Women in the Arab and Islamic worlds are subject to systematic exclusion from advisory that is exclusive to men. This exclusion reflects the male mindset that considers female voices and bodies Awrah in order to keep women away from public affairs, including issuing Fatwas and explaining religion matters to both men and women.
This image of women was intensified since the age of decadence in the 4th century AH, and got worse with the emergence of Wahhabism and political Islam whose ideologies dominated even the religious policies of the ruling regimes. This led to a cultural and intellectual defection in the heart of Egypt, which was the cradle of the Arab enlightenment movement with Qasim Amin, Muhammad Abduh, Ali Abdel Raziq, Huda Shaarawi, and others. Women’s achievements were supposed to be enhanced and expanded to include advisory, judiciary and public authority inside and outside Egypt; and the attitude of belittling and objectifying women was supposed to disappear. Unfortunately, reality indicates otherwise.
Egypt is going through a real defection that has struck feminine achievements so hard that it has become impossible to tackle women’s right to fill judiciary and advisory positions without raising a massive uproar among scholars and religious organizations. When Dr. Souad Saleh – former Dean of the faculty of Islamic and Arabic Studies at al-Azhar University – announced in 2008 that it was permissible for women to give religious lectures in mosques for men, she was opposed by male and female scholars alike, such as Dr. Mohja Ghalib, professor of hadith in the Faculty of Islamic Studies, and Dr. Rajaa Hazin, Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies. It should be noted that Dr. Souad Saleh cited the first era of Islam, when women taught people and explained religious matters to them, just like men did. In an interview with the Islam Online website, Dr Saleh said: “Since the era of the Prophet, peace be upon him, women and men shared mosques to listen to sermons, pray and learn religion matters. The Prophet used to encourage his wives to speak with men and women alike, and issue Fatwas for both genders, especially Aisha who was a reference for senior companions.”
Dr. Saleh does not think that Islam forbids women from holding jurisprudence positions; she actually believes that "according to Islam, women and men are equal in terms of religious qualifications and social participation, and advisory is one of the fields where equality is achieved. Theologians agreed that masculinity is not required for advisory. Therefore, both women and men are entitled to issue Fatwas provided that they satisfy the required conditions, such as Islam, justice, religious knowledge, and stemming rulings from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Allah says: “the believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong”. On this religious basis, women earned the title of Sheikhs and issued religious edicts throughout Islamic history; examples of these women are:
- Khadija Bint Imam Sahnoun who was qualified by Imam al-Qadi Iyad as being “sagacious, knowledgeable and pious. Women would ask for her opinion in religious matters and follow her model when dealing with difficult issues”.
- Fatima bint Al-Mundhir: Men were keen to attend her lessons, and scholars were proud to say that she taught them hadith.
- Fatima bint Abbas Abi Al-Fath who was described by Ibn Kathir as one of the most respected female theologians who enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, and who does what men can’t do.
In Morocco, the King Mohammed VI issued a resolution to appoint women as members of the Supreme Scientific Council, the Fatwa Committee, and regional councils. He also ordered to train female preachers to teach religious subjects to women inside mosques, and allowed women to participate in giving Ramadan’s religious lessons in the presence of the King and his guests including scholars, ambassadors and statesmen. This resolution restored respect towards women’s status and their religious and theological credibility. A female theologian is closer to women, knows their problems better than anyone else, and can provide advisory that satisfies their aspirations for justice, equality, dignity and fairness, and that frees them from oppression and exploitation. This requires promoting women’s jurisprudence and lifting the ban on their interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah from a feminist perspective.
Barriers that have prevented women from issuing Fatwas stem from… more
Only qualified people should be able to have a say… more
There is no disagreement among scholars on allowing women to… more
Male Muslim scholars have monopolized the task of issuing religious… more