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Muslim Marriages and One Country, One Law

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Open Letter to Minister of Justice

As you are aware, Muslim marriages in Sri Lanka centre around the Nikah and Walima in accordance with the tenets of Islam.

The Nikah, which is Shariah-based and therefore immutable, is essentially a brief ceremony where, under the guidance of a pious Muslim male, vows are exchanged between the Bride’s guardian (Wali) and the Groom, and is most importantly witnessed (usually) by two pious Muslim males. Additionally, prayers and duas may be recited and a sermon may be delivered by the individual-in-charge, if the persons so desire. That’s it.

This is how it was done during the time of our Holy Prophet (Sal) and this is how it should be done today. There was no ‘certification’ (in written form) of the Nikah done during the time of our Holy Prophet (Sal). The ‘certification’ (in verbal form) was provided by the two witnesses.

However, the need for some form of written ‘certification’ of Muslim marriages grew from the fact that other non-Muslim marriages issued certificates in response to evolving socio-cultural-legal requirements of society, which necessitated proof of marriage.

Unfortunately in Sri Lanka, this need for a certification was permitted to become an integral part of the Nikah ceremony. A certification that a Nikah ceremony had taken place was therefore regarded as the Muslim Marriage Certificate. The conduct of the ceremony and the issuance of the certificate have merged to become a single entity referred to as the ‘Nikah’.

This, Honourable Minister, has resulted in the sanctification of the Nikah certificate to such an extent that it is now deemed to be as inviolable as the Nikah ceremony itself.

As the first step towards bringing the Marriage Laws governing the Muslim Community in line with the policy of “One Country, One Law” enunciated by His Excellency The President, one must separate the ‘Nikah’ into it’s two constituent parts – the ceremony and the certification; the former being an obligatory religious act on the part of Muslims, and the latter being a secular, administrative requirement.

Mr Minister, please set the ball rolling by de-sanctifying the certification process. The certification is not Shariah-based. It is merely a written record of the various individuals participating in the Nikah Ceremony (names, addresses and signatures ) and could therefore be amended to suit new conditions.

The Muslim Community should of their own volition propose the following changes to the MMDA (Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act) to make it compatible with the ‘One Country, One Law’ policy.

[1] All Muslim marriages to be registered under the General Marriage Registration Ordinance (GMRO). This would amount to effecting a change only in the certification process.

[2] Additionally, if they so desire, Muslims should be permitted to conduct Nikah Ceremonies (within a stipulated period after the certification process under the GMRO) which should be recorded in a Nikah Register to be maintained by the Department of Muslim Cultural & Religious Affairs. Nikah Certificates should be issued by the Department upon request.

This would ensure that the Marriage would be recognized by the Muslim community.

[3] Muslim Brides and Grooms should be permitted to enter into a legally-valid Marriage Contract which must be signed by both individuals (a kind of Pre-Nuptial Agreement) wherein :

= they agree on the quantum of Mahr to be gifted by the Groom to the Bride

= they agree that in the event of death or on the question of inheritance, they will adhere strictly to the relevant Shariah rulings. This will counter any fears that since the original certification was a ‘civil ceremony’, the parties concerned will opt to follow non-Islamic rules in the cases of divorce or death.

= they state whatever other specific conditions that both the bride and the groom may mutually agree upon. For example, the groom may agree not to take a second wife without the written consent of the first.

= or, in the case of a really progressive couple, where the Husband agrees to the termination of the marriage by the unilateral will of the Wife (known as Isma), by agreeing to delegate the power of Talaq to his wife (Talaq-al-Tafwid). This would ensure that the couple are bound by all the relevant Islamic rules.

This would result in a ‘Win-Win’ situation for the Muslim Community as well as for the President’s Policy of ‘One Country, One Law’. Most importantly, the Muslim Community will be perceived as being willing partners in the efforts of the present Government to foster unity and harmony.

It should be mentioned in this regard that the nearly three million Muslims in the U.K continue to lead their pious lives happily under this ‘dual’ registration system of marriages for Muslims. There should therefore be no doubts whatsoever as to the efficacy of this proposed system.

BISTHAN BATCHA



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Opinion

Lal Senaratne

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Lal Senaratne (left) photographed with Lorenz Pereira (the writer) in New Zealand recently

Lal Seneratne passed away quite unexpectedly and suddenly after a very brief illness, in Auckland, NZ, a few weeks back. It was both shocking and saddening to me as my wife, Kumi, and I enjoyed his and his lovely Laotian wife, Noy’s (a pharmacist whom Lal met in the USA) warm and generous hospitality only a couple of months earlier.

They took us to Rotorua, the internationally acclaimed hot spring spa where we stayed the night as their guests and then on to his splendid Award-winning holiday house by the ocean, just one hour’s drive from Auckland. They were magic and exhilarating moments.

