Buddhist fears are yet to be allayed “¦.but getting closer – Response to Hameed Abdul Karim
Posted on January 31st, 2013
It is welcome to see the toning down of Mr. Karim’s expressions of opinion and extending friendly gestures, therefore let me reciprocate whilst also appreciating the Daily News editor who has accommodated both our views allowing readers to see both sides of the story. The lovely sketches courtesy of the editorial staff carry a deeper meaning for all of us. In a democratic society this is certainly the best way to move forward.
Let us approach the discussion on the presumption that there is a problem. All problems offer solutions so long as honest and genuine attempts are made to ensure that there is no repetition to what caused the present unrest. In most cases, conflict arises from the ignorance that certain practices seemingly natural to some may be the cause of concern for others. When knowingly or unknowingly people start disregarding others sensitivities and trespassing on others space and territory which were traditionally considered as sacred and belonging to the older culture, issues begin to rise.
This appears to be the root issue of the current unrest.
Before, I proceed any further, I would like to invoke the message in the karaniya metta sutra where the Buddha calls on humanity to be compassionate to all living beings in a manner similar to a mother showing love and kindness to her only child.
This is one of the greatest declarations made in the history of human kind.
Let us now take a step back and look at it from a “what if” scenario.
- What if Muslims who had been eating halal as they have for a good length of time (with no objections from any community) did not introduce the need to issue halal certificates and for companies to obtain and display certificates – would people be protesting against halal? The current reaction is as a result of people opposing to see halal labels in everything they purchase. If the certificate is today considered a “right” perhaps the best compromise is to have separate halal counters like the kosher products for Jews. It does not need to be a compulsory certificate for all food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals for the entire nation. Two of the six top hotels in close proximity to each other in Colombo cater exclusively to Muslim requirements “”…” now no non-Muslim will ever enjoy such freedom in a Muslim state. The halal certificate was introduced as a response to Jewish Kosher products and with 1.8billion halal consumers the halal business is worth more than $60billion annually. Moreover without direct State involvement it is tax-free and profits go directly to the companies issuing the certificate. (http://www.worldhalalcouncil.com/about-us)
- What if Muslims had not been illegally putting up mosques or encroaching on lands (ex: in Ampara district the 2000 year old Muhudumaha Vihara where 200 acres had been gifted by the Sinhalese Kings, or the Kurugala incident which has a history dating back to the 2nd century BC which the Muslims have taken over and four other places south of Kirinda). Some Muslims contributors have said that putting up mosques has become a competition and some are not even used. In the current context sense must prevail in view of the rising opposition against more mosques – a solution to this is a moratorium to put up future mosques because we do not want to have a situation similar to France, Germany and the UK. If Mr. Kareem argues against this, can he please name even 5 temples/kovils/Churches newly put up in a Muslim country.
- Dambulla and Anuradhapura comprise historically sacred land areas. The supposed “mosque” in Anuradhapura was only an aluminum (“ƒ”¹…”takarang’) shed round a tree with a green cloth at the bottom of the tree. The scene was vividly shown on TV and it can be still seen on YouTube. The shed had been hastily put up without any prior approval from the authorities. It was discovered when the area was being cleared for a new Buddhist Dagoba i.e. Jayamaha Seya, in the vicinity. It was the public that opposed the unlawful constructions in sacred areas gifted by Buddhist kings to the Buddha Sasana, it was the Buddhist public who had got agitated because they saw Muslims as attempting to enter areas that were earmarked as sacred Buddhist areas by tradition and customary law. Thus the protests were due to the respect for traditional heritage and territory being violated. When Government officials and police arrived there was hardly anyone at the site to speak in defense or provide any documents showing legal title to this “ƒ”¹…”shed’. The Government Official responsible had no hesitation in giving the order to the Police to demolish this unlawful and unauthorized construction. The demolition was a valid and legitimate exercise carried out by the State.
- What if Muslims had not been abusing the use of the loudspeakers? The loudspeakers are a recent innovation and came into use perhaps in the last 30 years at Muslim mosques. The loudspeakers by their very nature are meant to be used only on special occasions and certainly not on a daily basis five times a day every day. The right to freedom of worship is not an absolute right. It is only a qualified right. Nobody has a right to cause harm to another (human or animal) under the guise of exercising freedom of worship. One’s freedom ends when pain begins. The right to silence is deeply entrenched in any civilized society. It is one of the most fundamental of human rights. It is associated with the right to be left alone and right to sleep undisturbed. These basic rights are infringed with the use of the loudspeaker. The original complaint on loudspeakers arose following rifts between Muslims in Weligama that led to the matter coming before the Supreme Court as a FR. Be that as it may, the majority of non-Muslims who do not believe in a God do not welcome being forced to listen to calls to prayer to God through loudspeakers at different times of the day. Just as Muslims in majority Muslim countries would not like being forced to listen to Buddhist pirith over loud speakers the same must apply in reverse as well.
