Muslim Women and Hijab
Fate Mernissi (1940-2015) was a Moroccan feminist writer and sociologist, with her work focusing on a voice for the oppressed and marginalized women. Her legacy can be greatly attributed to her scholarly and literary contributions to the early feminist movement, as she tackles issues such as Eurocentrism, intersectionality, transnationalism, and global feminism.
Mernissi is known for her sociolopolitical approaches towards discussing gender and sexual identities, specifically those of which are focused within Morocco. She became known internationally mainly as an Islamic feminist. She authored Beyond the Veil in 1975. In her writings, she was largely concerned with Islam and women's roles in it, analyzing the historical development of Islamic thought and its modern manifestation. Through a detailed investigation of the nature of the succession to Muhammed, she cast doubt on the validity of some of the hadith (sayings and traditions attributed to him), and therefore the subordination of women that she sees in Islam, but not necessarily in the Quran.
A recurring topic for multiple of her writings is Scheherazde and the digital sphere, as she explores cases in which women take part in online media outlets. In these writings, she mentioned how technology is quickly spreading - via the Internet - and analyzes the roles and contributions of women in this movement.
She also wrote about life within harems, gender, and public and private spheres. In one of her articles, Size 6: The Western Women's Harem, she discusses the repression and pressures women face merely based on their physical appearance. Whether in Moroccan society or the West, she surmises that women must live up to stereotypical standards such as dress sizes (e.g. size 6) and that these practices isolate and mistreat women. Later, in her book, Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World, Mernissi she looks at how fundamentalism controlled what a woman would be able to wear, so a democratic society that freed women to dress as they pleased could appear threatening to a hyper-masculine culture.
Additionally, she notes that Muslim women were not victims of their religious practices any more than Western women were victims of the patriarchy; both groups of women were oppressed by specific social intitutions within a religion or society created to profit off of the marginalization of others. She explains that Western women were veiled, just as Muslim women were, yet Western veils were much more discreet. To her, youth and beauty veiled Western women, and once a woman no longer had these, she was hardly recognized by society.
Mernissi's work highlighted how Western feminism could be detrimental to the empowerment of women around the globe if it lacked an intersectional approach to women's issues. In her book, The Forgotten Queens of Islam, she uses an intersectional lens to understand the positions of women throughout early Islamic history through social and political identities that created modes of discrimination. Her aim was to bring to light the significant contributions that women had throughout early Islamic history and debunk the misconceptions about the absence of women as political and authoritative figures. She did this through exploring leadership roles that women were involved in throughout Islamic history, including accounts of 15 women and the active roles they played in pre-modern Islam politics.
In her book Women's Rebellion & Islamic Memory, Mernissi analyzes the role of women in relation to the world of contemporary Islam and how the state ultimately supports inequality. She argues that the freedom from these controlling traditions and expectations of women is the only way for the Arab world to develop. In her book, Islam and Democracy, she suggests ways in which progressive Muslims, including feminists, who choose to advocate for democracy and resist fundamentalism should draw from the same sacred texts as those who seek to oppress them, in order to prove that Islam is not fundamentally against women.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens generally have limited or highly restrictive rights in most parts of the Middle East, and are open to hostility in others. Sex between men is illegal in 10 of the 18 countries that make up the region. It is punishable by death in 6 of these 18 countries. The rights and freedoms of LGBTQIA+ citizens are strongly influenced by the prevailing cultural traditions and religious mores of people living in the region – particularly Islam. Several Middle Eastern countries have received strong international criticism for persecuting homosexuality and transgender people by fines, imprisonment and death.
Male same sex activity is illegal and punishable by imprisonment in Kuwait, Egypt, Oman, Qatar, and Syria. It is punishable by death in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. In Yemen or Palestine (Gaza Strip) the punishment might differ between death and imprisonment depending on the act committed. Even though laws against female same sex activity are less strict, few countries recognize legal rights and provisions.
In the United States, LGBTQIA+ Middle Eastern Americans face a unique challenge. On the one hand, there is the challenge of post 9/11 attitudes and discrimination toward Muslim Americans. As Muslim society is still, by and large, heteronormative, there is also the challenge of hostility, harassment or discrimination that may be experienced from the the Middle Eastern community at large.