Respecting the sensitivities of the Buddhists – The way forward


By Shenali Waduge

Debate is certainly welcome. In a world where people are quick to take to guns or bombs it is indeed pleasing to see people respond to articles and that media allows for response that enables readers to view both positions.

My article ‘LAWS AND RELIGION – SOME CONCERNS OF SINHALA BUDDHISTS’ appearing on the Daily News of 12 January 2013 has been replied by Mr. Hameed Abdul Kareem in the Daily News of 19 January 2013 – Certain inferences and insinuations made need to be clarified.

Firstly, it must be categorically stated that the original article was not written to create conflict but to highlight recent events which have raised fears amongst the predominant Buddhists in Sri Lanka. The goal was not to disturb peaceful co-existence. Ideally, those fears should have been empathetically accepted to warrant the assurance and guarantee from peaceloving Muslims of Sri Lanka that – “No, there will be no Islamization of Sri Lanka as has happened and is happening in other nations because we want to live peacefully as we have with the various communities in Sri Lanka”. I never expected a “how dare she question us” attitude.

Therefore, the article was never about questioning peaceful co-existence because we know how Muslims of yonder years carried out their religious practices and customs except may be for the riots in 1915 caused when new Coastal Moor settlers in Gampola area built mosques along an existing “perahera” route to the Kandy Dalada Maligawa and bribed the police to put a stop to drumming while passing the mosques. This incident breached existing tradition of respect for pre-dominant Buddhist culture. Armand de Souza’s book gives details of the riots.

Our problem, is that we are unable to understand the visible changes we see in Muslims in the present. The past lifestyle of Muslims is incompatible with the present and makes us to conclude that extremism and extremist rules has challenged the lives of the Muslims we knew. When we see how these extremisms have affected nations whose citizens lived just as our Muslims lived in the past, as the majority populace we have every right to be concerned. Neither do we want Muslims of Sri Lanka to change how they lived nor do we want to face any situations of conflict brought on by these extremist elements. Anyone concerned about peace would feel the same as well.

I would like to state quite categorically that while I am merely pointing out an impending danger to Buddhism in Sri Lanka, something which I have every right to do in a democracy such as ours, it is the Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and other Muslim Middle-Eastern nations that are practicing extremism.

The fears prevalent in Sri Lanka are nothing exclusive to Sri Lanka. There are surging insecurities in all regions of the world. The same fears of Islamization running across Europe, US, Australia, some parts of Buddhist Asia e.g. Myanmar and South Thailand, and Africa e.g. Nigeria, Mali, has  unnerved the non-Muslim people of Sri Lanka. (Qatar Financing Wahhabi Islam in France, Italy, Ireland and Spain) /

Allaying our fears by providing us with answers to questions raised is a far better option than quoting from ancient religious textbooks as the dynamics of religions have changed. Original religions are not what are being practiced – the texts have been abused and manipulated with so many other invented religions and faiths that are tearing people in all directions and is the main cause of disunity that prevails. It is just as well Buddhism is a philosophy more than a religion and not a single war has taken place in defense of Buddhism or by Buddhists which places Buddhism apart from the rest of the faiths.

Yes, I am confused myself because the changes are very visible and we are all wondering what are the reason(s) behind these sudden changes and demands to institutionalize practices into rights – if Muslims ate halal food why is there a sudden need to label them, why do labels have to be put as a compulsory measure when over 90% do not request halal, how relevant is halal in restaurants and hotels that use utensils for all food including pork items? who actually practices full halal, Jewish kosher items in all countries are separately labeled and priced higher and available in separate corners of the supermarkets. If Muslim women previously covered their heads with their saree or shawl, what is the sudden need to wear all black and are these not the questions that the Western societies are asking too, so much so that bans are now in place? If weddings, divorce practices, inheritance laws etc functioned in accordance to Muslim customs why is there a sudden need for separate Sharia courts that run parallel to the general civil and criminal law?

This was the same question asked by all the minorities in Malaysia wanting to repeal Article 121 (1A) which declared that the civil court had no jurisdiction on matters under purview of the Sharia court. The Malaysian minorities are realizing that secular laws are being challenged by fundamentalists pushing Islamic way in all areas of polity – which is exactly what we are seeing taking place in Sri Lanka. The tragedy is that Sri Lanka is a country with over 74% Sinhalese.

