Tunis (AFP) – Muslim clerics in Tunisia on Thursday voiced opposition to President Beji Caid Essebsi’s plan to introduce legislation granting equal inheritance rights to women, contrary to Islamic precepts.
Essebsi has announced the formation of a commission to examine “individual liberties” and “equality in all domains”, including inheritance rights.
As laid down in the Koran, the Muslim holy book, daughters in the Islamic world inherit half the shares of sons.
Touching another raw nerve in Tunisian political and religious debate, the secular leader called for the government to scrap a 1973 circular that prevents Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims.
The proposals amount to “a flagrant violent of the precepts” of Islam, prayer leaders from across the North African state said in a statement issued jointly with experts in sharia Islamic laws.
“Inheritance in Islam is clearly explained in the Koran… it can neither be modified nor interpreted,” a former religious affairs minister, Noureddine Khadmi, told a news conference.
A former Tunisian mufti, or highest religious leader, Hamda Said, criticised what he termed proposals that would put an end to “a 1,400-year consensus”.
“It’s like saying God has been unjust with women, something that is completely false as there are many cases of women inheriting more than men,” said Fatma Chakout, a female lecturer at the Islamic University of Ez-Zitouna.
Sheikh Abdullah el-Oussif, a doctor in Islamic sciences, said the president’s proposals posed a “danger” because they risked dividing society in post-revolutionary Tunisia at a time when the country needed unity.
Tunisia, which adopted a 1956 Personal Status Code extending several rights to women and abolishing polygamy, is seen as a pioneer on women’s emancipation in the Arab world, although tensions often surface between conservatives and reformists.
The 2011 revolution in Tunisia toppled the regime of autocratic president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and sparked uprisings across the Arab world.