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MERNISSI: THE VEIL AND THE MALE ELITE

According to Mernisse, her interpretation is quite conservative and merely but purely dominates the extensive issue on lack of inheritance by a muslim woman. She however fails to categorically address the same issue from a wider and global perspective. Having been born and brought up in Morocco, an African state, Mernisse should have emphasized that this culture of non-inheritance by African women in general is widespread and not just a muslim woman issue. According to many African states, the girl child is merely regarded as a possession and is never given the same privileges as the boy child. Though her arguments are very true, the issue of democracy in Africa in general is more cultural based than just religious.

Her facts are however justifiable by the fact that she has comparatively talked about the Jahiiya (pre Islamic period) in Arabia and publicly denied having Islam elevate the rights of their women as they ought to as clearly quoted from the Quran in a verse in Sura 4.

Being an African muslim woman from a predominantly Muslim state, Mernissi may have experienced a lot of rejection from early childhood and this may have motivated and irked her to interpret her piece of work from a personal perspective and experience rather than from a rigorous religious study.

The above is observed from her somewhat numerous occasions where she derails from the main context of the book and thus lacking a smooth flow of supported illustrations and de-linking her prior topics as a result. For instance, she praises with rigor and objectivity of early Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) collectors like al-Bukhari and yet ignores to explain as to why the aforesaid questionable hadith are still very widely acceptable to may esteemed scholars. She also fails to explain clearly as to why Abu Hurayra continued to be accepted as a reliable source by some scholars inspite of its great condemnation by another Hadith narrator, Aisha.

She stops short of questioning the methodology used to authenticate all hadith and studiously avoids discussing the Quran in this conext as well. She also fails to elaborate on her illustrations that, ‘ in the pre-Islamic period, only men inherited’. This particular quote contradicts and is controversial to the fact the Prophet Mohammed’s wife Khadija was quite a successful businesswoman who had inherited a vast fortune and in reality proposed a marriage to the prophet who was far much younger than herself.

Downplaying the inequality in allocation of assets to women, she ceaselessly describes how Islam guaranteed a woman’s rights to inheritance which was not the case before. When this rationale behind unequal inheritance seems imminent , she wanders off on a tangent about false prophets and the dangers of instituting social equality as compared to the relatively low risk associated with advocating for spiritual equality.

However, her assertions that Prophet Mohammed made concessions on women’s issues to appease his supporters is unanimously a plausible in the fact that its quite clear that he (Mohammed) did not place or attach much importance on equality (as it was not as important then as it is today) even though he adversely advocated for better treatment of women in the Quran.

With the ever increasing controversial debate on the role of women in Islamic public life and which has on several occasions provoked un endless heated arguments within and without the community for decades, there therefore remains considerable resistance to women participation in the process of modernity and democracy thus ensuring that the two remain predominantly self-styled male zones. Citing the Quran and the Hadith, opponents of change appear to have un assailable position and through her pessimistic analysis, Mernissi, noted that both the modernity and democracy issues emerged out of a particular critical point in the history of Islam when both the external and internal forces pressured and threatened prophet Mohammed and his three wives and the fledging religion.

She continues to argue that these two forces brought about diminution of the original Islamic principle and thus created a rift between the true Islamic attitudes to women and which astonishingly descended from pre-Islamic tribal traditions. The hijab or veil which is continually mentioned in the book was therefore not intended to separate women from the divine and the public life but instead a way of protecting the Prophet’s wives from the hypocritical interpreter’s of Islam who targeted them on the streets and was thus a way of allowing dimunition of women’s rights and the reassertion of male dominance as a means of ensuring the survival of Islam.

For scholars, the veil and the male elite, should be read with a context of in depth and subtle examination of texts as there is more interest and provocation than just mere general readership and the milieu in which they were written is a sure sign of appreciation of the complexity of the role of the muslim woman in the Islamic word as a whole.

Mernisse’s book is a clear presentation of a lucid account of the painful reality many muslim women encounter in their continued struggle against poverty, illiteracy and gender based segregation and oppression. According to the Quran, men are known and meant to be protectors and maintainers of women and that’s why God gave them more inbuilt strength and should thus be fully supportive of the latter from their means.

They are also however, supposedly meant to be in charge of the women and the reason why Allah made them to excel. However, with the ever contentious religious traditions and beliefs, religious liberty is a well known and has been clearly interpreted as a basic human right. Thus terming it as a more normative principle for virtually all nations where human rights both individual and social become indivisibly intertwined and a special but clear place is assigned to it (religious human rights) in the widening horizon of understanding the contemporary society world wide.

According to Mernisse, the principle of complementary which distinctively differentiates the role of men and woman according to the Islamic tradition , are that a woman’s role is to entirely act as a wife and mother while the man has to financially support his family.

Nevertheless, the Hadith relating to female political leadership according to prophet Mohammed , however discerns active involvement in the political scene by women and as quoted from the Quran , ‘ sahih al-bukhari 5:59:709 , the prophet was clearly quoted as saying that the people with a female ruler will never be successful illustrates Mernisse’s lack of crystal clear and deeper interpretation of these hadiths.

In spite of her conservative and assertive reflection of the different laws prescribed for men and women especially in the Quran , there is little significance to the fact that men are more valuable than women as both genders according to Mernisse must have different roles in the society and the only criterion of value before God (creator) is the spiritual religious devotion. The major differences between men and women are therefore due to varying status and responsibilities other than the original traditional interpretation.

