The Judge

The Judge

Image by The Judge

Daniel Nelson

Palestine's Chief Justice laughed when lawyer Kholoud Al-Faqih told him she wanted to become a judge in the Shari'a court – the first woman in 1400 years.

“I laughed. I thought she was joking,” he recalls.

Others were openly scornful and threatening. One of the country's most prominent Shari's scholars, Husam al-Deen Afanah, pronounced it impossible, “and the proof is that in all Islamic history, from the Prophet until today, there has not been a single female judge...

“Islam does not prevent women from working in roles that are appropriate for their nature. She gives birth, she is pregnant, she bleeds. She is bound by these things and this affects her work.”

But Kholoud is not easily put off. She produced her evidence, and won the Chief Justice over – though not the scholars, and many lawyers and members of the public, women as well as men. Some of the men talk drivel as they babble on in a desperate attempt to justify their contempt for women.

The documentary The Judge peeps into her court and it's clear how she succeeded: she's knowledgeable, informed, principled, disciplined, unbiased, focussed, “prepared to throw a rock into these stagnant waters”. A role model.

But suddenly the role is snatched away. The Chief Justice is “retires”, and his successor reorganises the courts in a way that means she has no cases. Then he intervenes in a previous case, with disastrous consequences.

Distraught, she again she proves her mettle, boldly and courageously fighting her corner, while encouraging other women to follow in her footsteps and refusing to be cowed by the blizzard of prejudice. And, it must be said, helped by three heroic men (the ousted Chief Justice, a traditionalist capable of thinking for himself; her husband, a lawyer with whom she argued vehemently on first meeting; and her even-handed dad), as well as unstated support from open-minded members of the public.

It's a simple, straightforward doc that tells an inspirational story and gives real insight into marital practices and issues, particularly violence against women, custody and polygamy. It shuns preachiness – for which there's no need, given such a powerful story. The only downside is the realisation that despite Kholoud Al-Faqih's breakthrough, there's the ever-present threat of a backlash and the continuing power of the mental morass created by hundreds of years of misogyny.

* The Judge is showing at the Curzon Bloomsbury on 23-29 November, and at the LUSH Film Festival at 7.30pm on 30 November, 67-71 Beak Street, W1. 




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