Article 6 of the Jordanian Constitution
"Jordanians shall be equal before the law. There shall be no discrimination between them as regards to their rights and duties on grounds of race, language, or religion."
Zrein Al-A'sar, 30, is an Egyptian Baha'i woman deprived of her right to obtain Jordanian nationality since settling in the country eight years ago when she married a Jordanian and became a mother to two children. With a hard-to-hide Jordanian accent, she talks about daily living hardships in the absence of a Jordanian ID. When Al-A'sar talks, she hides her face from the camera, not concerned about herself, but about her children being bullied when discussing their religious beliefs with peers, should they recognise.
Al-A'sar couldn't realise her dream of becoming a lawyer, despite excelling at Al-Isra University's Law School (copy of her degree certificate). The reason being that training at a law firm and obtaining permission to practice the profession are not options available to non-Jordanians.
This contradicts the nationality law and the Constitution, which allow a Jordanian man's wife to automatically acquire nationality three years after marriage if she's a national of an Arab country, and after five years for non-Arab citizens.
Extract of interview with Zrein Al-A'sar
"When we got married, we discovered that I, being an Arab myself, can't get the Jordanian nationality three years later."
"As a law graduate, the topmost achiever in my class and having worked hard to get there, I couldn't get training at the Bar Association because I didn't have Jordanian nationality. This stopped me from continuing my objective [in life]: I went to a law school to defend people's rights, but I stopped at a certain point. I face economic difficulties; I must cooperate with my husband to meet life requirements, but I can't work because every time I apply for a job, nationality is a requirement."
"I'm worried about travelling anywhere and not being able to come back. There's no agreement between Egypt and Jordan, and the kingdom doesn't allow Egyptian women in. I've always had this problem of not being able to travel anywhere with my husband. What I'm asking for is my right, not a proposal. I want the Jordanian nationality as a citizen living in Jordan for many years and born here. I don't have a nationality that gives me citizenship."
In early 2008, when Egypt's Ministry of Interior automated IDs, religious choices were restricted to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Accordingly, Al-A'sar was identified as a Muslim on her ID and passport.
But Al-A'sar hasn't been able to visit her family in Egypt since she got married, pending her reception of Jordanian nationality. She fears that she may not be able to return to her husband and children except with a new, unguaranteed visa. Still categorised as single on her passport, she has no marriage evidence to show the Egyptian Embassy in Amman. According to official documents, she's single and Muslim in Egypt, and married and Baha'i in Jordan.
"I contacted my family and friends and concluded that the possibility of changing my religion slot is weak," she recounts, referring to the Egyptian Government's transitional decision in 2011 to register Baha'is as Muslims.
"I'm worried that I won't be able to come back to my family if I travel to Egypt," she expresses.
Amidst an almost complete blackout and scarcity of information, the feature's writer followed up the cases of ten Baha'i women married to Jordanian men. All wives failed to acquire Jordanian nationality because the Civil Status and Passports Department refused to grant them official marriage certificates. These are required when completing the nationality application – an electronic process since 2010 – according to Law No. 6 of 1954 on Nationality and its amendments.
Subject to the approval of the minister of interior, a foreign woman who marries a Jordanian national may acquire Jordanian nationality if she so wishes by making a written statement to that effect:
- Three years after her marriage if she is an Arab.
- Five years after her marriage if she is not an Arab.
While official numbers are either absent or withheld, Tahani Rouhi, spokesperson for the Baha'i community in Jordan, estimates the number of her coreligionists at 1,000 in a country where Sunni Muslims constitute 98 per cent, and Christians two per cent, of its population of seven million. The total number of Baha'is around the world stands at around ten million.
The feature's writer sought data and information about the obstacles faced by Baha'is in a country that doesn't recognise their faith (a picture of the fatwa). Islam is the state's religion, according to the Constitution. It is the officially-recognised faith, alongside Christianity and Judaism. In response to inquiries, official circles offered superficial information unrelated to the story's core subject.
