Tribal judiciary is considered one of the fundamental pillars in the customs of rural and Bedouin communities, who adhere to traditions and customs that are almost like laws followed by their members. Social life is organized and coordinated according to these traditions and customs, known as tribal customs, which are inherited from fathers to their children.
Tribal judiciary in Jordan is one of the well-known ancient customs that has been passed down through generations. This system is still in practice today and is an unwritten law. It is a collection of laws and customary practices that are widely known and accepted. People have been dealing with it to resolve many issues and conflicts among different segments of society. Its principles, rules, and teachings are known to everyone, and its system and judgments are applied.
This law is based on promoting justice among members of the community, safeguarding their material and moral rights with fairness and firmness. This instills a sense of security among individuals regarding themselves, their honor, and their belongings.
And among the conditions and qualities that must be possessed by a successful judge are the inheritance, integrity, fairness, open-mindedness, and a good reputation. This judge should be loved and desired by his own tribe and other tribes. They should be intelligent, quick-witted, and just. They should fear God and give each rightful person their due, free from bias and favoritism towards one party at the expense of another, and away from hidden personal agendas. They should not lean towards unjust rulings. Additionally, the judge should be distinguished by wisdom, vigilance, justice, courage, and prudence.
Judges are classified and ranked according to the types of cases they specialize in. There is the judge of the “Qalta”, who rules on unique cases, and their judgments are not subject to appeal. They are judges who issue innovative rulings. Then there are the judges of Al-Hamala, also known as judges of Al-Manahi, who hold a lower rank than the Qalta judge. Their judgments are specialized in customs and traditions, and they are of three types: “Qadi Al Riqab” the judge of killing cases, “Qadi Al ‘Aridh” the judge of honor and reputation cases, and “Qadi Mubayedh Al Wujuh”the judge of libel and slander cases. There are also the judges of “Al-Aarifa”, who specialize in cases related to land, pastures, and horses. Finally, there is the judge of “Al-Tamheed”, who specializes in ordinary cases or refers them to another judge.
One of the living traditions that people still adhere to in Jordanian society is the concept of “Al-Atwa” and its methods. “Al-Atwa” is a grace period granted by the victim’s family to the offender’s family in order to settle their affairs and fulfill the rights resulting from the mistake committed by one of their members, intentionally or unintentionally.
It is an act of giving and generosity from the victim’s family by refraining from retaliation for a specified period. It is a temporary truce that lasts for a limited time and is invoked in tribal customary law in criminal cases such as murder, vehicular manslaughter, assault, conflicts, and disputes.
In cases involving property rights, such as theft and encroachment upon others’ belongings and properties, the owner and their tribe seek the mediation of another tribe to negotiate and seek a limited truce. The purpose is to protect the victim and their relatives from the other party and create space for both parties to negotiate and find a mutually acceptable and satisfactory resolution to the dispute. The law of “Al-Atwa” represents the noblest aspects of tribal customary law in resolving conflicts and reconciling people’s relationships.
“The one who performs the act of reconciliation (Adaab Al-Atawat) must meet the following requirements: strong personality, eloquent in speech, and well-known among people.
The duration of the reconciliation process can vary from several days to several months, depending on the severity of the case. In serious cases such as murder or assault, the reconciliation process usually starts with three days and a third. It begins from the time the crime is committed until the end of the reconciliation, and it is called ‘prompt reconciliation’ (atawat furat dam). As for the regular reconciliation, it lasts for a month or more. Reconciliation can be renewed through intermediaries (wusaṭa’) or respected figures.
The reconciliation process involves a delegation composed of elders and dignitaries from another selected clan chosen by the offender, who go to the homes of the affected party. This clan receives the honorable delegation with welcome, and one member of the affected party’s clan pours a cup of coffee for the delegation. Then, the delegation, through its chosen spokesperson, requests on behalf of everyone that only one cup be poured, which is placed in front of the elder or the spokesperson representing the offender. The spokesperson clarifies the importance of tribal customs, stating that the delegation is not against the offender, but rather questions the mistake that occurred and the repercussions it had. Everyone makes mistakes, and then he says: ‘We will not drink your coffee until we achieve what we came for, which is the acceptance of reconciliation.’ At this point, a representative from the injured party, such as the father, brother, or someone acting on their behalf, steps forward to explain the circumstances of the incident and its consequences. Then, they announce their acceptance of the reconciliation. When they respond affirmatively, the duration of the reconciliation is determined, and it may be written on two copies under the name of ‘Reconciliation Document’ (sak al-atawah). Afterward, the honorable delegation drinks the coffee, thanks the family of the affected party, and considers this reconciliation as a gesture of peace between the two parties.
