MUSLIM ATTITUDES UNDERMINING RELIGIOUS PLURALISM AND
NATIONAL UNITY IN SRI LANKA
Dr. Daya Hewapathirane
All ethnic and cultural groups within society are not equal and therefore need not be treated in the same way. All people do not hold the same values. The foundation of our nation, its societal norms and values originates from the Sinhala Buddhist heritage. Whether we choose to live as Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay or Burger, or as Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Christians or atheists, our right to do so is derived from this heritage and associated way of life where religious pluralism has been an essential element. In spite of attempts by European colonial powers for over four hundred years, to undermine the nation’s indigenous culture, and other challenges faced during the decades of Tamil terrorism in the country, the fundamental elements of our national culture prevailed. That gave our nation its distinct identity and character. In recent years, it is clearly noticeable from their attitude and actions, that the Muslim community in our country has posed a threat to our national culture and way of life.
Fundamentals of Islam
There is clear evidence of disregard and disrespect on the part of most Muslims, for the Buddhist cultural heritage of our country. There is evidence of destruction of archeological and historic cultural monuments and remains, especially in areas inhabited by Muslims. The fundamentals of ‘Islam’ that are being widely propagated by the Muslims have serious negative implications as far as the national culture is concerned. The younger generation of Muslims are being brainwashed with these Islamic fundaments in the so called ‘Madrasas or exclusively Muslim schools that have sprung up in the country. Their attire has changed and reflects their inclination to be exclusive and separate from the nation’s mainstream. This separation of the Islamic community is self-imposed and is not because they feel marginalized but because Islam’s teachings say that non-Muslims are inferior to Muslims. To closely associate non-Muslims is forbidden or ‘haram’ according to the Koran. Islam has dualistic ethics with one rule for Muslims and one rule for non-believers who form the majority of Sri Lankans. There is no exception to this rule. It is ironical that although Muslims do not donate blood as, according to them, it is forbidden in Islam, they freely use the blood of non-Muslims when in need for medical purposes. The rules of Islam govern politics, marriage and the day-to-day lives of its followers.
In fact, Islam is a political ideology where the church and state are not separate. Under the circumstances, one cannot expect Muslims to develop a sense of patriotism and national pride in a predominantly non-Muslim country such as ours. This may be cited as an explanation for Muslims of Sri Lanka cheering Pakistani at the cricket match held some time ago between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Islamic community in Sri Lanka is a small non-indigenous minority amounting to about 8% of the total population. Despite their small numbers they enjoy many special privileges. They are represented as a part of the nation by means of the green stripe in the National Flag of the country. All important Muslim religious days have been declared as National holidays. There are National Schools assigned to Muslims. Muslims are permitted to have schools exclusively for Muslim children in several towns across the country. In recent years, Muslims have established exclusive schools popularly known as Madrasas where the teaching of the Koran and related subjects such as Muslim Shariah law are the focuses. They have also established International Schools in several towns, where the student population is almost exclusively Muslim.
Most Muslims do not appear to be interested in integrating with other communities, perhaps because assimilation is not permitted under Islamic Shariah law. They rarely if at all participate in national events. They do not participate in the singing of the National Anthem in public events. They do not observe the traditional national way of greeting by placing both hands together in the form of worship. Muslim children are taught not to worship their teachers in schools like other non Muslim children who form the majority. In recent years Muslims have imported the black outfit for Muslim women and the white cloak-like outfit for men. This makes them look totally different to others in the country. Why they want to look different is a big question, but this type of actions has a divisive effect on society and undermines national unity, harmony and assimilation.
It is a well evident fact that Muslim leaders and most Muslim professionals are focused on furthering the interests of their Muslim community rather than society as a whole. It is time that Muslims invested more on hospitals, schools and other national social welfare activities and contributed tangibly for infrastructure development activities that benefit everyone and not necessarily the Muslim community.
It is time that Muslim establishments refrain from exclusively hiring Muslims, especially for responsible positions in their establishments. There have been many instances of Muslim encroachment of places that are of Buddhist historic value, and the destruction of Buddhist monuments and items of archeological value in the Eastern Province in particular. This definitely has to stop. If Muslims are involved in the illicit drug trade as often reported in the media, this is national crime and has to stop.
Being an Active Part of the Nation
Muslims should consider it their duty to participate more actively in national events such as the National day festivities and other important national events and international events as Sri Lankans and cheer Sri Lanka and rejoice in their international attainments in all fields including cricket and sports in general. The indigenous cultural norms and values upon which this nation is founded should be well understood and respected by all citizens of this country, irrespective of their religious or other affiliations.