The Civil Status and Passports Department, which is part of the Ministry of Interior, as well as the Public Statistics Department, didn't disclose the number of Baha'is living in Jordan. The Supreme Judge Department, which is attached to the prime minister's office, didn't offer any information about the status of Baha'is and the stance of political and religious authorities regarding the faith. Former ministers and officials – with whom the feature's writer met – preferred not to comment on the issue or requested to remain anonymous when they did talk about it. In addition, the faith's followers abstain from expressing their grievances, fearing that official entities would revoke their promise to recognise them.
Qudrat Qumi (Abul-Qassem) faces complications every time he renews the residency permit of his Turkish wife and mother of his two children. Alongside the time wasted on paperwork and paying annual renewal fees – 60 JOD (85 USD) split 50-50 between the fees and a compulsory medical check-up – Abul-Qassem's wife is deprived of working to help sustain the family because she lacks Jordanian nationality.
No naturalisation without an official document
In 2010, Abul-Qassem submitted a dossier requesting his wife's naturalisation, but his file wasn't completed and was cancelled six months later. "My wife and I got a marriage certificate. But when I attached it to the application to naturalise her, the certificate was taken away from me. They attributed this to a procedural mistake." Hence, the couple went back to square one.
The applicability of Article 6 of Law No. 6 of 1954 on Nationality and its amendments to the service requester in terms of naturalisation desire and the expiry of the legal period of marriage.
- Approval of the minister of internal affairs.
- The presence of the spouses in person and the wife expressing her desire for naturalisation in writing.
- Certified copy of family book, marriage certificate, and valid passport.
- Copy of passport/wife's travel document.
- Certified and recent certificate of no criminal record for the wife.
- A photo of the wife.
- A military conscription booklet for the husband, exemption or termination of service if the husband is subject to military conscription.
- Family booklet of the husband's father and the bridges yellow card for the husband and his parents, if any.
Extract of interview with Qudrat Qumi (Abul-Qassem)
"I passed through all the formalities. I submitted an initial application to the Ministry of Internal Affairs because I had a marriage certificate dating to 2010. Otherwise, the application won't be accepted; I had this certificate so I decided to apply. Afterwards, I was asked to consult with several departments."
"My full application reached the Directorate of Naturalisation and Foreigners' Affairs. Now it was time for the nationality to be issued and the fees to be paid. They contacted the Civil Status and Passports Department, saying, 'This is a Baha'i; how did you issue them a marriage certificate?' They asked me, and I said, 'I did it as any other Jordanian citizen: I paid a dinar and I got it.' They asked me to submit all copies I had, claiming the certificate was issued by mistake. The paperwork was rejected after all these approvals."
"Then the residency permit's renewal was also stuck. For one and a half years, we couldn't renew the residency permit, and they asked for the marriage certificate. At the time, my wife had to travel, and I did an exit-and-return permit for her. When she came back, she had to pay for a visa. It was strange that a Jordanian's wife had to pay for a visa like a tourist. I told the officer there, 'Would you accept that your wife pays for a visa in order to enter the country?' He sympathised with me but said, 'The only thing I can do for you is to pay for the visa myself.' And my wife entered with a visa."
A right lost among three religious and official entities
Like other Baha'is in Jordan, Abul-Qassem has a "Baha'i marriage contract" documented with the Baha'i Council (an unofficial entity). This document is the basis for obtaining a family booklet, but it doesn't lead to an official marriage certificate issued by the Civil Status and Passports Department.
This faith's followers assert that they belong to the Baha'i religion. But the religious council known as the "Iftaa' Department" doesn't recognise Baha'ism as a religion. It considers Baha'is as Muslims because: "They believe in all of Islam's teachings and pillars, except their belief that the prophet (peace be upon him) isn't the last prophet but the last messenger."
However, the Iftaa' Department's Secretary-General Dr Ahmad Al-Hasanat states that not officially recognising the faith: "Doesn't stop the state from protecting the civil and political rights of its adherents." He adds: "If the problem is about issuing marriage certificates, it's up to other departments," referring to the Civil Status and Passports Department and the Supreme Judge Department.
