Judgment Day: Muslim Women Earn Judge Appointments in West Bank

Judgment Day: Muslim Women Earn Judge Appointments in West Bank February 25, 2009

Two women, Khuloud Faqih and Asmahan Wuheidi,  have become judges in Islamic courts in the West Bank. This is such a great milestone, not only for Palestinian women, but for Muslim women, too. We often have our ability to be judges questioned because we’re seen as too emotional and irrational to be judges. This bias was evidenced by a quote in the Associated Press article, from a woman no less:

“I’d like to see her, but I think that men do this job better, they are less emotional,” said Eziyeh Yousef, who was finalizing her divorce papers.

In many Arab societies, traditions have long held that only men can be Islamic judges because women are too weak and sensitive.

Judge Khuloud Faqih. Image via AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen.
Judge Khuloud Faqih. Image via AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen.

I find this idea to be very ironic, especially in an Arab context, because it not uncommon to see Arab male politicians cry or deliver very emotional speeches on TV. I’m not sure why being “emotional” is seen as a liability for women but not men. What’s even more ironic about thinking that women cannot excel as Islamic judges is that Faqih and Wuheidi aced the Islamic law exam, “beating dozens of other, mostly male, applicants”.

Despite the prejudice of some, there also seems to be support for the two judges as well. Sheik Taysir Tamimi, who is responsible for the appointment, said he urged Faqih to apply. Additionally, Palestinian women rights activists are happy with the appointments as well.

The Associated Press release on the appointment does a great job of covering the various issues facing the judges without resorting to usual stereotypes about Shari’ah. They get the opinion of one women’s rights activist, Dima Nashashibi, who thinks that the appointment won’t have much effect for Palestinian women because she thinks that Islamic law is still unequal when it comes to treatment of men and women. It is a legitimate point that still has to be grappled with by Islamic feminists. Yet, we also hear from the judges themselves and how they feel that having more women judges in the court will help women for a variety of reasons.

But the female judges say they can help their sisters obtain their rights under Islamic law. They say a sense of shame surrounds women speaking to men, especially about intimate family relations.

Wuheidi gave the example of a woman seeking divorce because her husband was impotent but who was too shy to divulge details of her sex life to the male judge. In Islam, a woman can ask a judge for a divorce if she is not sexually satisfied.

“When a woman speaks to another woman, it’s easier for her to speak,” Wuheidi said.

This is a legitimate point as well. For a lot of women, it is much more comfortable to speak about certain issues with another female and having more female judges will definitely help more women to feel comfortable in court. I would also like to think that women judges will generally try to be fair and egalitarian towards women petitioners, although I also realize that this may not always be the case.

Still, this is a great milestone for Palestinian women and Insha’Allah (God willing), this will pave the way for more women judges, as well as a leading to further examination of Islamic law and how it can benefit Muslimahs.

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