Fatima Mernissi about the Women’s Way of Life in Islam Essay


Islam is one of the wide spread religions especially in the Asian world. However, the teachings endorsed in the Quran and other religious books in the Islamic culture culminate into the oppression of women especially in issues dealing with taking up of leadership roles. Although some Islamic scholars criticize the teachings, most Islamic women condemn women rulers branding them ‘dissidents’. Fatima Mernissi, a famous scholar in the Arab world skillfully interprets the laws governing women’s leadership in the Islamic culture.


Mernissi sets out to inquire about her people’s view on women as Muslim leaders. She encounters three men, a grocer, a customer and a schoolteacher. All of the three fall in shock when she asks about women being leaders. Although one of the men is literate (schoolteacher), he gives her a Hadith, a Quran counterpart (Al-Bukhari and Al-Sahih 226).

Furthermore, he tells her to understand it to avoid attracting a curse on the land for the Hadith condemns women leadership (Mernissi 1). Full of disappointment, Mernissi leaves the market with urge to go through the holy book to investigate its authenticity.

On the other hand, she thinks about the constitution of her country (Morocco). The constitution grants women the right to vote and take up office. However, during elections very few women ever become parliamentarians. Ironically, about 50% of the voters are women but they refrain from taking up the offices due to the misunderstanding of the holy books and fear of rejection from the society especially men who are against women leaders.

Origin of Hadith and its effect to Islamic culture

The Hadith and Quran are large books with enormous volumes, one of the factors that discourage people from reading them. However, Mernissi finds out that the teachings in the Hadith as the main source of oppression to women. The book asserts that any society, which empowers women, ends up in destruction. Unfortunately, men use the book to admonish women from engaging in politics due to fear of competition. Additionally, Hadith is a reference book in matters concerning women and politics.

An amazing factor about the origin of the Hadith is that, its recording took place twenty-five years after the death of the prophet who allegedly recited it. In addition, the recitation of the supposedly holy book occurs only when there is leadership conflict between men and women. After the death of the prophet, a conflict breaks out concerning who should ascend to power. Aisha, one of the prophet’s wives has good judgmental abilities and ruling skills hence decides to take over.

However, Ali opposes her as the ruler and this conflict leads to a battle that sees Aisha lose the coveted post. According to one of the scholars, Al-Bukhari, Abu Bakra was one of the men who were close to the prophet before his death. Abu Bakra decides to recite some of the prophet’s sayings such as ‘women should not rule.’ However, Asqalani, one of the elites, views this as Bakra’s tricks, which favors him and Ali to take up leadership roles.

Furthermore, he says the prophet’s view about women came after the endorsement of Persian, a woman ruler. Surprisingly, Abu Bakra does not go further to interpret the words, which leaves the reader unsatisfied and scarcely informed. Unfortunately, this argument is the current reason why Muslim women do not take up political offices.

Abu Bakra is a governor in one of the cities and decides to back Ali, a fellow man. When Aisha calls for discussions and consultation to iron out their political differences, both Ali and Bakra decline her request. Ironically, when the prophet was alive, he preached forgiveness, freedom, wealth and power to all Muslim communities including women.

Due to jealousy and Bakra’s preaching, Aisha loses power because the public is misinformed concerning women leadership. The Hadith also encourages Muslims to support their leaders’ actions; whether they are unjust or just. Abu Musa is one of the elites who refuse to back up Ali. He declines Ali’s request to send an army to the war branding it a ‘useless act.’ Musa’s stand underscores the fact that early Muslim elites did not concur with matters propagating women oppression.

Consequently, when Ali takes over power, he dismisses Musa from leadership and hands it over to one of his loyal people. Therefore, critical analysis of the Hadith shows that it originated from liars and selfish people who were out to destruct democracy. Some of the people recite words that the prophet did not say. Due to these batches of lies, Bakra says he suffers public humiliation for testifying falsely in a case concerning fornication.

Additionally, there was a division between the first Muslim leaders concerning the laws of the Hadith. Some of the elites did not support the hadith’s ruling on women and politics, while others were in full support of this misconstrued book. However, this was to exclude competition from women in political circles. Al- Tabari was one of the scholars who were against the Hadith’s stand to eliminate women from politics.

Mernissi recalls the recitation of Quran throughout her childhood. Like Abu Bakra, her teachers read only the verses that condemn women. Similarly, the teachings view women as animals, not human beings; actually the readings liken women to dogs. Additionally, women are interrupting creatures explaining why they should not pass before men during prayers. Malik is against the interpretation of the Quran and Hadith because the origin of the material or information lacks sufficient evidence.

For instance, Tabari cites Abu Hurayra, another ancient man who despised women for no apparent reason; he simply disliked women and to him, they passed for animals like cats. Ironically, in Abu’s homeland, Yemen, most leaders were women including the Queen of Sheba. One day Aisha challenges him about the false Hadith that he loves quoting; however, as expected he defends himself that Aisha does not consider keenly the prophet’s sayings.

Surprisingly, the Islamic law on purification of women after sex or when in their menstruation are not among the prophet’s assertion. The prophet did not purify himself after sex as Aisha confirms. Therefore, Hadith is simply meant to separate women from the truth and freedom. Personally, Muslim women have the right to take any leadership roles, be it in politics or not because the ancient Islamic rulers did not condemn their women in political office meaning the two genders have equal opportunities.


In summary, the laws concerning women’s way of life, especially leadership have false origin. The people interpreting the holy books such as the Quran concentrate on the verses that condemn and undermine women without reading the context of the message. Apparently, Hadith was men’s plot to push women out of politics and leadership for they (women) would perhaps pose unnecessary competition to these power-hungry men.

Apparently, men fear competing with women who may end up defeating them. The ancient Muslim leaders, except few did not undermine women in the society. Finally, although the Muslim community holds that women do not have leadership skills, the ancient women rulers like Aisha and Queen of Sheba did so skillfully and men of the time supported this ‘feminine’ leadership.

Works Cited

Al-Bukhari, Sahih, and Al-sahih, Muslim. Collection of Authentic Hadiths, with Commentary by Al-Said. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Ma’rifa, 1978.

Mernissi, Fatima. “A feminist interpretation of women rights in Islam.” Oxford Islamic Studies Online, 31 March, 2011. Web. <>

Fatima Mernissi about the Women’s Way of Life in Islam

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