According to the Supreme Judge Department, looking into the lawsuits of non-Muslims "isn't part of our jurisdiction" and that "recognised" confessions can sue at Sharia Courts if both parties agree to do so. As stated by judge Dr Ashraf Al-Omari, the Civil Status and Passports Department doesn't recognise Baha'i marriage certificates; it only issues family booklets for the couple and their children, without giving them an official marriage certificate.
The Baha'is' lawyer and legal advisor – who also fears having his name mentioned – doesn't advise them to file one lawsuit with the Magistrate's Court because if the lawsuit is lost, it would become: "A referential precedent and their (the Baha'is) claims for this right (naturalisation) would be gone. The issue isn't easy and may take months, maybe years to be settled."
Lawyer Wissam Al-Masjoun points out that there is clear recognition of Baha'ism as a legal personality by former cabinets, which approved the registration of lands in the name of the community in 1969 and 1974. That is, the name of the owner in the deeds is "the Baha'i community", according to Al-Masjoun. Thus, the recognition of the community is established legally according to Paragraph 2 of Article 50 of Jordan's Civil Code.
The legal entities are:
- The State, the municipalities according to legal terms, public institutions, and other facilities granted by law as a legal entity.
- Religious bodies and sects granted Legal entity by the State.
- Commercial and civil corporations.
- Associations and establishments founded according to legal terms.
- Any group of persons or monies with an established legal entity according to a legal text.
George Hazboun, a lawyer specialising in constitutional issues, calls withholding nationality from wives after the constitutional deadline, and because of belief, "a suspected constitutional violation". Hazboun, a member of the Senate, explains: "As long as there's a slot for religion and belief, it should be filled with something true, with what the person believes in."
Extract of interview with George Hazboun
"This isn't restricted to Baha'is. There are unrecognised Christian sects that have to have their contracts finalised with other sectarian authorities. I believe it isn't correct to coerce people this way. This is a legal fraud."
"The Baha'i community is a unique, single one. Recognising such communities should be considered; they should have their own beliefs."
"A belief is something between an individual and their God. As long as it doesn't violate public order and public morals, as set by the Constitution in terms of practising rites, there should be no obstacles before these people."
"Religious courts, recognised by the Constitution, have their rulings appealed outside the country. I personally believe that this violates the rule of law; appealing these courts' rulings should take place inside the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan."
"Also, if someone wants to have a ruling by such courts applied, instead of having a judicial authority tasked with approving the ruling – although the Constitution provides for one – the approval is sought from a governor and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This is as if we're talking about an association, not a purely Jordanian community that's part of the national fabric within the State."
"Communities aren't associations. The Constitution itself provided for them such courts and special laws, including personal status and other laws. Hence, there's a legal dilemma for some people that they raise in order to rectify the situation."
Taghrid Al-Daghmi, a lawyer who contributed to a study on religious minorities in Jordan entitled Full Citizenship, Free Belief, argues that most laws in the kingdom are: "Civil, except for the Personal Status Law." Al-Daghmi explains that Baha'is: "Face religious-based discrimination in basic things that regulate their lives, including their wives' access to nationality." This contradicts the constitutional rule that states: "Jordanians shall be equal before the law. There shall be no discrimination between them as regards to their rights and duties on grounds of race, language, or religion."
The labyrinth of consulting with authorities
A chronology of the Baha'i pursuit for marriage certificates
- Early 2015: A delegation visits the director of the Civil Status and Passports Department.
The department's directors of legal affairs and public relations referred the delegation to the assistant director of nationality and foreign affairs, who directed the delegation back to the director of legal affairs.
- There is talk about a fatwa from the Iftaa' Department calling on Baha'is to consult with the Magistrate's Court to issue a proof of marriage.
- The Iftaa' Department: No such fatwa has been issued; the department isn't aware of one.
- Consulting with the Supreme Judge Department, headed by Dr Mohammad Al-Natsha and Dr Ashraf Al-Omari, to make sure that the fatwa exists.
