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Marriage with NOnmuslim InEgypt bring censure

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    Marriage with NOnmuslim InEgypt bring censure

    Go to: Guardian Unlimited o.ukMoneyShoppingTravelThe ObserverWorkSearch the archive----------------------NewsAudioNet newsSpecial reportsThe GuardianUK latestThe weblogThe newslistThe wrapWorld latest----------------------CrosswordContent distributionEvents / offersHelp / contactsInformationLife onlineNotes & QueriesStyle guideTravel offersTV listingsWeatherWeb guides----------------------Guardian WeeklyMoney Observer

    Cairo writer threatened with divorce

    Angered by one of Egypt's most outspoken women, religious conservatives are trying to end her marriage

    Raekha Prasad, and Khaled Dawoud in Cairo
    Monday June 18, 2001
    The Guardian

    A civil court in Cairo will be told today that a leading Egyptian intellectual should be forced to divorce her husband of 37 years because she has abandoned her faith in Islam and therefore cannot remain married to Sherif Hetata, 78, with whom she has a son.
    A lawyer, Nabih el-Wahsh, has brought the case against Nawal el-Saadawi, 70, a writer and former government minister, under hesba, an obscure 9th century principle of shariah law which permits Muslims to sue if they believe that Islam is being harmed.

    It is the second time in six years that hesba has been used against a prominent Egyptian intellectual.

    Last time the couple went into exile in the Netherlands, even though the husband's conviction was reversed on appeal.

    Several Egyptian religious leaders have called for Ms Saadawi's death by beheading, and conservative commentators have labelled her "the new Salman Rushdie".

    Fundamentalist clerics were angered when she when she was quoted in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper, al-Midan, as saying that obeisance to the black stone which is the centrepiece of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, was a "vestige of pagan practice".

    Mr Wahsh cites the March interview as proof that Ms Saadawi is an "apostate", having abandoned Islam. Traditional Islam forbids followers to be married to non-believers.

    As well as reiterating her controversial view that women should have equal inheritance rights to men, and criticising the wearing of the veil, Ms Saadawi was quoted in al-Midan as questioning the Islamic roots of the practice of kissing the fragmented black stone housed in the Ka'ba, the cube-shaped shrine in the Great Mosque in Mecca.

    The Ka'ba is considered to be the centre of the Islamic world and every pious act, particularly prayer, is directed towards it. Among conservative believers there is a reluctance to accept that the stone it contains was an object of reverence before the rise of Islam in the 7th century.

    The lawyer's decision to bring the case was given weight by Egypt's most senior cleric, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Nas Farid Wassel, who said that Ms Saadawi was wrong and that her views "ousted her from Islam".

    Ms Saadawi said the paper had quoted her comments out of context. "They were used in the headline without my explanation. I said that kissing the black stone was a ritual relating to the pre-Islamic period. This is a historical fact, but the paper distorted what I said for sensationalist ends," she told the Guardian.

    On a European lecture tour, she was unaware the article was causing a storm. "My husband emailed me suggesting that I should postpone coming back to Egypt. He didn't want to frighten me and he only wrote a few lines. But we decided I should come back and challenge those who say I should be killed."

    Known for her outspoken views on the oppression of Arab women, Ms Saadawi has been imprisoned and censored by previous Egyptian administrations.

    A medical doctor, she was removed from her position as director general of public health in 1972 after being the first Arab woman to write against female genital mutilation.

    Death list

    In 1993 her name was put on a fundamentalist death list and she and her husband went into exile in the US, returning to Egypt only last year. Mr Hetata spent 15 years in prison for his political views.

    "Sherif and I have both been in prison and faced oppression before. I'm not afraid. The idea that we'll be separated is madness. We've been together since 1964. We have a family and love each other."

    Six years ago conservative religious leaders used hesba against a leading academic. Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid fled his home and teaching post at Cairo University after fundamentalists claimed that he had renounced his faith through his writings and could not remain married to a Muslim, his fellow academic Ibtihal Younis.

    Mr Wahsh said he had taken Ms Saadawi to court because she had "insulted one of the main pillars of our religion and she has to be punished".

    An outspoken critic of the west, Mr Wahsh has tried unsuccessfully to sue Tony Blair and the Queen, whom he accused of plotting the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, because she intended to marry a Muslim. He also won Arab plaudits for his demand for $100m compensation from Bill Clinton for bombing Iraq.

    He said Ms Saadawi "has always been known for violating all morals of our society and our traditions, but this time she has crossed too many lines".

    Since 1957, when her first novel was published, Ms Saadawi has written 32 books, including short stories, plays, memoirs, polemics and novels about Arab women, colonialism, fundamentalism and globalisation.

    She writes in Arabic and her work has been translated into more than 30 languages.

    Supporters of Ms Saadawi from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Lebanon are expected to attend today's hearing.

    Emma Bonino, the Italian former EU commissioner is also due to offer her support.

    Her husband said that even if the case failed the personal attacks on his wife by Egypt's clerics and the label of "apostate" left them vulnerable to future threats.

    "The fact that it's got this far shows there is a growth in retrograde culture and politics in Egypt and the Arab region.

    "But we're not going to be separated. We're going to walk out of court and back to our home, together."


    Woh afsaana jise anjaam tak, laana na ho mumkin
    Use ek KHoobsoorat moR dekar, chhoRna achha

    Very sad and deplorable...only goes to show the insecurity and shallowness of the followers and their belief system..

    [This message has been edited by Rani (edited June 18, 2001).]