Hijab and court testimony in Jordan

According to this article, there is a new Jordanian court ruling that prevents women from delivering testimony unless they wear hijab. The article quotes a statement from the Women’s Union that

The Amman Sharia Court of Appeal has accepted the lawyer’s objection to a female witness from testifying for not wearing the hijab, which the court said would affect the fairness and honesty in her testimony from 3/2/2014.

According to the fatwa, which the court’s decision was based on, women who aren’t covered up are “sluts,” and that gives those women a bad name. Furthermore, the court was unable to support this fatwa apart from with something written in the introduction of a book by Egyptian Islamic Theologian Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi.

There are several claims in the article related to Islamic law that I find to be strange. Here are two oddities.

The article claims that the court and its members could find only a fatwa to back up their decision that it is not valid to accept testimony from Muslim women who do not wear hijab. A quick look at the conditions for delivering court testimony included in basic primers shows that one of the conditions for Muslims delivering testimony in court is that the witness be morally upright. To be upright one must avoid enormities [kabāʾir], not persist in even a small amount of minor sins [ṣaghāʾir], have sound beliefs, restrain oneself when angry, and adhere to the common standards of observant Muslims of one’s time and place [muruʾah].1 Wearing hijab falls under two of the conditions for being morally upright since it is part of the personally obligatory attire for Muslim women, and it is part of the common standards of observant Muslim women. One could also argue that having correct beliefs about the obligation of wearing hijab falls under the heading of having sound beliefs.

So it is strange that a group of legal experts could cite only a single book by a contemporary scholar on an issue that is part of the ABCs of basic Islamic law pertaining to the court. The point here is that finding the arguments to back up the decision is a trivial task. What one thinks about those arguments is a separate issue.

Another oddity is how the article repeatedly claims that Muslim women who do not wear hijab are described as “sluts.” Removing the hijab in public without an excuse to do so is an immoral act according to Islamic law. But the connection between unwarranted hijab-removal and sexual promiscuity is tenuous as neither one requires, implies, or entails the other. And while removing the hijab is unlawful and doing so is immoral, it is unlawful, unethical, and fallacious to describe a woman as a slut simply for removing her hijab without having a sufficient excuse to do so. Indeed, describing a woman this way is a clear accusation of fornication which is a punishable crime. Evidence for the gravity of accusing chaste women of fornication and its consequences comes in Surat al-Nur:

And those who accuse chaste women and then do not produce four witnesses – lash them with eighty lashes and do not accept from them testimony ever after. * Except for those who repent thereafter and reform, for indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Q24:4–5

The enormity of the accusation is reiterated in a ḥadīth transmitted by both Bukhāri and Muslim: Abū Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said that

The Prophet ﷺ said, “Avoid the seven destructive things.” It was asked: “What are they, O Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “Associating anyone or anything with Allah in worship; practising sorcery, killing of someone without a just cause whom Allah has forbidden, devouring the property of an orphan, eating of usury, fleeing from the battlefield and slandering chaste women who never even think of anything touching chastity and are good believers.” [Bukhari & Muslim] Riyāḍ al-Ṣāliḥīn

All of the above is well-known to Muslims familiar with Islamic law and ethics. While it is safe to assume that these principles are also well-known to members of the court, the same assumption cannot be made of members of the press.

People need to be very cautious when describing Muslim women who remove their hijab without an excuse to do so as “sluts.” They also need to be very careful when claiming that this is part of someone else’s reasoning.

So I find it odd that the article reports that the members of the court could find only a single justification for the decision. I also find it odd that the article reports that members of the court described Muslim women who remove their hijab as “sluts” since such a careless and unproven accusation of fornication would render its accuser automatically immoral and, consequently, barred from delivering testimony.

UPDATE Many thanks to Moustafa Elqabbany for providing a link to an Arabic report on the issue. According to this report, the court described hijabless women as “فاسقات”, which the Al Bawaba has incorrectly translated as “sluts.” The correct translation is simply “immoral.” Once again, the real story is how the English language media gets it wrong when reporting on Islamic law.

UPDATE 2 Al Bawawba’s article continues to circulate through social media and news agencies. Emphasis is often placed on the article’s claim that the court and a fatwa described hijabless women as “sluts.” This was shown here to be an obvious and negligent mistranslation of the Arabic original. Notable copy-cats include The Jerusalem Post, Frontpage Mag, India Today. (added on March 25, 2014)

  1. Al-Aṣfahānī, Abū Shujāʿ. The Ultimate Conspectus: Matn al-Ghāyat wa al-Taqrīb, tr. Musa Furber. Islamosaic, 2012, p154. link 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.