Muslim Personal Law Reform | Sunday Observer

Muslim Personal Law Reform

The demand for a substantial reform in the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) of 1951 from within the Muslim community in Sri Lanka has a long history.

A number of Muslim academics, intellectuals, professionals, civil societies and women’s organizations have been demanding this reform for more than forty years. Committees were appointed in 1970, 1984, 1990, 2005 and 2009 by the Government or Muslim organizations. The last Committee comprising 19 members appointed in 2009 by the Minister of Justice headed by former Supreme Court Judge Saleem Marsoof finalized and submitted its report in January 2018.

However, it is unfortunate that, even after nine years of hard work and wider consultations the Committee as a whole could not reach a unanimous decision because of the diverse opinions of the Muslim community. The Committee divided into two groups and submitted two different recommendations in one Report.

However, we find that the Recommendation submitted by Saleem Marsoof and signed by nine members of the Committee that comprises the major portion of the Report is a positive and progressive step to achieve and realize the Quranic intention of gender equality and social justice, especially in the areas of MMDA of Sri Lanka which is widely felt discriminatory against women. A number of ulamas, Muslim organizations, Muslim intellectuals and Women’s organizations were voicing for a substantial reform in the MMDA. Fortunately, at last, the Saleem Marsoof Committee has submitted comprehensive recommendations to fulfill Women’s aspirations and to establish their dignity as equal citizens, which are, we strongly believe, within the purview of Sharia.

However, the other group of the Committee led by the President and the Secretary of the All Ceylon Jammiatul Ulama (ACJU), has submitted Recommendations disagreeing in substantially important matters with the recommendations by Saleem Marsoof and others. They are of the opinion that “As far as the Muslim marriage law is concerned, the urgent need of the Muslim community is more in the nature of administrative reforms than amendments to the law as such”. They are against any reform in MMDA as they believe that it is accordance with Sharia and unchangeable.

The Kandy Forum carefully studied the existing MMDA, in consultation with some Islamic scholars and find that the MMDA in its entirety is not strictly based on Sharia, the Quran and Sunna. Certain sections have to be changed and improved as they are particularly discriminatory against women based on age old social practices in the name of Islam, and also to make it in accordance with the Quranic intention of gender equality.

Equality and social justice are the two fundamental principles of Islam and it should be kept in mind when formulating and revising the Personal Laws.

We wish to state that the proposed revisions are within the frame work of Sharia as interpreted by several ulamas and Islamic scholars in Sri Lanka and abroad and also implemented in several Islamic countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. Sharia has continuously been a subject to various interpretations by different madhabs in the past and various Islamic scholars in the contemporary world as appropriate to their socio-historical context. Sri Lankan Muslims should also consider the nature of the social mosaic that they live in.

In this perspective, the Kandy Forum had prepared a proposal to reform the MMDA on seven important aspects - (1) minimum age for marriage, (2) consent of the bride for marriage, (3) polygamy, (4) mahar and dowry, (5) divorce, (6) maintenance and (7) appointing women Quazis and registrars of marriage and also adhering exclusively a particular Madhab.

We sent our proposals to the Saleem Masroof Committee in 2017 which was published in the press. The proposals are in concurrence with the public, proposals for reform by several Muslim intellectuals, professionals and Muslim women’s groups. We think that these proposals are vital to enhance the social status of Muslim women in particular and the development of the Muslim community in general.

Sallem Marshoof incorporated all our suggestions in the Report with due acknowledgement.

After the submission of the Report by Saleem Marsoof to the Minister of Justice in January 2018, the ACJU and some other conservative elements in the Muslim community continue to carry out a campaign against these proposals islandwide to sabotage the proposals and the progressive move of the community.

However, fortunately, the Muslim Ministers and the Members of Parliament at their meeting in Parliament on July 11, 2019 have agreed with most of the vital aspects of the Saleem Masroof Proposals and to prepare a Bill to submit to the Cabinet of Ministers.

Unfortunately the ACJU adamantly tries to sabotage the process of amendment of MMDA. The General Secretary of the ACJU has written a letter to the Muslim Members of Parliament on July 18, 2019, inviting them to an urgent meeting to discuss the controversial issues of the proposals before submitting it to the Cabinet. Otherwise, the letter also warns them that, it will be considered historical treason by them. It reveals that the ACJU will not be satisfied until everyone accepts its highly conservative, unacceptable interpretations of Sharia.

They think they are the sole authority and have the monopoly in religious affairs. They are against the progressive trend of the Muslim world because of their limited and conservative understanding of Sharia. They are against the concept of gender equality in Islam. Their understanding of the Quranand Sunna seems to be mere literal and against the spirit of the Quran. They are unable to interpret certain verses of the Quran in its socio historical context. They strongly believe that increasing the minimum age of marriage for girls and appointing women as Quazis, Special Quazis and Registrars are against Sharia while in several Islamic Countries the minimum age of marriage is 18 and women are appointed to those positions and several learned ulamas all over the world approve of it.

Therefore, we, the undersigned members of the Kandy Forum, appeal to the Muslim Ministers and the Members of Parliament to be firm in their decision to submit the Bill regarding the MMDA reform without any compromise and take all necessary steps to enact it as an Act in Parliament. It will be a historic event in the advancement of the Muslim community and Muslim women in Sri Lanka.

Signed :

Prof. M A Nuhman, Mr. J M Niwas, Prof. M A M Sitheeque, Prof. M S M Anes, Prof. Mawjood, Dr. A L M Mahroof, Dr. M Z M Nfeel, Dr. A S M Nawfhal, Mr. J M Mubarak, Mr. U M Fazil.