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Fatima Mernissi
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Fatima Mernissi – Sociologist, Writer, Professor

Fatima Mernissi – Sociologist, Writer, Professor

Fatima Mernissi is sometimes called the first Muslim feminist. While this might be confusing to some readers, in Mernissi’s eyes, it’s totally possible to be a feminist and a Muslim at the same time.

Born in Fez, Morocco in 1940, Fatima came of age during a time when her country was still controlled by the French government. She grew up speaking her mother language, Arabic, and French, the language of the foreign rulers. Her journey starts with stories told in family gatherings in a private courtyard in Fez and moves all the way to France, the United States, and back home to Morrocco. This is  where she held several teaching appointments as a researcher and teacher of history, culture, and religion.

A Young Fatima

Growing up in Morrocco, in a large household, Fatima remembers the warm North African country and its gorgeous art and architecture. Morrocco is famous for its colorful geometric art and rich mosaic patterns seen across buildings and homes in the country. Born into a visually rich heritage, Fatima’s words are poetic and read like beautifully illustrated pictures reflecting the visually rich culture of a Muslim community that Mernissi thinks is often misunderstood in the world today.

Living mostly in the capital city of Fez, Fatima was surrounded by a big family and their appreciation for stories, music, and theater. Gathering around in groups to share epic tales and legends on warm evenings in the shade of the courtyard, Fatima’s childhood was full of exciting and mysterious chronicles. This included stories about heroes, and monsters, and surviving against impossible odds.

Shaped by the scenery of a country she loved all her life and encouraged by both her mother and father to study and work hard, Fatima went from analyzing the Quran to studying philosophy at one of the most famous universities in Paris: the Sorbonne. When she was in Europe, Fatima was often surprised by how people viewed Muslims and Arabs and would encourage them to visit her home and see for themselves how a place can be more than just its media image.

Like many people from the Middle East region, Fatima was caught up in confusing issues that never, in her eyes, seemed to be explained properly despite her often asking. She often wondered why people thought she was oppressed or why people thought she came from a place that was bad for women. Over time, she decided to study Islamic history and world history to try and get some answers. With years of study, Fatima made major discoveries that lead her to become an accomplished writer and professor of social, culture, and history.

Professor Fatima Mernissi

Although she looks at serious topics like history and religion, Fatima’s writing is light and playful. Her words hook readers, they catch the audience’s attention. People often welcome the poetic style of her written voice and notice the way her words read like pictures creating scenes that pull readers to distant places and times.

Style is one thing, but Fatima is also known for careful research and discoveries in long-lost histories written and translated into a lot of different languages across the world. She was both criticized and praised in her own region and outside of it by people who thought her ideas were upsetting or exciting. Needless to say, Fatima was an electrifying thinker whose work impressed audiences worldwide.

Teaching in her home nation of Morocco, Fatima also held teaching appointments in Europe and the United States and is warmly remembered by her colleagues, “She had a great capacity for befriending others, and a gentle and humorous way of entering into deeply serious discussions that always helped us get deeper into what we were trying to understand.” George Ross, a retired professor from Brandeis University and Fatima’s former teacher remembers her as a great person to work with and a friend to remember. An inspiring teacher, writer, and feminist, Fatima Merissa is a role model for girls everywhere.

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