Mernissi makes the claim that “Any man who believes that a Muslimwoman who fights for her dignity and right to citizenship excludesherself necessarily from the umma…is a man who misunderstandshis own religious heritage, his own cultural identity” (Mernissiviii).
She goes about supporting this claim by delving into thevery detailed documentation of Islam history. She attributesmisogyny in the past and present Muslim culture to the maleelite. She gives many examples of how Muhammad and Islam haveonly supported equality of the sexes and also how the male eliteused false hadiths and very narrow interpretations of the Koranand true hadiths for their purpose.
She begins by describing how the male elite started running thingsright from the onset of Muhammad’s death. When a successor toMuhammad was picked, it did not involve the people of thecommunity at all or any women. It was done by a small group offollowers which were very close to the prophet, a sort of elitegroup. This sort of leadership in Islam continued in the samemanner as only the elite were involved. This helped preserve whatthey thought was essential and according to the interests of theparticipants the essentials varied.
The fabrication of false hadiths by the male elite was probablythe first and most popular way for them to protect theirinterests. 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 andsystematically collected and verified true Hadiths. He was exiledfrom his native town because he refused to bring the knowledge ofthe Hadith to the governor of the town and have it corrupted. Heknew that the invitation from the governor was made only for himto probably fabricate some Hadith which would benefit thepoliticians. Many did not follow al-Bukhari’s example but allowedthemselves to be bought for a price and fabricated Hadiths for thepoliticians. Even Companions of the Prophet fabricated Hadiths inorder to promote their own personal views.
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In the case of the Hadith which states, “Those who entrust theiraffairs to a woman will never know prosperity”, Mernissi arguesthat this Hadith was never uttered by the Prophet and probablymade up for personal reasons of Abu Bakra, who claimed to haveheard the Hadith spoken by the Prophet. First, she finds out fromresearch that he must have had an excellent memory because herecalled the Hadith about twenty-five years after the Prophetsupposedly uttered it. At the same time “the caliph `Ali retookBasra after having defeated `A’isha at the Battle of the Camel”(Mernissi 50).
This leads Mernissi to wonder if Abu Bakra made upthe Hadith to give reason for not supporting `A’isha in thefitna. Mernissi also attacks the morals of Abu Bakra and findsout that he had been found to give false testimony in a case tothe caliph `Umar. So with the improbable case of extraordinarymemory and lying in other areas of his life, Mernissi gives reasonto reject Abu Bakra as a reliable source of Hadith.
Mernissi discounts another Hadith made by Abu Hurayra, “TheProphet said that the dog, the ass, and woman interrupt prayer ifthey pass in front of the believer, interposing themselves betweenhim and quibla.” (Mernissi 64) First, Mernissi finds that when`A’isha heard of this Hadith, she rebuked it by saying that shehad seen the Prophet saying his prayers while she was lying on thebed between him and quibla (Mernissi 70).
History also gives AbuHurayra a very anti-feminine personality. He had a nickname givento him by the Prophet which he disliked because of the trace offemininity in it. This lead him to say “..the male is better thanthe female” (Mernissi 71).
... major point of both essays is that men and women communicate in different ways. Men and women not only dress differently, they relate differently ... happy if they do not have to worry about the man. Women tend to believe that you can never abandon a friend ... himself.) (Gray 22) Deborah Tannens view on communication between men and women is from a more realistic viewpoint, mainly because Deborah Tannen ...
He is also an object of distrustbecause even al-Bukhari stated that “people said that Abu Hurayrarecounts too many Hadith” (Mernissi 79).
He even confessed andretracted his words completely about a Hadith concerning sex andfasting. Mernissi again uses `A’isha’s refutings and the taintedpersonalityof the individual claiming the Hadith to reject it. I agree andlike the way Mernissi goes about the finding wrong the Hadithsthat put women down. It is pretty hard to argue with her methodand 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 Hadithshelps her drive her point home. No wonder `A’isha is hidden inhistory by the male elite. `A’isha was closer to the Prophet andknew him better than anybody else, so her testimony is veryimportant in Mernissi’s argument.
One area I was a little confused by and wasn’t really sure inMernissi’s point was chapter five. I can’t understand how sheties together the hijab, or veil, as a division of public life andprivate life to the veiling of women in Muslim society.
On the contrary, I really liked the way she pointed out in chapterseven how Muhammad’s personal life and the example he gave wenttotally against the mistreatment of women and male superiority.She makes a good point in how men were caught by surprise when itcame to the dimension of equality of sexes that Islam taught. Shemakes a good point when she states, “And, unlike slavery thataffected only the wealthy, the change in status of women affectedthem all. No man was spared, whatever his class or means”(Mernissi 126).
Islam was also asking a change in the wholestructure of the economy of capture. Men could no longer takewomen as booty and treat them just as a possession. Also womenwould also have the right to ride or march into war with the menand “cause a huge reduction in the wealth a man could gain byraids..” (Mernissi 132).
The right of women to refuse sex or certain positions unsettledmany men also. Rights were also given to a widow to reject amarriage with a man she did not want to marry. The two precedingrights are pointed by Mernissi to be very distressing andupsetting to the men. Islam was not only giving rights to womenbut changing the whole structure of customs in the society. Thiswas something the men could not take and refused to obey. So,”..confronted with laws they did not like, they tried to distortthem through the device of interpretation. They tried tomanipulate the texts in such a way as to maintain theirprivileges” (Mernissi 125).
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An example of this is given byMernissi on page 126, she states the verse “Give not unto thefoolish your wealth, which Allah hath given you to maintain”(Mernissi 126).
The men of that time interpreted that verse asinstructing them not to give any wealth to women, the foolish.This is quite obvious narrow interpretation of the text, whichmeant not to give your to any foolish person no matter the sex.Mernissi goes on to give other texts which are harder to rejectthe sexist attitude in them, but goes on to give the example ofMuhammad and his life as the ideal Islam or Muslim way of life.
She wraps up the book by saying that the Muslim man could notaccept the change in the present time back in Muhammad’s time andhas not been able since then to let go of the past. She alsostarted the book by describing how the Muslim nation has alwaysfled to the past to escape change in the present and future. Iagree with Mernissi when she says, “The image of `his women’ willchange when he feels the pressing need to root his future in aliberating memory” (Mernissi 195).
Until Muslim men let go oftheir past, things will never change, unfortunately, for the womenin that society.
Mernissi got her point across really well in this book in a waywhich is simple for anybody to understand and I would like to knowhow the male elite handled and responded to this book when it cameout.