23 May, 2024


With Government Backing, Muslim Men Are Taking Over MMDA Reforms Once Again

By Rizani Hamin –

One year after the report of the 2009 MMDA Committee appointed to suggest amendments to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) was submitted to the Ministry of Justice, there appears to be some discussion at the ministerial level about next steps for MMDA reform. However, these discussions have been heading in the wrong direction.

On February 7th, a meeting was called between Muslim MP’s and members of the 2009 Committee, instead it came to light that members of Muslim male organisations such as the Young Muslim Men’s Association (YMMA) and conservative religious institutions were also in attendance. Clearly missing were more Muslim women who have been the primary force pushing for reform. But most of all, missing was any conversation about whether or not the proposed amendments would address the issues and concerns Muslim women have been raising.

The split nature of the Committee report, especially on key issues such as child marriage and women as Quazis (judges), has put the government in a difficult position. But instead of recognising the tension points, conservative ideologies and deep patriarchal attitudes influencing the split reports, the Minister of Justice is putting pressure on Committee members to come to a ‘consensus’ on points of difference.

Instead of taking time to understand each issue at hand and figure out what kind of amendment would best resolve the contemporary problems facing Muslim women and girls today, the Ministry is relying on primarily Muslim male religious leaders and male members of Muslim organisations to compromise on the nature of amendments. For the government this is the most convenient band-aid solution, and it will definitely do much more harm than good. The rights of women and girls once again used as bargaining chips in political play.

Muslim women, especially those most affected by the MMDA currently and to whom these amendments will most impact, are deliberately being shut out of the process. Has the Ministry of Justice given the same time and opportunities to meet with Muslim women activists and groups as it has with Muslim men’s groups?

Let me remind the Muslim community and the government of Sri Lanka that reform of the MMDA came about as a result of Muslim women raising their concerns for the past 25+ years. To keep women out of the process is the worst possible way to deal with reform and it is guaranteed that reform will not be successful if women’s concerns are not a fundamental part of every step, especially in deciding on what amendments need to be made.

Merely inviting women to discussions is also not enough, understanding what types of issues Muslim women and girls face and finding the most viable solutions to address them, is the right way forward.

For example – Raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 years with exceptions for 14 or 16 will not resolve the child marriage issues within the Muslim communities, because government data on registered Muslim marriages shows that most of the child marriage cases are occurring between 15 – 17 years of age.

Not allowing Muslim women to be Quazis (judges), is not only a blatant violation of our fundamental human rights, but also a deep violation of Islamic principles of justice and equality as there is no evidence in the Qur’an or Sunnah that prohibits women from being leaders or judges. The only excuses given by conservative religious scholars and Muslim MP’s who support this stance is based on deep patriarchal biases of what women can and cannot do.

Is the government going to actually listen to and agree to the reasoning that Muslim women can’t be Quazis (judges) because women are ‘emotional’, we menstruate and are biologically incapable of passing judgements? Because it is these types of reasons that All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulama (ACJU) and others give for stopping women from becoming Quazis.

Not allowing Muslim women equal rights in marriage and divorce is not only unjust and unequal, it is un-Islamic! The notion that men have more rights in marriage and divorce for simply being born men is a pre-historic idea that no longer applies to our time. Take a look at contemporary Muslim families – women and men play shared roles and responsibilities of earning and caretaking. Marriage is a meant to be a partnership of equals, but our family law still treats women as minors in need of protection. It is denying us the rights that Islam promotes – the right to live our lives with dignity. 

While either side of the split committee argues that their interpretation of Shari’ah is the right interpretation, there are actual human lives that are being affected on a daily basis.

It is actually patriarchy that is stopping women from being Quazis (judges), not Islam. It is patriarchy that is stopping Muslim women from getting their due rights under the MMDA and the Sri Lankan Constitution, not Islam!

So is the government of Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Justice which is supposed to uphold human rights of all citizens, going to allow for conservative Muslim men of Sri Lanka to continue to dictate the nature of reform? Are they going to let Muslim men use religion as an excuse to weasel for more privileges and opportunities to continue to control and discriminate against Muslim women?

There is a growing movement of Muslim women and men the world over who are reclaiming the narrative that Islam is a just and compassionate religion, instead of a patriarchal and unjust one. The MMDA cannot continue to be another law that contributes to injustices against Muslim women and girls, now or in the future. 

Simply because of the archaic ideologies of some Muslim men, the rights of Sri Lankan Muslim women and girls cannot be compromised.  Instead of progressing our communities, it will keep us in self-inflicted oppression. 

We refuse to be excluded from the MMDA reform process again and again. We demand that our voices and concerns are heard and that all of them are addressed. No reform will be successful unless and until Muslim women and our experiences are a central part of any and all discussions relating to the MMDA.

