Fatema Mernissi

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Fatema Mernissi
2004 Al Azm Mernissi Soroush Mernissi laudatio.tif
Fatema Mernissi (Erasmus Prize 2004)
Native name
فاطمة مرنيسي
Born(1940-09-27)27 September 1940
Fez, Morocco
Died30 November 2015(2015-11-30) (aged 75)
Rabat, Morocco
Alma materUniversity of Paris
Brandeis University
Literary movementFeminist
Notable awards Prince of Asturias Award

Fatema Mernissi (Arabic : فاطمة مرنيسي, romanized: Fāṭima Marnīsī; 27 September 1940 – 30 November 2015) was a Moroccan feminist writer and sociologist.

The romanization of Arabic writes written and spoken Arabic in the Latin script in one of various systematic ways. Romanized Arabic is used for a number of different purposes, among them transcription of names and titles, cataloging Arabic language works, language education when used in lieu of or alongside the Arabic script, and representation of the language in scientific publications by linguists. These formal systems, which often make use of diacritics and non-standard Latin characters and are used in academic settings or for the benefit of non-speakers, contrast with informal means of written communication used by speakers such as the Latin-based Arabic chat alphabet.

Moroccans or Moors, ancient names Spanish: Moros and English: Moors and Moorish People are a Maghrebi ethnic group inhabiting or originating from Morocco that share a common Moroccan culture and Maghrebi ancestry. The overwhelming majority of Moroccans are of Arab-Berber descent; however, many identify as Arabs or Arabized Berbers.



Fatema Mernissi was born in Fez, Morocco. She grew up in the harem of her affluent paternal grandmother along with various female kin and servants. [1] She received her primary education in a school established by the nationalist movement, and secondary level education in an all-girls school funded by the French protectorate. [2] In 1957, she studied political science at the Sorbonne and at Brandeis University, gaining her doctorate there. [3] She returned to work at the Mohammed V University and taught at the Faculté des Lettres between 1974 and 1981 on subjects such as methodology, family sociology and psychosociology. She became known internationally mainly as an Islamic feminist. [4]

Fez, Morocco City in Fès-Meknès, Morocco

Fez or Fes is a city in northern inland Morocco and the capital of the Fas-Meknas administrative region. It is the second largest city in Morocco after Casablanca, with a population of 1.4 million (2014). Located to the northeast of Atlas Mountains, Fez is situated at the crossroad of the important cities of all regions; 206 km (128 mi) from Tangier to the northwest, 246 km (153 mi) from Casablanca, 169 km (105 mi) from Rabat to the west, and 387 km (240 mi) from Marrakesh to the southwest which leads to the Trans-Saharan trade route. It is surrounded by the high grounds, and the old city is penetrated by the River of Fez flowing from the west to east.

French protectorate in Morocco 1912-1956 protectorate in Northern Africa

The French protectorate in Morocco, also known as French Morocco, was a territory established by the Treaty of Fez. Though the French military occupation of Morocco began in 1907 with the bombardment of Casablanca, the protectorate was officially established on March 30, 1912, when Sultan Abd al-Hafid signed the Treaty of Fez, and lasted until independence and dissolution in 1956. It shared territory with the Spanish protectorate, established and dissolved the same years; its borders consisted of the area of Morocco between the "Corridor of Taza" and the Draa River, including sparse tribal lands, and the official capital was Rabat.

Political science is a social science which deals with systems of governance, and the analysis of political activities, political thoughts, and political behavior. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics which is commonly thought of as determining of the distribution of power and resources. Political scientists "see themselves engaged in revealing the relationships underlying political events and conditions, and from these revelations they attempt to construct general principles about the way the world of politics works."

Mernissi 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. [5] She died in Rabat on 30 November 2015. [6]

Mohammed V University, in Rabat, Morocco, was founded in 1957 under a royal decree (Dahir). It is the first modern university in Morocco after the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez.

Rabat City in Rabat-Salé-Kénitra, Morocco

Rabat is the capital city of Morocco and the country's seventh largest city with an urban population of approximately 580,000 (2014) and a metropolitan population of over 1.2 million. It is also the capital city of the Rabat-Salé-Kénitra administrative region.

Scholarship and recognition

As an Islamic feminist, Mernissi was largely concerned with Islam and women's roles in it, analyzing the historical development of Islamic thought and its modern manifestation. Through a detailed investigation of the nature of the succession to Muhammad, she cast doubt on the validity of some of the hadith (sayings and traditions attributed to him), and therefore the subordination of women that she sees in Islam, but not necessarily in the Qur'an. [7] She wrote extensively about life within harems, gender, and public and private spheres. [8]

Islamic philosophy

Islamic philosophy is a development in philosophy that is characterised by coming from an Islamic tradition. Two terms traditionally used in the Islamic world are sometimes translated as philosophy—falsafa, which refers to philosophy as well as logic, mathematics, and physics; and Kalam, which refers to a rationalist form of Islamic theology.

Succession to Muhammad Overview and history of the succession to Muhammad, the original split between Shias and Sunnis

The succession to Muhammad is the central issue that split the Muslim community into several divisions in the first century of Muslim history, forming the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam. Shia Islam holds that the Islamic prophet Muhammad designated Ali ibn Abi Talib as his successor at Ghadir Khumm. Sunni Islam holds Abu Bakr to be the first leader of the community after the Prophet on the basis of the decision at Saqifah.

