At a time when calls for reforming the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) are getting stronger, we find a devious move to scuttle the reform process altogether by some UK-based bigots obsessed with depriving our Muslim women here of a basic human right.
One such is the so-called ‘Strengthen MMDA’ movement and their mouthpiece, a woman going by the name of Shifana Sharifudeen who, instead of fighting for Muslim Rights in the UK, are championing a lost cause here.
The issue at heart here is the consent and legal capacity of a Muslim woman, to enter into a marriage contract at her own discretion. The present MMDA does not allow an adult Muslim woman even in her 30 s to contract a marriage without the permission of her Wali or ‘Marriage guardian’ who is an agnate relative, such as father or, in his absence, her brother. That this is a violation of a basic human right any reasonable person would agree.
The reforms envisaged include getting the written consent of the bride and from what we gather dispensing with the need for the marriage guardian to sign the marriage register. Proposed reforms put forth by more reasonably-minded Muslims include allowing the bride to appoint her wali rather than putting her at the mercy of an agnate in this connection. In fact, a proper study of Islam shows that the wali is actually an agent of the bride who contracts the marriage on her behalf and with her consent. This is why most Muslim countries have entrenched the right of the adult Muslim bride to contract marriage at her own discretion and appointing a wali, be it her relative or any other person of her choosing to do so. This meets the Islamic requirement and addresses a basic human rights concern.
It was in order to sabotage this move, that the reactionary group ‘Strengthen MMDA’ recently issues statements and videos against these changes. So let’s see what motivates these people to take such regressive actions in sabotaging the reform process. They have been told that Islam clearly upholds the right of a Muslim woman in this connection, a fact supported by both the Qur’an and the Sunnah, or traditions of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). So what motivates them?
We have plenty of these types in our community, insecure men who take pleasure in subjugating women and trampling on their very basic human rights. The only reason they do this is because they are thoroughly insecure about women making independent choices. This, of course, badly reflects on their manhood because it’s always a weaker, more vulnerable segment they want to trample and walk over, which is of course the women.
Another is a misplaced misogyny. They believe women are not intelligent enough to make a free choice in a matter like this. Of course we know that Muslim women today are actually more intelligent than Muslim men in a lot of ways and this becomes apparent in any social media platform to start with. It’s also pretty obvious in their educational level where in every university we have Muslim females outnumbering Muslim males. So this is not a valid argument at all.
Yet another is the immaturity of these men. When they think of an adult woman, they are always thinking in terms of a minor 16 year old girl and her eligibility in marriage. So basically these guys look at an adult woman with a head of her own as if she were a young girl entering sixteen or so. Even retarded is not sufficient a word to describe this mentality.
IMMATURE AND IRRESPONSIBLE WOMEN
At the same time we have some very immature, irresponsible women supporting the same. They believe that a Muslim woman should not be given the right to choose her partner. There are reasons for this of course and these only reflect their absolute immaturity.
Firstly, by assuming that their fellow women are not intelligent enough to make such an important decision, they are questioning the intelligence not only of other women, but their own intelligence as well. They are simply saying “Hey look, we don’t have the brain to make a choice, let my father or brother make it for me”.
Secondly, they are weak and pathetic. They think that when her kinsman gives her away, he would always be watching over her. In fact one argument I have heard is that when her kinsman consents to the marriage and gives her away, it implies he is giving her to the groom with a warning as well. That he’ll be coming after him if the marriage turns sour. What a pathetic argument. These types are so insecure even about the man they are marrying. Even when they enter into matrimony it is this that is in their heads. There is a lack of love and trust between her and her man because psychologically she is attuned to the fact that her guardian would stand up for her, even at the expense of her husband whom she is duty bound to love and obey. Which honourable, self-respecting man would want to live with a woman who has this attitude? Is it any wonder that the marriages of these immature women end up in the rocks?
Thirdly, they are utterly irresponsible. For one thing, if they are not happy with their men, they put the blame on their fathers or other relatives. In fact I know of one married woman who was having an affair with another man, and I questioned her about it, only to be told that her husband was NOT HER CHOICE, BUT HER FATHER’S. Imagine that, we now in Islam that both a man and woman freely enter into marriage on their own free will. If they commit adultery, they have a price to pay, and a heavy price at that. In other words, both spouses have a duty to safeguard the marriage bond, and to turn round and say after all those years “I did not have a choice” is pathetic to say the least!