- 20 January 2015: A petition is handed to the director of legal affairs, who jotted his legal comments on it. The document has been with the minister of internal affairs ever since.
- The National Centre for Human Rights is handed a memo on annual residency permit renewals that have been rejected on the basis of marriage certificates with Iranian Baha'i women; the Iranian nationality is a restricted one.
- The memo is referred to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for follow-up via a liaison officer between the centre and the ministry.
- A Baha'i delegation visits the human rights officer at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, who promised to refer the matter and recommendations to the then-Minister Salama Hammad.
- Abdel-Basset Al-Kabariti, office director of the Minister of Internal Affairs, is consulted dozens of times, both in person and by telephone, to explain the issue before seeing the minister. He always says the minister is busy.
- 12 June 2016: The director of legal affairs at the Ministry of Internal Affairs is consulted again; he says it's necessary to see the minister himself.
- 19 May 2018: Lawyer Salah Ma'ayta is consulted about legal procedures to file a suit before regular courts. The lawyer didn't encourage the delegation to file a lawsuit; he advised contacting Minister of Internal Affairs Samir Al-Mubaidin.
- 27 August 2018: The liaison officer at the Intelligence Department is informed about the pursuits of Baha'is. The officer tells the delegate to consult with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and promises to follow up on the matter and express his department's views in compliance with the ministry's requirements.
- 4 November 2018: Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz is addressed on the matter.
- Several consultations are carried out by telephone with the human rights commissioner, Bassel Al-Tarawna, about the letter sent to the prime minister.
- The letter is sent by the Prime Minister's Office to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, asking it to comment. The delegation consulted with the ministry (Al-Kabariti, office director of the minister, and the ministry's office), but the ministry denied receiving the letter.
- 10 January 2019: The intelligence liaison officer asks the delegation to consult with the director of the Civil Status and Passports Department.
- 18 January 2019: A meeting is held with the Civil Status and Passports Department director, who didn't express an opinion, saying that the department is an executive entity. Asked by the director to express his opinion, his assistant suggested consulting with the director of legal affairs at the Ministry of Internal Affairs to express his opinion.
- 22-24 January 2019: Three visits are made to the director of legal affairs at the Ministry of Internal Affairs at his office. He isn't there, although he's agreed to receive the delegation.
- 31 January 2019: The director of legal affairs at the Ministry of Internal Affairs tells the Baha'is to send a new letter to the minister.
- 3 March 2019: A new letter was submitted to Al-Mubaidin; it is handed to his office director and a copy to the Office of the Ministry.
Automation and deprivation
Baha'i naturalisation procedures became complicated after the naturalisation application mechanism was automated in 2010.
Al-Masjoun procured Jordanian nationality in 2007 before naturalisation procedures were automated. She attached her family booklet and Baha'i marriage certificate with her application to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. At the time, the ministry asked for a Sharia-compliant marriage certificate to complete the paperwork, similar to what is required from Jordanian Muslims.
But the applicant was later exempted from this requirement after she and her husband offered a series of justifications and explanations during shuttle tours among the ministry's departments.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and its Civil Status and Passports Department abstained from offering any related information, despite applications under the right to access information submitted on 24 July and 19 September 2019.
A former official close to the issue says the Civil Status and Passports Department: "Facilitated naturalisation measures based on civil marriage certificates even in the absence of official (religious) marriage certificates." It depended on the mindset and flexibility of the official handling the application, in terms of accepting a Baha'i marriage certificate and a family booklet as a basis for naturalisation, while not violating the spirit of regulations and laws, the former official explains, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Despite the religious considerations, the former official says he believes that naturalisation "is a civil, not religious issue" since "all naturalisation's outputs are civil, except for the marriage contract."
Today, an applicant does not have the opportunity to explain their case to the Civil Status and Passports Department; acceptance or rejection come according to whether all required documents are attached, especially an official marriage certificate.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs refuses to discuss Baha'i grievances with the media, while the Civil Status and Passports Department asserts that it doesn't have an official order to issue marriage certificates for Baha'is. According to internal instructions, the department can only issue family booklets.