Lal was in great spirits and we spent hours reminiscing on our mutual overlapping sporting careers, particularly at Royal College. Lal was junior to me at Royal being with my younger brother, Bryan. So, I had known him for a good 70 years.

Our initial closeness grew from our involvement in sport, firstly in tennis and subsequently in rugby. Lal was a member of the Royal College Tennis Team that I captained in 1957. He together with Navin Gooneratne still holds an unbeaten record in public schools’ tennis, by winning the junior doubles and senior doubles championships for five successive years.

He won colors in three sports, namely tennis, rugby and badminton and half colors in cricket, being a reserve for the Royal-Thomian, which was his only disappointment in sports.

Lal’s real sporting love was rugby. At the tender age of 15 years, he played for Royal in the Bradby in the iconic 1958 team that won back the Bradby after a lapse of seven years. He played rugby for Royal for four years, winning the Bradby on three occasions. He played for Colombo schools for two years and was one of two schoolboys selected to play for the CR & FC in the Clifford Cup semi-final against Havelocks.

Lal and I became rugby Legends via a try in the 1958 Bradby game at Longdon Place. Lal was playing Left Wing and I Right Wing. During the course of that game, the ball moved at rapid speed from a line out on the Right Wing, with every Royal three-quarter handling and passing the ball at great speed and dexterity, ending with the ball in Lal’s hands on the Left Wing. He was about to be tackled, when he saw this “ghost” looming over his left shoulder. It was me.

I received his well-executed and timely pass and scored a spectacular Royal three-quarter movement try. I still vividly recollect that horror look in Lal’s eyes when he caught a glimpse of me, completely out of position. I will carry that “look” in his eyes forever with me. That instant magic moment of rugby ball exchange between Lal and I created a most intimate life-long bond between the two of us.

Our rugby association didn’t stop at Royal. After leaving school, Lal followed me to the CR & FC, although we never played for the club together, as I had gone overseas. On my return, the two of us comprised a small band of about six “Ceylonese” players to first play for the all-white CH & FC. That was in John Bank’s CH Team of 1965.

The following year, I became the first Ceylonese to captain the CH and Lal was by my side giving invaluable assistance both on and off the field. I remain ever grateful for his sincere, warm and friendly companionship during our halcyon rugby days.

Sport was undoubtedly Lal’s driving passion in his youth. However, on leaving school, Lal blossomed into his many other latent interests, such as in theatre by acting in and directing numerous plays and musicals. He was also a sports car enthusiast, racing at the Mahagastota Hill Climbs.

Lal’s work career was both varied and of high achievement. Returning from studying management overseas he dabbled in many portfolios, including being appointed Managing Director of the Hardware and Leather Corporation. He was charged with improving the profitability of the Corporation which was incurring heavy losses. This was achieved in 18 months.

Lal always wanted to live in NZ, the rugby fanatic country. He migrated to NZ and made it his home for almost 45 years. NZ proved to be an extremely successful country for Lal, working in many multinational companies, including as Deputy Managing Director, General Foods Corporation, Group General Manager-Administration, Heinz Watties NZ (part of the world’s largest food company) and Group General Manager-Hospitality, Ceramco NZ.

Lal’s insatiable thirst for even greater personal achievement saw him create his own company. He commenced a retail liquor chain, in spite of Lal never imbibing in liquor consumption during his entire life, knowing that NZ is second in the world for per capita liquor consumption. The company grew to be market leader within a short space of time, with 240 liquor stores and sales of NZ $360 million and a staff of over 400 – an incredible achievement in the space of a few years.

In June 2020, Lal sold his company to an Australian multinational with a condition that his son, Andre, remains as Operation Manager. His daughter, Tammy and husband recently took ownership of two McDonald franchises.

Dearest Lal, you have had a beautiful and successful life and achieved so much with your amazing range of talents, in sport, the arts and in business. You were also a singer of some repute having recorded a CD in the USA called Romantica, containing 14 romantic songs. Indeed a true reflection of the “lover boy”.

I find it difficult to fathom how one person can possess so many varied attributes and do so very well in each -a role model par excellence. However to me, the supreme quality that I admired most in Lal was his HUMILITY.

I consider myself incredibly privileged and blessed to have known him.

May His beautiful Soul Rest in Peace

Much Love

Lorenz Pereira

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Opinion

Ad hoc allowances trigger strikes in state sector

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As a retired Government official, I have been observing with interest the present trend of paying substantial lump sum monthly allowances to government officers. As I rightly thought and was to be logically expected, this has caught on like wildfire and has now spread to many sectors of government service. Still more are on the warpath. Some are already on strike and others are threatening strike action soon. This would cripple government services to the people in many areas.

