Here comes the (Muslim woman) judge!

Aug. 6, 2008

I recently sat down with Khulud Al-Dhahiri in her office at the Al Ain Sharia 
court and spoke with her about her experiences as the country's first national 
female justice, and the role of tradition in this environment. 

Jacob Olidort: Can you describe your experience before this position? 

Khulud Al-Dhahiri: From my graduation in 2000 until I took this job in March I 
worked in a law office. A female judge is certainly new for the country, 
particularly for Abu Dhabi, because it is an expression of female emancipation. 
It raises questions about the foundations of our society. It is important that 
the genders remain equal before the law, including of course the Shari'a 
(Islamic) laws. 

And this includes the position of women in the work force? 

Certainly, there is no difference. Even in Shari'a, the only difference that 
exists is a fiqhi (scholars' interpretation) that when a woman becomes a judge, 
she is more responsible than at any other point to uphold the truths of the 
Shari'a laws and traditional social dynamics. And thank God, we have flexible 
laws. We don't believe a woman doesn't have a right to govern. This is not an 
issue of opposition or debate. We are not talking of whether there is more 
opposition against a man or a woman. We are discussing work ethics. When I as a 
woman or as a woman judge consider a legal ruling, I look to determine whether 
it is ethical and how it applies. This is professional. When I pass a sentence, 
I don't consider whether the subject is a male or female. I just look at 
whether the sentence is correct. 

Was the law office where you worked before comprised of both men and women? 

There were one or two other women. This was the first law office for women in 
Al Ain. Of course we all worked together. Yes, it was considered unusual for a 
woman to enter this field, but thank God we all worked well together. 

Until now we have been discussing ideals and principles. Did you find a 
difference between what is and what should be? 

Of course people differ, and certainly there are some who think men are 
stronger than women, but I would not say that is the perspective of society. As 
usual, people are most concerned with their own self interest, with who is best 
at taking care of them. This is the ultimate aim. 

With discussion of marriage and traditions, of course there is a difference 
between classical Islamic law and the Islamic law of today. 

There is of course a difference, [but] in society. 

>From both the legal and social perspectives, does a woman have the same 
>opportunity to advance professionally as a man? 

Generally, in earlier times the woman was inside the house and society was more 
traditional. The UAE is only a 37-year-old country but has been marked by much 
development. The most advanced technology is being used here. Of course you 
still see women inside the house, not socializing with men, but in terms of 
work one can't say a man is better than a woman. The UAE is new, and its 
infrastructure is still developing; much depends on the youth, who must carry 
and confront professional issues with personal as well as national 
implications. And this is perhaps the challenge also facing any woman. But 
thank God we have the opportunity. Since I graduated, I have been working with 
my peers and everyone has been supportive because they understand the situation 
and the need. 

Would you say it is a paradox that in this country, a center for the 
interaction of many nationalities and cultures, there is so much attention paid 
to tradition? How do you see the family's role in preserving tradition when the 
society seems increasingly open to others? 

You could see this in many ways. Our Emirati population is a minority in this 
country, but our traditions stand on strong pillars. If you look at any 
foreigner who lives here, chances are they come from a different culture, not 
even Arab, but nonetheless they come to appreciate our culture and traditions. 
Second, our traditions retain a big influence. I work with families and people 
from Lebanon, from Syria, from other countries, and I see this. For example, if 
I talk with a non-national man, there is a distance between us. I have a friend 
who is Lebanese Christian. She tells me her son speaks with his friends in 
school in the Emirati dialect. This is so because it is his country too, and he 
sees a relationship between himself, his family and this country. It is a 
society that accepts everyone. 

The writer is a graduate student at Harvard who spent the past year in the 
United Arab Emirates as a Fulbright Scholar.


Kirim email ke