Posted by: gdevi | December 18, 2015

Fatima Mernissi Obituary

Here is a longer obituary for the Ms Magazine on Fatima.

Here is a brief obituary I wrote for Fatima Mernissi who died a few weeks back. It is in today’s Guardian Other Lives section.

I am copying the text below as well. I will mark her passing with a personal sorrow.

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The renowned Moroccan sociologist and author Fatima Mernissi, who has died aged 75, was an important and influential figure in Arab Islamic feminism.

Mernissi was born and raised in Fez in a harem that belonged to her affluent paternal grandmother and comprised two extended families and various female kin and servants. In her memoir Dreams of Trespass (1994), she describes how the harem’s hudud (“sacred frontier” in Arabic), which separated women from the outside world, came to represent man-made and oppressive borders.

Although her mother and grandmother were illiterate, Mernissi was encouraged to attend Qur’anic and nationalist schools, where she studied alongside boys. She then studied sociology at Mohammed V University in Rabat, followed by graduate studies at the Sorbonne, and a PhD at Brandeis University in the US. Mernissi returned to Rabat to teach at Mohammed V University in the Faculté des Lettres. Active in social and political causes, she was a founding member of La Caravane Civique, a group of Moroccan intellectuals dedicated to the education of rural Moroccan women.
Mernissi’s work centered on gender relations in Morocco and other Arab Muslim societies. Notable titles include Beyond the Veil: Male Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society (1975), and The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam (1991), in which Mernissi rigorously, patiently and elegantly dismantled the Qur’anic “evidence” of women’s inferiority proffered by imams who demanded that men enforce submission from women. With scrupulous attention to detail, Mernissi connected the degradation of woman to man, and man to the imam and the caliph.

Though Mernissi’s interpretations and deconstructions of the scriptures were iconoclastic to establishment Islam, she was not, by and large, a target of formal censure, because of her rigorous scholarship, her respect for and adherence to the Qur’an, her demonstrated intellectual expertise with the Qur’an and the Hadith (the sayings attributed to the Prophet) and their many concordances. Her empathetic style and her elegant use of jadal — reasoned and logical argumentation, itself a Qur’anic mode — kept the hecklers away.

Islam and Democracy (1992) addressed the impact of the first Gulf war on the Arab world. In it Mernissi considered the roots of Islamic fear of democracy, and conflation of democracy, violence and religion in the west, as perceived by Arab observers of American broadcasts.

Mernissi argued that for political Islam to accept democracy it must reconcile the competing demands of ta’a (obedience), ra’y (individual opinion), ’aql (reason) and khayal (imagination). In Forgotten Queens of Islam (1993), as a practising Muslim and an Arab woman, she noted that political Islam must tear away two veils to embrace democracy: the veil separating the woman from the world, and the veil separating the caliph from the will of the people.

In these tumultuous times, when Arab youth is being forced back into unquestioning obedience, Mernissi’s insights remain more vital than ever.

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