Following is a Frontpage Mag interview with Janice Gotchet, a “Native San Franciscan Female with Norwegian, Swiss, Lutheran, Catholic roots divorced from a Sunni Arab Muslim from Kuwait”.
For anyone considering marrying a Muslim man (Muslim women are not allowed to marry outside of Islam) you want to read her story.
Divorce Sharia Style
By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, May 22, 2008
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Janice Gotchet, an American-born émigré to Kuwait who has had to endure Islamic laws in her marriage to – and divorce from – a Muslim man.
FP: Janice Gotchet, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Gotchet: Thank you for allowing me to speak on my experience. I have overcome most of my battles, and would like to share them in order to enlighten people – especially women – about Sharia.
FP: Ok, let’s start from the beginning. Where were you born? How did you end up in Kuwait?
Gotchet: I was born in San Francisco, California. My great-grandparents migrated to the U.S. from Norway and Switzerland where democracy, human rights and freedom of religion are a given. My parents came from a Baptist- Catholic background with fairly conservative values.
I lived and breathed equal rights, civil rights, women’s rights, and human rights while growing up.
I met my former husband, a Muslim, in California, while he was a student. We married in 1979, and eventually relocated permanently to Kuwait in 1984.
FP: So your former husband was a Muslim. Then you married Islamically?
Gotchet: No, I did not. I was married in a Christian ceremony, with my father as the witness. He would have never considered witnessing in a Mosque. This would not have been allowed in any case, as the 2 witnesses would have had to have been Muslim. A Muslim “wakeel” or male guardian would be required. Also, a dowry would be required, which I did not receive.
I knew absolutely nothing about Islam at this point, and had to face the full brunt of Islamic law 18 years later when I filed for divorce in Kuwait. At this point, my former husband had gone to the police to try to implement the “bayt al ta’ah” law or ‘house of obedience’ law on me, requiring me to return to my husband. The police denied the request.
I was definitely not in Kansas anymore, and was shocked that such a law existed. It became a terrifying time for me, and not having anyone to defend me left me feeling totally without power or rights.
FP: Before we get to the divorce, tell us what life is like in Kuwait. What is it like for non-Muslims? How have things changed over the years?
Gotchet: It’s a small country with a strong family sense, something I found very attractive upon arriving. A very traditional country, although much of this is changing. For non-Muslims, it depends. There are now 3 Catholic churches, and a main Protestant church with branches. The country has been very accommodating in this respect.
Socially, there have been many changes that were not here when I arrived in 1984. There is a growth in anti-Semitic comments and attitudes. This disturbs me greatly. I’d like to see Kuwait be an example for inter-faith dialogue. This country at one time had Babylonian Jews living here in peace who were traders and jewelers.
As for myself, I loved raising my children here. The crime rate is very low in comparison to the U.S. and family is always the priority in the society. It has changed considerably since the Gulf War. I’ve lived through 2 wars here, so I suppose I have an unusual attachment to the country. I viewed it live through the invasions and wars, and I’m proud to say I survived and witnessed history.
FP: Can you explain the procedures for embracing Islam?
Gotchet: I was immediately covered in an abaya and hijab when I arrived, although I must add, during this period being unveiled would have been socially difficult for me, and I actually embraced it.
I was taken to sign a shahada (or declaration of faith) as well. Absolutely no questions asked, which in retrospect I found very strange.
This is something that must change internationally. Catholicism and Judaism require a course of study before one may convert. This is logical in my eyes. I think that when the word ‘apostasy’ enters into a religion one must be required to study the Sharia prior. Islam is a way of life, and if one is to embrace this religion one should be required to study it in depth.
The person accepting the declaration must insure the studies are complete. I feel strongly on this course of study and would like to see it implemented in my lifetime.
FP: Not to pry too much into the personal, but in general what went wrong with the marriage? Did it have anything to do with Islam? Why did you file for divorce?
Gotchet: I had several valid reasons for filing for divorce. Actually, my reasons had nothing to do with Islam. Unfortunately, I had to endure the Sharia laws here prior to divorce and after, all interpreted by the men for the men. My California marriage was now null and void in terms of legalities.
I would like to add that men who do not practice Islam are usually the ones to insist upon following Islam— with their interpretation of course, when the need suits them.
FP: Tell us about polygamy and what you have seen.
Gotchet: I’ve had the opportunity to view polygamy as an eyewitness, with several marriages around me. I had no opinions prior, with the exception that I would never accept it. I’ve viewed the emotional pain the women endure, the jealousy, the arguments amongst siblings. Issues over inheritance, and little rights for the women.
I saw absolutely nothing to indicate love, harmony or fairness. I’ve also seen men regret this decision later.
