The key issues dealt with were child marriage, women as Quazi judges and divorce
Women’s Association of Sri Lanka Malays (WASLAM) organised a presentation and discussion session on Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act in Colombo on Sunday, October 7th, 2018 in collaboration with Muslim Personal Law Reform Action Group (MPLRAG).
The Nobel Peace Prize 2018 has been awarded to Dr. Dennis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nadia Murad from Iraq, two brave warriors in the battle against violence perpetrated towards women.
Against this backdrop it is timely that the Women’s Association of Sri Lanka Malays (WASLAM) hosted a discussion on the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) on 7th October, 2018. The Act stems from an archaic piece of legislation borrowed from Batavia (Indonesia) in 1770 AD during the Dutch rule in Sri Lanka and implemented unrevised since 1951 to this day.
In contrast the original law has been subjected to reform and development in its country of origin to suit the changes of time.
The discussion was held in collaboration with the Muslim Personal Law Reform Action Group (MPLRAG), a body of Muslim lawyers and activists earnestly working towards reformation of the Act. Their findings that covered a period of nine (9) years were presented by young female Attorneys; Hyshyama Hamin, Ermiza Tegal, Sabra Zahid and Hasanah Cegu Issadeen. The event was well attended by a large group of women. The dearth of male participation was starkly evident. Only three gentlemen were present with the lionesses in their stronghold.
The key issues dealt with were child marriage, women as Quazi judges and divorce. The objective is to put a halt to girls being forced or coerced into matrimony even at the tender age of fourteen (14) years. An alliance that even older girls would agree to with some trepidation especially since the ‘bridegroom’ could be 10 to 15 years her senior. Once the alliance is formed this child-bride despite her immaturity, has to fulfil the wishes of her husband and his family. Unable to cope she is compelled to undergo much humiliation, injustice and even violence. Many of these marriages end in divorce if the husband is willing. The child through her parents could appeal for a separation, but the process is long and tedious. Traumatised by her experience the girl becomes socially unfit and is considered a burden by the very people who pummeled her into this horrific situation.
At the divorce proceedings this child faces deep embarrassment by questions of a very personal nature. More so because they are posed by a bench of all-male Quazi judges. Females are woefully excluded. Are Sri Lankan women even the most qualified lawyers, unfit mentally and intellectually to participate in deliberations pertaining to their own gender, begs the question?!!! Belonging to the same gender will they not be capable of truly comprehending the feelings and fears of female children? If in Indonesia, Malaysia and other Muslim majority countries and in Saudi Arabia females are honoured and respected as Quazi judges, why are Sri Lankan Muslim women treated with such contempt?
Fortunately every dark cloud has a silver lining. This visualized in the form of a Commission headed by Justice Saleem Marsoof (PC) to study the MMDA. Its recommendations include: specifying the minimum age of a girl at the time of marriage to be not less than eighteen (18) years and inclusion of women as Quazi judges.
The Commission has encountered some opposition by the All Ceylon Jami’athul Ulema (ACJU) Council, the decision making body pertaining to Islamic matters in Sri Lanka, including the dates of commencement of the Islamic months according to the lunar calendar. Nevertheless, their decisions regarding this particular aspect has caused much confusion among the Muslims. The writer refrains from elaborating as it is irrelevant to the main theme of this article. However, this dissension in the Muslim society has resulted in reluctance by the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the Saleem Marsoof Commission.
Minister of Justice this is over to you.
Please consider the plight of Muslim women in this patriarchal Muslim society in Sri Lanka and grant us redress.
Dr. (Mrs.) Ameena Cassim (Ph.D)
Senior Lecturer (Rtd)
University of Peradeniya