By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
MLAM Hizbullah, former Governor of Eastern Province, made some startling statements at the Periya Jumma Mosque in Kattankudy recently. His rant, in tone, contrasted to his mild and defensive public comments in the immediate aftermath of a visit by several Parliamentarians to the ‘Sharia University’ in Batticaloa and after handing over his letter of resignation as Governor.
Key elements of his delivery were;
Muslims should live with their heads up.
We are a minority only in this country but is a majority in this whole world. (testifying before the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), Hizbullah claimed it was stated to pacify some people inside a mosque and not at a Public Meeting or Press Conference. It seemed to have satisfied PSC members).
Till we find a solution to our problems, we should be united. At the time of elections, we must reveal our stance.
The President has been given two weeks, and within that time, all allegations against me should be proved.
The unity upheld by Muslim leaders including Kabir Hashim and Rauff Hakeem elected by Sinhala people as well was no simple matter.
Hizbullah is right in that Muslims should live with their heads up. Not only Muslims but all people in this country and the whole world must live with their heads up and not down.
The former Governor’s claim of a global Muslim majority is incorrect. According to a 2015 report published by PEW Research Centre in Washington, USA, the global population consists of 31% Christians, 24% Muslims, 16% Unaffiliated, 15% Hindus, 7% Buddhists, 6% Folk Religions and 1% others which included Jews. Even in neighboring India, out of a population of 1.2 billion in 2011, only 14% were Muslims.
The same report states, by 2060, Muslims in the world will grow by 70% in comparison to a global population growth rate of 32%. In Sri Lanka, as per 2011 national census, the Muslim population of 1.86 million contains an increase of 78.6% between 1981 and 2011 in comparison to a national growth rate of 37%.
There should be no objections to the Muslim community being united. Similarly, there should be no objections if the Sinhala or Tamil communities unite as individual communities. However, the danger in uniting on community lines is the possibility of communalism raising its head. What is of vital importance is for all communities to unite as Sri Lankans.
Threats of revealing the Muslim leadership’s political stance is nothing new. One only must recall of those who revealed their political stance in November 2014 after having enjoyed Ministerial positions under the Rajapaksa administration for many years. It could happen once again in 2020.
The ultimatum given by resigning Muslim Ministers is one month. Hizbullah’s deadline to the President to prove his wrongdoings is two weeks. President Sirisena’s handpicked choice as Eastern Province Governor does not seem to have even a basic understanding of how the entire system works. Other than a whitewashed inquiry with a predetermined verdict, no in-depth investigation can be conducted in two weeks or even one month. One hopes, the former Governor will not resort to a death fast of his own!
The resigning Muslim Ministers and their community may consider the resignations as upholding unity. Nevertheless, public opinion is different. The mass resignations, especially by
Kabir Hashim and Rauf Hakeem are regarded by many as political blackmail. It is seen as a community-based decision across party lines to save one Muslim Minister facing allegations of connections with suicide bombers. The call was for the resignation of Minister Rishard Bathiudeen and Provincial Governors Azath Salley and Hizbullah pending investigations. The inaction of a clueless President and the prevention of a No Confidence Motion against Bathiudeen by a devious Prime Minister resulted in the buildup of public opinion. It paved the way for a death fast by an insignificant nationalist Buddhist monk.
Had Rauf Hakeem (Justice) and Rishard Bathiudeen (Industry & Commerce) resigned their ministerial posts in the Rajapaksa administration after the anti-Muslim riots in Aluthgama in June 2014, their collective decision of June 3 would have more legitimacy. That Sinhala people voted for Hashim and Hakeem in 2015 is a fact. The question is, after the Easter Sunday suicide bombings and their collective decision to resign, will those Sinhala voters vote for them again in 2020?
