• JORDAN \ Oct 17, 2002
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    Christian Mother Given 5-Day Ultimatum
Christian Mother Given 5-Day Ultimatum A Jordanian Christian mother went into hiding with her children two days ago, just after she was served a court order requiring her to deliver them into the custody of their Muslim uncle within five days.

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.?

Shortly after the court order arrived at her door in the city of Husn, Qandah was contacted by a woman lawyer. The Muslim advocate advised the widowed mother that she could solve all her guardianship problems by simply converting to Islam herself, so that her children could remain under her care.

Under a final ruling from the Supreme Court of Jordan seven months ago, Qandah was ordered to give up custody of her children to be raised as Muslims. Rooted in the dictates of Islamic law, 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.

Despite assurances from her lawyer that under Jordan?s moderate judiciary Qandah would never lose her children, over the next four years the local, appellate and Supreme Court judges hearing the case all ruled against her.

When the final ruling went into effect last April, Qandah quickly took her children out of school and went into hiding. As news of her dilemma spread in the international press, an advocacy campaign was mounted to petition the government of King Abdullah II of Jordan to resolve the case.

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 immigration 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.

?As a mother, she is suffering a lot over this,? a close friend of Qandah told Compass. ?But God can do miracles in these last three days she has left with her children.?