Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Turabi Affair

Hassan al-Turabi has been making waves recently by saying things that really don't sound like the man who invited al-Qaeda to Sudan and was an ally of Osama bin Laden during the 1990's. In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat which I couldn't find, he reiterated previously made statements that Muslim women should be free to marry non-Muslim men, saying, "I could not find in the Quran or the Sunna a single word preventing a Muslim woman from marrying a Christian or Jew."

He's actually right about that, and as I understand it, the reasons why traditional interpretations of Islamic law forbid it stem from the idea that men are the heads of household, and women might be forced to do things contrary to Islam. But in any event, al-Turabi has been saying a number of oddly liberal things lately. He has come out against the obligation of veiling or burqa-like coverings, indicated they can lead prayers before mixed congregations, suggest moderate drinking of alcohol was okay, and claimed courts should count their testimony as equal to that of a man.

While I welcome all these positions, I can't help but wonder why they're suddenly appearing at such an advanced age and in seeming contradiction to everything I've ever heard about this guy. Looking around, I saw that late last year he also called on Islamists to stop using the slogan, "Islam is the Solution." It may just be a political position, though it is unclear whom he is trying to win over. It may also be a legitimate outcome of his study of fiqh and an attempt to broaden the appeal of Islamist ideology. Ayatollah Khomeini changed his position on women's suffrage at about the same age, so it is not unprecedented.


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