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In Perspective: The Practice of Shari’ah with Counselor Nandu

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

By: Archiebald Faller Capila

On February 7, 1977, then-President Ferdinand Marcos issued P.D. 1083 or more commonly known as "Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines" as part of the law of the land. Often referred as the Shari’ah law, one of the main purposes of the code was to recognize the legal system of the Muslims in the Philippines as part of the law of the land and seeks to make Islamic institutions more effective. Aside from this, the purpose of the code includes the codification of Muslim personal laws and providing an effective administration and enforcement of Muslim personal law among Muslims.

It is without a doubt that Islamic law has captured the eyes and hearts of people engaged either in the study or practice of law. However, because of certain factors, people are not given the ample information needed in order to fully appreciate the practice of Shari’ah. Whether it be because of culture or because of lack of resources, engagement in Shari’ah has been kept under wraps most of the time.

In order to fully understand and appreciate the aforementioned practice, law students and law practitioners should first be informed of the basic principles governing the said field of law. Law students and lawyers should know what it takes to be a practitioner of Shari’ah, the difference between it and other general laws in the country, and how important the said law is in our current legal system.

Among the handful of practitioners of Shari’ah is Counselor Zeny-Linda Saipudin Nandu. In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Counselor Nandu shares her insights on Shari’ah in general, how she prepared for the examinations, and the current obstacles faced by those engaged in the aforesaid practice, and how these can be avoided.

Barrista Solutions: What inspired you to engage in the practice of Shari’ah law?

Counselor Nandu: Shari’ah or Islamic law is generally a set of principles that make up the legal system of Islam. It covers many aspects of a Muslim’s life such as marriage and family life; business and finance; and crime and punishment. However, in the Philippines, only some elements of Shari’ah are embodied in the Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines (CMPL). This law enacted in 1977 covers only persons and family relations; inheritance, wills and succession; and adjudication and settlement of disputes.

It is my being a Muslim with little knowledge in Shari’ah that inspired me, not necessarily to engage in the practice but to become a Shari’ah counselor. I remember that after finishing my Bachelor of Laws at Ateneo de Davao University and while doing some legal consultations, I was confronted with legal problems from my fellow Muslims and it was frustrating that I cannot find the answer from everything I learned during law school. Take for instance, there is no divorce, only legal separation, and annulment under the Family Code of the Philippines, but in Shari’ah, the CMPL recognizes seven (7) forms of divorce, such as repudiation of the wife by the husband (talaq); vow of continence by the husband (ila); injurious assanilation of the wife by the husband (zihar); acts of imprecation (li’an); redemption by the wife (khul’); exercise by the wife of the delegated right to repudiate (tafwid); or judicial decree (faskh).

Barrista Solutions: What preparations did you make in order to ace the Shari’ah Bar exams?

Counselor Nandu: One of the requirements in the filing a petition to take the Special Shari’ah Bar Examinations (SSBE) is to undergo mandatory 45-day training on Islamic Law and Jurisprudence administered by the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) and the Supreme Court (SC), wherein a Certificate of Completion is signed by the SC Chief Justice.

Unlike other SSBE takers who are Shari’ah graduates in college or with Shari’ah subjects in law school, I do not have prior knowledge of it. I was accepted to study in a graduate program in Islamic Studies, and I have first taken Shari’ah subjects to have an ample preparation when taking the SSBE and not only content myself with the 45-day training. After passing the SSBE, I became more interested in the program; landed on the Dean’s List until I obtained my Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies from the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman.

It was hard work, perseverance, and prayers I made in order to ace the SSBE.

Barrista Solutions: From your own experience and practice, how different are Shari’ah laws compared to the other laws observed and implemented in the country?

Counselor Nandu: Shari’ah is different from other laws observed and implemented in the country because this is a specialized field that applies only to Muslim Filipinos, with only a few exceptions that it also applies to non-Muslims. Shari’ah in the country only covers persons and family relations; inheritance, wills, and succession; and adjudication and settlement of disputes. The entrance to this Shari’ah practice is through passing a ‘special’ Shari’ah bar exam, administered by the Supreme Court. The SSBE covers the following bar subjects: (1) Persons, Family Relations and Property, (2) Islamic Jurisprudence and Customary Laws, (3) Succession, Wills, Adjudication, and Settlement of Estates, and (4) Special Court Procedure and Evidence.

Shari’ah counselors practice their legal profession in the Shari’ah Court, which has its own Special Rules of Procedure known as Ijra-at Al Mahakim Al Shari’ah. In the absence of applicable provisions, the Rules of Court is applied in a suppletory manner.

One unique feature of Ijra-at Al Mahakim Al Shari’ah is what is known as “yamin” or oath. This refers to an invocation of the name of God held sacred by the person using the invocation, to witness the truth of a solemn affirmation and to emphasize that affirmation.

