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Sri Lanka: What We Did Not Know

About ACJU

Public interest according to numerous prominent scholars

of Islamic jurisprudence is ensured by preserving
universal values such as justice, freedom, human dignity,
equality, life, property, etc.
by Farweez Imamudeen-Apr 26, 2017

( April 25, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) ACJUs latest

media statement on the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA)
does not mention anything about altering their previous position.
In other words they are still right. How can they not be? They are
the Jammiyathul Ulama The union of scholars. The statement
has changed nothing except to defend their infallible president.
Apparently according to the ACJU Rizvi Mufthis following
statement, Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) is perfect in
its present state, has been misinterpreted to mean that the
MMDA is perfect in its present state.
What he really meant according to the ACJU was, in their own
words, that our predecessors who were involved in formulating
the MMDA had taken great efforts to make it near perfect. Of
course, given the circumstances of that period. This does not
imply that there need not be any reforms today to the Act, mainly
in the administration of Quazi court system.
So there you go. It was our fault. We were silly to assume that he
meant what he said. The next time ACJU makes a public
statement read between the lines.
Rizvi Mufti is the current president of the ACJU : the apex body of
Islamic scholars of Sri Lanka. Thus he is considered the highest
authority in Islamic knowledge. He has been acknowledged as a
scholar undisputedly and unapologetically even by some of the
most eminent intellectuals in the island. However, the ultimate
question has never been raised; what is the credibility of the ACJU
and Rizvi Mufti? What are the criteria for scholarship to legislate in
Islam, and do the members of the ACJU meet those criteria? Are
they really scholars? As an intellectual body that is also granted
the privilege to legislate, what knowledge does the ACJU have
regarding law? Can a scholarly institution that refuses to
acknowledge and accommodate female intellectuals be trusted to
demonstrate equality?
Power in the wrong hands is dangerous and destructive. ACJUs
latest media statement is nothing but a clear sign of their bigotry.
It is incompetent to assume the gargantuan responsibility of
guiding a society because they lack both ethics and knowledge.
Like a child whose future is in danger in the hands of parents who
lack the ethical and intellectual capacities to guide him or her
needs to be taken away, and handed over to foster parents who
can act in the best interests of that child, so is the Sri Lankan
Muslim community now in need of a new foster home (Whether
we have such a foster home is a topic for another day, but the
point that I would like to stress is that we are in need of an
alternative scholarly body).
My intention here is to expose the ACJUs lack of knowledge in the
basics of Islamic jurisprudence, and the understanding of the
purpose of Islamic law which they have demonstrated time and
time again. Heres one of many instances where ACJU wrenched
off their illusive scholarly garb, and exposed their ignorance and
Justice Marsoof, the former supreme court judge and the head of
the 16 member committee appointed in 2009 to Consider and
Propose Reforms to the Muslim Matrimonial Law and Upgrading of
Qazi Courts in Sri Lanka speaking to Daily News on the
22nd March of 2017 said,
In our meeting on March 19, we asked the ACJU how we could
use the concept of public interest to develop the law when
reforming it, a subject we have been reading on widely and seen
several Muslims adopt to their own law making. But the ACJU
was unaware of it so they have asked one months time to study
it. We are to then meet the Fatwa Committee of the ACJU on April
30 to discuss it.
Public interest or Maslaha in Arabic is a principle of Islamic
jurisprudence which is derived from the fundamental source of
Islamic jurisprudence; the Quran. A simple definition of it would
be That which leads to good. In Islamic jurisprudence a purpose,
or in other words the purpose of a law, ruling or legal code that
does not lead to the fulfilment of some good (Maslaha), or the
avoidance of mischief or evil is invalid.
According to Dr.Jasser Auda, a scholar in the subject of Islamic
jurisprudence, Maslaha or public interest is the purpose/ goal
maqsid in Arabic of Islamic laws. In other words a law that is in
contradiction with public interest is no law at all.(1)
After making a shameless public display of their lack of
knowledge in such a crucial principle in Islamic jurisprudence,
ACJU had the audacity to issue the following media statement on
their website on the 3rd of April 2017 implying that they knew the
meaning of public interest which they clearly did not.
The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) ever since its
establishment has always taken a very flexible and moderate
approach, within the framework of Shariah and the
greater public interest, when consulting on any issue(2)
Public interest according to numerous prominent scholars of
Islamic jurisprudence is ensured by preserving universal values
such as justice, freedom, human dignity, equality, life, property,
The late former Justice of the Supreme Court of Srilanka and vice
president of International Court of Justice in Hague,
C.G.Weeramantry in his book Islamic Jurisprudence: An
International Perspective, cites an interesting example of how
certain Muslim majority countries have derived laws from the
Quran based on the notion of women rights which is a part of
public interest.
The permissibility of polygamy under the rules of Islam has been
one of the bases of severe attack by its critics. The relevant
Quranic passage runs, You may marry two, three or four wives
but not more. The passage goes on to declare, but if you
cannot deal equitably and justly with all, you shall marry only
one. The word equitably has been explained by jurists as
meaning not merely equality in lodging, clothing and necessaries,
but also equity in love, affection and esteemon their
interpretations of this verse many Islamic communities recognize
monogamy as the norm.
It should be noted that the clauses qualifying polygamy are
reinforced also by the Quranic passage, you will not be able to be
equitable between your wives even though you be eager to do so
(4:129). It is noteworthy that Tunisia adopted the rule of
monogamy on the basis of this clause and that Muhammad Abduh
(d.1950) the reformer and Grand Mufti of Egypt often said that no
