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Biographical Data :

Name :Fatema Mernissi
Period :1940 - 2015
Biographical detail : Moroccan sociologist of International fame

A Moroccan sociologist Fatema Mernissi was one of the founders of Islamic feminism.

A long-time faculty member of Mohammed V University in Rabat, the capital, Professor Mernissi, who wrote in Arabic, French and English, published and lectured worldwide.

The book, ‘Beyond The Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society’, (1975), a study of the lives of Arab women shot Moroccan writer, Fatema Mernissi, to international fame. A revised edition was published in Britain in 1985 and in the US in 1987. ‘Beyond the Veil’ has become a classic, especially in the fields of anthropology and sociology on women in the Arab World, the Mediterranean area or Muslim societies in general.

She wrote many articles and books on women in Morocco and women and Islam from a contemporary as well as from a historical perspective. Fatema’s ‘The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Islam is a quasi-historical study of role of the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him). It was first published in French in 1987, and translated into English in 1991.

‘For Doing Daily Battle: Interviews with Moroccan Women (1991), Fatema interviewed peasant women, women labourers, clairvoyants and maidservants. In 1995, she published a memoir, Dreams of Trespass: Tales of A Harem Girlhood. Other works of include: Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World (1992) Forgotten Queens of Islam

In her research related to women’s role in religion and her impression and observation of Europe Fatema draws comparison between Eastern and Western women in her book, ‘Scheherazade Goes West’ – Different Cultures, Different Harems. She uses the institution of harem as the focal point and famous raconteur Scheherazade from One Thousand and One Nights as the symbol for women to evaluate the differences. Pakistan’s noted writer and columnist Zahida Hina has translated the book in Urdu – Scheherazade Maghrib Mein.

Throughout her work, Professor Mernissi, who favoured a moderate, inclusive Islam, emphasised that her deep study of religious texts had turned up little support for women’s long subordination. That reading, she argued, sprang from centuries of misinterpretation by male leaders intent on maintaining the sexual status quo.

After a lifetime spent exploring the relationship of Islam to feminism, Professor Mernissi concluded that there were few irreconcilable differences between the two.

“If women’s rights are a problem for some modern Muslim men, it is neither because of the Quran nor the Prophet, nor the Islamic tradition, but simply because those rights conflict with the interests of a male elite,” she wrote in “The Veil and the Male Elite.”

Nor did she exempt the West from criticism on matters of sexual politics. Where the East subordinated women by controlling space, Professor Mernissi argued, the West created a vast de facto harem by controlling time.

“The Western man,” she wrote, “declares that in order to be beautiful, a woman must look 14 years old. If she dares to look 50, or worse, 60, she is beyond the pale. By putting the spotlight on the female child and framing her as the ideal of beauty, he condemns the mature woman to invisibility.”

Long active with North African social justice causes, Professor Mernissi helped found La Caravane Civique, an organization that took educated women to speak in rural communities, village schools and women’s prisons in the region. She also started a writing workshop for released Moroccan political prisoners.

Fatema Mernissi was born into a middle-class family in Fez. In 1957, she studied political science at the Sorbonne and at Brandeis University, where she earned her doctorate. She was noted internationally mainly as an Islamic feminist. She was a lecturer at the Mohammed V University of Rabat and a research scholar at the University Institute for Scientific Research, in the same city.
 (Compiler : M. Nauman Khan)


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