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An Introduction to muslim women

Lalla Zaynab (c. 1850 - 19 December 1904), was an Algerian Sufi Muslim spiritual leader. Regarded as a living saint by her followers, she fought a bitter battle over the succession of her father's barakah and Zawiya with her cousin Sa'id ibn Lakhdar which involved the French colonial administration. She would later build a friendship with Isabelle Eberhardt.

Death of muslim women

Zaynab died of a prolonged disease on 19 November 1904.[where?] She was placed in a mausoleum alongside her father, with the tomb becoming a place of pilgrimage. She left an incredible legacy and maintained a strong memory in the hearts of the al-Hamil people for many years to come.

She was succeeded by her cousin, Muhammad B Al Hajj Muhammad, who wasted al-Hamil's resources, and reverted the cultural struggle which Zaynab and her father fought to maintain. Under Muhammad's rule, the zawiya became an exoticized, marginalized, and localized center looking to entertain culturally bored or curious Western elites. Muhammad also took out large loans from the French which resulted in owed debt.

Early life of muslim women

Lalla Zaynab was born in 1850, a daughter of Muhammad bin Abi al-Qasim, a Rahmaniyya leader of the al-Hamil region in Algeria. She was a Sufi Muslim, and a member of a family who claimed to be direct descendant of Muhammad.

Prior to succeeding her father as the leader of the al-Hamil, Zaynab faced great societal and political opposition. Zaynab lived during a time where she was subjected to a dual social order which worked to aid her suppression. Society would be organized according to class, gender and racial distinctions. This structure would be applied through the French colonial authorities, who deemed native Algerians uncivilized and unequal. The structure would again be applied by the Algerian society.

In the Algerian Muslim community, Zaynab was rendered extraordinary due to her saintliness, piety, Sharifian descent and the miracles attributed to her by the religious authorities within the community.

However, barely any Arabic literature is written about her as she lived in her father's shadow prior to 1897. This is a result of her age, prestige, and amount of respect she commanded. Such shadowing is a common occurrence for subordinates to Sufi superiors, and was not a restraint on gender enforced on her by the Algerian community who highly regarded her.

The French colonial administration refused to recognize her spiritual authority on two bases. Firstly, they did not hold the same beliefs as the Algerian Muslims and never understood the importance the Algerian Muslims attributed to Zaynab. Secondly, the French authorities refused to accept the rule of a woman, as women were seen to be the weaker sex. Hence, Zaynab's rise was the accompanied by an increase in meddling of the affairs of succession by the French colonial administration.

Despite her many suitors, Zaynab maintained a vow of celibacy which would allow her to move freely around the community while harnessing and exerting her spiritual authority and social empowerment.

Lalla enjoyed a close relationship to her father, the Shaykh. She spent most of her time in the oasis and grew up the in the harim (the private residence attached to the Shaykh's house that housed around 40 women). Lalla would be personally educated by her father, which allowed her to accumulate great prestige among his followers due to her formidable knowledge. Sidi Muhammad also educated her on the matters of his rule and she would later help in the keeping of the accounts and properties of the Rahmaniyya center.

Lalla remained informed about the political and financial decisions taken by her father, and she acted as a confidant regarding these matters. It was claimed that the Shaykh had trained her from childhood to fill the role that awaited her, however this can only be inferred, as no official written will of his succession was left, and the Shaykh had no living sons. However, two months prior to her father's death in 1897, he had written a letter to Bu Saada, under intense pressure from the French colonial authorities, to designate Zaynab's cousin, Muhammad b al Hajj Muhammad, as the rightful successor. Only the French knew of this document and Zaynab remained uninformed on all the matters of succession.

Another document would be referred to during Zaynab's fight to claim her father's place. In 1877, when Sidi Muhammad suffered a heart attack, he drew up a will regarding the distribution of his inheritance upon his death. Although it was customary for the daughters to receive half of what the sons did, he specified for Lalla Zaynab, his favorite daughter, to receive the as much as any male heir (although he had none at this time).

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