By Sharmila Seyyid –
I believe it was 2002. An organisation so far unknown in our village began propaganda declaring that watching TV is Haram. They didn’t just stop with propaganda. They went from house to house and broke TV antennas, they warned shopkeepers who sell DVDs to not do so and they burnt shops.
Some businessmen brought black Abayas and long garments and declared those to be ‘Islamic attire’. They made women and children in the community believe that the land where our last Prophet Muhammad lived, this is what all the women wear and so this IS our ‘culture’. They created an image that this clothing was safe and respectable for women and brainwashed women themselves into propagating it. They distributed pamphlets at Friday prayers saying that girls and women going to schools and universities MUST compulsorily wear long black garments.
This didn’t just happen in our village but in most villages where Muslims resided in the majority.
These sudden growth of thoughts and ideas was translated into funding for our schools from Arab countries. The Qur’an that we learnt after giving donations of 200-300 rupees became 3000 rupees a month to learn. Religious education was declared to be essential. It became a business. By propagating ideas about the Khilafat youth were fed the illusion that this land must be ruled by Muslims. Maulvis we knew who took no salaries and sang the calls to prayer visited foreign countries and returned. Their friends from Pakistan and the Middle East began visiting and staying in their homes. They held lavish feasts for them complete with mutton and beef. The smell of Marijuana in their curries filled our senses and wafted through our winds.
No one was interested in asking how such changes in thought occurred.
I can see clearly in front of my eyes all those who shamelessly played and won the politics of arguing that if the Sinhalese ‘culture’ can change and they wear the seethai we can wear the abaya too. How come our ‘cultural’ practice is ‘terrorist’, they asked.
All those who didn’t notice such small extremisms taking root in our society and even those who spoke from a humanitarian perspective about Islamophobia in th post 9/11 world are all responsible for the political situation that Muslims in Sri Lanka are in today.
All those who branded everyone who spoke up against Islamist terrorism as being stooges of the west and those who remained silent as those who wrote and spoke the truth were choked and humiliated on social media and in real life are responsible for this current plight.
Now we are drowning in this flood. It is time to change the stage upon which this drama occurs.
Sri Lankan Muslim responses to the recent carnage can be divided into three kinds:
3. Fear for the future
All of us as Sri Lankan Muslims have begun crying hoarse about terrorism. This emerges from a escapist fear.
To say that those who perpetrated the violence are terrorist, they must be punished, aren’t Muslims at all and that Islam does not preach violence emerges from an emotional state of blaming and escapism.
Muslims have been forced to become those who adapt to the world and times around them and declare that all terrorists must be punished and that they have no religion.
Each one of you must ask yourselves if you have expressed your opinion against previous instances of terrorist thought and actions. Silence is complicity. All those who are speaking of inter-faith peace and unity now, irresponsibly ignored extremist Islamic thought on social media for years. They dismissed it as rants of some mad man. Today you want terrorists killed.
Although there were many opportunities to nip such thoughts in the bud, you did not do so. Now that the knife is at your throat you are crying hoarse that terrorism must be defeated and there is no room for violence in Islam. When more and more religious schools were established, abayas and other masks took root as default symbols of our ‘culture’ you recognised them as changes to our ‘culture’ and accepted them. Today those same people who brought these so-called changes to our ‘culture’ are fighting their war for deen and now you oppose them. Is that not hypocrisy. Imagine how much we can assuage and justify our actions and inactions by undertaking baseless investigations by ourselves and declaring that the government is responsible or that there is a foreign hand. Why are we afraid to honestly look at what made our youth the puppets of state and foreign influences?
I know many of your will not see this post as being one in good taste. I know you will pour out your helplessness, anger and frustration with the usual harangue about me being a traitor and stooge.
These truths are bitter like medicine. If we want to rid ourself of this illness commence treatment now. Identify our sickness and heal from it. You can either treat your sickness or walk the world as if you are well. The choice is yours.