This month Israel appointed its first female judge to its Muslim courts, known as Sharia courts. Hana Mansour-Khatib will oversee family law, marriage, and other personal law matters as she takes on the title Qadi.
An immediate benefit to having an acting female judge in a Sharia courtroom is the influence it has on the women who come in to testify. Mansour-Khatib says that the typical woman coming into the Sharia courts to testify “comes with her father, she comes with her brother and she comes with her grandfather. They start the first trial and finish the 9th or the 10th trial without [her] expressing a word.” However, if a woman is given the chance to speak to another woman instead of a man, she may be more likely to voice her experience. “When a woman stands in front of a woman judge, she can express herself,” said Mansour-Khatib.
In the process of becoming a judge, Mansour-Khatib became an inspiration for young girls, showing them that they can embrace their gender, their religion, their rights, and their dreams. “It’s not only a personal achievement,” Mansour-Khatib said. “It’s ours, for Arab women and Muslim women in Israel who are seeking the best rights they can get from the religious courts.
Reiterating the message of the appointment, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked addressed an audience of supporters. “We are shattering another glass ceiling. We are sending a message to girls everywhere: go, invest, study, and excel,” said Shaked. “The sky is the limit for you, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin agreed, saying, “This is testament to the positive changes in the status of women. This is testament to the inescapable understanding that it is our duty to ensure that half of the world’s population has an equal part in determining and implementing policies and laws in all spheres of life.” He added, “Today, I will allow myself to express the hope that the appointment of the first female religious judge will be the first of many.”
On a similar note, Mansour-Khatib believes that these are some of the best times to be a Muslim woman in Israel thus far. “There’s a lot of young girls who became doctors, managers in schools, high-tech specialists,” she said. “It’s also in the West Bank. They go study in Jenin, or in Nablus. They go alone, without their fathers. It means that we live in a good era, people cope with the success of women as an achievement.”
Mansour-Khatib’s husband is a prime example of a man embracing his female counterpart’s success. Standing in the law firm he operates with his wife, he boasts that most of the awards and certificates decorating the walls belong to his wife.
Despite Israel’s reputation for gender equality, especially in military service, women are lacking from religious leadership positions. In some ways, Mansour-Khatib’s judgeship is helping Israel catch up to countries like Malaysia, Jordan, Indonesia, and Egypt, all of which have already had female Qadi in their Sharia courts. Mansour-Khatib’s new judgeship shatters stereotypes of Muslim women, which often depicts Muslim women as repressed by their religion. It also marks a historical moment for Muslim women living in Israel.
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