On 23 January 2018, King Mohammed VI of Morocco approved a fatwa presented by various ulema (religious scholars), allowing women to become adouls. In Muslim law, adouls are officials who are authorized to perform certain legal formalities, particularly relating to marriage and inheritance. The fatwa became Article 4 of Law 16-03. A few days later, the minister of justice announced tests in October 2018 to recruit 800 adouls, in which women will be allowed to participate for the first time.
As the sanction needed to comply with Muslim law, as understood in Morocco, it was preceded by heated public debates and consultations between the king and ulema that lasted more than a year. Modernists, especially women’s rights advocates of both sexes, hailed the fatwa as a victory for justice and women’s citizenship, as well as the embodiment of the principle of equality and non-discrimination that is enshrined in Morocco’s constitution. Around 5,000 men are currently engaged as adouls, according to the website juristique.com, but not a single woman could previously accede to this profession.
Many modernists, such as female rights activist Nouzha Guessous, drew attention to the fact that more than one magistrate out of four in Morocco’s courts is a woman, and these women allow or refuse marriages, pronounce divorces, assign custody of children etc., on the sole basis of their training and the code of ethics by which they are bound. Similarly, half of Moroccan notaries are women. They collect declarations of donations, advise on matters of inheritance, supervise judiciary transactions of all kinds, and record and authenticate documents without any help from men or other women and without anyone challenging their professional abilities.
However, conservatives generally condemned the fatwa on the grounds that it is “foreign” and will lead to fitna (chaos) and the “loss of our Muslim identity”. Some opponents also cited women’s innate inability to take testimony.
At the same time, adouls themselves agreed that the profession had stagnated and needed reform. In the last 15 years, male adouls have organized strikes and sit-ins to protest against the archaism of the profession, which exposes it to fraud and false testimonies and makes it hard to accommodate societal changes. When the fatwa was issued, these adouls requested royal arbitration.
The controversy makes sense in a patriarchal culture that denies women full citizenship. For some, like Moulay Bouchaib l Fadlaoui, president of the National Instance of Adouls, the controversy will slow the application of the fatwa because the legal framework of the profession will have to be reviewed. In contrast, for Asma Lamrabet, a biologist, essayist and feminist Moroccan Muslim, nothing precludes women from becoming adouls other than obsolete mentalities forged by centuries of sclerotic tradition. According to her, “There is no text in the Koran or in the Hadith [Prophet Muhammad’s sayings and deeds] that forbids this function for women; it is just a prohibition based on the interweaving of legal interpretation – fiqh – and social customs – ada and urf – that ended up being assimilated as belonging to the sacred. In the early days of Islam, this function was not prohibited because Aisha, wife of the prophet, married his nieces.”
Along the same lines, Arbi Daoui, a member of the Ulema Council of Nouaceur province, attributes the exclusion of women as adouls to “theological heritage since it is considered that the testimony of the woman remains incomplete. Moreover, nothing in religion prohibits the exercise of this profession by women. Contrary to what is believed, women can show a lot of rigour and a great sense of precision, [both] necessary for the job.”
Overall, Moroccan and international media, notably al-Jazeera, have described the sanction as a legal revolution that will strengthen Morocco’s reputation as the champion of moderate Islam. This revolution will likely entail others such as equality in inheritance, another highly anticipated breakthrough.