Page last updated at 18:14 GMT, Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Egypt clerics back woman's Koran

Azhar University Campus
Students At Azhar University Campus holding Koran

The highest authority of Sunni Islam, al-Azhar University in Cairo, says it has approved the first interpretation of the Koran by a woman.

A senior cleric told an Egyptian daily that the new book respected established tradition, adding that gender was irrelevant to interpretation.

Liberal Muslim women have been critical of established interpretations, saying they are patriarchal.

The author says she wanted to make Koran accessible for the young.

Sheikh Ali Abdelbaqi Mitwali told the daily al-Masri al-Youm that al-Azhar has approved the interpretation (tafseer) submitted by Kariman Hamza, a former broadcaster.

Sheikh Mitwali said there was no such thing as a "male" or "female" reading of the holy book and that "what mattered for us was that the interpretation was in line with the text of the sacred Koran and that it did not contradict the rulings of Sharia".

Ms Hamza - who is a former presenter of religious programmes on radio - said she was delighted by al-Azhar's decision.

She said she wanted to write a book that simplified and clarified the Koran for the young and that she had no commercial motive.

Books in Egypt dealing with the Koran or Islamic tradition have to secure the approval of al-Azhar before publication.

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