Obituary: Fatema Mernissi leaves a legacy of feminism

Friday 04/12/2015

Casablanca - Fatema Mernissi, a sociol­ogist and writer who was considered one of Mo­rocco’s most powerful and intellectual women, died November 30th in Rabat at age 75.
Author of many books, including The Political Harem: The Prophet and Women and Sheharazade Goes West, Mernissi received the Prin­cess of Asturias literature prize in 2003.
In Sheharazade Goes West, Mernissi called on women of both the East and the West to act with the words to counter violence against them. She evoked her childhood in Fez, where she was born in 1940, in her best-selling Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Har­em Girlhood.
Mernissi went to the Sorbonne University in 1974 in Paris follow­ing her literature studies in Rabat. She earned a sociology doctorate at Brandeis University in Massa­chusetts in the United States. The following year, she published her first book, Beyond the Veil, which quickly became a classic in cultural studies in the United States.
Mernissi returned to Morocco to teach sociology at Mohammed V University in Rabat. In 1987, The Political Harem was published, which she said she considered her most important work as she looked into links between Islam, oppression of women and the sup­pression of democracy in predomi­nately Muslim countries.
In the 1990s, she became in­volved in charity work in Morocco. She took part in many workshops with human rights activists, for­mer prisoners of the “years of lead” (les années de plomb in the 1960s through the 1980s) and jour­nalists.
Mernissi exposed how male power managed from the earliest days of Islam to obscure the politi­cal role of women. She was one of the first Moroccan feminists to de­nounce patriarchy in Muslim cul­ture.
Soumaya Naamane Guessous, a Moroccan sociologist and uni­versity professor, paid tribute to Mernissi on Facebook, writing: “Fatema Mernissi radiated through her writings, her positions, cour­age, commitment and contribu­tion to the emancipation of Moroc­can women and has trained several generations to criticism, analysis and rigour.”