THE JUDGE (2017): Review by Farah Elattar

Directed by Erika Cohn, The Judge is a documentary that gives a unique perspective on the concept of Sharia Law, through the eyes of the first woman judge in the Middle East’s religious court. (FEA: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Farah Elattar

Kholoud Al-Faqih is part of a modern-day movement that aims to challenge religious customs in the Middle East by fighting for equality between men and women in the field of law. Sharia law is derived directly from the Qur’an and the Prophet’s teachings. In the documentary, Al-Faqih explains that modern-day applications of Sharia significantly diverge from what is actually written in religious texts. Current interpretations rely on traditions dating back to the Middle Ages –from times when women were oppressed more by convention than by religion.

Governing in the Sharia courts of the West Bank of Palestine, Kholoud faces daily challenges in order to maintain her status as a judge in the face of orthodox Imams who base their misogynistic claims on falsified evidence and lack of knowledge. Her story is one of strength, resilience, and hopefulness in a climate that blatantly denies women the right to be a part of the government under which they live.

Filmmaker Erica Cohn excels in this corrective portrayal of a religious concept that is so readily misunderstood in the West. Through the eyes of the mainstream media, the concept of Sharia has itself become associated to violence and oppression. In reality it is the wrongful application of Sharia that makes it that way. Erica Cohn’s decision to approach this concept of Sharia through Kholoud’s eyes — chronicling her appointment, her successes and her failures in the face of an oppressive regime — shows the reality of the political situation inside Palestine. It is a region where pseudo-scholars can come up with “fatwa” (legal pronouncements) that hinder the progress for women and other minorities, and therefore the quest for peace in such a turbulent zone.

Through her choice to humanize Kholoud (by showing her family and her private life), Cohn shows that progressivism can exist within such a regressive regime. Judge Kholoud Al-Faqih is indeed a knowledgeable scholar of the religious texts on which Sharia is based, and she demonstrates that Sharia is in fact a fair justice system that does not aim to oppress any minority. She advocates for the Sharia equivalent of prenuptial agreements — which are actually completely allowed but not popularized by her extremist male counterparts — which serve to protect women in the event of divorce or desertion on the husband’s part. Her successful balance between marital and familial life (with her husband’s complete approval and support for her career) prove that the Middle East is not in fact in itself radical. Rather, it is a small group of people, whose voices are louder, who get to call the shots on the fate of the region.

The editing by Sara Maamouri and Ken Schneider is also remarkably well executed. They use a simple, chronological depiction of Kholoud’s story, in order to make way for an accessible discussion of gender politics in the Middle East, accessible to even to the foreign skeptical Western viewers.

As an Egyptian woman, I highly recommend The Judge to anyone who has questions about the status of women in the Middle East. The Judge is indeed living proof that the current situation is complicated but also hopeful, and that Middle Eastern women continue to fight for their rights despite attempts to silence their voice.

© Farah Elattar (4/15/17) FF2 Media


Featured Image: Judge Kholoud Al-Faqeeh looking out her office window

Top Photo: Judge Kholoud Al-Faqeeh with the children in her village

Middle Photo: Judge Kholoud Al-Faqeeh at her desk in the Palestinian religious courts

Bottom Photo: Judge Kholoud Al-Faqeeh in her court dress

Photo Credits: 1996-98 AccuSoft Inc.

Does The Judge pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?


Most of the interviewees are women who discuss important socio-political issues internal to Palestine as well as most modern Islamic nations.


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Farah joined the FF2 Media team in January of 2018. She is a Philosophy major at Rutgers University with a minor in Women & Gender Studies, and a concentration on social justice, made possible through the Leadership Scholars Program at the Institute for Women’s Leadership. As an Egyptian woman, she sees film as a very important medium, through which the voices of the silent can be expressed. She believes that film can, and will, play an important role in changing global perspectives on problematic areas such as the Middle East which is often viewed as nothing but a conflict zone.
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