A former minister of internal affairs stresses that he tried to solve the problem. "It was more difficult at the time (during the 2000s) because, at the time, Baha'is requests focused on recognising their religion," he explains, speaking on condition of anonymity. "This is a religious-political issue," he adds, because of the religious dimension in a country where the Iftaa' Department's fatwas are highly respected.
When a legal way out was sought for adherents, the attempt was held back by fears of popular and religious reactions since Baha'ism isn't an officially-recognised religion in Jordan.
The former minister proposes a solution to this problem by amending the nationality law to require family booklets only, without marriage certificates, in naturalisation applications.
Amjad Al-Nuaimi, who has been married to an Iranian Baha'i for five years, received a family booklet but not a marriage certificate. Both documents are required by women married to Jordanian men to electronically apply for naturalisation.
After learning about the suffering of earlier applicants, Al-Nuaimi tasked the Baha'i Council to follow up his case, alongside 15 other similar cases.
There's also no official judicial system for the Baha'is to settle inheritance and marriage issues. The Baha'is have only a "council" that marries them according to their religious laws.
Iranian nationality is one of the nationalities marked as restricted, meaning that it is difficult for Iranians to secure Jordanian visas and residency permits.
A postponed life
After hesitation and rebuttal, nine Baha'i women agreed to talk about their troubles, especially their deprivation of nationality and employment, despite their significant academic qualifications.
After ten years in the labyrinth of pursuing official recognition in the departments of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Government and the Intelligence Department, Baha'is feel they are trapped in a vicious circle. They do not receive convincing answers, and therefore, they remain citizens with incomplete rights and frozen prospects.
Baha'i roots in Jordan date back to more than a century
Baha'is stress that they aren't a sect of a certain religion; they are an independent religion that stems from their Most Holy Book: "Baha'is believe that God is one and unique and love Him and obey His orders; He is eternal with no equal; there is no way to know His essence. They believe religions are one as God is one, despite the fact that cultures produce different expressions and people contribute different interpretations to God's book. Hence, they believe in all prophets and heavenly books."
Extract of interview with Youssef Mahrakani
"We're similar to the rest of the country's population; there's no difference at all. We only hold simple family meetings and recite some prayers in order to succeed in our lives. A marriage contract requires the acceptance of the spouses, their parents and two witnesses; that is, eight people. The dowry should be paid, but it's preferred to be at its minimum, which is 19 mithqals of silver, or 69 grams, which is equal in today's prices to 35 JOD."
Endowments, inheritances and celebrations
Baha'is do not have a religious authority as they do not join the Ministry of Endowments, Islamic Affairs, and Holy Places, or the Council of Churches. Consequently, their endowments aren't registered under the Baha'i sect's name because Jordan doesn't recognise them, and they have to register their endowments under individuals' names. This leads to inheritance problems because the endowments are considered private property, and not endowments per se.
Baha'is are forced to go to Sharia courts to distribute inheritances as they lack their own religious courts. However, once settled, inheritances are redistributed according to Baha'i religious laws, explains spokesperson Rouhi.
In Baha'ism, inheritances are distributed into seven categories: offspring, spouses, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and teachers. This is in case a Baha'i dies without a will, although a will is required in Baha'ism.
But the absence of an officially-registered legal entity to represent Jordan's Baha'is, and register the sect's moveable and immovable assets under the sect's name, leaves Baha'i assets under the names of Baha'i individuals and their heirs.
Although some properties are registered with the Department of Lands and Survey under the name of the Baha'i community, the absence of an officially-registered legal entity leads, in legal terms, to problems and lost properties.
According to Law No. 55 of 2008 on Associations, a religious association cannot be registered without the permission of the Ministry of Endowments, Islamic Affairs, and Holy Places or the Council of Churches. As a result, Baha'is cannot register an association in their name.
Public celebrations are subject to the approval of administrative governors, except for religious celebrations and parades. But the Baha'is don't benefit from the exception because they lack a religious authority registered under the community's name.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.