Palestinian Judge Speaks of Women's Injustice at Divinity School

Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first female judge in a Palestinian Shari’a court, spoke of struggle and success as a part of the Harvard Divinity School’s “Women’s Rights in a Man’s World” panel on Wednesday.

The panelists—including Al-Faqih, her translator, and fellow female leaders and Divinity School affiliates Nidal Al-Azraq, Hauwa Ibrahim, Leila Ahmed, and moderator Gloria White-Hammond—discussed barriers for opportunities for women hoping to work within Shari’a law courts.

Al-Faqih was ranked the world’s tenth most powerful Arab woman by Arab Business in 2012 and was named one of the world’s most influential Muslims in 2012.

Al-Faqih told the room that in Palestine, “one of the hardest obstacles that we faced was the society. The society did not accept us because the society believed the idea that this position was only for religious males.”

Ibrahim, a Nigerian defense attorney and visiting professor at the Divinity School, said that “where one sex dominates—in this case maybe the male sex in Shari'a courts—progress, freedom, peace and sustainable development will be slowed.”

Though the process may be difficult, Al-Faquih said that women have the capability to create change and must change their perspective on themselves in order to succeed.

“As women, we have to look at ourselves from all directions, from all mirrors, not from a broken mirror,” Al-Faqih said. “If we look at ourselves, as women, through a broken mirror, we will see ourselves as parts, broken parts, and parts doesn’t mean anything. If we look at ourselves, as women, from a complete mirror, we will see a complete human being with full rights.”

Divinity School Dean David N. Hempton said that this “inaugural conversation” was the first of many talks about the boundaries and divisions of religion and social justice, funded by the recent Susan Shallcross Swartz Endowment for Christian Studies.

Social and environmental activist Susan Shallcross Swartz, who attended the panel, said the talk fulfilled her hopes for the endowment.

“Our hope and vision is that these conversations will invigorate our understanding of Christian studies by exploring ethics and cross-cultural understanding,” Swartz said.

—Staff writer Zohra H. Yaqhubi can be reached at zyaqhubi@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @ZohraDYaqhubi.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: March 1, 2013

An earlier version of a headline of and a statement in this article incorrectly stated that Harvard Divinity School panelist Kholoud Al-Faqih is the Middle East’s first female judge. In fact, Al-Faqih is the first female judge in a Palestinian Shari’a court.

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