20 November 2008

Congratulations to Amal Soliman, world's first mazouna

In another step forward for women in this still far too masculine world, Amal Soliman, a 32-year-old Egyptian, has become the Muslim world's first mazouna, or female marriage registrar. Soliman, who holds a Master's degree in Sharia law, broke into the formerly men-only club in September and conducted her first marriage ceremony on October 25th.

It wasn't easy. When she applied for the job, the clerk laughed and refused to accept her application. But she persisted. As a student of Sharia law, she knew the position was an administrative one and therefore religiously acceptable for women. She consulted both religious and lay authorities to gain support. Finally, Khaled el-Shalkamy, the head judge of the local family court, accepted her application over 10 other candidates, all men, as being the most qualified.

Her appointment still had to be authorized by the Egyptian minister of justice. The all-male Committee of Egyptian Mazouns challenged her application claiming the job would be inappropriate for a woman. Some journalists wrote that she was a threat to Islam and should even be punished for applying. Opponents claimed she couldn't perform marriages because of menstruation (women are not allowed to pray or enter a mosque during their monthly cycle), and that it was inappropriate for a woman to sit amongst men during the signing of marriage certificates.

But she fought back, seeking help from the National Council for Women. Al Akhbar, one of Egypt's leading newspapers, took up her cause, and the debate became national, then global. Soliman was grateful for the international attention and believes it catalyzed the process. Her appointment was finally confirmed. The United Arab Emirates recently followed Egypt's lead and appointed their first mazouna this month.

So ... a small but significant step for women in Islam. It will be a great day for Muslim women, and a much greater day for Islam, when women are accepted as imams and assume a full and equal role in the faith.

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