Mufti not against women presidents after all?

I got hold of a press release from Dar al-Iftaa saying that the Mufti was not in fact against women being president. The fatwa in fact referred only to barring women from being caliphs -- which is hardly relevant to modern politics. Or at least, if the Caliphate is ever restored, whether women can hold the position will be the least of our concerns. The fatwa obviously plays on the distinction between Sultans and Caliphs -- on a related note, I highly recommend Fatima Mernissi's The Forgotten Queens of Islam (in the original French Sultanes oubliées) on the history of Muslim sultanas.

Since we were fairly negative about the earlier reports of the Mufti's fatwa, I'm reproducing the statement for Dar al-Iftaa below, after the jump.

[Thanks, Paul]
Update: Apparently the Mufti considers the Organization of the Islamic Conference to be the contemporary equivalent of the Caliphate, as opposed to the Salafi/MB "imperial" vision of a modern Caliphate. It's an interesting argument, within the confines of Islamic (ist?) discourse.


Egypt’s Grand Mufti: Women are Permitted to Lead Modern Nations “Women have equal political rights in Islam.”

In a landmark religious decision, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Dr. Ali Gomaa, has upheld a fatwa (religious opinion) he issued a year ago stating that, according to Islamic law, women have the right to become heads of state and lead nations. This ruling is supported by the legal reasoning of Imam al-Tabari which allows women to serve in political positions as well as judges.

The Grand Mufti, who is the highest ranking Islamic jurist in Egypt and one of the Muslim world’s most influential scholars, reiterated his position in response to reports published in the Egyptian and international press falsely claiming he issued a fatwa barring women from becoming heads of modern states. According to sources at Dar Al Ifta, Egypt’s supreme council responsible for issuing authoritative religious opinion, which is led by the Grand Mufti, the fatwa cited in the news reports referred to the historical role of the Caliph, a position that has not existed since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the dissolution of the Caliphate in 1924.

Historically, traditional jurists ruled that a woman cannot fulfill the role of Caliph, but it is clear from the legal reasoning of the fatwa in question (Dar al-Ifta Fatwa # 4335, 2/26/2006) that this ruling does not refer to the head of a modern state. The fatwa states that a woman cannot be a Caliph since one of the roles of that office is to lead the believers in prayer, which is a function fulfilled by men, according to the agreed upon position in traditional Islamic jurisprudence.

“This ruling does not refer to the head of a modern state,” Gomaa said, “but to the traditional role of Caliph as both secular head of state and Imam of the Muslims. Nation-states in the 21st century Islamic world are nationalist entities created during the 20th century. The head of state in a contemporary Muslim society, be he a president, prime minister or king, is no longer required or expected to lead Muslims in prayer. Therefore, it is permissible for women to hold the highest office in modern Muslim nations.”

The Grand Mufti added that he has been on record with this opinion for many years and admonished reporters for not checking their facts more thoroughly. “This is the position that I have always held,” he said, “which has been clearly stated in books I have written and lectures I have delivered. I would advise the press to be more responsible in researching their subjects thoroughly before publishing misleading stories, especially in these turbulent times.”

The Grand Mufti acknowledged that other religious scholars could issue opinions contrary to his Fatwa but made it clear that they these rulings would have to be based upon the ancient and traditional understanding of the political leader as the religious head of the Caliphate, not the leader of a modern political state.

“In my view, Islam extends equal political and social rights to both men and women. This is my opinion and belief, which is based upon thirty years of intensive study of Islamic law and research into the issue,” Gomaa said.

About Dar al-Ifta A fatwa is an official non-binding Islamic legal opinion issued by a qualified scholar in response to a question posed by a member of the public. The institution of Dar al-Ifta was established in 1895 with the purpose of issuing authoritative, accurate, and practical legal opinions. It is considered one of the few institutions authorized to issue fatwas in the Islamic world, and it issues over 5,000 fatwas a month in response to the questions it receives from all over the world by all forms of communication.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.