by Martina Sabra.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the religious scholar and journalist Tahar Haddad advocated a modern interpretation of the Koran. Only after his death did his work find resonance in Tunisian society.
Just as in all Arab states, Tunisia has no separation of state and religion. Yet, this small North African country is known for its comparatively progressive system of family law. Women can't be forced to marry against their will, they have the same right to divorce as men, and polygamy is completely forbidden. Less well known is the fact that Tunisia's female-friendly laws can be traced back to the ideas of the Koran adhering Tunisian religious and legal scholar, journalist, and politician Tahar Haddad.
Haddad, however, never called for an Europeanization of society, explains Manoubia Ben Ghedahem, a Tunisian historian of literature. On the contrary, says the expert on Haddad, "He held a very purist understanding of Islam. Everything takes places within the framework of the laws of the Koran." According to his understanding, for instance, a woman should only expect to fulfil the role of a good mother. A professional career for women was not envisaged in his philosophy.
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