Saturday 19 January, 2013
Defending Islam and Muslims
Response to ‘Laws and Religion - Some Concerns of Sinhala Buddhists’
Hameed Abdul Karim
Shenali Waduge’s article on ‘Laws and Religion: Some Concerns of Sinhala Buddhists’ appearing in the Daily News on the 12th of January 2013 is the latest in a long series of scaremongering among Sinhala Buddhists against Sri Lankan Muslims. Any first time reader would get the impressions that we Muslims are a bunch of good for nothing types living off the generosity of Sinhala Buddhists with a view to wipe out ‘Sinhala Buddhism’ from the country. Our centuries old long, cordial and peaceful existence with all communities in the country seems to count for nothing in her uncalled for vituperative remarks.
Much of what she has said has already appeared on hundreds of racist hate spewing websites in Sri Lanka and around the world.
Ideally in a democracy there is no such thing as a minority, but since we live in a diluted form of democracy let us, for argument sake, concede that there are minorities like the Muslims, Christians and Hindus. Would this then mean that we are children of a lesser god because of a paucity of numbers and that we should live according to the dictates set out by Ms. Shenali Waduge? As ‘minorities’, shouldn’t we have equal rights with the Sinhala Buddhists to fulfill our obligations in accordance with our respective faiths?
Ms. Waduge claims that Buddhist archeological and historical cultural monuments in the country are being destroyed, but doesn’t name the culprits. A lot of treasurer hunters that have been caught happen to be Sinhala Buddhists, which includes Buddhist monks. Only the other day media reports said that 1020 persons had been arrested for treasure hunting in 2012 alone. Most of them were members of the armed forces. Among them were 7 Sinhala Buddhist monks, who happened to be the masterminds behind the thefts.
Additional media reports indicate that Buddha statues had been destroyed in search of treasure hidden inside them. None of the culprits caught happen to be ‘radical’ Muslims as she calls us. The theft at the Museum was not carried out by ‘radical’ Muslims.
The writer claims ‘we (Sinhala Buddhists)are concerned because there is an emerging conflict in Islamic laws with country/international law (sic), but doesn’t give us any specifics. For centuries now Muslims have had their own marriage, divorce and inheritance laws and this has not bothered anybody until Ms. Shenali Waduge, our version of Australia’s Pauline Hanson, made an entrance. Incidentally Pauline Hanson was an extremist white and wanted to end Australia’s multiculturalism. Australia’s multiculturalism includes Sinhala Buddhists who emigrated from Sri Lanka. Wonder if Ms. Waduge would agree with her racist views? Pauline Hanson wanted Australia to be a ‘White Only’ country (after taking it from the blacks, of course). But to the credit of the Australians the ‘majority’ and the ‘minorities’ got rid of her at the very first opportunity.
Sharia law has contributed immensely to international law and really she should read the works of the internationally renowned Sri Lankan judge Weeramantry on the subject of Sharia for her own elucidation. Is she aware that the word ‘canon’ as in law is derived from the word ‘qanoon’? Or is she aware that the black cloaks that both female and male lawyers wear is a contribution made by Arabs practicing Sharia law? I am not an expert on Sharia but I think she is absolutely off the mark when she says that a non-Muslim cannot appear in Sharia courts to give evidence.
And when she claims that non-Muslim have no equal rights in Muslim countries she is off the mark again. In Iran there is a Jewish community that has no problems whatsoever, neither in Egypt or Morocco or Turkey where to this day Jews live and celebrate their faith and festivals under the Sharia law which guarantees them the rights to follow their own laws and religion. Very recently a major Jewish festival to commemorate a Jewish scholar buried in Rabat was celebrated with religious fervour and zeal at his tomb in Rabat. It would be a good idea if she checks on such events before making blanket statements.
Of course she will quote Pakistan as a case in point. Minorities are certainly are in more than a spot of bother over there, but then so are the Muslims in a country that’s gone mad. I had the good fortune of meeting with the Pakistani Bishop when he was here on a short visit. He was mourning over what has happened to his beloved Pakistan and wished that Christians and Muslims could live together again in peace and harmony in his country like in….. guess where? Palestine!
But to their credit it must be said that the Pakistani Judiciary and civil societies are taking the fight to the lunatic fringe called the Pakistan Taliban despite the acrobatics of a hopelessly corrupt government.
