Wives of Baha’is in Jordan Aren’t Eligible for Naturalization

Published October 12th, 2021 - 07:48 GMT
Zrein Al-A’sar, 30, is an Egyptian Baha’i woman who’s been deprived of her right to get Jordanian nationality since she settled in the country eight years ago when she got married to a Jordanian man and became mother to two children.
Baha'is with King Abdullah I

 By Safaa Ramhi

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 who’s been deprived of her right to get Jordanian nationality since she settled in the country eight years ago when she got married to a Jordanian man and became mother to two children. With a hard-to-hide Jordanian accent, she talks about small and regular daily living hardships in the absence of a Jordanian ID. When she talks, she hides her face from the camera, not worried about herself but about her children getting bullied when they get into talks about their religious beliefs with their peers should their peers recognize her in the film.

Zrein couldn’t realize her dream to become a lawyer even though she excelled at Al-Isra University’s Law School; the reasons is that training at a law firm and then getting the permission to practice the profession aren’t available to non-Jordanians.

This comes in contradiction with the nationality law and the Constitution, which allow a Jordanian man’s wife to automatically get nationality three years after marriage if she’s a national of an Arab country and after five years for non-Arab citizens.

"When we got married, we discovered that I, being an Arab myself, can’t get the Jordanian nationality three years later 1:38

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 traveling 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.

When in early 2008 Egypt’s Ministry of the interior automated IDs, religion’s choices were restricted to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Hence, Zrein was identified as a Muslim in her ID and passport."

But Zrein hasn’t been able to visit her family in Egypt since she got married pending her reception of the Jordanian nationality. She fears that she may not be able to get back to her husband and children except with a new, unguaranteed visa; still marked as single in her passport, she’s got 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 says, referring to the Egyptian Government’s transitional decision in 2011 to register Bahai’s as Muslims.

“I’m worried that I won’t be able to come back to my family if I travel to Egypt,” she complains.

Amidst almost complete blackout and scarcity in information, the feature’s writer followed up the cases of 10 Baha’i women married to Jordanian men. All wives failed to get Jordan’s nationality because the Civil Status and Passports Department refused to grant them official marriage certificates, which are required when filling up the nationality application – an electronic process since 2010 – according to Law No. 6 of 1954 on Nationality and its amendments.

Jordan’s Law on Nationality: 

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:

1. Three years after her marriage if she is an Arab;

2. Five years after her marriage if she is not an Arab. While official numbers are either absent or withheld, Tahani Rouhi, the spokeswoman for the Baha’i community in Jordan, estimates the number of her coreligionists at 1,000 in a country where Sunni Muslims make up 98% and Christians 2% of its population of seven million people.

 The total number of Baha’is around the world is about 10 million. The feature’s writer sought data and details about the problems and obstacles faced by Baha’is in a country that doesn’t recognize their faith (A Picture of the Fatwa).

Islam is the State’s religion, according to the Constitution; it’s the officially-recognized 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, and the Public Statistics Department didn’t disclose the number of Bahai’s 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 about their faith.

Former ministers and officials – with whom the feature’s writer met – preferred not to comment on the issue or requested, when they did talk about it, to stay anonymous. In addition, this faith’s followers abstain from expressing their grievances, fearing that official entities would go back on their promises to recognize them as a confession.

Qudrat Qumi 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 checkup – Qumi’s wife is deprived from working and helping her husband sustain the family because she lacks Jordan’s nationality.

No Naturalization without an Official Document

In 2010, Qumi submitted a dossier requesting his wife’s naturalization, 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 naturalize her, the certificate was taken away from me. They attributed this to a procedural mistake.” Hence, the couple went back to the starting point.

The Conditions for Naturalization:

The applicability of Article 6 of Law No. 6 of 1954 on Nationality and its amendments to the service requester in terms of naturalization 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 naturalization in writing.

Required Documents

  • 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 personal 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.

"I passed through all the formalities. I submitted an initiation application at 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 Naturalization 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 9:22"

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 Jordanian’s wife had to pay for a visa like any tourist. I told the officer there, “Would you accept that your wife pays for a visa in order to enter the country?” He sympathized with me but said, “The only thing I can do for you is pay for the visa myself.” And my wife entered with a visa.

A Right Lost among Three Religious and Official Entities

Similar to 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 getting 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 say they belong to the “Baha’i religion.” But the religious council know as “Iftaa’ Department” doesn’t recognize 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, Dr. Ahmad Al-Hasanat, the Iftaa’ Department’s secretary-general, says not officially recognizing the faith “doesn’t stop the state from protecting the civil and political rights of its adherents.” Dr. Al-Hasanat 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.

The Supreme Judge Department says looking into the suits of non-Muslims “isn’t part of our jurisdiction” and that “recognized” confessions can sue at Sharia Courts if both parties agree to do so. According to the judge, Dr. Ashraf Al-Omari, the Civil Status and Passports Department doesn’t recognize 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 adviser – who also fears having his name mentioned – doesn’t advise them to file one suit with the Magistrate’s Court because if the suit is lost, it would become “a referential precedent and their (the Baha’is) claims for this right (naturalization) would be gone. “The issue isn’t easy and may take months, maybe years to be settled.”

Wissam Al-Masjoun, a lawyer, points out that there’s 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,” she says, hence, the recognition of the community is established legally according to Paragraph 2 of Article 50 of Jordan’s Civil Code:

The Legal entity are:

1. The State, the municipalities according to legal terms, public institutions and other facilities granted by law as a legal entity.

2. Religious bodies and sects granted Legal entity by the State.

3. Endowments.

4. Commercial and civil corporations.

5. Associations and establishments founded according to legal terms.

6. Any group of persons or monies with established legal entity according to a legal text.

George Hazboun, a lawyer specialized in constitutional issues, calls withholding nationality from “wives after the constitutional deadline and because of belief, is 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.”

