Another breakthrough for Saudi women! They can now issue fatwas
Shura Council, Saudi Arabia's advisory council has, in a historic decision, now allowed the kingdom's women to issue fatwas, i.e. Islamic legal pronouncements. This comes on the heels of the decision that lifted the driving ban on women. This is historic as since the last 45 years only men have been issuing fatwas. The 150-member council approved the decision with 107 votes. Know more!
Shura Council's women members had, in last March, demanded that women should be allowed to issue fatwas. This recommendation was approved by the Council in its 49th meeting on September 29. The General Presidency of Scholarly Research and Ifta, only governmental body that can issue fatwas, has been asked to open independent sections for women. The female muftis will be chosen by a royal decree.
A fatwa is a legal opinion on an Islamic law, practice or convention. Muslims can ask any Islamic scholar for a fatwa, i.e. an answer to their query or an interpretation of something unclear in Islamic law. The fatwa, however, is not binding.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah succeeded in taking small steps toward women's rights. While he didn't raise the driving ban on women, he passed a decree allowing women to work. More importantly, he tried to include them in Saudi politics. In 2011, he passed a decree allowing women to vote and contest in municipal elections. In 2013, he appointed 30 women to the Shura Council.
King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have continued along King Abdullah's trajectory after his death in 2015. Before lifting the driving ban, they allowed women to enter the Riyadh stadium on the annual celebrations of the nation's founding. This was historic as gender segregation is strictly enforced. Now, girls will also be allowed to have physical education classes in public schools.
Allowing women to issue fatwas was welcomed. Al-Bishi, Sharia law expert, said women have an important role in Islamic communities and this move is beneficial. However, the Kingdom yet does not allow women to marry, divorce, open a bank account, or work without a male relative's permission. It remains to be seen whether King Salman keeps up this momentum to empower the kingdom's women.