Soad Saleh, one of the world’s leading female scholars of Islam, fields requests for religious advice each week from callers across the Arab world. Seated at a gilded table on the set of her Egyptian satellite TV show, Women’s Fatwa, Saleh provides religious rulings on a wide range of subjects. How many months can a man be away from his wife if he is working in another country? Under what conditions is polygamy acceptable? How can a financial dispute between sisters be settled?
During one episode in late March, a young Egyptian woman named May called in. Six months ago, when she married her husband, he promised she could continue working as an engineer. Now he is insisting she stay at home. He has even locked her in the house while he is at work to prevent her from leaving. She doesn’t want a divorce, because she fears people will blame her. What should she do?
Saleh paused briefly, looking traditional but stylish in her periwinkle hijab, or headscarf, and simple rimless eyeglasses. “You probably agreed to marry this man because he is committed to his house and responsibilities,” she said.
“Yes,” May said.
“Being committed, according to Islam, does not mean you pray in the mosque and then oppress your wife at home. Being committed means that you follow Allah’s rules in managing your relations with people,” Saleh said. But she does not urge May to leave her husband, instead urging her to be patient. “You have to wait until you deliver your children,” she said, “and then, God willing, you will get busy raising your babies.”
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