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Mernissi makes the claim that “Any man who believes that a Muslim woman who fights for her dignity and right to citizenship excludes herself necessarily from the umma…is a man who misunderstands his own religious heritage, his own cultural identity” (Mernissi viii). She goes about supporting this claim by delving into the very detailed documentation of Islam history. She attributes misogyny in the past and present Muslim culture to the male elite. She gives many examples of how Muhammad and Islam have only supported equality of the sexes and also how the male elite used false hadiths and very narrow interpretations of the Koran and true hadiths for their purpose.
She begins by describing how the male elite started running things right from the onset of Muhammad’s death. When a successor to Muhammad was picked, it did not involve the people of the community at all or any women. It was done by a small group of followers which were very close to the prophet, a sort of elite group. This sort of leadership in Islam continued in the same manner as only the elite were involved. This helped preserve what they thought was essential and according to the interests of the participants the essentials varied.
The fabrication of false hadiths by the male elite was probably the first and most popular way for them to protect their interests. The people governing knew how important it was to “seek legitimacy in and through the sacred text” (Mernissi 43). Mernissi talks about al-Bukhari, who methodically and systematically collected and verified true Hadiths. He was exiled from his native town because he refused to bring the knowledge of the Hadith to the governor of the town and have it corrupted. He knew that the invitation from the governor was made only for him to probably fabricate some Hadith which would benefit the politicians. Many did not follow al-Bukhari’s example but allowed themselves to be bought for a price and fabricated Hadiths for the politicians. Even Companions of the Prophet fabricated Hadiths in order to promote their own personal views.
In the case of the Hadith which states, “Those who entrust their affairs to a woman will never know prosperity”, Mernissi argues that this Hadith was never uttered by the Prophet and probably made up for personal reasons of Abu Bakra, who claimed to have heard the Hadith spoken by the Prophet. First, she finds out from research that he must have had an excellent memory because he recalled the Hadith about twenty-five years after the Prophet supposedly uttered it. At the same time “the caliph ‘Ali retook Basra after having defeated ‘A’isha at the Battle of the Camel” (Mernissi 50). This leads Mernissi to wonder if Abu Bakra made up the Hadith to give reason for not supporting ‘A’isha in the fitna. Mernissi also attacks the morals of Abu Bakra and finds out that he had been found to give false testimony in a case to the caliph ‘Umar. So with the improbable case of extraordinary memory and lying in other areas of his life, Mernissi gives reason to reject Abu Bakra as a reliable source of Hadith.
Mernissi discounts another Hadith made by Abu Hurayra, “The Prophet said that the dog, the ass, and woman interrupt prayer if they pass in front of the believer, interposing themselves between him and quibla.” (Mernissi 64) First, Mernissi finds that when ‘A’isha heard of this Hadith, she rebuked it by saying that she had seen the Prophet saying his prayers while she was lying on the bed between him and quibla (Mernissi 70). History also gives Abu Hurayra a very anti-feminine personality. He had a nickname given to him by the Prophet which he disliked because of the trace of femininity in it. This lead him to say “..the male is better than the female” (Mernissi 71). He is also an object of distrust because even al-Bukhari stated that “people said that Abu Hurayra recounts too many Hadith” (Mernissi 79). He even confessed and retracted his words completely about a Hadith concerning sex and fasting. Mernissi again uses ‘A’isha’s refutings and the tainted personality of the individual claiming the Hadith to reject it.
I agree and like the way Mernissi goes about the finding wrong the Hadiths that put women down. It is pretty hard to argue with her method and its validity. She finds the background to the person, time, and events that the Hadith came from and sheds new light on it. Also by exposing to the public ‘A’isha’s responses to the Hadiths helps her drive her point home. No wonder ‘A’isha is hidden in history by the male elite. ‘A’isha was closer to the Prophet and knew him better than anybody else, so her testimony is very important in Mernissi’s argument.
One area I was a little confused by and wasn’t really sure in Mernissi’s point was chapter five. I can’t understand how she ties together the hijab, or veil, as a division of public life and private life to the veiling of women in Muslim society.
On the contrary, I really liked the way she pointed out in chapter seven how Muhammad’s personal life and the example he gave went totally against the mistreatment of women and male superiority. She makes a good point in how men were caught by surprise when it came to the dimension of equality of sexes that Islam taught. She makes a good point when she states, “And, unlike slavery that affected only the wealthy, the change in status of women affected them all. No man was spared, whatever his class or means” (Mernissi 126). Islam was also asking a change in the whole structure of the economy of capture. Men could no longer take women as booty and treat them just as a possession. Also women would also have the right to ride or march into war with the men and “cause a huge reduction in the wealth a man could gain by raids..” (Mernissi 132).
The right of women to refuse sex or certain positions unsettled many men also. Rights were also given to a widow to reject a marriage with a man she did not want to marry. The two preceding rights are pointed by Mernissi to be very distressing and upsetting to the men. Islam was not only giving rights to women but changing the whole structure of customs in the society. This was something the men could not take and refused to obey. So, “..confronted with laws they did not like, they tried to distort them through the device of interpretation. They tried to manipulate the texts in such a way as to maintain their privileges” (Mernissi 125). An example of this is given by Mernissi on page 126, she states the verse “Give not unto the foolish your wealth, which Allah hath given you to maintain” (Mernissi 126). The men of that time interpreted that verse as instructing them not to give any wealth to women, the foolish. This is quite obvious narrow interpretation of the text, which meant not to give your to any foolish person no matter the sex. Mernissi goes on to give other texts which are harder to reject the sexist attitude in them, but goes on to give the example of Muhammad and his life as the ideal Islam or Muslim way of life.
She wraps up the book by saying that the Muslim man could not accept the change in the present time back in Muhammad’s time and has not been able since then to let go of the past. She also started the book by describing how the Muslim nation has always fled to the past to escape change in the present and future. I agree with Mernissi when she says, “The image of ‘his women’ will change when he feels the pressing need to root his future in a liberating memory” (Mernissi 195). Until Muslim men let go of their past, things will never change, unfortunately, for the women in that society.
Mernissi got her point across really well in this book in a way which is simple for anybody to understand and I would like to know how the male elite handled and responded to this book when it came out.
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