Hizbullah’s majoritarianism based arguments is dangerous. Religious and civil society leaders have publicly appealed to the general public, in this instance, to the majority community, to refrain from discriminating against minority Muslims. Whatever his world view and whatever the measures UN, UNHRC, OIC, and other such organizations impose, Sri Lanka is their country as well. Therefore, the Muslim community will not escape the fallout of such measures and sanctions imposed, based on their grievances. The last thing the community need is to aggravate the boycott of Muslim shops and businesses further. Such a development will have severe consequences for the Muslim community. It is also not in the interest of this country to ruin the country’s premier trading community. It will also impact other communities in the long term.
During his testimony before the PSC, the former Governor also justified Arabization and road name boards in Arabic on the basis it was not illegal and not against the Constitution. It was done to promote tourism. According to World Tourism Organization 2017 statistics, the most visited countries in the world are France, Spain, USA and China with 86, 82, 77 and 61 million visitors respectively. The learned PSC members did not consider it necessary to ask Hizbullah if Arabic road name boards are found in those countries. They also failed to ascertain the type of tourists he hoped to attract to Kattankudy.
Digressing from the core issue, if Muslim ministers resigned en masse, demanding an impartial investigation of the recent anti-Muslim riots, it would have made them heroes overnight. At least some among the Sinhala community too would have supported them. They must rectify their mistakes even at this late stage of not demanding investigations of 2014 and 2018 anti-Muslim riots. They must also insist on an inquiry of what happened in the North Central Province two weeks after April 21. Muslim homes, Business Houses and Mosques were attacked and torched by mobs. At least on this occasion, let such acts not be swept under the carpet.
After April 21, Police discovered assets worth Rs 7 billion including Rs 140 million in cash belonging to the now banned National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ). Could a few dozen well educated young men amass such wealth? It had to be given to them. Who supplied the funds?
MRM Malik, Director of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department, recently disclosed there were more than 500 unregistered mosques in the country in addition to the nearly 2,400 registered mosques. NTJ did not finance these mosques. Who supplied the funds? Neither did they approve building plans. Who did?
According to Minister Patali Ranawaka, 800 foreign Islamic clerics have entered the country with tourist visas. They are teaching in Madrassas. Have they been apprehended and deported?
Let the government thoroughly investigate these issues. Follow the money trail. Let these issues too not be swept under the carpet.
If anti-Muslim riots are not investigated and culprits punished, many young Muslims will take the path to radicalization. Intransigence and non-cooperation by older generations would be inevitable.
Terrorist funding, illegal Mosque construction, and illicit Imams must also be investigated, and culprits punished. If not, Sinhala radicals will react sooner or later in the manner they know best.
Returning to Hizbullah and his rhetoric, his questionable conduct since 2013 with his family owned Hira Foundation and the Batticaloa Campus project is now in the public domain.
The Foundation owns 90% of the campus and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rajapaksa government in 2013 to establish the University College of Batticaloa. Two years later, the Foundation sought approval from the Ministry of Higher Education to upgrade University College to a private university. The undated letter written on a Parliament letterhead and signed by Muhammad Hizbullah MP as Chairman of University College Batticaloa contains the ‘Received’ date stamp of the Higher Education Ministry dated July 03, 2015.
Such a request from a sitting MP and Deputy Minister of Economic Development on behalf of a private institution is a clear case of conflict of interest. It is alleged, this institution had offered courses in Sharia Law some time ago though no longer found in its website.
Batticaloa Campus Pvt. Ltd has received Rs 3.6 billion (approx. USD 24 million) in seven fund transfers into its Bank of Ceylon account from a Charity Foundation in Saudi Arabia within 15 months between 2016 and 2017. However, the previously claimed grant could not be substantiated with a document. The declared eventually produces was from the Al Juffali Foundation in Saudi Arabia dated January 1, 2019. It was a commitment for a soft loan on a differed payment basis. Therefore, on what basis did funds arrive in 2016 and 2017?
Terrorism, the world over works hand in hand with financing and money laundering.
Is further justification necessary for a thorough investigation of Hizbullah and the Hira Foundation’s money trail?