On Thursday, the President of Tunisia Beji Caid Essebsi abolished a decades-old law that prohibited Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men as part of his ongoing campaign to safeguard women’s rights in the country.
The announcement comes a month after President Essebsi formed a commission, headed by a female advocate, to come up with new laws that will guarantee Tunisian women the right to choose their preferred spouses.
Previously, Tunisian Muslim women were allowed to marry Muslim men only and any non-Muslim man who wished to marry a Muslim lady had to convert to Islam and provide a certificate as proof of his conversion.
Ironically, Muslim men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women. Human rights campaigners in Tunisia have often protested against this inequality, arguing that it undermines the basic human right to choose a spouse.
Unquestionable Islamic Law
While the President’s move has been hailed as progressive, some Tunisians have expressed their misgivings about the new order, saying it is in contravention of the Islamic Law.
Top Tunisian Imams and religious scholars have issued a statement dismissing President Essebsi’s proposal as a blatant violation of the teachings of Islam.
They have warned that such drastic changes are likely to trigger anger and protests, and risk bringing back the ugly scenes witnessed in the country during the Tunisian Revolution in 2011.
Among the proposed amendments to the constitution is the right for women to inherit property from their parents and husbands in case of death or separation. At the moment, Muslim females are only entitled to half of the inheritance given to their brothers.
Muslim clerics in the North African state have often used the Quran, Islam’s holy book, to justify this disparity, insisting that marriage rules are equally indisputable in the Islamic law.
Raising the Bar
Despite the ongoing struggle against gender discrimination, Tunisia is regarded as the most progressive Arab country in the world with regard to upholding women’s rights. Earlier this year, the country passed a law protecting women against gender-based violence.
The new law includes the removal of a lacuna in the penal code that allows rapists to go scot-free if they marry their victims.
Those who are in support of the president’s proposal say it will further cement the country’s position as the leader in the debate around women’s rights in Islamic communities.