Challenges to Peaceful Co-existence: Question of tolerance in Sri Lanka

We are all in agreement that once upon a time the people of Sri Lanka lived in peaceful co-existence. The challenges to that peace came after foreign invasion and occupation that introduced multiple means to divide the people and disunite them. Five Hundred years on the country remains in imbroglio not knowing how to overcome the past, how to deal with the present or how to protect our tomorrows. Part of the reason is the reluctance to face issues in its embryo stage and uproot the ills before taking root. Using these tribulations as political advantage for a few has resulted in political turbulence to the entire nation. As global populations increase and people move from one continent to the other we walk into a situation where countries have majority ethnic groups and countries which are now “multi-ethnic”. The question raised is how morally right is it for Muslims in Muslim-minority countries to consistently demand bigger religious freedoms citing “tolerance” while in most Muslim majority nations particularly in the middle east non-Muslims function with an almost 2nd class citizen status and have no equal rights and no equal freedoms  and no “tolerance” by law of their non – Muslim religion – while at the same time manipulating the “multiculturalism” tag to subtly introduce radical Muslim laws and practices to non-Muslim nations on a long term plan to Islamize them?

 When people have been living in peaceful co-existence in the past why is there a need to unsettle it by introducing radical aspects of one religion that adherents of other religions do not wish to conform to or have the country subject to?

 There are no constitutional laws that have denied a place for any minority ethnic or religious group in either the public or private sector of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s Cabinet and Government comprises members of various minority ethnic and religious groups, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister was a Tamil (slain by the LTTE), Sri Lanka has had countless Central Bank Governors of minority ethnic race as has been with all other public sector positions and an important portfolio is currently being held by Mr. R. Hakeem as Minister of Justice whilst being a member of a radical Muslim political party i.e. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress – Mr. Hakeem has recently raised the question of “tolerance” and we ask him whether the Buddhists in a Muslim majority country enjoy to the same extent the rights and privileges that Muslims enjoy as a religious group in a  Buddhist majority country. For example, can a non-Muslim, say, a Buddhist, be appointed a judge in an Islamic judicial system? – http://en.islamtoday.net/node/1220 . He may also like to answer the question of whether in a country under a non-Muslim government, a Muslim can obey the verdicts of a non – Muslim judge –  http://en.islamtoday.net/node/1608

 With a global presence of 1.3 billion with 57 nations having majority Muslim populations how many of these states actually treat non-Muslims on par with what Muslims enjoy legally? The problem at hand is the difference of standards being applied and the fact that Muslims do not seem to compare the way fellow Muslims in Muslim majority countries treat non-Muslims to understand why non-Muslims view the unfairness of their demands. Goal posts cannot change – if Muslims assert their human rights in the West these same rights must be available to Non-Muslims in Muslim-majority countries as well.  The well known saying ‘what’s sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander’ sums up this position quite effectively.

23 Muslim-majority nations declare Islam the state religion in their Constitution (Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen).

International laws dictate that a state may declare an official religion, provided that basic rights — including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief — are respected for all without discrimination.

Sri Lanka’s Constitution in Article 9 of Chapter 2 states that “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the State to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights granted by Articles 10 and 14(1)(e). The minorities in Sri Lanka enjoy far more freedoms to practice their religions without bias than ethnic and religious minorities in most non-Muslim nations. Sadly, it is the Buddhist leaders who have not upheld their duty towards Buddhism as is evident from the fact that Buddhists enjoy least privileges socially, educationally and economically despite being over 69% of the population and a look at the positions held by non-Buddhists in all spectrums of society in Sri Lanka would reveal the truth. Unfortunately it appears that most Buddhists that hold positions care little to advance, protect or promote Buddhism either. Buddhism has become of ceremonial significance only. Buddhist tenets and doctrine are diminishing as a term of reference in public policy making or basis of legislation, when compared to the value and respect given to them by Buddhist Kings in the pre – colonial era. In contrast it is becoming increasingly evident that notions more familiar to Abrahamic religions are gaining in influence in guiding the destiny of the nation e.g. the principle of ‘kill and eat’, animal sacrifice, spread of rearing of animals for slaughter (considered a wrong livelihood in Buddhism), etc.