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Latest comments

  • 13

    Give these Sri Lanka Muslim women what they want..
    To marry as and when they reach 18;
    To be appointed as judges .
    To have freedom to marry or divorce..
    To be appointed for higher post ..
    But not imams …
    Give them freedom to decide what they want and what want to say ..

    • 7

      Dear Rizani Hamin,

      RE: With Government Backing, Muslim Men Are Taking Over MMDA Reforms Once Again


      Islam is a religion for men by men, just like Judaism and Christianity are. Even Hinduism and Buddhism is like that. All the Prophets and Caliphs were men. Women get to be their wives, concubines and slaves, and generally considered chattel.

      So, in the 21st century , the Muslim Orthodoxy and men will come up with various schemes, to keep their hegemony, and keep women as chattel. They will claim that they have the right to do that based on the religion and THEIR interpretation of and religious law, Sharia, the way to the well.

      The minister is playing politics here at the expense of Muslim women. It is great to be born a Sri Lankan Muslim male. In return for circumcision, he gets to inherit twice the women, get a chance to marry up to 4 wives, and a chance to marry 12- year girls, and can be Qazi Judge too. The Muslim orthodoxy and men, don’t want to change in MMDA, that will take away their “rights” over women. They also keep women away from mosques.

      Well, the Muslim orthodoxy went really after the philosophers, 900 years ago, and used politics to punish the philosophers and burn the philosophy books, because it made the orthodoxy look not intelligent, i.e. stupid.

      Ibn Rushd in his darkest hour


      Orthodoxy, Ulama, always accuses scholars of rational, deductive sciences of heresy.

      A final reason was Ibn Rushd’s book The Incoherence of the Incoherence, in which he responded to the fallacies of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s The Incoherence of Philosophers.


      Ibn Rushd contended that the claim of many Muslim theologians that philosophers were outside the fold of Islam had no base in scripture.

      • 5

        Women get to be their wives, concubines and slaves, and generally considered chattel.

        What about the When women experience mood swings and other challenges and blame men

        • 2

          rbh ,

          “What about the When women experience mood swings and other challenges and blame men”

          The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are described in the Holy Quran and Sahih , Authentic Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim.

          Women in the Quran


          All the women in the Qur’an are portrayed in a positive light, while others are condemned for their actions. Many woman by name and title are mentioned in the Qur’an. Most of the women in the Quran are represented as either the mothers or wives of certain leaders and prophets. Women in the Al Quran set the Hillary Clinton example of decision making autonomy independent of being told who to worship for men to like them; for example, the Quran describes women who converted to Islam then guided their husbands into choosing the only religion providing Alimony and safety to women if a Divorce or Adultery or she goes without an orgasm for 4 months she then gets living space and modest income to re-enter the dating world or continue raising the children without being told to be meek and passive to the partner she is teamed with (bible races uses crucifix hard wood yokes on necks, instead of Arab and Chinese leather and fabric backpack harnesses), one woman when challenged why would she not obey said her first allegiance to the wisdom and witness of Muhammad.

          Throughout history, different Islamic exegeses and lawmakers constantly reinterpreted the women presented in the Qur’an as a result of the dominating ideology and historical context of the time. In the wake of modernity and the rise of Islamic feminism, many scholars are looking back to the original text, reexamining the accepted classical interpretations of women, and re-imagining the woman’s role within the Qur’an.

    • 4

      Critical thinking,

      “But not imams …”


      1. the other imams will abuse them

      2. Muslim men can’t pray looking at a women imam?

      Just curious!

  • 4

    Have a referendum among the Muslims people – men and wemon – about this issue, result of that should be the final, instead of wasting time, letting these conservatives dragging it forever, and making people’s lives miserable.

    • 4


      Referendum will be “We want MMDA..”, “We want MMDA”,, “No need woman Quazi”..”No need woman Quazi”…

      More than half the Muslim people never knew there was a thing called MMDA until recently. Maybe 90% of women did not know there was a guy called “Quazi” until a divorce is filed.

      A reform cannot happen without the ordinary people being involved, informed of its present status and why the changes are needed. This is not a reform, it is an “amendment” to an existing LAW that SL govt should be able to handle without involving an additional layer between the Muslim people and the gov, ACJU.

  • 5

    Rizani Hamin,

    “the Ministry is relying on primarily Muslim male religious leaders and male members of Muslim organisations to compromise on the nature of amendments”

    What is the issue you guys are trying to sort out here? Is that really the MMDA Reforms? Or, your ego that Muslim Women should be Quazis? You are selfish, and just use the poor “affected women and girls” while in reality you always distance yourselves from those average Muslim women, just because you guys are educated, some are from well-to-do families. Why not fight to abolish MMDA all together, instead of women Quazi appointments?

    Few times, you said things that are against Islam/Quran, while it is not true. In my analysis, below is what I understood:

    You are not really fighting for the affected or against MMDA. You’re fighting to win your ego, probably supported by other activists groups.

