“Jordanian police used an outdated arrest warrant two days ago in another foiled attempt to detain Siham Qandah, a Christian widow fighting to retain custody of her two minor children in Jordan.” So says Compass Direct in an update of a story posted here some time ago.
But when police in the northern Jordanian town of Husn came to arrest Qandah on the evening of December 16, she was not at home with her daughter Rawan, 15, or son Fadi, 14. Qandah’s lawyer inquired about the police raid yesterday morning at the Irbid civil court, only to learn that in fact the arrest warrant being used by the police was dated last June. Although the local court had decreed six months ago that Qandah must turn over her children to a Muslim guardian or be jailed, the arrest warrant has been blocked since September by a restraining order issued by a higher court in Amman.
In light of the known restraining order, it was not clear whether the police actually intended to arrest Qandah, or were simply part of another ploy by the children’s court-appointed Muslim guardian to intimidate and harass Qandah.
After a flurry of telephone calls yesterday following the attempted police raid, a leading cleric in Jordan’s ecclesiastical court summoned Qandah to Amman today and offered her legal representation by a new lawyer. He proposed that this attorney file a new case to challenge the validity of her late husband’s alleged conversion to Islam. When Qandah replied she had no money to hire another lawyer, he assured her that all the costs would be covered.
So Qandah signed papers to give this new lawyer her power of attorney. While she was still in the priest’s office, he telephoned a judge in the Islamic court, asking him to meet with Qandah while she was in Amman. When the Muslim official agreed, the widow went directly to meet with him and explain her case.
But on the way out of the building, she came face to face with Abdullah al-Muhtadi, her estranged brother and the very man trying to take her children away from her. She had not seen him for years, despite repeated court subpoenas for him to appear at legal appeals over the children’s custody. But in an apparently deliberate confrontation in a public place, al-Muhtadi talked loudly and abusively to his sister for several minutes in the hall of the building, the widow said.
“He kept repeating loudly, ‘Are you threatening me?’ Qandah said, “while he was forcing me to talk with him in front of everyone passing by!” Qandah said she told her brother, “You have no right to take away my children. They are all I have left in this world.” But he vowed he would fight to the end to get them, saying she had “no right” to have them. “I will prove that you are not a good mother,” he told her. “You are trying to make them Christians. But they are Muslims, and they need to be receiving Islamic teaching.”
After Qandah was widowed nine years ago, a local Islamic court produced a so-called “conversion” certificate, attesting that her soldier husband had converted to Islam three years before he died in Kosovo. Although both her children are baptized Christians, their father’s alleged conversion forcibly changed their legal identity from Christian to Muslim.
Under Jordan’s application of Islamic law, the courts were required to name a Muslim guardian for the children, in order to handle their orphan benefits. So since her brother converted to Islam as a teenager, Qandah asked him to fill this role.
However, over the next few years, al-Muhtadi began to appropriate some of the monthly orphan stipends for himself, and in 1998 he filed a lawsuit demanding custody of his niece and nephew so he could raise them as Muslims. In February 2002, Qandah lost her last appeal before the Supreme Court of Jordan, which awarded the children’s custody to her brother.
Although al-Muhtadi is said to be a mosque prayer leader, the courts serving him with subpoenas to appear in subsequent cases filed by Qandah have declared they do not know his residence or whereabouts.
“Siham’s brother has a number of other court cases filed against him for all sorts of illegal practices,” one source told Compass. “He has had all these charges against him for years, but he has never been convicted of a single one. Her brother knows very well how to manipulate judges, to convince them he is a good Muslim who is only acting in the very best interests of his niece and nephew,” the source said. “He has even convinced one leading judge that the $20,000 he withdrew from their orphans’ trust fund had been used for the children!”
Qandah is convinced that her brother’s motives are primarily driven by greed, although she fears that he also wants to marry her daughter to a Muslim once he gains custody of her. “Our government won’t let Siham and her children leave Jordan, and they won’t solve her problem here either,” a friend of the widow said. “After nine years of fear and harassment, she needs to be allowed to live in peace.”