 We now come to the issue of co-existence. Given the wide freedoms that religions enjoy in Sri Lanka does it warrant the need to encourage radical elements of minority religions by conferring institutional recognition on them in a Buddhist state comprising over 69% Buddhists? As much as the status of Islam is non – negotiable in Muslim nations, the Buddhists of Sri Lanka must take a similar stand on Buddhism and convey to the rulers of this country that the status of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is non-negotiable.  It is when minority radicalism attempts to take undue and disproportionate prominence and supersede the majority religion that peaceful co-existence gets challenged and undermined. Moderates amongst the minorities must realize the dangers of such conduct of extremists in their ranks.

 Yet in majority Muslim nations does Islam intend to co-exist as equals with other religions or is there no room for other religions except for the Sharia, the supreme law? Can Islam be compatible with democratic principles if Islam does not make room for equality of religions in practice? In a democracy all people are judged as equals before the law regardless of race, religion or gender yet why is it that under Islamic law only Muslim males have full rights and Muslim women have only half rights of a man while non-Muslims have no equal standing with a Muslim? Those that argue otherwise may please answer if a Muslim can be put to death for killing an unbeliever in an Islamic state which is guided by Islamic law?

When the Muslim world demands tolerance can they please ask what tolerance they are showing towards Christians in Iraq (where 1.4m Christians are fleeing because they are being targeted), why Taliban hates the presence of Jews, Hindus and others in Afghanistan, why a cartoon should descend to violence across the globe (with $1m offered for the head of the cartoonist instead of applying the laws relevant to the Dutch), why a film which hardly any has watched should also result in similar violence and why 25,000 should gather to systematically destroy ancient Buddhist statues and artifacts? In Sudan 2m Christians have been murdered, Turkey expelled thousands of Greek Orthodox Christians and turned an ancient Church into a mosque, Egypt allowed an entire Christian neighborhood to be set ablaze…Have any non-Muslim paid for any Muslims head for these inhumane actions?

As an ideology, Islam has to be open to debate, criticism and cross-examination just as other ideologies? It goes without saying that every religion must be respected and no religion should be subject to any taunts or commercial fanfare. Media stands guilty of using their medium to provoke religious based clashes for their own profits. Having the freedom to publish does not mean media must publish to prove it – media must use material by first considering whether the merit of publication outweighs any likely offence.

 If Islam is tolerant why does Saudi Arabia and several other Muslim dominated nations ban other forms of religious worship?  If tolerance is what Mr. Hakeem wants why is it that anyone entering Saudi and most other Muslim countries including neighbouring Maldives, has their Bibles, religious symbols and other religious texts confiscated from them and people are punished by public lashing to amputation of a limb and even beheading – in 1993 Sadeq Mallallah was beheaded for possessing a Bible! This open ban and ultimate punishment is totally excessive in comparison to isolated cases which are not part of any system or culture! And UN / UNHRC remain silent!

Why is it forbidden for non-Muslims to discuss their religion, carry any statue related to the religion or even indulge in prayer? These prohibitions are all part of the Islamic system and they are authorized by their Governments. So when such prohibitions and denials of rights are part of the political and legal system of Muslim nations towards non-Muslims how morally justifiable are they to demand greater rights using the universally valued catch cry of “tolerance”?

