Ruined by Reading

Mernissi: Not Impressed

Posted in Feminism, Religion by M on May 19, 2008

The Veil And The Male Elite by Fatima Mernissi is probably worth reading even if you don’t agree with it, and it should only take you 2-4 hours to get through. I don’t agree with a lot of what she says, and I really, really don’t agree with many of her interpretations and ideologies. This really isn’t a book for non-Muslims, unless you know know your way around Islam and Islamic history.

Let’s jump into the criticisms, shall we?

The first issue I have is with Mernissi’s definition of a Muslim, which is one who lives under a theocratic (Islamic) government. There’s no room for personal choice, and this is the kind of attitude I’ve seen in some African and Arab authors before: we’re the real Muslims, you’re not. If you live in a democracy, you’re not real, and you don’t really know what it’s like to be a Muslim. She also comes off as thinking that even those who aren’t Muslim, or are non-practicing, are still Muslim. This also irks me to no end. I really can’t stand people who were raised in a “Muslim culture” with a Muslim family, and who give up Islam completely, yet still like to call themselves Muslims in academic circles. I guess it makes their criticism seem more scandalous. Either way, it’s old. I mean, who would consider someone like Wafa Sultan a Muslim? I’ve seen it done, though.

I also take issue with her use of the word bid’a. She doesn’t seem to use it correctly, and seems to label everything “wrong” as bid’a. Bid’a is innovation, right? Right. But she makes the statement that individuality is bid’a. How? There are also other things she claims as being bid’a, just because it’s wrong or disliked, though it doesn’t really meet the definition of innovation. (Yes, I’m nit-picking.)

One thing that caught my eye was her citation of the Moroccan Code of Personal Status, which states that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, where procreation should be done as steadily as possible, under the direction of the husband. My jaw dropped, but I don’t know why I was surprised.

She first tackles the hadith from Bukhari: Those who entrust their affairs to a woman will never know prosperity. She makes a case as to why this is so totally not reliable, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard the argument. The argument is that the man who narrated the hadith is not to be trusted, so it should be disregarded. Especially since it seems to go against Aisha’s entire life in politics, and the attitude of Muhammad. Why is this guy unreliable? Because he was flogged for lying by Umar ibn al-Khattab, and Malik ibn Anas said that hadiths related by known liars, whether they lied about other hadith or lied in their daily lives, should be ignored. Knowing that Bukhari was very strict in what he accepted, I think it best to further research it and look at what actual scholars have said instead of Mernissi. In fact, that should be the approach to the entire book. It raises questions for further research, but should not be taken as the final word.

Another narrator that was questioned was Abu Hurayra. On many, many occasions Aisha corrected him on hadith, and he confessed to lying about hearing something directly from Muhammad at one point. Aisha said, “He’s not a good listener, and when he is asked a question, he gives wrong answers.” That whole hadith about women being one of the three things which bring bad luck? Reported by him, and corrected by Aisha. Muhammad said the Jews believed three things brought bad luck, one of them being women. Abu Hurayra came in in the middle of his sentence.

I really, really love how she says that Malik ibn Anas said that we have the right to question narration. I can’t stand the mentality that it should never be questioned, and to do so is akin to blasphemy. It is blind faith, and I despise it.

Her second, and final section is about hijab. When I skimmed the first chapter I could tell I was going to hate it. I believe hijab is obligatory (even though I don’t wear it, go figure), and no amount of wiggling around historical “evidence” can change my mind. She seemed to be gearing up to blame hijab on absolutely everything wrong in the Eastern world. It’s really nothing to comment on because I see the proofs as being weak, old, tired, and nothing we haven’t heard before. She also makes a case for democracy, which as much as I love sometimes, I can’t stand the idea that a Western invention is superior to laws outlined by God himself. But what do I know?

On the plus side, the book was definitely interesting and easy to get through. In my experience, a lot of books on anything Islamic isn’t very user friendly. There’s no doubt she’s an educated woman, it’s just matter of what exactly she’s educated and qualified to speak on, and I don’t think she’s the one to be the final word on any of the matters raised in the book.


4 Responses

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  1. Muslimah Media Watch said, on May 20, 2008 at 2:55 am

    Salaam and thanks for linking to us!
    I’m personally a fan of Ms. Mernissi and this book in particular. But I really like your critique and feel you raise some great points. Could we feature it (with all credits due, of course) sometime on our website?

  2. mary christina love said, on June 2, 2008 at 12:52 am

    I do not mean to be rude, but if I wrote a book titled ‘A Feminists Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam’ , it would start with these:

    They have the right to travel if allowed by their husband

    They have the same rights to raise their children as a maid, if allowed by their husband

    They have the right to breastfeed for two years, in place of hiring a surrogate woman, who would be paid for her services

    They have a right to half as much inheritance as a male relative

    They have the right to be scolded when they are deemed unruly in their husbands opinion

    They have the right to live if allowed by their father or husband

    They have the right to be beaten, or lightly hit by their husbands

    They have the right to remain silent, if allowed

    They have the right to not question their husbands

    They have the right to lie for their husbands

    They have the right to lie for Islam

    They have a right to die for Islam

  3. Mish said, on June 2, 2008 at 12:58 am

    Mary, there’s so much wrong with your comment, and I can tell you’re very misinformed on several points, but I’ll just pick out this glaring mistake:
    “They have the right to live if allowed by their father or husband”

    Wrong. No one has a right to take a woman’s life unless she’s fairly convicted of a crime that carries the death penalty. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that honor killings are moral or legal in Islam.

  4. […] This was written by Sakina and originally appeared at Ruined by Reading. […]

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