26 January, 2013
DAILY NEWS 26 JANUARY, 2013
Allaying Sinhala Buddhist Fears
Response to Shenali Waduge
Hameed Abdul Karim
‘Oh you who believe if a wicked person comes to you with any news ascertain the truth, lest you harm people unwittingly and afterwards become full of repentance for what you have done’ Qur’an 49:6
The above is advice from the Qur’an. But for all intents and purposes these words could have come out of the lips of the ever content Buddha.
Truth is sacred and truth has no religion. Shenali Waduge must abide by this tenet if she is true to her conscience.
Let me point out one of many of her glaring untruths. She claims that Premanath Pereralage (Thungasiri) is awaiting execution for having a Buddha statue in his room at his work place. This is an absolute fabrication that was propagated by an extremist Sinhala Buddhist group. Waduge has swallowed this falsehood hook, line and sinker whether mistakenly or not is left to speculation. A senior official at our embassy, according to Arab News dated Sunday 8 July 2012, had slammed this story as a total fabrication. What had happened was that Pereralage was involved in a dispute over a housemaid who he had said was a relative. When things got out of hand the police arrived and took him into custody.
If Pereralage had indeed being sentenced to death for having a Buddha statue in his room as Waduge would have us believe, can you imagine the justified protests that would have emanated from human rights groups?
Nailing another canard spread by vested interests our embassy had said that there was no religious persecution and that no one was victimized for his or her religious leanings. Wesak and Poson are celebrated at our missions in Riyadh and Jeddah. Over 20,000 Buddhists participated at these events in 2012. Saudi Arabia is home to over 500,000 Sri Lankans of all faiths and baring a few negative stories, the Saudi’s have treated our people with respect and dignity.
Saudi Arabia has its shortcomings. Every state has. But isn’t it true that they are coming in for too much stick these days? And when we hear that Saudi Arabia is terrorising the U.S with its petrodollars we can only treat it as joke and try to laugh it off.
The violence against Buddhists in Bangladesh was indeed a terrible incident. And as reports of destructions of ancient sites and statues came in, being a lover of anthropology and a buff for historical sites, I could only cringe in horror. As a Muslim I was shamed like all Muslims around the world by the actions of my co-religionist in Bangladesh. And I am sure an overwhelming majority of Sinhala Buddhists might have been shamed when a mob destroyed a Muslim shrine in Anuradhapura and also when attacks on churches, mosques and kovils took place in recent times.
But here again Waduge utters a falsehood when she claims that Buddhist monks were killed in the incident. No Buddhist monks were killed. In fact there was no loss of life at all. The police were quick to take action and the culprits have been arrested and are in awaiting trial. The Bangladeshi government, to its credit, was quick to step in with promises to restore the damaged statues and temples. These terrible attacks were sparked off when a poor young boy’s facebook account was hacked and a derogatory picture on Islam was inserted in it without his knowledge. This clearly suggests that there was a concerted plan from some force inimical to peace and harmony among the Bangladeshi population. The fact that the attackers were from outside the area gives further credence to this suspicion.
Happily there was no reaction to the mass expulsion and killings of Muslims in Myanmar. None of us blamed Buddhism for these attacks even though they were carried out with state patronage. Not so long ago even Buddhist monks were beaten up by Myanmar’s government forces on the streets of the capital as the world watched in shock and grief.
Another falsehood Ms.Waduge has uttered is clearly evident in the text of her response. Let me quote. ‘When Mr. Kareem says there is “equality” the Saudi state Website (emphasis mine) says to the contrary. ‘Non-Muslim worshipers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation, and sometimes torture (emphasis mine) in religious activities…’ Well, I checked the website she has given. And guess what? Lo and behold it turned out to be the U.S. State department website and not the ‘official Saudi website’ as she claims. I went further into that site and found rather disparaging remarks about Sri Lanka too! Are we to take the empire’s word about us? The empire has its own agenda and it’s about time we took note of that.
