By Mohamed Harees –
‘Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them’ ~George Eliot
M.H. Mohamed, the versatile charismatic politician, who rose from a being a Municipal Councillor, to become a Minister holding various portfolios on different occasions and once the Speaker of the Parliament, left this mundane world, to meet his Lord four years ago. But the memories he left behind will remain for many years to come. In the present context, the Nation truly mourns his sad loss at a challenging time in history when the dire need for politicians of his ilk is being felt more than ever. Fondly known as MH, he left behind more than memories; legacies that would continue to serve the Muslim community in particular and the country in general.
MH did not expect to be called a Muslim leader when undertaking his pursuits in politics or religious matters. He was equally comfortable with all religious leaders, associating with Muslim Ulemas or the clergy of other denominations – Buddhists, Christian or Hindu with the same respect and honour without distinction. And as a pragmatic politician who dreamt of a Sri Lanka where her children will live together in peace and harmony; he is truly missed indeed!
Coming from a deeply religious family, MH did not neglect his religious functions, associations or activities. One of the major contributions with far – reaching beneficiary effects for the Muslim Community of Sri Lanka Mohamed was the establishing of an independent Department of Muslims Religious Cultural affairs in 1981 during J.R J’s government. As the Minister in Charge of Muslim Religious Affairs, MH efficiently addressed the issues of the Haj pilgrimage of Sri Lankan Muslims. For the first time, a Waqf Tribunal, an appellate body, was created in addition to the Waqf Board. He associated himself with the Rabitat al-Alam Al-Islami (World Muslim League) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and was its founder member of the Sri Lankan Chapter of the organisation and a Constituent Councillor as well. He was instrumental in securing financial and material assistance from Rabita, and Islamic development Bank to help the needy.He left behind a legacy, the Islamic Centre, at Maligawattte, that would continue to serve the Muslim community in various avenues, including helping the education of Muslims. The Muslim prayer facility constructed in Katunayake, in honour of the Indonesian Hajis who died in the air crash, was also an initiative by MH, which will remain as monuments to his eternal memory.
However, his Islamic leanings and beliefs did not prevent him from working with other religious community leaders towards working for communal harmony. MH periodically invited Muslim theologians, members of the Maha Sangha, Christian and Hindu clergy for events to explore ways of promoting communal harmony. It was a time when prominent Muslim politicians rose above their ethnic mind-set and projected themselves as champions of peaceful co-existence. The measure of success in that direction was them getting re-elected from predominantly Sinhala electorates – MH getting re-elected as the MP for Borella, Bakeer Marcar as MP for Beruwela and ACS Hameed as MP for Harispattuwa. Those were the halcyon days of peaceful co-existence!
Again , as Chairman of the National Hijra Council, he worked not only for the welfare of Muslims, but also contributed towards establishing peaceful co-existence and communal harmony. MH organised two international seminars in Sri Lanka on the “Universality of Islam” and arranged a dialogue between Muslims and Christians, with top delegates from international Muslim organisations represented at these events. He always put the interests and security of the Muslim Community in general, in the context of living as a minority in a majority Buddhist country while serving their needs as a Muslim leader belonging to a major national political party.
MH proved that he was totally committed to promote inter-racial amity and brotherhood when he, before others would thought of it, formed a Forum for National Amity and Understanding under the roof of the Sri Lanka Islamic Centre, thus achieving the principle purpose of ‘Rabita (World Muslim League)’s global mission in promoting international peace and harmony. He showed remarkable statesmanship, when he got, among others, erudite Buddhist scholars like Ven. Kumburugamuwe Vajira Nayake Thera (Vice-Chancellor of Sabaragumwa University) and Ven. Banagala Upatiss Nayaka Thera (Chief Sanganayake Thera of Japan and Chief of Mahabodhi Society of Sri Lanka) to occupy prominent positions in this Forum.
In 2013, in the context of the tensions then prevailing, mainly between the Muslim and Sinhalese Buddhist communities, the Forum focussed on measures to implement a permanent effective program to settle the religious misunderstanding among the communities, and ensure that people of all communities to live peacefully, as universal and Sri Lanka brotherhood. One such measure was to convene a meeting of Buddhist temples and mosque authorities and also prominent laymen in all parts of the country of both communities, to promote close cooperation and coordination as to unify them to live peacefully, as responsible citizens.
Today, the nation is crying out for lawmakers of MH’s calibre, as it faces multiple challenges to heal the wounds arising from mutual mistrust and misunderstanding. It was a fact that a section of the Muslim population gravitating towards communal political parties since the late 1980s, (among other factors) made it easy for conspiratorial forces both local and foreign to inflame tensions between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. In the past, the two main political parties had Muslim leaders like Badiudin Mohamed, A.C.S. Hameed, M.H. Mohamed, Bakeer Marcar, and Alavi Moulana who were elected to Parliament not only by Muslims but also by Sinhalese voters. During those decades, not everything was perfect; however tensions between the Sinhalese and the Muslims were very rare. The tension seen now between the Sinhalese and the Muslims is a fairly recent phenomenon, particularly in the Post –war era, which were caused by disgruntled political opportunists to both gain as well as retain power, with support from racist sections of the Media and clergy.
Previous Muslim politicians and leaders were then sensible enough to avoid forming a separate Muslim or Islamic party, partly because the ethnicity of Muslims is indeterminate and a conundrum to say the least, and partly because of a realisation that Islam would be unnecessarily dragged in to the name of that party the moment Muslim is introduced into it. Formation of Muslim parties like SLMC etc did exactly that and the rest is history. Looking back, all in all, the formation of SLMC was considered by political analysts as a political blunder like any other communal parties like JHU or TNA. None of the communities whether Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, are no longer looking at Sri Lanka as one united and unified whole, but rather an agglomeration of competing and combative ethnic groups engaging in zero-sum games. MH, just as other Muslim political leaders of his era, foresaw the inherent dangers of this disastrous approach well ahead and chose to serve the community through national political parties – a visionary politician indeed.
Sri Lankan society today is thus torn into shreds by communal politics adopted by ambitious political leaders of all communities. Today in the Post- Easter Sunday situation, at a time when Muslims are being demonised and also used as political footballs, MH would be a sad man if he was alive; particularly when peaceful coexistence, the most important project of our era, appears to have been shred into smithereens by self-serving politicians of all sides of the political canvas.
There is thus an urgent need to bring communities together in a spirit of ‘live and let live’ and perhaps create in this country a thirst for a country focused approach above narrow communal interests where Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim leaders will work towards national reconciliation, the ‘sine quo non’ for national progress, resembling the mood of the first post-independence government. However, given the poisonous contagion of communalism that has spread in this country over the past few decades, this will not be an easy task. One brand of communal politics has bred the others. A vicious circle indeed! However, this sorry state of affairs cannot continue. The self-centered political class should be compelled upon to put a stop to this nonsense pronto and create an inclusive Sri Lanka. Otherwise, the Paradise Isle which boasts of over 2500 years of glory will continue to fizzle out in the international arena as a broken nation and an outcast. It is in this context, that the relevance of MH’s exemplary politics, will be felt more than ever by this nation, bleeding from the traumas of war, hate politics, and communal violence. Enough is enough! MH will say if he is alive today.