Celebrating Nour Haider Saeed: pioneering educator of women in the Arab world

In the 1920s Nour Haider Saeed opened the first school for girls in the Arabian Peninsula and in the process wrote her name into the history books. (Supplied)
Updated 09 March 2019
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Celebrating Nour Haider Saeed: pioneering educator of women in the Arab world

  • In the 1920s Nour Haider Saeed opened the first school for girls in the Arabian Peninsula
  • She was given the title of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1958 by Queen Elizabeth II

The female pioneer of women’s education in the Arab world is being celebrated as part of a major global event.
In the 1920s Nour Haider Saeed opened the first school for girls in the Arabian Peninsula and in the process wrote her name into the history books.
International Women’s Day focuses on female rights and achievements, and the entitlement of girls to an education is a key issue for campaigners. 
Women have been at the helm of education in Arab countries since the year 859, when Fatima Al-Fihri founded the world’s first university in Morocco.
Although not widely documented, Haider’s accomplishments are just as significant.

In the 1920s Nour Haider Saeed opened the first school for girls in the Arabian Peninsula. 

Haider was born and raised in Aden, when South Yemen was under British occupation. 
Considered a strategic location to provide Britain with a base between the Suez Canal and its occupied territories in Bombay, the southern region of Yemen was ruled by the British from 1839 until 1967. It was the first imperial acquisition of Queen Victoria’s reign.
Prior to Britain’s occupation, little is known about education in Yemen. Many children were schooled in mosques and synagogues where the emphasis was on memorizing religious text.

A map of British Aden Protectorate

After Britain established its rule in South Yemen, boys’ schools began to open and in the 1870s Aden saw an expansion in school building that continued until the 1900s.
However, girls received education at home. Some families sent their daughters to unofficial female-run Islamic schools housed in mosques or homes, where the Qur’an and basic Arabic reading and writing was taught.
The first unofficial Islamic school to be established was in 1925 and was run by Haider in her home town of Sheikh Othman – a district in Aden. She operated it with the help of her sister Lula Haider Saeed.

The first unofficial Islamic school to be established was in 1925 and was run by Haider in her home town of Sheikh Othman.

The sisters had been educated by their father, Haider Saeed, who also taught the Qur’an and was a teacher at one of the first boys’ schools to open in Sheikh Othman.
Dr. Asmahan Al-Alas, who wrote on Haider in her published doctorate about the situation of women in British-ruled Aden, told Arab News that Haider was passionate about education, particularly for girls.

Nour's father, Haider Saeed, also taught the Qur’an and was a teacher at one of the first boys’ schools to open in Sheikh Othman.

With the growing success of Haider’s Islamic school, the British authorities decided to convert it into a primary school for girls in 1934 with Haider as the principal, and she was given financial backing by the government’s education department.
Al-Alas said: “I have done extensive research into this topic while writing my doctorate and Nour Haider was the only female teacher at the time and the woman who opened the first school for girls in the Arabian Peninsula.
“There might have been informal educational centers in other areas of the Arabian Peninsula, but she was the first to teach girls in a way that was officially recognized.”

British authorities decided to convert Haider's Islamic school it into a primary school for girls in 1934. 

The British administration in Aden set up Haider’s school as a pilot project to measure the degree to which the Muslim community accepted the education of girls, Al-Alas added. Haider was picked to head the school because she was already a highly respected member of the community.
“She was a local girl, well known in the community and respected by parents, which made it easier for her to encourage families to enroll their daughters in school,” Al-Alas said.
Haider, she said, would visit families in their homes to persuade them to educate their girls.
The success of the school later led the British to open the first government school for girls in 1941, where Haider was also principal and teacher.

A picture of where the first government school for girls in Aden stands.

The building for the school was donated by French businessman Antonin Besse who had several factories and companies in Aden at the time.
As more families began to send their daughters to the school, Haider introduced a teacher training course for female graduates to encourage them to go into the profession as the demand for teachers grew. Haider also introduced extra-curricular activities such as sports and scouting for young women.

French businessman Antonin Besse.

Haider is remembered as a leader in women’s education at a time when the British authorities had not begun opening schools for women.
She was awarded the title of Girls’ Education Leader on June 12, 1947, with a certificate of appreciation issued by Britain’s King George VI for her valuable services as principal of the government’s primary girls’ school.
She was later given the title of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1958 by Queen Elizabeth II which was announced in supplements to the London Gazette under the title “Sitt Nur Haider Saeed, Headmistress, Sheikh Othman Girls’ Primary School.”

Haider was awarded the title of Girls’ Education Leader on June 12, 1947, with a certificate of appreciation issued by Britain’s King George VI.

 

Haider was given the title of Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1958 by Queen Elizabeth II.

*This article was written by the great-grandniece of Nour Haider Saeed.


High praise for weed bust: Facebook leads Myanmar police to marijuana-growing Americans

Updated 36 min 15 sec ago
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High praise for weed bust: Facebook leads Myanmar police to marijuana-growing Americans

  • Police raided the 20-acre site in Ngunzun township Monday to find nearly 350,000 marijuana plants
  • Seizures of heroin, pills and crystal meth by authorities are more common in Myanmar

YANGON: Myanmar police have arrested one American and two locals after photos on Facebook led them to a huge plantation of towering marijuana plants near Mandalay.
Pictures of the fields of weed started circulating on the platform last week — a rare sight online in a country where police photos of seized heroin and methamphetamine are far more common.
Police raided the 20-acre site in Ngunzun township Monday to find nearly 350,000 marijuana plants — some up to two meters tall — 380 kilograms of seeds and 270 kilograms of marijuana, the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) announced Wednesday.
A released photo showed arrested US citizen John Fredric Todoroki, 63, standing alongside Myanmar nationals Shein Latt, 37, and Ma Shun Le Myat Noe, 23.
Another man, 49-year-old Alexander Skemp Todoroki, is still “at large,” the CCDAC said.
Police confirmed he is also American.
The detainees have been charged under the Anti-Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substances Law, though it remains unclear what penalties they will face if found guilty.
“We didn’t know this (marijuana plantation) existed,” one local police officer said, asking not to be named.
“We only found out when we were tipped off about it.”
Seizures of heroin, pills and crystal meth by authorities are more common in Myanmar, where weak rule of law and conflict-riddled border areas allow for the industrial-scale production of harder drugs.
Reaction on Facebook was swift, with some offering high praise for the arrests.
Others questioned how the pot growers had been able to get away with it for so long.
“How could the plants have grown so big without you allowing it?” Facebook user Kg Zoe Law commented at the police.
But not everyone’s nose was put out of joint by the agronomists’ antics.
“Let me know where it’ll be burned so I can get in position,” San Yu Ko Ko pleaded.