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Jordan – Urgent Advocacy For Siham Qandah

Subj: Jordan: Urgent Advocacy for Siham Qandah

This posting contains a request for advocacy on behalf of a Jordanian Christian widow, Siham Qandah (36). Siham has lost her court battle to retain custody of her two children, on the grounds that her husband, Hussam Rasmi Issa Jibreen – a UN Peacekeeper, allegedly converted to Islam before his death in Kosovo in 1994.

However, there is no evidence that Jibreen ever converted to Islam. The “evidence” of religious conversion that was delivered to the court, was a 1991 document signed by two Muslim witnesses, but not by Jibreen himself. In the place where Jibreen’s signature should appear, there is simply an “X”.

The Constitution of Jordan states in Article 6(i), “Jordanians shall be equal before the law. There shall be no discrimination between them as regards to their rights and duties on grounds of race, language or religion.” Article 7, “Personal freedom shall be guaranteed.”

The case has attracted considerable international attention and King Abdullah has been urged to intervene. Prince Hassan, brother to the late King Hussein has taken a compassionate interest in Siham’s plight and has discussed this case with His Majesty King Abdullah, who has agreed to personally study the case.

Your advocacy is requested.

– Elizabeth Kendal

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A Jordanian Christian mother, Siham Suleiman Moussa Qandah, went into hiding with her two children in October just after she was served a court order requiring her to deliver them into the custody of their Muslim uncle within five days. Legal manoeuvring and advocacy efforts have helped stabilize the situation, and no action has been taken against Qandah or her children. But the situation remains unresolved.

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.”

Under a final ruling from the Supreme Court of Jordan earlier this year, Qandah was ordered to give up custody of her children to be raised as Muslims. 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.

Over the next four years the local, appellate and Supreme Court judges hearing the case all ruled against her.

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 emigration 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.

We encourage you to fax Prince Hassan in Jordan at the number listed below and ask that a permanent, positive solution be determined for Siham Qandah and her children. Sample wording is included below.

——————————————————- SAMPLE FAX TO PRINCE HASSAN IN JORDAN ——————————————————-

His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

FAX: 962-6-4634995

Your Majesty,

Thank you for your concern about the plight of Siham Qandah and her two children. Your efforts to bring about a quick and positive resolution to her situation are greatly appreciated.

I encourage you to continue to bring her case before His Majesty King Abdullah to ensure that Siham and her children are allowed to live together in peace, without fear of attack or forced separation, and with freedom to practice their beliefs. I’m grateful this is your desire.

Jordan is well known for its moderation and tolerance, which is especially visible during these difficult times. Please be assured of our support and prayers for you and your country.


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