A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Introduction to Beyond the Veil by Fatema Mernissi

Fatema Mernissi is a Moroccan feminist and sociologist who is renowned for her work on women’s rights within Islam. Beyond the Veil is the result of her doctoral research and was first published in 1975; the edition I have, from 2011, includes a new introduction addressing the Islamophobia that currently permeates European politics and the West’s obsession with the veil.

So far I’ve only read the first few chapters of Beyond the Veil , and before I say anything about them I want to acknowledge a few things, namely that as a white European whose knowledge of Islam is limited I’m likely to get things wrong. Obviously it’s no one’s responsibility but my own to try to get them right, but I think that acknowledging my perspective and letting you all know that I’m more than open to hearing from people more knowledgeable than I am will make for a more productive discussion. So if I happen to be wrong, feel free to correct me, and if you happen to be knowledgeable about feminism and Islam, I would love to hear from you.

In the  introduction to the original 1975 edition, Mernissi says the following:

In this book I want to demonstrate that there is a fundamental contradiction between Islam as interpreted in official policy and equality between the sexes. Sexual equality violates Islam’s premises, actualised in its laws, that heterosexual love is dangerous to Allah’s order. Muslim marriage is based on male dominance. The desegregation of the sexes violates Islam’s ideology on women’s position in the social order: that women should be under the authority of fathers, brothers, or husbands. Since women are considered by Allah to be a destructive element, they are to be spatially confined and excluded from matters other than those of the family. Female access to non-domestic space is put under the control of makes.

Paradoxically, and contrary to what is commonly assumed, Islam does not advance the thesis of women’s inherent inferiority. Quite the contrary, it affirms the potential equality between the sexes. The existing inequality does not rest on an ideological or biological theory of women’s inferiority, but is the outcome of specific social institutions designed to restrain their power; namely, segregation and legal subordination in the family structure.

The point Mernissi makes in the second paragraph seems particularly important to me: gender inequality is not inherent to Islam, but is the result of specific  religious interpretations having been actualised into law, policy, and social practices. There are historical reasons for why these anti-equality interpretations trumped more progressive ones, and I can’t wait to read more of Beyond the Veil to find out what they were.

And of course, I’m also really looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the book.

Further Reading:

4 responses to “Introduction to Beyond the Veil by Fatema Mernissi

  1. Miss Direkshun November 5, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    The early Muslimahs were strong, powerful, independent women! They are inspirational! this is the story of one of them saffiyah, the Prophets aunt http://muslimahdirections.wordpress.com/2012/08/04/sayyidah-safiyyah-bint-abdul-muttalib/

  2. Pingback: Beyond the Veil & De-exocitizing Islam | onereadleaf

  3. mdbrady December 8, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    I am glad this book has solid information. I read an earlier book by Mernissi which was very impressionistic and male-focused. I found it so disturbing that I didn’t read this one. My favorite on the topic is Leila Ahmed’s fine history, Women and Gender in Islam. Mernissi seems to agree with what Ahed says, as well as other Muslim women. Western feminists have no business attacking Muslim women’s faith because they don’t understand it.

  4. Soros Oria April 4, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    If you read Wilhelm Reich’s work, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, you’ll find that the Arab patriarchy has interpreted Islam the way the Nazis interpreted nature to make sure that sexual energy is channelled into worship of the god-man Hitler and the state ideology, even as Muslim worship has been channelled into God. Women’s role in both ideologies is a-sexual motherhood, controlled by legal prescription; woman’s role is to reproduce, and remain out of public sight. She is considered a seductive agent of evil, “unclean,” and liable to cause strife (fitna) in society, according to Mernissi’s analysis. Whether Islam is to blame, or the males who interpret her role as such, is immaterial. If Muslims want gender equality and justice, they have to work for it. No one can give it to them.

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