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April 10, 2013

Ghanima Al-Marzouq: A woman like no other

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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In life, you meet few people for brief times but you wish you had known them for years. At the top of my list is the late Sheikah Ghanima Al-Marzouq of Kuwait. Although she was not from the royal family, everyone called her Sheikah as she was a great philanthropist.

She was 76 when she passed away last month. But if the age of a person on this planet earth is measured by the impact he or she had on the lives of others, Al-Marzouq had lived hundreds of years.

Soon after her death, the first model school for Muslim girls in Nairobi, Kenya, was named after her. This was one of her many charitable contributions in Kuwait and around the world.

In the 1980s, I was a visiting professor of engineering at Kuwait University on leave from my home university in Canada. At that time I know of Sheikah Ghanima Al-Marzouq as a pioneering Kuwaiti woman, a founding editor of several Arabic language weeklies, including the popular Osrati (My Family) magazine, which deals with woman and family issues, a progressive business leader with a social conscience, a proud mother and a prominent Kuwaiti public figure.

All her life she has labored mightily for woman rights and the participation of Arab women in political life. She inspired many women to run for parliament in Kuwait and across the Arab world and called on them to cast their votes as a religious and a civil duty. She rarely sought publicity or made formal public appearances.

It’s rare to find all these qualities and track record in the life of one woman, along with the intelligence needed to change the world around her, and fused with the charisma to lead, making Sheikah Ghanima Al-Marzouq one of a kind leader and a model for many Muslim and Arab women. Because of her, the position of Arab women in general and Kuwaiti ones in particular has changed in undeniable ways.

Today good leaders of all stripes are hard to come by; a leader of the caliber of Sheikah Ghanima Al-Marzouq. Over the years, during my visits to Kuwait I got the chance to know her more. In all humbleness she down played her contributions to good causes around the world and instead praised my voluntary work helping marginalized Canadian minorities, especially Canadian Muslims after 9/11.

The soft spoken lady of Kuwait continued her great work to help others even during the saddest times of her life; after the passing of her husband, a high ranking government official and later the passing of her son, Hilal, the managing editor of Osrati. She has survived by four children.

Om Hilal, the mother of Hilal as she was called by her family and friends, was born in Kuwait in 1937 but she spent part of her childhood in India as her father was a primmest Kuwaiti business man and a political leader traveling between the two countries. She had her university education in Cairo studying media. Upon her return to Kuwait she established Osrati in 1965, as the first magazine in the Gulf countries dealing with family and woman issues.

When she contributed to the establishment of a university in Kazakhstan, the students honored her even before meeting her and later, to her delight, some of the graduates were appointed ambassadors to Gulf countries. She was given an honorary doctor degree by the same university. Her own government and that of the UAE gave her also the highest honour for both her pioneering work in media and for her charitable contributions.

She established mosques, schools and orphanages. She served on the board of directors of several governmental and non-governmental organizations both in Kuwait and around the world.

She stood by the Egyptian people during the 1956 Israeli-British–French invasion of their country and during their 1973 Sinai War of liberation and also she stood by the Palestinian and the Lebanese peoples during the many Israeli aggressions over the years.

She was instrumental in spreading the views of moderate Muslim scholars especially those related to the role of women in Islam.

During her illness in the last few years, while visiting Kuwait I discussed at length, albeit via phone calls, her vision and dreams about the future of Arab and Muslim women.

My conclusion is this: Only a diverse group is capable to achieve what this woman single handed has achieved. Not only Arab and Muslim women but humanity has lost a great woman. At this moment, the world needs the kind of leaders like Sheikah Ghanima Al-Marzouq.

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