Muslims have always consumed halaal foods since the emergence of Islam and for Ms. Waduge to claim that this is something new is ludicrous, to say the least. The need for halaal labels has come about because of exports of food items and cosmetics and the establishment of restaurants owned up by non-Muslim enterprises like McDonalds or KFC or Pizza Hut. I won’t go into the details of the need for halaal foods, since the writer herself had not raised the issue. But what I must put on record is that it was these non-Muslim establishments that approached Muslims religious leaders to certify their products as ‘halaal’ so that they could cater to the Muslims. And the cost of the halaal certificate for each meal would not amount to more than 3 cents. If Ms. Waduge and those like her don’t wish to consume halaal food that’s their business. Nobody is interested in shoving halaal food down their throats.
By the way, I wonder if she would condemn Jews in the same way she insults Muslims because they too have this business of halaal attached to their consumption of animal products. The only difference is in the terminology. They call it ‘kosher’, Muslims call it‘halaal’. Come let us see you, Ms. Waduge, paint the Jews with the same brush you paint the Muslims with! Watch out. You will be called an anti-Semite and that’s the worst label you can get in the world today. Being an Islamophobe is acceptable and you can wear that title like a badge of honour.
Ms. Waduge goes on to say that according to Islam non-Muslims are classified as ‘non believers’ and ‘infidels’. This too is about terminology. Would she consider a non Sinhala Buddhist as a ‘believer’ in Buddhism? And what does the word ‘infidel’ mean? It simply means a person belonging to another faith and nothing else. Would I, as a Muslim, be equal in faith to a Sinhala Buddhist? Would Muslims or Christians or Hindus be allowed to conduct their religious rituals in a Buddhist temple? While we are on the subject tell me how Sinhala Buddhists classify non-Sinhala Buddhists. Why, they call them Mithya drusthika. Mithya means ‘lies’ or ‘unholy’. So there you are, non-Buddhists are ‘liars’ or ‘unholy’. But I have no grouse with that. If that’s the Buddhist terminology, so be it.
It is true that Sinhala Buddhists and Muslims are not the same in faith, obviously. But we are one in humanity. The Qur’an says that we were all created into different tribes and nations speaking different languages so that we will recognise each other and not spite each other. Herein you find advice for us all to celebrate humanity in all its diversity. The thought that somehow the Muslims are going to wipe of Buddhism with financial help from the Arab League, as one Buddhist monk claimed at the Law College protest is absurd, to say the least. If the 5 centuries of occupation by three western imperialist forces, couldn’t achieve that objective what chances are there for the Arab League.
Then the writer moves on to yet another issue. Madrasas. In Madrasas Muslim children are taught to recite the Qur’an and learn adab (manners) among other religious rituals. It’s very much like the Daham Pasals or Sunday School for Christians. Why on earth would Ms. Waduge be against such religious education beats me. The matter of Muslims opting for ‘international schools’ is quite clear and that‘s because Muslim children find it extremely difficult, and in some cases virtually impossible, to enter established schools and so that’s the reason why they have opened up other avenues to educate their children. Besides, Muslim children are not the only ones who get an education in ‘international school’. I am sure there will be many Sinhala Buddhist children in ‘international schools’ and why parents shouldn’t educate their children according to their will and wish to satisfy the likes of Ms. Waduge and her fellow travelers boggles the mind. If parents want to educate their children in ‘international schools’, then they have every right to do that.
I know for a fact that there are thousands and thousands of Sinhala Buddhists employed in Muslim establishments. One look at garment factories owned by Muslims would dispel Ms. Waduge’s grouse that Muslims only employ Muslims. At least one business concern that I know of employs 40 thousand Sinhala Buddhists out of a staff of 45 thousand. There are many more such establishments but going into details would take too much space. But of course she can always find something to grumble about. Maybe she might claim that Sinhala Buddhists are being ‘exploited’ at these factories and maybe she’ll go on to claim these are ‘sweat shops’. When you want to pick a bone you will find many around. Maybe she should indentify Muslim business concerns and check the EPF contributions at the Labour department before making baseless, irresponsible and inflammatory statements. And whilst we are on that subject, it would be nice if she could check up how many Muslims or non-Buddhists are employed in Sinhala Buddhist establishments like Maliban Biscuits or Raigam Industries. Or for that matter the number of non-Sinhala Buddhists in government institutions. Are non-Sinhala Buddhists employed in government institutions in relation to their ethnic quotas as was supposed to be the case at one point of time?
