Eyebrows Raised Over Amending Muslim Law

Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen

by Hafsa Sabry

Eyebrows have been raised over a cabinet decision to appoint a committee to amend the existing Muslim marriage and divorce laws of Sri Lanka.

A sub-committee has been appointed to meet and discuss amendments to the Muslim marriage and divorce laws  of Sri Lanka as the existing laws are not clear.

As some provisions in the  Muslim Law including the minimum age for marriage do not conform to the norms stipulated in some international conventions which Sri Lanka is holding membership, it was found necessary to amend those provisions.

Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen speaking to The Sunday Leader said that reforms of the marriage laws of Islam have yet to be discussed and thereafter an agreement will be reached.

The committee chaired by Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, with all the Muslim ministers as members will discuss the matter in the coming days.

“We will also have discussions with the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulamah (ACJU), Islamic civil societies and Islamic organisations who work for the betterment of the community to come to a final decision,” he added.

Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faizer Mustapha, Minister for Water Supply and Drainage Rauff Hakeem, Minister of Public Enterprise Development Kabir Hashim, Muslim Religious Affairs Minister Abdul Haleem and other members of parliament are part of the committee.

Meanwhile, the President of the All Ceylon Jamiyathu Ulamah (ACJU) Mufti M.I.M. Rizwe says that they back the decision taken by the government to bring in new reforms to the Muslim marriage laws. He also said that they have been working favourably for decades on the matter.

The government appointed four committees since 1951 to make the laws. The last committee was appointed in 2009 by the then Minister for Justice including former justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka Saleem Marsoof, Lawyer and the Minister Faiz Mustapha, the former 37th Attorney General of Sri Lanka Shibly Aziz, Ash-Sheikh Mubarak, the founder of the Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum (MWRAF), the President of the Sri Lanka Muslim Women’s Conference (SLMWC) Jezima Ismail and Attorney at Law and Member of the Muslim Women’s Research and Action Forum Safana Gul Begum as members.

From 2009 the committee of approximately 19 eminent Muslim representative members have done alot of changes and reforms to the Muslim marriage laws, which will be soon submitted to parliament making things easier for the present committee.

“The ACJU is supportive and open for any discussions with the government on this matter. But the laws can only be changed or reformed within the framework of Islamic Sharia Laws,” he further stated. Definitely the sharia will allow room for the betterment of the human lives with good understanding and the discussions would come out positively, Mufti M.I.M. Rizwe added.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) welcomed the cabinet decisions to appointment another committee to address the reforms needed to the Muslim marriage and divorce Act.

MCSL said there is certainly a need to amend the Muslim Marriages and Divorce Act, but this has to be done in consultation with the Muslim religious leadership and the Muslim community in Sri Lanka and not at the dictates of the European Union or the International Community. The demand by the international community to intervene in a religious issue could cause irreparable damage to co-existence in Sri Lanka.

Similarly, MCSL says there is widespread concerns that the North and Eastern provinces would be merged by the current administration to accommodate the demands of the international community.

 “The foreign policy of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration should not be on the dictates of the International Community but in the best interests of the citizens of this country. We urge the government to address the concerns of the Muslims through a consultation process with Muslim political, religious and Civil Society leadership,” MCSL said.

However, the Chairman of the Islamic Solidarity Front (ISF) Reyyaz Salley said that Muslim marriage rules should not be used to get the GPS plus for Sri Lanka.

“We do abide by the laws of the country but we should also keep in mind that we are set aside by the Islamic laws. For example, according to Muslim marriage laws marrying more than one woman is permitted whereas the government laws do not allow it. Likewise there are several other differences between the Muslim Marriage Laws and the government implemented laws.  Therefore before a proper discussion with the experts should be carried out by the government and the Muslim Politicians.”

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