Palestine Pulse

Meet Palestine's first female marriage officiant

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The appointment of Tahrir Hamad as Palestine’s first female Sharia marriage judge has been met with minimal objections.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Mohammed Talib and his fiancee Zanin Samara, from Beit Ur al-Fauqa in Ramallah, and their families did not seem surprised at the sight of a woman preparing to marry them in the Ramallah Sharia court on Sept. 30.

Tahrir Hamad, from Silwad, just northeast of Ramallah, is the first female Sharia marriage judge in Palestine. On July 23 the Supreme Judicial Council licensed her to conduct marriages. Some social and religious groups welcomed the news, while others opposed it.

Talib graduated with a sociology degree from Birzeit University. He did not object to a woman officiating his marriage. Before the ceremony, he told Al-Monitor, “I have absolutely no objection to a woman marrying us as long as there is no Sharia or legal objection to that.”

For her part, Samara, a media graduate from Birzeit University, praised the appointment of a woman to the post of first marriage judge and considered it a positive step. She told Al-Monitor, “This is a good step that proves there are no differences between men and women in professional positions. It also encourages women to play their role in society.”

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But the opinions of Talib and Samara do not apply to everyone, as some people refuse to accept a female judge out of social or religious convictions. On Sept. 30, in the Ramallah Sharia court, a groom refused to be married by a woman and insisted on a man. He did not want to talk to Al-Monitor when contacted.

The Sharia marriage judge is responsible for writing marriage contracts and conducting the procedures by making sure that the paperwork of the bride and groom is in order, which includes identification cards, birth certificates, thalassemia medical tests, a guardianship letter in case the bride’s father is no longer alive and the results of an AIDS test if the bride is from outside Palestine.

According to Hamad, the marriage contract is prepared and recorded in the official records of the Sharia court after the rights and obligations of the bride and groom are clarified and their rights are written in the contract, such as the dowry value and its details.

Hamad holds a bachelor’s degree in Islamic jurisprudence and law and a master’s degree in Islamic studies from Al-Quds University, Abu Dis. She also has a Sharia lawyer degree from the same university. She told Al-Monitor that she was pleased with her new position as the first female Sharia marriage judge in Palestine, as it has opened the way for her female colleagues.

Hamad remembers the first marriage she officiated on July 29, when she was worried the public might object to her work. But those fears were unfounded. “I was apprehensive before the first wedding contract,” she said. "But the couple and their parents were accepting, and that made me happy and gave me the courage to move forward.”

She said that so far she has officiated 45 weddings, and only in two instances objections were raised to her being the Sharia marriage judge.

About her journey to reach this position, Hamad said, “I made a formal request to the chief [religious] justice of Palestine, Mahmoud al-Habash, in April. He referred my request to the Commission of Marriage Judges to consider it from all jurisprudence and legal aspects. The commission found no objections and sent their opinion and recommendation to Habash, who in turn approved the request.”

Hamad aspires to obtain a doctorate in jurisprudence and legislation. She said, “There are no difficulties at play. The vast majority of citizens do not object to my work. In the beginning some were surprised, but with time the people seemed more understanding and receptive to the matter.”

The Sharia judiciary — that is, the Sharia judge and the marriage judge — considers all personal status matters by relying on Islamic law in making decisions. For a long time in Palestine that was the preserve of men. The custom was broken by Judge Kholoud al-Faqih, who has been a Sharia judge since Feb. 15 via a decree by President Mahmoud Abbas.

For his part, the head of the marriage judges in the Ramallah Sharia court, Judge Mahmoud al-Abboushi, told Al-Monitor, “There is interest in getting women involved in the Sharia judiciary as part of the context of our work in making and developing the laws governing the judiciary.”

Thus, three women were appointed to the position of Sharia judges and three others to the position of marriage judges. Abboushi added, “We have conducted a doctrinal and legal study and found no objections to women assuming the position of Sharia judge or marriage judge. Therefore, all the criticism directed at us is a cacophony that we do not pay attention to since we have not run afoul of the law and Sharia.”

Abboushi seemed surprised that the people accepted women as Sharia marriage judges. He said, “I was surprised by the citizens’ acceptance and satisfaction regarding having women in this position. Some citizens objected on the pretext that our society does not accept this. We respect this position, but the majority of citizens were supportive.”

Sheikh Hossam al-Din Afaneh, a Sharia professor at Al-Quds University, Abu Dis, is one of the most prominent opponents of women becoming marriage judges. He told Al-Monitor, “This is a novel matter in which the Islamic scholars had no say. Therefore, according to my study, if women become marriage judges, this runs contrary to the bases and purposes of Islamic law and would result in several harms.”

He said that he described these harms in an article he published Aug. 18 on his personal website. In essence, these harms are embodied in the “mixing of women with men and them talking to each other, which gives rise to many harms. Women working as marriage judges requires looking at men, but Islam forbids looking at foreign women [non-mahram women, or marriageable kin] for no reason. And this work, according to tradition, is limited to men.”

Despite the criticisms by some clerics regarding women working in the Sharia justice system, women insist on moving forward in opening up professional positions as long as there are no Sharia or legal impediments.

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Found in: women in the workforce, women in society, women and islam, west bank, sharia, marriage, judges, conservative

Ahmad Melhem is a Palestinian journalist and photographer based in Ramallah for Al-Watan News. He writes for a number of Arabic outlets.

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