Group of Muslim scholars in Tunisia oppose Essebsi's push for gender equality

Karem Yehia in Tunis, Thursday 17 Aug 2017

File Photo: Human Rights Watch hailed a new law to fight domestic violence in Tunisia as a landmark step towards protecting women's rights (Photo: AFP)

A group of Muslim scholars in Tunisia released a joint statement on Thursday demanding President Beji Caid Essebsi relinquish his call for legal equality between women and men in inheritance rights, and for amending a decree to allow Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men.

The president on Sunday called for the 1973 decree to be changed to allow Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men; at present such marriages are only permitted if the man converts to Islam. He also announced the formation of a committee to study the issue of equality, with regards to inheritance.

Unlike the Grand Mufti of Tunisia, Sheikh Othman Battikh, who said he agrees with Essebsi's initiative, a group of 24 scholars held a press conference on Thursday to announce their objections.

The group of signatories included a number of well-known Islamic academics, including former grand mufti of Tunisia Hamda Said.

The initiative is “a clear challenge to the constants of Islam, as well as the constitution, which states that Islam is the official state religion of Tunisia," the statement read.

The statement also condemned what it described as the "deliberated marginalisation of religious institutions" and declared the scholars’ rejection of the current grand mufti’s stance towards the initiative.

The Zitouna University, reputed to be the oldest Islamic teaching institution, has not issued a response opposing the initiative nor have  Zitouna Mosque.

On the other hand, a number of coalitions and civil socity organisations have said they support the initiative to amend the law.

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