The Forgotten Queens of Islam
The Forgotten Queens of Islam

When Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988, there were some who claimed that is was a blasphemous assault on Islamic tradition, since no Muslim state, they alleged, had ever been governed by a woman. 

In this extraordinary book, now available in paperback, Fatima Mernissi shows that those self-proclaimed defenders of Islamic tradition were not only misguided but wrong. She looks back through fifteen centuries of Islam and uncovers a hidden history of women who have held the reins of power, but whose lives and stories, achievements and failures, have largely been forgotten. 

Who were the Queens of Islam? How did they accede to the throne and how did their rule come to an end? What kinds of states did they govern and how did they exercise their power? Pursuing these and other questions, Mernissi recounts the stories of fifteen queens, including Sultana Radiyya who reigned in Delhi from 1250 until her violent death at the hand of a peasant; the Island Queens who ruled in the Maldives and Indonesia; and the Arab Queens of Egypt and of the Shi'ite Dynasty of Yemen. It was the Yemenis who bestowed upon queens a title that was theirs alone – balgis al-sughra, or 'Young Queen of Sheeba'. 

Mernissi concludes this absorbing historical inquiry by reflecting on its implications for the ways in which politics is practised in the Islamic world today, a world in which women while generally more educated than their predecessors, are largely excluded from the political domain.

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More Info
  • September 1994
  • 240 pages
  • 155 x 229 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Paperback $32.50
  • 9780745614199
Table of Contents
Introduction: Was Benazir Bhutto the First?.

Part I: Queens and Courtesans:.

1. How Does One Say Queen in Islam?.

2. The Caliph and the Queen.

3. The jawari or Revolution in the Harem.

4. Khayzuran: Courtesan or Head of State?.

Part II: Sovereignty in Islam:.

5. The Criteria of Sovereignty in Islam.

6. Fifteen Queens.

Part III: The Arab Queens:.

7. The Shi'ite Dynasty of Yemen.

8. The Little Queens of Sheba.

9. The Lady of Cairo.

Conclusion: The Medina Democracy.


About the Author
Fatima Mernissi studied political science and sociology at Mohammed V University where she is now a researcher. Her many previous books include Beyond the Veil.
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'A brilliant achievement of feminist historical archaeology! ... an outstanding work of feminist cultural history and politics.' Susanne Kappeler

'... fascinating book.' Sunday Telegraph

'The Forgotten Queens of Islam is not merely a well-researched investigation of the past, but a manifesto for the Islamic world in the 1990s. A tersely eloquent discussion of the nature of power in Islam.' New Statesman & Society

'Professor Mernissi's erudition is impressive ... her analyses of the nature of political power, the confrontation between Islam and modern democracy, and the rise of fundamentalism are illuminating.' The Independent

'... a very readable broad sweep of history.' Times Literary Supplement

'The book is not only an exciting foray into a subject that begs for more research, but also an exhortation to Muslims to rediscover the democratic and egalitarian roots of their religion.' Far Eastern Economic Review

'The book is an original piece of work which, undoubtedly, constructs a challenging contribution to the official history of women in Islam. The readings generate inspiring knowledge to the debates concerning politics, gender and power.' Sociology

'It is essential reading for all who want to clarify and balance their understanding of Islamic societies through history - Muslims and non-Muslims both.' AJPH

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