Book Review: Scheherazade Goes West: Different Cultures, Different Harems

You know I love Fatema Mernissi’s work and her impressive fight for the Moroccan woman <3 This is one of her books/studies that I found in my quest to acquire all of her work.


Fatema Mernissi, the world-renowned Islamic feminist, has shed unprecedented light on the lives of women in the Middle East.

Now, in Scheherazade Goes West, Mernissi reveals her unique experiences as a liberated, independent Moroccan woman faced with the peculiarities and unexpected encroachments of Western culture. Her often surprising discoveries about the conditions of and attitudes toward women around the world — and the exquisitely embroidered amalgam of clear-eyed autobiography and dazzling meta-fiction by which she relates those assorted discoveries — add up to a deliciously wry, engagingly cosmopolitan, and deeply penetrating narrative.

My opinion

Oh my god what a fucking good book!

I was engrossed from the first page and the more I read, the more questions and feelings kept on creeping up on me. The subject is the harem, as she covered in Dreams of trespass, yet she chose here to study how the vision of Harems evolved through time and from the east to the west. An inspiring subject right?!!!

Lady Mernissi, yes that is how I am choosing to refer to her, started this book by taking a deep dive into the history of the word Harem and the stories of women in golden cages. She questioned this fascination that the world has with the harems and the definition of this word. Where it came from? How was it’s meaning and definition changed from it’s original purpose? How travels and interpretations impacted this word?…

The definition of harems through the western art in comparison to the true origins is quite an interesting read. This book narrates the timeline with various work of arts that showed how we went from a Harem where only elite women(even the enslaved women) in mathematics or poetry or archery… were allowed to a simplistic European vision of a Harem where women are portrayed nude and sexual slaves to men greed and envy and urges. What a disappointment 🙂

Image result for harem arab poetry

She focused on the story of Scheherazade and discussed how her representation changed from a culture narrating it to another. The power of storytelling changed Scheherazade from a mastermind strategist to a simple woman recalling stories from another era. As everyone seems to forget the real story of 1001 nights and Scheherazade. I love how Fatema Mernissi compared the westernized view of this story with the ballets, paintings, movies… that portray a weak woman retelling a story every night to save herself. While in the eastern world, she is celebrated as a savior of women unjustly killed by Shahryar’s ego and drunken power. She was able to use stories to control his mind and made him question his actions and showed him his mortality by narrating stories of deceived princes/kings/rulers/pirates…

Woman freedom of thoughts and freedom of live has always been a predominant subjects in her work from what I see. It’s interesting to see that the woman in her family lived many different lives yet all agreed on encouraging her to travel the world to see how women live and to discover this freedom of mind and thinking. The side story of this book is also her journey worldwide to discover the relationship that different cultures have with Harems, yet she kept talking to her male Moroccan friend/Colleague with a different mindset that the men she met in this path.

What I also love is the comparisons that Mernissi made of different Islamic cultures and their relation to the woman. She listed a number of famous female rulers and woman who made a strong impact on many islamic empires. That is why I bought her book « Forgotten Queens of Islam » 😀

Scheherazade goes west is a must read for men and women. Either they are Moroccan, Muslim, Christian… as it sparks the conversation around the complex relationship between Men and Women and this omnipresent need of men to rule over any women they meet in their path.