I wanted to highlight the article on the Jez mp regarding the death of Fatima Mernissi, because she is a figure who has meant a lot to me in terms of my intellectual development and because I’ve been bringing Mernissi up to a number of different people on GT over the last few months.
Mernissi was a leading Moroccan sociologist and a one woman answer to all of those people who claim that Islam and feminism are fundamentally incompatible. If you are interested in her work, her memoir Dreams of Trespass, is a wonderful place to start. Dreams of Trespass details her life growing up in a domestic harem in 1940s Morocco. The harem in this case, did not suggest anything sexual or scandalous, but referred to the walled off living quarters for the women in the family. This is a theme which runs throughout all of Mernissi’s works: her constant attempts to reconcile Western orientalist fascination with harems and exotic Muslim women with the actual lived experiences, and sometimes banal realities, of those same women. She is also endlessly interested in space and borders, and their relationship to the expression of gender and sexual norms.
I read Mernissi for this first time as a freshman in college. It was the very first time I had read anything about Islamic feminism and it blew my mind to read a thoughtfully reasoned plea for cultural relativism that didn’t require abandoning your moral compass, but expanding it. Reading Mernissi’s work, was the first time I truly understood that while people everywhere struggle to achieve similar values (equality, dignity...), what those values actually look like when they are expressed, is different for different people. Mernissi taught me how to be a better feminist and I hope, a better ally. She will be missed.