Tahkeem:A unique Yemeni tribal custom [Archives:2006/1004/Reportage]

December 4 2006

Almigdad Dahesh
[email protected]
For the Yemen Times

One of the most prominent and positive customs is Tahkeem, a system of arbitration, which empowers or authorizes the offended people to judge in the issue of quarrel in accordance with the tribal customs.

“Tahkeem contributes to a big extent in preventing crimes because when you authorize your adversary to take a decision in regards to the issue of difference, you restrain him from taking revenge and committing bigger crimes,” said Mohammed Zubair, a 60 year-old sheikh in Kholan tribe.

By using Tahkeem you authorizing your opponent and you admit that you offended him and you are ready to propitiate and bear the results of your offensive, noted Zubair.

But being authorized doesn't mean the aggrieved party can take any decision he likes. In the tribal customs, there is a system similar to appeals in the courts. For example, if the decision taken by the authorized party is oppressive and not in accordance with the tribal customs, the second party can resort, together with his opponent, to sheikhs to make a fair and impartial decision, noted Ali Naser, a 40 year-old tribesman.

This system is the case when the perpetrator admits guilt directly to his opponent. But if the perpetrator doesn't confess his guilt and still goes on in his aggressiveness, the second party can ask the relatives of the perpetrator to ask their relative to cease. If the relatives cannot restrain the perpetrator then the aggrieved party can ask a sheikh to solve the problem.

“The aggrieved party has to do that in order to avoid ascending problems and not to be blamed if he defends himself by a more-serious way in case his adversary doesn't give up his aggressiveness,” said Naser.

“When the issue reaches the sheikh, he asks the two opponents to bring what's known in the tribal customs as Adal which is determined by the sheikh,” said Ahmed Yahya a 57 year-old sheikh in Kholan tribe.

Adal is the amount of money, some pieces of weapons, cars or anything valuable that is submitted to the sheikh as a guaranty to achieve the decision of the sheikh regarding the issue of the opponents and to secure the fees of the sheikh, noted Ahmed Yahya. The sheikh holds the Adal and it may reach millions from the two opponents, Yahya noted. At the same time, if any one of the opponents offends his enemy at the attendance of the sheikh, he will be fined money established by the sheikh. “So that, we can restrain any increasing for the crime and we can solve the quarrel easily,” said Ahmed Yahya.

In spite of the positive role of Tahkeem in the tribal to restrain crimes, Tahkeem has many harmful and negative consequences. One of the problems is that sometimes if the two opponents don't agree on which sheikh to use then each persons brings his on sheikh and each one of the sheikhs brings around ten companions with him. Consequently, each one of the opponents must feed and bring qat for the two sheikhs and their companions and the opponents should entertain his relatives as well, noted Mohammed Ali a 40 year-old tribesman who has an issue of quarrel with some of his villagers. Also, while hearing witnesses and lodging complaints from opponents, if any of the opponents insults his adversary or offends anyone of the attendants in the attendance of the sheikh, the insulter will be fined and this money isn't in accordance to a specific tribal rule, but is subjected to the mood of the sheikh.

Another outcome of Tahkeem is that in case both the opponents choose one sheikh they rarely write an agreement stipulating they agree totally on the decision of the sheikh in advance and they have no right to appeal with any other sheikh. But sometimes the sheikh takes the decision in favor of one of the opponents against the other and this often leads to more problems.

“We made that agreement with our adversary for the sheikh as a result of our trust in the sheikh, but unfortunately we were taken in by him. His decision was oppressive for us. According to the tribal customs, we can do nothing but to accept his decision, but we refused his decision and now we have problems with both the sheikh and our problems,” said Ali Al-Shebami, a 30 year-old tribesman of Kawkaban.

The fees of the sheikh is another shortcoming of Tahkeem. The sheikhs are always free to ask for the amount of money they like as a fee which means there is no specific rule in the tribal norms to determine the amount of the fees of the sheikhs. Hassan Mojali, a 38 year-old tribesman of Khlan, said, “Our opponents and us each paid YR 500,000 for the sheikhs as fees. We don't have the right to refuse that, but only to negotiate.”

In the event of wars waged between tribes or even families, many delegations from neighboring tribes come as mediators to stop the conflict and these mediations often succeed by reaching solutions. Sometimes the mediators stay in the area for many days and slaughter bulls until the two parties of the war respond. Mohammed Nagi a tribesman in Bani Matar said, “This is a mutual custom among tribes is because when it is religious obligation.”

“If the neighboring tribes don't mediate to stop the war, none of the other neighboring tribes will mediate to save these tribes from any future ordeal. But this doesn't happen.”

What's remarkable is that many people prefer to resort to the tribal customs in solving their problems than to go to the court to avoid the complicated and boring procedures of the courts.

“When the sheikhs takeover solving any problem it takes a few weeks to solve the problems, but when we go to the court, we need some months and sometimes years to reach solutions for our problems,” said Ali.

“Sometimes some people mediate to solve the problem and we reconcile even before we go to the sheikhs,” said Nagi.

In the other hands, some of the tribal customs contradict with the Islamic morals whereas we find, in the tribal customs, that if the sheikh is killed, his blood money must be paid four times, but if he isn't sheikh, his blood money should be paid once only.

“Not only that, if the Sheikah is killed during a reconciliation period, his blood money must be paid forty four times,” noted Nagi.

Also, the tribal customs contradict with the morals of Islam in regards to the woman's rights. For example, if a man kills a woman, he isn't supposed to be killed for her because he is a man and she is a woman.

This is one of the most prominent contradictions between the tribal customs and the rules of Islam,” said Ahmed Yahya.

Revenge is another prominent tribal phenomenon that contradicts with the Islamic morals.

“Tribesmen often take to revenge because of many reasons,” explained Saleh Hussain. “First, the disability of the security forces to punish criminals. Second, the corruption in the state. Third, the weakness of the religious restraint. Finally the discriminations among the layers of people.”

Another reason of spreading revenge is that when someone is killed, his relatives don't kill the killer themselves, but someone who is more important in his tribe or among his relatives than the killer himself, added Hussain.