian women, mistress of the house, had pangs of conscience; she declared in a very excellent and courageous stance before the retinue and the ruler/king that she was guilty of trying to seduce Joseph the chaste innocent one: "He said, "What was the matter with you, women, when you tried to seduce Joseph?" They said, "God forbid! We knew of no evil committed by him." The Potiphar's wife then said, "Now the truth is out. It was I who tried to seduce him, and he is telling the truth." "This is that he may know that I did not betray him in secret, and that God does not guide the scheming of the betrayers." "Yet I do not claim to be innocent. The soul commands evil, except those on whom my Lord has mercy. Truly my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful."" (12:51-53) 

 

Secondly: the Egyptian mistress of the house in the story of Moses:

1- In the story of Joseph, women had no role in the Bedouin society in the Quranic narration. In the story of Moses, we do not know the name of his father or anything about this father, in the Quranic verses that tackle the baby Moses. Significantly, Aaron when beseeching the furious Moses to let go of him, he mentioned their mother, and not their father: "He said, "O Aaron, what prevented you, when you saw them going astray. From following me? Did you disobey my command?" He said, "Son of my mother, do not seize me by my beard or my head. I feared you would say, `You have caused division among the Children of Israel, and did not regard my word.'"" (20:92-94).    

2- Thus, women played major roles in the first half of the Quranic story of Moses: his mother, his elder sister, Pharaoh's wife, and wet nurses. Later on, after his flight to the desert-Bedouin area of Median, he met two young women who were sisters, got married to one of them, and return with her to Egypt. Let us ponder on the following verses: "When We inspired your mother with the inspiration. Put him in the chest; then cast him into the river. The river will wash him to shore, where an enemy of Mine and an enemy of his will pick him up. And I have bestowed upon you love from Me, so that you may be reared before My eye. When your sister walked along, and said, 'Shall I tell you about someone who will take care of him?' So We returned you to your mother, that she may be comforted, and not sorrow. And you killed a person, but We saved you from stress; and We tested you thoroughly. And you stayed years among the people of Median. Then you came back, as ordained, O Moses." (20:38-40). "We inspired the mother of Moses: "Nurse him; then, when you fear for him, cast him into the river, and do not fear, nor grieve; We will return him to you, and make him one of the messengers."  Pharaoh's household picked him up, to be an opponent and a sorrow for them. Pharaoh, Hamaan, and their troops were sinners. Pharaoh's wife said, "An eye's delight for me and for you. Do not kill him; perhaps he will be useful to us, or we may adopt him as a son." But they did not foresee. The heart of Moses' mother became vacant. She was about to disclose him, had We not steadied her heart, that she may remain a believer. She said to his sister, "Trail him." So she watched him from afar, and they were unaware. We forbade him breastfeeding at first. So she said, "Shall I tell you about a household that can raise him for you, and will look after him?" Thus We returned him to his mother, that she may be comforted, and not grieve, and know that God's promise is true. But most of them do not know." (28:7-13). Moses' elder sister had said the following to the people inside the palace of Pharaoh: "Shall I tell you about a household that can raise him for you, and will look after him?" (28:12). The term ''household'' refers to Moses' mother, as we discern from the phrase " Thus We returned him to his mother…" (28:13). Hence, Moses' mother was the mistress of the house. In the later stage of the story, in Median, we read about the model of working women inside a Bedouin society, who worked because their father was a very old man: "As he headed towards Median, he said, "Perhaps my Lord will guide me to the right way." And when he arrived at the waters of Median, he found there a crowd of people drawing water, and he noticed two women waiting on the side. He said, "What is the matter with you?" They said, "We cannot draw water until the shepherds depart, and our father is a very old man."" (28:22-23).    

3- One of the great female figures in the Quran is the great Egyptian lady who had saved Moses and believed in God: she was the Egyptian queen, the wife of the unjust, oppressive tyrant: the Pharaoh of Egypt. She saved Moses as a baby when she said to her husband, the Pharaoh: "…An eye's delight for me and for you. Do not kill him; perhaps he will be useful to us, or we may adopt him as a son…" (28:9). This great Egyptian lady was honored by God in the Quran by making her along with Mary the two models of deep belief for all male and female believers in all eras and locations: "And God illustrates an example of those who believe: the wife of Pharaoh, when she said, "My Lord, build for me, with You, a house in Paradise, and save me from Pharaoh and his works, and save me from the wrongdoing people." And Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her womb, and so We breathed into her of Our Spirit; and she believed in the truth of her Lord's Words and His Books, and was one of the devout." (66:11-12).    

4- Yet, there is a major difference between the Pharaoh's wife and Mary; as Mary lived and was brought up in an atmosphere of piety and purity: "Her Lord accepted her with a gracious reception, and brought her a beautiful upbringing, and entrusted her to the care of Zechariah. Whenever Zechariah entered upon her in the sanctuary, he found her with provision. He said, "O Mary, where did you get this from?" She said, "It is from God; God provides to whom He wills without reckoning."" (3:37). As for the Pharaoh's wife, she was a great Egyptian Queen who lived in the palace of Pharaoh, enjoying authority and power, while the atmosphere of disbelief surrounded her, but instead of this atmosphere making her an unjust person, especially that her husband committed terrorism and persecution of believers, she believed in the One God with Moses. Because she was an Egyptian mistress of the house, and her house/palace in Egypt was doomed to constant unhappiness as Moses' Pharaoh resided in it, she implored the Lord to build her a house in Paradise of the Hereafter, away from Moses' Pharaoh: "…My Lord, build for me, with You, a house in Paradise…" (66:11). She was an original, true Egyptian mistress of the house, who appreciated the culture of being mistress of her own house. May God reward her and grant her his mercy in the Hereafter.       

 

Lastly:

1- The Bedouin Wahabi religion sharia has distorted the original Egyptian culture: most Egyptian women now, out of their own choice influenced by Wahabi media and propaganda of Al-Azhar and its clergymen, bury themselves in the 'movable tomb' called niqab (full veil covering the face) or strangle themselves with the gallows-noose-like hijab (head-covers or scarves). There is a vast difference between the beauty and freedom of the Egyptian women in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s – as we watch them in Egyptian movies of the period and in concerts of the legendary diva-singer Umm Kulthum – and the ugly shackles and fetters of the Bedouin niqabs and hijabs that are spread in Egyptian streets these days.  

2- We feel mental anguish and deep sorrow over the current status of the Egyptian women now, as they are progressing backwards only!


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