The Tunisian Parliament has abolished a decades-old ban on Muslim women marrying non-Muslims, despite widespread resistance from inside and outside the Muslim country.
Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi has announced the reform on August 13, during National Women’s Day, arguing that existing practice violates Tunisia’s constitution, adopted in 2014 in the wake of the Arab Spring revolution.
“The state is obliged to achieve full equality between women and men and to ensure equal opportunities for all responsibilities. (…) The marriage law was an obstacle which did not allow for freedom in choosing a spouse”, he said.
Concerning the inheritance law, he added: “We will find a way to reconcile religion and constitutional principles. The inheritance is an issue for humans. God and His Prophet left humans to manage these issues”.
Historian and feminist Dalenda Larguèche, from Manouba University in Tunis, said:
“Why can a man marry a non-Muslim female, but this is not the case for a Tunisian woman? As for the matter of inheritance, I am personally delighted that the president made the decision of pushing forward with all measures towards advancing equality. She added: “There are no taboos nowadays. With this new Tunisia, we are an example to the Arab world and an example for other women and Muslim countries. If we could create a progressive constitution, it was thanks to Tunisian women.”
“We are an example to the Arab world” – Dalenda Larguèche
An Important Milestone
The law has gone into effect on September 16. Up until now a Muslim woman was not allowed to marry a non-Muslim. When she wished to marry a non-Muslim, he had to convert to Islam and display a certificate of his conversion to the authorities.
Concerning inheritance, Shari’a law gives generally Muslim-women half of what it gives to Muslim-men, while making men financially responsible for women. However, the definite circumstances and the degree of kinship also play a role.
The office of the official mufti of Tunisia backed the president’s proposal. But the words of the president have been condemned by governments from other parts of the Arab world. Mainstream Muslim scholars almost universally see the inheritance rules as enshrined in the Quran and consider the rules on marriage to be equally unquestionable in Shari’a law.
”These proposals are against divine law, Islamic precepts and the teachings of the Prophet (…) What is happening in Tunisia now is against Quranic texts, where the issue of inheritance is clear. Transgressing these texts is an offence to Islam and we will not accept this,” said Abbas Shuman, deputy of Al-Azhar in Cairo, one of the highest religious authorities in Sunni Islam.
Regarding inter-faith unions, he commented: “Such a marriage would obstruct the stability of marriage.”
Tunisia viewed as ahead of most Arab countries on women’s rights
The daily life of many Tunisian women is still one of abuse and harassment.
In July 2017, Tunisian parliament introduced a new law that makes it easier to prosecute domestic violence. The law imposes also penalties for sexual harassment, which is a big step to protect women from abuse. Furthermore, the Tunisian government has abolished a clause that allowed rapists to escape any punishment if they married their victims.