WASHINGTON (BP) — Southern Baptist religious freedom leader Russell Moore has denounced a ruling in a Middle Eastern Islamic court against a Christian family in the United States and urged Pope Francis to intervene in an upcoming visit to the United Arab Emirates.
In a Jan. 22 opinion column for National Review, Moore — president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission — opposed the latest ruling in a sharia court in the UAE that has left an American widow and her daughters without an inheritance. Instead, an appeals court gave the inheritance to a Muslim woman who has been charged with crimes in Saudi Arabia.
The case is now before the Court of Cassation, a local version of the Supreme Court.
“The court’s decision will speak volumes about the discrimination that religious minorities face daily in the Gulf States, and about the religious double standards the [UAE’s] legal system enforces to ensure that money Christians earn in Dubai stays in Dubai,” Moore wrote.
“One does not need to be a Christian to see that depriving a man’s daughters and his wife of 41 years their rightful inheritance because they are not Muslims is not just under any standard.”
Pope Francis will become the first head of the Roman Catholic Church to visit the Arabian Peninsula on a Feb. 3-5 trip to the UAE, a federation of emirates on the Persian Gulf.
“[T]here is one issue the Pope must not neglect to take up with his hosts: A Christian family is being denied justice” in the UAE’s sharia courts, Moore wrote. “Pope Francis must demand true justice” for this family on his trip.
According to Moore’s column, Franz Lenz, an American citizen who had worked and owned property in the UAE, died in 2014 at his home in McLean, Va. His widow Nicole and their two daughters met resistance when they claimed their inheritance in a sharia court, which has jurisdiction over inheritance issues involving property owned in Dubai, Moore wrote.
Dubai is the name of both the UAE’s largest city with a population of about 3 million people and of one of its seven emirates.
Meshaal Khalaf Mohammed al-Amri, a Saudi living in the UAE, opposed the Zenzs’ inheritance claims, contending Franz Zenz married her and converted from Christianity to Islam while living in the UAE, Moore wrote. Al-Amri told the court she and her family are Zenz’s heirs under sharia law.
Al-Amri, however, has been charged in Saudi Arabia with forgery, counterfeiting and illegal flight from the country on a false passport, according to the column. Courts in both Saudi Arabia and Dubai ruled that the documents she provided to support her claims of marriage to Zenz and his conversion to Islam were forgeries. The Dubai trial court ruled in favor of Zenz’s widow and daughters.
A Dubai Court of Appeal permitted Al-Amri to produce new witnesses and denied the members of the Zenz family the opportunity to testify because they are not Muslims, Moore wrote. In sharia courts, the testimony of Christians is not given equal weight to that of Muslims.
The appeals court awarded Lenz’s total estate to Al-Amri.
Islam is the UAE’s official religion, according to its constitution, but freedom of worship is protected if it does not conflict with morals or public policy, the U.S. State Department said in its most recent International Religious Freedom Report in 2017. The UAE bars proselytizing by non-Muslims, conversion from Islam and blasphemy.
Immigrants comprise nearly 90 percent of the UAE’s population of more than 9 million people, according to the United Nations. Most migrated to the UAE for economic reasons.
Moore’s column is available at https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/01/franz-zenz-case-sharia-court-anti-christian-discrimination/.