If I recall correctly, this concept of paying allowances started with government medical officers. Then all other health care workers clamored for similar treatment and launched strikes causing great inconvenience to the public. I am not sure whether that issue in the health sector was settled or is still pending. University teachers too got a number of allowances after a long drawn strike and now the non academic staff in all state universities have been on strike for over two months demanding similar allowances. The universities remain completely shut down which is a serious situation.

Recently, the Government decided to pay a monthly allowance of Rs.25,000 to all executive officers in government services and this week all non executive officers (teachers, clerical officers, technical officers etc. plus other ancillary staff) launched a two day token strike. Further strike action has been threatened if they are not paid the relevant allowance. But the Secretary to the Treasury has announced that the latter demand cannot be met without imposing additional tax burdens on the public.

In my view, a sustainable solution to this problem is making the salary scales of all job categories in the government sector strictly job specific. The qualifications and skills required and the tasks to be performed should be taken to account in setting the scales without ad hoc allowances being paid haphazardly as at present. Best is to do away with allowances totally. In this regard, government will do well, if it looks at how government salary scales are drawn in other countries where state sector salary disputes have been minimized and government services are known to be rendered smoothly.

In yesteryear, to my knowledge, the system was different. Unlike now no blanket allowances were paid to government officers of any category for the use of private cars for official travel. Some middle level technical officials like Agricultural Instructors were paid a monthly “commuted allowance” to cover field travel by motor cycles. Those who were entitled to use private cars for official travel had to submit traveling claims for the relevant mileage and this had to be approved by an authorized official.

Last but not least, it is best for all government sector employees to bear in mind that as their salaries are met through the government budget, the public at large, rather the institutional hierarchy, are in reality their paymasters. They are therefore duty bound to render the required services to the public without disruption by launching strikes now occurring with increasing frequency

A.BEDGAR PERERA
( email bedgarperera@gmail.com)

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Opinion

Sally Hulugalle

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I have been blessed to have met and to have been mentored by many inspiring people in my life. Among those, Sally Hulugalle looms large. On July 11, 2024, a few weeks after her birthday, we buried her, after a brief battle with cancer. Her grave was covered with flowers and candles. And there was beautiful music and everyone who was present was there because they loved her and because she had touched their lives in some way.

My first job was as Sally’s assistant. I had just come back to Sri Lanka from New Delhi after obtaining my degree, all dewy eyed and hopeful of finding work. I responded to an advertisement in a newspaper, met Sally at her home, and that was that – I had a job! I worked with her for five years and it would be no exaggeration to say that those five years changed my life. She taught be so much, but most of all she taught me never to walk away from injustice. She also taught me the importance of kindness, to never tolerate cruelty towards another human being or animal. She showed me what it’s like to be fearless – I am still learning that lesson – and that it’s okay to forge your own path, however unusual it may seem.

I have so many memories of that time – travelling around Sri Lanka or between her home and Hendala, very often in the ‘white van’ (long before ‘white vans’ became associated with state terror) with Sally at the wheel. Her driving style was as unique as everything else about her was, and I learned very quickly to ignore the infuriated or sometimes simply bemused expressions on fellow drivers around us. She had an amazing ability to turn any place she occupied to one of colour and beauty, using the simplest of things – whether a hospital room, ward, house or office.

She had an unerring ability to spot the person needing the most amount of comforting and care, in the most crowded of places, or hidden away in some corner, out of sight – but Sally would find them. Many people or situations that most of us would simply give up on as too hard, too complex and too messy – Sally would march right in and transform. I often trailed behind her – often scared, sometimes embarrassed, but most often in awe. Our wills sometimes clashed – I was young and brash and felt I knew a thing or two as well – but between us grew a bond of understanding, respect and affection that held us together. We just got each other.

Sally’s death leaves a large hole in my life that no one else can fill. I will miss her exuberant emails – where after seeing me somewhere, she would say that I looked beautiful, or that my hair looked fantastic – incidentally, one of the very few people in my life who did not despair about my hair! On my last visit to her, I noticed on the wall, along with all the photos of her family and all the things she loved – ballet, horses, flowers, birds – a collage made up of cuttings from newspapers where I had featured. I had never felt more honoured – and I doubt I ever will.

I will miss her generosity – beautiful hand drawn stationery, colourful cushion covers, and books, that she would often spontaneously sent me and my mother. Even as I type this, behind me hang colourful little cloth flags slung together on a string, that she once sent me. I will miss her laugh, how she made me feel so loved when I was with her and the twinkle in her eyes.

Sally was one of a kind – and I was blessed to have her in my life. There is much more to say about Sally and all she accomplished through her life. For now, I just miss her. My thoughts are with her wonderful husband Arjuna Hulugalle, children and grandkids. Thank you for sharing her with us so generously.

Harini Amarasuriya

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