Saudi Arabia - Inspired by the recent announcement made by the Grand Mufti of Syria Sheikh Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun, Saudi scholars are now opening a heated debate about whether or not women can become muftis.
Some have recommended such a move, others agreed but with restrictions to issuing fatwas only for women; while some don’t approve at all.
Hassoun has said he is personally supervising a project that would make women ready to become muftis soon in Syria. Adding that tens of women of varying ages, who graduated from Islamic law school, are now enrolling in different rehabilitation courses that would help them receive women and issue fatwas for them. Women who become “muftiya” can also be members of the Iftaa Board.
This announcement was very much welcomed by Syrian women scholars and according to Huda Habsh, a Syrian scholar who spoke to an Arabic online news agency, said that this is a “positive” move. According to her, this would help women be more open to speak about their inquiries clearly and without embarrassment, and “the woman can issue fatwas in everything regarding women, marriage relationships and home related (issues).”
According to a report published by Al-Watan daily, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Munai, a member of the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars, the council should consider the .possibility of having women members in the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars. According to him the council is not devoted for men only, but women can be part of it. Al-Munai said that when it comes to Shari`ah regulations “the woman is like the man,” and thus women can share with the men the iftaa job. Another problem accompanying the iftaa issue is the voice of women, as some Islamic scholars consider women’s voice “awrah” or “immodest” to rise in the presence of unrelated men. Being a “muftiya” requires women to speak up to the public. Al-Munai does not consider the voice of women “awrah.”
“Based on this we can say that knowledge is not something restricted to man. The woman has the exact brain and thinking that the man has, therefore there was a huge group of Muslim women who were considered among the Islamic scholars in the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his followers.”
Saud Al-Nufaisan, a former dean of Islamic college at the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University, said that women scholars can teach women the Shari`ah regulations, but cannot become general muftis and cannot issue general fatwas for men, women or the country because that is considered “wilaya” or “guardianship” that women cannot hold. However, he added that women can still be preachers, muftis or teachers in women only communities and that can be under a governmental department.
Suhaylah Zain Al-Abidin, a Saudi writer and a member of the National Society for Human Rights, supports the call to have Saudi women members at the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars.
According to her, women were issuing fatwas even in the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Al-Abidin said:
“The society is not consisted of men only and problems do not rise for men only but also for women.”
Speaking to Al-Madinah daily she said:
“With all respect to all who refused the idea of woman ‘muftiya’, this is considered a reduction of women’s status and their intellectual level. The religious sciences are not for men only and the Holy Qur’an is clear on that. The women now are well qualified and thus can take the job of iftaa just like men as long as they have the knowledge.”
Sheikh Abdul Mohsin Al-Obaikan a member of Shoura Council and a consultant at the Ministry of Justice, said that women would speak openly and freely if the mufti is a woman.
“She knows the conditions of women and what they want exactly therefore a woman mufti is more suitable for women,” said Al-Obaikan, adding that he has previously called for recruiting women muftis who would take care of the women issues.