The Harem within
by Fatima Mernissi
ISBN 0385405421 (0-385-40542-1)
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Hardcover, Doubleday, 1994
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Book summary: As a little girl, Fatima Mernissi was often puzzled by the idea of the harem: even if you accepted that men and women had to be kept apart, she asked, why could n't it be the women who walked freely in the streets, while the men stayed locked behind the harem gate? In this book she weaves an evocative tale of her childhood in a Fez harem in the 1940s, a period of social transition in Morocco. Yasmina, Fatima's grandmother, was one of nine co-wives. She had the freedom to ride horses out and about on her husband's farm and in the surrounding countryside, but she carried around within her the hudud, or sacred frontier, that separates women from men. Fatima's mother was an only wife, but she lived with the other women of her extended family inside an enclosed courtyard in the city, guarded by a gatekeeper whose sole duty it was to keep the women from going out in the street. Forced into seclusion, they re-created an imaginary world of their own, where enchanted princesses and adventurous winged women appeared on the terrace, in Aunt Habiba's tales and in Cousin Chama's improvised theatre. But Fatima was allowed out to cross the tiny street between the harem and the girl's school built by the nationalists fighting French colonization; and she grew to confuse living with trespassing, and freedom with communicating. In this book, the author casts an eye on the roles assigned to women and men by traditional Muslim society. She also shows the intimacy and riotous sense of fun that can unite women in an enclosed community in her memoir. Other work by the author includes "Islam and Democracy", "The Veil and the Male Elite" and "Beyond the Veil".
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