CRITICAL REVIEW [Part II] by Kaukab Siddique

[Mernissi has been made famous in USA]


Mernissi's work The Veil and the Male Elite is littered with serious and fundamental errors. My main purpose here is to deal with her attack on 'Umar, r.a., (one of the greatest Muslims of all times). However, let me refer in passing to Mernissi's procedural weaknesses. She builds her case largely on history books and tafseers [interpretations of the Qur'an]. She does not seem to understand that a scholar's tafseer on the Qur'an is not a source of Islam but only a source of help in understanding it. The sources of Islam are the Qur'an and the authentic Hadith. History books, even Tabari's Tarikh, are not as reliable as books of Hadith, such as the collections of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim.

Again, Hadith are not to be taken at random. A scholar of Hadith must have the vision to bring together all that the Hadith says on a subject. Also, understanding how Hadith was collected requires scholarship. If Imam Bukhari selected 7,257 Hadith out of 600,000, that does not mean (as Mernissi tells us on page 44) that the rest were "false." If a sahabi (companion) of the Prophet had 100 students and they heard 10 Hadith from their teacher, that would technically be 1000 Hadith, and then each of those students might have a 100 of his own students and those 10 Hadith would multiply further, each with its separate chains of narration. The process of criticism of Hadith, as Mernissi knows but easily forgets, started with 'Ayesha, r.a., and had been greatly developed before Imam Bukhari brought it to perfection.

If Mernissi does not like a Hadith, she carries out a psychological analysis of the sahabi narrating it. Hence she paints weird pictures of Abu Bakra, Abu Huraira and 'Umar (Allah be pleased with them) which are nothing more than Merissi's fancy buttressed by later writers (as she conveniently forgets that 'Umar had many sectarian enemies who spread baseless stories about him).

WHO ARE THE MEMBERS OF THE "MALE ELITE?" One would suspect that Mernissi would refer to the corrupt (Europeanized) rulers of the Muslim countries, including her own patron the king of Morocco (bootlicker of America and Israel). Instead she targets the best of men. She writes:

"Uthman ... was a member of the small group of privileged persons from which were recruited the first caliphs." (p.40)

Thus 'Usman, r.a., and others who gave up all they had and followed a lifestyle which was so simple that no ruler in any country throughout history can be compared to them, are claimed by Mernissi as "privileged persons." It would be difficult to mention EVEN ONE privilege which they had. Equality is essential to authentic Islam and no one did more for equality than Abu Bakr, 'Ayesha, 'Umar, 'Usman, Bilal and many others with them. To confuse them with the Ummayad and Abbasid kings is a fatal mistake for a scholar.

An entire book could easily be written to refute Mernissi, but I want to go back to the "enslavement" of women owing to 'Umar, r.a., and the veil which she claims.

Mernissi does not seem to know that the curtain (hijab) is not the same as the modest dress prescribed in 33:59. Also she ignores the fact that the wives of the Prophet (pbuh) were distinguished from other Muslim women because they were to be the teachers of the community:

"O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women." [The Qur'an 33:32]

Thus the hijab (curtain) which was ordained to protect the Prophet's privacy and to stop intrusions into his small poor man's home (may Allah help us to follow his Sunnah and live modestly), was not applicable to all Muslim women. The curtains which have been imposed in mosques and harem-style Muslim homes (palaces) are not from the time of original Islam.

Merinissi's FATAL ATTRACTION for the colonizing power of the West comes out in her own words as she attacks 'Umar (who has no equal in his justice, vision, frugality, lack of love of power, desire for equality, and as a LIBERATOR OF WOMEN other than the Prophet, pbuh, himself). Here is Mernissi's claim:

" 'Umar's solution, imposing the hijab/curtain that hides women instead of changing attitudes and forcing 'those in whose heart is a diseas' to act differently, was going to overshadow Islam's dimension as a civilization, as a body of thought on the individual and his/her role in society. This body of thought made dar al-Islam (the land of Islam) at the outset a pioneering experiment in terms of individual freedom and democracy. But the hijab fell over Medina and cut short the brief burst of freedom. Paradoxically, 13 centuries later it was colonial power that would force the Muslim states to reopen the question of the right of the individual and of women. All debates on democracy get tied up in the woman question and that piece of cloth that opponents of human rights today claim to be the very essence of Muslim identity." [page 188]

Thus for Mernissi, dictator Mubarak of Egypt who wants to remove that "piece of cloth" and turn all Egyptian women into copies of Jihan Sadat, is fighting for "human rights," while Shaikh Omar 'Abdel Rahman, who defies U.S. imperialism, Israel and Mubarak, and wants women to wear that 'piece of cloth' is an opponent of "human rights!" Also, the former Shah of Iran, with his Pahlavi dolls in Parisian style, was for those rights, while Imam Khomeini, who restored Iran to a dignified independence, was "against" those rights because Iranian women wear chadors!

For a refutation of Mernissi, I will go to her main source (though I wonder if she read the actual book or picked quotes from somewhere) Tabari's Tarikh.

[See the stunning conclusion in Part III, inshallah.]

2004-02-22 Sun 09:50ct