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On the "Muslim Problem"

Prabath Dharmadasa

A few weeks ago there was an article in the Island newspaper about the "Muslim problem." After reading it I felt that it was a storm in a teacup. I don't think our country has a "Muslim problem" at all. Infact, to the contrary if more Sri Lankans followed the example set by the Muslim community perhaps we would be a more peaceful country. Many Muslims are trilingual, well integrated with the Sinhalese and Southern Sri Lanka just would not be the same without them.

The truth is, we never had a "Muslim problem" in Sri Lanka. This is a mindset that has entered our country from the west through its media that seeks to demonise Islam and the Muslims. Can we really judge more than one billion Muslims by the actions of a few? Terrorists did indeed attack America and the United Kingdom, but why exactly should Muslims in Sri Lanka reap the whirlwind?

When those in Europe were intolerant to anything that they saw as threatening their Judeo-Christian homogeneity, in Sri Lanka Muslims were living side by side with the Buddhist majority and fighting together against foreign invaders. The Sinhalese Buddhist kings never persecuted them, or their religion. On the contrary Muslims were free to practice their faith as they wished. The populace did not regard the Muslims as some strange "other" to be viewed with suspicion but equal citizens who were part and parcel of the kingdom. That is why there were so many intermarriages and Muslims in Kandy have a "ge" name as well. Infact, Muslims were regarded as fine soldiers and were even brought to the island to serve the kings.

Today people from the west lecture us about "diversity" but we have a long tradition of that. In this country it is not a crime to wear the hijab like it is in France or Turkey. It is fine to have Islamic schools and nationwide Islamic holidays. Madrasahs are not treated as terrorist indoctrination camps. Mosques are not banned because "they don't fit in with the local architecture." It is not okay to create cartoons mocking a religious figure held sacred by a large section of humanity. The truth is, those in Europe are finally coming to grips with true diversity - with the religious, cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity that we in Sri Lanka are quite familiar with. Let us not take the path of the west when it comes to our Muslim community. We may be a poor country but in this respect I believe we truly are much more progressive than the so-called secular west.

With regards to Right Speech, one of the factors in the the Noble Eightfold Path, the Buddha said:

"Abandoning divisive speech he abstains from divisive speech. What he has heard here he does not tell there to break those people apart from these people here. What he has heard there he does not tell here to break these people apart from those people there. Thus reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord." (AN 10.176)

Let's follow the Buddha's example instead of trying to fan a fire that does not exist. There maybe some fundamentalists (who exist in all religions) among the Sri Lankan Muslim community, but they have never posed a threat because the vast majority of Muslims do not subscribe to their views. We should have faith in the Muslim community's ability to self regulate any extremism.

Muslims may be persecuted in other countries, but we should never let that happen in Sri Lanka. If we put into practice what the Buddha taught we have nothing to fear for "hatred never ceases through hatred in this world; through love alone does it cease."



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