For the first time in the history of Palestine, two women were appointed as judges to the Islamic Sharia court in the West Bank cities of Hebron and Ramallah. President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the appointment of the two female judges among 11 judges appointed to the Sharia Courts in the West Bank, after each woman successfully passed two competitive judicial exams held in Ramallah.
Before the ratification of the appointments, President Mahmoud Abbas asked that Dr. Tayseer Rajab Al-Tamimi, the Chief of Judges and the Chairman of High Council of Islamic Law for Palestine, to confirm that the appointment is legitimate according to the Sharia and in the opinion of the the Islamic court, according to one of the new female judges, Asmahan Yusif Al- Wahidi, who was appointed as a judge to the Islamic Court of Hebron.
Dr. Al-Tamimi stated that the High Council of Islamic Judges of Palestine had ratified as legitimate the appointment of two female judges: Asmahan Youssef Al-Wihidi, and Khulud Mohamed Ahmed Faqih, considering the event as historical one. Sheikh Al-Tamimi told me that his appointment was based on the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence, which allows and legitimizes the candidacy and appointment of women to positions of public interest of the society. He said that women are humans just like men, that men and women are brothers and sisters, and that women can take on the most difficult tasks, as history has proved.
According the Sheikh, our Prophet Muhammad, (Salla Allahu Alaihe Asalam - Peace and Mercy be upon Him), allowed women to participate in the war. Women assume sensitive and important positions in our life. In our struggle against the Israeli occupation they have stood side by side with men, and women have even carried out commando operations against the occupation. He added that Asmahan and Khulud were appointed after they had passed exams together with other candidates, all of them men.
I spoke with both women on the phone yesterday Tuesday. While speaking to Asmahan Yusif Al-Wahidi, who was appointed as a judge to the Islamic Sharia Court in Hebron, the city which is in size the second conservative Islamic town in the West Bank, she told me that she was very happy to be have been appointed as the first female judge to an Islamic court. She said that her experience as a lawyer at the Islamic court was that many women were not able to win court cases because they were ashamed to speak freely, or to clarify their situation before male judges.
Asmahan Al-Wahidi finished her studies at the college of law at the University of Abu Dis in Jerusalem in 1997. She studied the penal and Sharia law, and she received confirmations for her appointment to exercise in both the penal law and the Sharia. Asmahan Al-Wahidi is a member of the lawyer union in Palestine, and she comes from a family of lawyers: her father is a lawyer, as well as a brother, and she is married to Musa Salibi is also a doctor of law and works as the legal counselor to the governor of Hebron. The couple lives in Beit Ummer near Hebron, they have three children of ages 6, 4 and one year.
Asmahan told me that she never dared to dream to become a judge, that this was something bigger than her dreams. She previously worked for three years as a lawyer at the penal and Sharia courts in Hebron, and she also held appointments as a legal assistant at the Halhoul Islamic court, and later she was appointed the president of the Family Guidance and Advice department at the Islamic court of Halhoul.
Asmahan opened her heart and she spoke to me from woman to woman. She said that at first she had been offended when a colleague of her mentioned a possible promotion. She had told this colleague that she wished to become an inspector at the court in order to be able to check his work. Inspector was the highest post to which she dared to aspire, but instead she became a judge.
The other woman appointed as a judge is Khulud Mohammad Faqih, who was appointed as a Judge to the Islamic Sharia court of Ramallah. Khulud is married, and she finished her studies at the college of Law at Abu Dis University in 1998. Later, in 2007-2008, Khulud furthered her studies and received a masters degree of Law from Abu Dis University. She worked in matters pertaining to penal and Sharia law at the Islamic courts. She also received confirmations for her appointment as a judge under the penal law as well as under the Sharia. Khulud is also a member of the lawyers union in Palestine.
Khulud is a defender of women rights; she previously worked as a legal advisor and a lawyer for women at the well known “Women Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling” in Palestine, which helps battered women. This organization has various branches in the West Bank cities.
Khulud has represented cases of women under the penal and Sharia laws before the Islamic and penal courts in Ramallah and other towns. She won many of her cases. Khulud also received full support from women organization to be a judge, as well as from her family. Khulud is married to the lawyer Yaakov Al-Rimawi from Ramallah. They have three children, two boys and a girl.
The two new judges Khulud and Asmahan confirmed to me that Dr. Taysser Al- Tamimi helped them to reach these posts at the Islamic organizations under his authority, that their appointments to these posts were due to his initiative, and that he had encouraged them to present their candidacy for the posts.
According to Khulud, these appointments are a big achievement for women and for our society. I wish both women the best possible success in their new posts, and I wish them strength when confronting the inevitable pressures which will come from less tolerant quarters. As one of the few women journalists in Palestine, I was constantly reminded of my “right place” in society, and I had to learn to deal with such pressures, and find the strength to confront them every day.
Sheikh Dr. Tayseer Al-Tamimi is well known in Palestine. He is the Islamic advisor of the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron. He is a political activist and a defender of women rights. I know Dr. Al-Tamimi personally through my work, and he never asked me to wear the hijab, he never refused to be interviewed by me. Nonetheless, on Nov. 20, 2007, the Jerusalem Magistrates Court of the Occupation sentenced Sheikh Al-Tamimi to a suspended sentence of six months in jail and 10.000 Shekels (about 1764 Euros) after he was arrested by the Israeli police during the holy month of Ramadan in 2006 at the entrance of the Al-Aqsa mosque. Dr. Tamimi was accused of praying “illegally” in the Al-Aqsa Islamic Mosque in Jerusalem.