Qasim Amin was a noted Egyptian intellectual and advocate of reform in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. His father was a Turkish Ottoman official and landowner married to an Egyptian woman. Amin was educated in Cairo and at the School of Law and Administration.
He was a follower of the earlier reformer Muhammad Abduh, who sought to resolve the conflict of Islamic practices and tradition with the adoption of Western scientific thought and development.
As a highly respected lawyer, Amin was sent on a government educational mission to France, where he spent several years in the 1880s. Amin wrote a number of works on social issues, and in Les Egyptiens he focused on the national rights of Egyptians. He was best known for his works on the status of women.
He addressed the issues of polygamy, marriage laws, education for women, seclusion, and veiling in The Liberation of Women, published in 1899. Amin argued that sharia (Islamic law) and Islamic custom did not mandate either the seclusion of women in the home or veiling. Both were commonly practiced among upper and middle classes of the era.
Poor peasant families could not afford the luxury of secluding or veiling women who commonly worked alongside men in the fields. Amin emphasized that sharia granted legal rights to women and that the corruption or decline of morals by outside forces had been responsible for the decline of Islamic societies.
He stressed the importance of women in building modern nations and in national struggles and advocated improved education for women. According to Amin, education for women should not be limited to matters of household management but should include subjects that would enable them to participate in life outside the home.
Although by contemporary standards Amin's advocacy of gradual reform was not revolutionary, his book on the status of women aroused massive public debate about the role of women and Islam. Amin was severely criticized by conservative religious leaders and the palace.
Amin repudiated his critics in a second more radical—for the age—book, The New Woman, in 1900. In this second book he dropped a discussion of Islamic law and tradition to justify reforms and instead applied Western thought to augment his arguments. Amin stated that with education and reforms in status, women would ultimately have almost the same rights and status as men.
Amin supported the Egyptian nationalist movement, in which both men and women were full participants, in his memoirs, Kalimat. He also stressed the need for scientific knowledge in order for nations to advance. An early Egyptian nationalist, Amin was friendly with Sa'd Zaghlul and Tal'at Harb, both of whom became leaders of the Egyptian nationalist movement.