Recently, there has been a discussion in Saudi Arabia about appointing women to roles connected to the religious establishment, such as in issuing fatwas and serving as religious judges (qadis).
In a Ramadan edition of his television program on Saudi Al-Majd TV, 'Abdallah Al-Mutlaq, a member of the Saudi Senior Clerics Council, called on Saudi Arabia's chief mufti to appoint women muftis to rule on matters of religious law pertaining to women's issues; thus, he said, they can be of great help to the male muftis. He said that today there are women who are versed in Islamic law and can help out in this area, and noted that women in his own family regularly help him with rulings on these matters.
It should be noted that as early as two years ago, another council member, 'Abdallah Al-Muni', stated that there is no religious legal obstacle preventing women from being appointed as muftis, or even as members of the Senior Clerics Council, provided they have the necessary qualifications for these roles and that there is no mixing of the sexes.
In June 2018, Saudi Shura Council members Dr. Latifa Al-Sha'lan, Dr. Faisal Aal Fadl and 'Atta Al-Sabiti recommended allowing women to serve as religious judges, noting that this is compatible with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Saudi Vision 2030, which includes empowering Saudi women. They added that this is also a necessary step due to the shortage of religious judges in the kingdom.
There have also been a number of articles in the Saudi media recently calling for appointing women to various roles in the religious establishment. The articles stated that the religious underpinnings for clerics' exclusions of women from these roles are not reliable, and that even in the time of the Prophet Muhammad women were judges who issued fatwas. They added that appointing women to religious posts would impact the nature of the rulings, since they will no longer be limited to a male point of view, and will contribute to changing all of society's approach to women and their status in society.
This report will focus on the calls for appointing women to religious posts in Saudi Arabia:
'Abdallah Al-Mutlaq (image: alarabiyaaa.net)
Senior Clerics Council Member: Appoint Female Muftis For Handling Issues Concerning Menstruation, Birth
On his program on Al-Majd TV, Senior Clerics Council member 'Abdallah Al-Mutlaq called on the Saudi chief mufti to appoint women as muftis to rule on religious matters concerning their own sex. He said: "I ask His Honor the Mufti to engage women who are experts in the area of Islamic shar'ia at the universities, such as Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University and Umm Al-Qura University, and others, in order to spare us from having to answer questions on issues concerning menstruation and blood flow after giving birth. This is because a woman who is expert in Islamic law is doubtless more well versed [in such matters] than we [male clerics], and therefore women who are interested in asking religious questions should be able to [ask them of] their own gender, more discreetly, freely, and openly...
"My daughters and wives... help me and make it easier for me [in ruling on questions] on these topics.. In my view, women are embarrassed to ask certain questions connected to their personal religious matters. [The subject of] menstruation alone is linked to three of the pillars of Islam: prayer, fasting, and hajj. In addition, a woman will reveal more and give more details to a woman [mufti] than to a male mufti... For this reason, I appeal to the [Chief] Mufti to hire women, even if not full time, [but] to sign a contract with them, so that they have an official [job] description...
"In the past, when we had no female clerics, we thought that we had [to rule on women's issues]. But now, we have a great number of good and skilled sisters and daughters who are experts in the field of Islamic law."
Another Council Member: No Religious Legal Obstacle To Appointing Women As Muftis
As early as two years ago, Senior Clerics Council member 'Abdallah Al-Muni' expressed his support for women serving as muftis. In a 2016 interview, he told the Saudi daily 'Okaz that a woman "can engage in issuing fatwas provided she has the skills to do so. Didn't many Companions of the Prophet appeal to 'Aisha [Muhammad's wife] to ask her religious opinion, because she was skilled in religious knowledge and in understanding the religion, and was capable of ruling on religious issues according to her own judgment? I have no objection to [women issuing fatwas]. [Even the Prophet Muhammad's] wives 'Aisha and Hafsa, and many of the women Companions of the Prophet, would express their religious legal views on issues both general and individual."
Also in the interview, Al-Muni' expressed support for bringing women into the Senior Clerics Council: "It is inappropriate to limit women's powers. Fundamentally, they are like men, as the Prophet said: 'Women are the sisters of men,' and also men and women each have unique traits... Accordingly, it does not appear that there is any religious legal obstacle to [women] becoming members of the Senior Clerics Council and expressing their views... as long as there is no mixing of the genders. That is, she must sit in a special place near the [clerics'] hall and express her opinion if she is qualified to do so."
