The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Al Qaradawi, Tantawi and the Mufti on Women

Al Misry Al Yom reported last Sunday that the Sheikh of Al Azhar, Muhammad Sayid Tantawi, issued a fatwa declaring that a woman could be president of Egypt, but could not become a sheikh at Al Azhar. According to the article the fatwa was a response to Nawal Al Saadawi's announcement that she would be a candidate for the 2005 presidential elections in Egypt:

Tantawi told Al Masry Al Yom following the announcement that Dr. Nawal Al Saadawi had declared her candidacy in the upcoming presidential elections: It is the right of a woman to become president of any state in the world, as long as that is compatible with her special nature, because the Islamic Sharia does not deny the woman the right to hold any specific positions or employment. It only stipulates that the work must be appropriate to her nature.

The following day, last Monday, Al Masry Al Yom reported that Ali Gomaa, the Mufti of Egypt, and Yussuf Al Qaradawi had rejected Tantawi's fatwa. Here is a translation of their response as reported by Al Masry Al Yom:

Gomaa said: Reality reflects the ability of the man to be president of the state effectively, and to make difficult decisions.

Qaradawi said: It is not acceptable for a woman to be president of the state at all, because her nature does not allow her to carry out the tasks of the presidency, or to adminster the affairs of the country, or to oversee the needs of the people. A woman's emotions overcome her mind, and this is why her testimony in Islam is only half that of a man's testimony, as evident in the saying of the prophet: "If there are not two men available, then bring one man and two women."

Qaradawi added: The pain and the physical tiring that a woman suffers from during her monthly period prevent her from carrying out her duties and following the affairs of her subjects.

To stress his opinion rejecting Tantawi's fatwa Qaradawi cited the prophet as saying: "A people will not succeed if their leader is a woman."

Gomaa and Qaradawi agreed on rejecting the candidacy of Dr. Nawal Al Saadawi, and indicated that if it was okay for a woman to be presdient, it wouldn't be Nawal Saadawi.

Defending these people as moderates is a disservice to Islam. When people who have no exposure to Islam except what they read in the Western media see people like Qaradawi repeatedly deemed a moderate, they conclude that the backward ideas mentioned above are really what Islam is about. Of course Qaradawi does not deserve to be in the same category as a Zarqawi or a Zawahiri, but I cannot bring myself to consider him a moderate.

I also want to respond to Tantawi's fatwa. He said that it is acceptable for a woman to be the president, but not a sheikh at Al Azhar. In other words, a woman can be the political leader of Muslims, but cannot be their spiritual leader. But from it's earliest days Islam endowed its political leader with spiritual authority. The political leader and the spiritual leader were one and the same. The early caliphs had both temporal authority and spiritual authority.