Challenges To Peaceful Co-existence: Question Of Tolerance In Sri Lanka – OpEd


By Shenali Waduge

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 freedoms citing “tolerance” while in Muslim majority nations non-Muslims are virtually 2nd class citizens and have equal no rights and no equal freedoms as the Muslims and no “tolerance” by law of their non-Muslim religions – while manipulating the “multiculturalism” tag to subtly introduce radical Muslim laws and practices to non-Muslim nations on a long term plan to Islamize them?

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

When people have been living in peaceful co-existence why is there a need to challenge this by introducing radical aspects of one religion that 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 group in either the public or private sector of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s Cabinet and Government comprises members of the minority ethnic group, 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 held by Mr. Hakeem as Minister of Justice whilst being a member of a radical Muslim political party – Mr. Hakeem has recently raised the question of “tolerance” and we ask him whether the Buddhists in a Muslim country can enjoy the same freedoms that a Muslim enjoys in a non-Muslim country. Can the SLMC answer if a non-Muslim can be appointed a judge in an Islamic judicial system? – He may also like to answer the question of whether in a non-Muslim government, a Muslim can obey the verdicts of a non-Muslim judge –

With a global presence of 1.3billion 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 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 relevant to Non-Muslims in Muslim-majority countries as well.

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 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 Article 10 and 14(1)e. The minorities in Sri Lanka enjoy far more freedoms to practice their religions without bias than 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 would reveal the truth. The Buddhists that hold positions care little to advance, protect or promote Buddhism either. Buddhism has become of ceremonial significance only.

We now come to the issue of co-existence. Given the freedoms that religions enjoy in Sri Lanka does it warrant the need to encourage by way of institutionalizing radical elements of minority religions in a Buddhist state comprising over 69% Buddhists? The place of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is non-negotiable and it is when minority radicalism attempts to take prominence and supersede that peaceful co-existence is gets challenged. Moderates amongst the minorities must realize the dangers of such.

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 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 point of publication outweighs any likely offence.

If Islam is tolerant why does Saudi Arabia and Muslim dominated nations ban other worship? If tolerance is what Mr. Hakeem wants why is it that anyone entering Saudi including 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 right are they to demand greater rights using “tolerance”?

Muslim leaders insist that the Islamic “message of peace, moderation and tolerance” must be protected by all nations while in Saudi 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 there are even mosques using loud speakers. Whilst not a single Buddhist temple is allowed to be erected in Muslim-majority nations can Mr. Hakeem prove that the number of mosques been erected across Sri Lanka has decreased? How many Buddhist temples and kovils have Muslim invaders destroyed throughout all the invasions in history?

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 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 mosques, increasing 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 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 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 Maldives was a Buddhist nation.

Power of Islamic money

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 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?

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 for other religions?

What non-Muslims fear

Non-Muslims are fearful. There is an international Muslim lobby that openly advocates a strong drive to demand larger rights for Muslims and Islam in Muslim minority countries using diplomacy, human rights laws and the strength of petrodollars. They openly encourage and increase in Muslim births with 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. 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 coexistence of Muslims in Muslim-minority nations who are being forced to adapt to these new rigid systems. It is difficult for moderate Muslims to refuse.

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 non-Muslims 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 court’s decision /

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 inspite 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.

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) 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 –

Making matters complicated is the fact that Sri Lanka’s Justice Minister is a Muslim who is also a member 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. 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 by the Sinhala patriots and Buddhist kings who protected Sri Lanka through history.

The simple argument is when Muslims deny any rights and freedoms by Islamic laws in majority-Muslim nations how ethically correct is it for Muslims to demand bigger freedoms than what they already enjoy legally in Muslim-minority nations?

Sri Lanka can live in peaceful co-existence without extremism of such kind.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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