Egypt’s Grand Mufti says women can lead modern Islamic nations

Al Bawaba (
4 February, 2007

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 in contemporary Islamic societies have the right to become heads of state and lead nations based upon the legal reasoning of Imam Al-Tabari allowing 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 Iftah, 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 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, whether 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.

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