Among other amendments, the government driven MMDA reforms propose the abolition of the role of Wali, the male guardian whose consent is required for a man to marry a Muslim woman. Currently only the Wali signs on the marriage registration and the role of the Wali is mandatory. If a Wali from the family is not available, the Quazi can stand as the Wali.
There is unanimous agreement among the Muslim community that the MMDA should be amended to include the bride’s signature. But the proposed reforms go beyond that, and abolishes the mandatory role of the Wali, thereby enabling a man to marry a Muslim woman of 18 years or above, without the consent of her guardian.
From the woman’s side, any female who has attained the age of 18 will be free to marry without the consent of a guardian. At a glance, this seems to be a new freedom and a right that the proposed MMDA reforms claim to give the woman. However it is worth further analyzing this.
The MMDA is a law that is meant for Muslims in Sri Lanka. More than 95% of them belong to the Shafi’ee school of thought, and believe that a marriage without a Wali is not valid from a religious point of view. It is true that some other Madhabs allow marriage without Wali, but that is not the consideration here. If a law is intended for a particular religious community, it has to be compatible with the beliefs of that community. If not there arises a situation of conflict between the country’s law and the religion.
If the proposed amendments are enacted, there arises a situation where a marriage deemed legal by the MMDA is considered illegitimate, and void and unrecognized by the community it is intended for. The religious establishment of the community may also consider that the couple is living in a state of adultery (zina), and render the offspring of the couple also as illegitimate. The result will be disastrous: ostracization of the couple – particularly the woman – who will be deprived of family care and support. No amount of legal provisions will be able to provide religious acceptance. In order to gain religious and social acceptance, the couple may voluntarily resort to purification rituals (commonly known as ‘hadd flogging) which may create further conflict between the community and the law.
Therefore it is clear that the proposed reforms are ill-conceived, unwise, and flawed by design and purpose. By pretending to promote women’s rights, it potentially puts vulnerable women, men and even their offspring in even a worse situation where they will be heavily discriminated and marginalized.
A comparable situation is the conflict between the law and the religious beliefs of the orthodox Jewish community in the UK. Their religion requires that the husband should grant a ‘divorce certificate’ to the wife in order for a divorce to be valid. As a result, women who have obtained divorces by law, but who are not granted a divorce certificate by their husbands continue to be considered as ‘married’ by the religious establishment and the community. (Read: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-58334745)
It is unfortunate that in their haste, and in the quest to pacify racist elements, proponents of the government driven MMDA reforms are blind to the long term impact they can have on women’s and children’s rights and well-being.