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Sunday, September 26, 1999 Published at 19:55 GMT 20:55 UK

World: Middle East

Iranian cleric: Women are equal

Most Shi'ite clerics believe women are inferior to men

By Iranian Affairs Analyst Sadeq Saba

A senior Iranian cleric has declared that women are completely equal to men in all aspects of political and social life.

Ayatollah Yosef Sanei said there should be nothing to stop a woman in the Islamic Republic becoming the supreme religious leader or president.

[ image: President Khatami: Reconciling Islam and the modern world]
President Khatami: Reconciling Islam and the modern world
He said it was wrong not to allow women to become judges or to accept them as full witnesses in courts.

It is rare for senior clerics in Iran to express such controversial views about the role of women in an Islamic society.

But Ayatollah Sanei is one of the few high ranking Shi'ite clerics who supports the reform programme of President Mohammad Khatami.

Human rights

He emphasised that his concept of Islam was fully compatible with human rights.

Mr Sanei said those Islamic scholars who do not recognise the equality of women and men should be able to justify their views in the eyes of the international community.

His progressive ideas are in opposition to the views of the vast majority of traditionalist Shi'ite clerics who believe that men are superior to women.

He also challenges the Sharia law currently practised in the Islamic Republic.

Despite some recent reforms, there are still inequalities - for example, if a woman is killed, her family is entitled to only half the amount of blood money they would get if she had been a man.

However controversial, the egalitarian views expressed by such a high ranking cleric are welcome news for President Khatami and other Islamic reformists who are trying to reconcile Islam and the modern world.

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