As community pressure mounts on the Committee appointed to look into reforms to the Muslims Marriages and Divorces Act (MMDA) of 1951, to release its report, the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) Chairman and member of the Committee for the last eight years, Ash Sheikh Rizwe Mufthi has declared that the MMDA does not need to be reformed.
Sheikh Mufthi in an interview to a website has stated that the MMDA is “perfect in its present state”.
In 2009, former Justice Minister Milinda Moragoda appointed a 16 member committee to “Consider and Propose Reforms to the Muslim Matrimonial Law and Upgrading of Qazi Courts in Sri Lanka”. This Committee headed by former Supreme Court Judge, Justice Saleem Marsoof has been in deliberations over the reforming the law along with the ACJU for last several years with no outcomes to show.
Sources within the committee state that the delay was due to a tug of war between members who want progressive reforms of the law and those who prefer to maintain the status quo. The ACJU, known for its conservative interpretation of Islam and the law has been one of the main objectors for reform.
Call for reform however has been put forward by Muslim women groups for the last 60 years and they have pointed out that: a lack of minimum age of marriage, unequal grounds for divorce between men and women, lack of legal premise to appoint women to the government salaried position of ‘Quazi’ and insufficient maintenance of women in the event of divorce among
other things have caused great harm and unfair grievance among the Muslim women of Sri Lanka.
“In our meeting on March 19, we asked the ACJU how we could use the concept of public interest to develop the law when reforming it, a subject we have been reading on widely and seen several Muslim adopt to their own law making. But the ACJU was unaware of it so they have asked one month’s time to study it. We are to then meet the Fatwa Committee of the ACJU on April 30 to discuss it,”Justice Marsoof said.
Thereafter, the members of the Committee are to meet on May 21 at the Auditorium of Muslim Lawyers to finalize the report, added a determined Justice Marsoof.
As the urgency to release the report grows however, the ACJU has put forward its own set of proposals objecting to all forms of reform. They have thus opposed to imposing a minimum age of marriage, the appointment of female Quazis, restrictions of polygamy and any intervention to make divorce initiated by men or women more equitable.
With such opposition to reform, Justice Marsoof said that those who oppose the Committee’s report could sign in their dissent with reasons for doing so but the report would go ahead as planned.
The members of the Marsoof committee include; Consultant to the Ministry of Justice; Dilhara Amerasinghe, member of the Right to Information Commission; Justice Abdul Salam, Judge of the Civil Appellate High Court; Justice Mackie Mohamed, Shibly Aziz P.C, Faisz Mustapha P.C, Deshabandu Jezima Ismail, Chairman of the Jamiathul Ulema; Ash Sheikh Rizwe Mufthi,
former Dean of the Law Faculty of the University of Colombo; Prof. Sharya scharenguivel, Attorney-at-law Razmara Abdeen, Attorney-at-law Safana Gul Begum, Attorney-at-law Fazlet Shahabdeen, Secretary of the Jamiathul Ulema; Ash Sheikh M.M. Mubarak, Member of the Mediation Commission; F.B. Juranpathy, former Director of Jamiah Naleemia; Dr. M A M Shukri and Chairman of the Quazi Board of Review Nadvi Bahudeen.