For another, these women think that if the marriage turns sour or ends in divorce, they could always run back to the homes of their fathers or brothers because they were the ones who gave her in marriage in the first place. They need to ask themselves is this a healthy attitude they are having? Marriage is all about understanding the other and giving in and sacrificing. This of course works both ways. It is only when one learns and respects the likes and dislikes of the other, that the marriage can over time reach the equilibrium so necessary for its continued existence. So to disregard this ideal in place of a mistaken notion that they can always go back to their kinsmen and get another marriage contracted by them is unhealthy to married life to say the least. It is also an additional burden on their own menfolk, taking in such a fickle-minded woman.
So now you know what drives these people. Let alone marriage, they are not fit to exist in society!
Building trust, a better investment
The government has allowed private companies to import chemical fertilisers. The farmers had been holding many a street protest against the government’s blatantly unwise policy of shifting to organic farming overnight, but to no avail. The Minister concerned and others repeatedly said that they would not change the government’s decision as it had been made for the good of all the people. The farmers had no problem with organic farming but insisted that the transition had to be phased out to avoid serious adverse effects. But no! The government never relented and tried to show that the street protests were instigated by interested parties including chemical fertiliser companies, to make the government unpopular. The government insisted that chemical fertilisers have caused many ailments including the dreaded kidney disease and turned a deaf ear to the farmers’ grievances.
However, hot on the heels of Mr. Modi’s U-turn last week, the Minister has changed track and tells us that the government, being one which is always ‘sensitive to people’s concerns’, has decided to make chemical fertilizers available through private imports, but would not import them on its own or change its policy of going fully organic. Questioned by journalists, another ruling party spokesperson quipped that the government’s decision came about neither due to the Indian PM’s ‘example’ nor in response to the loud protests. It is a result of the discussions held within the party, he assured.
However, it is unfortunate that the government had to wait for more than seven months to be ‘sensitive to peoples’ concerns’. If the ruling party members had only taken a few minutes to watch TV news headlines, they would have proved their ‘sensitivity’ months earlier, not waiting for Mr. Modi to steal a march on them, so to speak. To any reasonable person, the government obviously has responded to the rampant protests that were actually the climax of a prolonged process, which began with pleading, explaining their predicament, reasoning, chest thumping, expressing disbelief, which gradually culminated in loud protests, burning of effigies and threatening to come to Colombo in numbers. Surely, Mr. Modi didn’t make it any easier for the government to justify its ‘sensitivity’ to farmers’ grievances!
Thus, to any reasonable person, the government had actually responded to the unbridled anger of the helpless farmers, not to their grievances. What’s more, looking at how the government had handled the previous issues of a controversial nature, it is hard to recall any instance where it promptly responded to people’s concerns; it was always a case of responding to people vehemently protesting as a last resort- be it the Port City issue, Eastern Terminal, Teachers’ salary or Yugadanavi Power Plant issue, not to mention the pathetic state of innocent villagers being perpetually traumatized by wild elephant attacks often taking their lives wantonly. In each of these cases, the government, wittingly or unwittingly, seemed to regard the voices of concern, not as appeals worthy of serious attention, but as attempts at disruption or politically motivated interventions. This, surely, does not augur well for the government or support its claim to ‘sensitivity’ as regards people’s concerns.
The government’s decision to compromise on its strict chemical fertiliser ban, which has come soon after Mr. Modi’s reversal of sorts, allows room for the discerning public to make obvious inferences, despite the government’s claim about its decision not being influenced by that of the Indian PM. In fact, the government reps have nothing to gain by pretending to blush when journalists suggest that they perhaps took a leaf from their neighbour. Even at this juncture, people’s representatives seem reluctant to prefer sincerity to affectation; hence the government’s growing aloofness, which is causing a “severe trust deficit”- to borrow a pithy phrase from The Island editorial of November 19.
As the representatives of the public, what any government needs to foster are sincerity and empathy. It is this tacit bond between the people and the government, which will consolidate trust in the long term. Being the party that holds power, the onus is on the rulers to secure people’s faith. Instead, every party that has come to power since Independence has always helped the Opposition to make a five yearly ‘ritual cleansing’ in the eyes of the people. So, the wheel turns.
Don’t harass whistle-blower
Thushan Gunawardena, who alerted the authorities and the media to a serious fraud taking at Sathosa should not be harassed by the Police as it is clear that he has no political motives and has acted in the public interest.
The Cabinet minister concerned is attempting to show a conspiracy against him when he has failed to prevent such frauds at Sathosa and let it continue as there were benefits flowing to him in addition to his being able to employ family members and manipulate the system for personal profit.
