TORONTO, Canada, Sept 12, (Agencies): Nearly a decade after shattering the glass ceiling of Islamic jurisprudence, the first woman judge to be appointed to a sharia court in the Middle East says women’s rights still have a way to go.
Kholoud al-Faqih was at the Toronto Film Festival on Monday for the premiere of Erika Cohn’s documentary “The Judge”, which looks at sharia law through the eyes of the first woman judge to be appointed to the Middle East’s religious courts.
“I’m personally satisfied with the speed of progress in Palestine”, Faqih told AFP. “But I wish the rest of the Middle East would hasten their recognition of Arab women’s rights”.
Eight years ago, Faqih pressed Palestinian chief justice Sheikh Tayseer al-Tamimi for the judgeship and beat out dozens of male applicants.
Tamimi initially laughed off the idea of a woman judge, but eventually was persuaded by her arguments to appoint her and another woman, Asmahan Wuheidi.
Many in the West associate sharia courts with religious extremism, but they are used throughout Muslim countries.
In the Palestinian territories, civil courts handle criminal, administrative and civil law, while sharia courts adjudicate family issues.
Only two other women have been named to the Palestinian sharia court since Faqih and Wuheidi’s appointments in 2009.
There are also female religious judges in Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and Malaysia. Israel appointed its first female judge to a sharia court in April.
Faqih and her peers, however, continue to face pushback.
“If she gives birth, if she is pregnant or bleeding, she is bound by these things, which affect her work”, sharia scholar Husam al-Deen Afanah was quoted as saying in the film.
A young woman at a cafe tells Cohn she would prefer a male judge.
“For me, it’s painful to hear that a young woman would reject a female judge”, Faqih said.
“But if that lady or anybody else comes to my court, they’ll have to accept my ruling, because that’s the way it is”.
Tamimi was forced to resign one year after appointing Faqih and Wuheidi to the bench.
“Women are not treated equally by the law”, he says in the film, holding out hope for change.
The film showcases Faqih’s tireless fight for justice for women, while illuminating universal domestic conflicts including child custody, divorce and spousal abuse.
Cohn obtained unparalleled court access for the documentary, offering a candid look at life in the Palestinian territories.
Getting access, however, was challenging.
“People saw me as an American woman with broken Arabic and a tiny camera”, Cohn said. “But we just wouldn’t take no for an answer”.
The film opens with the judge discussing women’s rights with groups of Palestinian women. It was at one of these meetings that Cohn met Faqih.
In response to a question about Palestinian women needing “equality to men”, Faqih comments in the film: “We do indeed need a social revolution”.
She calls current religious education “shocking”, noting: “They have a picture of a woman on the Quran verse about the devil”.
She points to a lack of understanding of women’s rights, and the need for more education.
There are moments of levity, such as when a man drags a stranger from a nearby hallway into the court and asks him to testify to his character.
Cohn recounts a tragic moment when a man stabbed his wife to death in Faqih’s court.
After a moment of reflection during this interview, the director expressed hope that audiences will be inspired by Faqih.
“She’s an incredibly strong woman and I think a lot of people around the world will identify with her”, Cohn said.
Then Faqih steps in, offering a piece of legal and personal advice to women.
“You must believe in your abilities and your rights in order to reach your full potential”, she said.
“If you only see yourself in a broken marriage, you will only see pieces of yourself”.
LONDON: A film highlighting British arms sales to Saudi Arabia that activists say are used in the conflict in Yemen has been released by charity Save the Children in time for one of the world’s largest arms fairs taking place in London on Tuesday.
The provocative film “Made in Britain” calls on the British government to suspend arms sales to states in the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exhibition, which runs from Tuesday, is held every two years in London.
“For me, as a proud Brit, this is completely unacceptable”, said Dominic West, a British actor who has appeared in US thriller series “The Wire” and voices the short film.
“We are providing aid to Yemen, but also selling weapons which are being used in a country where children are being bombed and starved”, West said in a statement.
The UK has approved 3.8 billion pounds ($5 billion) of arms licences to Saudi Arabia, since the conflict escalated in March 2015 with exports including Paveway IV missiles and Typhoon fighter jets, according to Save the Children.
A poll commissioned by the charity found that more than half of the British public thought Britain should suspend the approval of arms sales to countries fighting in Yemen.
“The UK government takes its defence export responsibilities very seriously and already operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world”, a British government spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The United Nations has verified 5,144 civilian deaths in the war in Yemen, mainly from air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, and an international investigation is urgently needed, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said on Monday.
The UN says the civil war has created the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with the conflict compounded by an economic collapse that has pushed millions to the brink of famine.
The film closes with the phrase: “Our greatest export should be hope, not fear”.