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Meet the first Palestinian woman to marry couples in the West Bank

Tahrir Hamad's appointment means the Palestinian territory joins the UAE and Egypt as the only places in the Arab world where a woman can preside over weddings, Ben Lynfield reports from Ramallah.
Tahrir Hamad (L) pronounces Thaer (R) and Rawan (2-L) man and wife at the Islamic Sharia law court in Ramallah on August 6. AFP Photo
Tahrir Hamad (L) pronounces Thaer (R) and Rawan (2-L) man and wife at the Islamic Sharia law court in Ramallah on August 6. AFP Photo

RAMALLAH // For Tahrir Hamad, it was never a question that women should be able to officiate at weddings, despite this being a job traditionally done only by men.

Yet in 2009, when she was first offered the opportunity by the Palestinian Authority to be such an official, or ma’zouna, she declined.

“I was new and felt I didn’t have enough experience,” she says.

More recently, however, she felt discriminated against for being a woman by colleagues at her job as an administrator in Ramallah’s Sharia courts. She declined to specify how, but said this impelled her to change her mind and apply two months ago to be a wedding official.

“It triggered me to prove that women can do the job that men do,” she says.

Two weeks ago, after being appointed by Mahmoud Habash, the head of the Palestinian Authority’s Islamic courts, she performed her first wedding. Despite the surprise of the couple’s relatives at finding a woman officiating, her new job is going smoothly, she says.

“This is an achievement for Palestinian women,” Ms Hamad, 36, says. “It makes things more comfortable for the bride.”

Sharia does not prevent a woman from doing the job, but none has been appointed to such a role in the West Bank before simply because “the stereotype in our society has always been that this is a man’s job”.

At a wedding in Ramallah last Thursday, the groom Ashraf repeated after Ms Hamad, while shaking hands with the father of his bride, Ranya: “I accepted the marriage of your daughter and agreed to a dowry of one dinar according to God’s book and the Prophet’s tradition.”

Ms Hamad’s appointment places the Palestinian territory alongside the UAE and Egypt as the only places in the Arab world where women preside over weddings. And it makes the Palestinian Authority more advanced in this respect than Israel, where weddings are only officially recognised if they are conducted by orthodox rabbis, all of whom are male.

Before becoming a wedding official Ms Hamad served in recent years as deputy director of the Sharia courts in Ramallah, an administrative position that gave her the chance to observe countless wedding ceremonies. She also holds a master’s degree in Sharia from Al Quds University in Abu Dis, near Jerusalem.

Ms Hamad has presided over 12 weddings so far. In two separate cases, however, the grooms refused to let her officiate.

“In one of the cases, I tried to ask why,” she says. “He did not want to discuss it. He just said he does not want a woman.”

Ms Hamad believes she can be more sensitive to the bride’s situation than a male ma’zoun. For example, she says, she is better able to sense if a bride is being forced into a wedding.

“I will be able to feel if the woman is tense. If she cries, even happy tears, I will ask everyone to leave the room, be with the bride and make sure she wants this marriage.

“If it is forced, I won’t continue with the contract.”

But Ms Hamad is not looking to revolutionise the system. She says it is important to stick to Sharia and denies that Islamic law discriminates against women.

She also supports the fact that Sharia makes it far more difficult for a woman to initiate divorce than a man.

“The woman’s nature is emotional,” she says. “Whenever she gets mad or sad she could say ‘I want to divorce the man’. But the man is less emotional and can control his temper.”

Ms Hamad also endorses a man being allowed to marry four wives. “If the man can afford to be fair and treat them equally, why not?”

However, Ms Hamad does believe that a 1976 Jordanian law governing marital affairs that the Palestinian Authority applies in the West Bank needs to be superseded by more liberal Palestinian legislation. She would like to see legislation that enables a woman to get a speedier divorce in instances where she suffers physical or psychological harm and makes it easier for the woman to prove that this harm was done.

Women’s rights advocates say Ms Hamad’s appointment does not address the rampant discrimination against women in Palestinian society.

“It’s not enough to have a woman here or there, we need a deep transformation,” says Amal Khreisheh, director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Working Women’s Society for Development.

While Palestine joined the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women last April, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has not followed up by decreeing that such international instruments take precedence over the Jordanian marital affairs law.

“It’s an illusion to talk about democracy and still have a family law that deals with women as objects,” Ms Khreisheh says.

Still, for Ranya’s mother, Ruweida, having Ms Hamad preside at her daughter’s wedding was significant.

“It made me feel proud of Palestine,” Ruweida says. “Psychologically this is good for women. It raises their confidence that they can break any stereotype and enter new fields.”


Updated: August 15, 2015 04:00 AM



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