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Umm Kulthum

Mothering a Nation -Umm Kulthum

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Umm Kulthum – Mothering a Nation

To remain resilient is to succeed in recovering from a negative experience and to build oneself up again.



Although the name Umm Kulthum may be unfamiliar among Canadian ears, the female singer was and continues to be the Middle East, and specifically Egypt’s most renowned artist. She grew up in a poor and rural village to the father of an Imam. Notwithstanding her struggles integrating into the male-dominated world of Islamic praises and rituals, Umm Kulthum stood tall in the face of hated, resentment, and jealousy.

From learning how to use musical and lyrical Arabic to utilizing poetry and with help from other prominent artists, Umm Kulthum quickly became intensely popular. From 1930 to 1960, she carried culture, language, and musical innovation within the British occupation and successfully carried it over to the Republic.  

Among the most revolutionary impacts of Umm Kulthum was her ability to get people to listen. Not only to tolerate, to reluctantly oblige, instead, nations across the Middle East paid attention. Surprisingly, a woman from a small village in Egypt could attract such vast and diverse audiences. But, unfortunately, women would be discouraged from attempting to succeed in the music industry due to their challenges


Resilience and Nationhood

To remain resilient is to succeed in recovering from a negative experience and to build oneself up again. Without the resilience of Umm Kulthum, it is unlikely that a woman’s voice would be so well-known, acknowledged, and respected. In this sense, she played a vital role in “mothering” Egypt and the Middle East.

Umm Kulthum represents motherhood in this situation by symbolically raising a nation. Amid the turmoil created through two World Wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s and the 1952 Egyptian revolution, she manifested all that inspires a patriotic Egyptian and a devout Muslim. Thanks to the significance of Islam and nationalism, Umm Kulthum successfully transcended across the Middle East as a stabilizing and uniting force. 

Therefore, nationalism and nationhood play a critical role in her continued impacts throughout the Middle East. Songs such as Wallāhi Zamān, Yā Silāḥī  (It’s Been a Long Time, O Weapon of Mine) were essential in creating connections between music, nationalism, and direct ties to Gamel Abdel Nasser. Furthermore, by employing personal links to Egypt’s president throughout her career, Umm Kulthum maintained pseudo diplomatic relations with her country. 


You Might be Asking Yourself, Why is this Important?

To what extent does Umm Kulthum impact women living in the West? How does the rise of nationalism in the Middle East affect women in Western countries? The first step is understanding where powerful women are. Growing up, the powerful women in the media and the public sphere who caught my eye were first ladies like Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton, local politicians like former BC Premier Christy Clarke, and others intersecting with Western society.


What is lost in these examples of women is that there is little connection to another region, territory, or different ideas or concepts. By this, I intend to highlight to shortcomings of Western society to integrate meaningful global examples of women of power, resilience, and strength. DIversity is not a vacuum for only those lucky enough to escape the “third-world” and produce academic or professional excellence in the West.


Women Remain Women Regardless of Politics or Geography


It is challenging to conceptualize the efforts of women across the world when in reality, we are genuinely ever immersed in the struggles of women in our families, communities, or respective group memberships. Nevertheless, it is possible to create a stronger connection across the existence of women on earth if we read and understand the stories of women in different parts of the world. Therefore, Umm Kulthum and others around the globe who broke barriers and revolutionized society’s norms are not less valuable than the accomplishments and histories pathed by Western women. 


One way to engage in work that disengages with the Western-centric model of knowing and being is to explore the project #Decarbonize. In this project, youth worldwide expressed their experiences with climate change and collaboratively completed a Youth Manifesto for 2021. In any discipline or specialty, taking a look at more than just North America or Western Europe is invaluable. 


Making Connections 

In this sense, diversity and inclusivity cannot be fully understood without acknowledging and empowering voices outside the West’s political and geographical boundaries. Therefore, knowledge such as Umm Kalthum’s story of mothering a nation should be expected and encouraged to be used in conversations that complement and contrast other experiences. 


The role of education in eliminating ignorance and misunderstanding is critical in building connections across cultures, borders, and boundaries.


Monica Bassili writes a weekly column for


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