MPLRAG’s approach to understanding the context of MMDA reforms and engaging with the current reforms process is based on four main strategies, as demonstrated below. This approach gathers inspiration from the Framework for Action of Musawah – A Global Movement for equality in the Muslim family.
A. Contemporary lived realities of Sri Lankan Muslims
At the root of MPLRAG’s work is the acknowledgement that reform is not possible unless we take into account contemporary issues and challenges facing Sri Lankan Muslims, especially women and girls today. MPLRAG’s advocacy and lobby is based on in-depth and continual study of how the MMDA currently applies to Sri Lankan Muslims, of the inherent discriminations and injustices in the text of the legal provisions and of the practical difficulties in the Quazi court system and structure. Contemporary experiences of women and girls provides the rationale for our work, forms the catalyst for our initiatives and the driving inspiration to do more.
Lived realities also means recognition of the diverse roles that Sri Lankan Muslim women play in contemporary Sri Lanka from heads of households and breadwinners to educators, academics, activists, lawyers, professionals and leaders in the country, equivalent to their male counterparts, which MPLRAG is keen to see reflected in the MMDA.
We strongly believe that no amount of debate and discussion regarding Islamic jurisprudence will be useful, unless there is a deep understanding of how lives of Sri Lankan Muslim women and girls are affected in present-day Sri Lanka. We also believe that MMDA reforms should first and foremost seek to address the contemporary legal and practical challenges that Muslim women and girls face in order to ensure justice and equality in the spirit of Islam.
MPLRAG is aware of the injustices and discrimination faced by the Muslim community in Sri Lanka and will be at the forefront the struggle for equality and co-existence. We strongly believe that any threat to the ‘community’ should not be used to silence or erase the daily injustices faced by girls and women nor postpone addressing them for a more ‘convenient’ time.
We are certain that unless and until the Muslim community acknowledges and addresses the inherent discriminations against members of the Muslim community as facilitated by the MMDA and Quazi court system, that we will be unsuccessful in addressing issues that aggrieve the community as a whole. Our demand for equality before law will sound hollow if so.
B. Diversity of Islamic Jurisprudence and Islamic legal tradition
According to the Holy Quran (Surah 4: Verse 58) equality before the law is one of the key principles of the Islamic justice system as God commands human beings to render trust to whom they are due and to “judge with justice”. It is MPLRAG’s core belief that the teachings of the Quran and the spirit of Islamic law embody principles of justice, fairness and equality between men and women.
The MPLRAG’s advocacy is based on this core belief. This is one of the guiding principles based on which the Women’s Demands to MMDA Reforms was developed.
While understanding that there is no consensus on Islamic jurisprudence ‘fiqh’ between various sects and madhabs (schools of thought), it is also our understanding that Islamic jurisprudence is not static and has evolved in response to social, economic and cultural changes and the different country contexts.
The myth of homogeneity of Muslim laws is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to reform. A close look at the Muslim legal systems around the world reveals a diverse and immense range of interpretations of Quranic injunctions. MPLRAG advocates that reform of Muslim laws to ensure justice and equality for women is possible through ijtihad (reinterpretation of Islamic jurisprudence) and through selection of the most gender progressive laws and principles from the different schools of law (eclectic choice) or Takhayyur.
C. National Laws and Constitution
MPLRAG believes every individual has a right to full and equal citizenship, including full participation in all aspects of society simply by virtue of being citizen of Sri Lanka. It is a right to be asserted by men and women in their relationship with the State. It is a right that is regularly asserted by the Muslim community at large on several issues affecting the community. It is however a right that that has been denied to women’s demands for reform by the very same community.
MPLRAG believes that MMDA reforms cannot operate in a silo. There are also inherent discriminations against Sri Lankan Muslims, especially affecting women and girls, in other state laws, such as the Penal Code, as well as in the Constitution.
In this regard, MPLRAG acknowledges that the MMDA and the Quazi court system, was established, administered and is funded by the State. The MMDA is enacted as a statute and judgments made through the Quazi court system are legally binding and enforceable only by the authority of the State. Therefore the Sri Lankan State has the foremost responsibility to ensure that State laws protect rights of citizens and are not in-turn causing gender based violence, discrimination and injustice. This responsibility is foregrounded by the fact that the system is demonstrably failing to protect and deliver justice.
In order for Sri Lankan Muslims to be treated equally as citizens of Sri Lanka, equality and non-discrimination must be guaranteed by parallel reforms to Constitution and other State laws. MPLRAG has engaged with the Constitutional reforms process, especially in advocating for repeal of Article 16 towards securing equal treatment, entrenching coexistence, and guaranteeing fundamental rights of Sri Lankan Muslims, without exceptions.
D. International Human Rights frameworks and instruments
International human rights standards are based on the values of dignity, substantive equality and non-discrimination for all human beings. MPLRAG also frames its critique of the MMDA and other laws using a rights-based framework. We believe that international human rights are compatible with principles of Islamic jurisprudence and legal tradition.
As citizens of Sri Lanka, we believe it is necessary to ensure that members of the Muslim community, especially women and girls, are guaranteed equal protection of their rights as all other human beings. Thus engaging with International Human Rights processes such as the CEDAW is necessary to ensure that the Sri Lankan State sees MMDA reforms as an issue of national priority. MPLRAG’s intervention at the 66th CEDAW session, led to specific recommendations to the Sri Lankan State to address discriminations against Muslim women and girls including to:
- Increase the minimum age of marriage for all women in the State party to 18 years of age;
- Eliminate any restriction on women’s eligibility to be appointed as Quazis, as Members of the Board of Quazis, Marriage Registrars and adjudicators; and,
- Amend article 363 of the Penal Code to ensure that the crime of statutory rape applies to all girls under the age of 16, without exception.
Efforts by MPLRAG in this regard has been derived and is inherently linked to learning from women’s movements before us, and in solidarity with women’s groups and activists seeking gender equality and justice for all women in Sri Lanka presently.