While polygamy was not totally eradicated in Islam — it can be given some strong reforms or conditions such as the following:
If the man can treat them all fairly (Islamic stipulation) I feel the courts should hear the first wife’s story before allowing it. Is she being maintained financially? Are her children? What is her opinion? How will this affect the family on a whole?
Furthermore, what are the children’s opinions?
As it stands now, a man has every right to remarry without her permission and without any proof of his economic status in maintaining these families. This is totally irresponsible to say the least.
FP: How can a woman get a divorce? What is the difference with the way a man can get a divorce?
Gotchet: For the female, technically speaking, there is the right to divorce, but the law stipulates that the woman forfeits her right to economic support and must return her dowry. If a woman wants a divorce, she must present valid reasons for it in the form of proof or witnesses. It can drag out, and most women avoid this route. Most opt for the man divorcing her, mainly for simplicity and economic reasons.
For the male: he can go to the Ministry of Justice palace, announce he wants a divorce, plunk down his $25 and sign the papers. On average this takes 30 minutes. The woman must then complete her “iddah” or 3 monthly cycles to prove she is not pregnant, or to reconcile. He may at any time during this 3 month period take the divorce back, putting the woman on an emotional roller coaster.
FP: If the woman is not Muslim and the husband is Muslim, how are the children to be raised?
Gotchet: They are to be raised Muslim. Personally speaking I have no issue with this. Other women do, so this is a major point of contention for other women in this situation.
FP: What in your view is the major ingredient missing in these marriages we are discussing?
Gotchet: From personal observation, I think the women here should be given much more value. They are intelligent, educated and strong women, and should be respected as such.
From the point of a Christian upbringing, the marriage is very different. The Christian marriage vows include the 2 becoming 1. We are raised to feel our spouse becomes a part of ourselves, spiritually and literally as a team. We promise to love and honor in sickness and in health. The love in the Bible is an “agape” love or unconditional love.
Islamically, the marriage is a contract between 2 people. One man, 4 wives, several children are allowed. I have heard far too much conversation on inheritance, and the rights of parties, with not enough emphasis on the love between the parties.
I can only surmise there is a spirituality lacking in the marriage, one that transcends legal contracts.
FP: Can you talk about “social embarrassment” in Kuwait?
Gotchet: As we are approaching an age of enlightenment and transparency worldwide, thanks to such avenues as the internet, social issues will become more exposed. The Middle East will have to begin dealing with many issues, and this is a blessing.
Kuwait is still deep in the social shame mentality, which upsets me since this seems to override the forbidden (or haraam) laws of Islam. For myself, I care much more about God’s opinion rather than society’s opinion. The cultural shame often prevents laws from being implemented and causes a “covering up” of diseases, social ills and crimes.
The mentality of covering up crimes and people’s behaviors lead the society to ignore the rights of the victims. The society is now facing social ills it must confront. Despite the “forbiddens” of the religion, humans are humans. There is domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, child abuse, etc. The issues are there, face them.
Covering it up is another term for “enabling” and not facing up to the responsibility of protecting victims.
Pretending social ills only exist in the West is a sure way to breed and spread more ills. Kuwait has state of the art hospitals for treating Cancer and Diabetes — yet not one adequate rehabilitation center/hospital for drugs and alcohol, and not one domestic violence shelter.
FP: Tell us about the final judgment you received in your divorce case according to Sharia. What alimony did you receive after 20 years of marriage and 5 children?
Gotchet: I received it just recently, which is a long story: $3000 for one year, and one year only. I was so insulted I have no words. Had we divorced under California law (where we married) I would have received half the property he has acquired while we were married. The $600 a month was scarcely more than the average salary of a servant here.
Also, let me add, according to a Hadith on alimony, Islamically he should “provide the rich according to his means” with the word “mut’ah” being translated as the “pleasure” he received from you during your marriage.
Apparently, the male judge who never met me, decided on the alimony or ‘pleasure’ allotment.
”The precise amount of Mut’ah (alimony) is left to Urf or custom prevailing in each country but always governed by the rules of fairness.”
This translates to the alimony left to the laws or customs of the country. Apparently Kuwait does not value the wife’s contribution to the marriage or the laws of fairness, as he could have afforded much more. Since my former spouse is from the ruling family and had the means to be more than “fair” I have to seriously question this judgment. I have appealed many times to the Amiri Diwan for assistance, and was denied as I was not a member of the family. I am an outsider even after 30 years.
I am in court now trying to achieve some justice years after divorce, with the costs to lawyers falling on myself.
Basically, as many women do, I walked out with nothing for fear he would fight me for custody of the children, and the fact that male judges rule on cases. I’ve always had custody and after viewing other women’s cases, I am grateful to have had custody.
FP: So the overall state of women’s rights in Kuwait?
