Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Prophet's Vulnerability

I'm re-reading Fatima Mernissi's "Beyond the Veil" in the 2011 edition and I came across this quote about the Prophet, peace be upon him, which I truly love. 

"The Muslim Prophet's heroism does not lie in any relation of aggression, conquest, or exercise of brute force against women, but on the contrary in his vulnerability. It is because he is vulnerable, and therefore human, that his example has exerted such power over generations of believers. The Prophet was anything but macho in today's sense of behaving as a conqueror of women... The Prophet's behavior leads us to recognize the complexity of masculine reality. He achieved his colossal task on earth not because he was outstandingly aggressive and rigid, but because he was vulnerable and able to recognize his vulnerability, to acknowledge it and take it into account." 

This book by the famed Moroccan feminist is one of the seminal works on the subject of women's status in Islamic society. I highly recommend it to everyone. She's groundbreaking in her theories (and even in 2011 some of what she writes is truly revolutionary), clear-eyed in her analysis, and unsentimental in her opinions. Her scholarship is indisputable.  And her arguments about how Islam recognizes the power, especially the sexual power, of women and how that played out in Muslim society and scholarship for centuries afterwards is truly necessary to know.


On a different note, you may be interested in this well-written essay by the German Islamic scholar Lamya Kaddor, "Why I As a Muslim Woman Don't Wear a Headscarf". I found this quote particularly compelling:

...the Koranic injunction to dress in a way that is generally demure remains a religious demand, to be fulfilled by wearing 'appropriate' clothing. A woman believer sees this as signifying that all those parts of the female body which nowadays excite the idea of possible sexual contact should continue to be 'properly' concealed beneath the kind of clothing usual today. What is entailed in 'proper', 'appropriate', or 'decent' is left to the reasonableness of every mature woman citizen, since at present there are no specific directives based on Islamic sources. In prevalent practice, it is mostly older men – learned or unlearned – who assume the right to determine how a woman should appear, but there is no theological or sociological foundation for this.

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