By Ibn – Al – Rushd –
An article published under the title “The Long awaited MMDA Report, A Façade” by Hilmy Ahamed has been doing the rounds. Based on either conjecture or hearsay, the article on the face of it seems to serve a single purpose- derailing the efforts made through the years to navigate an issue which has given rise to serious difficulties to those who have to seek relief from the Quazi Courts and its appellate bodies, particularly Muslim women.
This is despite the fact that the civilised world has agreed to certain standards which ought to be maintained with regard to marriage, children and equality. The civilised world which was one time spearheaded by the Muslims themselves, granting equality, abhorring medieval practices and advancing both in art and science. It is the irony that in 2018, we are yet in the process of reading and listening to the likes of the content of the said article and more, insisting that we must acceded to narratives built and acted upon by a society far different from what we have now.
The current response serves to do two things. First, it responds to the said article written by Hilmy Ahamed and published in the Colombo Telegraph on 28 Jan 2018 , and thereafter in the Financial Times on 30 Jan 2018 . Secondly, it raises a plea from the Sri Lankan public to the Minister of Justice to immediately publish the report recommending amendments to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (the MMDA Report), that was handed over to the Minister of Justice, Mrs. Thalatha Atukorale, on 22 Jan 2018 by Justice Saleem Marsoof, acting as the chairperson of the committee appointed by the then Minister of Justice, Mr. Milinda Moragoda in 2009 (the MMDA Committee). Notably, the MMDA Report comprises two separate reports, one signed by the chairperson and 8 others on 20 Dec 2017 and another signed by As-Sheikh Rizwe Mufti and 8 others on 21 Dec 2017.
As will be demonstrated herein, the need to publicize the MMDA Report is necessitated by irresponsible conjecture on the part of the writer-Hilmy Ahamed. In order to comprehensively respond to the alleged, and rather spurious, claims madein the article, the claims are set out below followed by a response to each of these claims.
Claim 1: that no consensus was reached
The article claims that “[i]t is regrettable that the JSM [Justice Saleem Marsoof] committee could not arrive at a consensus among the learned members who sat for a record nine long years” . This claim, however, is only a half truth and is aimed at projecting a wrong impression. He also claims “[t]he Chair miserably failed to negotiate a consensus.”
As was published by Colombo Telegraph  and Ceylon Today  on 24 Jan 2018, the MMDA Report was unanimous on all fronts except on three aspects of the current law–namely, the prohibition on the appointment of women Quazis, the prohibition on Attorneys-at-Law appearing in Quazi Courts and the reference to ‘sect’ in ss16 and 98(2) of the MMDA. On the aforesaid issues, the MMDA Committee was equally split. In addition, the Colombo Telegraph reported in the same article that although the MMDA Committee did reach consensus on setting a minimum age of marriage, there was a 9:9 split in respect of its scope and exceptions:
“…while one group including the Chairman want to set it at 18 for both males and females, while allowing for the Quazi Court to authorize marriages of a male or female above 16 in the best interest of the particular person where a case can be made that relevant circumstances are exceptional. Another group led by Ash-Sheikh M.I.M Rizwe Mufti on the other hand has recommended that males be above 18 and females above 16 with power to the Quazi to authorize a marriage of any girl below the age of 16 in the interest of such girl” .
Thus, it is common knowledge that the MMDA Committee was equally split (9:9) on the aforesaid issues in which the Committee did not concur, whereas there was unanimity and consensus between the members in respect of all other matters. As such, it is quite clear that all references in the said article that no consensus was reached by members of the MMDA group, as well as the writer’s reference to a ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ within the MMDA Committee are misconceived, false and incorrect.
In any case, the assessment of the recommendations made in the MMDA Report must be done on a qualitative basis, as opposed to being purely quantitative based on the number of members that signed one report or the other. That would be the more sensible approach.
Claim 2: that MMDA Report submitted by the Chairman of the Committee did not contain the recommendations/report of the other 9 members, whereas the MMDA Report contained the signature of a non-member and two others who did not attend meetings
Hilmy Ahamed claims in his article that “[t]he report submitted by the Chairperson Justice Saleem Marsoof has already hit the fan with the majority in the MMDA committee disputing its validity. They claim that the Chairperson has submitted a report that did not include the recommendations of 9 eminent members who signed off on their report and handed over to the chair on the 21st of December 2017, which has not been included as part of the main report as agreed but relegated to the last without any special mention of the process. It is also claimed that that a non-member and two others who did not attend any meetings of the committee too have signed, which may invalidate the long awaited report.”It appears that the claim is premised solely on statements made to the writer by one or more members of the MMDA Committee that signed and handed over a separate report to the Chair on 21st Dec 2018. According to Ministry of Justice sources, a meeting of the MMDA Committee was held at the Ministry of Justice on 20 Dec 2017 summoned specifically to sign the Report of the MMDA Committee, but only two of the signatories to the 21 Dec so called “majority” report turned up at the meeting, and one said that she will be signing the report that will be sent to the chairperson on 21 Dec by noon, and the other, an eminent President’s Counsel, stated that under no circumstance will he sign a divided report.The fact that Hilmy Ahmad has turned spokesperson for the 2 ACJU members and 7 others who signed report dated 21st December is clear from the language adopted by in the article, and in particular the reference to ‘They claim…’ in the extract of the article quoted immediately above. It is unfortunate that the writer has decided to set out these alleged claims based solely on hearsay and without waiting for the actual MMDA Report to be made public. While this is irresponsible journalism or commentary to be more specific, it may very well be that forces within the MMDA Committee have motivated these claims to be made through the voice of the writer.
