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  • A country obsessed with racial and religious conflicts
    Sri Lanka, as a nation has been wasting time debating sensitive racial and religious issues for the past several years, without gaining anything. Only thing the country has been witnessing as a result is communities distancing themselves from each other, while portraying a false unity among them. 
    The situation seems to have come to a head with people of various communities being emotionally charged over these issues subsequent to the attacks on three Christian churches and three major tourist hotels by the Islamic terrorists on April 21, 2019, which was also the Easter Sunday.
    The terrorist attacks which caught the nation off-guard demanded united action by all communities and political parties to handle the immediate situation and to prevent future recurrence of...
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  • Burqa ban: Security, human rights and male chauvinism
    A few years ago, on a Turkish beach exclusively for women, a bikini-clad woman offered her prayers. The video clip of the woman going through the postures of the Muslim prayer went viral and created a major debate among the Muslims.  Some censured her for not adhering to the dress code for prayers, but others said what mattered was her piety and not the dress.
    Following the release of the Easter Sunday terror attack commission report, Sri Lanka is mulling whether to ban burqa – the Muslim dress that covers a female body from head to toe – and niqab, which only shows the eyes of the wearer, but the issue needs to be looked at from human rights, security and spiritual angles to come to a right decision.
    If at the one end of the spectrum is public nudity, burqa will...
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  • South African Muslim bodies seek intervention over burqa ban in Sri Lanka Foreign Minister of South Africa urged to intervene
    South African Muslim organisations have called on the country’s foreign minister to intervene in the proposed Sri Lankan ban on the burqa and closure of hundreds of Islamic schools. This followed the announcement by Sri Lanka''s minister for public security, Sarath Weerasekera, during the weekend that his country would ban the traditional full-face covering worn by some Muslim women because it posed a threat to national security. This was quickly followed by a statement from the Sri Lankan foreign ministry, which said a decision would only be taken on the proposal after consultations and further discussion. The United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA) has now asked South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Naledi Pandor to intervene in the matter. UUCSA had earlier also called for such intervention when...
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  • Banning Burqas and Madrasas illegal: Fmr MP
    Former MP M.M .Zuhair said yesterday it would be unlawful to ban Burqas and Madrasas. Issuing a statement, he said some observations and recommendations of the Commission on Easter Sunday attacks are invasive of the absolute protection given to every person under Article 10 of the Sri Lanka Constitution. He said the Commission’s report though good in parts, can be seen as an attempted assault on Islam for the heinous crimes of a dozen suicide bombers. The right to the freedom stated in Article 10 is ‘assured to all religions’ under Article 9. No one, not even Presidential Commissions can invite or promote the State or any limb of the Executive or Judiciary to violate the freedom guaranteed under Article 10.This protection is guaranteed notwithstanding any national security concerns, as the law stands today. In this constitutionally...
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  • Pakistan says likely ban on Niqab in SL to serve as injury on Muslims
    The Ambassador of Pakistan to Sri Lanka, Saad Khattak today said the likely ban on Niqab in Sri Lanka will only serve as an injury to the feelings of ordinary Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe. In a tweet, the Ambassador said that at today’s economically difficult time due to COVID-19 pandemic and other image related challenges faced by the country at the international fora, such divisive steps in the name of security, besides accentuating economic difficulties, will only serve as fillip to further strengthen wider apprehensions about fundamental human rights of minorities in the country. Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral (Retd.) Dr. Sarath Weerasekera said today that in addition to banning the burqa, the cabinet proposal would also include banning the niqab which covers the face of the wearer except the eyes. The...
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  • යුරෝපයේ රටවල් 8 කින් හිස්බුල්ලාට සහාය
    මානව හිමිකම් වෙනුවෙන් පෙනී සිටින ප්‍රමුඛ නීතිඥවරයකු වන හිජාස් හිස්බුල්ලා මහතා වැනි මානව හිමිකම් ආරක්ෂා කරන්නන්ට ගරු කරන ලෙස ශ්‍රී ලංකා රජයෙන් ඉල්ලා සිටිමින් යුරෝපීය රටවල් අටක මානව හිමිකම් තානාපතිවරුන් ඒකාබද්ධ නිවේදනයක් නිකුත් කර තිබේ. නෙදර්ලන්තය, ජර්මනිය, එංගලන්තය ස්වීඩනය, එස්ටෝනියාව, ලිතුවේනියාව, ලක්සම්බර්ග් සහ ෆින්ලන්තය...
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  • Eight EU HR Ambassadors raise concern over Hejaaz Hizbullah
    In a statement issued today, Eight Human Rights  Ambassadors of Europe including the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden called on the Sri Lankan government to " respect human rights defenders such as Hizbullah". The statement issued by the Ambassadors of the United Kingsdom, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and the Netherlands said that after ten months of Detention, Hejaaz Hizbullah was being accused of speech related offences. Prominent Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah was arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department on the 14th of April 2020. He was thereafter accused in the media of various activities related to terrorism. He was thereafter produced on the 18th of February 2021 where the Attorney General informed court that the entire case against Hizbullah was to be based on purported statements made by children. Hizbullah...
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  • Circular on burial of COVID-19 victims issued
    The circular containing the guidelines with regard to the burial of COVID-19 victims has been issued, the Health Ministry said. Some key guidelines are as follows, The relatives of the deceased should inform the Director/ Head of the health care institution (Where the death has occurred) of their desire to bury the corpse without delay. The Director of the hospital/ Head of the health care institution should obtain a written request from relatives for burial. The relatives need to provide a coffin in advance. It is the duty of the director/ Head of health care institution to transport the corpse in a coffin provided by the relatives to a designated location in Colombo Institute of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology (office of JMO) / BH Welikanda where the corpse will be received by the designated officer. The vehicle transporting the...
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  • Muslims to raise concerns over Iranaithivu burial with global bodies
    A leading Muslim organisation in Sri Lanka will this week send an official letter of concern to the global Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the World Muslim Congress, seeking their intervention to urge the Sri Lankan government to allocate a decent land for the burial of Muslim COVID-19 victims. The Daily Mirror learns that the Sri Lanka Islamic Centre, which is a member of the World Muslim Congress will raise serious concerns with the global bodies and will also send a letter to the World Muslim Congress office in Geneva urging for immediate intervention after the government announced that burials of the COVID-19 dead would take place on the Iranaithivu Island, in the Gulf of Mannar. Senior Muslim officials said they were disappointed at the government’s decision to allocate the Iranaithivu Isle for the burials and instead urged...
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  • Hizbullah and Madrasa School Principal further remanded
    Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah and Principal of Madrasa School Mohammed Shakeel were further remanded till March 18 by the Fort Magistrate’s Court today. They were earlier remanded under section 2 (1) (h) of the PTA and section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act.   http://www.dailymirror.lk/breaking_news/Hizbullah-and-Madrasa-School-Principal-further-remanded/108-206945 Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.
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Hejaaz Hizbullah: Symptom and symbol

