Experts say the Jordanian Civil Code must differentiate between Christians and Muslims, so that the recent draft law on equal inheritance between female and male Christians can be implemented without controversies.
The Councils of Christian Denominations (CCD) in Jordan unanimously approved a draft law for Christians earlier this month, which will work toward granting equal inheritance rights for men and women.
The draft law includes an important clause granting female Christians the right to block their male relatives from inheritance rights if there are no immediate male family members.
Christine Faddoul, the first female judge at the Court of Appeals, told Al-Monitor that some Christian families who have no sons “had to go through many ‘protective’ procedures, such as writing their properties in the name of their female children, to ensure they inherit their property.”
The draft law will be referred to the government for endorsement and accreditation, lawyer Yacoub Far told Al-Monitor.
However, Far pointed out that there needs to be an amendment to Article 1086 of the Jordan Civil Code for 1976, which stipulates: “The designations of heirs, the determination of their shares in the estate and the devolving of the estate shall be subject to the provisions of the Muslim Sharia.”
That covers Christians, as well, and Far said, “That is why we need to have an amendment so that … the Christian denominations will have the freedom to apply their own laws.”
Once endorsed by the government, “the recent draft law will go through the legal channels of being sent to parliament for debate and approval, and finally a royal decree,” added Far, who was part of the committee that drafted the law.
A long campaign
Nuhad Matalka, a mother of three daughters, has been vocal about demanding more rights for her children since a group of Christian women started meeting regularly in late 2018. The group was initiated by Lina Nuqul, who assembled clerics, parliament members, law practitioners and notables from civil society, according to Matalka.
“I attended many of the meetings over the past four years and became part of the movement that was demanding equal inheritance rights for women as stipulated in the Christian religion and being applied in neighboring countries such as Syria and Lebanon,” Matalka told Al-Monitor. She said the group reached out to heads of churches, “who showed interest in our demands and were positive about it.”
“Why should distant male relatives share our family’s wealth that we accumulated over the years with my daughters? This is surely not fair,” she added.
Faddoul, who belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church in Jordan, said that “despite the unanimous decision, there are still some Christian families who are against the recent step.” But the veteran judge added that she is hopeful that “these families will get accustomed to the new law once it goes through the legal channels.”
In 2021, Archimandrite and General Episcopal Vicar Bassam Shahatit published on the Academia website a report on the effort to amend the law, stating that there are many verses in the Bible to address equality in inheritance.
Shahatit referred to the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament, which refers to equality in inheritance, just as the epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (3:28) in the New Testament states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
According to a 2022 US government report, the population of Jordan was estimated to be 11 million. The report said Christians make up 2.1% of the total population.
Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, sprinkles holy water from a wet branch upon Catholic pilgrims as they attend a mass at the Church of the Baptism of Christ some 60 km southwest of the Jordanian capital Amman, on Jan. 13, 2023. – KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP via Getty Images