Muslim MPs to discuss Muslim Marriage Act reform with ACJU | Sunday Observer

Muslim MPs to discuss Muslim Marriage Act reform with ACJU

Pic courtesy: colombo telegraph
Pic courtesy: colombo telegraph

Muslim Parliamentarians are set to meet with the theologians of the All Ceylon Jamaiythul Ulama about reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) of 1951, but Muslim women, activists and civil society organisations have expressed concern about whether the discussions will ultimately compromise the long-awaited reforms to the regressive legislation.

Last Thursday (19), members of Parliament Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Bathiudeen, A.H.M. Fowzie, Ali Zahir Moulana, M. L. A. M. Hizbullah, Kader Masthan, Mujibur Rahman, M S Taufiq and M.S.M. Ismail met the Chairman of the 16 member Committee on Reform of Muslim Family Law, Justice Saleem Marsoof. The Muslim MP group will meet with the representatives of the ACJU on Tuesday (24).

The move follows the long-awaited release of the 2009 Committee Report which studied MMDA reform for nine long years, by the Ministry of Justice. The report was handed over to Minister Thalatha Athukorale in January, was published on its website calling for public comments last Wednesday (18).

The delay was due to a few key contentious issues including the age of marriage, polygamy and appointment of qualified female Quazis (judges of Muslim law courts), informed sources said. This dispute resulted in the Committee tending two sets of recommendations in the report. While a majority of the 16 member MMDA reform committee recommended raising the bar on the minimum age of marriage, and the appointment of qualified women for the position of Quazis, a faction of the Committee including the ACJU favoured a younger age limit and opposed appointment of female Quazis.

While all above issues are related to women, “it is unclear whether Muslim women’s groups, especially those who have been directly affected by the MMDA and those who have been advocating for reforms are invited to this meeting,” said the Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG) issuing a statement. The group called on Muslim MPs to stop “excluding women”, and asked if Muslim men will be allowed to barter the rights of Muslim women without their presence.

The pro-reform group also questioned the intention of ACJU an organisation that has made highly regressive recommendations, being given another hearing, while keeping out women’s voices.

Meanwhile, member of the Parliamentary Women’s Group/Caucus, MP Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle questioned ACJU’s stance on the minimum age of marriage. According to the existing legislation (MMDA of 1951) 12 years is the minimum age of marriage. “A woman has to be physically and psychologically ready to bear and rear children when she is given in marriage. Worldwide, teen pregnancies are associated with morbidity and mortality for both mother and the child,” she stressed. Fernandopulle added that the current appointment of male only Quazis also goes against the country’s constitution which had recognised equality of citizens.

MP Mujibur Rahman speaking to the Sunday Observer, confirmed that there would be no other Muslim Organisations represented at the discussion next Tuesday, except ACJU. The meeting would draw out a “final decision on the issues of the age of marriage and the appointment of the female Quazis to the Quazi Court,” he said. However, Muslim women have “nothing to worry,” assured Rahman. “We will take a decision according to Islam, which does not discriminate women, but promotes equal rights,” he said.