Female Islamic Notary Stays Home as Males Argue Over Her Job

The chairman of Egypt’s notary committee is flatly against having a woman among their ranks, saying the appointment of Amal Soliman as a notary to approve marriages will “afflict Egyptian history.” Other women – and some men, too – think it’s a great idea and are waiting for her to witness their marriages. The picture shows teenage girls in Cairo. (MCT via Newscom)
CAIRO — Five months after a global media frenzy was sparked by the appointment in Egypt of the Islamic world’s first female Islamic notary, 32-year-old Amal Soliman, now out of the international spotlight, sits patiently at home, still waiting to begin her first day at work, while her male peers are fighting to force the mother of three out of the job. 

The major obstacle for Soliman has been the Committee of Egyptian Maazuns, who called on the minister of justice who appointed her, to rescind the decision, calling it un-Islamic for a woman to be a notary, or maazun.


The chairman of the committee, Muhammad Abou Ayeeta, said in a statement issued by the committee “the ministry [of justice] should refuse the appointment, because it is unacceptable that women would work in this occupation.”


He added that she should not be confirmed as a maazun because it would “afflict Egyptian history.”


This was expected, Soliman said. She believes that many people would try and limit her ability to work because she was a woman.


“Sure, this was expected, although I didn’t think it would take this long,” said Soliman, who holds a master’s degree in law from Zagazig University. She also has law and criminal justice diplomas, which gave her the credentials to beat out 10 male candidates for the vacancy in her hometown of Qanayit just north of Cairo.


Soliman didn’t believe gender would be a factor in the position when she applied, although she has long since got over that shock.


“I never thought that my gender would be a big deal, at least not as big of a deal it has become,” she told the Middle East Times.


Justice Minister Mamdouh Mari echoed her belief in a statement from his office stating “Soliman’s nomination depended on her abilities rather than on her gender.”


Al-Azhar was quick to approve Soliman as a maazun, saying that gender is not an issue on the job. Yet, the leading Sunni institution argued that there are restrictions for a woman in the profession.


Officially, Al-Azhar says Soliman would be required to have an assistant to take over her required duties during menstruation.


“But when a woman is menstruating she must not enter a mosque or read Koranic verses and that will affect her job, so for this reason we say it is not advisable to have a woman maazun,” Al-Azhar’s deputy director, Sheikh Fawzi Zafzaf, said in a statement issued by his office.


The committee headed by Abou Ayeeta agrees, taking it a step further in their demands.


“Just end this fantasy and move on to people who can do the job.”


But Soliman has said that during menstruation she will conduct marriages in homes and wedding halls.


Still, breaking into a male-dominated profession has shown that her gender is the only thing holding her back from waking up in the morning and heading to work.


“People all around me come and ask when can I do their marriages; so, here, there isn’t a lot of anger over me doing this job,” she argued, in a veiled criticism of those of her opponents who maintain Egyptians will not accept her.


Abou Ayeeta does not accept that claim. His committee argues, he says, that a majority of the country’s citizens would not go to a female maazun for their marriage licenses or divorces.


“This matter needs to be appropriate with the street and the fact remains that most Egyptians would prefer a man doing this job,” he said in his appeal to the ministry of justice.


At least for women on Egypt’s streets, Soliman is a welcome addition to an institution that has long seen the patriarchal structure upheld through marriage.


One woman, Heba, a mother and college graduate now working as a translator for the government, believes that men feel threatened by a woman’s power.


“They don’t understand that Soliman will be able to cross through societal structures, because she will be more respected; and women, like myself, will be able to speak up when something is wrong,” Heba told the Middle East Times.


Soliman agrees, arguing that as a woman she is better placed to know whether a marriage is coerced. Women as young as 14 or 15 have been reported to have been forced into marriage by their family.


It is the job of the maazun to ensure that the marriage is consensual by both partners.


Whether the ministry of justice will back down on Soliman’s appointment and toe the line of the Egyptian Maazuns Committee is still unknown; Soliman says she does not expect a decision to be taken in the near future.


“This could continue for months, so I sit at home and take care of my children and am ready to begin when they tell me I can.”



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