Regressive Groups continue to throw hurdles at MMDA Reforms

By Munza Mushtaq, Colombo Telegraph

Archaic minded groups continued to be an obstacle by throwing hurdles at the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) reforms, with the Colombo District Masjid Federation (CDMF) carrying out a signature campaign in an effort to hamper the reform process.

Muslims Sri Lanka Colombo TelegraphLast Friday, the CDMF launched a campaign to collect signatures from Muslim men against the reforms process. A letter in Tamil along with a form to list the signatories were circulated across several mosques in Colombo requesting Muslim men who attended Friday Jumma prayers to place their signature in the document which said ‘Please no changes to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.’

The latest move however comes while a committee tasked with reforming the Act is in the process of finalizing the report which will be submitted to Parliament. “We are still working on it, but we will finalize it soon and the report will be handed over to Parliament,” a member of the committee who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Colombo Telegraph.

The latest impediment led by CDMF has come under heavy criticism, including from Ameer Faaiz, Director – International Affairs of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). “This campaign by this group is a very regressive step. We must acknowledge that MMDA needs to be reformed, if it is to stay on,” he said.

Faaiz told the Colombo Telegraph if such anti-reform attitudes continue, the same people who are against the reforms now will have to face a situation where the entire Act might be at risk of being abolished, if the Act is not allowed to be reformed in a timely manner.

“The State must take ownership, and ensure this law is on par with other laws. There must be equality and it is the responsibility of the State to ensure that equality among all will be enforced,” he said.

Faaiz also highlighted that while there were some theologians who opposed the reforms, there were also quite a number of theologians who had voiced their support to the reforms. He recalled how one theologian had emphasized that age is not only about being physically matured, but one needs to attain a level of understanding where a contract can be understood by someone who is signing it. “Even Muslim countries have progressed and have enforced a minimum age of marriage for females,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Amjad Saleem, who functions as an independent consultant noted that the MMDA was not cast in stone and therefore deserve discussion and reflection. “I think there should be space for improving or making things better given the new context. If there are reforms to be done, then we should embrace it,” he added.

Due to the MMDA of 1951, Muslim women in Sri Lanka are openly discriminated and suffer from laws that deny them equality. The MMDA also offers no constitutional guarantee to safeguards the fundamental rights of equality and non-discrimination of Muslim women.

Late last year, the Sri Lanka Thawheed Jama’ath (SLTJ) led a demonstration in Colombo against the MMDA reforms, demanding that child marriages be allowed. Many studies have also highlighted the ugly sides of the Act including where girls as young as 14 were forced in marriage. The report titled ‘Unequal Citizens: Muslim Women’s Struggle for Justice and Equality in Sri Lanka’ released last year also sheds light to the harrowing experiences Muslim women undergo in the hands of the Quazi court system.

Women who have also been working in the MMDA reform process has been subject to various forms of harassments, while some activists were even threatened for their reform work. 

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