By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
As an example of the perils brought forth in countries having two legal systems, Christian men who intend to divorce their Christian spouse in Jordan receive significant leverage over their wives who remain within their faith.
Under Article 172 of Jordan’s personal status law, a Muslim man automatically receives custody of children aged seven and above when divorcing a Christian woman. This statutory provision provides a husband an attractive advantage in conversion to gain custody where he otherwise could receive an unfavorable determination based upon mitigating factors, such as showing the interests of the children might be better served if they remained within the custody of their mother.
According to investigative reporter Nadine Nimri who penned several publications relating to discrepancies in the legal statuses between Muslim and Christian parents before the law. Jordanian courts by statute assume that it is within the best interests of the child to remain under the custody of their Muslim fathers. While there are some limited benefits between the various interfaith marriages with regard to children under seven years of age, Muslim mothers under the law have the option of guardianship for these younger children during divorce proceedings.
There are an estimated 180,000 Christians living in the Kingdom of Jordan, which is otherwise ninety-five percent Muslim.
This discrepancy provides the father in a Christian family to wield significant leverage over his wife when the probability of divorce arrives. By converting to Islam, the husband is able to place the weight of the law into his favor simply for the professed conversion despite its legitimacy.
The problem is not limited to child custody. Under Article 281 of Jordan’s personal status law [Arabic], Muslims can only receive an inheritance from other Muslims. Should the husband then die after conversion or if the marriage was between the two religions, the Christian spouse and other Christian heirs would receive no inheritance.
For some women, much of these legal handicaps or barriers might be removed upon her subsequent conversion but since their Christian identity is integral to her society and personal beliefs it can be a tall order to choose between one’s faith and one’s family. Of course, the matter is at least in a de facto sense a one-way street where a return to Christianity will follow accusations of apostasy and in some cases worse.
Jordan in many ways maintains recognition and protection of her minority communities but this merit remains incomplete in legal aspects such as family or probate law.
One method could be to remove such legal constraints or sanctuaries relating to religion and to focus instead on applying the civil law to “citizens” rather than “religions”.
By Darren Smith