The Supreme Court interim order issued in 2007 required the consent of the neighbourhood to be obtained before Police gives permission for use of the loudspeaker and more importantly if a loudspeaker were to be used at a mosque, it had to be directed inwards and not outwards. However, the Supreme Court orders are not being honored. Buddhism is a philosophy of silence and reflection; it is not a religion of loudspeakers. We must all try not to compete to make the biggest noise using loudspeakers in the name of religion because it is a public nuisance to everyone. Countries like Australia and Singapore have banned the use of loudspeakers. Use of a loudspeaker is not a fundamental right””…” reducing the decibel in not sufficient a solution either.
Supreme Court Interim Order to Control Noise Pollution.
http://www.island.lk/2007/11/10/news9.html. It is not only in Sri Lanka that the issue of loudspeaker has arisen. What excuse can Mr. Kareem give for building a mosque in Buddha Gaya close to the Maha Bodhi temple recently and using loudspeakers where the sound emanating from the mosque affects the proceedings of the temple and Buddhists in prayer? “”…” Is this not directly targeting the Buddhist sensitivity?
- What if there was no requirement to pave way for Sharia courts, laws, banking etc? Muslim weddings, divorce and other Muslim-only customs has been practiced without objections from others. The people do not want to face a situation like in Malaysia where rulings of Sharia courts can overrule that of civil courts. Whatever excuses are given, there is no requirement to have parallel courts in Sri Lanka. Customs can continue as has happened. If Sharia Law champions for absolute freedom of conscience and freedom of religion why can’t people put up a temple, kovil of church in Saudi Arabia and other majority Muslim nations? Why does Malaysia have an Article in its Constitution clearly saying that Sharia Law can overrule rulings of civil courts? The truth is that whilst allowing the other religions of the book that existed to prevail all Muslim majority nations have stringent laws prohibiting new construction or expansions? If Sharia is the law that all Muslims must follow when questions are raised on its application the answer that is given is not to denounce the law but the country that applies it “”…” as Mr. Kareem has done in the case of Saudi Arabia?
Let’s recap to 1915.
The riots resulted because coastal Moor settlers in Gampola started building mosques along the existing perahera route, they had bribed the police to stop drumming when the perahera was passing the mosques. The riots were a reaction to several acts that Muslims (newly settled Coastal Moors) had committed violating hitherto sustained mutual understanding between the Muslims and Buddhists, and unwritten laws of respect and tolerance. The riots were primarily as a result of the newly settled Coastal Moors not being aware of the Buddhist ethos of the land which eventually contributed to the civil unrest that ensued.
Fast forward to present “”…” similar actions over a period of time have created the reactions. The external force was the British in 1915 but today we cannot overrule multitude of external forces attempting to create disharmony.
There is a whole chain of actions that Mr. Kareem has to agree is what has led to the reactions. Whether the reactions should not have been violent is secondary to the fact that these incidents are as a result of violations that have taken place. The factuality of these violations must take precedence in any discussion and solution and not be sidelined by only concentrating on the reactionary elements. Both are certainly wrong and should not be permitted.
The response nevertheless has been to quickly use the biased media in Sri Lanka to project that there is a deliberate racist and discriminatory attack on Muslims in Sri Lanka. These channels neglect to investigate background issues thoroughly to explain why the reactions occurred because their objective is to use any and every instance to demonize the Government and the Sinhalese Buddhists.
Now we come to the question of non-violence. Certainly no religion would ever advocate violence and Mr. Kareem will agree that all religions except for Buddhism and Hinduism have a history of invading nations using religion. No conquests of new territory have taken place because of Buddhism/Hinduism or in the name of Buddhism/Hinduism.
Violence on Buddhist heritage has been sequential. It is certainly an organized event. Who is behind this is as important as the fact that the objective was to wipe out all traces of Buddhism. With that fait accompli it offers little solace in apologies or sympathies post-destruction. It makes little difference too whether the violence was done by Christians, Hindus or even Muslims because the objective of annihilating history was achieved.
We next come to equality and Mr. Kareem’s example of Vesak and Poson held at the Sri Lanka embassy gently extinguishes the reality. If the Sri Lankan Embassy was allowed to display wesak pandols outside the complex or even outside the residences of staff members or hold a mini perahera for the 500,000 Sri Lankans in Saudi Arabia then it would be a different story. It is not only the public worship of a non “”…” Islamic religion that is forbidden but that Buddhists are not permitted even to carry a Buddhist book, statue or any Buddhist symbol e.g. Wesak Card, when entering these countries. Maldives which was a virtually a colony of the Sinhalese in the distant past with Buddhism being the major religion has now erased Buddhism even from their Museums and confiscate any Buddhist item taken by a Sri Lankan at their airports. The GOSL cannot allow our countrymen to be harassed in such manner and the External Affairs Ministry through its diplomatic channels must take up this matter with the Maldivian Government without delay.