Muslim leaders insist that the Islamic “message of peace, moderation and tolerance” must be protected by all nations while in Saudi and most middle eastern Muslim nations where millions of non-Muslims work and live none of them can openly celebrate Easter, Christmas, Wesak, Diwali let alone exchange cards! Christian religious services in the US embassy was stopped at the request of the Saudi Govt. There is no freedom of religion for non-Muslims in Saudi as professed. Non-Muslims are even forbidden from entering Mecca but now in the sacred city of Anuradhapura, the citadel of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, there are even mosques irreverently using loudspeakers that disturb Buddhist worship in holy sites that have over 2300 year history in existence. A similar turn of events in Buddha Gaya where a newly established Mosque and use of loudspeaker for azan (call to prayer) five times a day disturbing the serenity and quiet of the holiest of Buddhist sites in the world is causing great amount of uneasiness among Buddhists. Such conduct on the part of Muslims can hardly maintain peaceful co – existence between religions.

 Whilst not a single Buddhist temple is allowed to be erected in Muslim-majority nations why are Mr. Hakeem and other Muslims asking for more and more Mosques to be built in Sri Lanka totally out of proportion to the numbers of Muslims in the country? In some parts of the country there are sometimes two mosques per street. Is this justifiable?

 While there is hardly any evidence in history of Buddhists going on the rampage destroying places of worship of other faiths, history says something else of the conduct of non – Buddhists. How many Buddhist temples and kovils have Muslim invaders destroyed throughout all the invasions in history?   In India, Nalanda University and about 10 other prominent Buddhist Universities were burnt to the ground by Muslim Turkish invaders. These are undeniable facts.

What can Mr. Hakeem say to deny that 11th Century jurist Abu Al-Hasan Al Mawardi wrote that non-Muslim dhimmis “are not allowed to erect new synagogues or churches in the territory of Islam and any built are to be demolished without compensation.” In the Balkans after the defeat of the Serbs, over 100 ancient 13th century Orthodox holy places were destroyed, in 2001 the 5th century Bamiyan Buddha statue was destroyed in Afghanistan supported by Islamic scholars (American Muslim Sheikh Ali al-Timimi).

Where is the logic of not allowing other religions to prevail in Muslim nations while in non-Muslim nations or where Muslims are in the minority they spend billions towards increasing the number of mosques, spreading Wahhabi doctrine and Sharia laws having found an easy way by bribing parliamentarians who make the decisions! These extremisms are creating unnecessary animosities and affecting the peaceful co-existence where minorities respected the place of the majority religion previously but currently made worse by the Justice Ministerial portfolio held.

A state that is “Islamic” entails political, economic, social and religious systems to impose only Islamic law and people are divided into Muslims (believers) and non-Muslims (non-believers). The Muslim state is responsible only to those that believe Islamic ideology – therefore non-Muslims do not hold policy making roles (reiterating again that Sri Lanka’s Justice Ministry is a Muslim) though under Sharia non-Muslims are given “certain specifically stated rights beyond which they are not permitted to meddle in the affairs of the state because they do not subscribe to its ideology”.

Non-Muslims (infidels) are either Dar-ul-Harb (not bound by a covenant) or Dar-ur-Salam. Dar-ur-Salam is divided into 3 categories: Zimmia (Non-Muslims who live in Muslim countries who pay Jizya for protection and subject to Islamic law) / Hudna (Non-Muslims who sign peace treaty with Muslims after defeat in war and agree to Islam law) or Musta’min (Non-Muslims who are merchants, visitors, students wanting to learn Islam). In Saudi, grade 1 students are taught that “every religion other than Islam is false”.

Yet Zimmis cannot build new churches, temples or synagogues while Muslims can demolish all non-Muslim houses of worship in any land they conquer. Zimmis cannot openly pray, install prayer symbols even in their houses or listen to broadcasts of religious ceremonies/rituals and they cannot congregate on the streets. Are Muslims in Muslim-minority countries subject to this type of treatment?

However in matters of civil laws Zimmis and Muslims are treated alike – theft, adultery, murder, damaging of property under Islamic law would be the same for Muslims and non-Muslims. Zimmis however cannot testify against Muslims. However while a Muslim male can marry a Zimmi girl, a Zimmi man cannot marry a Muslim girl. Under Sharia law Muslims cannot emulate Zimmis in their dress or behavior, they cannot attend Zimmi festivals, they cannot lease house or land that benefits Zimmi’s faith, they cannot address Zimmis with titles such as “my master” or “my lord” – this is a tricky scenario!