"This isn’t restricted to Baha’is. There are unrecognized Christian sects that have to have their contracts finalized with other sectarian authorities. I believe it isn’t correct to coerce people this way. This is legal fraud.

The Baha’i community is a unique, single one. Recognizing 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 practicing rites, there should be no obstacles before these people.

Religious courts, recognized 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.” She says Baha’is “face religious-based discrimination in basic things that regulate their lives, including their wives’ access to nationality,” in contradiction with the constitutional rule that says, “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 Baha’i Pursuit of 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 foreigner affairs, who referred the delegation back to the director of legal affairs.

  • There’s talk about a fatwa from the Iftaa’ Department calling on Baha’is to consult with the Magistrate’s Court in order to get a proof of marriage document issued.
  • 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.
  • 20-1-2015: 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 center 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 with dozens of times, both in person and by telephone, to explain the issue before seeing the minister. He always says the minister is busy.
  • 12-6-2016: The director of legal affairs at the Ministry of Internal Affairs is consulted again; he says it’s necessary to see the minister himself.
  • 19-5-2018: The lawyer, Salah Ma’ayta, is consulted about legal procedures in case of filing a suit before regular courts. The lawyer didn’t encourage the delegation to file a suit; he advised contacting the Minister of Internal Affairs, Samir Al-Mubaidin.
  • 27-8-2018: 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 the matter and express his department’s views in compliance with the ministry’s requirements.
  • 4-11-2018: The Prime Minister, Omar Al-Razzaz is addressed about the matter.
  • Several consultations are carried on 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 (Abdel-Basset Kabariti, office director of the minister, and the Office of the Ministry), but the ministry denied receiving the letter.
  • 10-1-2019: The intelligence liaison officer asks the delegation to consult with the director of the Civil Status and Passports Department.
  • 18-1-2019: A meeting is held with the director of the Civil Status and Passports Department, 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, 24-1-2019: 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.
  • 31-1-2019: The director of legal affairs at the Ministry of Internal Affairs tells the Baha’is to send a new letter to the minister.
  • 3-3-2019: A new letter was submitted to the then-minister, Samir Al-Mubaidin; it’s handed to his office director and a copy to the Office of the Ministry.

Automation and Deprivation

Baha’i naturalization procedures got complicated after the naturalization application mechanism was automated in 2010.

Wissam Al-Masjoun got the Jordanian nationality in 2007; that is, before naturalization procedures were automated. She says she attached with her application at the Ministry of Internal Affair her family booklet and Baha’i marriage certificate. At the time, the ministry asked for a Sharia-compliant marriage certificate to complete the paperwork, similar to what’s 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. This is despite applications under the right to access information submitted on July 24 and September 19, 2019.

A former official who was close to the issue says the Civil Status and Passports Department “facilitated naturalization 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 naturalization while not violating the spirit of regulations and laws, the former official explains, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the issue’s sensitivity.

Despite the religious considerations, the former official says he believes that naturalization “is a civil, not religious issue” since “all naturalization’s outputs are civil, except for the marriage contract.”

Today, an applicant doesn’t have the chance 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 says that it doesn’t have an official order to issue marriage certificates for Baha’is. According to internal instructions, the department can only issue them 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 recognizing their religion,” he says, speaking on the 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-recognized religion in Jordan.

The former minister proposes a solution for this problem by amending the nationality law to require family booklets only, without marriage certificates, in naturalization applications.

Similar Stories

Amjad Al-Nuaimi, who’s been married to an Iranian Baha’i for five years, got a family booklet but not a marriage certificate; both documents are required by women married to Jordanian men to apply for naturalization electronically.

After learning about the sufferings 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 Bahai’s to settle inheritance and marriage issues. The Bahai’s have only a “council” that marries them according to their religious laws.

The Iranian nationality is one of the nationalities marked restricted; this means it’s hard for Iranians to get 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 the nationality then from work despite their important academic qualifications. 

Wife 

 Nationality 

Marriage Date

Profession/Education 

1

Egyptian

2012

Bachelor of Law 

2

Tunisian

2018

Veterinary

3

Iranian

2009

Medicine

4

Turkish

2010

Bachelor of Computer

5

American

2018

Bachelor of Anthropology

6

Lebanese

2017

Bachelor of Nutrition

7

Iraqi

2016

Bachelor of Fine Arts

8

Australian

2007

Family Medicine

9

Syrian

2014

Social Activist and Volunteer in Charities 

 

For 10 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 in a vicious circle. They don’t get convincing answers, hence, they remain citizens with incomplete rights and frozen prospects.

Historical Lights 

Baha’is roots in Jordan date back to more than a century.

Bahai’s stress that they aren’t a sect of a certain religion; they are an independent religion that stems from their Most Holy Book. “Bahai’s 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.”

"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."

Other Challenges

Endowments, Inheritance, Celebrations

Bahai’is don’t have a religious authority as they don’t join the Ministry of Endowments, Islamic Affairs and Holy Places or the Council of Churches. Hence, their endowments aren’t registered under the Baha’i sect’s name because Jordan doesn’t recognize the sect, and they have to register their endowments under individuals’ names. This leads to inheritance problems because the endowments are considered private property, 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, their spokeswoman, Tahani Rouhi says.

In Baha’ism, inheritances are distributed to seven categories: offspring, spouses, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and teachers. This is in case a Baha’i died without a will, although the 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 can’t be registered without the permission of the Ministry of Endowments, Islamic Affairs and Holy Places or the Council of Churches. Hence, Baha’is can’t 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.

This investigation was conducted with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Network (ARIJ).

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


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