Lawyer under fire after 'ninja' comment shakes up ConCourt hearing on Muslim marriages

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  • A virtual sitting of the Constitutional Court was rocked by comments seemingly aimed at Nazreen Bawa, a Muslim lawyer dressed in a hijab.
  • A lawyer from one of the firms involved in the matter could be heard making remarks about Bawa's dress, comparing her attire to that of a ninja.
  • The justices presiding over the matter said the comment came from attorney Yasmeen Omar.

While the Constitutional Court is hearing an application by the Women’s Legal Centre Trust (WLC) to provide finality on the state's obligation to recognise Muslim marriages, a lawyer who should be focused on the case is now fighting strong evidence that she made an Islamophobic remark at the start of the virtual sitting.

During the first few minutes of proceedings, one of the members of the video conference call had her mic unmuted and could be heard saying "she’s dressed like a ninja".

The full comment that could be heard was: 

Look at Nasreen Bawa, she’s dressed like a ninja. Did she always dress like that? She didn’t. She’s putting on an act today, can you see?

Bawa, who was dressed in a hijab, could be seen in the lower corner of the screen.

Justice Steve Arnold Majiet could then be heard saying: "It's a Ms Yasmeen Omar that was speaking. Can people please mute."

Justice Leona Theron quickly commented: "I have muted. I have muted Ms Omar, Justice Madlanga."

Omar, an attorney who works for Zehir Omar Attorneys, is acting for an interested party in the matter.

Omar spoke to News24 soon after the recording of the virtual sitting was posted to Twitter, and said she had not been referring to Bawa.

Omar said: 

There was something playing in the background, and I was not referring to her at all. It was not directed at her at all. We were talking about something else.

Asked to comment on the fact that the remarks had already sparked outrage, Omar said: "How can I be Islamophobic, if I’m wearing a hijab and we are calling for the preservation of the Quran."

Zehir Omar Attorneys are opposing the submissions of the United Ulama Council Of South Africa.

The apex court is hearing an application by the WLC to confirm an order of the Supreme Court of Appeal last year.

The case was then heard by the Supreme Court of Appeal and judgment was handed down in December last year.

The court declared the common law definition of marriage was inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid to the extent that it excludes Muslim marriages.

The court allowed the state 24 months to remedy the defect in law identified in this case. The State contends that it has the privilege of discretion as to the nature and content of the prepared legislation. The State submits that the doctrine of separation of powers militates against granting the composite relief.

The matter reached the apex court for finality on the State's obligation to recognise Muslim marriages in South Africa.

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