Sunset over water

By Alice Hutchins

The word ‘Sharia’ in Arabic means ‘the way’ or ‘the path’. It exists within the Islamic Religion as a sense of moral guidance according to the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet. However, the Sharia can often be misinterpreted, especially by western cultures who may perceive it as an old-fashioned notion, advocating practises such as the young age of female marriage in Middle Eastern cultures, stoning or lynching as punishment for crimes, and unequal rights and opportunities for men and women in these areas of the world.

In recent weeks, the Guardian has aimed to dispel these misconceptions, by telling the story of Kholoud Al-Faqih, the first female judge in Sharia law. Islam does not prohibit women from being judges, but in the past, Sharia courts were solely governed by men in the Islamic faith, who dealt with all aspects of domestic life within their communities, including marital affairs, education and all subjects with religious grounds. However, Kholoud felt that in order for women who had suffered domestic, physical and sexual abuse to be able to come forward, they needed a strong and powerful female-figurehead to be able to address within the courts. It was a difficult journey for her to achieve her position, she faced many challenges and forms of adversity, but the support of her father who encouraged the importance of study and education, and the support of her husband who is also an advocate for women’s rights helped her to achieve beyond the perceptions of female capability at the time. Kholoud studied Islamic Feminism as a gateway into representing survivors of abuse, and taught that ‘Education is a weapon for women.’

The Guardian interviews Erikca Cohn, a director who is creating a film about the life and achievements of Al-Faqih, and her aims to become the first female chief of justice in Palestine. The film explores several views of her leadership, ranging from the increasing support of Palestine towards female governance and those who seek to promote feminism and equality rights, to those who still contest her and believe that women do not have the capability to interpret and implement Sharia law.

There can often be negative perceptions in the media towards Islamic faith, and Kholoud aims to change the way the world sees these issues. She wants to inspire women who are persecuted and prove that it is possible for them to show strength in times of prejudice and discrimination. Change is a slow perception, especially when trying to alter beliefs that have been around since the 10th century, but it is happening, and no matter what culture, race, gender or sex we belong to, it is possible for all people to make their own paths in this world.

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Alice is a Creative Writing Graduate from the University of East Anglia and has recently joined the ImpacTeam, Department of Government at the University of Essex.  This is Alice’s travel blog.