Tunisia has been at the forefront of women’s rights in the Arab world for decades,, dating back to the country’s founding. When talking about women situation, all the praise usually goes to Habib Bourguiba, first President after the independence that implemented the Code of Personal Status, guaranteeing some of the widest protections of women rights at that time.
We unfortunately tend to forget about less recognized yet powerful figures of women advancement such as Tahar Haddad.
This blog is a tribute to Haddad, a revolutionary feminist male thinker that helped shape modern Tunisian society and that deserves to be known and praised.
Tahar Haddad was a legal scholar, journalist, and politician. He graduated in 1920 from the prestigious Zeitouna Islamic University. Aside from being actively involved in the struggle for Tunisia’s independence, he was a fierce defender of women rights.
What was unique about Tahar Haddad was his genuine way of advocating for expanded rights for women. He never tried to reject the Tunisian Islamic culture, but rather based his arguments on deep understanding of Islam texts. Haddad explained in a clear manner the importance of educating women towards building a well-educated future generation and a free and advanced Tunisian society. He called for a revisited interpretation that gives women their right for education and forbids many kinds of abuses using the Quran, the Hadith, and stories about women in the early period of Muslim history as sources.His reflections were considerably more accurate than those of today’s critics and he had this remarkable courage to express such progressive ideas at a time where Islamic conservatism was predominant in Tunisia.
His book “Our woman in the Islamic law and society’” was published in 1930. Upon its publication, his colleagues, the media, and the Tunisian society reacted in an extremely negative way. Not only was he labelled as heretic and illiterate but he also lost his notary accreditation and his degree. He died in 1935 without turning his vision into reality and without getting any sign of gratitude for his achievements.
Although tremendously challenged, his ideas never died. As a matter of fact, years after his death, his writings served as the foundation for drafting the most modern Arab law of all times- the Tunisian Code of Personal Status that was implemented by Bourguiba in 1956.
Tahar Haddad marked the history of Tunisians forever. As this month marks his birth and his death, let’s commemorate the life of an inspirational Tunisian pioneer.