I am no apologist for Saudi Arabia and it is true religious propagation is forbidden there as it is in Israel. In Israel or occupied Palestine, to put it in another way, the preaching of Christianity is strictly banned. And that too in the land that gave birth to its founder and his faith! I am not a Saudi citizen. I am a Sri Lankan citizen (if I can be accepted as such) and shall speak for my country. If Ms. Waduge has a grouse with regards to religious freedom in Saudi Arabia or the Maldives let her take up the issue with the authorities there and I will support her to the hilt in her efforts. Let her not blame Sri Lanka Muslims. Just as much as nobody blames Buddhism for the atrocities that Myanmar has committed against its Muslim population.
Quite a few of the websites Waduge has quoted are hostile to Islam and Muslims. The New York Times (NYT) and UK’s Daily Mail which she quotes are owned by Jewish Zionist and if at all they say something nice about Islam or Muslims it is to throw a sop or two to ‘balance’ the ‘news’. The rest of the time they demonise Islam and the Muslims and support Israel to the hilt in its apartheid policies in Occupied Palestine.
Sinhala chauvinism created the SLMC which in turn ‘created’ the JHU. And as the JHU loses its shine other extremists parties come into the picture. We had Udaya Gammanpila, the JHU strongman, making an outrageous and absolutely reckless statement in a weekend newspaper saying that a repeat of the 1915 Sinhala-Muslim riots is ‘imminent’. Perhaps he’s competing with other extremist parties for a place in the sun now that his party has lost its standing in the community. His statement has plunged the Muslim community in fear. The tragedy is that up until now no responsible person in the party or in the political establishment has distanced themselves from his ‘proclamation’. What a shame.
The other day a group of another extremist party had gathered outside a clothes store at Maharagama owned by a Muslim shouting racist abuse. The abuse was so ugly that the Bodu Bala Sena was compelled to distance themselves from the protest. A media report said they had nothing to do with the new ultra nationalist group. Here we are calling for foreign investment and look at what we are doing. See where all this extremism is taking us? The Mahavamsa records that Muslims had been trading in the country from Anuradhapura times and look what the radical Buddhist parties are doing to us now.
To his credit it must be said that at the time of his tragic death the late M.H.M. Ashraf realised his mistake and wanted to convert his creation into a national party. Rauf Hakeem should pursue his leader’s last wish.
I said in my previous response that the Sharia law guarantees other religions. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) told the Jews of Medina that they should abide by the Torah of the Prophet Moses (peace be on him). So you never saw a Muslim judge in a Jewish court and vice versa. The striking point is that he did not force them to convert to Islam. This will go a long way to dispel any doubts anybody might have about forcible conversions to Islam. The Qur’an is very clear on this matter. The verse that says ‘to you your faith and to me mine’ is clearly etched on every Muslim’s mind. So Ms. Waduge doesn’t have to worry about Muslims wanting to wipe off Buddhism from Sri Lanka. Besides there is another verse in the Qur’an that says that if Allah willed He would have made everybody Muslim. All living beings are His creatures after all, as is the Muslim belief. So if he doesn’t want a section to be Muslim, well then that’s His business. In other words Allah is telling us to mind our own business. There is an instruction in the Qur’an to Muslims to ‘invite others to the faith with wisdom and beautiful preaching’ just as much as Buddhist preachers go round the world to preach Buddhism to non-Buddhists. A Daily News report (Monday January 31,2000) quoting President Chandrika said the government had spent Rs.2,200 million to foster Buddhism, that is assuming she was speaking the truth for once.
Shariah law champions absolute freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. For example, the Qur'an goes so far as to oblige Muslims to fight on behalf of Jews, Christians and people of other faiths and to protect their churches, synagogues and temples from attack. (Qur’an 22:40). But please don’t confuse the tribal laws that prevail in Saudi Arabia with the Sharia. Please observe the other Muslim countries where tribalism doesn't rule the roost.