Gotchet: It is improving. Kuwaiti women are very strong women, with very strong opinions. I do not view them as victims at all. I would include the modernized women and the religious women in the same category. They are fighting for their rights, and they most certainly will achieve them. Also, the Kuwaiti men and women are very educated now. Females outnumber males in the universities. Many young men and women study abroad in some of the best universities in the world. Education is always the key.
Women now have the right to vote. Driving has always been allowed. We have a woman minister, 2 women running for Parliament positions, a woman university administrator, women entrepreneurs who own their own businesses.
Men do not give power to women; women in history have always had to fight for their rights. We definitely need more women here in positions of power to make concrete changes.
FP: Let’s end with this question: what do you feel Westerners should know about Sharia and Islam — especially non-Muslim women who seek to marry Muslim men?
Gotchet: Let me zero in on Christian or Jewish women who are thinking about marrying Muslim men.
Regarding the shahada, or becoming a Muslim, you do not have to have witnesses to this event, and you are not supposed to have a big ceremony, because it is a very personal commitment. It is, however, recommended, if you can, to make your shahada with Muslim witnesses, but not to delay becoming a Muslim for this or any such reason. After you become a Muslim, then you are held responsible for learning when and how to do salah and wudu, acting upon the pillars of Islam and faith, and for implementing what you learn, when you learn it.
This clearly shows you that one does not need to study Islam at all, in order to become Muslim. This goes beyond irresponsible — considering the Islamic laws and tenets that one must adhere to.
In this context, therefore, I am totally against Christian or Jewish women marrying Muslim men. The Churches and the clergy are not educating themselves or speaking out enough about this. It’s time for the Christian and Jewish clergy to refuse to marry Christian and Jewish women to Muslim males. If the women insist on marrying Muslim men, they should not expect non-Muslim clergy to support their decision.
FP: But just a second, as a free society we must allow people to pursue their free will in this context no?
Gotchet: I am all for ”free will” if Christian and Jewish women choose to marry a Muslim. My only point is, Christian and Jewish clergy should not bless, sanction or perform the ceremony. In terms of everything I have explained here today, it makes absolutely no sense for them to do so. Let these women marry in civil ceremonies. A Minister married me, with no knowledge of Islam back in 1979. And let’s keep in mind: Muslim women are not allowed to marry outside their religion.
FP: Well this is a complicated issue. Perhaps we’ll return to this in another forum in another time and place. But proceed with your concluding statement.
Gotchet: Let’s focus on this fact: Church officials say that Italy has seen 20,000 marriages in 2005 between Catholic women and Muslims, whose population touches the one million mark. The children born of these couples will be raised Muslim.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Vicar General of Rome, had said that cultural differences over issues such as the role of women and education of children make it difficult for Catholic women to marry Muslims. ‘The experience of recent years leads us as a general rule to advise against or in any case to discourage these marriages,’ he wrote in a document released recently.
“Mixed Catholic and Muslim couples who intend to have a family have other difficulties above and beyond those experienced by other couples, when one considers cultural and religious diversity,” wrote cardinal Ruini, a conservative thinker close to late Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Ruini also expressed concern at the growing number of Catholic-Muslim marriages, calling it “intrinsically fragile.”
Ruini’s warning echoed a similar one last year by Vatican Cardinal Stephan Hamao, who wrote about what he called the ”bitter experiences” that European women have had in marrying Muslims.
I think the best way for me to conclude is to touch on the new Indonesian film, Love in Islam. It sends out the message to viewers that Islam is a tolerant religion. It is the story of an Indonesian man who studies in Al Azhar University and has 4 women in love with him. Three are Muslim and the fourth is a Coptic Christian woman. He decides to marry a veiled Muslim woman. Meanwhile, the Christian woman defends him in a false rape case he faces. She then asks to marry him, and he does. Add to this the film’s poster of the blonde Coptic girl coincidentally named ”Maria” and the mysterious dark eyed veiled Muslim girl.
I was aghast at the film’s content. Why choose the Coptic Christian woman to insist on a polygamous marriage? Why choose the Christian woman at all? If the goal was to show tolerance, why not show a film of a Muslim woman marrying a Christian man?
Or, the Muslim woman being the second wife in a polygamous marriage with a Christian woman as the first wife? How would a Muslim woman feel raising her children as Christians — as Christian and Jewish women would be obliged to?
This film is another attempt to present the Christian woman as a suitable wife for Muslim men, in a polygamous marriage that totally goes against Christian tenets. And this is called Muslim tolerance. And I have just bore the brunt of this tolerance in a divorce with a Muslim man – a divorce that, abiding by Sharia, left me humiliated and with nothing to show for my 18 years of marriage.
FP: Janice Gotchet, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Gotchet: Thank you.