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"Required reading... " --Elizabeth Fernea, The University of Texas at Austin "If a reader were to select only one book in order to gain insight into women's status and prospects in Islamic society, this study should be the one chosen for its clarity, honesty, depth of knowledge and thought-provoking qualities." --Arab Book World In this expanded and updated edition, with a n "Required reading... " --Elizabeth Fernea, The University of Texas at Austin "If a reader were to select only one book in order to gain insight into women's status and prospects in Islamic society, this study should be the one chosen for its clarity, honesty, depth of knowledge and thought-provoking qualities." --Arab Book World In this expanded and updated edition, with a new introduction on Muslim women and fundamentalism, Mernissi argues that Islamic fundamentalism is in part a defense against recent changes in sex roles and perceptions of sexual identity. Fatema Mernissi (1940–2015) was a leading advocate for women’s rights in the Muslim world. In 2003, she was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature along with Susan Sontag. Mernissi’s works have been translated into thirty languages.


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"Required reading... " --Elizabeth Fernea, The University of Texas at Austin "If a reader were to select only one book in order to gain insight into women's status and prospects in Islamic society, this study should be the one chosen for its clarity, honesty, depth of knowledge and thought-provoking qualities." --Arab Book World In this expanded and updated edition, with a n "Required reading... " --Elizabeth Fernea, The University of Texas at Austin "If a reader were to select only one book in order to gain insight into women's status and prospects in Islamic society, this study should be the one chosen for its clarity, honesty, depth of knowledge and thought-provoking qualities." --Arab Book World In this expanded and updated edition, with a new introduction on Muslim women and fundamentalism, Mernissi argues that Islamic fundamentalism is in part a defense against recent changes in sex roles and perceptions of sexual identity. Fatema Mernissi (1940–2015) was a leading advocate for women’s rights in the Muslim world. In 2003, she was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature along with Susan Sontag. Mernissi’s works have been translated into thirty languages.

30 review for Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jamila

    What I appreciate about Mernissi is her frank and clear declarations of her worldview and purpose in writing this book. She doesn't hide her dispositions in convoluted abstractions; writing on page 8 in a section entitled A Note to the Western Reader she says very clearly: "I believe that sexual inequality the basis of both systems [the way women are treated in the Muslim East and the Christian West.]" It is clear that she sees religious worldview as the root of the problem of female equality, a What I appreciate about Mernissi is her frank and clear declarations of her worldview and purpose in writing this book. She doesn't hide her dispositions in convoluted abstractions; writing on page 8 in a section entitled A Note to the Western Reader she says very clearly: "I believe that sexual inequality the basis of both systems [the way women are treated in the Muslim East and the Christian West.]" It is clear that she sees religious worldview as the root of the problem of female equality, a fact which is important to keep in mind while reading her essays. She explains, "The question of women's liberation has been viewed almost exclusively as a religious problem… the nationalists had advocated the liberation of women in the name of Islam's triumph, not in the name of any genuine modern global ideology." That said, it seems that Mernissi failed to develop a full view of the situation in Morocco as it was at the time of her writing. For example, I would have liked her to analyze in depth the arguments of women advocating for women's rights and Islam. Instead, she villanizes everything with ties to Muslimhood: "The entire Muslim social structure can be seen as an attack on, and a defense against, the disruptive power of female sexuality." (45) The totalizing nature of her arguments is on every page of this book, and severely diminishes the scholarship she sought to do by interviewing women and allowing their voices to be heard. Finally, I would question what kind of "genuine" ideology Mernissi is advocating for in lieu of a religious one; as a worldview, modern global ideologies are severely lacking in their essentialism and materialistic humanism they rely upon. These ideologies have played a significant role in degrading women, and it seems limited in scope to valorize something that she frankly does not spend a lot of time advocating for.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sofia