“Reconciliation varies depending on the type of problem or crime, and there are four main types:
1. The first type “ ‘Atwat Qas Wa Bas” is the reconciliation of investigation and inquiry, known in tribal customs as ‘reconciliation of inspection’ (atawat tafteesh), It is a grace period’ (amahal), or ‘conciliation’ (iqbal). Its purpose is to search for the causes of the problem and ascertain the truth about the offender and their identity.
2. The second type “ ‘Atwat Al ‘Itraf bi Al Haqq” is the reconciliation of acknowledgment of right. It is taken with the intention of granting the offender who confesses to their crime a specific period of grace. There is another branch known as ‘reconciliation based on right,’ which is taken in cases where the rights between the parties are lost. Each party confesses and considers the right to be theirs, and reconciliation is taken for a specific period. Each party selects their own guarantors, and they go to a specialized judge, called ‘Mullim.’ The two parties meet with the Mullim for the first time to appoint the judge who will arbitrate and issue a binding judgment on the parties without objection.
3. The third type “’Atwa ‘Ala Hayy aw Mayyit” is reconciliation for the living or the deceased. This type is mostly practiced in tribal judiciary. It is taken when the injured party’s injury is critical, and their position hangs between life and death. If they survive, reconciliation procedures are carried out for the living. If the injured party dies, the first type of reconciliation is invalidated, and the reconciliation for the deceased is taken. Each type of reconciliation has its own session and public meeting.
4. ” “The fourth type ”Al ‘Atwa Altama wa Al ‘Atwa al Naqisa”: Complete Reconciliation and Incomplete Reconciliation. The first type includes all regular cases without any reservations or conditions (‘unconditional reconciliation’). It includes all members of the offender’s clan, and everyone enjoys protection. The second type is conditional reconciliation (incomplete reconciliation). It is complicated and difficult, involving unusual circumstances. For example, reconciliation may include all members of the clan except for the offender, meaning that their blood is deemed insignificant with the agreement of both clans. In this case, the reconciliation is incomplete and does not include everyone.
There is also what is called “firaash al-‘Atawah,” which is a sum of money given in advance to the injured party while the case is being resolved by the agreement of both parties. It is paid once, even if the reconciliation is renewed multiple times.
Reconciliation must have two guarantors: one guarantees the clan of the injured party that they will not be attacked, known as the ‘guarantor of protection.’ This person ensures the safety of the offending party from the injured party. The other guarantor is the ‘guarantor of fulfillment,’ who guarantees the offender’s compliance with the rights of the injured party. In the case of honor reconciliation, only the guarantor of fulfillment is required to ensure the protection of the offending party.
After the reconciliation period ends, the person appointed as the guarantor of protection visits the family of the injured party to schedule a day for reconciliation. After lengthy discussions that take a long time, the terms of reconciliation are agreed upon.
The Rituals of Reconciliation
During the reconciliation process, a suitable date is determined, and tents and traditional Arab houses are set up in a public place. Invitations are sent to the elders, dignitaries, and concerned parties. Once all the invitees have arrived, coffee is served, and it is placed in front of the chief elder as a symbol of respect and understanding of tribal customs. The chief of the prominent tribe stands and speaks to reduce the conflict between the two parties.
In the end, they reach a compromise that satisfies both parties, and a reconciliation document is written. Arabic coffee is then consumed as a sign of reconciliation. The guarantor of protection seeks permission from the family of the deceased to bring the family of the offender, that is, the culprit, for the exchange of peace and handshake.
The family of the victim, represented by the family of the injured party, stands in a single line, facing the family of the offender. Then they sit together. The chief of the injured party expresses condolences and thanks the family of the deceased for their Arab ethics and generosity. They then sign the reconciliation document. Afterward, one of the offender’s sons carries a raised white flag, symbolizing the announcement of reconciliation, visible to everyone the near and the far.
Thus, tribal customs play a significant role and achieve great success in resolving bloodshed in cases of murder or in solving complex problems that involve all parties.
Tribal justice in Jordan reached its peak of activity between 1967 and 1975 when all social cases fell under the jurisdiction of tribal courts and their customs, ranging from murder and honor issues to defamation and slander. However, in subsequent years, the law governing tribal courts was abolished, and regular courts replaced them. Nevertheless, Jordanians continue to resort to tribal justice.

- Archives of the Heritage Directorate / Ministry of Culture
- Tribal judiciary in Jordan - Dr. Muhammad Abu Hassan -1993
- Intangible Cultural Heritage in Karak Governorate - Ministry of Culture 2017