Literary Reflections

Discussion points for Dreams of Trespass

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Leila Golestenah Austin  suggested questions and topics to encourage and guide group discussion.


Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood

Hudud, or the “sacred frontier,” is defined by Fatima Mernissi’s father as necessary because “harmony exists when each group respects the prescribed limit of the other; trespassing leads only to sorrow and unhappiness.”  Given this dictum, why do some women in the book dream of trespassing this frontier?

How does Mernissi define a domestic harem, as opposed to an imperial one? What are the possible political and social dimensions of secluding women in domestic harems?

What are the underlying meanings of the different stories offered by women in Dreams of Tresspass to explain the origins of harems?

What are some of the differences in the lifestyles in the harem of Mernissi’s rural family and the one she lives in Fez? Why do these differences exist?  

At one point in the book, the young Mernissi learns that Jews in Germany have to wear a yellow star to distinguish them from other Germans.  Describe the observations she makes in drawing a parallel between the yellow star and her own situation as a woman in Morocco?
A heroine from The Arabian Nights, Princess Burdur, inspires women to “turn the world upside down” when their situation is hopeless.  How does the story of this character relate to Mernissi’s life, and how does it    inspire her?

How does Mernissi illustrate the importance of women’s solidarity? How does she relate this ideal to tradition?

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"Muslim Journeys | Item #286: Discussion points for Dreams of Trespass", May 21, 2024