Islamic cleric's antipathy to marriage law reform irks women

Rizwe Mufthi, President of the ACJU said that the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) is "perfect in the present state and does not require changes.

Published: 24th March 2017 12:24 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th March 2017 12:24 AM   |  A+A-

Rizwe Mufthi, President of the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama

By Express News Service

COLOMBO: Women’s Action Network (WAN), an amalgam of eight women’s organization working in the Tamil-speaking North and East of Sri Lanka, has said that it is “appalled and deeply disappointed” by the statement of Rizwe Mufthi, President of the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulama (ACJU), that the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) is "perfect in the present state" and does not require changes.

 “With religious leaders invoking tradition to block fundamental rights, WAN calls on the State to step in and ensure that Muslim women and children are not second-class rights holders in Sri Lanka,” WAN
said in a statement on Wednesday.

WAN noted that Rizwe Mufthi is a member of the Committee on Muslim Personal Law Reforms headed by Justice Saleem Marsoof.

The committee was appointed by the Rajapaksa government in 2009 to reform the Muslim Marriage and Divorce. But till date it has not submitted its report.

 “Mufthi's recent statements raise concerns about the role of the ACJU. The ACJU has misled the Marsoof Committee and the Muslim community into believing that substantive legal reforms to the MMDA are  being deliberated,” WAN said.

“Rizwe Mufthi’s statement also does disservice to the expectations of Muslim women and girls who have faced and continue to face injustice due to the MMDA.”

“WAN is of the firm belief that it is the MMDA and its implementation which  allow unequal and unjust treatment of Muslim women and girls, such as allowing child marriage; treating adult women as minors to strip them of their autonomy; restricting women from state-salaried positions such as Quazis;  setting forth unequal divorce provisions for men and women; and allowing unconditional polygamy.”

“Contrary to the ACJU's statements, the problem is not merely one of implementation, but problems with the law itself,” WAN said.

“WAN has met with ACJU on multiple occasions to share these concerns, alongside Muslim women’s groups and directly affected women, including survivors of child marriage.  At each of these meetings, ACJU representatives expressed concern and vocalized their commitment for reforms of the MMDA. Rizwe Mufthi’s recent statement runs counter to previous commitments, raising a doubt as to whether ACJU's commitment to reforms is genuine.  Mufthi's comments do not reflect the views of affected Muslim women.”

“The recent statement coupled with ACJU’s inaction towards reforms are a clear indicator that ACJU cannot claim to represent the interests of the entire Muslim community, which is diverse in ethnicity and
religious ideologies.”

“ The ACJU’s views justify attacks  on reformist Muslim women. The ACJU’s extreme and rigid position has also radicalized Muslim youth, making them believe that the MMDA reflects Sharia law and therefore cannot be touched.”

“Given this reality, WAN calls on the government to intervene and lay down non-negotiable conditions for reform, such as setting a minimum age of marriage for all citizens at 18, and ensuring state-salaried positions are open to women.

“It is time that the State acted like a State and protected the rights of all Sri Lankans, including Muslim women and girls, from those who seek to allow injustice in the name of religion,” WAN said.

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