It is clear that in Islamic states, non-Muslims are virtual 2nd class citizens though the application of Sharia laws differs but can Muslims say they are treated differently in foreign countries? Muslims have built mosques, schools, educational centers and have a host of other freedoms which in Muslim only or Muslim majority nations they deny to non-Muslims. In 2008, the Maldivian constitution included a clause preventing non-Muslims from becoming Maldivian citizens (Article 9d) though Maldivians have had open access to Sri Lanka – purchasing property, educating their children and carrying out business though until 1153 the Maldives was a Buddhist nation.

http://www.jihadwatch.org/2012/09/james-m-arlandson-thirty-shariah-laws-that-are-bad-for-all-societies.html

Last year a group of Maldivians destroyed Buddha relics and historic Buddha statues in the National Museum of Maldives. Did the Ministry of External Affairs of Sri Lanka summon the Ambassador of Maldives to register even a nominal protest on behalf of the Buddhists of this country?

Article 9 of Sri Lanka’s Constitution requires more than lip service to be given to Buddhism.

Power of Islamic Funds

Money is always a powerful tool and a key decider over sanity. Globally it is evident that Muslims are now making heavy demands in non-Muslim nations and these demands are being consented causing ripples of anger among traditional non – Muslim people likely to get out of hand with time. The extent of the influence being exerted upon non-Muslims is made clear by the manner in which a UK town council following a complaint by a Muslim employee has banned all representations of pig and pig-related merchandize. There is also a ban on tissue boxes portraying images of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet and the series may soon disappear from electronic and print circulation altogether! The guards at an English prison have had to abandon wearing St. George’s cross (red cross on a white field – which has been England’s national flag since 1200) because it is supposed to be offensive to Muslims because it reminds them of the Crusades! Will Muslims ever consider if a non-Muslim were to say the same? For example, Animal Sacrifice is condemned in Buddhism. Would Muslims in Buddhist countries consent to stop home slaughter and animal sacrifice out of respect for Buddhist sensitivities? For peaceful co existence there must be respect for traditional culture particularly religious values that save lives.

If non-Muslims are empathetic to a few religious practices of Muslims (not serving pork at events that Muslims attend etc) why do Muslims not wish to reciprocate as a mark of respect for other religions?

What non-Muslims fear

Non-Muslims are now becoming fearful. There is an international Muslim lobby that openly advocates a strong drive to demand larger rights and more space for Muslims and Islam in Muslim minority countries using diplomacy, human rights laws and the strength of petrodollars. They openly encourage natural increase in Muslim births in a goal to change the population balance of nations – France will be a Muslim country by 2025, UK, Germany & US will be in 2050…. entire Europe will become a Muslim state by 2050. This is the projection. It is the threats fast-forwarded by the extremes of – Wahhabism, Muslim Brotherhood, Sharia Laws….that have come to make non-Muslim nations fear of being turned into Muslim states – Sri Lanka’s fears are no different.

With over USD80billion at their disposal the Wahhabi way of how Muslims should live is undermining the peaceful co – existence of Muslims in Muslim-minority nations who are being forced to adapt to these new rigid systems. Under such intense pressure from Wahhabism it is difficult for moderate Muslims to refuse becoming rigid in their ways.

A regular Muslim contributor herself mentions the rise in extremist groups breaking the Muslim community in Sri Lanka and rightly attributes this to the petrodollars from Saudi sponsoring a wave of mosques (often unused) that have resulted in unnecessary tensions. She goes on to say that since Muslims are living in a non-Muslim country they should not behave with a mentality of being a majority. She says that the radicals have brought a bad name to the Muslims who have existed peacefully as a community and called on all Muslims to “reevaluate our social contact with the Sinhalese community once again”.

