In a move that will stun the Muslim world, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti of Egypt and one of the highest-ranking Sunni authorities, has said that hymen reconstruction surgery for women who have lost their virginity before marriage is halal (permissible) and that a man has no right to demand proof of a woman's virginity if he cannot provide proof of his own. In addition, the fatwa states that a woman who has had sex before marriage but has sincerely repented is under no obligation to inform her husband of her sexual status.
This is brilliant: "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," Gomaa says. (My emphasis.) For those who claim that logic is out of vogue in the corridors of Muslim power, prepare to revise. As far as I know, this is the first fatwa from a sheikh of this rank that declares the hymen an illegitimate 'sign' of virginity. Since the hymen of an active girl is often worn away by the time she reaches a marriageable age, this bodes well for millions of Muslim women around the world. Finally, reality-based physiology from the clerical class.
The fatwa has been seconded by Azharite scholar Sheikh Khaled El Gindy, who, when challenged about 'traditional beliefs' which hold that a woman's virginity is sacrosanct while a man's is not, said "Islam does not care for the feelings of ignorant people, just as the law does not protect the idiots."
What is remarkable about this fatwa is that while it accepts the underground hymen-surgery racket, it does not endorse it; it considers the practice acceptable only because it protects a woman from potential violence. The real meat of the fatwa is in its de-emphasis of the need for proof of virginity--and 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.
In an interesting side-note, the hymen is mentioned nowhere in the Qur'an or the two commonly accepted books of hadith. Not once. The word for 'virgin' in Arabic--bikr--means simply 'unmarried woman'.
Today is a very good day for women's rights in Islam. Alfa shokran, Sheikh Gomaa and Sheikh Gindy.