By Gitanjali Marcelline –
An urgent need has arisen to reform Muslim Marriage & Divorce Act (MMDA) of 1951. Before I explain the reasons why, let us see how this Act came about.
Based on representations made by the Kathis Association, the government set up an all-male committee in 1939 comprising the Registrar General and Mahrooms M. I. Akbar, T. B. Jayah, A. R. A. Razik, M. C. Abdul Cader, M.I.M. Hanifa and M. S. M. Shamsudeen, to study the Sri Lanka General Marriage Ordinance of 1907, towards formulating a Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act. Certain sections of the report were included in the new Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act No. 13 of 1951, which came into operation on 1st August 1954. This effectively repealed the Sri Lanka General Marriage Ordinance of 1907.
These eminent Gentlemen (including my Great Grandfather, Dr. T. B. Jayah), were hand-picked for the job taking into consideration their vast knowledge and standing in the community. I can imagine the lengthy deliberations which would have gone into drafting the MMDA, whilst retaining some Sections from the Ordinance and incorporating new Provisions, which at the time would have been deemed necessary.
But, now, with the changing times, the need has arisen to bring about reforms to the MMDA, taking into consideration fundamental rights of girls and women, especially their right to education without being married off at an early age, their right to equal autonomy and decision-making in entering into their own marriages, divorces, the women’s and children’s right to maintenance, to name a few. This brings to mind the following quotes from the great Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai
“I raise my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential. So here I stand, one girl among many. I speak not for myself, so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.”
These can only be assured by bringing in reforms to the MMDA of 1951 and incorporating the Justice and Equality component to the new one. Also, any Committee engaged in this endeavor should comprise of qualified individuals well versed on Fundamental rights and the equality component and there should 50% representation of women.
Last, but not least, the state must get involved in MMDA reforms and ensure Equality, Justice and Non-discrimination to all its citizens, including Muslim Men, Women and Children. With the constitution of Sri Lanka, in Chapter III, under Fundamental Rights, addressing the component Right to Equality 12. (1), it is its bounden duty/responsibility to assist with the MMDA reforms.
Had great grandfather been alive today (may his soul Rest In Peace), I would have been able to convince him of the need to bring in the Justice and Equality Component and reforming the MMDA towards assuring the rights of not only Muslim women and children but those of men as well. Come to think of it, this is what he would have expected me to do.
I’d like to end this note with a quote by him, which amply demonstrates this fact;
“Where the Muslims are concerned it has been the practice, in fact, it has been considered the duty of Muslims, wherever they may find themselves that they should be first and foremost in any movement that is intended to secure for the people of the country a full measure of freedom. If the fight is for full freedom the Muslim Community as far as it is concerned will be prepared to work without any safeguards because they know the spell of freedom can obliterate any differences”.