It’s well and fine in countries with 100% Muslims to apply the rigid rulings of Islam but when a country has over 90% non-Muslims it raises the question of necessity and fair play. Will such a request be granted in a Muslim country to non-Muslims to establish another system of law outside the prevailing Islamic system of law? Can you deny that laws for non-Muslims in Muslim countries do not offer any equal rights whatsoever? All anyone needs to do is to look up the legal provisions for non-Muslims in state documents to discover this fact.

Simply put, we feel that Wahhabism (hiding as Salafism) is undermining peace in all the countries of the world creating disharmony amongst Muslims themselves as well as targeting non-Muslims in general. We do not want to see this chaos happen in Sri Lanka. It is important that concerns raised about Wahhabism is not misinterpreted to mean the inference is against Islam or Muslims, though it appears that taking this route avoids answering questions. Therefore, without avoiding the issue, can Mr. Kareem allay those fears first? And if these questions are being raised elsewhere is it wrong to also raise them in Sri Lanka? Even journalists in Egypt fear Islamization of Egypt on very rigid lines – – is it racism when I raise similar concerns.

Does Wahhabism respect Islam? / (Wahhabism is not Islam)

According to Mr. Kareem if “equality” of status is applicable to all, can he provide concrete examples in today’s context and not incidents drawn from the time of the Prophet? We can prove that Muslim countries are essentially theocracies and do not run on the principles of democracy because in Muslim nations the state and religion are one and the same so where does that leave room for equality of status to be claimed for other religions – I would be very interested to read Mr. Kareem’s response? In reality, a Non-Muslim cannot even dream of becoming a Judge in a Muslim nation?

When Mr. Kareem says there is “equality” the Saudi state website says to the contrary. Taken from Saudi Govt website: “Non-Muslim worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and sometimes torture for engaging in religious activity that attracts official attention”) – I am confused further because Section II. Status of Religious Freedom under Legal/Policy framework says – “Freedom of religion does not exist. Islam is the official religion, and all citizens must be Muslims. Religious freedom is not recognized or protected under the laws, and basic religious freedoms are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam. Citizens are denied the freedom to choose or change their religion, and many non – citizens, including Muslims, practice their beliefs under severe restrictions. The Government limits the practice of all but the officially sanctioned version of Islam and prohibits the public practice of other religions”.

There are further confusions. Mr. Kareem says “When she claims that non-Muslims have no equal rights in Muslim countries she is off the mark again” – then please explain why Premanath Pereralage Thungasiri is awaiting beheading for keeping a small Buddha statue in his private room in Saudi Arabia.

It’s all about logic really. In 100% Muslim countries or in countries where Muslims are the clear majority what rights are realistically given to non-Muslims particularly in respect to freedom of religion and worship?

Applying the same principles where Saudi Arabia, a 100% Muslim country does not offer any rights to non-Muslims, would anyone like if Sri Lanka by virtue of having over 69% Buddhists declare that animal sacrifice should be banned because it goes against the teachings  of Lord Buddha who condemned animal sacrifice as an evil practice?

Would it also be fair if predominant Buddhists demanded that all food items be vegetarians? There is a difference in “optional” and “compulsory”. Vegetarian food is optional, liquor-free is also optional, halal must also be an optional item especially in non-Muslim nations. Have we not respected Muslims dislike of pork items not to serve them but can that be said of the serving of beef when both Buddhists and Hindus generally do not partake of beef? Can we expect to see the ‘No Pork’ notices being amended to read ‘No Pork and No Beef’ in all restaurants out of respect for the sensitivities of Buddhists and Hindus who together constitute 80% of the population?

How can the Muslims demand from others to respect Islam and their beliefs and their religious icons while the Qur’an commands the humiliation and the killing of non-Muslims for simply not embracing Islam as their religion, Sura 9:29? Mr. Kareem speaks about Jews but the Qur’an 5:51 states to hate them. “O ye who believe do not take the Jews and the Christians as your friends … If this was the norm in the past, should things now change in the present given that we are all living in a global village – dependent on one another?

