Fatima Mernissi is an Islamic feminist author/sociologist, and is considered an idol for many women of her similar upbringing. Born in 1940 and raised in Fez, Morroco, her childhood consisted of living a harem way of life, which was common in her society. Mernissi’s eyes were opened to the oppression of women in her country at a young age. Which is why she found her self in journalism, to express her feminism values and to educate others that what is going, is unfair onto women. The traditional domestic harem lifestyle consists of women of a particular family that are somewhat quarantined in their homes and separated from the outside world to prevent interaction with other men outside the family. The harem structure of life forced Islamic women to be silenced through basic rights of: obtaining an education, being able to work in public businesses, and voting. The men of the family are in full control of their households, family’s property rights and spiritual exercise. Mernissi felt that her inaccessibility to the world around her, gave her a relatable and sense of connection with other women that also had to abide by the harem.
Mernissi’s adolescence in the harem had a great impact on her education. From living in an unjust society, she seeked to learn about political science degree at Mohammed V University due to her interests in understanding the way her society upholds unfair values. Then later studied and practiced journalism at the University of Paris. Soon after she came to study here in the United States where she earned her PhD in sociology from Brandeis University. She pursues with her journey of education with expanding the minds of others by becoming a professor at Mohammed V University.
Her form of activism has mainly been expressed through all of her works of writing. She’s outspoken about advocating for women experiencing harem practices. Essentially she had a significant role in the Morrocan feminist movement by exploiting those private domains and social hierarchy of men and women in her hometown. In Morocco, there’s a social norm of having the women and children of the family secure in their homes as the men in the family conduct business and are more accepted in the public. Mernissi conveys the message in many of her books that it’s important for women to seek their independence, which means to encourage fellow women to break free from the harem lifestyle. She continues to promote equality between men and women.
In Fatima Mernessi’s book “The Veil and the Male Elite” the veil (Hijab) that women of her culture, represent a man’s privilege that is used to oppress or silence the women. Many women that are apart of Islamic cultures are forced to wear the Hijab as part of the decency and modesty in interaction between members of the opposite sex because they do not want their women harassed or molested. They consider men as slaves of lust and desire so they have women cover up so that they are not tempted.
One thing that Mernissi questioned in her book was what is the “Muslim Tradition”? Actively searching for the answer to this question through looking at Islamic Religious sources that are found to be the main reason women are silenced in Islamic areas, she comes to the conclusion that “it is neither because of the Koran, nor the Prophet, nor the Islamic Tradition, but simply because those rights (that women should have) conflict with the interest of a male elite.” According to Marlene Kanawati from American University, reviewed Mernissi’s book and interpreted this as “the male elite has manipulate the “sacred text” to fabricate “false traditions” particularly whenever there has been a need to “legitimate” certain actions or attitudes”,
Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society, her most popular work, comparing Western and Islamic perceptions of sexuality and feminism. In Elizabeth Fernea’s review of this book he tells how Fatima talks about how Islam restricts both men and women sexuality because a man can only love god, heterosexual love is discouraged. The reason for this is because Islam combines religious faith and human sexuality to create “complete fulfillment” in life. In “Beyond the Veil” Fatima also states “the whole system is based on the assumption that the woman is a powerful and dangerous being. All sexual institutions can be perceived as a strategy for containing her power”. Where as, on the other hand “in western cultures, sexual inequality is based on beliefs in women’s biological inferiority”. Fernea goes on to say that Mernissi was confusing cause and effect because she questions weather the family (“the basic unit of Muslim social structure, also seen as a attack on and defense against the disruptive power of female sexuality”) was organized and maintained to repress heterosexual love or just a response to the economicneeds of the society that unknowingly caused restrictions/rewards for men and women.Women’s Rebellion and Islamic Memory (1993).
Fatima Mernissi Interview (skip to 27-41minutes)
She talks about her experiences growing up in a Muslim harem in Fez, Morocco, as detailed in her book “Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood”.
Orlando, Alissa. “Fatema Mernissi: Beyond the Veil of Cross-Cultural Misconceptions.” \ Alwaref, n.d. Web. 01 May 2015. <http://www.alwaref.org/en/figure-of-the-month/214-fatema-mernissi-beyond-the-veil-of-cross-cultural-misconceptions>.
Sadiqi, Fatima, and Moha Ennaji. “THE FEMINIZATION OF PUBLIC SPACE: WOMEN’S ACTIVISM, THE FAMILY LAW, AND SOCIAL CHANGE IN MOROCCO.” Proquest, 2006. Web. 1 May 2015. <http%3A%2F%2Fsearch.proquest.com%2Fgenderwatch%2Fdocview%2F222383082%2F3AFC85794B6649FDPQ%2F3%3Faccountid%3D10361>.
Bourget, Carine. “Complicity with Orientalism in Third-World Women’s Writing: Fatima Mernissi’s Fictive Memoirs.” Project Muse, 2013. Web. 01 May 2015. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/research_in_african_literatures/v044/44.3.bourget.html>.
“Why Hijab?” Al-Islam.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2015.
Kanawati, Marlene, ed. “Reviewed Work: The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam by Fatima Mernissi, Mary Jo Lakeland.” The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam by Fatima Mernissi; Mary Jo Lakeland 25.3 (1993): 501-03. International Journal of Middle East Studies. Cambridge University Press, Aug. 1993. Web. 1 May 2015.
Fernea, Elizabeth, and H. Malcolm Macdonald. “Beyond The Veil: Male-Female Dynamics In A Modern Muslim Society.” Social Science Quarterly (University Of Texas Press) 57.4 (1977): 925-926. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 May 2015.