Under CMPL, there are appropriate cases falling under the competence of the so-called the Agama Arbitration Council (AAC), which shall be composed of a representative from each party and chaired by the Shari'ah Clerk of Court. The AAC shall conduct arbitration proceedings with the method it deems appropriate and taking into consideration the settlement of cases amicably. It considers the settlement of these cases by a Shari'ah Judge as a last resort. Among the cases that may undergo arbitration are divorce by talaq, divorce by tafwid, subsequent marriages, and offenses against customary law which can be settled without formal trial.

Barrista Solutions: What are, if any, the obstacles that you have encountered in practicing Shari’ah law and how did you overcome the same?

Counselor Nandu: When I passed the SSBE, I wanted to advocate in upholding the prestige of this specialized practice of law because I understand that Shari’ah practitioners deserve it. I demand the same rate for legal advice or consultation, but most of the time, we are paid a little or not at all.

Another obstacle I encountered was when I was asked to handle divorce cases but none of the parties are Muslims, or they used their conversion to Islam just to obtain a valid divorce in the Shari’ah courts. I outrightly turned down those cases even if the party or parties offered the same rate with handling annulment cases in a regular court because I consider it a mockery not just for our Shari’ah practice, but also to our faith.

I have overcome these obstacles on a case-to-case basis, but all these never discouraged me to still pursue this profession.

Barrista Solutions: For you, what is the most important lesson that you have learned in law school? How do you apply this knowledge in your current practice?

Counselor Nandu: I learned the most important lesson in law school and it applies even to life in general, is to treat failures as an opportunity to become better. In my current practice, all the cases I handled were just up to a stage before filing in court for different reasons that until now, I still never experience representing a client before a Shari’ah court. However, this does not discourage me from giving up this profession considering the reality on the ground that there are few cases filed in Shari’ah courts compared to regular courts.

Surprisingly in 2019 came this rare opportunity to be invited as one of the lecturers in the 45-day Shari’ah Training for the 2020 Shari’ah bar takers in my hometown, Jolo, Sulu. I do not claim expertise in Persons and Family Relations, but being ranked first in the mock bar exams for the same training I attended before, and passed the subject in the actual bar exams, and being mentored by professors and Shari’ah practitioners, there was no way to be hesitant in accepting the invitation.

I hope to be of help to aspiring Shari’ah counselors fulfill their dreams. In fact, after passing the SSBE, I donated all my review materials to succeeding SSBE takers.

Barrista Solutions: There is a growing number of female practitioners in the country today with respect to the legal profession. For you, how important is it to have such representation?

Counselor Nandu: It is very important to have an increasing number of female practitioners in the legal profession, and it is even true in the specialized practice of Shari’ah in the country. Most of the cases being referred to me are divorce cases and I believe that for the wife, it is better to be represented by a female practitioner who can understand the plight of her fellow women.

As far as CMPL is concerned, there were studies conducted by gender advocates pointing out that some provisions of the Code do not give equal rights and protection for both men and women. For instance, a 2003 study reveals that CMPL has no provisions that would protect women from the abuse of certain rights by their husbands, particularly those pertaining to divorce and polygamy: a husband may divorce the wife without a reason, among others. Just like any other man-made law, CMPL has been far from being a perfect law. I understand that some of its provisions especially those perceived to be prejudicial to women must be amended. However, we need more female Shari’ah practitioners to lobby and advance this cause in the halls of Congress. This is why it is important to have such female representation with respect to Shari’ah practice in the country.

Barrista Solutions: If you could give a piece of advice or any form of a message to your younger self, what would it be?

Counsellor Nandu: Never deal with failures as if it is the end of the world because later in life, you will realize that those failures are actually one of life’s essentials to become a better person than you were yesterday.

Barrista Solutions: What are your tips to all law students out there who are still in doubt on whether or not they could survive law school?

Counselor Nandu: There is no substitute for hard work and prayers, also the “never give up” attitude no matter the outcome. I am speaking from experience because these were the ones that kept me going in law school despite getting failing grades. I may not have graduated on time, but I am proud to say, I survived Ateneo de Davao law school. Alhamdulillah!

· Counselor Zeny-Linda Saipudin Nandu passed the Special Shari’ah Bar Examinations in 2018 and finished her Masters in Islamic Studies from the University of the Philippines the following year while serving as Chief of Staff of Anak Mindanao Representative in Congress. She currently works as a Political Affairs Officer VI at the Office of the Deputy Majority Leader in the Bangsamoro Parliament and as a Shari’ah part-time practitioner in Cotabato City.

For more inspiring stories of the esteemed members of the Philippine Bar, view articles on Barrista Profiles.

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