Egypt's ruling Islamic authority has rejected President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's move to invalidate the practice of Muslim men verbally divorcing their wives.
The Council of Senior Clerics Al-Azhar voted unanimously on Sunday that verbal divorce, when meeting all requirements, remains a necessary component of divorce in Islam as per the undisputed practice of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The decision overrides Al-Sisi's comments last month against verbal divorce.
Muslim women in Egypt cannot verbally divorce their husbands but instead have to seek to divorce through a court. The statement released by the council was worded carefully, making sure to address "the people" with no mention made of Al-Sisi or his comments last month. Al-Azhar's contradiction of the president is a rare occurrence for public institutions with Al-Sisi's crackdown on dissent since taking office in a military coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
The statement also expressed concern at the high divorce rates in Egypt, where 40 per cent of marriages end in divorce within five years. Al-Sisi made the divorce reform suggestion during a televised speech last month with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, appointed by presidential decree as head of the Council of Senior Clerics.
Al-Azhar's rejection of the divorce proposal is showing "a clear line between religion and politics," according to Ayman al-Sayad, an analyst who closely monitors religious affairs.
"It has decisively settled the issue, but went to great lengths so as not to appear confrontational," Al-Sayad explains.