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 somehow very true, the issue of democracy in Africa in general is more cultural based than just religious.

Mernisse does not ogre well with the Jahiiya ( pre-Islamic  period ) traditions that had very little regard to muslim women and consequently denied any facts that Islam does a matter of fact  address women issues at all as is the required case by the Quran. 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 religious research study.

The above is true from her somewhat numerous occasions where she fails to address the main topics and substantiate them thus lacking continuity in her claims.  And example is when she supports the hadith collectors like al-Bukhari but explains little as to why this particular hadith  is popular and mostly referenced by majority of  the esteemed learners. Another is when she does not illustrate clearly as to why some hadith  like Abu Hurayra progressed evenly to remain a dependable information provider to majority regardless of its baseless facts which subjected it to open and controversial criticism by other  popular and highly respected narrators of hadith.

She does not query the appropriate strategy used to validate all hadith and surprisingly keeps off the Quran discussion 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.

Its very easy for Muslim women of today to inherit property as Islam has given them inheritance rights contra to the previous times. This, Mernisse touches very little on and this is clear proof that when an issue like inheritance favors both men and women  , she somehow ignores detailing it further and instead she wanders off on other unimportant issues which do not relate much to her main context.

However, her assertions that Prophet Mohammed bowed from pressure from his fellow community and thus somehow ignored the main objective of the women issues in the Quran as he was desperate , did not have any military defense and needed backing, still remains a mystery and has not been proven true to date.

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.

Mernisse, however argues that there was a clear misinterpretation of  the  facts in the original Islamic principle as it was  meant to bring together religion and democracy among all Muslim instead of the rift it brought due to greed and selfishness from those who feared and opposed change.   An issue like the use of the hijab or veil which is continually mentioned in the book and which was not meant to separate women from the divine and the public life but  which Prophet Mohammed ( who initiated it’s use ) purposely intended to be a short term  protective gear for his wives  as a way of  facilitating their safe passage in public but dangerous zones  , is still used today , and has not been addressed by Mernisse yet she very well understands its original intention and use.

Anyone reading , the veil and the male elite,  should be keen as there is more beneath the visible and tangible meaning and doubles as a sure sign of appreciation of the complexity of the role of the muslim woman in the Islamic world as a whole.

Mernisse’s book is a clear presentation 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. If this fact was true and to be followed, it would contradict the role Prophet Mohammed’s wives, played in the society.

Nevertheless, Prophet  Mohammed did not advocate for women leadership and in his hadith relating to female political leadership  he clearly disputed any woman involvement  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’,  which Mernisse  again fails to explain thus proving her lack authenticity of her facts.

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 to terms with modernity. She also refers to the hadith as a burn out of the earliest days whose origin turned out to be utilized as a 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 segregation of women and the embedding of pre-Islamic traditions within the entire Islam.

The un interpreted and unclear claim by Mernisse that Prophet Mohammed did actually  include his wives both in public disclosure and space and thus evenly attempted to break with the tribal past where women were nothing but just mere possessions, remains unauthenticated to date despite the impact , regard and changes it can bring to Islam as far was women rights are concerned.

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 Moslem states in the advent of Islam this importance soon started to fade away with his demise and reverted back to the pre-islamic traditions which are not only dictating but have little of any reverence to women.

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 . 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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