New Female Judge Transforms Islamic Court

Posted on May 14, 2009


Ilene Prusher, Staff Writer, Christian Science Monitor

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK – Khouloud el-Faqeeh has shattered the glass ceiling of Islamic jurisprudence.

After years of pushing to break into the all-male ranks of sharia judges in the Palestinian territories, she finally secured a post after scoring among the best – along with another woman – in a recent test for new jurists. They are widely considered to be the first female sharia judges in the Middle East.

Now, Ms. Faqeeh is setting a new tone in her Ramallah courtroom, where defendants are often shocked to see a woman on the bench. With a style that’s part Judge Judy, part Sunday School teacher, she’s on a mission to change her society, case by case. But sometimes, even the most progressive intentions won’t overcome powerful social forces, such as those driving Miryam Abed-Nabi, a newlywed who came to court recently to finalize a divorce. Her husband – Fahmi Awadullah, a man twice her age – took her as a second wife just a few months ago. But the marriage infuriated his adult sons, who worried about their portion of his inheritance.

Because his new bride was rejected by the family, Mr. Awadullah is divorcing her, and must, according to their contract, pay her a lump-sum alimony of 6,500 Jordanian dinars ($11,050). He has paid her only half of that, but wants her to sign on the dotted line today, absolving him of any further obligations.

Ms. Abed-Nabi, who in her mid-30s is well past the age when most Palestinian women can expect to marry, walks into the courtroom with her eyes trained on the floor.

“There are institutions which will assign a free lawyer to you,” Faqeeh says. Abed-Nabi nods.

“Fight for your rights,” the judge adds, sounding more like an advocate than a neutral arbiter. [more]