Riyadh-A debate is currently taking place in legal and public circles across Saudi Arabia regarding the enforcement of the latest edict of the Senior Council of Jurists which called for the imprisonment of whoever forces a woman to enter into a marriage without her consent or prohibits her from marrying whom she chooses, until the
individual changes his stance. This edict was issued by Sheikh Abdel Aziz Al Sheikh, the General Mufti (an expert in Islamic Law who gives legal judgments) of Saudi Arabia and Head of the Senior Council of Jurists and the jurisprudence research administration.
In a conversation with Asharq Al Awsat, Khaled Al Motari, a lawyer and a legal counselor, said this latest edict is the confirmation of previous ones, known to religious scholars in the Kingdom. With regard to punishment, Al Motari added, the judge can bring criminal charges against the individual forcing the woman to marry and decide on the appropriate sentence, given that, according to Islamic law, every wrong should to be penalized.
Al Motari also revealed that the edict is not legally binding and does not represent a rule judges ought to follow. Instead, he told this newspaper, it is a religious opinion based on an interpretation of Islamic Law which the judge can consult and refer to in his judgment, or choose to ignore in favor of another opinion. Al Motari indicated that the formulation of laws and regulations is the remit of the Consultative Council which derives its power from the decrees and orders that it announces. The Senior Council of Jurists latest edict on punishing those who force a woman to marry without her
consent was merely a suggestion aimed at these officials who formulate the laws.
Referring to the Council”s edict, Al Motari asserted that the edict was helpful, on a practical level, in creating what he called "a cultured society". He noted, furthermore, that the women of Saudi Arabia need new laws and regulations to be issued to ensure her rights are protected through a comprehensive system that will regulate matters in personal law, in addition to giving more emphasis to international agreements and treaties that the Kingdom is party to, especially thee Muscat treaty. This treaty unified the personal status laws of the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council and was based on modern Islamic standards. It was ratified by the
Supreme Council and by all countries in 1997 and closed some gaps that existed in the Kingdom”s legal structure.
Al Motari added that it was vital for women”s organizations, associations, and other civil bodies to be allowed to exist in Saudi society. He suggested that these groups had an important role to play and that, if they communicated to their society the issues surrounding women”s rights, it would undoubtedly encourage new laws and legislations to be issue to guarantee women”s rights within Islamic Law.
Lending his support to Al Motari”s viewpoint, Dr, Youssif Al Jabr, a lawyer and a previous judge at the Khamis Masheet court, also considered this latest edict a positive step towards ensuring the diversity and comprehensiveness of religious opinions. He urged the Ministry of Justice who had the power to transform this edict into law, thereby making it binding, to do so. He also pointed out that it was crucial for Saudi Arabia society that all judicial rules are unified and judges empowered, in order to ensure the rights of residents and citizens of the Kingdom are protected.
In the same respect, Judge Zian Al Saadun, head of the courts in the Al Jawf region, affirmed that the Kingdom”s rulers requested that the Senior Council of Jurists from study the issue of women and choice in marriage. Islam, Al Saadun stressed, is a religion that respects women and allows them to choose a husband, with whoever impedes on this right receiving punishment. In this instance, the Council, a respectable legislative body that enjoys the respect of all judges, was being asked to solve a modern problem.
Nevertheless, Al Saadun said, this latest edict does not impede judges in the Kingdom from taking whatever decision they see appropriate, denying the existence of any contradictions between the different judges and scholars.
With regard to the requests made by some to create new laws to protect the rights of women, Al Saadun expressed his surprise at these demands and blamed a lack of awareness of the existing laws and regulations in Islamic Law to safeguard women, which remain relevant today, noting that non Muslim women in some Arab countries have appealed to Islamic Law to obtain their
rights in situations such as divorce.