"The Judge:" A Documentary About Kholoud Al-Faqih

Recently, DU's New Religious Inclusivity Initiative held a screening for The Judge. This documentary explores the life of Kholoud Al-Faqih who is the first woman judge to be officially appointed the Sharia court system, although historical records limit how accurate "first" is. Furthermore, Kholoud emphasizes during the documentary how she is not the first scholar to find legal (in the sense of being legal in accordance to Sharia law – brief overview of Sharia law) grounds for women having religious authority to be judges. Nonetheless, there are clear oppositions to her position by other legal schools of thought that do not recognize women as having religious authority. However, due to her knowledge and literacy of Sharia law, she was able to prove her capabilities and authority on religious grounds; therefore, the Chief Justice of Palestine appointed to the Middle East’s Shari’a (Islamic law) courts in 2009. 

Kholoud speaks about the importance of women being able to oversee Sharia courts due to the nature of the cases brought forth– divorce, alimony, inheritance, custody and intimate life (which includes domestic violence). And, the documentary films Kholoud in action settling these issues focused on personal status revealing the complexities found within the Sharia courts. These intricacies are important to see as they demonstrate the difference and similarities in Sharia courts from typical eurocentric intrpreation of what law means– more separation of religion and state. Throughout the cases we see the emphasis of community involvement in the process as well as Kholoud's ability to reach a ruling on cases brought forth. She is extremely knowledgeable and focuses on generating judgements based on Sharia law while also taking into consideration cultural and societal laws and expectations of Palestine, for actions and behavior that are not explicitly in violation of Sharia law are based more on societal and cultural values.  Aside from further exploration in Kholoud's life delving into a change in Chief Justice's limiting her religious authority as well as her personal life and background, The Judge includes many interviews from the public, which reflected a common theme of diverse thought in Islam. One scene showed a group of men answering the question "should women be a judge," and among this group there were a variety of viewpoints with some believing women are educated in Sharia law but are too emotional while others felt women should have the ability. This diversity was reflected with the other people interviewed separately with the same question. 

In addition, the impact of Kholoud's appointment is shown through her support of other women in different legal areas within the government like marriage contracts. We also meet another female judge appointed, and later the third woman to be appointed. So overall, this documentary is great representation of a more positive view of Islam often ignored in US media. It displays the agency women have within Islam contrary to popular US media culture as well as the difficulties women still face within the system. Although having a solid foundation of knowledge about Islam, Sharia law, and how they function within a nation-state greatly increases the comphrehension of the film and its message, the documentary nonetheless gives great insight into Islam, women, and their political dynamic.