Jordanian Christian Mother Given 5-Day Ultimatum
Muslim Uncle Demands Custody of Two Minor Children

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, October 9 (Compass) -- A Jordanian Christian mother went into 
hiding with her children two days ago, just after she was served a court 
order requiring her to deliver them into the custody of their Muslim uncle 
within five days.

Siham Qandah received written notification from the Ministry of Justice on 
October 7 to surrender her daughter Rawan, 14, and son Fadi, 12, to a civil 
court in Irbid, near her home in northern Jordan. If she failed to comply 
within five days, the notice declared, the authorities would force 
compliance with this order.

Shortly after the court order arrived at her door in the city of Husn, 
Qandah was contacted by a woman lawyer. The Muslim advocate advised the 
widowed mother that she could solve all her guardianship problems by simply 
converting to Islam herself, so that her children could remain under her care.

Under a final ruling from the Supreme Court of Jordan seven months ago, 
Qandah was ordered to give up custody of her children to be raised as 
Muslims. Rooted in the dictates of Islamic law, the decision was based on 
her Christian husband s alleged conversion to Islam three years before his 
death.

Widowed in 1994, Qandah learned several months later that two Muslim 
witnesses had signed a conversion certificate attesting that her husband 
had converted to Islam three years before his death.

On the basis of this document, local courts informed Qandah that the 
children were automatically Muslims because of their father s conversion, 
and that their orphan benefits could only be allocated through a Muslim 
guardian.

Although Qandah and her family rejected the alleged conversion, such a 
document filed in an Islamic court cannot be contested under Jordanian law.

So rather than have a court-appointed guardian, Qandah asked an estranged 
brother who had converted to Islam 20 years ago to serve as the children s 
legal guardian. But as her children grew older, became active in the local 
Baptist church and enrolled in the Christian religion classes at school, 
her brother began to insist that they must be raised as Muslims.

In May 1998, Qandah s brother, Abdullah al-Muhtadi, opened a civil case for 
full custody of his niece and nephew. Now a Muslim prayer leader, 
al-Muhtadi has remained estranged from his six Christian brothers and three 
sisters since he became a Muslim as a teenager.

Despite assurances from her lawyer that under Jordan s moderate judiciary 
Qandah would never lose her children, over the next four years the local, 
appellate and Supreme Court judges hearing the case all ruled against her.

When the final ruling went into effect last April, Qandah quickly took her 
children out of school and went into hiding. As news of her dilemma spread 
in the international press, an advocacy campaign was mounted to petition 
the government of King Abdullah II of Jordan to resolve the case.

In late May, local Jordanian Intelligence Department (JID) officials called 
Qandah in for an interview, reassuring her that due to the international 
attention given to her case she would not be harmed and her children would 
not be taken away from her. Somewhat reassured, she returned home with her 
children over the summer. But when she met again with other JID 
representatives in Amman in early August, she was told that they could not 
interfere with judicial rulings.

On August 27, the office of Prince Hassan, brother to the late King 
Hussein, summoned Qandah to discuss her case. But the prince s assistant 
also admitted that her situation was very complicated, stating that nothing 
more could be done after the highest court had ruled on the case.

By court order four years ago, the names of Qandah s two children are 
blacklisted on immigration computers, forbidding them to leave Jordan. 
Although both still have Christian identity cards, the court ruling makes 
them officially Muslims. Jordanian law does not allow Muslims to change 
their religious identity, nor is a Muslim woman allowed to marry a Christian.

Qandah is particularly worried about the long-term fate of her daughter, 
fearing that she might be forced to marry a Muslim before she reaches legal 
adulthood at age 18.

As a mother, she is suffering a lot over this, a close friend of Qandah 
told Compass. But God can do miracles in these last three days she has left 
with her children.

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