Colombo Telegraph

On The Sauce That Is The MMDA

By Abdul Halik Azeez

Abdul Halik Azeez

Now there’s a word on everyone’s lips. MMDA is the new MD Sauce, competing with those Kist sauce ads of yesteryear. Remember the boy who could eat all those cutlets? Maybe many years from now MMDA will only evoke the social justice equivalents of fish cutlets.

A few Liberal activists have tweeted and messaged me to comment on the issue as a ‘Muslim male’. Conservative people have not even asked my opinion. In fact, I am fairly sure they do not even know I exist. Yet in a little bubble, I am known for my voice, and I am expected to use it. In fact, how could I not? In many circles of my liberal friends, and I say this with love, I perform the political function of being the token Muslim.

Yet I have also stood on the edges of conservative circles, or lurked more like, with an ear to what is going on. I have moved in conservative Muslim society, and I can tell you that at least in the Western Province and the Central province, most everyday Muslims are mute on the issue.

The power-brokering happens at the top. And in a community in which most languish in poverty, most of it happens in the dark. It is in these circles that the real fate of the MMDA will be decided. These circles comprise of many good people, thinking that they are doing what is best for everybody. It also has plenty of bad people; the corrupt politicians, the ambitious ladder climbers, the capitalists what have you.

The good people are all old. They have vested interests, friends and family to take care of. They have no idea that the world has moved on, that things get decided differently, that people talk via different means, that violence has different forms. The old crowd-out the young, the dynamic, the hopeful. The young have options and soon look elsewhere. And the old in their innocence, and captured by interests of power and money, simply end up parroting the bad.

On the ground you have a group of keen community activists pushing harder than ever, smelling blood. You have a tough clergy backed by the blind consensus of the public and fully funded, determined to not back down on the issue. It is an old fight. And has been going on for decades. MMDA is only its latest buzzword.

All the while at the bottom, the abuse has been happening. Against women, against children. But what has really caused the abuse? Is it a bit of legislation? Yeah, possibly. The lack of proper legislation and the lack of infrastructure to hold it up is a serious problem. And there is no use addressing the legislation if you can’t address the infrastructure. Without trained and sensitive personnel, qualified and paid well, proper office infrastructure and staff, how can you expect to run a post office let alone a justice system? Currently there are retired school principals, with no real expertise in the field of jurisprudence other than that they have been a school principal who run quazi courts out of little extensions to their kitchen. I know because I have been to one.

Does the ACJU and the Muslim community have the funds and capacity to run a modern and fully operational justice system? Fine, before I conjure up fears of creeping sharia and the demand for a caliphate in the East coast, let me clarify that it is not a justice system. It is more of an office. And can perhaps be considered an extension of the country’s main system, if I were to speak in general (I certainly cannot speak in legal).

The point is though that Muslims have been running this painfully inept system, even with all the flaws in the law, for decades now and haven’t even bothered to look at all the trouble it is causing. I have cousins who have suffered because of cowardly, corrupt and sexist quazis. I also have cousins who have had good experiences, and perhaps know of other cases in which a quazi could be convinced to be sympathetic. But this illustrates the problem. These issues are not exactly getting decided wholly on the enlightened spirit of the sharia.

Add to this the whole specter of Western intervention. A specter not wholly unreal. If the Rajapaksa’s could conjure up the BBS why can’t this regime conjure up the MMDA? Is this the new acronym that will now haunt the Muslims? The timing is too convenient, the strategic approach in contrast with the brutality of the BBS is too much like the West, the people shouting for it the most are too close to the West and so on and so on. The specter of the West hangs over the MMDA. Right now it stinks of the West, and it is easy for no one to touch it.

And the abuse, still, continues to happen. The NGOs care about the abused. Liberal hearts bleed for the abused, heck even conservative hearts manage to squeeze out a tear or two. Dark imaginations of the East Coast haunt the mind. All those little girls with ugly old men. What happens when they are forced out of their small black burquas we can’t bear to mention. Savages we say, and go back to our lunches. Does anyone in this fight really care about the abused enough to go out and do something about it?

Yup, many do. And many have. From both sides, if you want to consider a divide between conservative and liberal Muslims (I don’t like these labels by the way). Recently they have been joined by many ardent activists who are not Muslims, dedicating their support to the cause. Their support is welcome. The sentiment on the streets is that this is the time to push, the moment of opportunity.

Yet many of these non-Muslim, liberal activists do not fully understand the context. They are not invested in the fears and politics of the Muslim community. While many of them may have a passing understanding of the Islamic faith, there is little comprehension of what it means to hold it as a belief, as an all encompassing worldview hammered on for a long time by cultural conditioning. Their first response, sadly, is to dismiss, or to not even consider, this entire dimension of motivation affecting their target public. As activists, this undoubtedly makes their job harder. This is also the case with the media and the broader debate happening around the issue in the country, just like any situation today in which Muslims are being discussed in the mainstream.

What really needs to happen is simple. The reform needs to get passed. Most of the changes it demands are not catastrophic, and the parties involved should easily manage to negotiate a suitable deal. The Muslim community by and large welcomes it, or this is my feeling. The majority of them might even be so indifferent to it that they couldn’t care either way. But I am very sure that they would all appreciate a well-functioning quazi system, as they all at some points of their lives have been affected by it.

What is at stake is power. Who gets to hold sway over what? Who gets to control the ideological framework of the community in a way that best suits their long term designs to maintain power? Politicians have constituencies to think of, and their son’s constituencies. Constituencies need loyal subjects, people beholden to their dorais. No external intervention could be allowed to interfere without their explicit consent, approval and fully controlled administration. Business interests just want stability. And the best stability is the one you get when you keep things the way they are. Foreign brands of Islam have vested interests, and will want to hold sway over the entirety of the people’s minds. All these entities form a tight network that seek to control the interests of the entire community.

The MMDA becomes a pawn in this game. A bargaining chip for those with something to bargain, and a dangerous obstacle for those who want to keep things the way they are. It could create a domino effect, runs the whisper, what will happen next? Gay marriage? It remains to be seen if the campaign for reform can manage this chess match.

Anyway that’s my little picture of the MMDA. It might not be a very helpful picture, but i have painted it as clearly as i can in the time and space i was willing to use. I feel we can only discuss this issue rationally in terms of countering the abuse that is happening. We cannot discuss this islamophobically by demanding that Muslims conform to a different ideology than the one they are used to. We can try to make small gains to make the situation better, and I am hopeful that with all this support and awareness, that this might be possible.

What I am not confident about is that anything else will change. The politics will remain the same, the same people will control things, and the broader structure will still be maintained. But then again, as activists, are we supposed to care about that? Are we not simply supposed to buckle down into our tunnel visions in order to fully focus only on the task at hand? Get this bit of rubbish out of the way and we can wake up and deal with these mountains of garbage later.

By Abdul Halik Azeez –

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