Words of Wonder by Fatema Mernissi
Happiness, she would explain, was when a person felt
good, light, creative, content, loving and loved, and free.
An unhappy person felt as if there were barriers crushing
her desires and the talents she had inside.
A happy woman was one who could exercise all kinds of rights,
from the right to move to the right to create, compete, and challenge,
and at the same time could be loved for doing so.
Part of happiness was to be loved by a man
who enjoyed your strength and was proud of your talents.
Happiness was also about the right to privacy, the right to retreat
from the company of others and plunge into contemplative solitude.
Or sit by yourself doing nothing for a whole day,
and not give excuses or feel guilty about it either.
Happiness was to be with loved ones,
and yet still feel that you existed as a separate being,
that you were not just there to make them happy.
Happiness was when there was a balance
between what you gave and what you took.
Fatema Mernissia is a Moroccan sociologist and one of the founders of Islamic feminism. Her work includes sexual politics of Islamic Scripture and a book based on her childhood in a domestic harem. This excerpt is from Dreams Of Trespass: Tales Of A Harem Girlhood. Mernissi weaves her own memories with the dreams and memories of the women who surrounded her in the courtyard of her youth — women who, deprived of access to the world outside, recreated it from sheer imagination.