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Analysis: Bahraini views on a unified family law 

The issue of legislation in support of women and families is back in the spotlight following an order by HM the King to form a committee to prepare a unified family law. Bahrain currently has a Family Law for the Sunni sect which was passed in 2009.

In Bahrain we have two courts concerned with family issues based on Shariah law; the Sunni courts and the Jaafari (Shia) courts; reflecting the traditional legal differences in these religious schools of thought.

Bahrain previously succeeded in passing a Sunni Family Law. However, Shia legislators blocked efforts towards either a unified Family Law, or a Jaafari Family Law. Today a proposal for a unified family law that protects the rights of families from both sects is being discussed by legislators.

Citizens for Bahrain spoke to a wide range of Bahrainis to canvass their views on why this matters, and in order to better understand their hopes and fears in regard to this legislation: 

“End the suffering of thousands of Shia women”

“A unified family law that brings both sects together is what we require in Bahrain, in order to regulate family matters far away from the corruption of some judges;” said Mona, aged 30, from Isa Town. 

“Of course we need this law. Bahrain is a country with an ongoing process of reform. Issuing a unified family law is a major step forward towards guaranteeing basic human rights and protecting the rights of women and families;” said Fatima, aged 32, from Budaiya. 

“This is a very welcome move and will hopefully end the suffering of thousands of Shia women who’s cases are pending because the Jaafari court does not recognise equal rights for women in regards to sensitive issues such as divorce, child custody and alimony payments;” said Ahmed, aged 33, from Riffa. 

“Almost a decade has passed since this law was first introduced, and then passed by the Sunni courts. the block by Shia clerics and parliamentarians created a huge obstacle in the fight for Bahraini women’s rights. a country that is leaps and bounds ahead of its neighbours is being held back by religious clerics. That is unacceptable,” said Fahad, aged 28, from, Saar.

“Unfair for Shia women not to get the justice they deserve”

“This latest initiative actually came as a result of the Shura Council passing on a draft unified law to the government. This same Shura Council was responsible for the recent legislation blocking clerics from being MPs and supporting a more progressive law on rape. This shows why the Shura Council is such an important and underestimated part of Bahrain’s parliamentary system,” said Hanan, age 40 from Isa Town.

“I believe that such local and personal laws should be governed by international courts, while ensuring that at root they are sharia compliant. it is a positive move by HM the King and we hope that the legislative authority will do their due diligence to ensure its success in the best possible way for the people of Bahrain;” said Sarah, aged 36,  from Manama.

“Years ago women struggled for justice in Sunni courts, however this has completely changed and this can viewed as a measure of success, hence it is unfair for Shia women not to get the justice they deserve in their courts;” said Abdullah, aged 38, from Budaiya.

“This a matter of equality and the state should issue a unified law to protect women from all sects, it is very unfair that Shia women have to struggle for divorce, alimony etc while Sunni women have their rights preserved;” said Aisha, aged 34, from Muharraq.

“Clerics of all varieties should be kept away from politics”

“If Al-Wefaq had come back to Parliament, this law wouldn’t even be under discussion because we all know that it would just be vetoed again. This better than anything shows why sectarian clerics of all varieties should be kept away from politics,” said Ali, aged 32, from Saar.

“The government is not to blame for the absence of a Shia family law, we should blame the Shia clerics and the Shia parliamentary bloc in the parliament back then that rejected the law. The government should now correct that mistake and the new MPs should understand the necessity of a unified family law;” said Fatima, aged 34, from Riffa.

“A unified family law has several effects on the Bahraini society, it is indeed a step towards the right direction in a country on its path towards democratization,” said Salah, aged 28, from Manama.

“The law will hopefully keep everyone satisfied”

“People should support the unified family law, it will certainly be in accordance with Islamic teachings and the law will hopefully keep everyone satisfied as it has to be written and scrutinised by religious scholars;” said Abdulrahman, aged 36, from Isa Town. 

“The failure to understand the negative effects of the absence of a family law for the Shia sect is what makes people undermine the necessity of a unified family law. The general public who do not look into details of legislations should become aware of what the unified family law is and how it protects them;” said Zainab, aged 32, from Manama. 

“Although many awareness campaigns have taken place in the past, the government and civil society organisations should do more to build awareness about this issue. It is a matter of communication, people should understand the importance of such issues and MPs also play a role in understanding this and communicating it with their constituents and the government,” said Khalid, aged 35, from Muharraq

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