Fatima Mernissi: Great Woman, Feisty Feminist, Spiritual Inspiration


Fatima Mernissi, a great woman and a dear friend, died yesterday in Morocco. She was the supreme scholar/activist, a sociologist and gifted writer and someone determined to advance the cause of the disadvantaged, and especially women. Fatima was a courageous and creative fighter, fearless in confronting folly, tireless in seeking ideas and new paths.

Fatima is best known internationally as a sociologist and feminist. She was absolutely intolerant of intolerance, a staunch defender of Islam and of women's rights and roles in Islam. She accepted no contradiction between them. Among her many books are Beyond the Veil, Scheherazade Goes West, and Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World. http://www.mernissi.net/

I stumbled across ten inspirational quotations from Fatima that resonate far beyond Morocco in these troubled times (my translations from the French). Her own words are her finest tribute.

• Reason is God's most precious gift to humans. Its best use is to search for knowledge. To appreciate the human environment, that is, earth and the galaxies, is to know God. Knowledge (science) is the best form of prayer.
• Dignity means to have a dream, a powerful dream that gives you a vision, a world where you have a place, where you engage, no matter in how small a way, in changing something.
• Everyone has treasures hidden in themselves. The only difference is that some succeed in exploiting them, while others do not. Those who do not succeed in discovering their precious talents are miserable throughout life, sad, awkward with others, and often aggressive. It is vital to develop and use your talents to give, share, and shine.
• Writing is one of the most ancient forms of prayer. To write is to believe that communication is possible, that other people are good and that you can awake their generosity and their desire to be better.
• If women's rights are problematic for some modern Muslim men, it is not because of the Qu'ran, nor because of the Prophet [Mohammed], and still less because of Islamic traditions. It is simply because these rights are in conflict with the interests of a masculine elite.
• You have to learn to shout and to protest exactly as you learn to walk and to speak. If you cry when someone insults you it's as if you are asking for more.
• Words are like onions, it seems to me. The more you dare to cry, the more you realize what it is about. And when you begin to find some meaning, true and false no longer have much sense. [From Women's dreams: a childhood in the harem]
• Maturity is when you begin to feel the passage of time as a sensual caress.
• Nature is woman's best friend. She [Yasmina] often says "If you meet problems, you can swim in the water, stretch out in a field, look up to the stars. That's how a women confronts her fears."