On Friday 7 May, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (the world’s leading Islamic Sunni authority) Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, released a statement on his official Facebook page stressing women’s equality in various areas, including in employment, inheritance and more.
In his statement, El-Tayeb said that Islam allows women more rights and independence in various fields, such as employment.
“Women are allowed to hold important positions in general including in the judiciary field and Iftaa,” stated El-Tayeb. Iftaa is defined as the eligibility to issue a religious opinion regarding various topics from an Islamic perspective.
He added that women are allowed to travel without “mahrem” (any person whose relationship is tied with a) blood ties b) breastfeeding relations c) marriage). Many Muslim women in the Middle East often encounter challenges when attempting to travel independently, particularly in Saudi Arabia.
Among the other issues the Grad Imam touched upon is divorce, where he stated that arbitrary divorce by men is “haram” and not allowed in Islam without a reasonable reason.
El-Tayeb denied the validity and existence of “Beit El-Ta’a” in Islam which stipulates that in case of separation between spouses, men have the legal right to summon their wives to their house and stay for 45 days in an attempt to solve their disputes. Activists say this idea results in many women in abusive marriages and not being able to leave their abusive spouses since “Beit El-Ta’a” is legally binding. Under Beit El-Ta’a, if a woman refuses to stay with the man for the 45 days, she is legally deprived of alimony.
In regards to marriage, El-Tayeb said that the guardians of women in the family, who are mostly men, are not allowed to reject a woman’s wishes to marry a man who proposed to her without a valid justification.
Lastly, according to El-Tayeb, a woman is allowed to determine her share in her spouse’s fortune if she had a significant contribution to gaining it. El-Tayeb clarifies that examples of cases that shows her contribution would be: “lending him money, working with him abroad, and soon thereafter, it [the wealth] prospered under the name of the husband in form of cash money and\or real estate units,” asserted El-Tayeb, “Therefore, a woman is entitled to determine her share of her husband’s wealth while he is alive or after his death, and this case is not subject to Islam’s inheritance law.”
El-Tayeb said that the religious rationale behind this renewed statement regarding inheritance is that it would be considered as a “debt” on the husband if his wife did not have an equal share of what she had contributed with to accumulate wealth.
The status of women in the Egyptian Personal Law, which is the law regulating all matters regarding family, marriage, inheritance, and divorce, remains a significant challenge for women since the main source of law in Egypt is derived from Shari’a Law. Among the struggles women in Egypt often encounter are domestic violence, lack of equal working rights, and general societal inequality.