German ruling denies Muslim’s plea for divorce
(03-23) 04:00 PDT Frankfurt, Germany — A German judge has stirred a storm of protest by citing the Quran in turning down a German Muslim‘s request for a speedy divorce on the ground that her husband beat her.
In a ruling that underlines the tension between Muslim customs and European laws, the judge, Christa Datz-Winter, noted that the couple came from a Moroccan culture, in which it is common for husbands to beat their wives. The Quran, she wrote in her decision, sanctions such physical abuse.
News of the ruling brought swift and sharp condemnation from politicians, legal experts and Muslim leaders in Germany, many of whom said they were confounded that a German judge would put seventh-century Islamic religious teaching ahead of German law in deciding a case of domestic violence.
The court in Frankfurt abruptly removed Datz-Winter from the case on Wednesday, saying it could not justify her reasoning. The woman’s lawyer, Barbara Becker-Rojczyk, said she decided to publicize the ruling, which was issued in January, after the court refused her request for a new judge.
“It was terrible for my client,” Becker-Rojczyk said. “This man beat her seriously from the beginning of their marriage. After they separated, he called her and threatened to kill her.”
Muslim leaders agreed that Muslims living in Germany must be judged by the German legal code. But they were just as offended by what they characterized as the judge’s misinterpretation of a much-debated passage in the Quran governing relations between husbands and wives.
The verse cited by Datz-Winter does say husbands may beat their wives for being disobedient — an interpretation embraced by Wahhabi and other fundamentalist Islamic groups — but mainstream Muslims have long rejected wife-beating as a medieval relic.
“Our prophet never struck a woman, and he is our example,” Ayyub Axel Koehler, the head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said in an interview.
The 26-year-old woman in this case, whose name has not been disclosed, was born in Germany to a Moroccan family and married in Morocco in 2001, according to her lawyer, Becker-Rojczyk. The couple settled in the Frankfurt area and had two children.
In May 2006, the police were summoned after a particularly violent incident. At that time, Datz-Winter ordered the husband to move out and stay at least 55 yards away from the couple’s home. In the months that followed, her lawyer said, the man threatened to kill his wife.
Terrified, the woman filed for divorce in October and requested that it be granted without the usual year of separation because her husband’s threats and beatings constituted an “unreasonable hardship.”
“We worried that he might think he had the right to kill her because she is still his wife,” Becker-Rojczyk said.
A lawyer for the husband, Gisela Hammes, did not reply to an e-mail message and a telephone message left at her office in Mainz.
In January, the judge turned down the wife’s request for a speedy divorce, saying her husband’s behavior did not constitute unreasonable hardship because they are both Moroccan. “In this cultural background,” she wrote, “it is not unusual that the husband uses physical punishment against the wife.”
Becker-Rojczyk filed a request to remove the judge from the case, contending that she had not been neutral.
In a statement defending her ruling, Datz-Winter noted that she had ordered the man to move out and put a restraining order on him. But she also cited the verse in the Quran that speaks of a husband’s prerogatives in disciplining his wife. And she suggested that the wife’s Western lifestyle would give her husband grounds to claim his honor had been compromised.
The woman, her lawyer said, does not wear a head scarf. She has been a German citizen for eight years.
Datz-Winter declined to comment. But a spokesman for the court, Bernhard Olp, said she did not intend to suggest that violence in a marriage is acceptable or that the Quran supersedes German law.
“The ruling is not justifiable, but the judge herself cannot explain it at this moment,” he said.
A new judge will be assigned, but Becker-Rojczyk said her client would probably wait until May for her divorce because the paperwork for a fast-track divorce would take until then anyway.
For some, the greatest damage done by this episode is to other Muslim women suffering from domestic abuse. Many are already afraid of going to court against their spouses. There have been a string of so-called honor killings here, in which Turkish Muslim men have murdered women.
“For Muslim men, this is like putting oil on a fire, that a German judge thinks it is OK for them to hit their wives,” said Michaela Sulaika Kaiser, the head of a group that counsels Muslim women.