Although forming a mere 8% of the total population of the country, Muslims are accorded religious holidays as public holidays in our country. They are represented in the national flag of Sri Lanka with a green belt. Most importantly, there are no restrictions in Sri Lanka for the construction of mosques in predominantly Sinhala areas. It is a well known fact that Muslim countries do not permit even the display of a Buddha image, let along building Vihares. In activities connected with Muslim mosques, especially in early morning prayers using load speakers, the Muslims should pay more attention to the comforts and conveniences of the non-Muslim neighbors.
Gratitude for the Opportunities Afforded
A good part of buildings and land in most urban areas in the country, especially in predominantly Sinhala areas are owned today by Muslims. No comparable minority in any major country in the world have been given such preposterous benefits, which are not rights but ridiculously high privileges enjoyed by the Muslims and Tamil settler minorities in our motherland. Since the privileges of one person can only be had at the expense of the rights of another, this shows that, in fact, it is the indigenous Sinhalas, who account for more than 70% of the population, who are discriminated against in Sri Lanka.
After securing so much from the country, and from the majority Sinhala community who had all along provided them with hospitality and generosity, it is disappointing to see many Muslim leaders and Muslim people of today, especially those living in the Eastern province having the audacity and ingratitude to claim autonomy for the lands that they are occupying in predominantly Muslim areas. Do they realize that some of these lands were given to them by Sinhala kings and governments led by Sinhala leaders.
Inciting Violence Against Buddhists
It was not long ago that Islamic fundamentalists and armed Muslim extremists were inciting violence against legitimate Buddhist activities in the East - Pottuvil region. Muslims were forcibly encroaching upon land that rightfully belongs to Buddhist temples on the southeast coast. They were demolishing some archeological sites of Buddhist significance in the East. Also, the Sri Lanka Muslims Congress and several Islamic groups of our country had the audacity to oppose the construction of Buddha’s statues on the island’s southeast coast.
In recent years there have been many incidents that involved disagreements between the Muslim community members and the Sinhala people. There had been protests by Sinhala Buddhist nationalists urging the Government to crack down on Islamic groups that are opposing the construction of Buddha’s statues in some towns and villages on the island’s southeast coast. Hundreds of Buddhist monks and their lay supporters demonstrated against “anti Buddhist activities of Muslim extremists”.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and several civil society groups have opposed the construction of Buddha’s statues on the southeast coastal areas which were predominantly Buddhist areas in the recent past and which have Buddhist historic monuments and important archeological remains which are part of the cultural wealth of the nation. The protestors claimed in a memorandum submitted to the Buddha Sasana Ministry that Islamic fundamentalists and armed Muslim extremists were inciting violence against legitimate Buddhist activities in the Pottuvil region. According to the Memorandum, the Muslims are forcibly taking land that rightfully belongs to Buddhist temples on the southeast coast.
Need to Protect Cultural Traditions of the Nation
As a nation with a historic cultural tradition that extends to over 2200 years, where freedom, compassion, tolerance and accommodation of people of all faiths and ethnicities have been the founding principles, it is necessary that we as a nation take necessary steps to protect and preserve these noble and wholesome cultural traditions. We cannot allow them to be undermined under any circumstances.
There has to be an open dialogue with leaders of the Muslim community on the need for all communities to develop respect towards the social values and norms of other communities inhabiting this land and to join the mainstream of the nation and not pursue policies and activities that would jeopardize the quality of life and stability of our nation.
Today there is increased interest in general, in the country, for the consolidation of national unity. Under the circumstances, divisive tendencies of any nature should not be encouraged or tolerated for that matter. With our massive success in containing Tamil terrorism and our determined efforts to bring the various communities together as One Nation, it is important that divisive tendencies in our society be eliminated. This is especially necessary in the light of a national resurgence that is clearly noticeable in the country at the present time and increased interest in fully restoring democratic principles of social organization. It is important that we try to prevent polarization tendencies in communities living in Sri Lanka. This has to be done by all means available and all communities are duty bound to see that this happens for the benefit of everyone that calls Sri Lanka their motherland.
ඉස්ලාමයට ඔබේ විරෝධය පල කරන්න
අපිට හලාල් මැලිබන් එපා!
හම්බයෝ, ද්රෝහියො පන්නන පෙත්සම