Muslim scholars in Tunisia have blasted a “gender-equality” initiative proposed by President Beji Caid Essebsi, saying that proposed legal changes included in the initiative -- especially those pertaining to inheritance -- contravene Islamic Law.
“The issue of inheritance is clearly laid out in the Quran, particularly in Surah Al-Nisaa [Chapter 6, ‘Women’], in a way that doesn’t require effort to understand, as the text doesn’t allow for more than one interpretation,” Noureddine al-Khadmi, a former minister of religious affairs, said.
Al-Khadmi was speaking at a Thursday press conference organized by two Islamic-oriented NGOs at Tunisia’s Zaytuna University, where 23 imams and Muslim scholars issued a statement against the initiative, which was unveiled on Sunday to mark the occasion of Tunisia’s National Women's Day.
Along with changing traditional rules governing the touchy issue of inheritance, the initiative, if adopted, would also legalize marriages between Tunisian Muslim women and non-Muslim men.
Signatories of Thursday’s petition included Al-Zaytouna Mosque Imam Omar al-Yahyawi and former Supreme Islamic Council President Abdullah al-Waseef.
At the press conference, al-Khadimi stressed Tunisia's status as a “national civil state that takes Islam as its main frame of reference”.
Muslim scholars in other countries have also criticized Essebsi’s gender-equality initiative.
“These proposals contravene divine law, Islamic precepts and the teachings of the Prophet [Muhammad],” said Abbas Shuman, a senior official at Cairo’s Al-Azhar, considered one of the highest seats of learning in the Sunni-Muslim world.
“What’s happening in Tunisia now is in obvious contravention of Quranic texts, in which the issue of inheritance is clearly laid out,” Shuman said in a statement. “Transgression of these texts is an offence to Islam and will not be accepted.”
Others, however, have voiced support for the initiative, including Tunisia’s state-run Dar al-Iftaa -- responsible for issuing religious edicts -- and foreign NGOs devoted to promoting feminism, which describe it as a “step in the right direction”.
Islamic law lays down clear rules for inheritance, which some critics say unfairly favors men over women. It also clearly prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men.