Jordan Court Orders
Christian Mother Jailed
Eleven-Month Child Custody Standoff Still Unresolved
by Barbara G. Baker ISTANBUL, January 24 (Compass) -- A court in northern Jordan has ordered a Christian widow sent to jail for 30 days if she refuses to hand over her two minor children to be raised as Muslims. Siham Qandah was notified by telephone at her home in Husn four days ago that a court warrant for her arrest had been issued January 16 by the Irbid Court of First Instance. According to the caller, unless she immediately surrendered custody of her daughter Rawan, 14, and son Fadi, 12, to their court-appointed Muslim guardian, she would be arrested and sent to prison. Qandah was shocked by the court order, since she had received firm assurances from high-placed officials in Amman three months ago that a solution would be found for her to retain custody of her children, who have been raised as Christians. "Siham was told [in October] to go back to her home, put her children in school again, and relax, because no one would be allowed to touch her," a close friend commented. But once again, Qandah and her children no longer feel safe in Husn. With a week left in their winter school break, Rawan and Fadi are "living from house to house," a close relative told Compass today. "After this week, it would be very dangerous for them to stay at home. And if the police find their mother, they may take her to prison." As soon as Qandah's lawyer obtained a copy of her arrest warrant three days ago, he filed an appeal for a temporary stay on the order. The Irbid court has issued no decision on the appeal, although it is expected to do so early next week. Until the court responds officially, Qandah was told, she is protected from arrest. "But even if the judge accepts the appeal," one of Qandah's brothers told Compass today, "they are going to delay only for one week, or at most two weeks. So we don't know what will happen then." "The appeal is just buying time," a friend in Amman agreed. "I don't see any hope." After a four-year legal wrangle, Jordan's Supreme Court made a final ruling last February that Qandah must relinquish her children. But Jordanian authorities have not yet enforced it, apparently due to international media coverage and appeals to the Jordanian royal family to resolve the case. The youngest of 10 children, Qandah has two sisters living in Canada as well as a brother pastoring a Nazarene church in Illinois. Her brother in the United States has offered full support for her and her children, if they are allowed to leave Jordan. But Qandah's children are blacklisted by court order from leaving Jordan, although Qandah herself is not. And so far, Western governments have been unwilling to cause a potential flap with Jordan by offering visas to her and her children. In the face of growing diplomatic inquiries into the moderate Arab state's handling of the case, recent developments are being watched closely by Prince Hasan, brother to the late King Hussein. On November 14, Jordanian King Abdullah II was reportedly briefed on the young widow's judicial dilemma. According to one of Prince Hasan's advisers monitoring the case, government officials cannot "play around" with the ruling of the nation's highest judiciary court, which is constitutionally independent. "But we are trying our best to find a way to defer the matter, until we find a solution," he told Compass. "She is terrified. I know that," he admitted. "But I hope, I hope nothing will happen." The drawn-out custody case is based on the sole "evidence" of a highly irregular document claiming that Qandah's Christian husband had secretly converted to Islam several years before his death. Under Jordanian law, that automatically makes his minor children Muslims, as well. Qandah found the claim preposterous, since the so-called "conversion" certificate was written and signed by two Muslim witnesses, with only a scrawled "X" for her husband's signature. But she could not legally contest it, since it was certified by an Islamic court. As a Christian, she could not even draw her children's inheritance benefits, but was forced to find a Muslim to be their court-appointed guardian. So she tracked down her long-estranged brother, who had converted to Islam as a teenager. Now a mosque prayer leader, he agreed to be the children's legal guardian. But when he later learned the children were enrolled in Christian religion classes at school and becoming active in the local Baptist church, her brother began to object. In May 1998, he filed a civil case demanding custody of her children in order to raise them as Muslims. "Despite all this, the Lord has put a peace into her heart," one of Qandah's friends told Compass today. "But she is tired from all of this. And she knows that even if she somehow wins the case against her brother, he will still be after her, even to the last day of his life."
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