Reforms to MMDA finally take off | Sunday Observer

Reforms to MMDA finally take off

Reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) pushed for by the former Supreme Court Justice Saleem Marsoof is finally to take off confirmed one of the Muslim parliamentarians, Mohamed Faiszer Musthapha, PC, announcing that amendments to the MMDA were “unanimously agreed upon yesterday after discussions with all the Muslim parliamentarians.”

It listed the amendments as, “the age of marriage for both, the bride and the groom should be 18; the bride should sign the Register of Marriage, as a sign of her consent; upgrade the qualification of a Kadi (Quazi) to Attorney-at-Law; and permit female Kadis (women who will adjudicate family law of Muslims).”

The announcement could be considered as a breath of relief for Muslim women who had been undergoing immense hardship under the existing MMDA, enacted in 1951 where activists had been clamouring for reforms for over three decades.

The last Committee to suggest amendments to the MMDA, headed by Justice Saleem Marsoof handed over their recommendations to Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorale, in January 2018, after nine years of prolonged deliberations.

While the more progressive factions proposed liberal reforms, nine members of the committee including members from the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) the supreme authority over Islamic religious affairs in the country differed, reasoning that, ‘Allah’s law cannot be changed.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe intervened in the MMDA reform process after the Easter attacks and had requested consultations with the women’s groups who had been clamouring for reforms. After this discussion the women’s groups had handed over a comprehensive reform proposal to M.H.A. Haleem, Minister of Muslim Religious Affairs & Posts.

Sri Lankan tweets portrayed the sentiment of the Muslim women in general. “I guess it took the threat of a few reform Bills being proposed by anti-Muslim MPs to get these men to finally concede to these changes. Glad they did but it’s a shame that this is what it took. Wish they had actually been for improving equality for women,” tweeted one. Another claimed that “no Muslim MP or Minister deserves any credit for the MMDA Reforms. Many of them, including our patriarchal ulemas have only been blocking this for so long.”

Meanwhile, the Muslim women’s organisations and activists who have been working with victims at ground level called for more clarity on the reforms. They wanted to know what exactly was agreed upon, whether marriage at age 18 for females was with or without exceptions, what is going to happen about other discriminatory areas of the MMDA, how are the parliamentarians going to take the reform process forward and the timeline for implementation. 

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