Muslim Women: Past and Present

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Adela Khanum

Known For: Kurdish Tribal Leader
Dates: 1847 –1924 (CE)

Country: Iraq

About

Adela was born in 1847 in Sanandaj in what is now Iran to a prominent Kurdish ruling family. She married Osman Pasha, a chief of the neighboring Kurdish Jaff people whose principal city was Halabja.  Halabja, located in what is now Iraq, lay in a border area of the Ottoman Empire.  The empire, in order to integrate local leaders into the imperial government to prevent dissent, appointed Osman Pasha kaymakam of Sharazor.

Because of his position Adela’s husband was frequently absent from Halabja. Adela exercised power in his stead and was given the title khanum.  She is credited with the establishment of a marketplace, a prison, and courts of law, over which she herself presided.  Ely Bannister Soane, a British man who in the 1900s disguised himself as a merchant in order to travel through the Middle East and write a book about the culture of the region, had an audience with Adela.  Despite the Orientalist tones and observations worded in a way that would be politically incorrect in the 21st century, Soane provdes interesting insight into the status of women in the early-20th century Kurdish milieu, in which Adela lived and administrated Halabja and the adjoining territory: “Although Lady Adela’s position was probably unique owing to a happy combination of rank and character, the freedom of her sex which it exemplifies is entirely characteristic of the social life of Kurdistan.” He remarks that “the women are, for all practical purposes, as free as in England.”1 With regard specifically to the women of the Jaff people under Adela’s administration, Soane says,“The Jaff women contributed richly to Kurdish poetry, heritage, and culture taking big steps in this regard; and some were like stars shining in Kurdish literature, matching their fellowmen and playing vital part in the expansion of the heritage and art, and also in the social and political sphere.”2

By World War I, when Adela was in her late 60s and early 70s, she had enriched Halabja’s status as a Kurdish cultural center through her role as a patron of the arts.  The British, impressed by her accomplishments and reportedly grateful for assistance in saving the lives of British soldiers, gave her the title Khan Bahadur meaning “ruler of the brave.”3,4

Upon her death, her only son, Ahmed Jaff Pasha assumed power.  He also honored his mother’s cultural achievements, becoming an accomplished poet in his own right.

 

[1] E.B. Soane in G.E. Hubbard, From the Gulf to Arara; An Expedition through Mesopotamia and Kurdistan (1915).

[2] “Adela Khanum-Prince of the Brave,” Kurdistan’s Women.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “When our ‘friend’ Saddam was gassing the Kurds,” Le Monde diplomatique, English edition.

 

 

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