Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Tunisia: Female Sufi saint targeted by Salafis
Tunis: Woman, revered and Sufi: the combination was too much to steer clear of the fundamentalist fury animating Tunisian Salafis, who every day that goes by add yet another piece to the mosaic of intolerance directed at other Islamic currents they find unacceptable.
Their latest target is Saida Manoubia, who lived 1180-1257 and was considered a Tunisian saint - almost the only one with the honour of having two zaouias, sanctuaries which celebrate her as a scholar of Sufi Islam.
Above all, though, she was a woman in the twelve century able to break down stereotypes confining the female world exclusively to the domestic hearth (home and children).
For the rites celebrated on Sunday, especially by the women officiating over them in the Manouba sanctuary, Tunisian Salafis handed out flyers - verging on the delirious - which the Tunisie Numerique website reports heatedly ''advised the religious against'' attending them, using the usual accusations of blasphemy which they pull out every time they shift their struggle to within the boundaries of Islam.
It may seem simply one of the many episodes of fundamentalist fury that seems to pervade Tunisian news reports amid the silence of a government the secular world considers closer to connivance than to tolerance.
However, this time the choice of target seems destined to split Tunisian Muslims, as it is not addressed at a symbol of the much-loathed Sufism, but at a woman of humble origins who eight centuries ago went against the reigning morality and made a name for herself in such a wide range of fields as science, theology and Islamic jurisprudence.
She was a woman who (something both unexpected and unaccepted) wanted to work and chose to do so outside of the poorest areas.
At age nine she was considered a child prodigy due to the things she knew and did. However, the prejudices against women of the time ended up changing this evaluation, leading to her soon being called a madwoman by her enemies.
But not by those who saw in Saida Manoubia a symbol of deliverance from a marginalised condition. Her spiritual mentor, Hassan Al Chadhili, one of the most important representatives of Sufism, even granted her permission (despite her being a woman and seen by many as a heretic) to set up a brotherhood within his order, the Chadiliyya.
It was a unique example more than a privilege. Her private life was also subjected to a hate campaign, since when she went to pray on the hills overlooking Tunis she was accompanied by someone ironically called her ''favourite''.
However, all of this did not manage to tarnish - at least so far - the esteem in which she is held. A hagiography on her has even been written by one of the imams of the Zitouna mosque, which until the advent of the secular Bourghiba was the most important in the Maghreb and ''competed'' with Al Azhar for supremacy in Sunni Islam.
A free and knowledgeable woman, she was much too easy of a target for Tunisian Salafis currently trying to turn back the clock on the condition of women in the country, protected by a law adopted immediately after the end of the French protectorate and among the most advanced in the Arab world.
[At Wikipedia France there is a biography of this Tunisian Saint born in La Manouba / منوبة (pictured).]