Last week, AWR discussed the controversial announcement of Dr. Zaynab Radwān, the deputy speaker of the Egyptian People’s Assembly who had declared that “the testimony of a woman is legally equal in weight with a man’s testimony.” and that a non Muslim wife of a Muslim husband has the right to inherit from him. [See AWR, 2008, week 12, article 43].
The Egyptian press shed more light on the issue, drawing on the viewpoints of different Muslim scholars and shaykhs.
Under the headline ’al-Liwā’ al-Islāmī faces the new lay attack,’ al-Liwā’ al-Islāmī of January 21, 2008 considered an amendment to the inheritance law to be “a call to destroy the Islamic society.”
Shaykh Farhāt Sa‘īd al-Munajjī declared that God determined how to deal with inheritance in three main verses in sūrah al-Nisā’, adding that all new suggestions to change this Divine law are imported from outside Egypt and that “we should not let ourselves be swayed by every unusual thought coming from people who are far removed from justice and equity.”
Shaykh al-Munajjī further stated that inheritance is something ruled by God, and that there is no scope for anyone to intervene. He added that Muslim women have a special status in Muslim societies and that they have the same rights and duties as men. He added that the different standards in inheritance are not due to gender but to a “Divine Wisdom” which is incomprehensible for “those laymen; enemies of God who turn the issue into disparaging women in Islam.”
Shaykh al-Munajjī stated that inheritance in Islam is ruled by three main measures; the degree of relativity between the female inheritor and the person who has died; for the closer she is, the bigger her share will be. Age is another measure; the daughter of the person who has died inherits more than his mother and father. The third measure is the financial burden; men have bigger financial responsibilities than women. Shaykh al-Munajjī added that there are thirty cases where a woman’s share in an inheritance is bigger that a man’s or where a woman can inherit and a man cannot. This is in addition to the four cases when a woman inherits only half the man’s share. [No specific cases were mentioned.].
Councilor Hasan Hasan Mansūr, the head of the appeal court stated that the demand of the Arab Union for NGOs to equate between man and woman in inheritance issues is null and that the inheritance law is explicitly and clearly determined in the Qur’ān and the sunnah.
Dr. Salāh al-Dīn Sultān, lecturer of Sharī‘ah at the Cairo University delivered a barrage of criticism against the claims that Islam does not give equal status to men and women.
In a similar reaction, Islamic thinker, Dr. ‘Abd al-Sabūr Shāhīn, considers NGOs demand to be a corrupt aggression against God. He further considered NGOs in Egypt to be agents of the West in the Islamic world, that according to Dr. Shāhīn will never be reformed “without the Islamic Sharī‘ah.”
Nafīsah ‘Abd al-Fattāh of al-Usbū‘ of March 23, 2008 headlined her article on the issue: ’the church adheres to the Bible in divorce cases and Muslims waste the Sharī‘ah in the name of citizenship.’ ‘Abd al-Fattāh rejected both Dr. Radwān’s and the NGOs demand to equate between men and women in inheritance issues and to give the non Muslim wife of a Muslim husband the right to inherit, contrary to Sharī‘ah provisions.
She argues that Islam prohibited inheritance between different religions to avoid enmities and hatred.
Ākhir Sā‘ah of March 26, 2008 published Dr. Mahmūd Hamdī Zaqzūq’s approval of Dr. Radwān’s argument. and also highlighted Dr. Ahmad ‘Abd al-Rahīm’s approval. Dr. ‘Abd al-Rahīm is the former dean of the faculty of fundamentals of Islam at the Azhar University and a lecturer of doctrine and philosophy.
He stated that wise people will consider Dr. Radwān’s argument, adding that Islam gave women who belong to the other heavenly religions all of her due rights. The issue of the non Muslim wife receiving a Muslim man’s inheritance has been problematic adding that some scholars approved it and others did not.
Dr. al-Sāyih further stated that Dr. Radwān’s argument is a kind of Ijtihād that must be appreciated because it helps to bring people closer together. He also highlighted the importance of the role of women.
In addition, he stated that a woman’s testimony in Islam is equal to that of a man’s. However, he added that the inequality between man and woman in this issue is not a fundamental part of Islam, but is an inherited influence from other non Islamic influences that asserted the inferiority of women. Consequently, he considered Dr. Radwān’s argument to be wise and something that could help to develop Islamic society.
Dr. al-Sāyih elaborated that Muslims need to purify their religion from all the added elements that were never part of Islam. He also warned of the danger of depending on unauthentic sources in interpreting the Qur’ān and of using uncertain hadīths to issue fatwás on different issues.
Dr. al-Sāyih also approved of Dr. Radwān’s claims that the testimony of non Muslims should be accepted in personal status cases.
On the other hand Islamic thinker Mustafá al-Shak‘ah, member of the Academy for Islamic Research, Shaykh Mahmūd ‘Āshūr, former deputy of the Azhar and member of the Academy for Islamic Research, Dr. Muhammad al-Mukhtār al-Mahdī lecturer of Sharī‘ah and member of the Academy for Islamic Research, all rejected Dr. Radwān’s argument and argued that the Qur’ān and the sunnah give clear rules on these issues .
"Women’s Testimony, is it the problem of women’s mentality or the Egyptian mentality?” pondered Nuhād Abū al-Qumsān of Rose al-Yūsuf on March 29- April 4, 2008. She argued that considering women of less value in certain issues is not only an insult to women but to Islam in general.
She referred to the relativity in dealing with women according to the different cultures of the Islamic world. She also highlighted the paradox of having female judges in Egypt while a woman’s testimony in a court counts as half of a man’s testimony.
She pointed out leading female figures in the world that refute the argument that the “affective nature of women” affects the reliability of their testimonies. She called on those who pretend to defending women by saving them from mixing with criminals and vandals in courts, to defend women against social injustice. She also highlighted the important role that women play in the social sphere.
According to Abū Qumsān, the real problem is that Egypt has been manipulated by the “investors of religion in the oil stock markets during the 1970s and the satellite channel market in the 1990s.” She added that the real problem lies in confusing between fiqh and faqīhs and making religion a business, something that could create even darker ages than those of the Middle Ages in Europe.
Abū Qumsān considers Dr. Radwān’s argument to be a natural development of the constitutional amendments and citizenship rights. She added that discrimination between men and women in testimonials started in 1920 as a result of political circumstances related to the king, then it was claimed that it was part of the Sharī‘ah.
Under the headline: ’Controversy about the Christian’s testimony in Muslims personal status issues,’ Watanī of March 30, covered the issue from different angles. It is noteworthy that Christians are not allowed to be witnesses in Muslim personal status cases.
Bahay al-Dīn Hasan, chairman of the Cairo Center for Human Rights stated that discrimination in these cases takes place because the state does not respect the equality of all citizens before the law and its clear alienation performed in some cases at judicial institutions.