A pink taxi

A pink taxi

June 22, 2010

A page in history

I am not a direct descendant of Anbara Salaam, but I  like to think I have inherited her philosophy. She was a fleeting person in my  life, but I have precise memories of her. I believe I have been an indirect recipient of her close relationship with her nephew, my father. The picture above is a portrait taken by my father.

Anbara Salaam Khalidi was my father's aunt on both sides. She was his paternal aunt who later married his maternal uncle. She married  my grandmother's brother Ahmad Khalidi, at the late age of 30, a true act of love, and one of bravery for a woman born in the late 19th century.  But she had been even braver by refusing to wear the veil at the early age of 20.

She took it off for the first time in public during a demonstration. She battled for the progress of her gender. This explains my strong stance towards the veil. I cannot regress in history, I must always remind my daughter that her great great aunt was one of the first Lebanese to shed the veil. In my opinion, there are many ways to express one's religious zeal, besides vestimentary ones that impede modern activity.

Anbara Salaam was also a very educated and literary woman. This was the generation of Simone de Beauvoir, Marguerite Duras and Yourcenar. These were women who had the confidence to write and verbalize their thoughts. Anbara was their counterpart in Lebanon. She used to correspond with Gibran Khalil Gibran, author of the Prophet. She had literary salons and translated the Odyssey and the Illiad into Arabic.

Albert Hourani, who wrote one of the most book influential books in Middle Eastern Studies: "The History of the Arab People", evokes the importance of Anbara Salaam Khalidi in Lebanese society. The book is a concise and beautifully written account of Arab history from pre-Islamic days uptil the 1970s. His approach to history is subaltern, meaning that history is about the people and not about the rulers. He researches the daily life, atmosphere, social, cultural and economic backgrounds that give all the important historical dates, depth and meaning. If you turn to the chapter entitled "The Age of European Empires, you  will find an entire paragraph dedicated to my aunt. In the words of Hourani, her life "conveys some idea of the foment of change." He credits her with "playing her own part in the emancipation of Arab women." Her story covers only three quarters of a page in a large volume but I am nevertheless eternally proud to live in her shadow.


  1. What a remarkable woman. It is these women, women of will forged in iron that have made the life we women live today possible. It is imperative that your daughter, my daughters and indeed all the younger generation of girls that will one day become woman in their own right understand that the liberties they enjoy today, the choices they are able to make which are evident in a role model such as you, are possible only because of the determination of woman all over the world that united their voices loud enough to be heard.

    To say that I am not in favor of the veil is the greatest of understatements. Our country is still reeling from a revolution which has removed the basic rights of all women with archaic laws that are ridiculous, overbearing and will prove to be the undoing of a government built on the foundations of hypocrisy. I am so against it that I have refused to set foot in my own country for 33 years.

    I am hopeful that one day, women can again regain their basic basic rights of freedom and choice and one day, maybe, their great, great niece will write about the bravery and determination of one woman that was able to help change the course of history.


  2. Thank you for introducing Anbara Salam to us. I think we've become used to silenced women who go with the flow of things in order not to disrupt the status quo, that when we hear of Anbara Salam it is both refreshing and inspiring.

    I have been reading more about hijab since your last blog and I found it interesting that the women during the time of the prophet Mohammed were not vieled. The viel was introduced en masse during later periods.

    Dr Shireen Abadi (Iranian winner of Nobel Prize) stated that it is interesting that once an Islamic fundamentalist group gains power, the first group within the society they set restrictions to are women. It's as though the best way to flaunt there religiousness is by hiding women behind chadours, burkas, closing girls schools, denying this or that basic right.

    The fact that the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was concerned with advancing the status of women, their liberites and positions in society seems to be something that is selectively forgotten.

    We should be thankful for Anbara Salam, Shireen Abadi, Nawal Al Saadawi (Doctor & writer), Leila Ahmed (Harvard professor), and the countless Middle Eastern women whose brave voices still resonate within us.

  3. The issue brought up by the blogger is multifaceted:the character of the Lady(or the Sit)herself,the hijab as an issue,or the need to acknowledge the pioneering generation of women of the 20th century in the Arab Middle East!
    Since I had the honour and privilege of knowing Sit Anbara as a relative,neighbour and a student;I would reserve my comment to her character and personality.
    Born in the late 19th C to a Sunni Beiruti family of 12,she got educated amongst others by a famous Maronite scholar Mua'alim Boutros al Boustani.She was trilingual,and corresponded with the leading scholars,writers and politicians of the time.By admiring and helping the youth fighting against the Ottoman rule,she delayed her marriage until the age of 30.She lived in exile in England in the 1920s with her father and three of her siblings and got exposed to the West.She married an educator who started the Arab College in Jerusalem,that provided Palestine with many of its leaders.Her husband Ahmad Sameh AlKahalidi was the scion of a family of theologians,scholars and professors;which still provides the Arab world with known writers,professors and lecturers of leading universities of the western as well as the Arab world.
    As far as I remember,as a child,teenager and newly married man and father,Amto Anbara was my mentor,guide and example of politness,intelligence and caharacter.Her house was the meeting place of politicians,historians,educators and women fighting for their rights.I feel inadequate in giving her what she rightly deserves in this comment,yet one thing I regret is not having called my first daughter after her.One thing I can vouch for though,is that my two beloved daughters and my only grandaughter will follow in her mauve lavender steps!