of trespass: Tales of a harem girlhood
Addison-Wesley Publishing company
p. 37, footnote 4
…Today [MDA: 1994], almost half a century later, Muslim women still are fighting to have polygamy banned. But legislators, all men, say it is shari'a las, and cannot be changed. In the summer of 1992, a Moroccan women's association…that had collected one million signatures against polygamy and divorce became the target of the fundamentalist press, which issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for the women's execution as heretics. Indeed, when it comes to the status of women, one could say that the Muslim world has regressed since Grandmother's time. The fundamentalist press's defense of polygamy and divorce is in fact an attack against the right of women to participate in the law-making process. Most Muslim governments, an their fundamentalist oppositions, even those that call themselves modern, keep polygamy in the family law codes, not because it is particularly widespread but because they want to show women that their needs are not important. The law is not there to serve them, nor to guarantee their right to happiness and emotional security. The prevailing belief is that women and the law do not belong together; women ought to accept man's law, because they cannot change it. The suppression of a man's right to polygamy would mean that women have their say in the law, that society is not run by and for men's whims alone. Where a Muslim government stands on the question of polygamy is a good way to measure the degree to which it has accepted democratic ideas. And if we do take it as an indicator of democracy, we see that very few Muslim countries are up-to-date on human rights. Tunisia and Turkey are the most progressive.
p. 44-45 a tale
…while the Arabs were busy locking women behind doors, the Romans and the other Christians got together and decided to change the rules of the power game in the Mediterranean. Collecting women, they declared, was not relevant any more. From now on, the sultan would be the one who could build the most powerful weapons and machines, including firearms and big ships. But the Romans and other Christians decided not to tell the Arabs about the change; they would keep it a secret so as to surprise them. So the Arabs went to sleep, thinking that they knew the rules pf the power game.
"The Arabs finally woke up a few weeks ago!" she would say. "Harun-al-Rashid's bones have become dust, and the dust has melted with the rain. The rain ran down to the Tigris River, and off to the sea where all big things become tiny, and get lost in the fury of the waves. A French king is now ruling in our part of the world. …He has a huge palace in Paris …and he has, oh surprise, only one wife! No harem insight. And that single wife spends her time running in the streets, with a short skirt, and a low neckline. Everybody can stare at her ass and bosom, but no one doubts for a moment that the president of the French Republique is the most powerful man in the country. Men's power is no longer measured by the number of women they can imprison. But this is news in Fez Medina, because the clocks are still frozen in Harun al-Rashid's time!"
…She also insisted that her daughter was all wrong about harems. Harems were wonderful things. All respectable men provided for their womenfolk, so that they did not have to go out into dangerous, unsafe streets. They gave them lovely palaces with marble floors and fountains, good food, nice clothes, and jewelry. What more did a woman need to be happy? It was only poor women like Luza, the wife of Ahmed the doorkeeper, who needed to go outside, to work and feed themselves. Privileged women were spared that trauma.
Like us, the Jews had their own prayers, loved their God, and taught His book to their children. They had built a synagogue for Him, which was like our mosque, and we shared the same prophets, with the exception of our beloved Mohamed…One thing was for sure, the Jews had always lived with Arabs, since the beginning of time, and the Prophet Mohammed had liked them when he first started preaching Islam. But then they did something nasty, and he decided, that if the two religions were to co-exist in the same city, they would have to live in separate quarters. Jews were well organized and had a strong sense of community, much stronger than ours. In the Mellah, the poor were always taken care of and all the children went to highly disciplined Alliance Israelite schools.
p. 130-131 Huda Sha"raoui
Forced into an early marriage at age 13, …Huda managed to do two seemingly contradictory things at the same time-fight the British occupation and end her own traditional seclusion and confinement. She tossed away her veil when she led the first official women's street march against the British in 1919, and influenced legislators to pass numerous important laws, including one in 1924 which raised the legal marriage age for girls to 16. She also was so utterly disgusted by the newly independent Egyptian state, formed in 1922, when they passed the Constitution of 1923 restricting the vote to males, that she created the Egyptian Feminist Union and successfully fought for a woman's right to vote. Huda Sha"raoui's stubborn insistence on women's rights inspired many other newly independent Arab nations, already attracted to the nationalist ideals, to include woman's right to vote in their new constitutions as well.
p. 165-167, footnote 1
…the 1922 Circulaire de l'Administration Française, which went beyond making the public sale of slaves illegal (it had already been so for decades in Morocco), by giving the victims-the slaves themselves-the opportunity to free themselves by suing their abductors and buyers in court. Shortly after implementation of the Circulaire, slavery died out in Morocco. This accomplishment stood in stark contrast to the fact that for decades after the formal international ban on slavery, Arab officials resisted it. Only when women get the law on their side, and can easily sue their aggressors, does change occur.
Just as women's rights are rejected in Muslim countries today as a form of Western aggression against Muslim values, the ban on slavery promoted by the colonial powers was opposed and decried by many Arab rules throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a violation of Islam. Many Muslim officials and spokespersons for members of the ruling class, who still bought or sold slaves, opposed the ban as yet another example of colonial arrogance.
However, actually, one of the achievements of early Islam was its bold anti-slavery stance. The Prophet Mohammed encouraged his believers in seventh-century Medina to free their slaves, as he himself had freed his, even giving his famous slave Bilal and Bilal's son, Ousama, key positions of power. But that historical heritage did not influence the position of some of the conservative Arab leaders who resisted the slavery ban by camouflaging it as an attack on the umma, the Muslim community, which is exactly what they are doing today with women's rights. They know too well that they cannot promote democracy without liberating women. Their resistance to women's rights is in fact a rejection of democratic principles and human rights.
…Lalla Mani went on and on about the need to conform to taqlid, tradition. Anything which violated our ancestors' legacy, she said, could not be considered aesthetically valuable, and this applied to everything from food and hairstyles to laws and architecture. Innovation went hand in hand with ugliness and obscenity. "You can be sure that your ancestors have already discovered the best ways of doing things," she said, looking directly at Mother. "Do you think you are more clever than the entire chain of generations that went before you and fought for the best?" To do anything new was bid"a, a criminal violation of our sacred tradition.