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Tradition Isn’t Always Right May 15, 2009

The other day I came across an article in the Christian Science Monitor about one of the two first female Islamic judges in the Middle East.  The article focused on Khouloud el-Faqeeh who is Palestinian. She is described as not only being exceptional in her knowledge (top in her class at Jerusalem’s Al-Quds University and one of the highest scorers out of 45 people in the qualifying sharia judge exam) but she’s also a straight arrow; she won’t bend the rules for anyone.  Pretty fantastic.

But there was one thing in the article that annoyed me.  It was the view that women are ‘too emotional’ to take on such a position.

Sheikh Hamed Bitawi, who’s the head of the Association of Islamic Scholars and Scientists,  said that there are two schools of thought on the issue: that every position but that of a caliph is open to women, and that women are too emotional to make legal decisions – as judges or as witnesses.

“I am of the second view because I consider women to be gentle human beings who should not be subjected to difficult situations or difficult decisions,” Mr. Bitawi says. “They cry easily, and hence their judgment is tainted with emotions. Moreover, lawyers are difficult to deal with and people who come to courts are angry and violent.”

Give me a break.  I’ve heard this perspective before and for the life of me I still can’t believe why people continue to buy into this archaic and stereotypical argument.  As if men aren’t emotional?  Men indeed are emotional. One could also make the stereotypical argument that men tend to have a short fuse and they consequently yell, scream or react violently.  Therefore, they too are ‘tainted with emotions.’  Would that make them a better judge?  Of course not.  That’s why one’s qualification shouldn’t be based on gender but by their individual abilities.

El-Faqeeh explained that “In Islam, it says a sharia judge has to be a Muslim, rational adult” – not necessarily a man.  Whenever I would discuss this with the chief judge, he would say, ‘This is tradition.’ ”

I’m all about tradition. But when it comes to professional matters, sometimes tradition counters common sense and what’s right and that needs to be corrected.  As el-Faqeeh said “I’m a legal person, and, to me, legal issues are stronger than tradition.” Case closed.

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