The topic of dress code was brought up to show our surprise at why ladies are adapting to tribal dress codes in this modern era and this change is visible across the world though none of the Borah ladies have changed their attire. Through this attire we feel that Muslims are attempting to segregate themselves on the footing of a separate identity. It is these new conducts, attitudes and practices that are seen as the seed of a future problem “”…” because generally speaking people respond to others in the manner they conduct themselves. We have all heard of the saying “”…” “When in Rome do as the Romans do”.
Mr. Kareem concludes that the weblinks sent are anti-Islam or run by Zionists therefore let me know if the Huffington Post, the IBTimes and the Center for Democracy and Human Rights also falls into this category or if there is any website that gives a version that Muslims are ready accept or suffice it for us to conclude that the world is totally at fault for projecting Islam as a religion of violence.
And maybe this video too is another conspiracy http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2263905/Muslim-patrol-Hooded-vigilantes-walking-streets-London-telling-women-cover-taking-alcohol-hands-revellers-behave-Islamic-way.html
Mr. Kareem is also requested to provide the reference in the Mahavamsa that says that Muslims had been trading in the country from Anuradhapura times. As far as I know, there was no Muslim/Islam in Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa. It was only in 1283AD, that a Muslim delegation had been given approval by King Bhuwanakabahu I of Yapahuwa to go to Egypt. It was during this period that the Muslims from Coromandel coast of South India invaded Sri Lanka. These defeated soldiers were however allowed to remain in Sri Lanka and went on to settle north west of Sri Lanka. Even Ibn Batuta when he arrived in 1344 was not given an audience before the King. Therefore, Mr. Kareem’s attempt to showcase that Muslims/Islam existed during Anuradhapura reign to justify the existence of the mosque at the center of controversy does not hold water. “The Sinhala kings in Action” – http://www.dailynews.lk/2009/12/16/fea10.asp should not escape anyone’s reading to understand the chivalry and intelligence with which the Sinhala kings ruled Sri Lanka. It is advised not to create or change history for political advantage.
Mr. Kareem needs to also be corrected that Buddhism does not spend for conversions.
Next we come to the “ethnic” political parties. Political parties were formed along extremist lines by both Tamils and Muslims “”…” JHU entered the scene much later again as a reactionary force. We are all the time concerned about how “nationalist” motivated these parties are. Majority of Tamil parties are seeking to either separate and putting out a plethora of vocabulary that leads to the same target.
Our next concern is how valid is the Oluvil Declaration of 2003 issued by the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress in today’s context of things. (Sunday Leader – 9th February 2003, Volume 9, Issue 30). http://www.thesundayleader.lk/archive/20030209/issues.htm
1. Muslim autonomy ensured in any federal solution
2. Muslims entitled to equitable share in all resources for development
3. Muslim political leadership must unite
4. Muslims must be represented as a separate entity at peace talks
5. Final political settlement must have consent of Muslims
Are these not grounds for concern in view of the nature of the demands being made amidst a very large congregation? Of course these demands made unanimously were relevant to the Muslims living in the northern and eastern provinces but do we not have a right to worry as well as voice our concerns “”…” in a democratic nation no one can deny that right? No one wants to have a country facing unwanted strife and why would the Sinhalese wish to create trouble when it is they who end up facing most of the problems “”…” we did loose over 30,000 armed forces personnel.
Mr. Kareem’s arguments project a view that Islam is being abused. That violence takes place in the name of sectarian conflicts throughout the Muslim world is true. Numerous sectarian issues have taken place in Eastern Sri Lanka as well. I believe we can recall how a Muslim was not allowed to be buried some time back in the Eastern province.
Mr. Kareem needs to accept that whatever excuses given Muslims are having problems in every nation or people are having problems with Muslims “”…” either way, there is a problem. I do not think that the Buddhists in Sri Lanka are asking Muslims to be accountable for the behaviors of “Muslims” in other countries. No one is asking Muslims to defend the indefensible but to see how best they can address the concerns in Sri Lanka. Moreover, I do not think Sri Lanka has a problem with Sufis’ but only with groups that are out to forcefully dominate Muslims and non-Muslims. Wahhabism is a concern to a large number of people throughout the world including the Sinhalese Buddhists of Sri Lanka. Just as it is a concern for Muslims it is a concern for the rest of the world including Buddhists too. Mr. Kareem may like to respond to this link
Sri Lanka is one of few countries where Buddhism is revered and protected whilst some of these very Buddhist majority countries like Myanmar and Thailand are facing similar threats that Sri Lanka does not want to experience if left neglected.