  • 6

    Thank you Rizani Hamin for highlighting some misconceptions in MMDA1950.
    Apart from the misogyny, MMDA1950 will assist violations of human rights.
    MMDA1950 must be done away forthwith.
    Remember MMDA1950 was a bribe to pull Lankan Muslims away from FP. It served its purpose but the use-by date has come.
    GoSLs might try to use MMDA1950 to blackmail servitude from Muslims.
    Watch out.

    • 5

      Shame on the government that wants to introduce the Death Penalty, but hasn’t got the guts to take this much less drastic step in removing MMDA1950.
      I’m very conscious of the need not to go about Muslim-bashing, but this necessary step doesn’t amount to that. It is a fundamental right of any Sri Lankan child to be allowed time to grow out of a carefree childhood in to adulthood.
      Reader fatigue may be what these Muslim males may be hoping for; I can see it in myself. However, it looks as though we have imposed an age limit of 14, where there was none. O, parents all, Muslims and non-Muslims: think of the 14 year old girls whom you know. Are they not still children?
      We may have made some very slight progress, but this is another reason why we have to treat this government with contempt.

  • 4

    If all are Sri Lankans, as demand by specially muslim community & the other minorities live in Sri Lanka. Why do they need separate laws ? Everybody should be put under one law irrespective of religions or cast or race. If not agreeable force them to go to a country their religion take upper hand over the other issues. All should be ruled under one law. Different laws for different ethnicities may damage county’s unitary character & violence may be the order of the day . Next demand of theirs may be legalisation of ISIS or BOKOHARAM or Alkida here. On top of that banning of the other religions as their almighty declared that all non believers are vile animals as such killing & eating of flash of peoples of the other faiths will be next demand !!!!!!!!!!!.

    • 1


      If not agreeable force them to go to a country their religion take upper hand over the other issues.

      After black july they ran to other countries

      • 1


        Reform religious interpretation to be in conformity with humanity, not exclusively revelation in the 7th century or 1,500 BC , or 1,509 BCE.

    • 2


      “Why do they need separate laws ?”

      If you drive in a Muslim area in Colombo, you will realize you can’t ensure the safety of pedestrians or yours following regular (Sri Lankan) traffic rules..

  • 3

    Dear Rizani Hamin,

    The sad fact is that the Ulama and the Muslim men , do nor want to change the MMDA, as once ACJU Rizvi said, that MMDA is perfect.

    From their point of view, why reform something that is perfect..Men have it great!

    It is like the Holy Quran, preserved as a Tablet since eternity, not created.

    Indeed, evolution and natural selection, has played bad tricks on Sri Lankan Muslim women, being born as girls.

    • 2

      Dear Rizani Hamin ,

      The strategy of the Ulama and the Muslim men, is to DERAIL and HIJACK with the aid of Sri Lankan politicians, even women, ministers, who go along for political reasons.

      Sinhala_Man says:

      “Shame on the government that wants to introduce the Death Penalty, but hasn’t got the guts to take this much less drastic step in removing MMDA1950.”

      There is no shame for the:
      Prime Minister,
      Leader of the Opposition,
      Ministers, including women ministers,
      Govt. etc..

      Sri Lanka, a Land like no other.

  • 1

    [Part 1]

    Here we go again…..
    Round and round the Mulberry Bush ……

    If anybody at all (the progressive Muslim Sri Lankans, the conservative Muslim Sri Lankans, the Non-Muslim Sri Lankans, the OIC or the International Community) truly believes that the pro-reformers and anti-reformers of the archaic MMDA of 1951 will of their own volition arrive at some kind of consensus (Ijma) any time soon in accordance with the advice of the Holy Prophet (sal) – something that eluded them over 8 years of discussion, debate and consultation (Shura) – then he/she must be solid bone between the ears.

    Neither side will accede to or endorse the demands of the other.
    The polarization of opinions has become far too extreme to be bridged successfully without some players experiencing a serious loss of face.
    The personal stakes are too high. It has unfortunately become a prestige battle, with both sides and their supporters launching personal attacks on each other.

    To expect Politicians to examine the issues objectively and to act humanely is displaying stupidity of the highest form. Politicians will always make decisions that will not endanger their voter-bases. They may not have realized it, but the pro-reformers are in the process of being reduced to a marginalized group of ‘voices-in-the-wilderness’, making it that much easier for Politicians (Muslim as well as non-Muslim) to ignore. This latest ‘meeting’ summoned by the Justice Minister has, by including more anti-reform groups and excluding more pro-reformers, only serves to heighten this fact and to indicate the direction in which the wind is blowing. It will require a Politician with ‘Hitlerian-attributes’ to go against the wind whipped up by quasi-Islamic Scholars posing as pseudo-Islamic Priests.