Claim 3: that the report signed by a so called “majority” members on 21st Dec 2017 is shariah compliant, whereas the report signed by the chair and 8 other members contains recommendations that contradict shariah.
It is well known that in Dec 2016, the Colombo Masjid Federation and other provincial masjid federations carried out a campaign to collect signatures to the effect that the MMDA was of divine origin and it should not be amended . While some refused to sign, others who did not understand the implications, signed documents objecting to the reform of the law, and also carried out personal attacks even at Friday Jumm’ah sermons against the chairperson and some members of the MMDA Committee. This compelled the MMDA Committee to issue a press release in Feb 2017 stating that every effort will be made to make amendments in accordance with the shariah, which includes a body of law, known as fiqh which may be developed to progressively reform and develop the law within the very framework of the shariah through ijthihad which adds dynamism to the law to meet contemporary needs and challenges. Islam is a universal religion, for all people and all times, and possesses the flexibility to adapt to changing environments and circumstances. The shariah does not stand in the way of legal reform and in any way prevent the reform of the law to meet the challenges of the time. Justice Saleem Marsoof, and eminent legal personality, a one time acting Chief Justice of the Island no less, and the other 8 eminent men and women who signed the report on 20th Dec 2017, may therefore justifiably propose recommendations to make the Muslim Law applicable in Sri Lanka and the Quazi Court system more shariah compliant, efficient and self-sufficient, with the sole objective of brining greater equality, equity and justice, which are all capable of being accommodated within the norms of the shariah.
Based on past newspaper reports, it is evident that the All Ceylon Jamiyyathu Ulama (ACJU), of which Ash-Sheikh Rizwe Mufti is the chairman, has been strongly opposing changes being made to the MMDA . In the midst of such strong opposition, and lack of flexibility, it is not surprising that the MMDA Committee did not submit a single unified report. Regardless of the obstacles, however, the fact that consensus has been reached in respect of all areas but for the few aspects of the law set out at the outset of this article is indeed a victory to the Muslim Community. Until the report is made public any claim that the 20Dec Report signed by the chairperson and 8 others of the MMDA Committee contains recommendations that contradict the shariah cannot be believed. Therefore, the writers premature conclusion to that effect lacks any basis and merit.
Claim 4: that Justice Saleem Marsoof was a pawn of the activists and had not acted independently
In the article, the writerclaims that “[t]he Activists and the minority group within the Committee claim that Justice Saleem Marsoof has extensive knowledge and has researched on Muslim Marriages and Divorce Acts across the world, while the majority feel that he has been made a pawn in the hands of the Activists.”Again, the writer seems to have displayed an inherent bias in reporting these claims. It would have only been fair to have obtained the views of the MMDA Committee including its chairperson before publishing a claim of this nature. What really is at moot here is not the conjecture of “being held a pawn”. The writer doesn’t know if he was. But what should be apparent and clear is what this group was standing on behalf of. What really were the activists saying? To outlaw child marriage and protect young girls from statutory rape already an offence under the Penal Code, as amended in 1995, to ensure that women are given equal representation in an obviously male centric environment of the Quazi courts among other salient points. What was so wrong with these views coming from an activist or any other group, is purely beyond comprehension. It is understood that showing the western and/ or activist and/or enemy conspiracy would negate the credibility of any claim. Sri Lanka has witnessed such rabble rousing and misplaced fear mongering over the last few years. But to think that a once intellectually and culturally potent community-the Muslims in Sri Lanka- losing out on the validity of the concerns raised is a disappointment.
It is only the immediate publication of the MMDA Report that will either prove or disprove the claims that have been put forward by Hilmy Ahamed. Hon. Milinda Moragoda, then Minister of Justice and Law Reform, who appointed the MMDA Committee in 2009has in a Twitter communication, expressed his satisfaction that the Report is out at last, and has stressed that its contents should be published and its recommendations should be implemented without delay. As such, it is important for the Ministry of Justice to make public the MMDA Report in full in its English version, which is now with the Ministry, and also in Sinhalese and Tamil versions, no sooner translation work is completed, so that the public, and in particular the Muslim community, can be made privy to the truth, rather than be guided by irresponsible journalism of the kind displayed by Hilmy Ahamed. Until such time, these claims set out by Hilmy Ahamed remain unproven, baseless and ex facie aimed at wrongly informing the public.
 H Ahamed, ‘The Long Awaited MMDA Report, A Façade!’ Colombo Telegraph, 28 Jan 2018 https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-long-awaited-mmda-report-a-facade/
 H Ahamed, ‘The Long Awaited MMDA Report, A Façade!’ Financial Times, 30 Jan 2018http://www.ft.lk/columns/The-long-awaited-MMDA-report–a-fa%C3%A7ade-/4-648362
 Colombo Telegraph, ‘Recommendations To Amend Muslim Marriage And Divorce Act Submitted To Ministry Amid Controversy’ 24 Jan 2018 https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/recommendations-to-amend-muslim-marriage-and-divorce-act-submitted-to-ministry-amid-controversy/
 RL Jayakody and S Riza ‘Marsoof Committee report on MMDA Compromise on minimum age of marriage Quazi permission mandatory’ Ceylon Today, 24 Jan 2018http://ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=39157
 Colombo Telegraph, ‘Regressive Groups Continue To Throw Hurdles At MMDA Reforms’ 17 Jan 2017 https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/regressive-groups-continue-to-throw-hurdles-at-mmda-reforms/
 Zahrah Ismail, ‘MMDA does not need reforms: ACJU Chairman’ Daily News, 22 Mar 2017 http://dailynews.lk/2017/03/22/local/111190/mmda-does-not-need-reforms-acju-chairman