Al-Azhar criticizes Tunisian call for inheritance equality

Between women and men, 'against Islamic teachings'

16 August, 13:18

    Tunisian women demostrate on Women's day Tunisian women demostrate on Women's day

     TUNIS - Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi's proposal for reform to enable gender equality in inheritance rights and the possibility of marriage between Tunisian women and non-Muslim men has sparked polemics. The office of the official mufti of Tunisia backed the president's proposal but criticism has been seen from other parts of the Muslim world.

    Criticizing inheritance laws is seen as taboo in many Muslim countries.

    Sharia law generally gives women half of what it gives men in inheritance, while making men financially responsible for women. However, the exact circumstances and the degree of kinship also play a role. The strongest criticism has been seen from the Egyptian religious authority Al-Azhar in Cairo, one of the highest religious authorities in Sunni Islam. Abbas Shuman, deputy of Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyib, has said that ''these proposals are against divine law, Islamic precepts and the teachings of the Prophet''.

    ''What is happening in Tunisia at the moment is against Quranic texts, where the issue of inheritance is clear.

    Transgressing these texts is an offence to Islam and we will not accept this,'' he wrote in a statement. 

    Tunisian commission working on inheritance law reform. 

    The Tunisian Commission of Individual Freedoms and Gender Equality is working to draw up a detailed report and facilitate the application of reforms, including one concerning inheritance rights and the possibility for Tunisian women to marry non-Muslim foreigners. The reform was announced by President Béji Caid Essebsi as part of the recent national Women's Day. The commission is chaired by Bochra Belhaj Hmida.

    Essebsi said on August 13 that ''we will find a way to reconcile religion and constitutional principles. The inheritance is an issue for humans. God and His prophet left humans to manage these issues.'' His words immediately raised a great deal of criticism among the most intransigent followers of Islam and praise from the most progressive sections of the political world and civil society.

    Criticizing inheritance laws is seen as taboo in many Muslim countries. Sharia law generally gives women half of what it gives men in inheritance, while making men financially responsible for women. However, the exact circumstances and the degree of kinship also play a role.

    In 1974, the president at the time - Bourghiba - tried to bring in similar change through legislation supporting gender equality but was forced to give up after trying to introduce a mechanism within the budget law that would provide tax breaks to those who provided for equality in their wills between their sons and their daughters. His proposal raised such an outcry in parliament that he was forced to withdraw it.

    Women's rights associations continued to draw up studies and conduct research until the rejection last year in a parliamentary commission of a proposal for reform of inheritance law that would be more favorable to women. The reason for the rejection was its ''non-compliance with Islamic law''.

    Aware of the reach of his proposals - which include the abolition of a 1973 regulation that prohibits marriage between a Tunisian woman and a non-Muslim foreigner - and probable reactions to it, Essebsi said in his speech to the nation that he trusted in the intelligence of Tunisians.

    A few weeks ago Tunisia made a further step forward in legislation in favor of gender equality in the form of a law against violence against women that enables the rapist of an underage girl to avoid prison time by marrying the girl.

     

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