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  • What made him more enigmatic was that unlike most others in his profession who shield their lives beneath a calm facade, he taught exceptionally well
  • Apparently he called the Easter attackers “fools who died as fools.” I can picture Hejaaz saying that

 

There’s an image of Hejaaz Hizbullah I return to over and over again. It’s an image of him holding a placard at a protest in 2018. The placard reads, “Asilachaara parliamenthuwak wenuwata seelachara parliamenthuwak” (“A cultured parliament in place of an uncultured parliament”). The reason why it resonates with me is that, even in the ecstatic way he holds it, he is quite unlike the Hejaaz Hizbullah I once knew. But then I realise that the Hejaaz I once knew couldn’t have been the real guy. 
I first encountered the man in 2013 at my law school. He didn’t lecture us until two years later, in our third year. It would be quite unbecoming of me to say he exuded a critical, even dispassionate, distance between himself and his students. But say it I will. Hejaaz never seemed to get emotionally involved with what he taught. He came, he lectured, he made sure we understood what he said, and he left. I never saw him thereafter, not even at the many functions and events organised by my law school. At first, and for years afterwards, I assumed he was too busy with his practice to think of life outside lecture halls and chambers and courts. I couldn’t have been more wrong about a person.  


Hejaaz was the most enigmatic lecturer I ever came across. What made him more enigmatic was that unlike most others in his profession who shield their lives beneath a calm facade, he taught exceptionally well. Lecturers resort to secrecy because they know they’re not good enough, and know that their students know. Not this lecturer. That could mean only one thing. He was so deeply committed to his other lives that he couldn’t let those other lives interfere with this one. Underneath that dispassionate smile and frown, then, there was another man. A good man.  
I gradually realised that in addition to his practice and his activism, he was also a writer. At the time I was sitting for my A Levels in 2011, he wrote a particularly well thought out piece on the issue of the burka ban in France. Bizarrely enough, his stance on the problem – back when burkas and the identity of Muslim women and men were spreading like wildfire throughout Europe – coincided with the views of the very same Sinhala Buddhist nationalist crowd that demonises him as a terrorist sympathiser today. No less an articulator of this ideology than Professor Nalin de Silva said that the burka ban made clear the identity crisis in Western civilisation: in its quest to balance the demands of a White Christian majority and the reality of multiculturalism, Europe was imposing restrictions on displays of Muslim identity under the convenient excuse of “emancipating” Muslim women
When burkas and the identity of Muslim women and men were spreading like wildfire throughout Europe – coincided with the views of the very same Sinhala Buddhist nationalist crowd that demonises him as a terrorist sympathiser today