Yet, Mr. Kareem asks “as minorities, shouldn’t we have equal rights with the Sinhala Buddhists” and all I can ask is a simple question – where have minorities been denied rights legally and constitutionally that are exclusively enjoyed by only Sinhalese Buddhists?

When Mecca is out of bounds to non-Muslims because it is a sacred Muslim place, why do Muslims want to put up a mosque in the sacred areas of the Buddhist citadel of Anuradhapura or near the sacred area of Buddha Gaya in India with loudspeakers blaring at full throttle five times a day and disturbing the calm and quiet of these Buddhist holy places – is this not aimed at creating unnecessary tensions? Is it racist of me when I say that there can’t be two different standards at play in matters that suits Muslims?

Can Mr. Kareem recall how in 2001 the Taliban demolished the 1500 year old Bamiyan Buddha statues (built in 544AD) in spite of appeals from the world not to destroy what is sacred to others? Is it wrong to be distressed when 25,000 people gathered in Bangladesh a few months ago to destroy centuries old Buddhist temples, artifacts and killed Buddhist monks simply to erase all traces of Buddhism from Bangladesh. Is it also wrong or racist of me to wonder why when Sri Lanka has shown so much of hospitality to the Maldivians allowing them to be educated in Sri Lanka, seek medical treatment and to even live as Sri Lankans that they should bring in legislation to prohibit us from entering the Maldives carrying a Buddha statue or a Buddhist book.

Where is the acceptance of Multiculturalism and freedom of worship in Muslim Maldives when as recently as 2008 its Constitution was amended to revoke the citizenship of Maldivians who converted from Islam.  Note – until 1153 A.D. the Maldives was an essentially Buddhist nation.

How fair is it Mr. Kareem – for raising these concerns on the basis of not being able to understand the difference between what is said and what is practiced by adherents of Islam that I am being referred to as a Pauline Hanson. That is totally unfair because I have not advocated any extremism – all I did was raise real concerns because these concerns need to be addressed by people who want to sincerely live in peaceful co-existence. Brushing these concerns aside as extremist and racist ignores the possible dangers of a volcano erupting.

Mr. Kareem speaks of “Mithya Drushtika”. In Sanskrit this means ‘possessor of a false view’. This did not entail punitive consequences by the State. In stark contrast an ‘infidel’ (or ‘kaffir’ in Arabic) is an insulting and contemptuous term directed at dis – believers and it is followed by harsh treatment by the State through discriminatory laws e.g. jizya (jizyah) – poll tax that non-Muslims have to pay.

Islamic law identifies 2 distinct categories of non-Muslims. Pagans and dhimmis (protected peoples or peoples of the book – Christians, Jews, Zorastrians) made a distinction between two categories of non-Muslim subjects. These were tolerated by Muslim rulers and were allowed to practice their religion so long as they paid a poll tax known as jizya. The rate and methods of collection differed from province and by pre-Islamic customs. These were not used for charities, salaries and pensions as stated but ended up in the private treasuries of the rulers (Ottoman Empire used jizya to fund military expenses).

Mr. Kareem seems to disagree when non-Muslims are said to be classified as “infidels” or “ dis-believers” – then he would have to change the millions of write-ups and analysis of Islam that term all non-Muslims as infidels in a derogatory way

The basic fear Mr. Kareem, amongst the predominant Buddhist population of Sri Lanka is that the ground realities of Islamization and rise in fundamentalists taking place globally is nothing that can be excused as an unwarranted mania or phobia.

Just as Buddhists have respected the sensitivities of other religions, Buddhists should deserve some respect too. Sri Lanka was occupied by three Western countries for over 450 years, and subject to a harsh form of brutal governance particularly in the Portuguese period. Thousands of Sinhalese Buddhists sacrificed their lives to liberate the nation from foreign invaders. Today’s conquests are not through the use of the gun but by using and manipulating the very tenets of democracy.

