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PA TV interviews first female Islamic religious judge in the PA

Official PA TV program Live With Them in Serenity, hosting female Shari’ah Court Judge Khuloud Al-Faqih

Official PA TV host: “When we say [the name] Khuloud Al-Faqih, immediately the first female Shari’ah judge echoes in one’s head – in addition to being the sister of the second female Shari’ah judge, you were the first female judge in Palestine. How was the journey to realizing this aspiration, and how did the dream begin?”

Shari’ah Court Judge Khuloud Al-Faqih: “We as Palestinians believe that rights are being taken from us by force. Palestinian women have been prevented from receiving this position without any justified reason…
(Al-Faqih talks about how she first decided she wanted to be a Shari’ah judge and found that there were no legal barriers to the appointment of a female Shari’ah judge –Ed.)
At the time [the fact that there is no legal barrier] encouraged me to go and discuss [the matter] with then Chief Justice [of the PA Religious Court and current Secretary General of the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem] Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi. I went into his office and when he asked me: ‘What do you want,’ I told him: ‘I want to be a Shari’ah judge.’ He looked at me [in a way] that I will never forget his look [and said]: ‘What are you talking about?’ I told him: ‘There is no Shari’ah obstacle and no legal obstacle. Why are you preventing women from receiving this position? This [position] relates to me as a woman, as a wife, and as a daughter. In other words, in civil law there can be very large matters that [women] are involved in, but in law that relates to [women] they are not present.’
I gave him a copy of the research [I had done on the topic], and he told me: ‘Allah willing, we will study the matter.’ And from here the journey began, and the journey and challenge grew every day until my viewpoint was proven.”

Official PA TV host: “Yes, how [long] did this process take?”

Khuloud Al-Faqih: “This journey lasted approximately from 2001 until 2009. During this period I did not make do with just submitting this research, no, [I said] to everyone I saw: ‘I want to be a Shari’ah judge.’ Even the judges who were in the areas where I was, whether Ramallah, Al-Ram, or Al-Eizariya - every time I met someone [I said]: ‘I want to be a Shari’ah judge.’ Repeating this broken record made the matter accepted.”

Official PA TV host: “Routine.”

Khuloud Al-Faqih: “Perhaps at the start [I heard responses like]: ‘What are you talking about?’ perhaps some thought at the time that I was deviating from the [normative] Islamic line…
Of course, when a woman comes and competes in a field against men, of course from the Ottoman state until 2001 this was a matter that was difficult to accept.”

Official PA TV host: “In other words, history and not just custom.”

Khuloud Al-Faqih: “It is a matter that is difficult for the judges themselves to accept - in other words, that Sheikh Tayseer [Al-Tamimi] was unique [by being] one of the people –”

Official PA TV host: “Intellectual openness, yes, yes.”

Khuloud Al-Faqih: “Exactly, that they have intellectual openness. But the judges, at the start there was –”

Official PA TV host: “They denounced the matter.”

Khuloud Al-Faqih: “There was denunciation and condemnation. That is what the customs caused them [to do], that is what the people knew in the region of Greater Syria (i.e., including Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and part of Jordan).”

Official PA TV host: “We hold on to customs that unfortunately are in need of a fundamental change, despite the condemnation of the matter.”

Khuloud Al-Faqih: “Yes, at the time I started work at the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counselling in order to protect the rights of battered women. Of course, this obstacle [against female Shari’ah judges] is violence. It is legal and social violence.”
Official PA TV host: “Ms. Khuloud, after you received the position in practice, certainly you stood before challenges and difficulties from society in receiving a female Shari’ah judge, in other words, it is always expected that a man will be the judge in these matters. How did society receive you, and what were the difficulties that you dealt with?”

Khuloud Al-Faqih: “The appointment to this position was not an easy matter socially speaking, in fact there was opposition. I remember that one of the people who is well-known in Palestinian society and holds a doctoral degree in Islamic Shari’ah [law] preached at one of the mosques that this matter contradicts Islamic law, and he opposed this idea. Friday sermons at the time centered on the opposition to this idea; it was not an easy matter. There were those among them who wrote a full page in the Al-Quds newspaper... [about how] this matter contradicts Shari’ah. Even [among] the judge colleagues [there were those] who did not accept this idea at all. The clerks at the Shari’ah courts – I heard them [saying]: ‘Let her just come and be our female Shari’ah judge and we will drive her crazy.’ What pained me was that the greatest opposition of all came from women. Women didn’t accept a woman [as a Shari’ah judge], and I am talking about the Ramallah district, and we always consider the Ramallah district to be ‘broad-minded.’ I remember word for word how a woman came to me, and I was still in the first days of the position at the Ramallah Shari’ah court, [and] she said: ‘I want a Shari’ah judge.’ She was told: ‘Go ahead.’  When she saw me she said: ‘I will not let a woman judge me.’ To this day those words still echo inside me in pain. In the end, the appointment to this position is not [just] a success for Khuloud Al-Faqih, but a success for every woman.”

Official PA TV host: “Right.”

Khuloud Al-Faqih: “Whoever can break through the barrier of silence, the breakthrough is for the success of all, and not just for a lone person.”