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Historical Debates Essay.docx

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Boston College
HIST 4150
Joseph Burdo

Unveiling Muslim History: Mernissi’s FeministAnalysis of the Evolution of Misogyny in the Islamic Tradition The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Right’s in Islam by Moroccan feminist writer Fatima Mernissi, was written in 1991 as her critique on the current status of women in Islam. In response to a plethora of Muslim contemporary works arguing women are not equal to men, should not be allowed to participate in politics, and should not be allowed out in public, Mernissi argues that Islam, in its’beginning stages actually favored equality between the sexes. She explains this gender inequality is only present today because of early misogynistic men interpreting Quaranic law so that it fit with their desires better. This misogynistic thinking was absorbed into Islamic culture and perpetuated through time up until today. Through this book, Mernissi works to remove “the veil with which contemporaries dim the past”(11) and to “refresh [our] memories,”(Mernissi ix) as to what Islam was in that first decade after the Hejira by re-evaluating of specific Quaranic verses and Hadith that previously have been used as evidence against gender equality movements in Islam. One of the ways Mernissi argues Islam does not promote male chauvinism is through re- evaluating some of the more misogynistic hadith that are often pulled out in debates on women’s rights. For example, she quotes this al-Bukhari-validated hadith several times throughout the book: “Those who entrust their affairs to a women will never know prosperity!” (Mernissi 1, 49). Obviously, this Hadith has been used countless times over the years especially in realms of politics. In today’s society, this has been used to dictate whether or not women should be involved in the government, have the right to vote, or even have the right to lead groups in prayer. Mernissi, using a similar method to what al-Bukhari would have done, investigates the validity of this hadith and comes up with some surprising results. First off, this hadith was remembered and recorded almost 25 years after the prophet’s death, by an ayan namedAbu Bakra. Here Mernissi questions the ability of a man to remember something so specific, and with such great detail over a period of 25 years. This argument does little for her cause, because nearly all of the hadith were remembered years after they actually occurred. Secondly, Mernissi delves into historical biographies to gain a sense ofAbu Bakra’s character and determine whether or not he would be a reliable source. Mernissi’s search revealed that during the caliph rule of ‘Umar,Abu Bakra was found guilty and beaten for giving a false testimony in an adultery trial. Mernissi argues that because of this false testimony, we cannot be certain that this hadith is not false also and thus, it should have been thrown out. Lastly, she also examines the circumstances in which this hadith is revealed to further question its’validity. According to the al-Bukhari sources, this particular hadith was remembered and recorded 25 years after the prophet’s death, immediately following the victory of ‘Ali overA’isha at the Battle of the Camel. Abu Bakra had up until then, not taken sides in the fitna between the son-in-law of the prophet, the wife of the prophet, and Mu’awiya, however; as ‘Ali began to beat outA’isha,Abu Bakra was forced to take ‘Ali’s side. It was then that this hadith was suddenly “remembered” by Bakra, when he went to ‘Ali to acknowledge him as rightful Caliph. Mernissi is a bit suspicious about this sudden recollection coming to Bakra at such a opportune time, seeing as he had a good deal of motive to lie about it. Mernissi goes through this same process with several other misogynistic Hadith’s that are often used to argue against women’s rights and she has some success with a majority of them. Several reviews of this work were very impressed with these hadith arguments and commended Mernissi on how much knowledge she brings to light. In the end, Mernissi ends up finding reason to discredit authors of the most male chauvinistic hadith, such as Abu Bakra and Abu Hurayra (servant of the prophet) who continually paint women in a negative light. Mernissi argues her point that Islam promotes gender equality through a re-interpretation of the Quran with an emphasis on the context through which the Suras were revealed. For example, Mernissi relates to us the backstory behind the revelation of Sura 4, “An-Nisa (The Women)”. According to historians such as Al-Tabari, Umm Salama, one of the prophet’s wives, questioned the prophet, asking why the women were not being mentioned in the Quran alongside the men. In his very next sermon, the prophet revealed another bit of the word ofAllah, saying, “Oh people!Allah has said in his book: “Men who surrender untoAllah, and women who surrender, men who believe and women who believe…Allah hath prepared for them forgiveness and a vast reward” (Mernissi 118). This quote reveals that God sees women and men equal in terms of faith. As long as one believes and surrenders to God, he/she will be rewarded no matter their sex. Shortly after, the rest of Sura 4 was revealed, which gave women new privileges such as being able to inherit. Mernissi makes a point to emphasize the fact that in pre-Islamic society women were inherited by men with the rest of the property and livestock. They did not get to inherit money or goods themselves, so in allowing them this right, Islam is stepping closer to creating equality between men and women. According to Mernissi, a lot of men, angered by loosing some of their inheritance, started to “distort [the laws] through interpretation… they tried to manipulate the texts in such a way as to maintain their privileges” (Mernissi 125). They did this mainly by marrying the women themselves or preventing the women from marrying (thus taking her portion of the in
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