Ms. Waduge seems to be alarmed at the way some Muslim women dress. There is a dress code for Muslim men and women. Both are required to dress modestly and not in clothes that reveal the body, but to conceal it from prying eyes. A lot of us have adopted western styles of dressing and we see a lot of women, young and old, dressed in tight blue jeans and skimpy t-shirts and miniskirts too. Some Muslim girls also dress in this way. The traditional Sinhala girls’ dress of redda and hetta are now worn only at avurudu kumari shows to mark Sinhala and Tamil New year or to display our traditional values for the entertainment of tourists! If a man wears ‘full suit’ he’s categorised as ‘mod’ while a man who wears the traditional sarong and shirt is classified as backward. This is a reflection of an inferiority complex instilled in us from colonial times. I have no objections to the way women dress. Similarly I don’t see why Shenali Waduge should object to Muslim women wearing the ‘full cover’. This form of dressing is not mentioned in the Qur’an, but if they wish to dress in this way, then I think it is their business. To claim that this is an expression of extremism is going beyond the realms of reason. I know some of these women and I can tell you they mean no harm. And it’s not only the ‘wahabis’ or ‘salafis’ who wear ‘full cover’. Some of those not within that bracket dress the same way.
There was a time when there were curtains in car windows to cover Muslim girls and as time passed this fad vanished just like that. Maybe Shenali Waduge is too young to remember ‘those days’. But the point I wish to make is that we shouldn’t take these matters to heart and make an issue out of it. What I see in this is that there is an attempt to coerce women to adopt the western mode of dressing and to give up our traditional way of dressing. According to the Qur’an Muslim women are required to cover their hair, because the hair is an adornment that catches the eye. The numerous advertisements for products targeting women to ‘buy’ this or that shampoo to beautify their hair should explain the reason why Muslim women are required to cover their hair. In those days, they used to cover their hair with the edge of the saree, but now they find the hijab more convenient. I know the excess visibility of the Muslim women dressed in hijab or ‘full cover’ might cause some concern among a few Sinhala Buddhists like Ms. Waduge, but really there is nothing to worry about. I hope this allays her fears.
Muslim men have always worn the traditional cap and coat and sarong at official ceremonies like weddings. But now that too is changing. We see men wearing ‘full suit’ at weddings and other occasions including business events and there are Muslim men who continue to wear the graceful Salwar Kameez as well. Come to think of it, we see even Sinhala boys wearing that now at weddings and other functions. The other day I saw a young lad wearing this on a song contest on TV. Why should we see a problem there? These are ‘mod’ days after all!
It is true that the word ‘kaffir’ has become loaded. This happened during the crusades. To the crusaders Muslims were heathen at that point of time. The Sinhalese were not the only victims of the Portuguese as Waduge tells us. Muslims too paid a heavy price for being Muslims.
The word infidel is referred to those enemies of Islam during its nascent stages who wanted to put an end to the faith. ‘The inclusion of the word ‘al’ before kafireen in the Qur’an limits the word to a specific time and place in history’, according to Qasim Rashid of the Muslim writers Guild of America. He says that the word al-kafiroon refers ‘to a specific group of people who were obstacles to the establishment of Islam in its nascent stages’. It was these two factors that caused the revelations of these verses. He goes on to say that ‘if the intention of the Qur’an had been to extend the application of these verses in perpetuity, it would have used ‘Man-Kafar rather than ‘Al-Kafireen’. Man kafar literally means anyone who does not believe in God. Al Kafireen – the infidels – denotes a specific group of people who fought the Prophet (pboh) in the early stages of Islam. Moreover, the overriding principle which must ultimately guide our understanding of these verses is the constant Quranic reminder that good Muslims do not initiate violence against others. Hope this explanation would put to rest, Shenali Waduge’s fears about Islam and Muslims once and for all.
Shenali Waduge goes on to quote Surah 9:29 which talks about war. This verse too is confined to that time when the enemies of Islam wanted to crush the new faith and had declared war on Muslims. The divine order came to fight back and fight the Muslims did because their lives were at stake. And they won against all odds, with God’s help. This incident provides a classic example of the fact that Islam was not spread by any violent means as is the common view among many non-Muslims. If the spread of Islam was by the sword then these people would have been forced to convert to the new faith or be killed. But this didn’t happen. Instead those non-Muslims, after being subdued, were asked to pay Jizya (tax/compensation) if they chose to live in peace. Imam Abu Hanifa, a leading scholar and the founder of the Hanafi school of thought says that the tax varied in amount and there were exemptions for the poor, for females and children. Basically the tax was more of a symbolic nature and the amounts levied hardly amounted to anything. Don’t forget the Muslims had to pay and continue to pay tax as well. They had to pay Zakat which is 2.5 % of their wealth in charity. And more often than not, Zakat was higher than Jizya. Islam is the only religion that has made charity compulsory for its adherents. Anyway, with the advent of new taxes Jizya, has ceased to exist.
