MWA Joins Al-Timani Attorney and Saudi Women Activists in Petitioning for Reversal of Forced Divorce
King Abdullah Urged to Continue Support of Advances Made in the Elimination of Gender Bias Against Women
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Feb. 5, 2007 (MWANET) A January 28, 2007, appeals court decision in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, threatens to set a precedent effectively delivering a major setback in the progress made toward eliminating cultural and gender bias against women in Arab and Muslim societies, unless King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz agrees to forward the case to the Kingdom’s High Court.
“On learning about the appellate court decision to uphold the July 20, 2005 lower court ruling, obtained absentia, forcefully divorcing Fatima and Mansour Al-Timani on the basis of his alleged lower social status, there was no doubt in my mind that Muslimah Writers Alliance would join in supporting their attorney, and scores of Saudi women activists and reporters, in appealing to the widely reported track record of mercy on the part of King Abdullah, in whose hands lay the power to reverse this travesty of justice,” stated Aishah Schwartz, Founder and Director of the Washington, D.C.-based organization.
Ms. Schwartz added, “In August of 2005, just seven days into his reign King Abdullah pardoned three jailed dissidents who had plotted to assassinate him, and was subsequently applauded for having lived up to his reputation of being a ‘staunch supporter of reforms and being close to the people’, in addition to being called ‘great man with the interest of the nation at heart’. Indeed, a tough enough course of action to live down in light of the fact that a nursing mother is sitting in a jail suffering the loss of the beloved father of her children, and fearing for her life due to no fault of her own.”
“By forwarding Fatima and Mansour Al-Timani’s case to the High Court, King Abdullah has an opportunity to reinforce his established trend of reform by mandating, implementing, and enforcing existing, pending, and/or proposed measures designed to ensure that women’s rights in marriage and divorce, as well as various other aspects of daily life, are dealt with in accordance to the Shariah. Repealing local, cultural and socially backward man-made, convenience-based laws, is a moral obligation we must strive for on behalf of Muslim women world-wide,” Ms. Schwartz concluded.
Leading the charge in providing media coverage in her capacity as correspondent for The Saudi Gazette, Suzan Zawawi reported Sunday that the couple’s lawyer, Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, who appealed the lower court decision on October 7, 2006, affirmed that, “The High Court is the only legal establishment that can overrule the appeals court if it finds the ruling contrary to the Shariah.”
The original legal action, filed by Fatima’s half-brothers after the death of her father, claimed that Al-Timani misrepresented his tribal affiliation (or social status) when he sought permission to marry Fatima. Al-Timani denied the charge, and in the single court appearance Fatima was made aware of, she adamantly declared to Justice Ibrahim Al-Farraj, that she did not wish to be divorced from her husband.
Despite the fact that under Shariah law, tribal affiliation is not a consideration for a legitimate marriage, we are confronted with the question of how this case is still front page news in Saudi society seven months after-the-fact.
It may very well behoove the Royal Court to be reminded of the Kingdom’s 1970 Memorandum purporting to offer various reasons why it has abstained from signing either ‘The International Human Rights Declaration’ or ‘The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’.
The Memorandum states that the Kingdom’s abstention from signing either document was not to be misconstrued as indicating disapproval of the aims presented, but, “because of our determination to let the dignity of a human person be protected by us without any distinction between one man and another under the impetus of the divine Islamic creed and not by the material law.”
Furthermore, included in the Kingdom’s “Principles of Human Rights in Islam”, which contains legal provisions forming National Law pertaining particularly to freedom from discrimination, adherence to the call for unity of the human race, adherence to the call for mutual cooperation, and the right to live peaceably, there is a provision that states, in part:
“There are ‘countless’ other Islamic religious laws for the protection of the basic, inalienable human rights of mankind. These laws also [allegedly] deal in a ‘comprehensive way’ with man’s economic, social and cultural rights from the humanitarian and idealistic aspects, which [allegedly], do not make any distinction, or allow for any kind of distinction between one human being and another, particularly concerning sex, color, language, religion, opinion, wealth, country, or national or social origin.”
An example of this is recorded in Islamic history through the story of Al Sayeda Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid, who was not only the first person to embrace Islam, but was also the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
Khadijah, observing the Prophet’s reputation for honesty and aptitude for business matters, took the decision upon herself that he would make the best of the husbands. This came as a surprise to all that knew her, as she had already declined numerous marriage proposals from within her own tribe, the Quraish.
In fact, it is further reported that Khadijah also initiated the marriage proposal!
After the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, had given the proposed marriage his blessing, Muhammad and Khadijah were married.
How could such a divine example of non-gender biased human rights possibly be denied?
Fast forward and we have a young mother of two, who, after fleeing with her husband to Jeddah after the initial divorce ruling, was unceremoniously arrested and imprisoned in Damman, where she remains to this day, for refusing to return to the family home under the guardianship of her half-brothers. Women of any age in Saudi Arabia require a legal male guardian, or mahram, who could be either their husbands or other male relatives, and Fatima’s father, subsequent to blessing her marriage to Al-Timani, passed away.
