In the kadhi’s court, wheels of justice grind on ever so steadily
Posted Saturday, May 15 2010 at 21:00
- Cases handled on a first-come-first-served basis and many people leave the place happy
The colonial era-style building standing on one-acre in Nairobi’s Upper Hill has the feel of a private home about it.
Some jacaranda trees dot the quiet, grassy compound with a garage that looks disused. Were it not for the signboard on the road that points to the Kadhi’s Court, one would easily confuse it for just another house from an era gone by.
It’s nine in the morning. A lone guard, who also doubles as the receptionist, stands at the door waiting to guide those unfamiliar with the daily routine.
A few minutes later, four people arrive in a white four-wheel-drive vehicle. This is not their first visit, but they hope no one has come before them. Here, matters are dealt with on a first-come-first-served basis.
“Are we the first, or are there some who have come before us?” they ask the guard-receptionist.
No one else has come before them. But the man from whom they have come to seek guidance is not in his office yet. So the four — three men and a woman — glance at the two wooden benches for visitors but opt for the warmth of their car. It is a cold morning, and the wooden benches are still damp from the previous night’s rain.
The guard duly puts down their names on a notebook. Next to their names, he slowly scribbles down the word “divorce”.
The couple has irreconcilable differences and is seeking divorce. Soon, the next batch of visitors, including women in buibui and men in flowing kanzus, trickle in. But all of them have to wait a little while until a light-skinned man in a flowing white kanzu arrives.
Some call him sheikh, others Mkubwa (Boss). But his official title is Deputy Kadhi Ahmed Shariff Muhdhar, presiding at the Nairobi Kadhi’s court in the absence of Chief Kadhi Hammad Mohammed Kassim.
“We have very little jurisdiction,” says Sheikh Shariff. “We only deal with two issues here; marriage and succession. Nothing else.”
The courts’ jurisdiction is limited to matters relating to marriage, divorce or inheritance in cases in which the parties involved profess Islam and agree to subject themselves to the authority of the courts. The parties can, however, hire a lawyer, even a non-Muslim one, to represent them.
For one to be a kadhi, he has to be well versed in Islamic law from a reputable institution.
“This is the only way one can comfortably interpret the law to the plaintiff and the defendant,” says Sheikh Shariff. One is also required to be of good moral standing in the community as well as be fluent in at least three languages – English, Kiswahili and Arabic.
Sheikh Shariff believes kadhis’ courts offer Muslims the best options to settle their disputes.
When Shahida realised their marriage was going through a rocky phase, she suggested to her husband that they could have the matter handled by a kadhi. Her husband was a traditionalist before reverting to Islam.
Shahida, who prefers that we use one name to protect her identity and her marriage, says the man was reluctant at first but he eventually agreed to visit the kadhi’s office at Nyeri to discuss their differences.
Theirs became one of about 250 cases handled by the Kadhi’s Court in Nairobi annually. About 70 per cent of these cases are on marriage while the rest are on succession.