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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

Road accident killer:

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One every three hours

There is a spike of serious traffic accidents and the number of fatalities reported from all parts of the country during the last few weeks. They have snatched many precious and valuable human lives. Media reports, quoting Traffic Police sources indicate, despite the country being in lockdown for three months due to COVID–19, that this year from January to the end of August, 1,418 persons have been killed in traffic accidents

A person is killed every three hours on our roads due to road accidents, and annually 3000 persons die in road accidents. Nearly 8000 serious accidents take place annually, and in many instances the victims end up never to lead a normal life again. In the last four years – in 2016 there were 3017 fatal accidents, while in 2017 it was 3147. In 2018 according to World Health Organization (WHO) data, Road Traffic Accident Deaths in Sri Lanka was 3590, and has been identified as the 10thcause of death in Sri Lanka’s top 50 causes of death, beating other serious diseases causing death in the country. In 2019 there were 2851 fatal accidents.

On September 2nd, a serious accident occurred in the Colombo city at Mattakkuliya. As reported in the media, in that accident three people died instantly when two three-wheelers were hit by a speeding lorry. Apparently, speeding, and driving the lorry without a valid license to drive, is sheer negligence and lack of responsibility of the lorry driver. Lack of care and responsibility for the life of others who share the road is a serious problem. Instilling road discipline in our drivers is paramount for the safety of all road users.

 

Drivers of motor vehicles need to be responsible and realise, the moment he/she sits at the driver’s seat and holds the steering wheel you are in control of a piece of heavy equipment, at high speed is mere seconds from a potential innocent victim. Furthermore, speed, while greatly increasing the risk of serious crash, increases the odds of an accident and increases its severity.

 

A driver under the influence of alcohol is as deadly, and similarly at risk of serious accidents. The harmful influence alcohol has on the crucial decision to drive is great. Drinker’s self assessment about whether he/she can drive safely is critical. The deadly influence alcohol has on the driver is great. Alcohol impairs the drinker’s ability of self-assessment. Reduces the driver’s ability to react to things that happen suddenly. The alcohol also blurs vision, impairs attention and reflexes are slowed.

The road accidents having reached such a horrendous proportion, random measures to instil road discipline in errant drivers are not effective. Speeding, reckless driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol are the major causes of serious traffic accidents. The Police launching limited enforcement and special operations during festive seasons, and operations targeting certain Police areas or specific Traffic Rule violations, are not enough to address this tragedy. Police must implement comprehensive long term programmes, employing technology and modern devices to detect traffic rule violations and make roads safe for all road users.

According to Colombo Traffic Police, there are 106 CCTV cameras operating in Colombo and use 3 Mobile CCTV Surveillance Vans to monitor traffic. Surveillance of Colombo using the Road Safety Camera system alone is not sufficient. Road Safety Cameras; Red Light violation detecting cameras, and combined Red Light and Speed cameras can detect a host of Traffic Rule violations. Sri Lanka Police should seriously consider expanding this method of surveillance using the Road Safety Camera system countrywide.

Road Safety Cameras installed at intersections in all cities and major towns, at strategic locations and high risk roads along the country’s entire road network, would be a deterrent to speed maniacs, and other road rule violators who know they are being watched all day and night. These cameras can be used as both detective and preventive measures. It’s a 24/7 surveillance.

The camera captures a host of data including the vehicle number plate, date, time and location of the offence etc., sufficient to prove the offence committed by the driver. In addition, mobile cameras mounted on Police vehicles positioned at strategic locations, and hand held cameras, could be used to book speeding drivers and other road rule violations.

As for alcohol-impaired driving, the government can do more to reduce the number of drunk-driving instances. Couple of years ago the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) proposed to reduce the maximum Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of drivers; at present it is 0.08 grams per 100 mm, to 0.03 grams per 100 mm. There is no indication thus far of any initiative of the government taken in this regard. Australia and most European countries have the BAC level of drivers at 0.05. Norway and Sweden in Europe, and China has this level at 0.02, while in Russia it is 0.03. Canada, USA and some countries have it at 0.08.

The government could look into lowering the legal BAC level to 0.03 as proposed by the NATA. This approach would better respond to discouraging drunk-drivers. The government could also consider making instances of driving while exceeding the legally permitted BAC limit, a criminal offence; initially applying it to drivers exceeding the legally permitted BAC level and meeting with accidents, and finally extending to exceeding the permitted BAC level under any circumstances, a criminal offence.

Clearly, the law can’t work on its own. The key factor in the reduction of Traffic Rule violations is enforcement and stiff penalties. Police should be provided with technology and modern devices used in other Police Forces around the world. Police should be given authority to stop and demand to undergo testing from any driver at the roadside more often, rather than testing after accidents occurred.

 

RAJA WICKRAMASINGHE

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Opinion

Cross-disciplinary learning to meet graduates’ skills shortages

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has emphasized the importance of matching the skills acquired by University students with the demands of employers. Over the years, criticism has been directed at Humanities and Social Sciences programmes in local Universities, questioning their relevance to the needs of a developing economy. Besides, some of these graduates had problems finding jobs in the private sector. They have historically relied on public sector jobs, an expectation almost all recent governments have had to grapple with.

The employability of Humanities and Social Sciences graduates is not a puzzle unique to Sri Lanka. In Singapore, I encountered several contemporary students who feared their degrees were not well sought after by the industry. I have seen such students putting a lot of effort into studying a minor in fields of study that could give them an edge over their peers. A minor comprises a set of courses which helps a student to develop secondary expertise in addition to the degree requirements of one’s major field of study. Completing a minor is not compulsory in most cases, but it sends a positive signal to employers on the quality of their potential hire. Some of the most popular minors among my batch mates were Business, Computing, Economics, and Entrepreneurship. 

Promoting such cross-disciplinary learning could be an immediate solution to the expectation set by the President. Local Universities already possess resources to implement such programmes. It eliminates the need for a hurried overhaul of the curricula in universities. Most importantly, a rapid increase in the output of graduates with qualifications demanded by the industry, could just be the solution to the critical skills shortage faced by sectors such as Information Technology.

 

ARAVINDA KARUNARATNE
aravinda.uga@gmail.com

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Opinion

Depositors and Stock Exchange

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State Minister Nivard Cabraal recently requested Sri Lankans who have deposited money in banks and finance companies to use that money in shares on the Colombo Stock Exchange. Our ministers and officials who control state finances do not know that most of those depositors maintain those deposits not as investments. They live on the interest they receive monthly from those deposits.

Before 2015 too, Cabraal as Governor of CBSL and many others, encouraged those depositors to invest in shares, and many learnt the lesson as they were caught in the game of “pumping & dumping” by groups of some big fish. Cabraals are in a way hitting those depositors by ad-hoc reducing of interest rates, and now they ask them to follow the more easier path to think of committing suicide.

 Have the higher-ups in the government ever investigated why people maintain those deposits and how many use the interest they receive to meet their daily needs, before playing around with interest rates in order to please the borrowers and lessees?   

 

B PERERA

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