Problems on hold
In a recent keynote session held by Parliament’s Human Rights Committee (HRC) Zeinab Radwan, deputy speaker of Parliament and professor of Islamic sharia or law, submitted several proposals for approval by Parliament. These proposals involved allowing Christian wives of Muslim men to have a share in their husbands’ inheritance, endorsing court testimonies of men and women on equal footing, sanctioning the court testimony of non-Muslims in cases regarding personal status affairs of Muslims. Dr Radwan also asserted the right of Bahai’s rights to obtain formal documents including a blank box for their religion. Dr Radwan said that she submitted these demands to enhance principle of citizenship rights, and asserted that these proposals contradict neither Qur’an nor Sunna (Prophetic tradition). She explained that, in her capacity as professor of sharia, she would never dare propose changes that contradict sharia, but was keen to present a true understanding of the tolerance of Islam.
I admit I was amazed at Dr Radwan’s proposals because they shattered what is widely regarded as constant, inviolable principles of sharia. Yet HRC members lashed at the proposals on the ground that they obviously violate Islamic laws and principles. They called for a meeting of the HRC and Parliament’s Committee for Religious Affairs in presence of the Mufti to discuss the proposals.
The event reminded me that almost a year ago, when Egypt was formulating its constitutional amendments, I defended retaining article 2 of the Constitution, which stipulates Islam as the religion of the State, Arabic its official language, and sharia the principal source of legislation, on grounds that the time was not ripe for such a move. I said that the principle of citizenship rights already stressed in article 1 could work as a counter-balance to article 2. But I posed a question I considered utterly significant: ‘Which Islamic sharia did the Constitution signify?’ I realised we were before innumerable explanations and interpretations on which Muslim scholars have different, frequently conflicting views.
The case of today addresses the same dilemma. Dr Radwan’s proposals shook principles widely believed as unquestionable in Islam. Indeed, the interpretation offered by Dr Radwan, who is herself an authority on Islamic studies, revealed tolerant aspects of Islam and showed how much it respects citizenship rights.
Dr Radwan is not standing alone. The NGO New Woman Foundation issued an appeal to MPs to support Dr Radwan’s proposals. It was circulated that Minister of Religious Endowments Mahmoud Hamdy Zaqzouq wholeheartedly backed Dr Radwan’s proposals claiming that they correct many misconceptions about Islam. Perhaps it is time to courageously address the question for the sake of making a leap as regards the women and citizenship rights cited in the Declaration of Citizenship Rights announced by the General Conference for Citizenship held last November. At the time, the conference appealed to Parliament to issue a law to enhance citizenship rights and consolidate them as a reality on the ground.
It is time to put an end to the suffering and humiliation people undergo because of unjust laws. Islam accepts the marriage of a Muslim man and a Christian woman but the law denies her any inheritance from her husband. Men and women testify before the court but a man’s testimony is worth those of two women. And in cases of personal status affairs of Muslims, judges do not accept a Christian’s testimony.
Dr Radwan has thrown stones in stagnant water and the ripples they caused are shattering some erroneous concepts that had been deeply rooted for too long. More importantly, they are signifying there is no conflict between sharia and citizenship rights.