Willemien Sanders
Dr. Willemien Sanders is a regular critic at Modern Times Review.

Two of the films presented at this year’s Belgian DocVille Documentary Film Festival, remind us about the continuing violation of justice – may it be animal or human injustice.

Eating Animals /The Judge

Christopher Quinn /Erika Cohn

USA, 2017

Two films screened in the Conscience programme of the Belgian DocVille documentary film festival were The Judge –about the first female judge in the Palestine Sharia courts, and Eating Animals – about the meat production industry in the United States (although with a world wide impact.)

The Judge: Fighting the Sharia

The Judge (2018) tells the story of Kholoud Al-Faqih. Convinced that there is no ruling within Islam that prevents women from becoming judges, she argues her case for the chief justice, Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi, takes the exam and gets appointed as the first female judge in a Sharia court in the Islamic world.

The Sharia courts rule on family affairs – most notably divorces – and are intended to provide quick and practical solutions both parties can live with. Anything but progressive in themselves, the courts rely on the Quran and the Sunnah (the teachings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) to decide what is fair and just. Kholoud however refuses to limit her reasoning to 10th Century ideas and world views, and actively promotes the case for women in general: The equality of law, and the involvement of women in various areas of the justice department. The film switches between her work and her private life, and where they intersect in visits to other women and meetings. She is also a daughter, wife and mother of four and thus is firmly represented as a member of an extended family (the family as the cornerstone of society is in no way challenged.)

«Kholoud however refuses to limit her reasoning to 10th Century ideas and world views.»

Two steps forward, one step back

Despite this and even though Kholoud functions in a system that is highly alien to secular progressive women in the West, one cannot but admire her, as she and her colleagues try to change the system from within – slowly, and sometimes against the odds. One of those is dr. Husam al-Deen Afanah, a professor of Sharia law, who ordered a fatwa against the chief justice because he believes appointing women as judges is wrong. The reason: there has never been one in Islamic history. Consequently, the chief justice is replaced by a more conservative one, Yousef al-Dais, who reorganises the courts. It turns out he is corrupt and he is replaced by yet another chief justice, dr. Mahmoud Al-Habbash.

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