Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb (Al-Ahram)
Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, said on Sunday that some Islamic rulings, including the laws of inheritance, are definitive and not up for reinterpretation – an apparent response to Tunisian efforts to eliminate gender inequality in inheritance law in their country.
Al-Tayeb, as head of the highest seat of Sunni Islamic learning, made the comments in a statement late on Sunday, thus joining the debate sparked by the Tunisian president's call for equal inheritance rights for men and women.
Last week, President Beji Caid Essebsi said that his country is seeking to establish equality in matters of inheritance, making Tunisia the first Arab Sunni nation to take such a step.
"Al-Azhar rejects categorically the intervention of any policy or regulations that affect/change the beliefs of the Muslims or the rulings of their Sharia or tamper with them," Al-Tayeb said in his statement.
The senior scholar said that some texts that are clear and direct in their meaning cannot be subjected to re-interpretation, such as those verses of the Quran relating to inheritance.
"There is no room for re-interpretation, and it is not accepted by the public or non-specialists, whatever their culture," the statement read.
Such rulings should not be changed, the imam said, adding that such ideas "provoke the Muslim masses who adhere to their religion, and endangers the stability of Muslim societies."
"It must be known to everyone that jurisprudential law is logical, as agreed scientists, and rational," the statement added.
In a statement last week, Sheikh Abbas Shuman, the deputy head of Al-Azhar, said equality in inheritance is "unjust for women and is not in line with Islamic Sharia."
He said that "the call for equality in inheritance between genders is unfair because women can already inherit more than men in some instances."
According to Sunni Islam, a daughter inherits half that of a son.
There are some instances, however, where females might inherit more than other male relatives who are part of her extended family.
Last week's statement from Shuman also denounced a call by President Essebsi to amend the Tunisian law to allow for marriage between a non-Muslim man and a Muslim woman.
"Such a marriage would obstruct the stability of marriage," Shuman said, arguing that a non-Muslim husband would not allow his Muslim wife to practice her beliefs as he is not a believer in her religion.