Beyond the Veil: Male-female Dynamics in Muslim Society Paperback – 18 Feb 2003
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About the Author
Fatima Mernissi was born in 1941 in Fez, Morocco, a centre of nationalist agitation at the time. She attended a school run by movement activists which accepted female students, and later studied political science in Rabat and sociology in the US. From 1973-80 she was Professor of Sociology at the University of Rabat, and has since been a member of the research centre of Mohammed V University there.
'A fascinating book.' Scotland on Sunday 'This classic work not only describes life beneath the veil but analyses it ... from within.' Tribune
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Beyond the Veil starts out by contrasting views on female sexuality. One view is that of Imman Ghazali, and the other view is that of Sigmund Freud. Ghazali claims that the female sexuality is active, and equal to the male sexuality. Therefore, females need to be restrained in order to prevent fitna (chaos) in the social order. Freud, on the other hand, sees female sexuality as passive, and therefore masochistic. Ironically, both theories attempt to prove the same point: that women, as uncontrollable beings, are destructive to the social order and need to be restrained.
Part two of the book starts out with interviews and data collection from Moroccan society. This information is mostly focused around sexual desegregation. Mernissi¡¯s conclusions basically say that the traditional/older generation is more sexually desegregated, while the more modernized/younger generation encourages desegregation. She also points out that rural societies are more sexually traditional than urban societies.
This book reveals much about Muslim society in a simplified manner. Mernissi draws her writings from various sources, including historical viewpoints, other writers on the topic, and interviews with Muslim women.
Beyond the Veil is not simply a one-dimensional view of male-female dynamics in Muslim society. The book covers all aspects of relationships between males and females, as well as the various positions women can take in a Muslim society. Mernissi allows for the reader to look three-dimensionally at the Muslim society, especially in regards to sexual space boundaries and desegregation, and form his or her personal opinion about the topic. Mernissi makes it somewhat simpler for the reader to understand the goals of the book by outlining the various dimensions as well as writing conclusions that draw from the section but also incorporate other ideas.
The objective of this book, explaining male-female dynamics in Muslim society, was quite clear and the writings of Mernissi certainly operationalized that objective. A non-fiction book that relied heavily on breakdowns of various interviews, Beyond the Veil, was more analytic than descriptive. However, this was an extremely effective way of scrutinizing the subject at hand. The information provided in the book would be particularly significant to those who are not familiar with Muslim society and wish to learn more about the ways in which males and females interact in this society.
Beyond the Veil explained many things to me, including the reasons behind female desegregation in Muslim society. Mernissi is thorough in her dissertation of male-female dynamics, and encourages the reader to form his or her own opinions about the topic. Beyond the Veil is a captivating look at the past, present, and future positions of women in a deeply complex Muslim society.
Yet, the book is incredibly outdated. Mernissi does a good job in questioning the general notions (and misconceptions) widespread in her days about religion and the inferiority of women. However, she is out of touch with the contemporary revolutionary ideas that claimed Islam back from the selfish authority of the benighted "Mullahs," who misinterpted Islam out of ignorance, or to fulfill their own political agendas (as still happening in some Muslim countries, wherein Muslim women are subjugated and denied basic rights, such as education.)
Working at the courts in my conservative Gulf country, I witnessed cases in which women "self-determinedly" divorced their husbands, who could not satisfy them sexually. (Lol, awww! I can't believe I'm saying this!)
Even with some historical and Islamic inaccuracies (for instance, many hadiths - Prophetic traditions - quoted by Mernissi have been outruled as inauthentic by contemporary Islamic scholars, thus invalidating many of her arguments and theories), I found this book to be very interesting, and it sheds light - though indirectly, and perhaps unintentionally - on Moroccan history and culture. The chapter on Mothers-in-Law was especially amusing!
It is unfair to criticize the book without taking into consideration the fact that it was written decades ago, and until the latest edition (1985), it must have been current. Instead of complaining about the book and its outdated content, I think I'll just go ahead and write a well-researched book on the same topic!