Keeping to facts – has loudspeakers at Mosques not disturbed and violated the rights of over 90% of citizens? Did this not lead to a Supreme Court interim order in 2007 banning the use of loudspeakers. The court recognized the right to silence as a fundamental right of the people and rejected the use of loudspeakers as it was not part of the fundamental right of freedom of worship. Should it not be the Trustees of the mosques, using loudspeakers who should be apologizing for disturbing non – Muslims living in the neighborhood and becoming a public nuisance in addition to breaking the law of the land, rather than people asking simple questions that could easily be answered?

Animal sacrifice has been prohibited by tradition and customary law of the land. In 1907 the British Colonial Government enacted the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals  Ordinance. Presently there is an international petition lobbying public support for enactment of the new Animal Welfare Bill introduced in Parliament as a Private Member’s Bill in 2010 to replace the antiquated 1907 statute, and more and more people are coming to take up the cause on behalf of innocent animals and their right to live.

The failure of the current Minister of Justice to engage in any form of law reform relating to animal welfare despite the availability of an Animal Welfare Bill prepared painstakingly by the Law Commission originally under the Chairmanship of the late Justice Dr. A.R.B. Amerasinghe (who passed away a few days ago) and subsequently under Professor Lakshman Marasinghe, is reprehensible. Sri Lanka is now placed in a morally indefensible position (due to archaic and obsolete animal welfare laws) and we find ourselves very close in this sense to many Muslim countries which do not provide any form of legislative protection to animals e.g. Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia, and Ethiopia.

It would tantamount to a dereliction of public duty if a Cabinet Minister were to allow his private and religious convictions to stand in the way of law reform particularly relating to the welfare of animals who were always protected under the watch of our Buddhist Kings of the pre-colonial era!

Isn’t Saudi Arabia, which is fully controlled by Wahabbi Mullas, blackmailing the USA through its control of petrodollars to install the Wahabbi Muslim Brotherhood? Aren’t these Saudi, Somali and other mercenaries funded by Saudi Arabia through the US proxy CIA – and target nations become publicized as “failed states” until objectives are achieved- Is Sri Lanka’s case any different?

Our fears of the radicals and extremists ruling the moderate thinking of all including the Muslims who have existed peacefully in Sri Lanka is by looking at the fate of the countries like Libya, Iraq and now Egypt. We are well aware of how the West used the Muslim Brotherhood to help these nations collapse and today Wahhabism and strict sharia laws prevail. Have the moderate Muslims who had been living peacefully not thought of the repercussions to them in viewing the suffering of natives in these countries? Would the Muslims of Colombo and main cities wish to give up the lives they lead to follow strict laws that are being enforced through Sharia?

When Muslims say Islam is a religion of peace why is it that virtually all the movements carrying arms are Muslim? Why would they accept arms to kill fellow Muslims?

When David Liepert, a “Canadian Muslim Leader and Spokesperson, Interfaith Advisor to the Canadian Council of Imams,” asks plaintively: “How can we expect non-Muslims to believe that Islam is a religion of peace, when Muslim mobs around the world make liars of us all, Muhammad included?” is he also being racist?

Will I still be called a racist when I quote one of the most influential Islamic schools, Egyptian Qayyid Qutb who says that Muslims have a duty to overthrow any non-Islamic government by violent meansIslam is not merely a belief, so that it is enough merely to preach it.  Islam, which is a way of life, takes practical steps to organize a movement for freeing man.  Other societies do not give it [Islam] any opportunity to organize its followers according to its own method, and hence it is the duty of Islam to annihilate all such systems, as they are obstacles in the way of universal freedom.  Only in this manner can the way of life be wholly dedicated to Allah, so that neither any human authority nor the question of servitude remains, as is the case in all other systems which are based on man’s servitude to man.” [Quoted from Andrew Bostom’s The Legacy of Jihad]

For openly asking questions, it is unfair to be brushed aside as a racist because of the reluctance to reply. If Muslims assert their human rights in the West these same rights must be conceded to Non-Muslims in Muslim-majority countries as well.

Apology should really come from those people who are not respecting the sensitivities of the Buddhists and reluctant to accept the simple fact that despite Sri Lanka being a multi–ethnic and multi–faith country, it remains without a doubt a predominantly Buddhist country with an unique Buddhist civilization that has won the admiration of the civilized world.