Judge Mahmud Zghl handed down his verdict in Amman?s Al-Abdali Sharia Court against Abdullah al-Muhtadi, who has been fighting a seven-year legal battle to wrest custody of his minor niece and nephew from their Christian mother.
But in the pending appeals case concluded today, al-Muhtadi was the defendant, facing allegations of mishandling the finances of his Christian sister?s two children. Hearings on the case have dragged on since last August, when the Supreme Islamic Court of Jordan ordered a final review of the case.
After the guardian?s repeated failure to appear for scheduled court sessions over the past eight months, he was reportedly forced to answer the judge?s summons after normal court hours ended this afternoon.
Brother Unable to Document Expenditures
Al-Muhtadi proved unable to provide the court with documented evidence of his claimed expenditure of 750 Jordanian dinars ($1,100) to buy the children a refrigerator. Accordingly, Judge Zghl removed him from his court-designated guardianship, and ordered him to pay back this amount to his wards? trust fund.
The former guardian has the right to appeal the judgment within 30 days.
?I still can?t believe it!? Qandah told Compass today, laughing and crying. ?I am so happy, I am just speechless. I can?t even describe my emotions.? Although she had already called her children from Amman, she said she could not wait to travel back home to Husn and tell them in person.
Struggle since Husband?s Death
Now 16 and 15, Qandah?s daughter Rawan and son Fadi lost their father 11 years ago, when he died as a soldier in the U.N. peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. But when their mother went to claim their army orphan benefits, a local court produced an unsigned ?conversion? certificate, claiming that her Christian husband had secretly converted to Islam three years before his death.
The certificate could not be contested under Islamic law, so Qandah was forced to find a Muslim to handle financial matters for the children. Despite their baptism as Christians, both were automatically declared Muslims under the dictums of Islamic law. Al-Muhtadi, the widow?s estranged brother who had converted to Islam as a teenager, agreed to serve as their legal Muslim guardian.
But over the next few years, he began pocketing some of the children?s monthly benefits, and later withdrew nearly half of their U.N.-allocated trust funds by obtaining signed approvals from highly placed Islamic court judges.
Then in 1998, he filed suit to take custody of the children away from their Christian mother in order to raise them as Muslims. After a four-year court wrangle, Jordan?s Supreme Islamic Court ruled in his favor, ordering Qandah to give her children over to al-Muhtadi?s custody.
Over the past three years, Qandah has been forced into hiding several times to avoid possible arrest and separation from her children, who had been blacklisted from leaving Jordan during the custody wrangle.
But after Qandah?s dilemma attracted international press coverage, King Abdullah II and other members of the Jordanian royal family began to monitor judicial handling of the case, pledging that the children would not be taken away from their mother.
Qandah and her children live in northern Jordan in the city of Husn, where they attend the Husn Baptist Church. Under Jordanian law, once the children turn 18, they are allowed to choose whether their official identity will be Muslim or Christian.
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