A German judge who refused a Moroccan woman a fast-track divorce on the grounds that domestic violence was acceptable according to the Qur'an has been removed from the case following a nationwide outcry.
The judge, Christa Datz-Winter, said the German woman of Moroccan descent would not be granted a divorce because she and her husband came from a "Moroccan cultural environment in which it is not uncommon for a man to exert a right of corporal punishment over his wife," according to a statement she wrote that was issued by a Frankfurt court. "That's what the claimant had to reckon with when she married the defendant."
The 26-year-old mother of two had been repeatedly beaten and threatened with death by her husband.
When the woman protested against the judge's decision, Ms Datz-Winter invoked the Qur'an to support her argument. In the court she read from verse 34 of Sura four of the Qur'an, An-Nisa (Women), in which men are told to hit their wives as a final stage in dealing with disobedience. The verse reads: "... as to those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping places and beat them".
The woman's lawyer, Barbara Becker-Rojczyk, protested, saying: "When Christians are arguing for a divorce they don't use the Bible."
Commentators, politicians and Muslim leaders criticised the judge's decision, saying that choosing sharia above civil law was a threat to jurisprudence. Wolfgang Bosbach, of the Christian Democratic Union, said: "One thing must be clear: in Germany only German law applies."
Irmingard Schewe-Gerigk, women's affairs spokeswoman for the Greens, agreed, saying: "This decision is in conflict with the basic law."
The woman applied for divorce before the statutory one-year separation after receiving death threats from her husband. Fast-track divorces can be granted under German law if it is deemed the woman is suffering hardship as a result of marital breakdown. Her husband continued to threaten her despite a restraining order.
Christa Stolle, of the women's rights organisation Terre des Femmes, called the decision "scandalous". She said: "In a democratic country like Germany religious law cannot be drawn on to justify abuse".
The leftwing Tageszeitung ran a headline on its front page "In the name of the people: beating allowed" above the relevant passage from the Qur'an, while the tabloid Bild led its front page with: "Where are we living?".
Germany's Central Council of Muslims was quick to criticise the ruling. In a statement, it said: "Violence and abuse of people are of course naturally reasons to warrant a divorce in Islam as well."
Another judge has already been appointed to the case.