    There were some insightful and interesting points made in this book, but reading this book after Amina Wadud's Quran and Woman, and Asma Barlas' Believing Women, it wasn't as riveting, enlightening or inspiring. I can see why though, in its time it would have been groundbreaking, and without doubt, Mernissi can be credited for much of the application of liberation/feminist theory on readings of the Quran and Islam since. The book is an interesting read but as can be expected, it is somewhat outda There were some insightful and interesting points made in this book, but reading this book after Amina Wadud's Quran and Woman, and Asma Barlas' Believing Women, it wasn't as riveting, enlightening or inspiring. I can see why though, in its time it would have been groundbreaking, and without doubt, Mernissi can be credited for much of the application of liberation/feminist theory on readings of the Quran and Islam since. The book is an interesting read but as can be expected, it is somewhat outdated and there are, in my opinion, better books on the topic with more relevant information and updated examples than this one.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I have very mixed feelings about this book. For the most part, I don't know enough about Islam and the Koran and the Prophet Mohammed to know whether the author is misrepresenting information or not. I do think that the information and the history and the interpretations are presented in an informative and sometimes speculative way. One major disagreement that I have with this book is in the conclusion: she states that Arab women's liberation can surpass it's western liberal counterpart. She say I have very mixed feelings about this book. For the most part, I don't know enough about Islam and the Koran and the Prophet Mohammed to know whether the author is misrepresenting information or not. I do think that the information and the history and the interpretations are presented in an informative and sometimes speculative way. One major disagreement that I have with this book is in the conclusion: she states that Arab women's liberation can surpass it's western liberal counterpart. She says "American women will get the right to abortion but it will take a long time before they can prevent the females body from being exploited as a marketable product". It's statements like those that make me feel she is more than a little biased and she fits into the American stereotypical critique of an "oppressed" Muslim woman. She goes on to say "Muslim women, on the contrary, engage in a silent but explosive dialogue with the fragile ruling class whose major task is to secure economic growth plan for the future without exploitation and deprivation". Now, this book was written in the 70s and revised in the 80s, I think modern Muslim woman today would have to disagree with Mernissi's speculation on Arab women's liberation. It's happening, but it's happening slowly.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lucas Peters

    A great look at Morocco and really much of North Africa as Mernissi delves deep into the psyche behind male/female dynamics. It is a book that explains a lot in clear, precise language. Perhaps the most shocking thing is that this was written 50 years ago... and yet it still feels so current.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jasmine Star

    I don't even know where to start reviewing this book. It i more of an essay, as most of her books are, but it possesses a quality that makes you debate your idea of gender, space, equality. I am still debating the ideas in this book with myself and others.

  6. 4 out of 5

    DoctorM

    My last semester at law school, I took an elective class on Women in Islamic Law with a visiting professor from France, and Mernissi's "Beyond the Veil" was one of the assigned texts. The class itself was an unexpected thrill--- I'd done a bit of Middle Eastern history in grad school long before, but I knew very little about the role of women or about feminist theory in the Islamic world. Mernissi's book was something I very much enjoyed reading--- a clearly-written and incisive look at the way My last semester at law school, I took an elective class on Women in Islamic Law with a visiting professor from France, and Mernissi's "Beyond the Veil" was one of the assigned texts. The class itself was an unexpected thrill--- I'd done a bit of Middle Eastern history in grad school long before, but I knew very little about the role of women or about feminist theory in the Islamic world. Mernissi's book was something I very much enjoyed reading--- a clearly-written and incisive look at the way modern Islamic society regards women, and at how women have responded. This book was my introduction to Mernissi's writing--- almost a decade later, I still very much recommend this book to anyone looking for a clear introduction to the issue of the role of women in the modern Muslim world.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lexi

    A more academic look at women in Islam--but does explain the orthodox Muslim scholarship and tradition around the roles of women in Islam. Mernissi is a Moroccan intellectual and most of her books are pretty heavy, this one is only moderately so. My favorite book of hers is her autobiography of growing up in a harem in Morocco...facinating and an easy-to-read narrative.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia

