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Mon 23 October 2017

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Women between Islam and customs of Muslim society

By Dr Hassan Turabi

The essay ‘Women between Islam and customs of Muslim society’ was first published in 1973 – using a ‘Gestetner’ printer - with the title ‘Al-marra bayn al-talim wal-Islam wa adaat Muslimeen’ by the Islamic Movement of Sudan (later renamed the Islamic Charter Front). The author was named as Hassan Abdullah Dafa’Allah, in reality Dr Hassan Turabi, then undergoing one of his first prison spells that had begun in 1969 (and to end in 1977).

It was written in a period when Sudanese society was contesting the issue of women’s right to vote and be elected to parliament. This essay was a contribution to the debate of that epoch. The Islamic Movement took a progressive stand, no doubt influenced by the decision of the Jamaat Islami in Pakistan to support the candidature of Fatima Jinnah, in preference to General Ayub Khan, in the country’s presidential elections of 1965. The traditional Sudanese religious circles were in tune with such developments, with the Chief Qazi, Mohammed el-Gizouli himself appointing a woman justice in a Shari'a legal system in 1972.

The Bashir-Turabi concordat held true to these progressive values, leading to the appointment of Ihsan Al-Ghabshawi as Minister of Health in 1990 and three women judges in 1992. A military parade in 1992 also included a female contingent on horseback – creating some grumbling by the visiting delegation from Afghanistan.

In April 2006, Dr Turabi was at the centre of a controversy after a speech to the Umma Party in which he called on women to play a greater role in the creation of a just society and also explained his ijtehad on various matters, including the validity of a Muslim woman to remain married to someone belonging to the ‘People of the Book’, testimonies, and donning of the scarf (views he clarified in an interview with the London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat (21 April 2006).

Dr Turabi remains a leading contemporary Islamic thinker and politician. After a traditional Islamic education from Sudan he completed a Ph.D from Sorbonne. He has served Sudan as Speaker of the parliament, Attorney General, Minister of Justice, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Deputy Prime Minister.

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