Home | News    Saturday 22 April 2006

Sudan’s Turabi disputes limits on Muslim women


April 21, 2006 (CAIRO) — Muslim women should be free to marry Christian or Jewish men, Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan Turabi said in an interview published on Friday, defying the consensus among conventional Muslim jurists.

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Hassan al-Turabi

Turabi told the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat he came to this conclusion after hearing of a married American woman who wanted to convert to Islam but was told she must seek a divorce and possibly lose custody of her children.

"I could not find in the Koran or the Sunna (accounts of the practice of the Prophet Mohammed) a single word preventing a Muslim woman from marrying a Christian or Jew," he said.

"So I came to the opinion that they should let her convert and prove her faith. Often ... she would bring to Islam her husband and those around him and so on," he added.

Turabi made similar remarks at a meeting in Khartoum earlier this month but his detailed explanation in Asharq al-Awsat will reach a much wider audience.

Traditionalist Egyptian clerics ridiculed Turabi’s opinion when reports of it first appeared.

Abdel Sabour Shahin, a professor of Islamic studies at Cairo University, was quoted in the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm as saying Turabi’s opinion was nonsense.

"What Turabi is doing is obvious intellectual confusion. I would have thought he was above that. ... It’s as if he were taking the side of the enemies of Islam," Shahin said.

Turabi said he was not speaking only about married women who want to convert to Islam but about all Muslim women.

But it is especially relevant to Muslims living as minorities, he said. "We must let Muslim minorities living with Christians and Jews ... marry their daughters to Christians and Jews and perhaps these daughters, through their marital relationship, will bring Christians and Jews to Islam or preserve their own religion," he said.

Turabi did not mention marriage to men other than Christians and Jews — religious communities which have a special status in conventional Islam as "People of the Book".

Turabi, who has been prominent in Islamist politics for the last 40 years and was close to the Islamist government in Sudan in the 1990s, also said a woman’s testimony was as good as that of a man, and that women could lead men in prayer.

Muslim jurists dispute the significance of a Koranic verse which suggests the testimony of a man is worth that of two women, at least in cases of contracting commercial debt.

Turabi said in some cases, depending on her expertise and credibility, a woman’s testimony might be more reliable than that of a man and any judge should take all facts into account.


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