I should just point out that the Frankfurt court promptly removed the Judge from the case, however the episode still raises concerns.
Germany Cites Koran in Rejecting Divorce
By MARK LANDLER, New York Times
Published: March 22, 2007
FRANKFURT, March 22 — A German judge has stirred a storm of protest here by citing the Koran in turning down a German Muslim woman’s request for a fast-track divorce on the ground that her husband beat her.
In a remarkable ruling that underlines the tension between Muslim customs and European laws, the judge, Christa Datz-Winter, said that the couple came from a Moroccan cultural milieu, in which she said it was common for husbands to beat their wives. The Koran, she wrote, 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 7th-century Islamic religious teaching ahead of modern German law in deciding a case involving domestic violence.
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. On Wednesday, the court in Frankfurt abruptly removed Judge Datz-Winter from the case, saying it could not justify her reasoning.
“It was terrible for my client,” Ms. Becker-Rojczyk said of the ruling. “This man beat her seriously from the beginning of their marriage. After they separated, he called her and threatened to kill her.”
While legal experts said the ruling was a judicial misstep rather than evidence of a broader trend, it comes at a time of rising tension in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, as authorities in many fields struggle to reconcile Western values with their countries’ burgeoning Muslim minorities.
Last fall, a Berlin opera house canceled performances of a Mozart opera because of security fears. The opera includes a scene that depicts the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad. Stung by charges that it had surrendered its artistic freedom, the opera house staged the opera three months later without incident.
To some here, the divorce court ruling reflects a similar compromise of basic values in the name of cultural sensitivity.
“A judge in Germany has to refer to the constitutional law, which says that human rights are not to be violated,” said Günter Meyer, director of the Center for Research on the Arab World at the University of Mainz. “It’s not her task to interpret the Koran,” Mr. Meyer said of Judge Datz-Winter. “It was an attempt at multi-cultural understanding, but in completely the wrong context.”
Reaction to the decision has been almost as sulfurous as it was to the cancellation of the opera.
“When the Koran is put above the German constitution, I can only say, ‘Good night, Germany,’ ” Ronald Pofalla, general secretary of the main conservative party in the country, the Christian Democratic Union, said to the mass-market paper Bild.
Dieter Wiefelspütz, a member of Parliament from the more liberal Social Democratic Party, said in an interview that he could not recall any court ruling in years that had aroused so much indignation.
Muslim leaders agreed that Muslims living here 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 Koran governing relations between husbands and wives.
While the verse cited by Judge Datz-Winter does say husbands may beat their wives for disobedience — an interpretation embraced by Wahhabi and other fundamentalist Islamic groups — most mainstream Muslims have long rejected wife-beating as a relic of the medieval age.
“Our prophet never struck a woman, and he is our example,” Ayyub Axel Köhler, 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 not so fortunate. Born in Germany to a Moroccan family, the woman was married in Morocco in 2001, according to her lawyer, Ms. Becker-Rojczyk. The couple settled in Germany and had two children.
In May 2006, the police were summoned to the couple’s home after a particularly violent incident. At that time, Judge Datz-Winter ordered the husband to move out and stay at least 50 meters (164 feet) away from the 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 waiting for the usual year of separation, since her husband’s threats and beatings constituted an “unreasonable hardship,” the requirement for waiving the delay.
“We worried that he might think he had the right to kill her because she is still his wife,” Ms. Becker-Rojczyk said.
A lawyer for the husband, Gisela Hammes, did not reply to e-mail messages or a telephone message left at her office in Mainz.
In January, the judge turned down the wife’s request for a speedy divorce, saying that the husband’s behavior was not an unreasonable hardship because they were both Moroccan. “In this cultural background,” she wrote, “it is not unusual that the husband uses physical punishment against the wife.”
Ms. 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, Judge Datz-Winter noted that she had ordered the man to move out and had imposed a restraining order on him. But she also cited the verse in the Koran 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 that his honor had been compromised.
The woman, her lawyer said, does not wear a headscarf. She has been a German citizen for eight years.
Judge Datz-Winter declined to comment for this article. But a spokesman for the court, Bernhard Olp, said the judge did not intend to suggest that violence in a marriage is acceptable or that the Koran supersedes German law. “The ruling is not justifiable, but the judge herself cannot explain it at this moment,” he said.
Judge Datz-Winter narrowly avoided being killed 10 years ago in a case involving a man and woman whose relationship had come apart. The man emptied a gun in her courtroom — killing his former partner and wounding her lawyer. The judge survived by diving under her desk.
German newspapers have speculated that the ordeal may have affected her judgment in this case, a suggestion that the court spokesman denied.
A new judge will be assigned to the case, but Ms. Becker-Rojczyk said her client would probably nonetheless have to wait until May for her divorce, since the paperwork for a fast-track divorce would take several months in any event.
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 water, that a German judge thinks it is O.K. for them to hit their wives,” said Michaela Sulaika Kaiser, the head of a group that counsels Muslim women.