The Tunisian government has officially announced that Muslim women can now legally marry non-Muslim men in a controversial policy that contravenes the normative Islamic ruling of marriage.
Tunisia is seen as one of the most “progressive” countries in the Arab world in terms of women’s rights.
Last August, President Baji Caid Sibsi called for “full equality” between men and women.
This included the abolition of a leaflet, issued in November 1973, prohibiting Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men.
The president claims this abolition will secure equal rights for the Tunisian women.
This policy was met with mixed attitudes with some celebrating it as an act that grants absolute freedom and equality, while others were outraged due to its clear contravention of Islamic martial rules.
On Thursday, Saida Garrach who is the presidency spokeswoman wrote on Facebook: “Congratulations to the women of Tunisia for the enshrinement of the right to the freedom to choose one’s spouse.”
The second part of President Caid Sebsi’s call, targeting what he deems to be “discrimination” in matters of inheritance, is still a subject of ongoing debate and has sparked much controversy in public opinion.
The country’s leading scholars denounced the president’s proposals as a “flagrant violation of the precepts of Islam”.
Habib Bourguiba, the first president of “independent” Tunisia, advocated a turning point in social code back in 1956: including banning polygamy, as well as granting new rights to women unprecedented in the rest of the Arab world.
However, even he did not dare to push things this far in trying to redefine fundamental Islamic rulings pertaining to marriage and inheritance.