Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

No to equality

Al-Azhar has rejected the Tunisian president’s call for legal equality between women and men when it comes to inheritance, reports Reem Leila


No to equality
No to equality

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb issued a statement on 21 August rejecting calls made by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi to change Islamic Sharia regulations including equalising men and women in inheritance and allowing a Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man.

In his statement, Al-Tayeb said Al-Azhar firmly rejects any intervention in the policy or regulations that would affect or change beliefs of Muslims or the rulings of Sharia or any tampering with them. According to the grand imam, some texts that are clear and direct in their meaning cannot be subject to re-interpretation, such as verses of the Quran relating to inheritance.

“There is no room for re-interpretation. It is not accepted by the public or non-specialists, whatever their culture,” he said. Islamic regulations cannot be changed, and calls for such an idea “provoke Muslims all over the world who adhere to their religion. It also risks the stability of Muslim societies,” he argued.

“It must be known to everyone that jurisprudential law is sacred and there is no space for anyone to re-interpret it, especially Quranic verses,” added Al-Tayeb in his statement.

Sheikh Abbas Shuman, deputy head of Al-Azhar, said equality in inheritance is “unjust for women and not in keeping with Islamic Sharia”.

He said that “the call for equality in inheritance between genders is unfair because, according to Islamic Sharia, women can already inherit more than men in some instances.” There are some instances when females might inherit more than other male relatives who are part of her extended family, he added.

Shuman condemned President Essebsi’s call to amend Tunisian law to allow for marriage between a non-Muslim man and a Muslim woman.

“Such a marriage would impede marriage stability,” Shuman said, arguing that a non-Muslim husband would not allow his Muslim wife to practise her beliefs since he is not a believer in her religion.

Shuman raised another point: the religion of their offspring which will cause big problems between spouses which might lead to the failure of their marriage. “Islam is against instability in marriage,” added Shuman.

According to Islamic Sharia, inheritance for males is double that of females in most instances. Exceptions include the mother and father of a deceased person both receiving one-sixth of the deceased’s possessions.

Al-Azhar’s statement also gave an example of a mother who would receive a bigger share of her deceased daughter’s legacy, with the mother receiving one-third and the brother inheriting one-sixth.

At the same time, 24 Muslim scholars in Tunisia released a joint statement on 17 August demanding President Essebsi to drop both his call for legal equality between women and men in inheritance rights, and amending a decree to allow Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men.

The group stated in their statement that the call is “a clear challenge to the constants of Islam, as well as the constitution, which states that Islam is the official state religion of Tunisia.”

The statement also condemned what it described as the “deliberated marginalisation of religious institutions” and pointed to the rejection of scholars towards the initiative.

Zitouna University in Tunis, reputed to be the oldest Islamic teaching institution, has not issued a response opposing the initiative, nor has Zitouna Mosque.

On 13 August President Essebsi called for the 1973 decree to be amended to allow Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men. At present such marriages are only permitted if the man converts to Islam. He also announced the formation of a committee to study the issue of equality with regards to inheritance.

Essebsi pledged to find a system that conforms with public opinion. He cited Turkey’s recognition of equality between men and women since Mustafa Kamal Ataturk’s era. He also stressed that Islam does not clash with democracy and development. “In Tunisia, democracy goes hand in hand with respect for Islam,” he said.

A number of coalitions and civil society organisations said they support Essebsi’s initiative to amend the law.

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