Hejaaz underscored this point a year later in a piece on the controversial anti-Islamic short documentary, Innocence of Muslims: “Even in the way the West defines free speech, it is not an unfettered, untrammelled absolute right. It is pegged in and restricted. Under the standard narrative, in deciding whether to decree something as free speech or not, there is a need to balance competing considerations but when it comes to Muslims, what we see is not a balance but really a bias. There are examples a plenty.” Now this is just about the same point Nalin de Silva and the Jathika Chintanaya have been making in column after column. It is a point I agree with and it couldn’t be any more correct.  
All that, however, is peripheral to my main point. More than Hejaaz’s arrest, which raises concerns that I, as a mere law student, am neither qualified nor able to address or assess, what distresses me is that infamous “court of public opinion” which automatically deems him a terrorist supporter and financier. When did “innocent until proven guilty” jump out of the window, reduced to an empty, meaningless phrase?  


I would dare to call Hejaaz a reminder of a generation of educated, progressive Sri Lankan Muslims, whose stand on communalism of all forms attracts ire from extremists and praise from moderates. Apparently he called the Easter attackers “fools who died as fools.” I can picture Hejaaz saying that. It was in him. It couldn’t have been anyone else. Certainly not any of the mainstream Muslim MPs we have today.  


I have seen the moderate Muslim, and I know in retrospect that he or she is a more complex human being than what either side of the divide prefers to see. The moderate Muslim is not necessarily opposed to burkas, but neither is he or she with those who wish to radicalize the Muslim population in the country by emphasising on Muslim-ness as opposed to Sri Lankan-ness. The moderate Muslim is opposed to the little Arabias that sprang up in the East of this country, under the watch NOT of a minority party but of a UPFA Muslim MP, but he or she is just as fervently opposed to those who try to make it out that this, somehow, represents the entirety of the Muslim race in the country. The moderate Muslim is seen as fitting a specific stereotype: he or she is invariably English educated, middle class, fluent in Sinhala and not just in Tamil, and outspoken against Islamisation. In many cases, this is true. Certainly, it is true of the St.Thomas’ educated, bilingual, and outspoken Hejaaz Hizbullah. But even then, they are not willing to concede to their own stereotype.  
Indeed, you’d be surprised to know that the same man demonised as a terrorist today wrote the following at the height of the halal (non-)issue in 2013:  


‘Who needs ‘halaal’ certification? It’s certainly not the Muslim consumer, but the businesses that crave for halaal recognition. I say this because there was a time before [the] halaal certification. Even then there were brands that had established consumer goodwill and trust to the effect that their products were ‘halaal’... To those thinking only in religious terms, ‘new’ translates often to ‘non-Muslim’ as Muslim businesses find it easier to establish consumer goodwill even without [the] certification.So as a Muslim consumer, the future of halaal certification does not trouble me.”


Extremist? Jihadist? Al-Qaeda supporter? Hardly.  


I think Hejaaz’s arrest is a symptom and symbol, of a great many among us who are ready to throw stones, swords, knives, and daggers at anyone suspected of something, anything. But even a cursory examination of the man’s record should, as it will, confirm that the values he has purported to stand for are at odds with their image of him.  



I think Hejaaz’s arrest is a symptom and symbol, of a great many among us who are ready to throw stones, swords, knives, and daggers at anyone suspected of something, anything


It is pointless, as certain commentators tend to do, to throw stones at and cast aspersions on this administration. Hejaaz Hizbullah’s arrest was made under the present regime a year after Dr Shafi’s arrest under a regime led by the now Opposition. Who’s kidding who here, if all we do is trace the contours of racism to a particular government without realising, and of course conceding, that this is an institutional (and institutionalised) problem? These arrests have already been validated, by a crowd only too eager to portray even the most moderate of moderates as villains of the piece. It’s all scripted. The players need only take their places. Hejaaz certainly has. And so have many of us.  


It didn’t have to be this way.


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http://www.dailymirror.lk/news-features/Hejaaz-Hizbullah-Symptom-and-symbol/131-194468

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