Here we read of a young woman who has endured seven heart-wrenching months of inability to fulfill her natural instinct to nurture her children, and to be a companion to the man that she loves as a result of the appellate court decision upholding her forced divorce, or should we say, because the courts did not uphold Fatima’s right to choose her own life partner.
Fatima willingly remains in a Dammam prison, where she has been for the past seven months after being arrested in Jeddah for fleeing with her husband in search of a resolution to their predicament. Although she is free to leave the prison, Fatima is fearful that her step-brothers will arrange for her to be remarried before King Abdullah makes a final decision to grant a reprieve in her case.
Fatima told The Arab News in November, “I’m leaving this place on one condition only: that I go back to my husband.”
Prior to the appellate court ruling Fatima was only allowed once-weekly, 15 minute visits with her husband in order to share time between their 1-year old son, who remains with Fatima, and their two-year old daughter, Noha, who remains in the care of her father.
Unfortunately the bad news gets worse, as due to the status of their divorce Al-Timani is no longer allowed to visit Fatima, compounding the couple’s grief at being separated from one another.
“Fatimah’s and numerous other cases are basically rooted in the right of the guardian to control life, marriage, and in our cases, education and travel,” stated renowned Saudi poet and activist, Nimah Ismail Nawwab.
Nawwb further asserted, “Women all over the world are being harmed because of it [guardianship] and our local, legal decisions are being picked up by others and cited as precedents, creating a domino effect that is widespread and tragically timeless.”
“We are simply embracing the ruling of traditions and customs over that of religion,” stated Maysoon Dakhiel, associate professor of Education and Psychology at the Girls College in Jeddah.
MWA applauds and supports the valiant efforts of Saudi women throughout the Kingdom who launched a petition this week for presentation to King Abdullah on behalf of Fatima and Mansour Al-Timani. The petition urges that the Al-Timani case to be forwarded to the High Court, and calls for the reversal of the appellate court’s ruling so that Fatima and her husband can be reunited.
Additional measures are requested in the petition that would effectuate guidelines to ensure rejection of future, frivolous and non-Shariah compliant divorce cases brought by parties other than the husband and wife. These measures are critical considering that there are already approximately 19 known forced divorce or annulment cases pending judiciary proceeding. The petition also calls for re-evaluation of the laws pertaining to guardianship of competent, adult women.
“Networking among Muslim women all over the world has become a necessity and a survival strategy, stated Fatin Yousef Bundagji, Director of Women Empowerment and Research at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Ms. Bundagji added, “You need never forget that a younger female generation is patiently waiting for you to secure its future.”
Despite the unsettling turn of events in the case of Fatima and Mansour Al-Timani, it is important to acknowledge documented signs of change regarding issues pertaining to the rights of women within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In 2000 the Kingdom signed the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. A nine-point program that aims to increase the role of women in the workplace was adopted by the Council of Ministers in 2004.
However, there is still an uphill battle to be forged in implementing and enforcing these changes.
A more recent manifestation of King Abdullah’s commitment to supporting women’s issues materialized as the result of a collaborative effort supported by Muslimah Writers Alliance through an online petition drive in September 2006. The petition was launched in protest of a proposal outlined in a report compiled by a committee of scholars at the request of King Abdullah. The proposal, set forth as a plan to eliminate the prayer area for women within the mataaf (circumambulation area around the Holy Kaaba), was met with a chorus of global outrage.
Within days the MWA Grand Mosque Equal Access for Women Petition collected nearly 2,000 signatures.
By the petition’s eleventh day deputy head of Grand Mosque affairs, Mohammed bin Nasser al-Khozayem, announced to the press that, ‘The presidency (committee) [has] decided to adopt a second proposal, which is to expand two special places for women’s prayer, in addition to the one that already exists.’
Margot Badran, author and a senior fellow at the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., called the collaborative effort, “The most striking example to date of concerted Islamic feminist global protest and one that authorities could not ignore.”
In revisiting the Kingdom’s “Principles of Human Rights in Islam”, and reflecting upon the call for acquaintance and cooperation for the common good, as well as for the performance of all kinds of righteous deeds towards all human beings, regardless of their citizenship or religion, in conformity with the Quranic verse [translation of the meaning]: “O mankind we created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous of you.” (Surah al-Hujurat (49:13)
Let us pray for the sake of Fatima, her husband, their children, and the Muslim Ummah at large, that King Abdullah is listening now.
For a complete media documented history of the case visit:
Aishah Schwartz is a Muslim American revert and freelance writer. She has catalogued her journeys through Islam in a series of articles found at http://www.sisteraishah.com She i.s also Founder and Director of Muslimah Writers Alliance (http://www.muslimahwritersalliance.com) based in Washington, D.C., a member of the National Association of Women Writers and member of the National Association.
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