Closed on Fridays
One aspect I found rather ironic, and also funny, is Ms. Shenali Waduge’s grouse that Muslim establishments shut down for Friday prayers. She and her ilk want Sinhala Buddhists to shun Muslim businesses and then we find her complaining that Muslims close shop for Friday prayers! Surely she’s not supposed to patronise Muslim businesses according to her ideology! Really I can’t see her logic on this take. Moreover, the time for Friday prayers coincide with the lunch break during which most establishments are closed, including government institutions.
Shenali Waduge claims that Islamic ‘fundamentalists’ are inciting violence against Buddhists in ‘East Sri Lanka encroaching upon land given to them by Sinhalese kings and demolish Buddhist sites’. Well, for starters if the land was given to them by Sinhala kings then the question of encroachment doesn’t arise, does it? In this case it would be the Sinhala Buddhists who would be encroachers if the law of the land is anything to go by. Besides if what she says is right then there is legal redress. They can take the matter to courts and seek redress there.
What really takes the cake from Shenali Waduge’s vituperative article is when she suggests that Islam is not a peaceful religion because ‘almost all the all the major conflicts in the world are Muslim orientated’. Well, after the collapse of communism, Islam and the Muslims became the new enemy. And the West needs an enemy to forge its imperialism. And as it turns out the Muslims are fighting a rearguard action in places like Afghanistan, Kashmir, Palestine (alongside Christians) etc. Perhaps she is unaware of the U.S’s war in Vietnam, Kampuchea, Korea and Laos where Buddhists were being slaughtered like nobody’s business. Conservative estimates indicate that no less than one million were butchered in Korea alone and over 3 million in Vietnam. Would she have minded if at that point of time if a swanky American imperialist came across and said these wars were Buddhist centred, because all these countries were Buddhist nations?
Perhaps she is also unaware that the propaganda spewed by the Western media machine against Islam and the Muslims in the west is similar to the one against the Jews prior to the holocaust? And what would she say if the Nazis come around and tell her that conflict was Jewish centred?
Is she aware of the thousands of Muslims who were slaughtered in Bosnia-Herzegovina especially at Srebrenica? Would she have the courage to tell the mothers who lost their sons in the Srebrenica that the slaughter was on account of their fault for being Muslims or that it was ‘Muslims centred’? Well, thankfully, some Europeans don’t think like her. The Serbian criminals who committed these crimes were tracked down and taken to The Hague and punished for their war crimes.
The last portion of her article is based entirely on hate spewing websites run by extreme right wing racists like the EDL of the UK and other similar racist organsiations in Europe and the U.S. very much similar to the anti Islam and anti Muslim websites run by an utterly insensitive and irresponsible sections of our people. The fear mongering websites in Europe and the rest of the west claimed that Islam was to overtake Christianity and that Muslims would be in the majority in Europe come 2040 or thereabouts. The narrators of these false statements made their pitch in sepulchral voices that you hear in Hollywood trailers announcing the arrival of the latest horror movie. But saner counsel has prevailed and Church leaders have blighted these myths. It was found that some of the people behind these websites were Neo-Nazis and fascist in outlook.
However, I agree with Shenali Waduge when she says we Muslims are ‘exclusive’. That’s largely because our ‘leaders’ or ‘dealers’ if you will do not espouse the cause of other communities and organsiations in the country when issues crop up now and then. One telling example was the absence of any Muslim individual or organisation of some standing like the Jamaitul Ullema from the university dons’ demand for a budget allocation of 6% for education. It’s about time we became ‘inclusivists’ and reinforce our identity as Sri Lankan citizens.
Ms. Waduge’s contention that the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is a radical Islamic party is entirely baseless. Some of us who know some of the members know only too well that most of them hardly care for those Muslims who voted for them. That’s typical of most politicians around today and the Muslim Congress is no different in that aspect. And as a Muslim I wish they abided by the at least some of the basic tenets of Islam so that we could avoid the horse dealings that take place behind closed doors. But, alas, that is and will remain a plaintive cry in the wilderness.
Yes it’s true that Rauf Hakeem had made a disparaging remark but to his credit he was quick to apologise. Shouldn’t Ms. Shenali Waduge take a cue from him and apologise for the very offensive remarks she has made in her article. As one who was born and bred in a multicultural environment in Colombo with lifelong friendships with members of all communities I feel hurt by the offensive nature of her article. Yes, maybe she should apologise. It’s the honourable thing to do.