7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
Local News

Personal law row spurs plea

A BAHRAINI women's leader has called for civil dialogue and not provocative attacks after a campaign for a law governing domestic disputes was condemned by an Islamic group. Responding to a critical Press statement by Al Wefaq National Islamic Society, Supreme Council for Women secretary general Dr Lulwa Al Awadhi said she welcomed opposing views - but urged critics not to present sweeping condemnations that leave no room for debate.

She denied an accusation by the society that the law the council is campaigning for goes against basic Islamic principles.

In fact, Dr Al Awadhi said that Sharia (Islamic) law was the main source for the personal status law, which women's rights activists have long been campaigning for.

"In fact, both Sunni and Shi'ite religious scholars have each worked on their own proposals for such a law," she told the GDN.

"A personal status law will not fly in the face of Sharia law, but will allow it to be in writing."

She accused Al Wefaq of trying to sideline an opportunity for proper, intellectual debate.

"These types of attacks won't do any good," said Dr Al Awadhi. "But we welcome opposing views and are willing to debate the issue."

She also pointed out that Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the only countries in the Arab world without a personal status law.

"Does this mean that the people in all those other countries are going to Hell and we are going to Heaven?" she asked.

Al Wefaq claimed Bahrain's legislature and government had no right to draft such a law because it may misinterpret the word of God.

It said that if such a law was drafted, it should be the sole responsibility of religious leaders - adding that Bahrain's secular legislature should not have any input.

But Dr Al Awadhi responded by saying that Sharia law was already open to wide interpretations, which means a written law would not necessarily have to contradict it.

In its statement, Al Wefaq claimed the majority of Bahrain's population is against the law - which would govern domestic disputes such as child custody, inheritance and divorce cases.

"This is evident by a petition we have that was signed by tens of thousands of people," it said in a statement.

"It is strange that an official organisation is so keen to get this law passed, but is not as concerned with other important issues such as the constitution, naturalisation, sectarian discrimination, corruption and others."

However, Dr Al Awadhi said the three-month campaign, which was launched on October 9, had so far faced very little opposition - even from religious scholars.

"The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive," she said.

She also accused Al Wefaq of trying to bypass Bahrain's normal legislative process in an attempt to get its own way.

"Such a law will have to be passed by the National Assembly, just like any other, and I don't think it would pass a law that was inherently un-Islamic," added Dr Al Awadhi.

Women's rights activists in Bahrain have campaigned for years for a personal status law - claiming the current Sharia judicial system discriminates against women.

They say that Sharia judges are given too much room to interpret Sharia law and often pass judgements that are unfair to women, especially in domestic issues.

The judges have also been accused of being lenient towards men who physically and emotionally abuse their wives. Religious leaders are said to oppose the law because it may decrease their power over such cases.

The Supreme Council for Women's campaign is based on a Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research study, which showed that opposition to the proposed law was now at an all-time low.

The council's campaign includes the distribution of Gargaoun sweets and brochures to visitors at Seef Mall, Marina Mall and Al A'ali Shopping Complex, as well as lectures and debates at majlises.

Meanwhile, the BCHR issued a statement saying it fully supported a personal status law and that the Sharia court system was in need of major reform.

"Many judges in both the civil and Sharia courts are not qualified enough to pass judgements that are completely fair - especially in cases involving families," it said.

The centre added that the personal status law should be based on Sharia law, but the legislation should not be imposed on people of other faiths and sects.

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