JORDAN. 14 April 2003. A court in Jordan has said that it will be enforcing an earlier order that Siham, a Christian widow, should be arrested and her children taken from her to be raised as Muslims.
The latest developments in Siham's case (received in March from Middle East Concern) are twofold. Firstly, Siham may soon be parted from her children, Rawan (15) and Fadi (13). This is because a local court has begun the process of enforcing the ruling made in January that she is to be imprisoned unless she gives up her children forthwith. Secondly, the office of a Jordanian Prince has offered her help in challenging her Muslim brother's custody of her children. This is due to the apparent fraudulent handling of the benefit money that he was supposed to hold on behalf of the children. This latter development comes at a crucial time in this situation and gives some hope to Siham.
Siham Qandah's tragic case began with the death of her husband in 1994. When Siham tried to claim her widow's pension from the army (her husband had been a soldier) she was astonished to be told that he had allegedly converted to Islam and therefore under Shari'ah and Jordanian law as a Christian she could not inherit from him. A certificate of conversion was produced dated 1991 and signed by 2 witnesses, but only marked with a cross in the space where Siham's husband's signature should have been. The family have always disputed that the alleged conversion ever took place. After his supposed conversion, Siham's husband attended the Christian baptism of his son. Furthermore, his death certificate states he was a Christian and he had a Christian burial.
Despite this, Siham was advised that she would never win a case contesting the truth of her husband's conversion. However, since legally her children were considered to be the children of a convert to Islam, and therefore Muslims, they could claim the benefits entitled to the family if they (as minors) had a Muslim to act as legal guardian. Therefore, on paper only, Siham entrusted them to the legal guardianship of her brother Abdullah al-Muhtadi (who converted to Islam 20 years earlier and is now an Imam) in April 1995. For a number of years Abdullah received the family's benefits, although he kept most of the money for himself and never forwarded it to Siham and her children leaving them desperately short of money.
As the children became older Abdullah started objecting to their Christian faith and attendance at a Christian school. In May 1998 he applied for full custody on the grounds that they were being raised as Christians despite being Muslims in the eyes of the law. In June 2001 Abdullah's case was won in the local Civil Court in Irbid, it was later upheld in the Irbid Court of Appeals in January 2002 and finally in February 2002 it was upheld by the Supreme Court in Amman. In April 2002 Siham was ordered to give up custody of her children, so the family went into hiding.
In May 2002 in response to international lobbying Jordanian authorities met with Siham and assured her that she would be allowed to keep her children. However, when she came out of hiding the authorities reneged on this. On 7 October 2002 Siham received a letter stating that unless she handed over her children in five days they would be seized. The family therefore went back into hiding. There are no higher courts to which Siham can appeal and the family cannot leave the country as the children are known to immigration officials. A female Muslim lawyer contacted Siham and suggested that she could keep her children if she simply converts to Islam. There are particular concerns that if Siham's daughter Rawan is taken from her, as Muslim relatives may force her to marry a Muslim effectively sealing her conversion to Islam in their eyes.
On 20 January 2003 a court issued an order requiring Siham to be imprisoned for 30 days unless she immediately surrenders her children to the care of Abdullah to be raised as Muslims. Siham's lawyers appealed against the ruling. A deadline of 5 February was given. However, when Siham continued to refuse to give up her children no action was taken against her. Now with this latest development the court has said it will be enforcing the January ruling and Siham is again facing the prospect of imprisonment.