The truth is that Sharia discriminates against non-Muslims. Muslims in majority Muslim nations will enforce sharia laws on non-Muslims denying any “freedom of religion” because a non-Muslim cannot even represent himself in a Sharia court but in countries where Muslims are in the minority they demand and expect all the freedoms! In Malaysia Sharia courts may overrule any decision of the regular court.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maniam_Moorthy / http://www.cfr.org/malaysia/religious-conversion-sharia-law/p13552

It is because of the manner in which Muslims have been historically treating non-Muslims in practice (despite whatever excuses given in their Holy Texts) that has resulted in other religions having had enough of turning the other cheek shown by a statement from Secretary of the Vatican’s Supreme Court who says “The West has had relations with the Arab countries for half a century….and has not been able to get the slightest concession on human rights”. In 2003, a Cardinal in the Vatican said “there are too many majority Muslim countries where non-Muslims are second-class citizens”.

It needs to also be pointed out that while Mecca is out of bounds to non-Muslims, the Vatican in spite of encouraging multiculturalism elsewhere will never agree to anything non-Catholic in its Holy See either! The argument is that if Muslims or Christians/Catholics can build houses of prayer anywhere in the world, other religions should be able to do so too without restrictions or victimizations. Future diplomacy should be based on the policy of reciprocity – they cannot encourage “multiculturalism” in other nations but prohibit such in their countries.  Such outrageous double standards and hypocrisy should be condemned outright by all right thinking people.

The time has come for the Vatican to make a speedy transition from a mono theistic hard line theocracy into a multicultural pluralistic state that it advocates unreservedly in non – christian states.

Tolerance must be combined and complimented with reciprocity

For Muslims to peace-fully co-exist (especially the Muslims who see Islam as a religion of peace) they should disassociate themselves from the Saudi, Wahhabi, Salafi, Deobandi, Brotherhood, Jihad brand of Islam because of the extremism associated with them which does nothing to deliver peace. The Muslim Brotherhood has not made this quest any easier. Founded in Egypt in 1928, it was used by the CIA to dislodge President Mubarak – one-time darling of the West. Why would US (or rather its ruling elite) be promoting the Brotherhood who wants to turn Egypt into an Islamic state and how do we interpret this in the context of President Obama’s slip of tongue reference to “My Muslim faith” though not forgetting his own Muslim patriarchal heritage? Given that the Brotherhood is given the reigns (Libya is now in the hands of the West, Syria is on course) it is not too difficult to now know who the new enemy is!

 Muslim Brotherhood – http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=bcc_1349733310

Making matters complicated is the fact that Sri Lanka’s Justice Minister is a Muslim who is also the leader of a radical Muslim political party who is opposing the animal-welfare bill and the anti-conversion bill on account of his own religious belief though that is not the role expected of him as a Minister of Justice on behalf of ALL the people of Sri Lanka. The governing law on prevention of cruelty to animals in Sri Lanka is a statute enacted in 1907 by the British where the maximum punishment for an heinous act of cruelty to animals is a fine of Rs. 100 (less than one dollar). It is a national shame for Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Justice of a majority Buddhist country to allow such obsolete legislation to remain on the statute book without supporting law reform of animal welfare laws of this country.

It also needs to question to what extent Sharia laws can become acceptable and applicable in a nation which has over 90% non-Muslims and why authorities seem oblivious to the subtle way these practices are becoming introduced into Sri Lanka in the backdrop of weak governance who have made it a habit of coming to power on the strength of the Buddhist vote and thereafter bartering away the space and rights of the Sinhalese Buddhists breaching the sacrifices made by the Sinhala patriots and Buddhist kings who protected Sri Lanka throughout history.

The simple argument is that when Muslims deny any rights and freedoms to non – Muslims by Islamic laws in majority-Muslim nations how ethically correct is it for minority Muslims in non-Muslim countries to demand bigger freedoms than what their co –religionists concede to non – Muslims in Muslim majority states.

 The people of Sri Lanka can live in peaceful co-existence with each other without extremism of such kind.

 Shenali Waduge

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