No one can deny the high status given to Buddhism in Sri Lanka under the rule of 180 kings. The multicultural ploys to usurp and marginalize the status of Buddhism is nothing that can no longer be entertained by the Buddhists of this country. http://english.srilankamirror.com/2012/05/we-are-fighting-to-save-the-2300-year-old-buddhist-heritage-that-is-ours/ More importantly, for the Sinhalese Buddhists, Sri Lanka is their birthright “”…” their only heritage and place of refuge.
In short the Buddhists do not want to see Sri Lanka “softly usurped”.
The course, I take is not violent but to bring to the open issues that would offer both sides the opportunity to think inward because the voice of the Buddhists is suppressed and put into the background by a biased media. It is no exaggeration to say that Buddhists do not receive the same opportunities to air their views and opinions that media provides to non-Buddhists.
It has become media-savvy to quickly flood the electronic and print media demonizing the Buddhists as racists and extremists because the mass media is virtually owned and controlled by non-Buddhists. Since the examples are too many, an example relevant to the discussion is the Sacred Land Act, a bill introduced to Parliament in 2011 has been quickly diverted to project the view that the Act has nothing to do with protecting sacred land and so an over-active media drums this version and the Act is purposely put into the background by the negative buildup.
If media had balanced the issues as an unbiased media should even the LTTE issue could have been dealt with better. If not for the present Daily News editor, the dialogue that has prevailed would not have happened. The other daily private newspapers hardly carry anything related to Buddhist issues or give space to Buddhist opinion apart from the monthly poya supplement “”…” this too is no exaggeration.
No one can accuse the Buddhists of discrimination or disrespect of other religions. If the country had been as rigid as projected there would be no occasion to protest against the many mosques that have been established and others now been constructed in an uncontrolled and rapid manner.
If Buddhists respect the right of other religions to exist and their adherents are allowed to practice their religion unhindered, then people belonging to other religions must respect the status and place of Buddhism as non-negotiable by virtue of Article 9 of the Sri Lanka Constitution and its foremost place in the history of the country.
The sentiments that have been expressed in these past discussions were to bring to the attention of all that communities to live in peaceful co-existence must respect the traditional space of others which is not a prescriptive right especially in times of national security. It is when infringements and encroachments take place that issues arise and open room for external forces to make the situation worse.
Thus, mutual respect of traditions, practices and most of all space will help solve all issues of present and future.
We do not have to take the road other countries have taken nor repeat the route that the LTTE took which was why I took the most sensible path of bringing these issues to light so that in the open and with issues transparent solutions can be reached with wisdom.
Having said that, it is the authorities that have failed in their role “”…” the Government, in particular the municipalities and provincial councils should have been doing their job without favor. Illegal constructions take place under the very noses of the authorities and sometimes with their explicit knowledge whilst these very people create nightmares for ordinary citizens wanting to build a simple house.
It cannot be reiterated enough that the authorities need to review the rules and guidelines and follow these to the word and the public too must be afforded opportunity whereby their concerns are heard as well without bias. No illegal construction must be allowed to prevail under any circumstances.
Since the discussion started with a “what if” scenario turning the tables around Mr. Kareem and others can ponder a situation where what if the Buddhists did not protest against any increase of mosques, did not make their views known on halal, sharia laws and other associated systems, did not object to loudspeakers, did not alert people to radicals indoctrinating youth, did not protest against home slaughter, animal sacrifice and halal methods of slaughter allowing animals to bleed to death without stunning them”¦. what if the entire country remained silent and allowed all these and more to take place since we get loans, since we get a vote of international support etc? Is this the solution that would satisfy all?
Most of the recent issues have stemmed from the absence of proper visibility and legality “”…” it is now the time to look inwards and thereafter work out remedial measures so that everyone can live as they had in peaceful co-existence without creating any disturbance to the equilibrium. We do not want to see the current trends reverse the goodwill nurtured over years.
I will quote from the leader of the Muslim Congress who made a special statement in August 2012 that “We (Muslims) have enjoyed the patronage and the benevolence of the Sinhala people from the time of Sinhala Kings. In fact, it was only a few months ago that I “¦.publicly acknowledged the pluralism as practiced by Sinhala Buddhists from the Time of King Senarath who gave refuge to the Muslims persecuted by the Portuguese invaders.” It was in 1626 that King Senerath(Kandy) to whom the Muslims appealed following their expulsion by the Portuguese, settled nearly 4000 Muslims in East Sri Lanka.
In conclusion, it would not be correct to accept a personal dinner invitation when I was only attempting to project the side of the Buddhists that the majority of media channels do not wish to give voice to “”…” but I sincerely thank Mr. Kareem for extending the invitation.
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.