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Tribute to Fatima Mernissi, Moroccan sociologist, dead 75

Wednesday 2 December 2015, by siawi3

All the versions of this article: [English] [English]


by 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. But it was where I heard of them for the first time. Almost 15 years later, Ayesha invited, 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.