Why this insistence to retain a system that has caused more harm than good? There are widely differing opinions within the Muslim community about Javid Yusuf’s column in “In the National Interest”, published on October 3. Mr. Yusuf acknowledged that women have not received justice at the hands of the Quazis, that demands for reform [...]


Letters to the Editor


Why this insistence to retain a system that has caused more harm than good?

There are widely differing opinions within the Muslim community about Javid Yusuf’s column in “In the National Interest”, published on October 3.

Mr. Yusuf acknowledged that women have not received justice at the hands of the Quazis, that demands for reform have come from within the Muslim community and there were unsuccessful attempts to reform the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) through several committees.

Indeed, it is Muslim women’s groups and affected women who have engaged with the current Justice Minister since October 2020 calling for reform of the MMDA. They presented written appeals urging him to change the institution into a family court system.

However, there has never been a collective call by the men of the Muslim community to reform the Quazi system so that they function like other courts. In fact, the greatest obstacle to reform efforts has been the all-male All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU). A section of influential Muslim men and some politicians have actively colluded with the ACJU in this sustained effort.

The institution of Quazi and polygamy received extensive attention in the Justice Saleem Marsoof Committee’s (JSM) report and there was consensus on the Committee’s recommendation to amend the MMDA to elevate the Quazi to a court, to be designated as Quazi court, as an integral part of the Sri Lankan Judiciary. The recommendation further suggested the reduction of the number of Quazis from 64 to a number to be determined by the Judicial Service Commission.

How does one upgrade the institution of Quazi when in deliberations over nine years at the JSM committee, the erudite men and women of the community could not agree on the competency of the Quazi whilst agreeing that it be made an integral part of the mainstream judiciary?

Similarly, the claim that strict religious guidelines are followed in the practice of multiple marriages is far from the truth. Even in the JSM Committee report, there was no consensus on the guidelines to be imposed in relation to allowing polygamous marriages.

To put it in perspective, Muslim MPs, on July 11, 2019, agreed on a 14-point reform during the last Parliament. That was subsequently watered down by the ACJU. The ACJU sent letters, dated 18-07-2019, to Muslim MPs that it would be considered a treacherous act if they went along with certain amendments.

Ms. Shreen Saroor in her recent article (Daily Mirror of September 25, 2021) cited, with evidence, of the call to kill her and a colleague by a National Towheed Jama`ath member to the Puttalam youth for standing by affected women who pleaded for their rights before parliamentary committees. No one from the community thought it fit to condemn such overt violent extremist thuggery by a so-called religious leader.

Prior to the release of the JSM Committee report the Friday pulpits in mosques were abused to insult and intimidate Justice Marsoof and Ms. Safana Gul Begum, a member of the JSM committee.

This matter came up before the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on National Security, which included two Muslim Members of Parliament. Testimonies were provided by various sections of the society including several Muslim women and women’s groups. The committee, in its report of February 19, 2020, unanimously recommended that the administration of the MMDA be brought under district courts as in the case of KMDA and Thesawalamai.

It is therefore incorrect to suggest, that the Muslim community has now been taken by surprise, has had no time to deliberate on these matters.

The MMDA as administered by incompetent Quazis has caused blatant discrimination against Muslim women and children over many years. Young girls were allowed to be married off at the expense of their education. Young mothers and kids were neglected on the pretext of the law allowing polygamy. The state has been supporting a discriminatory structure, whatever pittance the financial cost may have been. These adversely impact the citizenry.

We Muslims are subjected to the jurisdiction of regular courts in all matters except divorce and maintenance, including enforcement of maintenance. Why then this insistence to retain a system that has caused more harm than good?

What harm could befall if the reconciliatory and other salutary aspects of Quazi’s work were streamlined and brought under the purview of an accountable judicial system whilst retaining the non-adversarial nature and provide an environment of dignity, certainty, and safety to women?

The Minister of Justice has said that his intention is to move the non-adversarial, reconciliatory process that were expected of Quazis to a more professional, independent body with judicial oversight and accountability. This will give more access to justice as opposed to the reduction proposed by the JSM Committee. One needs to await the draft Bill to find the details. Even if the jurisdiction is transferred to District Courts, it would be the MMDA, reformed or otherwise, that will be applicable and not any other law against the wishes of any Muslim litigant.

To insist on the retention of the Quazi system, as it is, outside the judiciary is certainly not in the national interest nor in the interest of safeguarding the personal laws in the long run.

 Ameer Faaiz  (Attorney-at-law)

Lest we forget: The  many roles of a teacher

With the government teachers’ strike that has run for more than three months, education in Sri Lanka has sadly come to a standstill.

Most teachers have strong ethics about educating the nation’s children whom they consider like their own. However, their salaries are the lowest of the lowest paid.

In which other profession would one do all they do? From the moment they reach school, mostly by jam-packed public transport, teachers are burdened with enormous responsibility; the morning assembly, classroom discipline, subject teaching, curriculum work, exams, marking papers, so much more  in addition to guiding, motivating, advising, counselling, consoling and of course teaching.

For revision sessions, before and after school, are they paid a cent extra? Do they demand? Parents go to churches, kovils, devales and temples with offerings for their children’s success. Who actually helps these parents’ dreams of making their children doctors, engineers, lawyers, academics etc come true?

So, why is the teachers’ legitimate right to a decent salary denied?

Sadly, more than at any other time, these days teachers are criticised, cursed, and even threatened.

This government too had a strong teacher support base. One of the promises in their Manifesto is to resolve teachers’ salary anomalies. But now politicians don’t remember those promises, and instead accuse, criticise and harass the teachers for fighting for their rights. Who is responsible for teachers being driven to extreme union actions?

Don’t forget that teachers are more educated than many in society. But they are under-privileged compared to them. Nothing good will ever come out of this except a generation whose right to education is denied. Who started the online programmes during the pandemic? Most of my teacher friends were not very techno savvy, but they somehow invested in computers, spent on the data themselves and made the transition to online teaching. Has that been appreciated?

If the government could increase the salaries of the politicians, approve their perks and privileges, why aren’t teachers’ rights for a decent salary met?

Savithri Jayasinghe Cooray  Via email


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