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The Forgotten Queens of Islam

1997
Author:

Fatima Mernissi
Translated by Mary Jo Lakeland

The Forgotten Queens of Islam

The essential work about women in Islamic history, now in paperback.

Recovering the stories of fifteen Islamic queens, this remarkable exploration tells how these women ascended the throne, how they governed and exercised their power, and how their forgotten reigns influence the ways in which politics is practiced in Islam today.


Mernissi’s breathtaking investigation challenges both contemporary fundamentalist Islamic opposition to women in the public sphere and one-dimensional Western representations of Muslim women as completely lacking in agency. . . essential not only for those interested in the history of Islam, but also for all those committed to contextualizing women’s history and to multiculturalizing feminist discourse.

Ella Shohat, co-author (with Robert Stam) of Unthinking Eurocentricism

When Benazir Bhutto became prime minister of Pakistan in 1988, many claimed that it was a blasphemous assault on Islamic tradition since no Muslim state, critics alleged, had ever been governed by a woman. But Fatima Mernissi examined fifteen centuries of Islamic history and discovered that the critics were wrong. Female rulers indeed existed, but the proof has often been ignored.

Recovering the stories of fifteen Islamic queens, this remarkable exploration tells how they ascended the throne, how they governed and exercised their power, and how their forgotten reigns influence the ways in which politics is practiced in Islam today.

The Forgotten Queens of Islam

Fatima Mernissi teaches sociology at Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco. She is the author of numerous books, including Beyond the Veil: Male-Female Dynamics in Modern Muslim Society (1987).

The Forgotten Queens of Islam

Mernissi’s breathtaking investigation challenges both contemporary fundamentalist Islamic opposition to women in the public sphere and one-dimensional Western representations of Muslim women as completely lacking in agency. . . essential not only for those interested in the history of Islam, but also for all those committed to contextualizing women’s history and to multiculturalizing feminist discourse.

Ella Shohat, co-author (with Robert Stam) of Unthinking Eurocentricism

A provocative and challenging re-reading of the received conventions, beliefs, and practices of Islam.

Barbara Harlow, University of Texas at Austin

A brilliant achievement of feminist historical archaeology. . . . With wit and apparent ease, Mernissi leads us through the intricacies of the language, history, and culture of Islam, right up to the tensions between Islamic tradition and modern democracy in contemporary Islamic states.

Susanne Kappeler

If the battle for the soul of Islam ends up being won by the moderates, the victory will in no small measure have been secured by women. The noted Moroccan scholar Fatima Mernissi has been challenging the fundamentalist version of Islam for decades.

First Things

The name repeated over and over again, like a mantra, as the bearer of the solution to the misogynist pickle of women and Islam is Fatima Mernissi. The author of five books on Islam admired for their original and scrupulous research, Mernissi is regarded by many as the pre-eminent Koranic scholar of our time. Elections brought Benazir Bhutto back to power after first becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan in the election of 1988. Those who claimed to speak for Islam alleged that no woman had ever governed a Muslim state between 622 and 1988, and Benazir Bhutto could not aspire to do so either. In the Forgotten Queens of Islam, author Fatima Mernissi shows that these defenders of Islamic tradition were wrong. She documents the lives and reigns of 16 women who ruled throughout the Islamic world from 1000 A.D. to 1800 as governors, sultans, and queens. Born in 1941 in Fez, Morocco, Mernissi is regarded as one of the pre-eminent Koranic scholars of our time. In her inspiring book, she gives a glimpse of how one might escape a narrow dogma of a political creed and rise on wings ‘to the overwhelming majesty of Heaven,' to 'the immensity of divine eternity.’

Vanity Fair

The Forgotten Queens of Islam, by Fatima Mernissi, is a significant historical work for Moslems and for non-Moslems. When Benizar Bhutto gained power, she was lauded by many as the first female Moslem ruler. Mernissi, however, has rediscovered numerous Moslem queens and emphasizes the 15 she identifies as the most important. She pursues lost histories that prove a tradition of woman rulers, as opposed to the modern concept of totally subjugated Moslem woman. She examines the means (i.e., linguistic traditions) that have hidden these women from common memory. Although written for readers living in the traditions and/or spirituality of Islam, this book is also accessible to the non-Moslem. It challenges assumptions and opens a new understanding about Islam. Mernissi's writing is intellectually relevant both to her own people and to others because of her thorough explanations and fascinating stories about each queen. An unusual piece of detective work, Forgotten Queens proudly expands the base of authority rather than opposing it. It is reasoned, informative, respectful, and groundbreaking.

Belles Lettres

In The Forgotten Queens of Islam, a short and very readable volume, Fatima Mernissi, perhaps the best known writer on woman and Islam, establishes a historical foundation for women's political independence. A very clear and useful discussion, providing a concise but thoroughly accessible hermeneutics of Arabic and Koranic terminology. The material presented is clear and interesting, and it should enlighten [those] who are inclined to make broad and unqualified generalizations about the role of women in Islamic political history. A valuable introduction to Mernissi's perspective.

Journal of World History