x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Search starts for the UAE's first female mufti

Recruiting starts for the UAE's first woman mufti, or religious scholar.

DUBAI // Recruiting has started for the UAE's first woman mufti, or religious scholar. The move follows a landmark fatwa earlier this year by Dr Ahmed al Haddad, the grand mufti of Dubai sanctioning the training of female mufti. It is believed to be the first time that an Islamic state has sanctioned women for the role. "There is no justification not to have a female mufti, in the same way that we have a female judge," said Dr Ahmed al Haddad, who heads the emirate's fatwa house at the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Department.

He described the position of a female mufti as one "that provides great service to society as a whole". Dr al Haddad's earlier fatwa was significant because women serving in a religious advisory role in Muslim countries usually have a limited mandate restricting them to counselling other women on issues such as personal hygiene or managing relationships within the family. Dubai's fatwa offers women a unique opportunity to be fully sanctioned Islamic scholars in the public sphere, issuing decrees in all areas of jurisprudence. The fatwa cites a rich but forgotten tradition in female scholarship that existed throughout Islam's history.

There are numerous references to female Islamic scholars and thinkers in Islamic history. In the six-page opinion issued in February, Dr al Haddad said there was, "No barrier on the subject matters on which a woman can issue fatwas. "She can issue knowledgeable fatwas in all areas of jurisprudence without exception, and in matters of faith and ethics when she has the appropriate training." Dr al Haddad said the department was currently recruiting and training women for the role, which is reserved for nationals. Without giving a firm time limit, he said the appointment of a female mufti in Dubai would be made using a "competitive process based on merit".

The UAE appointed its first female judge in January of last year, and its first Emirati female judge two months later. The title of mufti can be used loosely to describe anyone from a basic adviser on religious matters to a grand mufti. There are many female religious advisers who now work with the department and the Abu Dhabi-based General Authority for Islamic Affairs and Endowments, but they focus on women only.

Seeking guidance from a mufti is similar to asking a lawyer for legal advice on a particular issue. The fatwa is usually not legally binding, and Muslims can choose to follow it or not. But fatwas issued by the state's grand mufti can be incorporated into the country's legal code. In support of his fatwa, Dr al Haddad said women had been involved in drafting the moral code for Islamic society since the time of the Prophet.

"Women used to issue fatwas just like their male counterparts," he said. "Yet in our lifetime today, which is called the age of science and civilisation and learning, we suffer greatly from a lack of female Islamic scholars and religious role models for women."