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Beyond the Veil: Male-female Dynamics in Muslim Society Paperback – 18 Feb 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Paperback, 18 Feb 2003
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Product details

  • Paperback: 198 pages
  • Publisher: Saqi Books; New edition edition (18 Feb. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0863564410
  • ISBN-13: 978-0863564413
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 20.6 x 1.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,052,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a very interesting- and even-handed- look at Muslim societies both historically and contemporary to the author. We are shown possible motivations and reasons for the behaviours seen in the world today that make it one of the few books about extremist behaviour towards women that don't make me too angry to read. As I am not a member of the muslim faith I cannot comment on how reliable her representation is but I think the previous reviewer would do well to remember the time of writing and the fact that the book is about islam as a way of life not just a religious doctrine. Maybe she's a little biased- her grandmother was sold as a concubine, wouldn't you be?
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Format: Paperback
Fatima Mernissi is justifiably acclaimed for this thoroughly researched and balanced exploration of what Islam means, and has meant, for women. The fear of women's sexuality and its hold over men, the psychological impulses that underwrite the ideology, are objectively examined and exposed through careful reference to the Koran. Living in Morocco, as I do, women often explain their choice to wear the veil as being dictated by the way they are treated on the street if they do not. Veiling women is a controversial practice, whether forced or voluntary. This seminal text goes a long way in helping us understand how it originated and why it is still defended. Highly recommended!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x98f75e4c) out of 5 stars 16 reviews
86 of 87 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x998c64ec) out of 5 stars This book is gound-breaking, provocative, and daring. 7 Nov. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
It is not easy to be a Muslim female and to read FatimaMernissi's book "Beyond the Veil". This book was simplyenlightening and it helped me a lot in finding many of the answers that I simply dared not ask without been regarded with scorn. It also led me to inquire further on the subject of women and Islam. The greatness of this book is in the fact that Mernissi tried to erase many of the misconceptions about women's rights in Islam as a doctrine. According to her, when it comes to women's rights, the practice of Islam in the Arab and Islamic world is not necessarily compatible with the doctrine of Islam. Rather, it is influenced by the patriarchal tradition that was born far before Islam, and which also influences the practice of religions such as Christianity and Judaism.
65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x992433f0) out of 5 stars An Excellent Study in Male-Female Relations in the MidEast 6 Dec. 2001
By Kimberly Stokes - Published on
Format: Paperback
The topic of male-female dynamics in Muslim society is one of the main issues covered in the book, Beyond the Veil, by Fatima Mernissi. Mernissi covers a wide range of categories, all of which pertain to the female position in a Muslim society. Though much of the data comes from Moroccan society, the general subject matter attempts to describe all Muslim society. This book has two parts, one of which focuses on the traditional view of women, and the second, which focuses on a more modern and changing view of women¡¯s place in society. A fascinating look at women in Muslim society, this book pushes the reader to question previous biases, and take a look at women in a Muslim society from a Muslim perspective.
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.
45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x997a4570) out of 5 stars Disappointing book that reads like a term paper. 11 May 1998
By Laura Kasman ( - Published on
Format: Paperback
Despite a fair amount of attention given to this book in the popular press a few years ago, it is not a book for a general audience. It reads like a long term paper, using terms like "symbolic capital" for "ideas", for example (although to be fair, this English version is a translation). It is also out of date, since even though the publication date is 1985, most of it was written in 1970. As for how well it covers the subject stated in the title, I was disappointed. Many times in the text, Mernissi writes "I will now examine (a topic)" yet at the end of the section, I didn't feel that she had. Especially missing in my mind was information on what the "liberated" muslim women are saying about themselves, about being educated to the same level as men, and working outside of the home for wages. Mernissi reports having had unstructured interviews with six such modern women, but except for listing their ages, marital status, and occupations in a table, never mentions them again. These are women who were breaking new ground in male-female relations in 1970 but we don't get to hear what their experience was. Instead we get a series of basically philosophical discussions on the roles of women, men, and the heterosexual relationship in Morrocan Islamic society based on Islamic texts hundreds of years old. This book is really for political science or religious studies majors only.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x992217d4) out of 5 stars Unveiling an Inquisitive Mind 10 Sept. 2005
By Mira - Published on
Format: Paperback
Wow! This book really raises some serious, thought-provoking questions regarding female sexual status, and sexual self-determination in Arab-Muslim societies. If I had read this book in the 70s - when it was first written and published - I would have really thought of it as a classic work, but I wasn't born then.

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!
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x998c6e1c) out of 5 stars Very compelling, just a bit too academic 12 April 2003
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is like going through someone else's medicine cabinet. A fascinating look into the homes and bedrooms of the Middle East from a scholarly feminist perspective. The only problem is, it's a bit too scholarly to be a really quick and concise read. Still, Well worth buying.
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