The Supreme Islamic Court of Jordan has accepted a Christian widow’s last possible appeal to disqualify the court-approved Muslim guardian fighting to take custody of her two minor children.
On August 20, Siham Qandah’s lawyer was informed that the Supreme Islamic Court had accepted his final appeal of a Sharia court decision awarding custody of the widow’s daughter Rawan, 16, and son Fadi, 14, to Abdullah al-Muhtadi. Although al-Muhtadi is the children’s maternal uncle, he has been estranged from the family since his conversion to Islam as a teenager.
The ruling came two months after Amman’s Al-Abdali Sharia Court rejected Qandah’s lawsuit to cancel Al-Muhtadi’s legal guardianship. Despite evidence that the guardian had withdrawn nearly 12,000 Jordanian dinars ($17,650) from the children’s U.N.-allocated trust funds, the presiding judge refused to investigate alleged misuse of the children’s funds.
Al-Muhtadi was named legal guardian of Qandah’s children at her own request in 1995, after an Islamic court produced a so-called “conversion” certificate for her late husband. According to the document, her Christian husband had secretly converted to Islam three years before he died, while serving in the U.N. Peacekeeping Forces in Kosovo.
Under Islamic law enforced in Jordan, the father’s alleged conversion automatically changed the legal identity of his children to Muslim, so their financial affairs could no longer be handled by their Christian mother.
But Al-Muhtadi began to appropriate some of the children’s monthly orphan benefits, and then in 1998 he filed a case to take custody of them away from his Christian sister, so that he could raise them as Muslims.
After Qandah lost the four-year legal wrangle in February 2002, she went into hiding with her children several times while appealing for legal or diplomatic intervention to reverse the decision.
Her children were blacklisted from leaving Jordan by court order, with sympathetic nations unable to offer them visas because of the unresolved court custody case.
Qandah’s dilemma was raised again in June with Jordan’s King Abdullah II during his visit to Washington, D.C., by members of the House International Relations Committee. Although several members of the royal family have pledged that Qandah will not lose her children or be sent to jail, a formal judicial solution has remained elusive.
Reportedly, the new Supreme Court decision has ordered the lower Islamic court handling the case to investigate the guardian’s use of these large sums of money.