Throughout the ages, from the earliest days of Islam to contemporary times today, Muslim women have been and continue to be active leaders in their communities and countries across the world. This directory is a growing archive of leading Muslim women scholars, activists, writers, politicians, artists, religious and spiritual leaders, civil society leaders and more. Please contribute to this archive by suggesting Muslim women to be featured through our recommendation form.
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“Writing is seduction and seduction is the opposite of violence. I learned that in the Quranic school. Why do you think books like the Quran and the Bible have been bestsellers for over one thousand years? It's simple: because they seek to seduce the reader through language, not with violence."
Known For: Feminist author and sociologist
Dates: 1940 CE - Present
Fatema Mernissi, born in 1940 in Fez, Morocco, is an Islamic feminist author and sociologist. She is best known for her focus on reconciling traditional Islam with progressive feminism.1 She spent her childhood in the harems of her home in Fez and of her maternal grandmother’s home in the country.2 Life within the harem structure, a private context for the female members of an extended family designed to prevent interaction with men outside the family, deeply informed Fatema’s writing. In the early 1990s, she published Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood, a memoir.
In addition to this personal account, much of her academic works deal with harem life, gender, and the public and private spheres. These works include Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society, which was her first and best known work. Written in English and published in 1975, it compares Western and Islamic conceptions of sexuality and femininity. Published in Morocco in 1983, Le Maroc raconté par ses femmes (called Le monde n’est pas un harem in the revised version appearing in 1991 and appearing as Doing Daily Battle in the English edition) is based on a series of interviews conducted with 11 Moroccan women from different social classes about the personal and economic problems they face. In The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Islam, Fatema profiles influential women in early Islam and discusses the equality women of that period enjoyed with men in areas like property rights and spiritual exercise. In Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems (2001), Fatema returns her attention specifically to the institution of the harem and its sharply different connotations in the West and in the Muslim world. Other titles she has written include: L’Amour dans les pays musulmans (1984), La Peur-Modernité: Conflit Islam Démocratie (1992), and Women’s Rebellion and Islamic Memory (1993).
After finishing her primary education in a Quranic school, Fatema studied political science at Mohammed V University in Rabat. She subsequently studied at the university level at the Sorbonne in Paris and earned a doctorate in sociology from Brandeis University in Massachusetts. Fatema lives and works in Rabat, Morocco where she is a professor at her alma mater, Mohammad V University.
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