Ms. Waduge must read the Qur’an in its context. Has she read the numerous verses on the peace that the Qur’an speaks about? Let me quote just one. “But if the enemy inclines towards peace, you too incline towards peace, and trust in Allah, for He is the One who hears and knows all things. Qur’an 8:61.
As for war, I am afraid, sometimes this becomes a necessary evil. Didn’t we go to war against the two JVP uprisings and the LTTE when the very existence of the nation was at stake?
Waduge poses the question ‘didn’t the Taliban destroy the Bamiyan Buddha statues’. I have told over and over again that the Taliban are a lunatic fringe. And the fact that the statues stood for so many centuries is an indication that Muslims were not averse to historical sites until the nut cases came along. The destruction of these valuable statues is a stain on Muslims. I remember with gratitude that there were a whole lot of Sinhala Buddhists who wrote poignant articles to condemn the destruction of the shrine at Anuradhapura and the attack on the mosque at Dambulla. And at this point I must salute Lands Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon for his prompt public announcement in dispelling the falsehood that the mosque stood on ‘sacred ground’ of the Sinhala Buddhism. He categorically stated that the mosque was outside the ‘sacred ground’ and for this all right thinking people must be grateful to him.
Jews and Christians
As for not taking Jews and Christians for friends the writer is again quoting out of context. Imam Ibn Kathir had said that some scholars say that this verse was revealed after a battle in which the Muslims suffered a setback. At that time a Muslim from Medina wanted to go to live with Jews so that he’ll be safe in case another attack took place. Another Muslim said he was going to live with Christians for the same purpose. So God revealed this verse reminding the Muslims that they should not seek protection from others, but should protect each other.
The Qur’an was revealed at different stages for 23 years and a large section of it is in answer to situations and questions that people, including the Jews and Christians of the time, raised. Besides, there is an allowance in the Qur’an for Muslims to marry Christians or Jews. If that is the case then obviously the interpretation that Shenali Waduge gives to the particular verse is wrong. Moreover a lot of Christians and Jews in the west, both men and women, embrace Islam on a daily basis. Go to the website ‘Jews for Allah’ and see what I mean. Muslims like me have Christian friends as well as Sinhala Buddhists and Tamils and people of all races in the country. I am personally in touch with Jews by e-mail.
Arab Christians have played prominent roles in their respective countries. The Baath ideology, whether, right or wrong is beside the point, was founded by Michele Aflaq. Tariq Abdul Aziz, whether good or bad, was Iraq’s foreign minister and played a leading role in Saddam Hussein’s regime. Boutros Boutros Ghali was Egypt’s foreign minister. George Habash was the leader of the PFLP, a Palestinian resistant group. Hanan Ashrawi is a prominent member of the Palestinian Authority. Rev. Father Ilyas Chacour is a leading intellectual fighting for the cause of his country, Palestine. All of them are Christians. These are the names that come to mind, but I am sure there are many more.
Shenali Waduge has thrown many straws in the wind. I have answered as many as I could. So let me briefly touch on others. I, for one, would be glad if the mosques reduced the sounds in the loudspeakers to the barest minimum. When Sinhalese or Hindu friends come over for meals we make it a point not to serve beef as Shenali claims. Wahabis are not a problem to any Sinhala Buddhist. If at all they are a problem, they are a problem to fellow Muslims. But today the differences that existed at the initial stages are almost non-existent. Though I am sure crackpots exist in all communities. To take just a few rotten eggs as a reflection on the entire community would be a wrong idea.
Discussions like these could go on forever and create animosity in the process. And if I go on any further the good editor will blow a fuse. So I’ll stop now. What we should do is get together and talk thing over in a civil manner. I would be only too glad to host Ms. Shenali Waduge to a meal at my place. We could serve a vegetarian meal so that the question of halaal does not crop up. Shenali could come with her husband (if she’s married) or a male relative or friend. I promise you my ‘favourite’ wife is a super cook. There I end with an invitation and a little humour.