x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Fatwa empowers women in marriage and education

Young women should be free to take a job and pursue a higher education, says a major ruling.

ABU DHABI // Young women should be free to take a job and pursue a higher education, said a major ruling from the Islamic affairs office. The declaration, published by the General Authority for Religious Affairs and Endowments (AWQAF) says daughters can overrule parental objections when taking a job or going to university when it is in their best interest to do so. The 10-page fatwa, published last Thursday, is the first result of a collaboration between the UAE and the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Dr Ali Jumaa, on religious matters. Published on the AWQAF website, it is the response of the Grand Mufti to a direct question from the Abu Dhabi-based authority.

The question asked: "What are the limits of a father's guardianship over his daughter? Does he have the right to prevent her seeking an education? Or working (outside the home)? And where does a father stand in matters of marriage and seeking treatment for ailment?" Dr Jumaa's reply stated: "If a father wanted to prevent his daughter from seeking an education and she wanted otherwise, then she is not obliged to obey his wishes in this matter ... because obeying the father is an obligation but only under the condition that no harm comes of it to the child."

Working out of the home is acceptable, the Grand Mufti said, as long as the young woman "is safe from harm to her person, honour and religion, and the work is compatible with her physique and nature." Dr Jumaa's response was backed by jurisprudent interpretation in accordance Dr Jumaa's reply stated: "If a father wanted to prevent his daughter from seeking an education and she wanted otherwise, then she is not obliged to obey his wishes in this matter ... because obeying the father is an obligation but only under the condition that no harm comes of it to the child."

Working out of the home is acceptable, the Grand Mufti said, as long as the young woman "is safe from harm to her person, honour and religion, and the work is compatible with her physique and nature." Dr Jumaa's response was backed by jurisprudent interpretation in accordance with the Hanafi tradition, one of four schools of interpreting Islamic law and the main school in Egypt. The UAE follows the Maliki school, which is very close to Hanafi interpretations.

Islamic law extends the concept of guardianship beyond adulthood. In Islam, femininity is a basis for coming under guardianship of the family patriarch, whether a father, uncle or, in the absence of older male guardians, a brother. The fatwa states that a father's interference in his daughter's major decisions must stop when following the father's opinion could cause the daughter harm. "The purpose of guardianship is to look after the interests of and provide care for the dependent party," Dr Jumaa states. "Therefore, if a father's opinion is contradictory to her current and future best interest ... then he is in breach of (the guardianship contract).

"The harm that befalls a girl for not receiving an education is clear and known. If she abandons her college education, then she will miss a great deal of enlightenment about her religion and about everyday knowledge. She will have a limited awareness of the world around her as compared to ... her educated counterparts in society, which will limit her marriage prospects and her capacity to be a good mother."

Asking for a fatwa is similar to seeking advice from a lawyer, although the response is not legally binding, with individuals free to decide if they will accept it. The new fatwa also covers a daughter's right to seek medical treatment and her choice of a husband. The Grand Mufti's opinion states that fathers may not turn down "reasonable prospects" when it comes to marriage. Dr Jumaa stated clearly the conditions that must be met before a father's objection to his daughter's work becomes invalid. Taking a job did not breach the guardianship contract as long as: "There is a personal need for it, or a public need, and it is work that does not overstep the line into what is forbidden in Islam."

On marriage, Dr Jumaa noted that Islamic scholars had long disagreed over the extent of a father's guardianship. "In the Hanafi opinion, absolute guardianship happens only when the girl is a minor. But the adult woman cannot be subject to absolute guardianship when choosing her husband. "Some fathers can be unreasonable when it comes to the marriage choices of their daughter. They turn down a reasonable prospect that their daughter wants to marry, and they do so for no reason or for petty reasons. It is forbidden for a father to do so. Such behaviour is unfair. It also opens the door for vice to enter into society."

On seeking medical treatment, the fatwa said a guardian "must also pay for such treatment for as long as he is able, and for as long as he is her guardian".
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