Muslim Women May Defy Fathers' Wishes and Go to University, Legal Authority Rules
Beirut, Lebanon — Muslim women should be free to pursue a higher education no matter what their fathers say, according to a fatwa recently issued by the grand mufti of Egypt, a leading authority of Sunni Islam, according to The National, an Abu Dhabi-based newspaper.
The fatwa, which is similar to a nonbinding legal opinion, was issued last week by the mufti, Ali Gomaa. It states that Muslim women whose fathers forbid them to attend university or college may disobey their fathers as long as it is in their best interest.
“If a father wanted to prevent his daughter from seeking an education and she wanted otherwise, then she is not obliged to obey his wishes in this matter … because obeying the father is an obligation but only under the condition that no harm comes of it to the child,” according to Mr. Gomaa’s reasoning, which is derived from Islamic jurisprudence.
“The harm that befalls a girl for not receiving an education is clear and known. If she abandons her college education, then she will miss a great deal of enlightenment about her religion and about everyday knowledge,” the reasoning continued. “She will have a limited awareness of the world around her as compared to … her educated counterparts in society.”
It is not clear how far-reaching the fatwa’s influence will be, as there are no clear statistics on how many Muslim women are prevented from enrolling at a university or college by their families. However, one sign that significant barriers to higher education continue to exist for Muslim women is the fact that 42 percent of women in the Middle East and North Africa are illiterate, compared with 22 percent of men.
Even in wealthy Muslim countries like the United Arab Emirates — where more women than men attend university — there remain pockets of extremely conservative families that forbid female members to pursue a higher degree.
Mr. Gomaa issued the fatwa in response to a question from the Emirati authorities about a father’s right to prevent his daughter from attending a university or college. —Andrew Mills