Bahrain: Activist advocates family laws for all communities

Gulf News
A human rights activist has called for the enactment of distinct family status laws for Bahrain's various religious groups.
"Every faith and sect in the country should have the opportunity to choose the legal and judiciary system that governs their personal status," Nabeel Rajab, former head of the defunct Bahrain Human Rights Centre, has said.
"We must ensure that there are appropriate procedures to ensure the active participation of all religious denominations in the drafting, approval and amendment of their own laws on personal matters," he said yesterday in a press statement.

The laws however must be compatible with fundamental rights, religious precepts and universal human rights, he said.

A national campaign calling for the promulgation of a family law has been launched by the official Supreme Council for Women in a bid to codify laws governing family relations and cases of marriage, divorce, alimony and child custody.

Women's rights activists who have joined in the campaign have been highlighting judges' bias against women, stressing that sentences were often based on individual interpretations, and called for a formal family law.

Conservative religious leaders have resisted the law, citing concerns that lawmakers would not abide by strict Islamic rulings.

Discrepancies in approaches and dogmas on family matters between Sunnis and Shiites, the dominating groups in Bahrain, have sparked calls for separate laws, a plea that activists are now accepting as a compromise to ensure the law wins popular support.

Rajab in his statement said that other religious groups in Bahrain should have the right to enact their own laws.

"There is an urgent need for a written family law, but no specific legal and judicial regulation on family matters should be imposed on any group. The Islamic Shari'a for instance should not be imposed on Christians or Jews, and no sect should be compelled to follow the precepts of another sect," he said.

Rajab also ruled out the possibility for deputies to alter or amend the status law of any sect or group without the consent of its members.

Statute provides for freedom of religion
  • Bahrain's constitution states that Islam is the official religion, but provides for freedom of religion. About 98 per cent of the 400,000 Bahrainis are Muslims, with Jews and Christians constituting the remaining two per cent.
  • About half of the resident foreigners who make up about 40 per cent of the total population are non-Muslims, and include Christians, Jews, Hindus, Baha'is, Buddhists and Sikhs.
  • Thirteen registered Christian congregations, a synagogue, four Sikh temples, and several official and unofficial Hindu temples operate freely and allow other groups to use their facilities.
  • A Christian woman, Alice Samaan, is a Shura Council member and a Jewish woman, Huda Noono, chairs the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society.
By Habib Toumi and originally published on 25/10/2005