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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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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. Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.
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POINT OF VIEW: An agressive brand of state religion vs. others


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The Dambulla mosque fracas engineered by the militant elements of Sri Lankan Buddhists, the reaction to it by local Muslim politicians and Muslim religious leaders, the former threatening to withdraw their inconsequential support to the government while the latter urging Muslim masses to pray to Allah to restore the status quo, and the conflicting messages from the nation’s prime minister and the president, both of them without condemning the perpetrators but trying to mollify the aggressor and the aggrieved, demonstrate yet again the toxic mix of militant Buddhism (perhaps a contradiction in terms) and national politics. The Muslim community is precariously placed between militant Buddhism and political ineptitude.

The Sinhala-Buddhist identity of Sri Lanka is rooted in history. From the ancient times Buddhism always played a deterministic role in the island’s state formation. However, the 52 South Indian invasions in 14 centuries (2nd Century B.C. to 14th Century A.D.) according to one source, and nearly 450 years of uninterrupted Western Christian colonial rule (1505 to 1948) had obviously injected a feeling of political and cultural victimization in the Buddhist mindset. It was this feeling of victimization that led to the Buddhist revivalist movement in the country during the last quarter of the 19th Century and in that movement there was also an element of militancy. The Muslim community was the first to suffer in the hands of a militant Buddhist mob in 1915.

After independence however, practically every government that ruled Sri Lanka exploited this militant element whenever it felt threatened by the swelling of public discontent against government policies. The final victory in the 26 year old civil war, of a predominantly Sinhala-military-naval-police-power over an uncompromising Tamil enemy was celebrated with triumphalism and schadenfreude by the same militant elements and they became even more assertive in their demand for the total subjugation of the minorities. Instead of showing compassion and magnanimity towards the vanquished, as demonstrated by the Bhuddist monarchs in the ancient past, their modern avatars, by pandering to the whims of militant-Bhuddism, have become unyielding even to the minimum demands of the Tamil minority. As the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga said in a recent speech in Paris, “Anti terrorist emotions have been successfully linked with anti-Tamil and now anti-foreign and anti-everybody else concept, by means of a massive State-led publicity campaign.”

Precariously poised

Muslims and Muslim politics in Sri Lanka, both increasingly obsessed with the idea of preserving and promoting an ethno-religious identity at the expense of creating a Sri Lankan Muslim national identity are now precariously poised to confront a triumphalist and militant Buddhism.  The Dambulla incident was the latest of a series that happened over the last few decades. As noted earlier it was in 1915 during the British colonial regime that the Muslim community experienced its first taste of militant Buddhism when an unruly urban mob of Buddhist thugs in Colombo and its suburbs rampaged and destroyed Muslim property and life. They were driven into action by the anti-Muslim rhetoric of Buddhist firebrands like Anagarika Dharmapala, who described the “Mohamedans” as “aliens” and demanded that they be repatriated to Arabia. The immediate provocation for the riots came of course from an equally intolerant group of Muslim fanatics in Gampola by refusing to allow a Buddhist procession with music to pass along the site of a mosque.

After that incident and under an independent Sri Lanka, Muslim politics adopted a different strategy to survive. With ethnic politics driving a wedge between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities, Muslim leaders resorted to a businesslike strategy of aligning with the ruling party and distanced themselves from the Tamils. “Keep them divided we will swim, and allow them to unite – we will sink” was the very words of a former Muslim minister. Although this strategy won the community some concessions from the rulers, especially in the fields of education and culture, Muslim peasants and farmers in the Eastern Province and elsewhere were losing their traditional lands like the Tamils, all in the name of national economic development. Muslim politicians of that time who were mostly based in the heart of Colombo did not even dare to raise their voice against these losses in the periphery. It is sad that this aspect of Sinhalizatiion escaped even the attention of The Social Architects who recently published in the International Policy Digest of March 2012 an otherwise excellent monograph titled, Salt on Old Wounds: The Systematic Sinhalization of Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill Country.

That Muslim political strategy of fishing in troubled waters, sometime more respectfully called politics of pragmatism, completely lost its vitality with the conclusion of the civil war. In a triumphalist and populist government virtually ruled by the dictates of a cabal surrounding the president, even the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, one component of the ruling coalition and a political party originally formed with the intention of playing the same old ethnic game but under a new and united team, has ended up disunited and dysfunctional descending into a bunch of cheer-leaders. On the other hand, militant Buddhism with support from elements in the military and police forces have become indispensable to a government whose geo-political manoeuvres and domestic economic policies are driving the country to a dead end.  This explains why the government is dilly dallying with the Dambulla issue.

Are the Muslims also contributing to the rise of militancy among the Buddhists? In this context, attention should be drawn to another variable that has the potential to make the situation even more volatile, and that is Islamism. Islamism is a religiously expressed protest movement that normally thrives under oppressive conditions but varies in its structure and operation depending on local conditions. It can be active or passive, peaceful or violent, moderate or extreme.  It is not a monolithic creature as portrayed by the West. Yet, the common denominator to all forms of Islamist protest is that it is expressed through Islam.


Although Islamism has not yet taken a definite political shape in Sri Lanka, yet, decades of evangelical work by the Tabligh Jamaat to ‘Islamise’ the Muslims and the infusion of Salafist or Wahhabi ideas after the 1970s through Middle East contacts have unfortunately created a situation in which a growing section of the Muslim community is self-alienating from main stream Sri Lanka. Muslims are fast losing their national identity without realising it. This self-alienation is demonstrated through the life and actions of community members and their leaders. The attire of Muslim men and women who have embraced the teachings of the Jamaat and Salafism for example is foreign to the country in which they live and so are the names and architecture of some of their institutions and building structures. The manner in which some Islamic religious practices are observed, quite contrary to the teachings of the original sources, disregard the sensitivities of other communities. Similarly, what is the national relevance of planting expensive date palms that are native to the Middle East along the roadsides of Muslim towns in Sri Lanka? Why is the attempt to write street names in Arabic? Why should Muslim schools have a religiously determined school calendar separate from other national schools? These issues, some of them may sound trivial, are obviously isolating the Muslim community. It is this tendency to shape local Muslim life through a Middle East design that is totally alien to Sri Lanka that is providing substance to the various anti-Muslim demands of militant Buddhism. Muslim politicians are absolutely incompetent to tackle these issues.

Muslims, like the Tamils have genuine economic, social and cultural grievances against the ruling regime. Government take-over of traditional farm lands, unemployment, administrative discrimination, underfunded and substandard educational institutions, discriminatory behaviour of the security forces, and above all a militant Buddhist challenge are common to all minorities in the countries. These have to be fought not by each community in isolation but by all, and more importantly in union, with the progressive forces among the Sinhalese community itself. Not all Buddhists are militant and not all Sinhalese are anti-Muslim and anti-others. One should not forget that in the 1950s and 1960s it was the progressive Sinhalese who cried for parity of status for the Tamil language and equality for all citizens. Their leaders were above any ethnicity or religion. Unfortunately they were not supported by the minorities. Unless the Muslims and Tamils learn the lessons from history a proper solution to their grievances will remain a distant dream. Neither India nor the Middle East, or for that matter not even a super power is going to come to their aid.

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