Saudi Writer: Appointing Women As Muftis Will Enrich Religious Interpretation With The Feminine Point Of View
In his column in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Sattam Al-Megren wrote: "Those who oppose appointing women as religious judges and muftis relay on the hadith that says: 'such people as ruled by a lady will never be successful.' They rely on the fact that the words 'people' and 'lady' are indefinite and appear in a negative sentence, [and conclude] that at no time may any woman be in a position of authority... [They conclude this] even though this hadith, according to its text, is not aimed at expressing a [general opinion], but at making a statement [strictly on the matter of] the death of the king of Persia... and [thus] it does not constitute a general ruling banning the appointment of women to such posts...
"I believe that many clerics today [suffer] from stagnation of thought, because they are following in the footsteps of the earliest [clerics], [despite] modern changes that have occurred in society today. A few clerics, unfortunately, handle today's problems with yesterday's ideas, and for the most part fail to [properly] deal with problems of contemporary society...
"Without considering the reliability of the hadith according to the chain of narrators, or to reliance on it in other hadiths, there is another criterion on which clerics dealing with hadiths rely: comparing its content to what is written in the Quran... [In this case] there is no backing in the Quran for this hadith – [On the contrary,] the Quran tells the story of the Queen of Sheba, praises her, and depicts her as possessing political experience and as acting logically. Nevertheless, there are preachers who doubt this and who argue that she lived [in a state of] error and unbelief... However, those who read the verses carefully find that the Queen of Sheba succeeded in extricating her people from oppression and from deviation from the right path – unlike the men, for example Pharaoh, Nimrod, and their ilk...
"I read in history and biography books about the Prophet Muhammad that most of the female Companions of the Prophet issued fatwas. The most well-known of them was the mother of the believers 'Aisha, the mother of the believers Safiyya, Umm Habiba, Asmaa the daughter of Abu Bakr, Umm Sharik, Umm Al-Dardaa, 'Aisha daughter of Zayid, and many others. If it is proven that women can issue fatwas, it is possible to extrapolate that they may also be judges, since in both these areas rulings are made according to [Islamic] religious law.
"Women are entitled to enter the field of religious ruling and judging in order to formulate their own perception vis-à-vis the religion and [its] laws – because it is inappropriate to limit religious interpretation to a masculine perception alone. Based on this, it can be said that it is possible to interpret the religious texts according to a feminine perception, and by doing so to influence clerics', religious figures' and [all of] society's perception of women."
Female Academic: Women Are Identical To Men And Must Not Be Excluded From Religious Roles
Dr. Hotoon Al-Fasi, a female Saudi academic and women's rights activist who recently criticized the way in which the royal edict permitting women to drive was being implemented, and was subsequently arrested, called for women's advancement in the religious sphere as well. She wrote: "Throughout history we have been witness to a male monopoly on positions of control in the religious hierarchy, that created a tradition of [religious] approval for excluding women from decision-making roles. [This was done] by spreading unreliable and unrecognized hadiths that contradict the Quran, such as [the hadiths that were used to justify] excluding women for centuries from studying, in many places in the Muslim world. As a result of this, the positions [of control in the religious hierarchy] have become the estate strictly of men. These positions gained an [aura] of sanctity, and appear likely to be desecrated if approached by a woman.
"I do not believe that anyone disagrees that women, like men, have received the message of Islam, and also that they are bound by it. Accordingly, [I believe] that it is inappropriate for women to be excluded from religious roles and organizational roles [in the religious hierarchy] – after hearing and seeing the words of Sheikh 'Abdallah Al-Mutlaq, member of the Senior Clerics Council, asking the kingdom's [chief] mufti 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh to allow the appointment of female muftis to the Senior Clerics Council, on his Ramadan 1439 television show. I believe that we will not have much longer to wait until these requests are answered and we will see a woman in the judiciary corps."
 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), June 9, 2018.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), June 26, 2018.
 Twitter.com/News_Sa24, June 11, 2018. It should be noted that, while calling for the appointment of female mufti and supporting other rights for women, Al-Mutlaq recently opposed the abolishment of the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia. On a program on Saudi Arabia's Channel One, he said that the demand to abolish guardianship "contravenes the shari'a." He explained that husbands are like school principals while wives are like vice-principals, and it is inconceivable that the deputy should have authority equal to that of the boss. Akhbaar23.com, July 11, 2018.
 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), June 30, 2016.
 According to the hadith, the Prophet uttered these words upon being informed that the Persians had appointed a daughter of King Kisra to rule over them after he died.
 The wives of the Prophet Muhammad are each referred to as "Mother of the Believers."
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), June 26, 2018.
 See MEMRI Dispatch No. 7530, Female Saudi Columnist Who Has Obtained Saudi Driver's License: The King Allows Women To Drive – But The Kingdom Is Slow In Making The Necessary Arrangements, June 19, 2018.
 Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), June 15, 2018.