husband can be just to more than one wife under modern living
conditions (Khadduri, 1978).
What follows is an astonishing revelation,
Majid Khadduri places this whole matter in an interesting
perspective when he asks whether the Quranic law was meant to
confirm the principle of polygamy or to reform it by imposing
qualitative and quantitative restrictions on its practice. He
suggests that the Quranic law concerning marriage, rather than
intending to ratify the widely prevalent practice of polygamy,
sought to reform it as far as was possible at the time. The
ultimate intent of the Prophet, according to his view, was to
transform marriage from a polygamous to a monogamous
relationship. The ultimate objective of Quranic marriage law, then
was to legitimate monogamy, rather than to endorse polygamy
Thus it is the authors argument that the principle of gradual
reform in the interest of the public is what is intended by this
verse. This principle of gradual reform can be found in many
places in the Quran such as in the different stages through which
alcohol was eventually prohibited.
Again it is in the interest of the public that monopoly is prohibited
in Islam, because monopoly does not allow fair trade. The
merchant is in a position where he can raise the prices and
control the supply of goods at his own will. Such a practice leads
to injustice, inequality and all sorts of corruption.
It is because of Maslaha or public interest that some
contemporary scholars question even the ethical narrative behind
the concept of Islamic banking. Dr.Tariq Ramadan, a professor of
contemporary Islamic studies at the Oxford University writes in
his book Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation,
The dominant neoliberal economy cares little about cosmetic
adjustments and has no difficulty in integrating them into its
business plan. Thus, the experiences, techniques, and
terminology of Islamic finance are being studied and integrated
by great international banks (HSBC, Credit Suisse, City Bank, etc)
not because this constitutes an efficient alternative, but because
the Islamic label opens new markets. The dominant logic of all-
out profitability integrates in its dynamic all the initiatives which,
by presenting themselves as alternatives or resistances to its own
logic, open new and particularly profitable markets. This is a
perversely vicious cycle: one has to suggest labels, change the
terminology, and adapt the techniques. The garb is ethical but the
content (i.e., obsession with return and profit) is exactly the same:
the operation is nothing more than an exercise in pure marketing
techniques. (4)
Therefore Islamic banking might not be as Islamic as it sounds
after all for one simple reason; instead of serving the public
interest, what it is serving is a neo liberalist agenda. The neo-
liberalists are after only one thing; profits. Thus it is still the wolf,
but in sheeps clothing, and we fall for anything that looks like a
sheep, anything that has an Islamic label like Arabic or the beard.
Numerous examples can be found throughout the history of Islam
where the principle of Maslaha was used to devise laws, but they
are never more apparent than during the reign of Umar (AD
7th century); the second caliph and the companion of Prophet
Muhammad. He understood that a prophetic injunction that deals
with worldly matters is not to be taken literally, for he knew that
the rationale or wisdom is what is to be derived from a ruling and
not its literal application.
Dr.Jasser Auda who is an expert in Islamic law, narrates the
following interesting incident from the life of Umar in his book
Maqasid Al Shariah: A beginners guide,
Another incident, which shows a more serious consequence of
taking a purpose-oriented approach to the prophetic instructions
occurred during the days of Umar, the second caliph. The status
of Umar in Islam and his continuous and wide-ranging
consultation of a large number of Companions, make his opinions
of special significance. In this incident, the Companions asked
Umar, to distribute the newly-conquered lands of Egypt and Iraq
amongst them as some sort of spoils of war. Their argument
relied on the clear and specific verses of the Quran that allowed
fighters their spoils of war. Umar refused to divide whole cities
and provinces over the Companions by referring to other verses,
with more general expressions,stating that God has a purpose of
not making the rich dominate wealth. Therefore, Umar (and the
Companions who supported his opinion) understood the specifics
of the verses of spoils of war within the context of a certain
purpose (maqsid) of the law. This purpose was, diminishing the
difference between economic levels, to use familiar
contemporary terms. (5)
It is in this context we need to understand how and why the ACJU
has legalised child marriages despite the overwhelming evidence
in the Quran, and the life of Prophet Muhammad against such an
abominable practice which I intend to address in another article.
ACJU is an organization that is run by a group of individuals who
claim to have attained scholarship in the sciences of Islam.
However, as we have seen they fall way short of the basic
qualifications that are required to legislate. Public interest or
Maslaha as we have seen is an important principle in Islamic
jurisprudence. How can a group of scholars who seem to be
devising laws be oblivious to, and ignorant of such a basic
principle? How can they be granted authority to represent a
However ACJU cannot be held entirely accountable for this fiasco,
for the Muslim intellectual community including those who claim
to be moderates have remained silent critics throughout this
great tragedy. They have seen and heard how the ACJU has been
misrepresenting Islam, their bigotry and ignorance, yet they have
abstained from criticising the ACJU, from making them
accountable for their irresponsible behavior, and they seem to not
care about a viable alternative.
It is high time that we came to terms with the fact that the ACJU is
not really a Jamiyyatul Ulama Union of scholars. We should be
appalled by the realization that the Muslims of this country are
represented by a group of people who have not the basic
knowledge in Islamic jurisprudence. Change does not happen until
those who are hungry for it make some noise. The ignorant have
an excuse to be ignorant, but the sane have none to be silent.

1. Maqasid al Shariah A beginners guide by Dr.Jasser Al Auda,

3. Islamic Jurisprudence: An International Perspective by
4. Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation.Dr.Tariq
Ramadan (p.244)
5. Maqasid Al Shariah: A beginners guide by Dr.Jasser Al Auda
Posted by Thavam