By Sonia Farid
8 February 2014
“If a man discovers that his wife belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, he should divorce her,” said preacher Mazhar Shahin in the show he presents in one of the private Egyptian satellite channels. “It is like having a bomb sleep in your own bedroom,” he added.
In this case, Shahin explained, the wife should be given the chance to sever all ties with the Brotherhood, but if she refuses, the husband has to divorce her. Shahin, who is also the imam of the Omar Makram Mosque in Tahrir Square and is known as “the imam of the revolution,” attributed his fatwa to the “jurisprudence of priorities” in Islam, through which, he argued, it becomes obvious that Egypt takes priority over individuals.
“If the interests of my country contradict those of my wife, I would definitely choose my country,” he noted. “A man can find many other women to marry, but there is only one Egypt.”
Belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, however, does not mean the wife should be stripped of her financial rights, according to Shahin, who stressed that the divorce has to “comply with God’s laws.” The fatwa, Shahin said, also gives the right to any woman who finds out that her husband belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood to seek divorce.
Lesser Of Two Evils
For Shahin, divorce is considered the lesser of two evils for the wife because otherwise the husband might report her to the police. “It is better for her to end up divorced than to end up in jail.” Shahin was referring to the case of a man who reported his wife to State Security for belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In his complaint, the husband said that he only found out his wife is a Brotherhood member after Islamist President Mohammad Mursi came to power. “After the Brotherhood was toppled, the group started assigning her missions,” the complaint added. “That is why she travelled to the United Kingdom and Germany.”
The husband said that he decided to report her after she started putting pressure on him to join the Muslim Brotherhood and presented pictures of her in London doing the four-fingered salute, which declares solidarity with the victims of the Islamist sit-in that was dispersed by security forces.
The husband also accused the wife of taking advantage of her position as a teaching assistant in Cairo University to incite students to demonstrate against the Egyptian state.
Dar al-Iftaa, the body officially in charge of issuing Fatwas, promptly declared that Shahin’s words constitute a “personal opinion” rather than a fatwa. “The reason Shahin stated for the divorce is not one of those mentioned in Islamic law,” said the statement issued by Dar al-Iftaa. “As for the possible involvement of the husband or the wife in terrorist activities, this is to be determined through investigations.” Sheikh Magdi Ashour, head of the Fatwa Committee at Dar al-Iftaa, argued that Shahin is a mosque imam, therefore “not qualified to issue Fatwas.” Ashour added that Dar al-Iftaa has always been keen on preserving the unity of the family and that is why it is careful with Fatwas concerning divorce.
“Plus, not all members of the Muslim Brotherhood were involved in destructive activities, so it is not possible to issue such a general fatwa” he added in a TV interview. “Divorce, then, becomes permissible if being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood is detrimental to the safety of the family.”
Outside The Mosque
Minister of Islamic Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa called Shahin’s fatwas “political” and not religious, hence is not under the ministry’s jurisdiction. “The ministry has the right to take to task preachers who violate the rules while delivering sermons in mosques,” he said in a press statement. “But Shahin said that outside the mosque, so it is an opinion only he is responsible for.”
Shain’s fatwa was met with indignation by Islamist parties. Laila Samy, member of the Higher Committee of al-Wasat Party, known for its close links to the Muslim Brotherhood, accused Shahin of inciting hatred against “citizens who are now paying for their stance against the ‘coup,’” she wrote in reference to the ouster of president Mohammad Mursi, considered a military coup by pro-Muslim Brotherhood factions.
Samy described Mazhar as “another of the coup sheikhs who do not mind bringing about the disintegration of society to serve their interests.”
Samy expressed her shock as Shahin’s “recklessness” when it comes to a “grave matter” like divorce. “He is simply calling upon husbands to divorce their wives. He doesn’t mind ruining entire families.”
The ultra-conservative al-Nour Party which supported the ouster of Mursi and took part in the subsequent road map, considered the fatwa to have “tampered with religious laws.” Party spokesman Sherif Taha said the fatwa increases divisions in the Egyptian society under the pretext of patriotism.
“Involving love for one’s country in this matter is a type of manipulation that has unfortunately become prevalent in the political scene nowadays,” he said. Islamic researcher Sheikh Mohamed Teleima argued that all women who are against the “coup” are now suffering and that Shahin’s fatwa is part of the price they are paying. “My wife is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and I am proud of that,” he added.
Teleima addressed a question to Shahin and “other issuers of disastrous fatwas,” as he put it.
“What then is the fatwa that can be issued about women who danced in front of strangers?” in reference to women dancing in front of polling stations on the day of the referendum on the post-Muslim Brotherhood constitution as an expression of approval for the new draft and the current Egyptian government.
Objections to the fatwa also came from secular figures known for their stance against the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt’s top political Bassem Youssef said that the fatwa is not really different from others issued by the Muslim Brotherhood against their opponents. “This is exactly like saying that liberals are not going to heaven,” he said in a TV interview.
“People against the Brotherhood are now manipulating religion exactly like Brotherhood members and supporters used to do before. This is hysteria!” Youssef said that while the general discourse is about unity, a fatwa like this will only create more rifts.“You can’t just call upon husbands to divorce their wives or wives to seek divorces because of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.
The April 6 Youth Movement issued a statement condemning Shahin’s fatwa and likening his stances to those of “the sultan’s preachers” throughout history. “The sultan’s preacher would issue Fatwas that serve the interests of the ruler because currying favour with the authorities becomes his topmost priority.”
The statement added that even though Shahin was called “the imam of the revolution,” he turned out to have been using the revolution to be in the limelight. “There are many like you who we used to respect and who we thought are real revolutionaries, but they are in reality taking advantage of the revolution in order to be close to those in power at the expense of morals and principles and even religion,” the statement concluded.
In response to the harsh criticism to which he was subjected, Shahin said his words were taken out of context, arguing that it was obvious he meant wives who are involved in terrorist activities.
“If the wife prepares Molotov cocktails, raises her children to hate the army and the police, curses Egypt and steps over the Egyptian flag, and is happy when other Egyptians are killed, she becomes dangerous to the family,” he said in a TV interview. Shahin explained that this applies to any woman who engages in terrorism regardless of her affiliation. “I did not mean that difference in political views justifies divorce,” he added.
In another interview, Shahin said that if he were in this position, he would definitely divorce his wife. “I will not sit still while my wife is out there burning down the country,” he said. On his Facebook page, Shahin explained the logic behind his fatwa. “If a man has the right to divorce his wife if she betrays him, then what about betraying the country?” he asked. “If betraying a spouse is a sin, betraying one’s country is the gravest of sins.”
Even though Shahin was the center of the controversy and the recipient of all criticism, he was not the only scholar to issue this kind of fatwa. Professor of Comparative Jurisprudence at al-Azhar University Souad Saleh said that Muslim men should not marry women who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood and called upon men who find out their fiancées are from the Brotherhood to break off the engagement.
“Marrying a woman from the Muslim Brotherhood will produce a new generation of terrorists because she will instil her violent ideas into the minds of her children,” she said in a TV interview. Saleh explained that the relationship between husband and wife should be based on “love and compassion” as stated in the Quran.
“This is not the case with Brotherhood women who incite murder and destabilize society,” she added, stressing that her fatwa is supported by evidence from religion.