Hadith collections of sayings and teachings of Muhammad

Ḥadīth in Islam refers to the record of the words, actions, and the silent approval, of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Hadith have been called "the backbone" of Islamic civilization, and within that religion the authority of hadith as a source for religious law and moral guidance ranks second only to that of the Qur'an. Scriptural authority for hadith comes from the Quran which enjoins Muslims to emulate Muhammad and obey his judgments. While the number of verses pertaining to law in the Quran is relatively few, hadith give direction on everything from details of religious obligations, to the correct forms of salutations and the importance of benevolence to slaves. Thus the "great bulk" of the rules of Sharia are derived from hadith, rather than the Qur'an.

As a sociologist, Mernissi mainly did field work in Morocco. On several occasions in the late 1970s and early 1980s, she conducted interviews in order to map prevailing attitudes to women and work. She did sociological research for UNESCO and ILO as well as for the Moroccan authorities. [9] In the same period, Mernissi contributed articles to periodicals and other publications on women in Morocco and women and Islam from a contemporary as well as from a historical perspective. Her work has been cited as an inspiration by other Muslim feminists, such as those who founded Musawah. [10]

UNESCO Specialised agency of the United Nations

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) based in Paris. Its declared purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration in education, sciences, and culture in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law, and human rights along with fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter. It is the successor of the League of Nations' International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation.

Musawah is a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, led by feminists "seeking to reclaim Islam and the Koran for themselves".

In 2003, Mernissi was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award along with Susan Sontag. [11] In 2004 she was awarded the Erasmus Prize, alongside Sadik Al-Asm and Abdolkarim Soroush. [12]

Susan Sontag American writer and filmmaker, professor, and activist

Susan Sontag was an American writer, filmmaker, philosopher, teacher, and political activist. She mostly wrote essays, but also published novels; she published her first major work, the essay "Notes on 'Camp'", in 1964. Her best-known works include On Photography, Against Interpretation, Styles of Radical Will, The Way We Live Now, Illness as Metaphor, Regarding the Pain of Others, The Volcano Lover, and In America.

Erasmus Prize Annual award for an exceptional contribution to the humanities or the arts awarded by the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation

The Erasmus Prize is an annual prize awarded by the board of the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation to individuals or institutions that have made exceptional contributions to culture, society, or social science in Europe and the rest of the world. It is one of Europe's most distinguished recognitions. The prize is named after Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch Renaissance humanist.

Sadiq Jalal al-Azm Syrian philosopher

Sadiq Jalal Al-Azm was a Professor Emeritus of Modern European Philosophy at the University of Damascus in Syria and was, until 2007, a visiting professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. His main area of specialization was the work of German philosopher Immanuel Kant, but he later placed a greater emphasis upon the Islamic world and its relationship to the West, evidenced by his contribution to the discourse of Orientalism. Al-Azm was also known as a human rights advocate and a champion of intellectual freedom and free speech.


Mernissi's first monograph, Beyond the Veil, was published in 1975. [13] 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.

Her most famous book, as an Islamic feminist, The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Islam, is a quasi-historical study of role of the wives of Muhammad. It was first published in French in 1987, and translated into English in 1991. The book was banned in Morocco, Iran, and Arab states of the Persian Gulf. [14]

For Doing Daily Battle: Interviews with Moroccan Women (1991), she interviewed peasant women, women labourers, clairvoyants and maidservants. In 1994, Mernissi published a memoir, Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood (in the US, the book was originally titled The Harem Within: Tales of a Moroccan Girlhood, and is still known by that title in the UK). [15] [16]

She contributed the piece "The merchant's daughter and the son of the sultan" to the anthology Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology (1984), edited by Robin Morgan. [17] [18]


Edited by Mernissi:

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  1. Fatima Mernissi obituary, The Guardian
  2. Mernissi, Fatima (1987). Beyond the veil: male-female dynamics in modern Muslim society. Indiana University Press. p. 6.
  3. "Featured Alumni" . Retrieved March 3, 2014.
  4. "Mernissi, Fatima" . Retrieved March 3, 2014.
  5. "Muslim Women: Past and Present". Fatema Mernissi. WISE. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  6. Fox, Margalit (9 December 2015). "Fatema Mernissi, a Founder of Islamic Feminism, Dies at 75". New York Times.
  7. "Mernissi, Fatima" . Retrieved March 3, 2014.
  8. "WISE". Fatema Mernissi. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  9. "Notable Feminist Fatema Mernissi" . Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  10. "Honouring Fatima Mernissi". Musawah: Equality in the Muslim Family. Retrieved 2016-06-21.
  11. "Notable Feminist Fatema Mernissi, Susan Sontag - Literature 2003" . Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  12. "Former Laureates". Praemium Erasmianum. Retrieved 2016-06-21.
  13. Khaleeli, Homa. "Fatema Mernissi". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  14. Evita Saraswati, Raquel (2014-10-16). "Fatima Mernissi: going beyond the veil to fight misogynist interpretations of Islam". Aquila Style. Retrieved 2016-06-21.
  15. Mernissi, Fatima (1994). The harem within (Bantam reprint. ed.). Toronto: Bantam Books. ISBN   978-0553408140.
  16. Mernissi, Fatima (1995). Dreams of trespass : tales of a harem girlhood. Photographs by Ruth V. Ward (26. printing. ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus Books. ISBN   978-0201489378.
  17. "Table of Contents: Sisterhood is global :". Catalog.vsc.edu. Retrieved 2015-10-15.
  18. Valentine M. Moghadam (2003). Modernizing Women: Gender and Social Change in the Middle East. Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 76–. ISBN   978-1-58826-171-7.