By Haaniya Jiffrey Shiyam –
I hope to voice the genuine concerns of our people and believe that my stance would represent that of all fair-minded, reasonable fellow Sri Lankans, whether Muslim or otherwise, and I humbly appeal to their common sense and humanity.
As citizens of this country, which is a democracy committed to uphold universal values such as basic human rights, each of us is empowered to choose matters pertaining to language, religion, and all other matters of our personal lives. If the current One Country One Law policy fails to recognize this fundamental tenet governing civilized society and seeks to selectively eradicate principles which sections of the population abide by, it amounts to a blatant violation of freedom of the people concerned. Sri Lanka’s scenic beauty is enhanced by its rich and varied culture and history. If the Presidential Task Force (PTF) for One Country One Law (OCOL) aims to blindly bulldoze her socio-ethnic multiplicity to create a monolithic society, it would deprive people of their rights granted by no less than the single and supreme law of the country embodied in the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
To come down to specifics now, we record our vehement protest against both
1) the anti-Muslim agenda of the PTFOCOL in question and
2) the appointment as the Head of this task force someone notorious for his inflammatory
hate speeches, communalist mind-set and thirst for violence, especially against the minorities.
It is well-known that he has been found guilty of breaching the law of the country on several occasions and that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry which probed into the Easter Sunday Attack prescribed that his political movement be banned. Further, only a Presidential pardon enabled him to be released from prison long before the end of the term he was serving. That such a person should be chosen to oversee the legislative process of the nation, is a flagrant insult to all law-abiding Sri Lankans.
In the face of the current lawlessness and injustice rampant in our country, where the culprits/criminals roam free while innocent people are detained for months on end, what is the meaning of OCOL in the first place? It is a slogan that is easily misinterpreted and misused, not unlike the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), by political opportunists to justify their oppressive moves against any form of dissent. We observe that the OCOL rule is applied arbitrarily to suit the whims of the powers that be. Whether it is the country’s common law or Muslim law in particular, the approach should remain the same: if true reform is the objective, as it should be, then it would be wiser to rectify the shortcomings, rather than to do away with the system altogether. True that many malpractices occur in the implementation of the law in general. To reiterate, this calls for relevant amendment of and not abolition of the Law. Although the OCOL policy promises all citizens equal treatment in legal matters, the reality is that some remain “more equal” like the elite circle of pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm. Given the tacit impunity they enjoy, it is not ironic that the “more equal” are also the more culpable. Under such circumstances, it is illogical to call for the abolition of Muslim Law. Such an injudicious measure will in no way remedy the glaring inequality in all other spheres of life in Sri Lanka.
There is no doubt that Sri Lankan Muslims are bound by the laws of the country just like any other fellow Sri Lankan. What is more, a true Muslim loves his motherland, as patriotism is part of his faith. Islam preaches a beautiful “live and let live” policy of peaceful coexistence with other communities regardless of whether you are a majority or minority in a given country. Thus, while it informs the life of a believer throughout, Muslim Law does not infringe upon the rights of the followers of other faiths. On the contrary, with human welfare at its core, it provides a sound moral and legal foundation to establish a healthy society. The source of this law is Divinely decreed and is sacred to the Muslims. The objections to it arise due to human errors in its understanding and implementation and not owing to any intrinsic flaws. It is not surprising that complaints are filed against the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA), as the Qazi system in Sri Lanka is fraught with serious faults such as favouritism, male chauvinism, corruption, inefficiency, ignorance, callousness, misapplication of rules, etc. Even other institutions such as schools suffer from similar ills and yet one does not close them down because that would lead to even greater chaos. The best option would be to cleanse the system and let it continue to serve the community.
Granted that affected parties have every right to air their grievances; those disgruntled with the Muslim Courts should, ideally, find the country’s existing judiciary system as an alternative avenue of obtaining justice. Instead, expecting relief from the dubious PTF for OCOL, they should realize, is self-defeating. Meanwhile, every effort must promptly be made to introduce the necessary reforms into Muslim Law, although we appreciate its many merits, so that it will be fully equipped to deal with cases satisfactorily. When solutions are thus presented from within, interference will subside.
We cannot become complacent with our submissions of petitions to the PTFOCOL as there is no assurance that these will be handled with transparency. There may be efforts to conceal the tremendous wave of opposition to the proposed repeal of Muslim Law, considering the suppression of truth in matters of wider national importance that we witness today. In this context, it is essential that we adopt an inclusive approach to encourage more influential bodies to be vigilant in this matter. For example, we must enlighten the Muslim nations, communities and the world at large by exposing the façade of amicability that is projected by some Sri Lankan seekers of foreign aid while they spread distrust and slander against the Muslims at home. During occasions such as the recent visit of Lord Tariq Ahmad, UK’s minister for the UN and Human Rights, we must ensure that the status quo is conveyed accurately to such delegations so that they will continue to press the state for accountability and remedial measures. Finally, religious creed aside, let us call for the support of every single person who struggles to protect Human Rights in Sri Lanka.
We stand united against any effort to deny us our right to live within the precepts of our faith.
*Haaniya Jiffrey Shiyam specialized in English at the University of Peradeniya and thus holds a B.A. (Hons) Degree. She taught English and English Literature at tertiary and secondary levels.