  • 2

    [Part 2]

    Rather than describing the impact of the existng MMDA as discriminating and subjugating Muslim females and therefore requiring amendments, the pro-reformers should have made the case that because of the existing MMDA, Muslim Sri Lankan females do not enjoy the same basic human rights as their non-Muslim female counterparts. They should have framed their complaint as SRI LANKAN females and not as MUSLIM females. This would have facilitated the provision of active support from non-Muslim Womens Groups and from non-Muslim Politicians, who would be reluctant to do so at the moment because it is being projected as ‘Muslim-issue’ rather than a ‘Female-issue’.

    The same rules pertaining to Marriage & Divorce that apply to other Sri Lankan females must be extended to Muslim females as well. One Country – One People – One Law. The decision as to whether a Muslim couple marries according to Civil Law or Islamic Law is a personal decision best left to the couple. They will have to face the consequences of their decision – in this life and the next. The minority Muslim Community does not require Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament, Attorneys of Law or especially bigoted Islamic Scholars to act as Religious Police or Enforcers of Islamic Law in our Motherland.

    Who the hell do these men think they are to arrogate to themselves the responsibility of ensuring that the local Muslims live according to their anachronistic, out-dated interpretations of Islamic Law ? Scholars are supposed to be guides and advisors not enforcers of Islamic Law – at least not in a Muslim-minority country such as Sri Lanka.

    • 2


      Thanks. Yes, this is about Ulama hegemony Vs. wonen’s Rights.
      Just review the historical debate between the theology and philosophy, and how Ibn Rushd was punished and philosophy books burned, using rulers and politicians.

      Unfortunately for the Sri Lankan Muslim women, there is no Kamal Ataturk, on either the Muslim side or the nun-Muslim side.

  • 1

    Dear readers,
    For clarification,
    Though Muslim law in SL permits a 16year old girl to be married is not compulsory.
    The writer is focusing on this topic while the benefit of this law is forgone. “What if there is a poor widowed family with such 15/16/17 year old girl where she is entitled to legal marriage and properties of her husband instead of illicit affairs and misconducts, prevailing such law will cover that passage which is very common economic issue is SL.
    women quasi is status which the mother of the child was not given. How can a third party female could have that right? These laws are divine and YMMA have done the proposals of bridging the reports and have Not amended any law. Men had to do the needful while Muslim women are derailing from their faith.

    • 2

      Bullshit. These are manmade laws; definitely not “DIVINE” and influenced by the “Bedouin” desert culture and Saudi Arabia.
      Get real, Man!

    • 1


      How do we know it is Devine?

      The Quran mentions Satan 11 times, Mohamed 4 times and Ahmed once.
      There are the Satanic verses and it’s abrogation .
      The Quran also says that the Earth is spread out like a carpet. Is it the 7th Century Arab Worldview, The Satan’s view Orr the Divine view?

  • 2

    It seems to me that whereas many people in the political firmament of this country feel it is perfectly OK to violate the provisions of the Constitution, not one of them will dare to raise a whimper of protest against the anachronistic and sexist provisions of the MMDA.

  • 0

    However, these discussions have been heading in the wrong direction.

    Muslim women activists reach the ministry justice group for participation then right the right direction can be discussed. First propose then initiate then point out the failures. What about the women treatment of husbands.Those women, who are unaware of this feature of their role.

  • 1

    Of late, the MMDA is in the News.

    Isn’t the simplest solution to amend the MMDA on matters where there is agreement and work on the disagreements thereafter? Why hold up the entire process because of disagreement on some matters? It makes No sense at all.

    It is for the Minister and the Government to take immediate action to amend the MMDA on those matters where there is consensus. No point wasting time and Needlessly Holding up the entire process.

  • 1

    Rizani Hamin

    “For example – Raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 years with exceptions for 14 or 16 will not resolve the child marriage issues within the Muslim communities.”

    In the most Developed country in the world. the USA, in 17 States there is NO minimum age for marriage and in 13 States, the minimum age varies between 14 and 18.

    According to Pew Research, Laws in over 116 countries allow those under 18 years to marry.

    So, insisting on a minimum age of 18 makes little sense. Inflexibility and an uncompromising attitude will NEVER lead to any solution. If you are serious about solving problems, learn to be reasonable and be open to compromise.

  • 2

    This is what happens when we have a female justice minister without “balls”; unable to make a fair and decisive decision to help the S L women who have been “raped” by their so-called husbands with impunity.
    Justice SM, a man of honor, after many years, came up with a reasonable set of proposals to make changes to the existing laws to help these unfortunate women, but of no avail.
    Most S L Muslims practice a “Bedouin” tribal culture in the guise of Islam influenced by an ignorant local clergy, Saudi Arabia and politics.
    The status quo seems, to continue, unfortunately.

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