Palestine’s chief justice thought Kholoud Al-Faqih was kidding when she told him that she wanted to join the bench. Only men adjudicated Sharia law.
It’s not that Al-Faqih is opposed to kidding. As seen in the documentary The Judge, she’s an adorable wife and mother with a delightful sense of humor. But she’s also a learned and tenacious lawyer. Eventually, the chief justice recognized that her sharp mind would be an asset to his court, and Al-Faqih became the first female Sharia law judge in the Middle East.
Sharia law is caricatured beyond recognition in the U.S. But, in simple terms, it’s a set of edicts based on the Koran and other texts that, like Jewish law in Israel, guides not only many traditions but also policies and disputes in contractual realities like marriage, divorce, and child custody. It is at once a mundane and all-important system that depends on judges not just well-versed in the law but also humane in their application of it.
Director Erika Cohn has created her film with such care that we are privy to many aspects of Al-Faqih’s life — her childhood, her home, her intellect, her work. We meet feminists, scholars, petitioners, family, and friends. We witness the breakdown of justice and the reclamation of hope. The Judge is packed tight; it’s enlightening and suspenseful and paced for maximum enjoyment. In the end, it’s not just about Kholoud Al-Faqih, but you’ll be very glad to have met her.
Directed by Erika Cohn
Opens April 13, Cinema Village
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 11, 2018