Colombo Telegraph

A Dialogue Of Religions Not A Clash Of Religions Is Needed

By R.M.B Senanayake

R.M.B Senanayake

I read the article by Shenali Waduge and was greatly perturbed. Why is she stirring up hatred against the Muslims of our country? Are they not human beings and didn’t the Buddha ask his followers to show compassion to all living beings? Don’t we all have friends among Muslims? But I don’t want to preach for if 2000 years of Buddhist teaching has not succeeded how can I make any impact. I only wish to sound the dangers of this course of action.

Today the world is going through a fundamental change brought about by the revolution in Information Technology and the Social media networks. These changes have brought the peoples of the world to a much closer interaction than ever before. Isolation is no longer an option for either Buddhists or Muslims. In the past the Buddhists minded their own business and allowed the Muslims to live their lives according to their own cultural and religious life. There was little interaction which also meant little room for any clash of the cultural and religious practices. But we are living today in an increasingly globalized world. With the increased mobility of people there is a mix of people in all countries. There are significant Muslim minorities in much of Europe and in USA. It is no longer possible for each religious community to isolate itself and pursue its traditional religious and cultural practices ignoring their impact on other communities. In such interactions there will have to be give  and take with mutual accommodation.

Samuel Huntingdon gave a twist to this phenomenon of the globalization of people, through his treatise on the Clash of Civilizations. By doing so he stressed conflict rather peaceful interaction through dialogue and understanding among the different religions and culture. Are human beings of different cultures and religions incapable of interacting peacefully? To think so is a way of imperialist thinking based on the assumption of the superiority of western cultures. But unfortunately many Muslim Fundamentalists have accepted this theory and look upon the present world situation as a conflict between Islam and the West. Unfortunately it is also cast as a conflict between Islam and Christianity. But Christianity is no longer a force in the West which has instead embraced a totally secular culture where even same sex marriages have become legalized along with the taking of the life of the infant in the mother’s womb. But the USA seems to be at last realizing the futility of intervening militarily in Muslim countries even in the name of protecting humanitarian values and democracy. This has left those who take to the sword to perish with the sword in countries like Libya and now Syria.

But where will any conflicts or clashes between religions lead to. Several countries like India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea now have nuclear weapons and the West no longer has a monopoly of them. Terrorism is not easy to control as several countries including our own have experienced. So any clash of religious communities will only lead to the emergence of fundamentalists like the Al Qaeda who will resort to terrorism.

Due to the increased mobility and migration among people there are today no mono-ethnic or mono-religious nations. There are significant Muslim minorities in most European countries and in USA. They have their traditions and cultures just like the Jews. For two thousand years the Jews lived in the West preserving their own cultural and religious practices. But they did have to give up the practice of stoning adulterous women to death and also modifying some moral and ethical codes contained in the Old Testament (the Torah). A more acceptable form of co-existence between the Muslims and the secular Westerners will also be necessary. Some practices like stoning to death or cutting off hands will have to be given up and the Sharia re-interpreted or given a more liberal interpretation. The alternative is terrorism through mass killings, kidnappings and general mayhem with bombs exploding and killing of innocent men, women and children. The whole world has to deal with the problem of co-existence among different religious and ethnic communities. Those countries that failed to coexist peacefully have perished and over five hundred nations have disappeared in history.

In our own country it is no longer possible for Muslims and Buddhists to live in isolation. Where there are interactions and such interactions are leading to disputes they can and should be resolved through peaceful dialogue. Buddhists should not cast themselves in the same imperialist cast of mind enunciated by Huntingdon. By doing so and stereotyping the Muslims as enemies, the Buddhist extremists are seeking to pre-empt dialogue and instead promote conflict. But conflict is no longer an option. Instead, dialogue and genuine attempts at mutual  understanding are required without any pre-conceived prejudices. Stereotyping is a common way of thinking and is practiced freely in our society. Tamils are such and such and Muslims are such and such,  are common ways of stereotyping. But we know that there are wide variations in the values and ways of thinking of different individuals although they may be demarcated under the collective label as Muslims or Buddhists. There are good people and bad people among all communities and it is unfair to stereotype.  Good people of all religions must get together and condemn the fanatical extremists whichever religion they belong to. It is also necessary to ban hate speech and enforce such speech vigorously.

Unfortunately we don’ have a State that is neutral between religious communities. I think that in a plural Sate the State should not have a state religion. But ours is not a secular state but is required to promote Buddhism. But what is involved in the promotion or protection of Buddhism? If we define religion as a body of teaching then no protection is required for whatever is ethically good and wholesome will live forever. It is only the evil doctrines that have disappeared in history. In my opinion there is an evolution of moral teaching where love or ‘maitirya’ to all beings will be regarded as the highest moral and ethical good. Such a value means there can be no hatred or ill-feeling among peoples.

Shenali Waduge has made very fallacious arguments about the threat from Muslims. True that the Muslim population has increased. But the Muslims don’t practice birth control or resort to abortion. The argument about polygamy among Muslims is hardly relevant since only a minority of Muslims marry more than one wife. On the other hand other religionists are not confining themselves to their legal wives but often have other women too. Anyway birth control and abortion are the cause of a lower rate of increase among the Sinhala Buddhists and surely that is not the fault of the Muslims. 

With the mobility of people there are Muslims and Christians now living in areas where they were not known. Since they believe in congregational worship rather than individual worship they do need to meet in a church or mosque and it is natural that they want to build such common edifices. Does a Mosque lead to an increase in the number of Muslims in that neighborhood? What then is the objection if as a religious community spreads itself they want to build a mosque.

The world is facing a grim choice. Either the people will have to learn to live peacefully interacting with each other through dialogue or they will all perish separately. Meanwhile those people of goodwill should get together and demand a law to ban hate speech and the incitement of hatred and disaffection among ethnic or religious communities.

We want a dialogue of different religions so as to establish a humane and peaceful world order ruled by democracy and justice. There is no room for dictators or mob leaders.

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