WLUML Pays Tribute to Fatima Mernissi, Moroccan Sociologist, Dead at 75


WLUML owes a lot to Mroroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi, who passed away yesterday the 30th of November in Rabat, Morocco. A pioneer in the field of Islamic feminism, her loss deeply saddens us. Here are some final words to her. 

From Fatou Sow, International Director of Women Living Under Muslim Laws:

What a terrible and sad news.

I have known Fatima Mernissi since 1977, at the founding conference of the Association of African Women for Research and Development (AAWORD), in Dakar, Senegal. It was the first time we African women were calling a big meeting in Africa, in order to decolonize African Social Sciences, deconstruct Western feminism and build our own agenda.

At that same conference I met, for the first time, Marieme Helie Lucas (Algeria), Ayesha Imam (Nigeria), Achola Pala (Kenya), and Philomena Steady (Sierre Leone), to name just a few women. It was the beginning of "compagnonage" in the building of Pan African women's movements. But I did not know that it would also be an initial milestone in the long road I have had with Marieme Helie Lucas and Ayesha Imam, although at the time I did not talk much with them. It was where I heard of them for the first time. Almost 15 years later, Ayesha invited me, under different circumstances, to join WLUML.

I still remember Fatima Mernissi's conference from a few years later, at the University of Dakar. Her topic was Women and Islam. The big lecture hall was literally invaded by Muslim organisations who were ready to "eat her up". The convenor of the conference was Marie-Angélique Savané, a well-known Senegalese and very vocal feminist, who happened to be Christian. Fatima was smart enough to understand the context and feel the tension in the air. She slowly started her talk by reciting a verse (or few sentences of a verse) of the Quran. I can still hear her voice. And afterwards, whatever she said, she quoted a sentence (or several) in Arabic. Nobody (and definitely not me) knew if it was from the "Holy Book" or not. At the end of her talk, she explained that women needed to read the Quran by herself, and for this she received a standing ovation. From here, I was convinced—whether or not this was her intention, who knows—to not engage in a religious discourse for my struggle for women's rights.  She gave me few new tools.

The last time I met with Fatima was in Rabat, in 2006, at a conference on gender and globalisation, convened by Malika Benradi, an ally and Moroccan Professor of Law.

Fatima was a strong character whom I appreciated for her knowledge and writing skills. She will be remembered for her work.


Quelle terrible et triste nouvelle.

Je connais Fatima Mernissi, depuis 1977. Nous nous étions rencontrées à la conférence de fondation de l’Association des femmes pour la recherche et le développement (AFARD), à Dakar, au Sénégal. C’était la première fois que des femmes africaines organisaient une grande réunion en Afrique même, pour décoloniser les sciences sociales africaines, déconstruire le féminisme occidental et créer notre propre agenda.

A cette même conférence, je rencontrais pour la première fois Marième Hélie Lucas (Algérie), Ayesha Imam (Nigeria), Achola Pala (Kenya), Philomena Steady (Sierra Leone), pour ne citer quelques noms. C’était le début d’un « compagnonnage » avec pour objectif la création de mouvement(s) de femmes panafricains. Mais ce que je ne savais pas c’est le début d’un long voyage avec Marième Hélie Lucas et Ayesha Imam, bien que je n’ai pas eu l’occasion de beaucoup leur parler. C’était la première fois que j’entendais parler d’elles. Ayesha, revue dans d’autres circonstances, m’invitait, une quinzaine d’années plus tard, à joindre WLUML.

Je me rappelle encore la conférence donnée par Fatima Mernissi, quelques années plus tard, à l’Université de Dakar, sur le thème Femmes et islam. L’amphithéâtre fut littéralement envahi par des associations musulmanes sénégalaises, prêtes à en découdre avec elle (sinon la manger crue). L’organisatrice de la conférence était Marie-Angélique Savané, une ardente féministe sénégalaise de renom, qui se trouvait être chrétienne. Fatima avait été assez fine pour comprendre le contexte et flairer la tension ambiante. Elle commençait son discours en récitant une prière (quelques phrases d’un verset) du Coran. Puis, elle ponctuait toutes ses phrases d’une citation (ou de plusieurs) en arabe. Personne (en tous cas pas moi) ne savait si elles les tenaient du « livre saint » ou pas. A la fin de la conférence, elle recevait une ovation monstre pour avoir expliqué que les femmes devaient lire le Coran par et pour elles-mêmes. Pour ma part, elle m’avait convaincue (ce n’était sans doute pas son objectif) de ne pas m’engager dans un débat religieux pour ma lutte en faveur des droits des femmes. Elle m’avait donné de nouveaux outils.

La dernière fois que j’ai eu l’occasion de discuter avec Fatima, c’était en 2006, à Rabat, à une conférence sur Genre et globalisation, organisée par Malika Benradi, une professeure de droit marocaine et notre alliée.

Fatima Mernissi avait une très forte personnalité que j’appréciais pour ses connaissances et ses talents d’écriture. On se souviendra d'elle à travers son œuvre.


From Ayesha Imam:

An iconoclast and icon is gone.  We will not forget her or how her work opened so many paths to explore.

From Farida Shaheed:

This is indeed a HUGE loss. So glad I managed to meet up with Fatema when I was in Morocco a few years ago. We shall miss her trenchant analysis and humour...

From Fatma Emam:

I am so touched by Fatou’s words. For me Fatima is the start of feminist consciousness. May she rest in peace. I owe her a lot of what I know, of everything that I read of hers in my teenage years.

From Sally Mlidi:

Fatima, and women like her have inspired many women into activism. Her analysis has given them courage, others a voice.....May her spirit live on.

From Hasina Khan:

Ohh, so sad and huge lost to all of us...

From Kuyateh Kadijatu:

Oh! very sad for that huge loss. May her soul rest in peace.

From Masa Amir:

Very very sad, but her work lives on.. May she rest in peace.

From Fatima Outaleb:

Very sad news indeed, May she rest in peace.

From Mufuliat Fijabi:

May her soul rest in peace. She would be greatly missed. I learned  a lot from reading her publications which helped me a lot in my understanding of gender, women's rights and Muslim Laws especially as a young Programme officer just joining BAOBAB for Women's Human Rights. Surely her legacy lives on!

From Faizun Zackariya:

What an immense loss for all our generations! We have learnt so much, using her critical, witty and lucid thoughts  in all our work. We have translated her touching pieces into our local languages too…

From Kausar Skhan:

Sad news. May she rest in peace.

From Leila Mouri:

It is definitely a huge loss for feminists all over the world.

From Nasiruddin Haider Khan:

I knew her from her scholarly writings. She challenged the patriarchal interpretation of texts. Her book 'women in Islam' changed my idea of being women in Islam and rights of women in Islam. I liked most the quality of engagement not only with text but also with issues. 

Frm Mariam Mecky, Egyptian women's rights researcher:

Fatima Mernissi is an idol and a role model, her contribution to Islamic thinking are indispensable. I used a lot of her work in my Bachelor dissertation on the control over women's sexuality. Words would never do her justice. Fatima Mernissi shall continue to live among us through her transcending work.
From Gender Jihad:
Big intellectual loss for feminist movement specially for Muslim women who are working for gender equality &  reclaiming their rights. 

Do you have words you wish to share? Send your messages to ifra@wluml.org and join our tribute.