Russell Moore Denounces Sharia Court Stripping Inheritance from Christian Family in Dubai

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 22, 2019—Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, published an op-ed online at National Review today decrying a grave injustice in Sharia courts against a Christian family in the United Arab Emirates. Additionally, Moore suggested that Pope Francis, who is scheduled to travel to the region next month, should similarly demand justice for the Zenz family in his discussions with UAE officials.

In his article, Moore outlines how, upon the death of Nicole Zenz’s husband of 41 years—a Christian and American citizen residing in Dubai—Ms. Zenz found herself in an inheritance dispute. Ms. Meshaal Khalaf Mohammed al-Amri, a known criminal in her home country of Saudi Arabia, claims that Franz Zenz converted to Islam while living in the UAE and that her family (not Zenz’s wife and family) are his sole heirs under Sharia law. Though her evidence has been declared by Saudi Arabia and UAE courts to be forgeries, an appeals court set aside that verdict and awarded Mr. Zenz’s entire estate to al-Amri. The case is now before the UAE’s supreme court, and Ms. Zenz, whose testimony as a non-Muslim is not given equal weight in Sharia courts, will lose her lawful inheritance unless she can disprove her husband’s alleged conversion to Islam.

Below are excerpts from Moore’s op-ed calling for justice to be given to this Christian family in UAE’s Sharia court: 

“Pope Francis will soon make a historic visit to the UAE, garnering worldwide media attention and drawing the focus of millions of people across the globe. Doubtless, such an important trip has many objectives, but there 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.

“Since 2014, when American citizen Franz Zenz died in the Zenz family home in McLean, Va., his wife and daughters have been seeking justice in the UAE, where he had worked and owns property. In the UAE, inheritance of Dubai-based property is resolved by Sharia courts. Like other Christians and religious minorities visiting or doing business in the country, neither Mr. Zenz’s wife of 41 years, Nicole, his two daughters, Kimberly and Courtney, nor his sister Regina, knew of the difficulties non-Muslims face when seeking to testify in these courts. Nor did they have any idea that Mr. Zenz, who lived, died, and was buried a Christian, after dying could be declared a Muslim.

“But that is precisely what happened. In a story that sounds like something from a Middle Eastern soap opera, the Zenz family found its inheritance claims opposed by a Saudi woman living in the UAE, Meshaal Khalaf Mohammed al-Amri, who claims that Zenz converted to Islam while living in the UAE and that she and her family are his sole heirs under Sharia law.

“To be blunt, Ms. Al-Amri is a criminal. In her native Saudi Arabia, she is wanted for forgery, counterfeiting, and illegally fleeing the country on a false passport. To support her claim that she married Mr. Zenz, as well as her claim that he converted to Islam, she submitted records that were ruled, both in Saudi Arabia and in the Dubai trial court, to be forgeries.

“Elsewhere in the world, courts hearing appeals never allow new witnesses to be heard. In the UAE, things are different. After sitting on the case for two years, the Dubai appeals court set aside the lower-court ruling that al-Amri’s testimony and the records on which she relied were fraudulent. 

“His family’s case is now before the UAE’s supreme court, the Court of Cassation. 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.

“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 must demand true justice for the Zenz family in his upcoming trip to Dubai.”

You can read Moore’s entire op-ed online.