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c. 2007 Religion News Service Egyptian Mufti Says Women Not Obligated to Prove Virginity (RNS) In a decision being hailed as a major step towards female equality in the Islamic world, the Grand Mufti of Egypt has said Muslim women have no obligation to prove their virginity to prospective husbands. Appearing on a popular Egyptian […]

c. 2007 Religion News Service

Egyptian Mufti Says Women Not Obligated to Prove Virginity

(RNS) In a decision being hailed as a major step towards female equality in the Islamic world, the Grand Mufti of Egypt has said Muslim women have no obligation to prove their virginity to prospective husbands.

Appearing on a popular Egyptian talk show, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said he endorsed a recent fatwa, or religious edict, which said it is permissible _ though not required _ for women who have lost their virginity to have reconstructive hymen surgery, according to a Tuesday (Feb. 20) report from The Daily Star newspaper of Egypt.

The fatwa was issued by Soad Saleh, a noted female Islamic scholar at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, one of the Islamic world’s most revered institutions. Saleh also received backing from Shiekh Khaled El Gindy, another Al-Azhar scholar and member of Egypt’s Higher Council of Islamic Studies.

“Islam never differentiates between men and women, so it is not rational for us to think that God has placed a sign to indicate the virginity of women without having a similar sign to indicate the virginity of men,” El Gindy told The Daily Star.

“Any man who is concerned about his prospective wife’s hymen should first prove that he himself is a virgin.“

Several Muslim women welcomed the rulings.

“For those who claim that logic is out of vogue in the corridors of Muslim power, prepare to revise,” wrote G. Willow Wilson, a Muslim writer in Cairo, on the popular Muslim blog, “The real meat of the fatwa is in its de-emphasis of the need for proof of virginity. In a region of the world where a woman is not considered a virgin unless she bleeds on her wedding night, this is a serious blow to entrenched un-Islamic misogynistic cultural practices.“

Whether conservative Egyptians will accept these rulings remains to be seen.

“The fact that this idea is out in the public realm, from a man of authority in the Islamic establishment, is going to force them to think,” said Leila Ahmed, an Egyptian-born expert on Islam and women at Harvard Divinity School. “But I think this is a time everywhere, including in the Muslim world, when people are ready to hear things that challenge injustice.“

_ Omar Sacirbey

Episcopal Leader Says Anglican Demands Ignore Democratic Processes

(RNS) When Anglican bishops demanded that the Episcopal Church not bless same-sex unions or elect openly gay bishops, they ignored the U.S. church’s democratic government and its autonomy within the Anglican Communion, a top Episcopal official said Friday (Feb. 23).

Bonnie Anderson, president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, said yielding to outside bishops’ authority would change the way the church “understands its role in the Communion and the way Episcopalians make decisions about our common life.”

The 800-member House of Deputies, composed of lay and clergy delegates, is one of two bodies _ the other is the House of Bishops _ that makes church-wide decisions at the Episcopal Church’s triennial conventions.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, a loose federation of 38 autonomous churches with roots in the Church of England.

Anderson said policies demanded by Anglican primates, or top bishops _ such as banning same-sex unions or gay bishops _ are not made by the U.S. House of Bishops alone.

“The House of Bishops does not make binding, final decisions about the governance of the church,” she said in a statement. “Decisions like those requested by the primates must be carefully considered and ultimately decided by the whole church, all orders of ministry, together.”

Citing Anglican policy dating from 1878, Anderson said the primates’ demands raise “profound and serious issues regarding their authority.”

“The type of authority for the primates implicit in the (demands) would change not only the Episcopal Church but the essence of the Anglican Communion,” Anderson said. She also said that “our baptismal promise … must be very carefully considered when we are being asked as Episcopalians to exclude some of our members.”

_ Daniel Burke

Southern Baptist Lawyer Says Independent Abuse Panel Not Possible

(RNS) A top lawyer for the Southern Baptist Convention said Thursday (Feb. 22) that it is not possible for the denomination to create an independent sexual abuse review panel requested by a watchdog group.

“With regard to criminal matters, the proper investigatory panel for Baptists should be law enforcement officials,” D. August Boto, a lawyer with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, said in a statement.

His comments came two days after the Executive Committee met briefly with representatives of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) to consider SNAP’s requests to “make Southern Baptist churches safer.”

Boto’s statement said denominational officials have encouraged churches to do background checks on prospective ministers and volunteers, but “that due diligence cannot be mandated.” He noted there are a number of denomination-related Internet resources about preventing child abuse.

Christa Brown, who coordinates SNAP’s activism in Baptist churches, met briefly with committee members Tuesday and said she would like to see Southern Baptists follow the example of Catholic and Presbyterian leaders who reached “outside of their usual bylaws and structure” to establish panels to try to protect children.

She said leaving the matter to law enforcement is “a cop-out,” noting that child abuse cases often cannot be prosecuted because statutes of limitation have expired.

“Over and over, of course, they say that their hearts are truly broken,” she said. “We have heard the words a lot, but what we are looking for is deeds, deeds that will actually serve to make kids safer.”

Boto, in his statement, said the denomination does not have an “authoritative role” over autonomous Southern Baptist churches, making it hard to meet some SNAP requests.

“Representatives from those churches meet annually to make decisions regarding the work of the Executive Committee and the SBC entities _ not the other way around.”

Southern Baptist officials were not immediately available for additional comment.

_ Adelle M. Banks

`The Nativity Story’ Wins Two Family-friendly Film Awards

(RNS) “The Nativity Story” was honored with two awards at the 15th annual Movieguide Faith and Values Awards Gala in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The movie, which re-tells the accounts of Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus, won the John Templeton Foundation $50,000 Epiphany Prize for Film, which goes to a movie that creates a “deeper spiritual awareness in mankind and increases man’s understanding of God.”

Actor Oscar Issac, who portrayed Joseph, received the Grace Award for Film, an honor for actors who exemplify “God’s grace towards human beings.”

The Foundation’s $50,000 Epiphany Prize for Most Inspirational Television program went to “The Ten Commandments,” a mini-series depicting Moses and The Exodus to free the Hebrews from slavery.

Actress Shirley Jones won the Grace Award for Television for her role in “Hidden Places,” a television program, which was also awarded the Libertas Award for Television.

The Libertas Awards for Film was awarded to Will Smith’s movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” which is given to a film or television program that promotes positive American values.

“The Queen” was awarded Top Film for Mature Audiences and “Charlotte’s Web” was named Top Family Film of the Year. Both films were honored for their portrayal of moral and spiritual principles.

The annual Movieguide event honors films and television programs of the previous year that are considered “family friendly” and “spiritually uplifiting.”

_ Melissa Stee

Quote of the Day: A KFC Press Release

(RNS) “KFC’s new Fish Snacker Sandwich, a tender, flaky filet of 100 percent Alaskan Pollack topped with tangy tartar sauce and served on a warm sesame bun, extends KFC’s popular Snacker line-up and is ideal for American Catholics who want to observe Lenten season traditions while still leading their busy, modern lives.”

_ KFC (the chain formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken) in a Feb. 21 press release promoting their new fish sandwich. KFC President Gregg Dedrick has sent a letter to the Vatican asking Pope Benedict XVI for his blessing.