Naziq al-Abid


Syrian pioneer for independence and women's rights. She began writing in the Damascus press under a male pseudonym. She criticized the Ottoman Empire and wrote on various topics related to women such as suffrage, divorce rights, and civil marriage. In 1919, she founded the first women NGO in Syria called Noor al-Fayha (The Light of Damascus).

That same year she headed a women's delegation to meet a diplomatic U.S. mission sent to Syria by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to inquire on Syrian sentiment towards establishing a French
Mandate in the Middle East. To show the Americans that she believed in a secular and liberal Syria.

In 1919, deputies in the Syrian Parliament tried to pass a law granting women their voting rights (one year before such a law was passed in the United States), yet they faced strong resistance from the Syrian National Congress and conservative members of Parliament.

Ahmad Qudmani, a deputy from Damascus, spearheaded the opposition claiming that "God created her with half a mind, how can we give her the right of political decision-making?" The deputies continued to argue about women's rights until the French Mandate was proclaimed in Syria in July 1920.

When the French Army advanced on Damascus, Naziq al-Abid volunteered to fight in the Syrian Army. She paraded through the streets of the Syrian capital in full military uniform with a rifle
strapped on her shoulder, and unveiled herself to prepare for combat. Her unveiled picture made headlines in every newspaper across the country, which labeled her "The Syrian Joan of Arc."

She fought at the battle of Maysaloun on July 24, 1920, where the Syrian Army was crushed,
and tried but failed to heal the wounds of General Yusuf al-Azma, the minister of war who was killed in combat. King Faysal promoted her to the honorary rank of general in the Syrian Army. She was the first
woman to attain such a title.

In 1921, she became President of the Syrian Red Cross and in 1922, founded her own organization modeled on the international Red Cross. In 1925-1927, she took up arms in the Syrian Revolt against the Mandate, living in hiding in the Ghuta orchards surrounding Damascus.

In 1928, Abid was pardoned, returning to Syria to co-found the Damascene Women Awakening Association. Inspired by Syrian nationalism during the Mandate, women strove for political representation to change their social roles as subordinates, establish direct contact with the state
over their right to vote, and share in the battle for independence.

Naziq al-Abid and the women who shared in her views saw no conflict between political rights and religious obligations.