    First written in 1075, then edited and re-published in 1985, the book, read thirty years later, is obviously dated with some dynamics having already changed in some Islamic countries. Living as an expat female in an Arab Muslim country has led me to some observations and questions. Some of these were answered in the book, such as the patriarchal structure, it's Islamic roots and history. In some Arab countries it is slowly becoming more equal. The varied interpretations of the Quran and it's app First written in 1075, then edited and re-published in 1985, the book, read thirty years later, is obviously dated with some dynamics having already changed in some Islamic countries. Living as an expat female in an Arab Muslim country has led me to some observations and questions. Some of these were answered in the book, such as the patriarchal structure, it's Islamic roots and history. In some Arab countries it is slowly becoming more equal. The varied interpretations of the Quran and it's applications in societal law were helpful in my understanding of (though not accepting of) the basis for beliefs in female coverings and veils, polygamy, etc. The author examines traditional Muslim society and offers hope that more liberation of women is necessary to adapt but not a precursor to losing touch with Islamic faith and culture. Having lived and travelled in countries where Islam is the dominant religion, but the Islamic culture as seen in the Gulf Region is not, I know that it is possible for all Islamic adherents to be treated fairly and equally. it is a goal to be strived for.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stef

    As someone who doesn't know much about Islam, I found many fascinating historical facts here. This was based on a phd thesis and often it made reading it slightly jarring. Also although this is a new edition with the exception of a new forward it has not been updated from the early 1970s. It is excellent from a historical perspective, however I would be very interested to see how the situations is in the Muslim world and especially in Morocco today.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Laura Hartmark

    Societies that believe in internal control do not utilize external controls. Societies that utilize external controls do not believe in internal controls. This one insight makes this book worthwhile. An essential read for Judeo-Christians and Westerners struggling with understanding the position of women in muslim societies.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    In exploring women’s role in modern Islam, the author leads the reader through the process of applying Mohammed’s teachings to modern life as well as a brief history of Islam. This concise explanation is a good start for anyone seeking to understand more about Islam and its role in the world today. This is a scholarly treatment but I found it very readable.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nalim

    "Fatema Mernissi is a Moroccan feminist and sociologist who is renowned for her work on women’s rights within Islam. Beyond the Veil is the result of her doctoral research and was first published in 1975; the edition from 2011 includes a new introduction addressing the Islamophobia that currently permeates European politics and the West’s obsession with the veil."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Susannah

    She was really good at stating the facts succinctly and without judgement. I'll miss her for that. Of course, learnt some fascinating facts about struggles in society in Morocco, but really most of what she wrote can be seen in the streets in Morocco, on a daily basis (or rather what or who isn't seen on the streets here, as I sit here in a cafe surrounded by men).

  14. 5 out of 5

    Falisha

    excellent book! even if it's a little dated, the information in this book put a lot of my frustrations with living in Morocco in perspective. a must read especially women living in a Muslim country.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Cronin

    A bit of an academic book, but interesting nonetheless. I think Mernissi made some valid points about male/female dynamics in Muslim societies, but I also think a lot has progressed since she wrote the book and so many of her points aren't as valid anymore.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Some genuinely useful insights mired in a relentless conflation of the psychosexual pathologies of a particular modern Arab Muslim society with a selective and frequently tendentious reading of the Islamic tradition writ large.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    Gives a good background on Islam's view towards men's and women's sexuality. While some claims are unsubstantiated or not explained thorougly enough, the author gives an interesting perspective.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I tried to get around to this but my focus on the history of science, history of women and sex education, and the science of happiness just kept edging this out. Jan 2011

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Excerpt -- Not Exactly a Love Triangle "'When a man and a woman are isolated in the presence of each other, Satan is bound to be their third companion.'"

  20. 5 out of 5

    Yaaser

    The book is divided into two sections: A historical background about women in pre- and post-Islam, then a sociological view of women situation in Morocco. Rich but not so genuine.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    Really interesting and concise. I would have liked more quotes from her interviews.