The participation of women in politics as claimed by Mernisse is based on the crises of identity that besets a muslim society that struggles to comes t terms with modernity. She also talks about the hadith as a burn out of the earliest days in Islam in Medina which emerged as a formidable political weapon in times of crises. Despite the interpretation and meaning of the hadith, she maintained that the elite still continued to use false hadith to serve in favor of their political and economic ends which included the disenfranchisement of women and the embedding of pre-Islamic tribal misogynist within the entire Islamic tradition.

The emergency of the misogynist tradition that validated the unauthenticated hadith with the continued currency are widely examined in Mernisse’s writings and she prudently asserts that such tradition was not the original intention of Prophet Mohammed’s understanding but rather was the result of external and internal forces acting upon Islam in the earliest days of the community at Medina. She narrated that the Prophet did actually include his wives both in public disclosure and space and thus evenly attempted to break with the misogynist tribal past where women were nothing but just mere possessions.

The issue of women in Islam is highly controversial and thus Mernesse has taken extra caution when addressing it especially where the quotes from the Quran are referred to and this is symbolic of the intensity , high regard and honor that is attached to this holy book. While it is generally agreed that the rights granted to women in the Quran by prophet Mohammed were a vast improvement in comparison to the situation of women in Arabia in the advent of Islam , this importance soon started to fade away with his demise and reverted back to the pre-islamic norms.

Mernisse’s book can be considered conservative in the sense that it only features issues affecting Muslim Women and states nothing about how or even what muslim men feel or think about their Islamic traditions. Precisely, it is more pessimistic than realistic as both men and women should be given an equal chance to address and present their views.

Since knowledge is power and as a learned nationalist , Mernisse ought to have given her facts an even broader perspective instead of only relying totally on her personal feelings and experience as by doing so she literally narrowed on only limited information which would otherwise have given her an edge in being part of making the necessary changes in the lives of her Muslim women counterparts who still languish in those inhumane traditions with no one to free them.

Her highly controversial research and which she referred to as ‘anti-female’ , is clearly observed as she believed that the two mostly featured hadith are more personal opinionated rather than real. Though she was only acting as a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves, Mernisse should have looked for an objective means of addressing these family related issues rather than outspokenly reaching a definite decision prematurely.

To be able to come up with a concrete decision on such a touchy issue as Islamic traditions , Mernisse is supossed to have interviewed millions of Muslim women around the globe so that her data findings would have an evidently firm base on which to justify her female pessimism. This however may not have been the case as she does not seem to have stated or indicated as to how she reached her self –styled profound truth.

Islam , being a hierarchical religion , it’s not very clear as to whether Mernisse sought advise or guidance or even clarification on this thorny issue from her Muslim clergy and what they felt or intended to do about it. She ought to have approached and consulted the Muslim leaders first before making her fact-finding decisions as the power and life are in the power of the tong’ue and thus what she may have fed or gathered from her fellow Muslim women counterparts can easily create chaos and havoc to family relationships.

The periodical time taken to reveal these heinous acts of tradition to Muslim women by their male counterparts still remains a mystery and therefore the authenticity of her findings are truly questionable as civilization has brought with it understanding and acceptance of any gender and the vice of gender violence especially against women and children (the most vulnerable) in general.

Accountability is also a critical virtue here and since Mernisse does not state whether the Muslim women she encountered with and who testified against the aforesaid vices to them were doing it out of malice, jealousy, or coercion and whether they were under oath or not , the real thing that goes on in a family can only be well understood and interpreted by the directly involved and thus the clarity of the whole issue still remains a big illusion to those of us who are unfamiliar with the Islamic traditions.

Mernisse’s relationship with her immediate family is little known and this also could have had a toll in her female pessimism and thus before absorbing and concluding, what she has written in, ‘the veil and the male elite’, one needs to dig deeper into both her personal and family (present and previous) relationships as these could act as true leads as to why she came up with this book.

Since these hadith were written by normal individuals like her , she should have mobilized other well versed Islamic leaders for a better and clearer interpretation as well as a closer validation and checking on issues that mainly touch on the society and family fully before having the un validated information presented to the world to read.

The true teachings of Islam can only be found from Prophet Mohammed’s teachings and sayings as He is the founder of Islam and therefore her reference and concentration ought to have been reflected and based on what Prophet Mohammed emphasized on other than from other unauthenticated prophetic sources like the al-bukhari. How much research she did on what Prophet Mohammed believed in or whether she even did any at all is not indicated or even illustrated and the only thing featured are the facts that Prophet Mohammed highly regarded his three wives, but unfortunately, his desperate need for military defense from his fellow Muslim community at the time drove him to bowing to the controversial hadith about Muslim women.

Mernisse’s arguments are more religious based than social as she features more on what happens when a Muslim woman goes to a mosque and the implications thereafter but reflects nothing on the aftermath outside the religious point of view. In order, to create a balance between these two quite deliberate but controversial issues, she ought to have taken ample time researching, recording and directly getting involved in both scenarios as experience is the best teacher. There is however no foreseeable evidence of her direct participation in such like visitations to Mosques and this leaves the leaders of her book asking whether her findings were real life experiences or just mere heresy.

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