It is patently clear that he is trying to take the investigation in a different direction and prevent changes that would clean up the mess that is contributing to the massive losses at Sathosa.
Stanley (Sam) Samarasinghe
A TRIBUTE TO A PATRIOT
Even with the prior knowledge that the end was near, when the news of the passing away of Sam on the 23rd of November 2021 was conveyed to me, it was difficult to bear. Though living the better part of his adult life in the United States, to those with whom he had regular contact and dialogue, he was ever present. He succumbed to an illness that he bore with courage and fortitude for several years. In that time his enthusiasm to live his life to the full did not diminish. Except family and close friends none had even the slightest inkling that he was battling an invasive enemy within.
I have described Sam as a Patriot, if its definition is “one that loves his country and zealously maintains its interests”, then it fits him well, as he did that in full measure.
Having schooled in Kandy at Dharmarajah College, Sam completed a special degree in economics at the Peradeniya University where his father worked. Having being accepted by both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he turned to his mentor, Professor H. A. de S. Gunasekera, who had advised him to take Cambridge. He went there with his wife Vidyamali, whom he had met at Peradeniya and obtained his Ph.D. in Economics. They both returned to Peradeniya and Sam became a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics. He taught there until 1989, when he left for the United States with his wife and two sons, Mevan and Ranmal. He was appointed Professor of the Development Studies Programme at the USAID, a position he held for many years in Washington. But what is remarkable, is that he continued his abiding interest in the many facets of Sri Lankan life, especially in education and politics and of course, Kandy. He returned to Sri Lanka at least twice a year. While others would spend such breaks as a let up from work, Sam vigorously involved himself in many spheres of activity.
Along with Prof. Kingsley de Silva, he created the only intellectual hub outside of the Peradeniya University in Kandy at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES). As Director, he secured funding for many academic projects that the Centre did. Sam was instrumental in the ICES buying its own place and then constructing a tarred road leading to the Center. The way he set about it will give the reader an idea of the man Sam was. The road served at least 12 houses. He arranged a meeting of all the householders and sold them a deal that none could refuse. Each household was asked to pay proportionately to the distance from the main Peradeniya Road to their house. At the end of the exercise. Sam refunded the excess in that same proportion!!
Sam was an academic, researching and writing extensively, sometimes collaborating with other academics such as Prof. Kingsley de Silva and Prof. G.H. (Gerry) Peiris. On several occasions, he brought out his post graduate students from the Tulane University, New Orleans (where he was Visiting Professor of Economics) to Sri Lanka and to Kandy, arranged field trips and had them interact with academics and professionals.
His particular interest in Kandy made him do a study of its traffic congestion and organised a public seminar with other experts on the subject. As the President of the Senkadagala Lions Club, Sam obtained funding for many of its projects. In fact, Sam had a penchant for writing up project proposals, an expertise he ungrudgingly shared with anyone who asked for it. He started a monthly local newspaper in 1994, the “Kandy News”, becoming its Chief Editor and its main sponsor. The last issue was a special supplement done in the run-up to the Kandy Municipal Council election in 2018.
When the tsunami stuck the country in 2004, Sam was the lead Consultant of a World Vision programme designed to make a qualitative assessment of tsunami and non-tsunami villages from Kalutara in the Western Province to Kilinochchi in the Northern Province. A task he successfully completed with his team under the aegis of the ICES.
He was an advocate for cooperation and harmony among the races. His involvement in the post tsunami work in Jaffna and Trincomalee with the Lions Club is proof of that, as much as it was when he asked the guests to the nuptial reception of his son Mevan, not to give presents but to contribute towards the project initiated by Mevan and himself in giving school books and equipment to the Tamil Primary School at the Gomorra Estate in Panwila.
My own association with Sam goes back to the time I ran for office as Mayor in 1997. He threw his weight behind me helping out in ways too numerous to mention. That friendship grew and grew and it embraced my family as well. He would ask me to criticise his writing especially on politics. He was a stickler for accuracy and uncompromising on facts. His opinions were rational, practical and unbiased. A bubbly personality, he was always a believer that there are better times ahead. His enthusiasm was infectious. His criticism of events and people were never personal. There is much to take from the life and times of Sam Samarasinghe.
We share his loss with his wife, the two boys of whom he was justly very proud of and his siblings whose welfare he always had. The country is poorer for his passing.
May he find peace in Nibbana!
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