Women Bound to Muslim Law in Sri Lanka Seek Changes to End Discrimination


(Family law)

Muslims in Sri Lanka are obligated to comply with Muslim Law and a corresponding court system when it comes to marriage, inheritances and other personal matters, but women there say that system is discriminatory. Proposed changes to that law could end discrimination and give Muslim women a way out of abusive relationships.

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA — Zeenathul Razeena Ismail, 37, was 16 years old when she was married.

It was not a forced marriage. Ismail fell in love with her seaman husband when she first met him, but the marriage was arranged by the two families.

“My father signed the marriage register as required by the Muslim law,” Ismail says.

Ismail says her in-laws weren’t supportive of education, so she dropped out of school after the wedding. She was 17 years old when her son was born. Now, she also has two daughters.

Within a few years, Ismail says she saw that her husband was a spendthrift and a womanizer. Her family turned her out of their house because her husband’s behavior brought them shame, and she moved to Colombo to live with her in-laws.

“When his absence from home became longer, on enquiry I found that he had got married to another woman and was living away from us,” Ismail says.

Under Sri Lanka’s Muslim law, polygamy is allowed, but women who no longer live with their husbands aren’t guaranteed any type of support.

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