  22. 4 out of 5

    JitkaJen

    If you don't remember the word fitna after reading this book, there's something seriously wrong with you. "Beyond the Veil" is interesting book but - and by but I mean BUT - it suffers from numerous flaws. First, the author doesn't even pretend she writes a serious, matter-of-fact work and her opinions are all too obvious. As mother-feminist she fights for women's rights and she is trying to prove, that men repress women's sexuality out of fear. Even though she made an interesting research she do If you don't remember the word fitna after reading this book, there's something seriously wrong with you. "Beyond the Veil" is interesting book but - and by but I mean BUT - it suffers from numerous flaws. First, the author doesn't even pretend she writes a serious, matter-of-fact work and her opinions are all too obvious. As mother-feminist she fights for women's rights and she is trying to prove, that men repress women's sexuality out of fear. Even though she made an interesting research she does not respect it's results - the women's biggest enemy in traditional Moroccan society, it seems, are not men, as the author implies, but other women! (Especially "old hags" = mothers in law.) The book is incoherent, it turns out more like three different studies cobbled together, lots of facts are repeated over and over again. If you are new to the field of Islam and sexuality, it could be a revealing read for you, if you know a little, it might teach you something new, if you specialize on this topic, there' s almost nothing you did not read elsewhere.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lamiya

    Reading this left me with mixed feelings. While I sympathize with Mernissi's scholarship and intelligence, the overt sociological and feminist lens attempting to assess Prophetic intentions left me puzzled and dissatisfied. There were moments of de-contextualized narratives in her work. However, she brings up important questions for the Muslim community to think about when dealing with questions of a modern state, patriarchy, Islamic values, and gender. Most importantly, she brings up important Reading this left me with mixed feelings. While I sympathize with Mernissi's scholarship and intelligence, the overt sociological and feminist lens attempting to assess Prophetic intentions left me puzzled and dissatisfied. There were moments of de-contextualized narratives in her work. However, she brings up important questions for the Muslim community to think about when dealing with questions of a modern state, patriarchy, Islamic values, and gender. Most importantly, she brings up important questions on the relationship between ethics and law. While I don't agree with her arguments entirely, I wouldn't dismiss the importance of her work either.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shane Noble

    An excellent examination of gender in Islam. People in the West often have a knee-jerk ill-informed opinion of Muslims. Books like this, while highly critical of much of Islam's treatment of women, also offers a scholar's take on the history of Muslim women and how things are changing in the modern era. Excellent read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Fatma Jeragh

    I’ve read it in Arabic. Should’ve read it in English. Most of what’s written was very expected and known to me as a middle eastern.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shāfiya Mū

    4.25 outta 5!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sabah

    I've wanted to read Al Mernissi for a long time. Unfortunately, this wasn't the right work to begin with. It wasn't as enlightening as I hoped it would be. But in all fairness, I don't think I, a Muslim feminist, am the target demographic for it. What I enjoyed most is the way she analyzed Islamic teachings about gender and sexuality after Prophet Muhammad and showed how those changes contributed to shaping modern Islamic societies. I give credit to the author for managing to show the divide betw I've wanted to read Al Mernissi for a long time. Unfortunately, this wasn't the right work to begin with. It wasn't as enlightening as I hoped it would be. But in all fairness, I don't think I, a Muslim feminist, am the target demographic for it. What I enjoyed most is the way she analyzed Islamic teachings about gender and sexuality after Prophet Muhammad and showed how those changes contributed to shaping modern Islamic societies. I give credit to the author for managing to show the divide between what was acceptable then and now. The best story to illustrate this is that of Laila bint Alkhatim, an Ansari woman who "gave herself" to the prophet, then later went back on her offer. I received a total of 14 years of formal Islamic education, yet this story was news to me. It's not surprising that modern fundamentalists managed to gloss over any parts of history that may show women taking sexual initiative (towards the prophet nonetheless!), and having a much stronger role than they would like. Which serves to prove Al Mernissi's whole argument. Considering that this is an academic thesis, I did notice her partisan tone throughout the book. Most notably when she portrayed women in Pre-Islamic societies. Granted, I'm not knowledgeable enough about that era to refute her claims, I am doubtful to whether it indeed was the matriarchial heaven she makes it out to be. I might revisit those parts of the book later on. All in all, I guess it serves as a good introductory text to Feminism and Islam, but not the best.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    A bit dated now (from the 1970s) but still fascinating and often still very relevant. I especially appreciated her pointing out how rigid gender roles are also quite harmful to men--something I feel western feminism has only recently started exploring.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Incredibly interesting book. Informative and eye opening.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Saadah

    Will continue reading this again.

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