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Former Islamic minister’s remarks on female judges divides opinion

Addressing rumours about the imminent appointment of former Attorney General Azima Shukoor to the apex court at an opposition rally on July 30, Bari claimed that there was consensus among religious scholars that women can only serve as judges in civil cases.



Former Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari’s opposition to the appointment of female judges to the Supreme Court on religious grounds last week sparked controversy and divided opinion among the four-party opposition coalition.

Addressing rumours about the imminent appointment of former Attorney General Azima Shukoor to the apex court at an opposition rally on July 30, Bari contended that there was a consensus among religious scholars that judges must be male.

Scholars from the Hanafi sect say women can judge civil matters and family disputes but most scholars do not agree with any exceptions, he added.

“Therefore, if you look at Hanafi scholars or the majority of others, judgments by women regarding cases of qisas and hadd will not be valid. There is no dispute on this,” he said.

Bari argued that women cannot be appointed to the bench in contravention of Shariah since the constitution prohibits the enactment of any law contrary to Islam.

But coalition partners disagreed with the Adhaalath Party religious scholar.

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, an Azhar-educated scholar, tweeted the following day: “With due respect Sir there is strong evidence in Islamic law that women can hold all political and judicial offices.”

MP Eva Abdulla of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party called the remarks “sexism, plain and simple.”

“We will not stand by that,” she told the Maldives Independent.

“The top jobs should go to the top people – those who are most qualified. Moral and professional competency should be the only detaining factors. Gender cannot come into it. Let’s not look for more excuses to disqualify women.” 

Gayoom’s daughter, Dunya Maumoon, state minister for health, referred to the appointment of Judges Aisha Shujune and Haifa Mohamed during her father’s tenure in 2007.

“Our religion, constitution and laws do not ban women from any public office, even the highest. Maldivian women have proven their capability,” she tweeted.

Bari’s remarks also prompted women’s rights advocacy NGO Uthema to publish an article based on their research into the topic.

“Every time there is a difference of opinion among scholars, or students of Islam, this does not mean that the fundamental basis of the inherent equality of all human beings as human beings can be thrown into question,” said Humaira Abdul Ghafoor, a spokeswoman for Uthema.

“Uthema takes the position that all human beings are equal in worth and dignity, and uphold the principle of gender equality to its fullest extent. We know from examples around the world available to us that women and men are equally capable of holding responsible positions in public office. Judgeship is no exception to this.” 

She added: “Ability, competence and integrity are not connected to gender. These are connected to access to opportunities, to study and to develop oneself in an area of one’s choosing, regardless of gender identity.” 

Dhiyana Saeed, a former attorney general and wife of business-politician Abdulla Jabir, observed: “We can and do outperform our male counterparts in the programmes we participate in but somehow we are flawed. I’m trying to digest that.”

The UNDP office meanwhile joined the conversation on social media, where some users pointed out that the Prophet’s wife Aisha was a well-known jurist in addition to other female jurists in Islamic history such as Fatimah al-Samarqandiyah, Sitt al-Muluk and Fatimah bint Aiyash.

“I particularly like the medieval scholar Imam Badr al-Din Kashani’s rationale for appointing a woman judge: ‘Where there is ability to give testimony, there is also the ability of qada (ruling).’ Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored,” wrote Fazla Abdul-Samad.

Aisha Hussain Rasheed, a religious scholar, wrote: “According to Shk. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the issue of whether it is legal for a woman to be appointed to judgeship is not an issue on which an authentic and explicit text or a clear consensus (Ijma’) can be found, and therefore falls within the numerous issues which should be decided based on the circumstances and the needs of the particular community.”